This is Breakfast With Dad, a collection of devotions on books of the Bible that I send out to over 150 friends and family members. I hope you will take time to read the most recent blog and maybe one of two from past offerings. If you have an interest in studying the Bible or have been thinking about starting a daily devotion, this would be a good place to begin. I started writing these devotions when my youngest son moved away from home and was having a hard time in his life. I used to fix him a hot breakfast every morning before school, so I decided to send him spiritual food instead to encourage his heart. I hope these "breakfasts" encourage you.

Monday, March 11, 2019

1 Peter 1:10-12 Grace to You!

1 Peter 1:10-12  Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow.  It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.  Even angels long to look into these things. 

The Old Testament represents an expository of the Good News that God would at some future time rescue mankind from its fallen state, its absence from God’s intimate presence.  As the prophets expounded, this position of hopelessness would not always exist, for the redemption of mankind was in the heart of God, and this redemption would come through a person known as the Messiah.  He would bless the world and break down the barrier between man and God.  This restoration plan to reclaim a wayward creation existed with God from the beginning of time.  A new life had to be formed in the hearts of men.  A new creature had to come forth from the midst of their old lives.  Although hopelessly lost, someday a newness of life would come to the souls of men and women, saving them for all eternity.  The plan of creating new life in a lost, sinful people was evident in how God dealt with Noah.  He destroyed the people of that era, knowing their constant sinfulness, their destructive, self-willed nature, would never change.  He decided to save a few, a  remnant, even though they too were evil from their conception, for they were conceived out of sinful flesh.  We find in God’s covenant with Noah, God said, Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.  (Genesis 9:11)  And He set a rainbow in the clouds as a sign of his commitment to mercy.  In this covenant with Noah, we see the anguish of God toward his wayward creation.  God decides not to extinguish mankind, but allows them to exist to eventually fulfill his purpose of knowing him in an intimate manner.  He made mankind in his image; He made them to live harmoniously with him, without experiencing good and evil, designed to know only good.  God gloried in mankind; He interacted with Adam and Eve in the evening time.  He knew that once again, in the last days, after the Holy Spirit was poured out on all people who accepted Christ, He would glory in their interaction with him.

Later on in the Old Testament, we see God dealing with the man Abraham.  Just as with Noah, God picks out a man who has a desire to know God, to hear his voice, to obey what he hears from God.  Just as God’s voice caused Noah to build an ark, He caused Abraham to leave his country of origin in obedience to his will.  Because of Abraham’s willingness to believe God, the covenant of mercy and grace by faith was presented to mankind.  Mankind would find an acceptance by God, a rightness with him through their belief in his promises to them.  God’s foundational promise to Abraham was that He would bless all nations eventually through the seed of Abraham; of course, that seed was the Messiah who would come in due time.  All nations would be blessed through the loins of the man Abraham.  God said, I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  (Genesis 12:2)  The law was introduced 400 years after Abraham to protect the promise God made to the man of faith.  The law was to keep the seed of Abraham preserved from destruction.  Mankind’s waywardness, sinfulness, always leads to death—sin left unchecked will result in chaos and destruction.  The law brought order to the Jewish people, restraining them from doing everything their flesh desired.  The Jewish people constantly broke away from these laws, but the efficacious nature of the law saved a remnant.  Through this remnant, the promise of Abraham came to fruition; the Messiah was born, the Son of Man, as Jesus Christ called himself.  Speaking of himself, Jesus said, As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”  (Matthew 24:37) 

Of course, this knowledge of the Messiah coming to rescue the Jewish nation and the world from the corruption of sin was central in the prophets’ proclamations.  We see the prophet Isaiah’s prediction of the Savior: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.  He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right.  (7:14-15)  Jesus himself quotes from Isaiah.  In Luke 4 we see Jesus going to Nazareth, where he grew up, and He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath where he read from the scroll of Isaiah, and selected the place where we find Isaiah 61:1-2The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah coming to save the world from its destructive nature was realized in Jesus Christ, for He takes this mantel of the Messiah on himself.  His many miracles and his eventual death and resurrection fulfill God’s plan of creating new life, a new people who can intimately be with him in perfection for all of eternity.  The culmination of God’s plan for a wayward creation came to realization through the works and death of Jesus Christ.  Who of us cannot praise God with great joy for another of Isaiah’s prophecies: For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his named shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.  (6:9 KJV) 

The Spirit of God has carried this wonderful good news of restoring mankind to their Creator through the ages; from generation to generation; from century to century; from millennium to millennium.  The prophets, the angels desired to see this good news come to realization, always looking forward to that day when the Messiah would come and fulfill the plan of God for mankind.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”  (Luke 2:10)  The reclamation of the people made in God’s image was completed through Jesus Christ 2000 years ago.  He lived a sinless life and then died as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind.  He was without sin, yet brutalized for our benefit.  He paid the righteous judgment for sin—all our human imperfections—which is death.  We who were lost, who could never enter into the perfection of eternity, needed redemption, needed to be new creatures, with the nature eternity could accept.  But now, because of the Messiah who was predicted ages ago to be the balm of Gilead, we now have found great favor with God the Father because his only begotten Son lives with him in great favor.  We are blessed for we are IN JESUS, AND HE IS IN US.  With Simeon, the man who saw the baby Jesus and took him in his arms to bless him, we also who are alive IN CHRIST, praise God for the salvation He prepared for us.   At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon.  He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel.  The Holy Spirit was upon him and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.  That day the Spirit led him to the Temple.  So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, Simeon was there.  He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying, “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace as you have promised.  I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people.  He is a light to reveal God to the nations and he is the glory of your people Israel!”  (Luke 2: 25-32)  God let Simeon die in peace, rejoicing in seeing the fulfillment of God’s promise to him and to all people in the light of Jesus, God’s Son.  May we all rejoice today in this great gift of mercy and grace, for God has revealed his great love to us through his Son’s victory over sin and death.  


Monday, March 4, 2019

1 Peter 1:6-9 Gift of God!

1 Peter 1:6-9  In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

THE GIFT OF GOD IS ETERNAL LIFE.  We have, as we read last week, an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.  This eternal life is now—we are imperishable because of the gift of life within us.  Jesus has made us new creatures, forever alive IN HIM.  We should always hold fast to that fact in our minds and spirits even when we suffer grief or go through trials.  For the end result of our faith is the salvation of our souls.  We who are believers are recipients of this message of eternal life even though we have not seen the Lord in the flesh.  Salvation: the gift of eternal life is ours through the Spirit.  Yes, our corrupted flesh will die someday.  We have all been damaged by the terminal disease of sin.  We have no defense against this virus.  Man has tried in his own efforts to defeat this scourge of sin but nothing touches its lethalness.  Societies, cultures have created laws, establishing them in their communities to keep the flesh under control.  Yet, our natural inclinations cause us to break established laws that keep societies from chaos.  If the flesh can get away with it, it will do it.  Look at the traffic laws established for our own safety.  People routinely violate those laws.  Look at our income tax regulations.  People will step over the line to benefit themselves by paying fewer taxes even while knowing they are pushing the regulations too far.  We are like cattle, pushing on a fence to get better grass, distorting the fence line, breaking down or bending the fenceposts.  Breaking societal rules and laws is one thing, but breaking our own standards of what is right and wrong is another thing.  Jesus castigated the Pharisees who looked righteous on the outside, but inside they were lawbreakers.  Their minds were so corrupt that He described them as whited sepulchers, decomposed and stinky on the inside of their tombs.  Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.  (Matthew 23:27-28)  Our own laws that we set up for ourselves are often in danger of being curbed or broken.  We might proclaim that we will never get unreasonably angry at someone again or never again be envious of those who are rich.  Or we might say that we will always treat people with kindness and generosity.  But under certain pressures, our best intentions are often broken down to the point we are ashamed that we allowed our minds to wander to such depths, causing us to commit actions that violate our own sense of right and wrong.  We are natural lawbreakers.  Sin has taken a stranglehold of our lives from which we cannot escape.  We are definitely susceptible to waywardness when we suffer wrong from others.  But as Peter said, when we are under stress in life because of others or our own failures, we should rejoice, remembering we are under the grace of God: children of the Most High.  Trials, difficulties, and suffering test our faith, not to judge how well we keep the law, but to test whether we truly trust in Jesus Christ.  The more we are refined by experiencing the vicissitudes of life, the better Christ is revealed through us.  The more we are tested, the more our salvation through Jesus Christ is exposed to the world.  Peter says we should rejoice in this knowledge of Jesus and his substitutionary eternal nature for our sinful, finite nature.

Jesus is the bread of life.  Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  (John 6:35)   Even though manna was given to the Jews in the wilderness supernaturally from God, the manna did not support eternal life.  All who ate of it eventually died.  Manna was a gift from God to a starving people, but it was not a food that would sustain eternal life.  Jesus Christ is the eternal food that energizes life forever.  All must eat of him and drink of him.   For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.  (John 6:40)  Even though Jesus Christ lived as a man in every way, He is the bread of life.  He is the manna from heaven that places eternal life into all who put their trust in his words and actions.  Christ is the bread, indicating very clearly that there are two realities to this human existence: flesh and spirit.  The Bible explains that there is a spiritual reality that all must enter into if they are going to experience life forever with God.  The flesh was fed by manna; the spirit is fed by Jesus Christ.  The former is finite, fulfilling a temporary need; the latter is forever, continuously provided.  Christians will feed off of Jesus throughout eternity.  He provides the life that never ends.  Peter says we should rejoice in this fact of eternal salvation; our souls are forever in the creative work of JESUS CHRIST.  We are the born again people, created anew by the one who created all things.  Consequently, troubles and trials we experience in this life should be considered only as refining elements of our faith in Jesus Christ.  These experiences of difficulties should cause us to rejoice for God is perfecting his work in us.  This is hard for us to grasp when we are despairing about the conditions we find ourselves experiencing.  Peter, in writing to those who are being persecuted, to those who are being rejected in their community because of their belief in Christ, reminds them that this world is not their home.  He wants them to realize that this life should not be held onto so dearly.  They should appreciate that everything they are experiencing is insignificant compared to the great glory that they will receive when they see God.  God will honor them, and all of creation will know them as the children of God, sons and daughters of the Most High.  The crowns they will wear will be of royalty.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.  (2 Timothy 4:8)

Today as we seek answers for our lives, let us hold onto the truth of the gospel.  Jesus Christ and him crucified is the story of redemption.  He, as the first resurrected one, is the story of new life forever.  Paul told Timothy, If we died with him, we shall also live with him.”  (2 Timothy 2:11)  Truly, now we are raised in him, sitting in heavenly places.  This is sometimes hard for us to conceive with our natural minds.  How can we who are so temporary know anything about eternity?  We find it hard to imagine a future life with the Creator, but the apostles preached new life to everyone who placed their trust in Jesus Christ.  Peter in his letter to the Christians in Asia Minor reiterates this hope, reminding the Christians to hold fast to their faith regardless of the trials they experienced.  We who are far removed from the days of the early church also must adhere to Christ, regardless of the difficulties and failures in life.  We must not remove ourselves from the real reason of this finite existence.  Our brief time on Earth gives us the opportunity to discover the manna of eternal life—the Bread of Life.  God sent Jesus to redeem people who are made in his image.  He has a love for us that is greater than we can imagine.  When Paul talked about his love for the Jews, he states, I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel.  (Romans 9:1-3)  We see in this passage Paul’s great love for his own people.  He loved them so much that he would become a curse for them.  This is God’s love for us.  He sent Jesus who became a curse for us.  Jesus faced oblivion, so that we might not face eternal oblivion.  Dear friends, do not lose this image of God’s love for you, his anguish over your state of separation from him, without the possibility of redemption.  Your efforts will never be enough.  Your best work will always fall short of his perfection, exactness.  We are wobbly human beings: some days good, some days not so good.  God does not tolerate “not so good.”  He will come in a twinkling of an eye, before anything can be done to rectify our condition.  He will measure us according to his perfection, his exactness.  If we are found in any other dimension than the perfection we find in Christ, we will receive the full anger of God on unrighteousness.  This means we will be put away from his intimate presence; we will be forever without a home with our Maker, experiencing the judgment of being without God, a fiery trial that will never end.  Peter wants you to endure by faith when circumstances exceed your understanding of God’s mercy and grace.  Hang tough when you are beginning to doubt God in your life.  Hang tough when life seems not to pay off with the good things you thought God would give you.  Hang tough!  For God’s blessing of eternal life resides in you through the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Nothing can separate you from that life if you endure by faith to the end.  Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the lord has promised to those who love him.  (James 1:12)  

Monday, February 25, 2019

1 Peter 1:1-5 Grace and Peace!

1 Peter 1:1-5  Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.  This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 

In this letter Peter addresses the Christians who have come to Jesus Christ in Asia Minor.  Of course, many are strangers to him, but they are in the body of Christ, facing persecution and trouble for their faith.  They are those who have been chosen to be obedient to Jesus Christ, for they have been sprinkled with his blood, the cleansing blood that ransomed their souls from eternal death.  Peter tells them that even though they face danger from this world, they are shielded eternally by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  Peter knew the Christians throughout Asia Minor experienced difficulty in living their daily lives.  They faced even the possibility of dying for Christ.  He writes this letter to strengthen their faith, to remind them of what Christ did for them at the cross, and that they need to keep in mind at all times the eternal plan of God, the plan to have them exist with him forever as his children in his household.  Peter comforts the people with God’s provision for them: In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.  However, the hope of eternal life in God’s presence must have been difficult for them when their everyday lives experienced isolation and rejection from their relatives, friends, and community.  The label of Christian brought trouble to their lives, for it was considered anathema by the communities and cultures where they lived.  Surely, some of these believers often were tempted to recant their experience with Christ, to say that their excursion into Christianity was only a temporary journey of instability.  With this constant threat on their eternal lives, Peter wrote to bolster their faith, making sure they understood the efficacy of the cross and God’s faithfulness.  Peter reenforces the idea that Christ’s death and his resurrection has shielded all who place their faith in Jesus’ eternal being.  By holding fast to their faith in Jesus Christ and his work, they can endure successfully the trials of this world.  Persecution and even the threat of death cannot take this new life IN CHRIST from their existence.  A little later in this letter, Peter writes, Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  (1 Peter 4:12)   Peter desired them to know that nothing this world can do to them, could destroy God’s magnificent plan for them, accomplished in heaven already, of making them children in the eternal family of God.  The cross and the resurrection have made them eternal beings, and because of this reality they can and will endure any persecution that is thrown against them.  In this world, nothing can take away the new life in them. 

The Good News has never changed throughout the centuries since Christ’s death.  Peter’s encouragement to the believers in Asia Minor remains a need in every church: hold fast to the work of the cross, continue your lives in faith, believing every word that comes from the mouth of God.  Unless we believe the word of God over what we see, hear, and experience, we will be weakened in our faith, confused by the world around us.  The believers in Peter’s time were under pressure to give up on Christianity.  In some parts of our world today, many are under the same pressure.  Even their livelihood is threatened by others who demand they give up their belief in Christ.  In the developed parts of the world, persecution is not usually a threat to Christians’ viability; instead, it is the materialism of the world, the desire to win this world for personal benefit, that most threatens the work of Christ.  This python of lukewarmness is a danger to the redeeming message of Jesus Christ.  It squeezes out the fact that everyone who desires a successful life must give his or her life to Christ, that we must die to the things of this world to live in the next world with God.  The Bible is very explicit in this area.  Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.  For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.  (1 John 2:15-17)  We are forever tempted by our senses to live for this world, for our senses tell us that they govern what is life and what isn’t life; nothing else matters but what we perceive with our senses.  If that is the case, why should we forsake our indulgences for something we cannot see or know by our daily experiences and perceptions.  But Peter is reminding them in this letter that life is more than what you are experiencing even if you are under the threat of death.  Eternal life is the precious gift God has given to all those who believe in the work of the cross.  Nothing should supersede or overwhelm this fact: not difficulties, persecution, death or even lukewarmness.  All should succumb to the Good News that eternal life with God has been brought to mankind.  Jesus said, Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  (Matthew 16:24)

For the persecuted people of Peter’s time and for the believers of this age, we should keep in mind that before we came to Christ we were dead in our trespasses and sins.  As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.  Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  (Ephesians 2:1-7)  Before Christ redeemed us through our faith in him, we were all away from God, separated from his presence.  Our hearts were cold to God, so cold that we were without life, for God is life.  We walked according to the world, following the prince of the power of the air.  This spirit of darkness is evident in all people who are disobedient to God.  As people who are dead to God, we fellowshipped gladly with other sinful people who also lived without God.  As people of our own will, we completely satisfied the sinful pleasures of our minds and flesh.  Because of that godless lifestyle, we were targets of God’s righteous wrath.  Nonetheless, God in his wonderful nature of grace and mercy, rescued us through Christ’s work on the cross.  His death was for all of us, so that we might not die under God’s wrath, his hatred of sin.  Consequently, God quickened us in Christ—He brought us out of the grave with Christ into a new life.  Even as Jesus came out of the grave, we came out because of our faith in his resurrecting work.  God’s mercy, his grace, saved us from eternal damnation.  Peter wanted believers of his time to remember and to hold fast to that wonderful reality.  We, in our day, also need to remember the glorious redemptive plan of God.  If we do so, no trouble, adversity, persecution, or threat of death can keep us from knowing God and his love.  This knowledge should energize our souls to work for him, to live for him, even causing us to put down our tendency for lukewarmness and pick up the passion for Christ and his work.  We will say with our brother, Paul, For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:38-39)  God bless you as you walk in your inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.  

Monday, February 11, 2019

Romans 16:17-27 Inexpressible Joy!

Romans 16:17-27  I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.  Keep away from them.  For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.  By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.  Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.  The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.  The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.  Timothy, my co-worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my fellow Jews.  I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.  Gains, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings.  Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings.  Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith—to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ!  Amen! 

Jesus warned the disciples about false prophets coming either to scatter or destroy the flock of believers.  Watch out for false prophets.  They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.  (Matthew 7:15)  Paul warns the elders at Ephesus of the coming of the wolves after he leaves them.  I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.  So be on your guard!  Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.  (Acts 20:31)  Peter was even more direct, explicit in his description of the false prophets.  But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.  Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.  In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories.  Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.  (2 Peter 1-3)  The energizing force behind every cult is the basic nature of man, his desire to be central in God’s plan of redemption.  Many cults or aberrations of the gospel hang onto the necessity of doing something to make a person acceptable to God.  For the wolves, salvation, rightness with God, must originate in man’s efforts, his works, not in God’s works.  The false prophet will say if man does not save himself through his own deeds, he is lost from God’s acceptance.  In the eyes of the wolves, man must prove his dedication to God by doing something worthwhile or make himself holy, honorable, righteous, God-like in nature.  Of course, this harkens back to the Garden when man attempted to improve God’s plan by eating of the Tree of Knowledge.  Man in that futile attempt to govern God and his creation brought on himself destruction, shame, and death.  From that time on mankind has been in a struggle with death itself, his dread of his finiteness walks with him daily.  Waywardness in the Christian faith does not usually start with a great bang, or with an entirely new revelation outside of the scriptures.  Normally, this kind of distortion of the truth starts with skewing the scriptures, placing an emphasis on a few scriptures and ignoring the whole context of the Bible.  By focusing on a few scriptures, placing them above all over scriptures, a division begins in a community of believers, creating a small tear in the fabric of the gospel.  This tear grows until it separates some believers from the others, and a cult is born.  No wonder Paul urged his brothers and sisters to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in their way that stray from the sound teaching they have learned.  The people who started this rift in the church will claim that those who serve God in faith, trusting in his grace and mercy of God, need more to fulfill their understanding of God.  The separatists have found a new secret, a more sure way of knowing God.  By removing themselves from the household of believers into a new community, they will know all the mysteries of God.  Paul is extremely sensitive to this kind of contrary division.  His whole message to the Romans centers on faith in God’s work and not man’s work.  He begins this book with the statement: For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.  For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,  just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”  (Romans 1:16-17)

Paul’s statement describing God’s righteousness is complete and correct: a righteousness that is by faith from first to last.  Otherwise, acceptance from God is assured, for we have a holy righteousness that comes from the hand of God through the works of Jesus Christ.  This is the whole story of the New Testament, from first to last.  The work has been completed; there are no other cards to lay on the table; we have the winning hand because of Jesus Christ’s work.  At his death on the cross, Jesus said, It is finished!”  (John 19:30)  The battle was over, Christ had won.  He had paid the price for sin and death.  This kind of talk is anathema to the cultish people.  They want an extra card thrown on the table to acquire the winning hand.  Of course, this card is their card, their input into winning God’s acceptance.  For two thousand years, individuals and groups have come to the table of life with a card in their hands with the inscription written on it: my works.  How satisfying for the carnal person to say I need to put “my works” on the table.  We deny the scriptures when we hold that idea in our hearts, that we could possibly add to God’s eternal plan.  For God gave his only Son that whosoever believes in him will have new life.  He, the Creator, creates new life.  He alone can place the DNA of God into our hearts.  This cannot be done by our own works.  Our DNA has been corrupted by sin.  Look at the history of mankind, look at the violence and corruption that has existed in every race, every ethnic group, in every place man has occupied.  Look at the rapes, pillaging, killing that every group of people has done.  This is mankind’s basic DNA, our innate nature.  The people who are participating in this breakfast today, have this damaged DNA code within them.  Their ancestors, their lineage have done these horrific acts of sin.  We cannot escape this truth.  When we try to sculpture a new man out of our own efforts, we are using crass material, material that will never stick together in righteousness.  Our sculpture will always crumble to the ground under pressure, for we are flawed.  The resultant acts of the flesh are sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  (Galatians 5:19-21)  Of course these acts lead to killing, rape, and pillaging; wars and holocausts of every kind.  Without God’s creation of righteousness within us, we are lost in our old nature; good for nothing but destruction.

But praise God, good news has come to the world: But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  (Luke 2:10-12)  The cults and aberrant messages will always follow behind the church of God, much like the prostitutes that follow the armies of the world. They will attempt to pick off a few, causing the deceived to go off in a wrong direction.  But the message of God is strong: He has said, Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  (Hebrews 13:5)  If we stay firm in the faith, knowing that God is the Creator of all things and keeps his word, we will always be safe in the household of God.  The righteous will live by faith.  We, who are around this breakfast table will live by faith.  We will believe as Abraham believed: he believed in the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.  (Romans 4:17)  Otherwise, he believed in the resurrection and that God can make something out of nothing as the Creator of all things.  We who are alive IN CHRIST are new creatures.  He made something out of nothing, that which was destined for destruction.  We are NEW CREATURES, POSSESSED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT BECAUSE OUR TEMPLE IS CLEAN, PURIFIED BY THE BLOOD OF JESUS.  Paul wrote, For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  (Ephesians 2:10)  Also, praise God, WE WILL BE RESURRECTED TO BE WITH GOD FOREVER.  This sums up Abraham’s faith—our faith.  All else, additions or subtractions from this faith, is cultish.  We will be forever with God because of God’s work in us.  We place our trust in God’s words, in his faithfulness, in his everlasting love.  As eternally damaged goods outside of God’s mercy and grace, we have been made new, forever pleasing to God.  We have been made acceptable by the work of the cross.  We died with him when Jesus went to the grave; we arose with him as He came out of the grave victorious.  As He is the first of many in the resurrection of the biological flesh, we follow him in our own resurrection to the household of God.  This is known as THE WAY in the New Testament or the GOOD NEWS.  Let us rejoice with the angel, good news has come to the earth that will cause great joy to the world.  God has come to abide with us for eternity.  We who are alive IN CHRIST have this hope for we have been empowered with the power of God for our resurrection: the Holy Spirit.  For all that Christ has done, we can say with Peter: Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.  (1 Peter 1:8-9)  Amen!       

Monday, February 4, 2019

Romans 16:1-16 Shine Like Stars!

Romans 16:1-16  I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.  I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.  Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus.  They risked their lives for me.  Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.  Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.  Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.  Greet Andronicus and Junia my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me.  They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.  Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord.  Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.  Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test.  Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus.  Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew.  Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.  Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord.  Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.  Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.  Greet Asyncritus, Phlegm  Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them.  Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympus and all the Lord’s people who are with them.  Greet one another with a holy kiss. 

We see Paul at the ending of his letter to the Romans speaking about people he knows who should be praised and lifted up in this world.  These are individuals who should be recognized for the good things they have done for Paul and others.  Some have risked their lives for Paul and the church.  Some have been faithful ministers and servants to the body of Christ.  All of them served others for the purposes of Christ’s mission on Earth.  They were concerned about others, so their lives were disciplined to help others, to strengthen the faith of the others, to forward  the message of the Good News.  They helped Paul deliver this message of the victorious Messiah and his resurrection to the whole world.  Some of them were Jews, who helped the despised Gentiles know Christ.  Others were Gentiles, supporting Paul, who began his life as a Pharisee of Pharisees, one who never would have associated with the barbarians of the world.  They now loved Paul, the Jew, just as Paul loved them.  In Paul’s commendations at the end of Romans, we see the answer to the world’s self-centeredness, cliques, and divisions. We see Paul going out of his way to express his love for those who have helped him in his ministry, Jew, Gentile, women, and men.  All were treated in the same way in his expression of goodwill towards them: the same love, affection, and dedication.  None were considered less than the other persons in his concern and wishes for them.  Even when he comes to the end of his salutation, when linking several names together, along with all the Lord’s people who are with them, he does not imply that these people are less in importance than the ones he mentioned at the beginning of his greeting.  All people are equal in deserving Paul’s recognition and love: all are significant to Paul as all are important in the body of Christ.  Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.  Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.  (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)  For the sake of the church, the people he mentions have placed themselves in servitude of Jesus Christ.  He is first in their lives, even to the point of giving their biological lives up for the purposes of the church, for the expansion of the gospel.  Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  (Romans 1:1-2)
When we read Paul’s list, we might ask ourselves, how many of us in today’s church would give up our physical bodies for the sake of the cross?  How many of us would be commended by Paul if he saw our lives?  These are good questions to explore.  Would Paul see the same fervent dedication in us as he saw in the body of Christ two thousand years ago?  Or have we been conformed to the pattern of this world so much that there is little difference in how we live our lives compared to the world’s lifestyle?  Have we been co-opted by this world?  Do we see anything in Christ for which to lose our lives?  Undoubtedly, many of us would say that we would readily give our lives for Christ if He desired such an action.  But we can test the truth of this by asking if we are already living lives given over completely to Christ.  Is our commitment 100 percent or have we been immersed into the culture of this world to such a degree that we rationalize our worldly activities and thoughts as acceptable?  Our son, Jeff, wrote a song that asked, What would you die for?  What would you die for in your life?  Of course, we who are serving this breakfast wrestle with the same questions we present to you, dear breakfast companions.  Would Paul commend all of us for our service?  Are we hospitable, generous, kind, thoughtful, loving, caring, forgiving, and the like?  Or are we self-serving, demanding our own way, placing everyone’s needs behind ours?  Daily, how many prayers do we send up to the Lord, how many songs about God’s love escape our lips, how many acts of kindness do we perform, how many smiles and gentle words do people receive from us?  In other words, where are our lives centered: in Christ or in ourselves?  Christians need to monitor their lives continuously.  Are they more secular in orientation or more Christ-like?  Why should we honestly keep track of our motives, thoughts, and actions?  Are we not under the grace and the mercy of God?  Yes, we are!  But we also need to be good servants in the household of God.  We are sitting with him in the high places of servanthood, places where we are to institute God’s will, not ours—that is our prayer.  Our relationship with him should be so precious, so intimate, that we desire to do his will, for He is GOOD TO US.  He is not an ogre, ready to destroy or hurt us.  No, He is a tender, loving Father to his children.  But because of God’s nature of goodness, we should seek to do good to the world.  Is this day going to be lived for him or for ourselves?  Will the people we meet today know that there is something different about us or will they see us as just another human being walking the trail of life?  Will they know we are in Christ?  They should know that we have said with Paul, I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Galatians 2:20)  Christians should live differently, act and express themselves differently.  Our lives should be lived in a prosperous, joyful way for God has prospered us with his Holy Spirit.  Consequently, we should activate the Spirit of God in our lives.  When in the midst of the people of the land we should be as Paul wrote: Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”  Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.  (Philippians 2:14-16) 

How easy it is for any of us to point out what we should be like as Christians, but how hard it is for us to pick up the mantle of Christ.  He gave his life; we also should be ready to give our lives for God.  This idea of sacrificing our lives for God is easily understood, but hard to implement, for we are finite, caught in a biological existence.  Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.  (Matthew 10:37-39)  Today in some of our biggest churches, we hear the premise that we should be all that we can be in this world.  We should win the world for ourselves and of course in doing so manifest Christ and his goodness to the world.  Perhaps all of this can be good in the right context, but God called us to live not for this life but for the next life.  Is our primary desire to be the slave of everyone or is our number one goal to be the CEO of a large company, dictating what is right for everyone?  The latter sounds so good, and we tell ourselves, I will be a CEO who is a slave to everyone by being kind, generous, and understanding.  Then as a reward for my good life, I will live in the biggest house or houses, I will have the most material goods, I will receive honors from others, I will live with wonderful security and healthcare, I will have the best car or cars, and so on.  Sounds as if this kind of slavery is best for us.  This idea of being the master-slave is so much better than being the slave-slave.  The former has power, the latter has none.  As humans, even in the body of Christ, we would probably vote for the master/slave route—the benefit package is great.  Ministers have found it easy to gather a lot of people under the banner of being everything you want to be in this world, but it is hard to find a group of people who say, not my will, but yours be done: “I will lose my life for you.”  All eternal life begins with repentance, repenting of your old ways of thinking and acting.  Christ did not make you a new creature so that you can elevate yourself in this world.  You are a new person, born again, so that you can have an intimate relationship with God and DO HIS WILL.  Does this mean that none of us should be important or influential in this world?  No, of course not.  God, for his purposes will raise those He desires to places of imminency, but for most of the church, we will be much as when we were called.  Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.  It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”  (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)  We will boast only in the Lord.  Our mission is to do his will.  Will the world know or will others even in the church know how important we are to God and to the body of Christ?  Probably not.  But God knows, and as Paul commended the many who blessed his life, God will commend us and honor us with his name, as his children forever.  Amen!  

Monday, January 28, 2019

Romans 15:30-33 Peace Be with You All!

Romans 15:30-33  I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.  Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed.  The God of peace be with you all.  Amen.

As those who hear the most high, our spirits should be in a position of prayer, constantly communicating with God, for God has placed us in Christ as new creatures.  We are IN CHRIST and He is IN US.  Otherwise, we are never apart from the living God.  Our temples have been made holy; Christ in us has made us holy.  What prayers have we said today?  What songs have we sung?  What words have we expressed to God?  We are holy people, living in a holy place. The Bible says we are a peculiar people.  Every day we anticipate knowing God better, desiring to understand his heart because we are living as adopted children in the household of God.  However, often we do not recognize our privileged position before God, failing even to whisper a prayer to him in the course of a day.  Even though we are spiritually seated with God in heavenly places, we sometimes live as if this blessed existence with God is not ours.  Paul exhibits no other belief than he is a new creature presently alive with Christ in the heavenly realm.  Consequently, he talks about prayer repeatedly.   Prayer is a daily venue for him.  Just as Christ did with his disciples, Paul encourages believers to pray by the love of the Spirit, joining him in his struggle for God by praying for him and his safety.  Sometimes, prayer is lacking in us because the world and its circumstance do not change as we desire in our prayers.  We see continuous disruption and conflict around us.  We see sickness afflicting even the best Christians, some dying too young, according to our thinking.  We observe the sinful prospering, living long lives in good health.  We know many of the righteous live subsistent lives in a world of material abundance.  With all of this in mind, we hold back our prayers, for we do not see mountains moved or crooked roads straightened.  We do not see the people we know healed, or the poor prosper, or the disabled in mind at peace.  With this understanding, knowing the world seems to be going on as it has from the beginning of time, our prayers become fewer with less fervor and faith.  The Psalmist in Psalm 73 had this problem of viewing the world in a skewed manner.  His complaint is that the arrogant, boastful, antiGod elite of this world seem to have the best in this life; they are prosperous, healthy and secure.  But in viewing the world this way, he concludes that he was a fool in his thinking.  He was not looking at the world as God looks at it; with a determination of saving the righteous from destruction and bringing them into his household.  I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.  Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.  Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.  My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.  But as for me, it is good to be near God.  I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.  (Psalm 73:22-28)  The writer is saying, you, God, are my portion on this earth of the senses.  I know you have my right hand, that your counsel is always in my ears.  I will serve you; I will communicate with you; it is good to be near you.  This is what prayer is all about.  It is good to be near the Lord, to bring your petitions and desires before him.  He loves you—you are eternally dear to him.  Unbelievers in this world are living on a slippery slope.  Sooner or later, they will slide into oblivion.  Their lives will be measured in reference to God’s holiness, and they will be found wanting: destruction will be their destination.

Jesus desired us to pray.  Prayer is an act of faith.  Some people claim they have faith, but they do not pray or live lives of active faith.  We should live our lives with an understanding that we, as believers, are constantly in the presence of the Lord.  Therefore, we should desire to pray, to communicate to God our desires and needs.  We should know He hears us, and He is a good God, desiring the best for us.  Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.  (Matthew 7:7-12)  God is in the business of doing good, giving you what he has: eternal life.  Doing to others what you want them to do to you is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.  From the beginning of time, God is in the business of giving eternal life to all who would put their trust in him.  Jesus will open the door to those who knock just as He will give to all who ask.  The one who seeks God will find.  God will not give you less than what you deserve.  He will not give you a snake, or death, if you ask for a fish, or life.  He gives good gifts to his children, including the best gift: eternal life.  He wants to bring his family home into his kingdom.  How does all this fit in with praying daily, fervently?  Our lives are not our most precious possession: eternal life is the most precious possession that we hold in our being.  Jesus said, do not fear those who can take away your life of the flesh, for that is not what is most important; fear only God who can take away eternal life  As we now live in our earthly bodies, we should grasp the eternal nature of our existence.  Prayer is important for it allows us to speak with God, and it does move the hand of God.  And thinking of time as a clock, God is always moving the minute hand forward.  We might pray to stop that progression or to move it backward because of some good thing we have in mind.  Of course, when we pray that way, we should remember God’s eternal plan for our lives.  The hand of the clock moving forward signifies the will of God for our lives.  As Jesus spoke of prayer, He said let God’s will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.  God’s will is eternal life for us.  This is prayer: telling God our needs, asking him to intervene in our lives, and in everything allowing him to dictate how the clock’s hand of eternal life will move forward.  Paul asked for a specific prayer: Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed.  Yet we know the unbelievers in Jerusalem finally got Paul arrested.  Rather than go to Rome in peace, Paul went to Rome in chains, under the supervision of the Roman army.  The clock hand of eternal life was moving forward in Paul’s life.  He had to accept a greater plan than his own  All of us Gentiles are recipients of that hand moving forward in Paul’s teachings and in his life.

Dear friends, prayer is important!  Living for God in anticipation and hope of what He will do in our lives is important!  As we have already read, Paul wanted this hope for the church at Rome: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  (Romans 15:13)  We need to live as new creatures in constant contact with our Maker.  We are not alone in this world of the senses.  God is with us every hour of every day of our lives.  He has not abandoned us, leaving us alone to struggle through life by ourselves.  The Holy Spirit came to abide in us, to guide, counsel, and teach us.  When Jesus was with his disciples in this world, He probably lay down at night to be near them, maybe to quell their uneasiness over their struggles in life.  He is also with us in the darkest of nights, when the pressures of life or the fears of the unknown grip our hearts, his presence is there to say, “I know this is hard, I am with you, do not be afraid.”  He knows every unanswerable question and unreasonable fear that goes through our minds.  He knows when the problems of life seem higher than our heads, but He is always near to calm down the mountains inside of us.  His presence will move the mountains of our lives to other places if only we trust and believe.  Our Christian lives are based on the foundation of his goodness and his nearness to us.  Breakfast companions, pray to the One who is always with you.  Pray to the God who understands your heart more than you understand yourselves.  As in Paul’s life, the activities and things of this world might not go the way you desire.  You might have wanted to walk a different path, one that looks much easier than the one you are walking on today.  If the path you are on this day seems rough and dark, know that there is a companion walking with you: Jesus Christ.  You would not have needed him as much on the easier path, but you will turn to him completely on this path.  Activate your prayers and dwell upon God’s Word.  Tell the Lord your fears, your misgivings, your mistakes.  He will listen; He will have your right hand.  As we read in the psalm above, I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory No matter what path you are on, if you have placed your trust in him, he is moving you to eternal life.  The clock of your life is progressing towards everlasting life.  God has given to you what you should present to others, his very best gift: eternal life.  Live that life now in prayer, in song, in believing.  You will find your heart comforted by his presence in you, the peace of God that passes all understanding.     

Monday, January 21, 2019

Romans 15:23-29 Spiritual Blessings!

Romans 15:23-29  But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain.  I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.  Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord’s people there.  For Macedonia and Achaea were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem.  They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them.  For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.  So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way.  I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.

Paul, endangered every day by violence, not knowing from one day to the next if he would survive the next challenge from the Jews who hated his message of Christ and his resurrection, was still planning for future events.  No one really knows if Paul ever made it to Spain.  There is much speculation about whether he ever set foot in Spain, but we do know he made it to Rome.  We do know the Jews caught up with him in Jerusalem and brought him to Governor Felix with the intention of having the Romans kill Paul.  Paul spent two years in prison in Israel before they granted his appeal to Caesar to bring justice to him as a Roman citizen.  Hence, he was sent to Rome, there he died after spending two years ministering to the people while in custody of the Romans.  Paul received his desire of a new work, a new mission field, a land where the people had hardly heard of Jesus Christ and his resurrection.  They replied, “We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you.  But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.”  (Acts 28:21-22)  Paul’s imprisonment in Jerusalem and his subsequent imprisonment in Rome consisted of four years of his life.  But in both places he did not stop ministering.  He never quit preaching the gospel, in person or in letters.  His desire of visiting Rome to tell the people there of the Good News was granted by God.  He received his wish, but probably not in the package he had desired.  Surely, he had never thought of going there as a prisoner, but God had other plans for him.  God knew, just as He knew about Joseph’s venture into Egypt as a slave, that Paul would continue to be faithful to him.  He knew Paul’s transformation from death to life was so ingrained into Paul very existence that he would not go back to the secular way of thinking.  Paul was a new creature.  As a new creature, born again, the light of God had entered into Paul’s temple.  The Spirit of God was abiding richly in Paul.  He was a fountain of the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ.  Nothing could keep this fountain from flowing, not even imprisonment, not even the threat of death.  He would endure to the end, believing always that God was with him, that God would never abandon him.  He knew that his biological flesh was just a temporary tent.  He found no permanency in this tent, for someday it would be folded in the shroud of death: he would move on to a new, eternal existence with God himself. 

In the midst of our problems or in the mundaneness of living, do we believe that God and his existence is more real than anything we experience in this world?  Paul believed in God’s reality.  Even though, life in his last four years on Earth threw him a curve, one he did not anticipate, he did not give up his primary purpose for living: the spreading of the Good News to the lost.  He endured to the end in his commission of telling about Jesus and his resurrection.  Are we willing to endure to the end or do we let little things or maybe even big things such as illnesses or troubles detour us from our mission of carrying out the gospel in our lives?  Above all else, do we want to be the image of God on Earth?  Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  (Ephesians 5:1-2)  In today’s focus scripture, we see Paul’s thinking in his contemporary life was about others.  Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord’s people there.  For Macedonia and Achaea were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem.  He lived for Christ every day.  Do we live for Christ every day or do little things, good and bad, get in our way and keep us from doing the will of God?  Are we letting God implement his will in our lives?  Faith is the belief that God is real and that He is real in our lives regardless of our circumstances.  His instructions, his directions, are more important than the will of the flesh.  Faith believes that nothing supersedes the will of the Father and the supernatural existence of our souls; nothing we experience by our senses is as real as God and eternal life.  Jesus emphasizes this when he talks about death and our importance to God.  Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.   And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.  (Matthew 10:28)  He is telling us that there is a more important existence than this biological one: a spiritual reality that comes from God.  Paul believed that truth so much that he allowed his physical body to be in dangerous places, where people wanted to hurt him.  They even tried to kill him several times.  But he was determined to do the will of the Father.  He was determined to carry out the purpose of his life: to live for God regardless of the threats on his life.  He constantly moved his tent from place to place to reach more people for God.  Our tents should be just as mobile.  Every day we should seek out the work God has for us, maybe a new work, a new person to tell of the mercy and grace of God.  We might not move to a different area or a different land as Paul did, but we can move from person to person in our lives, illustrating and telling of the goodness of God and of his salvation plan.

Paul tells the Romans that when he comes to them, he will come with the full measure of the blessing of Christ.  Otherwise, God’s blessing will be upon him so that he might bless the Romans with the same blessing.  We might say, how can Paul bless them with Christ’s blessing if he is in chains.  Would the Romans realize that Paul’s chains are really a blessing?  Of course, we understand two thousand years away from Paul’s life, that the chains he carried to Rome were an indication of God’s purpose in Paul’s life.  God wanted Paul in Rome, and He wanted Paul as a prisoner in Rome, a slave to him.  Paul carried the Good News to the Romans.  What Good News you might say, he is in chains!  But the Good News is that eternal life has come to all people who will place their trust and faith in Jesus Christ and his work on the cross.  The Good News was the resurrection!  The Good News was that God, the Creator of all things, wanted people to be part of his intimate family, known forever as children of God.  What a great message, beyond our finite awareness, beyond our wildest imaginations!  Paul wanted the people to know that God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  (Ephesians 2:6-7)  Paul was willing to be in chains for the dispersion of this message to the Romans.  Are we willing to endure hardships, to be in chains in our lives?  Will we agree to carrying out God’s purposes no matter how insignificant our lives seem to be, while we feel chained to the mundaneness of everyday pursuits, locked in our houses and jobs.  Yes, we have plans to carry out for God, no matter what we think about our lives, no matter how significant or insignificant they are.  We must remember we are his servants and we are precious to him.  Jesus says that God loves us so much that he has inventory of the hairs on our heads.  How many billions of hairs have fallen from people’s heads in the time it has taken you to read this breakfast.  Our God is that great, greater than any computer, greater than our ability to understand what we are reading about who He is.  He is the one who made the galaxies, the family of stars within each of the galaxies.  He is the one who keeps track of every sparrow that flies through the air.  His greatness, magnitude, eternalness is beyond our comprehension.  This God of magnificence wants you as his child.  Paul understood that message, gave his life for that message.  The message of love that God has for humanity, his plan, is far above our understanding.  He desires children; he desires to adopt us into his family.  We can only be part of his family if we are new creatures: holy, without fault, completely acceptable to a sinless God.  This position as new creatures comes about only through Christ’s work on the cross.  Jesus paid the price for our redemption from sin.  His holiness, his perfection are our holiness and perfection.  As the temple in Jerusalem was built with precise measurements so that God’s Spirit could enter that temple, we, too, because of Christ work in us, are just as precise.  We have the measurements within us that make it possible for God’s Holy Spirit to live in us.  Of course, this measurement is Christ, the perfect one.  God is at home in us, and we are at home with him.  As we read in the Word, For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  (Colossians 3:3)