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, November 5, 2018

Romans 14:1-9 Bless a Flickering Candle!

Romans 14:1-9  Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.  One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.  The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.  Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?  To their own master, servants stand or fall.  And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.  One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.  Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord.  Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.  For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord.  So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.  For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

In the above verses, Paul talks about how the brethren in the church should treat each other even though they might have differing opinions about spiritual matters.  Some might think it is a sin to eat meat; others might consider some days more holy than others; others might have decided upon special ways to live in right standing with God.  But Paul says that none of us live for ourselves.  We are all members of Jesus Christ’s body as we represent him on this earth, individually and collectively.  As a corporate body, we should be sensitive to the opinions of others.  We should allow a variety of ideas in the body of Christ on matters where different thoughts exist.  We are not to separate ourselves over minute differences.  We see in Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah that the Lord is tender, kindhearted, sensitive to the weakest amongst us.  Look at my servant, whom I strengthen.  He is my chosen one, who pleases me.  I have put my Spirit upon him.  He will bring justice to the nations.  He will not shout or raise his voice in public.  He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.  He will bring justice to all who have been wronged.  He will not falter or lose heart until justice prevails throughout the earth.  Even distant lands beyond the sea will wait for his instructions.”  (Isaiah 42:1-4)  God says He strengthened the Lord by placing his Spirit upon him.  Jesus was clothed with the Holy Spirit with he was baptized in water by John the Baptist.  Jesus did not need a new heart to become a new creature, to deliver him from the flesh.  No, Jesus’ heart was pure; not sinful like ours.  We become new creatures with new hearts at our salvation.  But Jesus did not need that for He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, but He did need to be clothed with the Spirit when the Spirit came upon him at the time of his water baptism.  Consequently, He could say that I am in the Father and He is in me, and that I always do the Father’s will.  We who are in Christ are clothed by his Spirit, alive as Christ’s image on this earth.  With new hearts and immersed in Christ, we should be about our Father’s business.  In Isaiah’s description of the Messiah or the Lord, we find him without arrogance or aggression.  He does not crush or abuse the weakest amongst us, or put out the flickering faith of a weak member of his body.  Instead, He will bring justice to all who have been wronged.  He will support them, advocating for their claims of injustice.  He knows the heart of every person who is resident in his body.  As his body, we carry on in this world, revealing his likeness, bringing support to every flickering candle, helping the weak in faith.  Neither do we crush those so downtrodden they can barely struggle against sin and the pitfalls of a fleshly life.  We should bring the light of Jesus to every dark room, seeking justice for believers and nonbelievers alike.  Never growing weary or cynical, (We) will not falter or lose heart until justice prevails throughout the earth.  Abraham was to be the father of many nations.  Our faith in the Lord makes us part of his linage, his promise from God.  Just as the Messiah fulfilled the promise to bless the nations, as co-heirs with Christ, we bless the world.  However, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:20, we will hurt the cohesiveness of the body and the mission of the church if we fall back into the fleshly nature: For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be.  I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.  The weak ones in the church are the first to be hurt when sin inhabits the people of the Lord.  The wolves are at the door, waiting to attack, to come into body of Christ to destroy, to dishonor the name of the Lord if we are not diligent and fully clothed with the armor of God.  (See Ephesians 6)

How wonderful to know that we do not have to be afraid, for we are strong in the Lord, but we must remember what the Bible says: Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  (1 Peter 5:8)  Thankfully, we are honored guests in the household of God.  We are part of the beloved only begotten Son, members of his family.  God chose us before the foundation of the world to be like him: holy, righteous, loving, caring, and the like.  Peter describes God’s people so beautifully:  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  (1 Peter 2:9-10)  What is our purpose?  People may question our purpose, but by the power of the Spirit, Peter makes God’s plan clear: we are to broadcast our love and devotion to our glorious Lord, praising him for bringing us out of sin into his righteousness.  We are to be his ambassadors of light.  Therefore, Peter tells us to get rid of all evil behavior, to be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech.  He asks us as newborn babes to seek out pure spiritual milk.  (See 1 Peter 2:1-2)  If we do, we will mature in our salvation experience and understanding of walking in the Spirit.  Since we have experienced the Lord’s kindness and goodness to us, as mature believers we should desire and possess the same attributes in us.  Christ is the cornerstone of each believer and of the corporate body.  As the cornerstone of the church, we are to pay attention to his direction for our lives, making him preeminent in every decision we make personally and in the church of Christ.  If we become self-absorbed in our ideas and ways, we will make ourselves the center of our lives.  But if we follow Christ’s will, being obedient servants to his desires, we will be fitted together in harmony, witnessing to the world what it means to love, to overlook small differences between us.  This is what the world is desiring: peace, not conflict; love, not hate; joy, not anger.  These are the attributes of the Messiah, the One who gave everything for us.  These are the attributes of those who are led by the Spirit and not by law.  Pentecost made a way for the Holy Spirit to come to all of us in his fullness who are willing to give up their ways and lives for the Lord’s ways and his life.  Jesus said we would go into all the world and be his witnesses after receiving the Holy Spirit.  This same Spirit gives us wisdom and humility to put the needs of others before our own, to love them as we love ourselves, and to serve them with unselfish devotion.

In today’s focus, Paul asks us to lay aside our opinions of correctness and appropriateness, our ideas of pleasing God, when it might offend someone else.  Instead, he suggests, look beyond the surface of things and be strong for the weak.  Encourage those who have their flame of faith flickering, not shining quite so brightly as others in the body.  Help those who are entrapped by a tendency to sin.  Help them to find a way out of this lifestyle.  Pray with those who need prayer.  Encourage those who are living without joy.  Love those who find little love within their family or community.  Comfort those who are struggling with sickness or the death of a loved one.  Be fitted together as believers in the body of Christ.  Each one of us is a minister, chosen by God to be a priest in the body of the Lord.  And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests.  Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.  (1 Peter 2:5)  As priests, we are to carry out our spiritual duties to others around us in need of ministrations.  We are not to live unto ourselves, failing to discern the needs in the body of Christ.  How can we bring our gifts to God and take communion if we are out of fellowship and out of communion with fellow believers?  How can we say we are instruments of love, if we abandon our fellow church members?  Jesus said, Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”  (Matthew 5:23-24)  Do the people in your community of believers find you helpful, loving, caring, forgiving?  Do they know you will cry with them when they are hurting, rejoice when they are rejoicing over a victory?  You cannot live as though the church were an aside.  You must be enveloped by the community of believers by taking your place among your family of faith.  Provide them with the kindness and love that God has given you.  For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord.  So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.  The world is dying in sin and violence, void of the redemptive power of the Lord.  We Christians know that power of God, and we know what it means to be lost and desperate.  Please do not make God work within your parameters of life: your family, your friends, your land, your ideas, your dreams.  Let God out of your restrictions.  Let him make of you what He desires: a person serving him in every situation, stretching you beyond that which seems comfortable or appropriate to you.  Accept the people who are not like you: Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters, for God is life, love, and light.  He will not lead you astray and He will use you for his glory!   

Monday, October 29, 2018

Romans 13:11-14 The Day Is Almost Here!

Romans 13:11-14  And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.  So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.  Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Paul expresses the urgency of letting the Holy Spirit take over the Roman believers’ lives.  He tells them about the need to change their lives from a heathen way of thinking and living to lives that reflect the work of Jesus Christ in them.  Jesus said they are lights to the world; they are God’s living testimonies.  You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  (Matthew 5:14-16)  They are salt to the world, but if their lives mirror the heathens around them, they are nothing.  In fact, maybe not real Christians at all.  Of course, Christians are to live their lives every day with the expectation that the Lord will come again to this earth.  He will appear to gather his own, to end the darkness of their human existence: violence, killings, maiming, sexual abuse, thievery, humiliation, and all sorts of selfish depravation.  While waiting for Christ’s imminent return, Paul tells the Romans to put on love: Love your neighbor as yourself.  Love does no harm to a neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.  (Romans 13:9-10)  In many places, the Bible describes this world as evil, unredeemable without divine intervention.  No philosophy, heathen religion, profound ideas, political leanings, wars or revolutions can end the darkness that is continuously present in the hearts of men.  Out of the heart grows the wicked intentions of man towards man.  God sees this evil state as we read in the beginning of our study of Romans: The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  (Romans 1:18-19)  Now we are at a point in our history that man’s wickedness has so evolved that two men with the nuclear button from opposing countries could wipe out all mankind within a few minutes.  Man’s only hope of redemption from this evil in the heart of man is the creation through God’s saving grace of new creatures, with new hearts, and heavenly attitudes.  Paul tells the people in Rome to put aside this nature of man and put on the nature of Christ.  He wants them to let the Holy Spirit do his work in their hearts, to let his voice become preeminent in their lives.  Paul knows unless the voice of God becomes more real, more important, more persuasive than the voices that float as sound waves through the external world, they will never change, never become ambassadors of God’s great nature.  Consequently, he desires them to take the first step towards a new creature, one that is embedded in Christ, by putting aside the ways of the world, and instead, put on Christ.  He says, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.    

We who are presently IN CHRIST should understand that we have a responsibility to live for God each day with an expectant attitude towards Christ’s soon return to Earth.  God is timeless, so this is always the day of Christ’s return.  We never get away from that day, but sometimes we forget to live with the urgent expectancy of that day.  We start living as the world lives, as if Jesus will never reenter the affairs of man.  Christians’ lives can become lives of collecting, buying and selling, fulfilling mundane activities.  Rather than looking for the Lord, we can become fixated on the activities and things of this world.  Of course, we have to live in a world that demands our concentration, our minds, our abilities, our energy, but if we lose contact with the heavenly plan of redemption and of Christ’s soon coming, we will fill our thoughts and lives with the worldly functions of living.  When Jesus tells a parable that describes his second coming, the nobleman in the story who goes away says, Occupy until I come.”  (Luke 19:13)  He means we should carry on with living.  Yet this close connection to the world can be very dangerous for Christians who need to listen to God.  For when the world is too much with us, the Bible can become a nonessential in our lives.  Our prayers will sometimes cease or be sporadic.  Media and entertainment tend to become essential to fill our lives with purpose and joy.  If we lose contact with God by not thinking of him or failing to commit ourselves to him and his purposes daily, we can become cold or even dead to the Holy Spirit’s voice inside of us.  Then our anemic spiritual lives will fail to emphasize the works of God in this evil world.  Rather than having a purpose in life that is God planned, we will be wanderers, trying to find an oasis of peace and comfort someplace in this world but looking in the wrong places.  But God has promised to be our peace, our comfort, our place of rest.  When we lose our daily Christian focus, the Bible becomes a dead letter to us: we have little desire to read it or if we do, it becomes a perfunctory obligation, not an anticipated activity.  If we lose contact with God by not thinking of him daily or relying on him, we will have a desire to fill our lives with other things.  Materialism becomes important to us.  Entertainment, sports, work and the like fill up our days.  In this world of electronics and media that can always entertain us, our spiritual commitment can die of a thousand cuts.  We can go through the whole day without praising the Lord, without singing a song about his goodness.  If we are like that are we really his people?  Are we really living under the banner of Christianity or are we just  people who belong to a group called Christians.  The world is supposed to have over two billion Christians.  How many are living lives that expect Christ to appear soon?  How many are living their lives with a daily expectation to hear his voice, to know his direction for their next steps?  Despite all this, we have a God who continually reaches out to his people, just as Jesus did when He walked this earth saying, Come unto me all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11:28)

The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  Yes, salvation is near, available to each person who will come to him.  We do need to wake up from our slumber in this world with so many activities and demands on our lives.  We do need to know that our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.  If not in Christ’s second coming, then in our eventual death, our salvation every day is nearer than when we first believed.  This life is very short, transitory, fragile.  We lead lives that are finite, small in so many ways.  Most of us will not leave a big imprint on this world.  After our own demise, after a short while, not many will even remember or care that we once lived.  The Bible places great importance on genealogies.  For some reason, the writers of the Old and the New Testament wanted us to know the lineage, the heritage of people.  These lists of names are not very important or significant to us.  We do not know their lives or understand well why they are mentioned.  But to God, heritage is important or we would not have these lists of names in the Bible.  Heritage reveals the footprint of God in families, in generations of lives.  Heritage reveals his faithfulness to mankind.  His promises are passed down from one generation to the next.  He promised to honor those who serve him by blessing their children.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.  (Exodus 20:5-6)  We who are alive IN CHRIST are to honor Christ in our lives.  We are to live as if He were going to return today.  Our lips should be serving him by praising and singing his name.  Our minds should be constantly on him.  Our activities should be for his glory.  We should be fixated on his name.  We are Christians with the Holy Spirit resident in us.  Genealogy is important to God.  It should be important to us.  We should be living lives for the unborn, those who follow us, those we will never see.  Maybe our great-great-grandchildren or friends who we will never be introduced to will have something in them that we planted into someone else’s life a long time ago.  We should be living for the anticipated Christian impact that we will have on our descendants, even the unborn of the future.  Abraham’s faith was not only in God’s promise for his present life; his faith was for those who were unborn, who would see God’s faithfulness to the Jews.  Can you understand that if you live today for God as if Jesus would return in your lifetime, that that faith will have a reality someday in future generations.  We do not know the day of his return.  Jesus said, But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  (Matthew 24:36)  Christ will return, perhaps in the day of someone from a future generation who has been touched by something from you—a spiritual thought you shared, a poem, a revelation you received.  They will be holding on confidently because of your imprint of faith on their lives through your faithfulness today.  Dear friends, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and live today with an expectancy of Christ’s immediate return.    


Monday, October 22, 2018

Romans 13:8-10 Pay the Debt of Love!

Romans 13:8-10  Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no harm to a neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

The above focus for today is a powerful scripture.  We have one obligation to humanity and that is to love people as we love ourselves.  To do unto others as we want them to do to us.  Fulfillment of this scripture would eliminate all laws, all violence, all murders, all resentments, all envy, all quarreling, all bullying, all self-interest, etc.  This scripture is retelling the story of how God loved the first people he made in his image.  He did not make them for conflict, for punishing others, to mistreat others.  He made them to walk in the Garden with him in absolute harmony, in peace, in a place of rest.  Today, as you look around in your society, you find little harmony, peace, and rest.  Instead, everywhere we find an abundance of roiling dark clouds of conflict, disagreement, and even violence.  In every country, we find those who would seek to take advantage of others, to exploit others for their own purposes.  If some areas seem quiet at this time, just wait, for wars and rumors of wars have been a part of every country.  This is the basic nature of human beings.  The Bible says humans are disruptive from their childhood.  Amazingly, we often cannot get along well with our most intimate friends and family.  Christian families break apart at the same rate as secular families who claim no God in their existence.  The nature of man even in Christian families resides in all of us.  We cannot escape our fallen state on our own.  The last card in the game of life is often the self-interest card.  The prophet Ezekiel writes about this when talking about God’s judgment on the state of Israel: Because of all your detestable idols, I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again.  Therefore in your midst parents will eat their children, and children will eat their parents.  (Ezekiel 5:9-19)  An awful thought, but survival is important to us.  We will do what it takes to survive or we will do what we feel is necessary to smooth out our lives.  Consequently, arguments, conflicts, wars, murders and every part of mayhem is in the history of mankind.  We are a very dangerous specie: we even assign others to do our hurting and killing.  Lawyers are abundant in almost every society.  They explicate our entanglements, they defend us when we are in trouble, they support us when we feel a need for legal help.  With the best of intentions, our governmental institutions are there to help us live together in some kind of peace and harmony.  We have police at every level of government to help us avoid doing only what is best in our own eyes.  They remind us that we must live together in an organized way.  And we usually obey them unless we feel we can get away with breaking the law, such as in the United States where almost all the people speed on the highways.  This is but an indication of human nature, a nature that came into the being in the Garden of Eden.

As Jesus approaches Jerusalem he weeps.  The crowd that sees him joyfully rejoices over him.  They praise him for all the miracles they had seen: Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”  “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.”  (Luke 19:38)  Yet the Bible tells us: As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.  The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side.  They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls.  They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”  (Luke 19:41-44)  Jesus knew war would come to them, that they had rejected the one who brings peace, eradicates conflicts, and destroys ill-will.  Jerusalem and Israel rejected Jesus even though He had done so many supernatural things in their midst.  They really did not want a ruler who would curb their vices.  They wanted one to deliver them from Rome, but not one who would penetrate their hearts, who would make them clean from the inside out.  This they rejected.  Their nature of doing their own will was stronger than doing God’s will on Earth; consequently, they hung him on a cross, to do away with the king of peace, security, and harmony.  The meaning of life for the people was striving to implant their wills on others.  They strove to find what they desired in life, not to do the will of God: to love others as they loved themselves, to treat others as they wanted to be treated.  Love is all that God commands of us—to love God and others.  Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  In Hosea 7 we see that God wants to heal his people, but their sins are too great.  I long to redeem them but they speak about me falsely.  They do not cry out to me from their hearts but wail on their beds.  (Hosea 7:13-14)  Hosea describes a wayward people, a people who have rejected his commandments, his hand in their lives.  They have chosen other ways, chosen to worship self and other gods.  They were as a people with thieves on the inside and bandits on the outside.  Otherwise, their society was depraved, wicked in every situation.  God saw it all and He sent a Savior to Israel and to the world.  The sins of the world were not too great for a loving God to show mercy and grace.  Jesus came to operate within our lives: inside and outside.  We are to carry his mission of love to the world.  He (Jesus) said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”  (Mark 16:15)  We have that obligation and privilege.

As a consequence of God’s great love for us and his command for us to love one another, how then should we live as children of God?  We find many scriptures in God’s Word concerning his love for his people and his plan for us to share that love abroad through our actions and reactions.  Loving others is so important that after telling his disciples He was giving them a new commandment to love one another, He went on to say, By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  (John 13:35)  He could have selected a number of identifying characteristics for believers, but He chose love.  Your love for others will set you apart from the world.  Given this distinctive, we must stop and take inventory of our lives.  How does one who loves live in an unloving world?  Do our spouses, children, co-workers, other drivers on the road, and so on, know we are loving people?  Sometimes, yes.  Other times, not so much.  A little story from when our children were young illustrates our point.  We have used it before, but it is good enough for repetition.  The oldest three children liked to play school, and as the big sister, Christine claimed the role of teacher.  Jeff, second in line, came in one day with a long face and asked me, “Mom, why does Christine always get to be the teacher.  Don’t you think if she was a real Christian, she would let me teach sometimes?”  Seeing his point, I suggested he leave out doubting her salvation and that we nicely ask her to give him a turn once in a while so he could learn to be a great teacher like her.  Fortunately, this appeal worked, and he got his turn in front of the class of several neighbor kids and his brother and sister.  People are always looking and if they know we are Christians, they are looking for love in our deeds, not merely in our words.  Speaking of children, we learned that our children responded well to the idea of treating others as they wanted to be treated.  Instead of handing out harsh punishments when they mistreated each other, we spent time talking about how they wanted to be treated, how they felt when they hurt a brother or sister verbally or physically.  We talked about the need to ask God to help us, to start over by asking forgiveness, and trying to find a better way to solve problems next time.  We loved seeing how the Holy Spirit worked with their hearts.  They came to know the Lord when they were very young, so we did not need to treat them as unregenerate heathens.  We read in the Word that we may sin, But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.  (1 John 1:7)  This is true for all believers.  When Jesus went away, He promised to send the Holy Spirit—the Counselor, the Comforter.  He is the one who teaches us, guides us, and helps us become more and more like Jesus in our walking about lives.  There is an old gospel chorus that says, “Oh to be like thee, oh to be like thee, blessed Redeemer, pure as thou art.  Come in thy sweetness.  Come in thy fullness.  Plant thine own image, deep in my heart.”  This is the cry of a Christian: To be like Jesus.  Then we will love as He loves, forgive as He forgives.  We will leave no debt outstanding except to love one another.            

Monday, October 15, 2018

Romans 13:1-7 Do What Is Right!

Romans 13:1-7  Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.  For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.  Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority?  Then do what is right and you will be commended.  For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.  They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.  Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.  This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.  Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.  

God’s will is that the institutions that organize the human community have leadership: people in control.  In the family, in the church, in the secular communities such as cities and countries, people should have the authority to bring stability to the land.  This is necessary for the basic human condition is that everyone will do what is right in his or her own eyes without leadership and guidelines.  As we read in the Bible, In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.  (Judges 21:25)  Of course, everyone doing what he or she seems best for his or her own life leads to chaos.  Just imagine society if there were no authorities, no one to obey, no one to fear.  Let us say that there were no God in heaven to fear, no consequences or divine judgment to come for self-indulgent, self-willed, destructive behavior.  Let us say that there were no human authorities to require an account: rulers, judges, policemen, soldiers—no authorities at all to set parameters on behavior, no norms to follow, no regulations to govern people’s activities.  Every individual’s desires would rule the day.  People would be the kings and lords of their own little world, with no restraints.  However, man’s self-willed nature culminates in fleshly desires; corrosive, destructive behaviors such as murder, rape, stealing, extortion, mugging, lying, and the like.  What would the human condition on Earth be like if no laws or regulations were placed on people’s actions, no consequences for aberrant behavior?  Freewill without restraints leads to chaos, uncontrolled evil everywhere. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.  Humans need an authority to give an account to for behavior that is hurtful to others and to the community.  They need someone to organize the community, someone with the authority to police and protect the people.  Without leadership, without rulers, without an organized society, the controller of any neighborhood would be the local bully, the strongman who would be willing to hurt and maim others to gain and keep control.  In some countries today, these kinds of societies exist, always in flux, full of violence, poverty, and pain.  God’s design for human organization is to have authority that He establishes and blesses.

As believers, we have one supreme authority over our lives, God our Father.  Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings!  The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross.”  (Acts 5:29-30)  As we see with Peter’s reply to the Sanhedrin, all authority is not necessarily blessed by God.  Some authority does not need to be heeded or honored in certain circumstances.  Peter and the apostles were given the directive by Jesus to go out into all the world and preach the gospel.  They had this commandment from the Lord; they were not going to violate God’s commandment, no matter what men would ask of them.  This of course is true for any Christian.  We will follow God’s commandments first, not man’s.  Authorities are given to men to rule over society, but the supreme commander in all things is God.  He rules over the whole earth.  All powers must bow at his words, not their words.  If a commandment is thou shalt not murder, then do not murder if given an order to do so.  If a commandment is to honor your father and mother, then do not under any man’s commandment dishonor them or abuse them.  The Bible says to love our wives as Jesus loves us, then do not abuse your wife even though you have control over her.  Jesus tells us to honor the little children, then do not harm little children with violence no matter who instructs us to do so.  We are to be absolutely obedient to God’s words for we are Christians.  Yet, we should honor authorities because we do live on earth in community.  Humans are meant to live in community.  The Pharisees and Herod’s supporter desired to trap Jesus into saying something that would get him into trouble with the rulers of that day.  They wanted to know, Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?  Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”  (Mark 12:24-15)  Jesus escapes this trap of separating him from his allegiance to authority by saying, Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.  (17)  In other words, honor those to whom honor is due.  We are to honor our authorities by obeying the laws and regulations that are set up to keep an organized society working efficiently.  However, we do not need to dishonor God by serving laws and regulations that run contrary to his will such as in the Old Testament when wicked Kings would direct the people to serve other gods than the only true God.  The prophets of the ancients did not follow these kings; instead, they railed against such policies, putting their lives in jeopardy of being killed.  As Peter would say, We must obey God rather than human beings!  God ordained order in society; therefore, he told us to be subject to our rulers, but He never intended for us to obey man’s laws at the expense of his commands.  We are citizens of another country, born into another family, the family of God.  Our first and primary allegiance is always to God.  As Jesus told his disciples,  Whoever has my commands and keep them is the one who loves me.  (John 14:21)  

Paul gives us a good example of how we should treat leadership in the following passage if they are not asking us to go directly against God’s will.  Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.”   At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth.  Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!  You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”  Those who were standing near Paul said, “How dare you insult God’s high priest!”  Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’”  (Acts 23:1-3)  Paul, chief of the Pharisees, a scholar in the law, knew the high priest was violating the law by having others strike him.  Consequently, he blurted out in anger, God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!  Then when informed that the man who struck him was obeying the high priest, he expressed regret by quoting what they all knew to be true: Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.  Later on in Acts, we find Paul doing everything possible not to come under the authority of the Sanhedrin.  In fact, he even appeals to Caesar to evade the Sanhedrin’s authority over him, for he knew they would kill him if they ever got control over him.  Paul was fulfilling God’s commission to preach to the Gentiles the words of God.  He was doing right in God’s eyes.  The members of the Sanhedrin were the rulers of the Jewish people.  Paul was a Jew, yet he feared his leaders and escaped to Rome.  In light of Paul’s life, how do we come to terms with Paul’s statement that rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.  For sure, Paul did not want to fall into the hands of the Sanhedrin.  How do we rectify all of this?  Let us look at Jesus’ words in his time of testing: Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan!  For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”  (Matthew 4:10)  We are people of the kingdom of God.  Our allegiance belongs to him first and only.  The Kingdom of God is preeminent in our lives.  We serve his commandments first in everything we do.  Paul knew he had a commandment to preach the gospel to the lost.  This was foremost in his life, nothing could quell that or hinder that commission, not even leaders.  He was obedient and respectful to his leaders, but he was not subservient to them.  He wanted to avoid their control over him because he wanted to serve the Lord.  We are to be respectful to our leaders and honor them for their roles in society, but nothing should ever quiet the Spirit of God in us.  We should hear his voice and do his will.  This will lead us not away from society, but will lead us to love others in society.  We will love our enemies; we will even heed their dictates if they do not violate God’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.  We should be the best neighbors that any society would want.  We should be responsible citizens.  We should be the light of the world, the light in our communities.  Light does not spew out self-will or chaotic darkness.  Light shines forth everywhere with love and care for those in need.  Dear friends, obey your rulers, pay your taxes happily, be supportive to your community.  Let people see your light in the darkness! 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Romans 12:14-21 Bless, Rejoice, Do Good!

Romans 12:14-21  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Once again we see Paul expressing the concept of God’s love to humans.  As humans we are basically at odds with the kind of love that Paul asks from us in the above focus.  Of course, we Christians believe we are made in the image of the eternal God.  We believe we will someday be with him in an eternal state.  Since we believe these things to be a reality, we must consider how we are to express God in this world of doubt and unbelief.  The New Testament clearly states that as new creatures, we are to be energized and motivated by love.  Not human love, but God’s divine unconditional love.  We should not function under our understanding of love, but under God’s eternal loving kindness and faithfulness towards others.  Human love exhibits limitations, tending to expect reciprocation, recognition, even praise for its display.  Often we expect love to bring cohesiveness, peace, and happiness.  But God’s enduring love demands none of those results.  His love is ever flowing.  His love refreshes, brings life to any environment, often to some very difficult situations, but his love does not demand anything in return.  Why?  Because God’s very nature is love.  As new creatures, we are to possess his nature.  We willingly express his love to the whole world, not just some people, but to the whole world.  Of course, when we talk like this, we are talking about perfection.  You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  (Matthew 5:43-47)  The question that stands out in Jesus’ teaching so dramatically is, Do not even pagans do that?  Is our love easily identifiable as extreme, even nonsensical?  Does the world see us as God desires us to be seen?  Or is our love unidentifiable from everyone else’s love?  Jesus has strong words for the latter kind of love.  Man’s love is pagan, common, predictable, humanistic, having little to do with God’s everlasting love to a rebellious people.

Feigned love is not God’s love.  If we are loving only to heap coals of fire on our adversaries, we are not loving.  We are loving by law; we are loving because God requires it of us.  We are loving reluctantly, with devious intentions of getting our way eventually, knowing God will repay our adversaries for doing evil to us.  But this is not God’s love.  Jesus loved us while we were his enemies.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were sinners, Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:8)  Christ bore the cross for a rebellious people, not merely for those who willingly accept God’s authority in all things.  God is righteous.  He will eventually judge all people according to what they have done in their time of existence, but He is not a God who desires to mete out judgement.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  (2 Peter 3:9)  Judgment will occur only because people choose to reject God’s call and eternity demands perfection.  People will not be allowed to bring in the deadly cancer of sin and death into eternity.  Sin must be dealt with eventually, not because God does not love people, but because his exact rule, his perfection, demands justice.  Consequently, justice will be meted out in the future.  Every sin not covered by the blood of Jesus will have to be paid for by the penalty of death.  This final judgment does not negate God’s enduring, unquenchable love for his creation; it just reveals clearly why Jesus died for all.  He died so that we might not have to die, so that we might not have to face death because of our own sins.  A perfect God, the God of forever, demands that all imperfection and inexactness must be eliminated from our eternal dwelling place.  Therefore, we see a God of love who loved humanity so much that He was willing to send his only begotten Son to the cross for a rebellious people.  God in giving his Son did not feign love.  He gave heaven’s very best to be humiliated, brutalized, and then killed.  His love darkened the sky that day of the crucifixion, but God gave Jesus to us on the cross for our eternal destiny, to be with him forever in perfection by his mercy and grace.

How do we do the impossible: to love our enemies, to bless those who persecute us; to Iive in harmony with one anothernot to repay anyone evil for evil; to be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone; to live at peace with everyone, not to take revenge against evil people?  Paul helps us find the answer to that question in Philippians 3:8-14:  But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  Paul’s desire was to know Christ in all of his power.  To know Christ, he knew he had to give up his life.  He had to surrender even the good things in his life, such as being recognized as a righteous, disciplined person, a scholar of the highest order, a person honored as a competent, zealous leader in the Jewish culture and religion.  He considered all of the accolades and praises that he had received from his fellow Jewish leaders as rubbish.  His purpose in life was not to receive the compliments of the world but to know Christ.  Paul longed to know Christ’s love, to be able to express God’s love to others.  He was pressing on to be more like Christ.  As a daily struggle, he battled his flesh for the purpose of fulfilling God’s plans in his life.  Of course, all of us have this goal in our lives.  What is the purpose of living?  For the secular world, most have a “bucket list,” what they want to do in their lives, what they want to accomplish or experience.  When they are old, they assess how meaningful their lives have been by whether they achieved the activities they desired for their personal fulfillment.  They will determine whether they had a good life or a meaningful life based on those temporal things.  However, a Christians does not assess life by the activities or experiences that they have participated in during their lives.  No, a Christian’s purpose for living is to honor God in all things.  He or she is to love in all situations so that God will be glorified.  Jesus came to honor his Father, to do his will.  We are IN JESUS so our lives should reflect Jesus who honored his Father in all circumstances.  Of course, we often fail in our flesh to honor God’s will in everything we do, but we know by faith that we are hidden IN CHRIST, so in reality, we are always honoring God one hundred percent because God loves his SON. Consequently, He loves us in the same way.  AS WITH PAUL, WE WILL PRESS ON TO WIN THE PRIZE OF THE HIGH CALLING OF BEING KNOWN AS HIS ADOPTED SONS AND DAUGHTERS IN THE HOUSEHOLD OF GOD.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Romans 12:9-13 Joyful, Patient, Faithful!

Romans 12:9-13  Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love.  Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.

The above scripture points to the work of the Holy Spirit within us.  We are to be ambassadors of God, to love the world and everything in it as Jesus Christ loves the world.  This is so difficult for us who are born immersed in rebellion.  As God said to Noah, our nature is one of rebellion to God from our very conception.  When Noah offered a sacrifice to God after the flood, God said, Never again will I curse the ground because of humans even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.  (Genesis 8:21)  This reality is hard for us to accept, but if we reflect on the history of mankind, we will know that evil has been a horrible part of mankind’s existence.  Millions upon millions have been mutilated, persecuted, humiliated, and destroyed in every possible way.  Humans do not like to recognize the nature of man.  We want to believe people start out to be good, but the experiences of living nurture us towards evil.  We wish that were the case, but that is not scriptural.  Romans 12 begins with the following verses: 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.  (1-2)  We see the Holy Spirit’s inspired words through Paul’s writing telling us not to be conformed to the pattern of the world:  to do evil, to destroy, to maim, to hurt, to place selfish needs and desires over the needs of others.  Humans want to get ahead in this world, to compete with others for their own sake, to win the game of life.  Paul tells us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is our true and proper worship.  The King James Version of the Bible says a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God.  What is acceptable to God?  Paul lays out what is acceptable to God in the rest of chapter 12.  He explains that love must be sincere.  Sincerity means we are all in, we are willing to give our lives for others as Jesus Christ did for us.  As sure as we love God and would give our lives for him, we should also love our neighbor the same.   Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  (1 John 4:16)  Salvation is described this way many times: we in Christ, Christ in us.  According to the Bible, we are literally hidden WITH CHRIST IN GOD  because of our faith in his death and resurrection.   We no longer represent ourselves to the world, but Jesus Christ.  We are known as his ambassadors to the world.  If so, we are to have his nature in the forefront of our lives, not our nature.  Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  (1 John 4:7-12)  If we are not sincere in our love, if bitterness and hatred is in our hearts, then how can we claim to be baptized, inundated IN CHRIST.  If we are truly IN CHRIST, we should desire to be living sacrifices, dying to ourselves and living for Christ.

Today’s verses tell us to reject evil and hold onto goodness.  We are to devote ourselves to others in love and honor others above ourselves.  We should be zealous and fervent in our spiritual service.  Others should see our joyful hope, our patience in difficulties and our faith in prayer.  Certainly, we will share with the needy and practice hospitality.  Are these attitudes and actions in our lives?  Are they plentiful or rarely seen in our action and reactions?  Walking with Christ is a journey with many decisions.  Almost every day we meet situations where we can display Christ or follow our old nature.  We meet situations where we think the best decision for us is to isolate ourselves, to hide out, to protect the flesh, to look out for our best interests.  But is this God’s good, pleasing and perfect will or our will?  The Bible says, Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 2:5)  Of course, this is what Paul is saying in chapter 12.  He warns us to be wary of the fleshly person in us.  He encourages us to sacrifice our will for the Father’s will.  He asks us to maintain the attitude of a servant and not the master.  If we are the master of our lives, we will never give in to the Spirit’s will unless if fits into our self-willed controlling nature.  How easy all of this is for us to discuss, but how hard it is to live a life truly dedicated to God.  We seldom think about things that demand a sacrifice.  Our lives are not focused in that manner because we remain focused on ourselves.  We often deceive ourselves by saying the time or the situation is not right for us to love others as ourselves.  Or we love them in a way that does not cost us anything.  We love them in our minds.  But our scripture for today says: Be devoted to one another in love.  Honor one another above yourselves.  Some wonderful Christians are good at fulfilling that scripture.  But we confess this commitment is often difficult for us to put in action.  We attempt to do this in our home, but outside of our acquaintances and close relatives, this becomes a challenge for us.  But God, our Father, still loves us and continues to motivate us to hear his voice and follow his commands.  We gain confidence in God’s plans for us as we read his Word: 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)  

Yet we know that we cannot sit and rest, expecting changes in our nature without effort on our part.  How many of us are joyful in hopepatient in affliction, or faithful in prayer?  Often we have a tendency to stop praying when we face stubborn trials or afflictions?  When we give up on our prayers, instead of choosing joy, we sometimes reside in despair.  Such a faithless path becomes a common affliction to all of us who fall back into fleshly patterns in times of trouble.  Job was a man of despair.  He cursed the day he was born.  He was so miserable in his depression that he did not want the day of his birth to be remembered.  He wanted God to blot that day out of his eternal calendar.  Speaking of his birth, Job said, That day—may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine on it.  May its morning stars become dark; may it wait for daylight in vain and not see the first rays of dawn.  (Job 3:4 & 9)  That is depression!  Most of us do not enter into that black hole of deep depression.  But we often despair over circumstances in life, over our own pain, failures, and the vicissitudes of life.  Paul tells us to sacrifice our lives to the nature of God.  Rather than abiding in depression, we ask the Holy Spirit within us to help us.  We purpose in our hearts that our desire is to follow God with sincere love.  Then we will be able to say by faith we will be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  As we walk in the Spirit, we become stronger in the Lord.  Then we can cling to hope, even when it seems irrational or unreasonable.  With a voice of faith we can declare God’s mercy and grace when we struggle with fear or doubt.   With the anointing of the Holy Spirit, we will sing praises to God, believing He will lift us from the depths of despair.  We must remember we are new creations in Christ, God’s children and his servants on Earth.  We have his nature; we do not need to serve our old nature.  We want to do his will, not our will. We are free from the past.  As Peter wrote, But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  (1 Peter 2:9)  Today, since you have this wonderful inheritance in Christ, as his child and servant, we encourage you to pray about everything.  Commune with the Father constantly as the Holy Spirit works inside of you.  Listen to the still, quiet voice of the Holy Spirit.  God has not left you in the wilderness.  He is there as surely as He was with the children of Israel in the wilderness: a cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night.  When you seek God first in your life, you will have zeal for his Word.  The Bible will be exciting to you, increasing your spiritual fervor.  Lastly, we should all share with the Lord’s people who are in need, and practice hospitality.  Our hunger for God and desire to do his will should drive us to action.  Sacrificing our lives in the flesh to God’s will in the Spirit takes practice, obedience, and commitment.  Our nature is not prone to accept other’s needs and desires before our own needs and desires, but God is love and He gives us his love.  We shine for him in a dark world with sincere faith, hope, and love. 

Monday, September 24, 2018

Romans 12:1-8 A Living Sacrifice!

Romans 12:1-8  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.  For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.  For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.  If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

We who are IN CHRIST are members of one body.  We are known on Earth as the church of the living God.  We are closely knitted together, providing for the perfect functioning of the holy body of Christ.  We are not to honor one member above the others, for all members of the body are needed.  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)  If we are chosen by the Spirit to be in one body, we then should offer up our bodies as living sacrifices for the service of the Lord.  We have been bought with a high price to be in this body: the blood of Jesus Christ.  We are not to be our own any longer, but we are to be the servants of the Most High God.  Any other orientation or understanding of the purpose of our lives results in serving other spirits, other gods.  We are not our own, but we are temples of the Holy Spirit.  We function individually as a personal temple where God dwells and collectively as a temple where God dwells.  The great mystery is God within us and we within God.  Our proper service as temples is to be a place of worship, where God can meet us.  Numerous times when Jesus spoke to his disciples or groups of people, He said, Whoever has ears, let them hear.”  (Matthew 11:15)  Those without temple ears will never hear God clearly or understand his will.  Their lives, their directions in life, are for themselves.  They are not living to worship God, but seeking to get the most out of their lives for themselves.  They hear the din of world readily, but the voice of God is distant to their ears.  Only in a time of great trouble might they turn to God to ask for help.  This is not what God wants for his servants.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  His still voice, this God within the inner person of our lives, should be heeded, always known.  If not we cannot claim to be his loving and loyal servants.  Those who hear his voice are his servants.  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow mewas Jesus’ description of his people.  (John 10:27)  Our relationship to God should be that close.  If our minds, our lives, our energy are fixed on God, we will know what God’s will is for our lives: Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

As one body, we have many functions, some very different from the others.  Sometimes we might have difficulty recognizing how a member with a special gift or skill fits in within the body of Christ on Earth.  Some of you have a distinctive natural ability, a gift from God.  Some of you dance well, others have exceptional singing voices, others excel with mechanical things, some show talent with abstractions such as math, many people are athletic, a few are always gracious and merciful, some are convivial while others are more serious, and  so on, but all believers are members of the body of Christ with the purpose of revealing God on Earth.  Individually and collectively we are ambassadors of God to the world.  In everything, we should portray the nature of God to a world in need.  We should be loving, caring, helpful, and creative.  He has planned for us to possess his likeness in our born-again nature: the Holy Spirit and his attributes.  Paul warns us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to for we are but members of the body of Christ.  We are integral parts in that body; we are to function as God desires not as we want.  We are to fulfill his will on Earth and not our will. We should not resent our place in the body of Christ, envying others and their talents, for regardless where we are in the body, we are essential members.  We need to function wholeheartedly where we have been placed.  Whether we have little perceived talent or an abundance of God-given gifts, we should work energetically in God’s perfect will for us.  Every member is needed for the church to operate effectively, revealing God to the world.  The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!”  And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.  And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.  But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.   If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  (1 Corinthians 12:21-25)  If one of our inner organs failed in our physical body, the whole body, would suffer, maybe even die.  Consequently, we are concerned how our organs function; we want them healthy.  In the church, if we are only concerned about the most visible parts of the church: the pastors, teachers, board members, singers, musicians, and the like, the body might get very sick, even die.  Each member of the church must be functioning well for a church to be healthy.  When most parishioners are merely observers, not carrying the message of Christ to the world, the impact of Christ on a community is lessened.  Healthy members of the body of Christ will strengthen the church and influence the world around them.

Within the church, we are all accountable to each other.  For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.  If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.  When we gather together, we should bring with us a commitment to others in the church.  If we have a special word from the Lord, we should have sufficient faith to share it with the community of believers.  If we have a testimony of what God has done for us in the last few days, we should share it.  If God has inspired us through our personal reading of the Bible, we should inspire others with it.  The church is a spiritual gathering, not just a club or fraternal organization.  We come together to worship God and to inspire each other to live for God in this secular, alien world.  We are to be strengthened in the Lord by each other’s words and lives.  If we are too tentative, too unwilling to function with what God has given us, we will weaken the body.  Of course, everything we do within a gathering of born-again believers should be done orderly, under the authority of the leadership, but every member of the body of Christ needs to come with a willingness to help the whole body to be strong and vibrant.  Last week in our home church, some people shared their needs and a man shared a healing in his body.  This willingness to be vulnerable encouraged and built up the entire church.   Probably today, we have too many observers in the church and not enough active participants.  Church becomes a performance and not the interactive body of Christ when people merely watch and do not enter into a service.  In the early church, interaction of the different members in the congregation was anticipated.  What then shall we say, brothers and sisters?  When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.  Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.  (1 Corinthians 14:26)  Now of course, Paul was attempting to bring order in the Corinthian church but he was not saying that people should not participate in the spiritual dimensions of the church.  Every member’s contribution is important in a healthy, spiritual church.  However, if the members are living their everyday lives as secular people, they will have nothing to bring to a congregation that is spiritual in origin.  They will just cause dissension if they participate.  For sweet water cannot come from a bitter spring; flesh will never produce a life of the spirit.  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.  Let us be transformed as we walk in the Spirt.  Paul tells the Ephesians that Christ is the head of the body and from him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.  (Ephesians 4:16)  Praise the name of the Lord.  Amen!