Friday, July 31, 2009

Romans 8:18-39

Am impressed with all the groaning. Creation groans. Those with the Spirit groan. The Spirit himself groans without words. All this expresses unfulfilled desires and hopes. . . and the Spirit takes those to God.

If there is any better verse than Romans 8:28, it would have to be Romans 8:32. God will not withhold anything from us, but will give us everything we need.

Nothing will separate us from his love. Not only does He work for our good, not only will He give us all things, nothing can undo it! Wow! Words cannot do justice to this love of God!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Romans 8:1-17

There is a new law: The law of the Spirit. The reason God's law doesn't work to control sin is that our flesh, our sinful nature, reacts to it in weakness. We are built to disobey it. Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the law and in so doing broke/condemned sin in his flesh. Jesus did what I couldn't do because of my inherent weakness.

What we "mind" or think about practically controls whether we walk according to the flesh or Spirit, whether we lose to sin or enjoy spiritual victory. I don't have the control I want over my sinful nature, but I can control what I spend time thinking about.

Two straight-up statements about human ability say volumes about our need for grace and demolish pride (Romans 8:7-8). If people object to humans being dead in trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1) as THE statement of inability, these verses seem plenty convincing.

The Spirit dwells in us giving us power to overcome and as a promise of our inheritance. Thank you, God, for your Spirit!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Romans 7:7-25

If sin receives opportunity through the law, the way to fight sin is NOT by bringing in more law! Why do we do that? Becoming more uptight about my coveting will only increase coveting.

This chapter explains the ongoing struggle with sin. It is agonizing and elegant the way he exposes the treachery of the human heart. The use of the word "law" is key to making sense of the struggle:
  • First, the law means God's law. This is how he used it earlier, too, and it is good.
  • Then he begins to us it differently, "another law" (Rom. 7:23). This other law represents the tyranny of sinful desires still present in him (Rom. 7:21). His desire to submit to God's law is compromised by the rule of this other law that makes him do what he doesn't want to do.
How is the second law overcome? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ (Rom. 7:25).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Romans 7:1-6

I stopped short this morning because I am so struck by the centrality of my union with Christ. I cannot escape the tyranny of the law, or the power of sin apart from Him.

For instance, "You died to the law through the body of Christ (Rom. 7:4)," to be married to another. How does that happen? I didn't feel the dying. I didn't see it nor do I understand it, but it is true of me. In Christ, because I died with Him, my relationship to the law has changed. I'm now free!

This is not antinomianism. I'm not throwing off the law for no reason. I'm free to live for Christ. Would I be less godly for Christ's sake? I don't think so. It isn't anti-law, it is pro-Christ. This will have radical, but not wild results.

Romans 6 comes from this same idea. I'm united with Christ. The first few verses about baptism establish that union with Christ changes my relationship with sin, too. My relationship with sin and with the law are different because of Christ.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Romans 6

Jesus Christ has given so much freedom. The point of this chapter is for us to stop sinning. While more work can be done to distill a strategy to fight sin, here are a few key elements to winning over sin:
  • Be united with Christ and know it. (Rom. 6:1-10, especially 3,6,9).
  • Consider (reason, this is the word we get logic from) yourself dead to sin (Rom. 6:11).
  • Refuse to let sin reign (Rom. 6:12).
  • Present yourself and your members to God to obey (Rom. 6:13, 15-17, 19).
  • Remind yourself of grace (Rom. 6:14-15).
  • Consider the nature of your slavery to sin. You do not need to reenlist (Rom. 6:16-20).
  • Consider the end or final outcome of sin (Rom. 6:21-23). Romans 6:23 for all its use in gospel presentations, is written so we will be motivated not to sin and to appropriate God's gift.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Romans 5

Never in all my years as a Christian have I had a reaction to the beauty of a text like this one this morning. My heart could hardly be contained in my chest. I wanted to shout, "Yes. Yes." The precious central truths of Christianity are so clearly stated and are so distinct from inferior systems of belief. Grace is NOT like the trespass.

Romans 5:1-5 remind me I can trust God through every circumstance because he is working a process to bring hope. I can also be assured that I have peace with him regardless of circumstances. Circumstances do NOT determine the presence or absence of peace with God.

The "not only this" statements in Romans 5:3 & Romans 5:11 bracket some of the best news in all the world. I was weak, Christ died for the ungodly. I was a sinner, God displayed his love. I was an enemy of God, Christ died for me.

Several interesting things are happening here:
  • It is important to realize that Adam is a real person, not just a myth, because he is a type of Christ. If he were a myth this chapter would be nonsense.
  • My relationship to sin is established by my relationship to Adam.
  • In the same way, only more glorious, my relationship with grace is established by my relationship with Christ.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mid-Year Checkup

Are any of you still reading through the New Testament with me? How is it going? What has been on of the best things so far about it?

We are comfortably on pace to finish the New Testament in the year. I would suggest that its not to late to start or catch up if you've fallen behind. Don't give up! Even if you don't make it, it is a noble goal to fail at.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Romans 4

What a beautiful passage! It is among the most helpful in all the Bible explaining God's reasons for designing faith not works as his prerequisite for salvation. One key is in Romans 4:4, God doesn't like to be someone's debtor or to be obligated to us.

Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. He did not need prerequisites like circumcision. He did not conform to the Law as a basis for his standing before God. It was given by grace, not obligation because he believed the one who promised was able to keep his promise (Romans 4:13). He could call things that are not as though they are. He gives life to the dead. I want that kind of faith. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Romans 3:21-31

God put forth Christ to display his righteousness. This statement is all about God -- not us. Wow! God was actually justifying himself. . . at the same time he was justifying me!

The heart of the gospel is here. God put forth Jesus as the one who satisfies his wrath so that I might be made right. I can be justified and God can be just at the same time because he exercises his wrath on and has it satisfied in Christ. His holiness is not compromised. Beautiful!

The Christian's relationship with the law is brought up and addressed at length. Apart from the law someone is justified, but the law witnesses to the justice of God (Romans 3:21). Apart from works of the law God justifies both Jew and Gentile (Romans 3:29-30). Grace levels the playing field so God cannot be accused of favoritism.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Romans 3:1-20

This portion wraps up the first part of Romans that establishes the guilt of the whole world. Openly rebellious, good people guided by their consciences and the religious all stand justly condemned.

This seems to be a very modern concern, "How can God be right to condemn people?" This is a central, yet man-centered question. Paul shows the purpose of God's standard is to show sin, and then, it should be obvious to all, everyone is guilty. To establish the fact, he quotes the Old Testament.

In the first nine verses he defends God twice. This requires an assumption that God permits sin and then judges it as a revelation of his holy character (Romans 3:5 & Romans 3:7). This is, I believe, why God permits/ordains sin and hell. He does it to display his justice and holiness in ways that a 'non-sinful world' would never display.

The prospect of non-guilt is at its heart, a nonsensical problem. Sin and a deceitful heart function best with nonsense. Reality bites.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Romans 2

It seems to me Paul is justifying God's condemnation of good people and religious people. More and more it seems to be God-focused. Condemnation and judgment demand that we lift our eyes from ourselves to God.

This chapter ties a noose for those who posture themselves as teachers without being obey-ers. The law is of no benefit if it is not kept. External things (circumcision and law keeping) don't matter if your heart is not right before God.

The best sentence is Romans 2:4, the kindness of God leads to repentance. This comes on the heals of his statement about presuming on God's kindness. God is kind so that we repent not so that we can take advantage of it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Romans 1

Romans: So many treasures here.

While I've known and loved Romans 1:16-17 for a long time, I hadn't noticed that Paul considered himself obligated to Barbarians and ignorant people (Romans 1:14 -- toned down in most translations). That couldn't be a very pleasant obligation. Made me look at my life to see who I am obligated to.

Key Point: Everyone is accountable before God because general revelation is sufficient to know enough about God to honor Him. Failure to do that brings judgment. Honoring Him because of general revelation brings the gospel by which one can be saved.

I am struck, too, by the plight of the natural man. Not just that God gave them over to their desires, but that based on natural revelation, they are without defense. It is important to see their offenses are against God. Sin and guilt have to do with God.

The process of exchanging the truth for a lie, the creation for the creator, is tragic and rampant around us. God's delivering people to their own desires is tragic, too.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Acts 28

I love the incident by the fire. The serpent provides great insight into human opinions of justice. First, Paul's a murderer who escaped the sea, but justice prevailed as he was bitten by a poisonous snake. Then, when he didn't die, they thought he was a god. The speed of their condemnation is equaled by the speed of their deification! They cannot figure him out!

Without email, I wonder how they sent word to the saints. Seems they were very well networked. And it proved to be encouraging, literally they took courage from one another.

Even in Rome there is disagreement and conflict which results in rejection by the Jews and life for the Gentiles -- just like the epistle to the Romans (Romans 1:15-16). He preached the kingdom of God and taught concerning Jesus. Interesting that the summary of his message is so much like the message of Jesus!

The end of this book seems, to some degree, unfinished. Yet the end is highly significant. The Isaiah quotation represents a Spirit-empowered model of ministry that will mark the church's future. And the last word is unhindered! After all this the message of the kingdom went out unhindered. Yeah!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Acts 27

I read this chapter sitting in an airport thinking I was inconvenienced by travel! God used it to put me at peace.

The decision maker was more persuaded by the captain/owner than by Paul. Paul had a series of accurate predictions that earned him credibility with the captain and crew, even though some of them gave up hope of ever being saved.

The storm went on for over 14 days. Did Paul pray for it to be over? It doesn't say he did.

He received a vision, shared it and comforted the sailors. Some circumstances actually cause professional sailors to listen to a preacher.

None of the prisoners were killed because the captain wanted to save Paul -- Interesting influence. Just as he predicted, everyone made it safely to the beach.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Acts 26

Paul gave his testimony to the king. I suspect if he was a free preacher, not a prisoner, he wouldn't have had the opportunity. As Paul spoke he wove a story that combined narrative about what happened and the claims of Jesus!

The line in his vision, "It is hard to kick against the goads!" is recorded only here. That is to say, it is a hard life to actively oppose Christ.

The way Paul concludes his testimony is interesting. He was sent to open the eyes of the Gentiles, to turn them from darkness to light, from the authority of Satan to the authority of God and to offer forgiveness of sin. What a calling! What a job description!

Paul pressed Agrippa to believe. Even kings need to believe.

I wonder about God's sovereignty again. Paul could have gone free except he appealed to Caesar. Why? Why not let him go anyway, God?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Acts 25

The Jews wanted Paul back to Jerusalem for another ambush, but he didn't go. When Festus couldn't figure out the charges against Paul, he suggested Paul go back to Jerusalem. That's when Paul appealed to Caesar.

While he was held, Agrippa came to town. One thing led to another and the king asked to hear from a prisoner. How weird is that? I guess if you don't have TV you have to find something to do for entertainment. All this took place in the context of great pomp and circumstance.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Acts 24

The chief priests brought a lawyer to accuse Paul before the governor. Paul defended himself adequately enough that Felix wanted a second opinion and left Paul in prison with liberty. . . for two years.

Two years! I imagine Paul and God had some substantial conversations about that. Two years of his life he'll never get back. Surely there are better uses of your best apostle than leaving him languishing in prison, even if he does have some liberty. I think God must have been doing exactly what he meant to be doing. This delay, and no delay for that matter, is an accident with God.

During that time, Felix and his wife wanted to talk with Paul about faith in Jesus Christ. Paul spoke about righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment. The perfect choice of topics for a Gentile ruler. It was enough to make the governor afraid! Still, he brought Paul in often and spoke with him. I want to speak straight like that and do it in such a way people who don't like what I've got to say, want to speak with me frequently.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Acts 23

This is one of those chapters where little seems to happen.
  • Paul starts a riot between Pharisees and Sadducees that must be broken up by security!
  • Under the cover of night, with intrigue and a spy, to boot, Paul is transported horseback to Caesarea. I wonder if those who took the vow not to eat until Paul was killed actually starved to death.
  • The vision of the Lord is comforting. He'll witness in Rome and Jerusalem. He wasn't going to die in Jerusalem. I imagine under the circumstances having at least two destinations on the itinerary would have been encouraging.
  • Paul is kept under guard at Herod's Palace. God must be interested in having Herod hear the gospel, so He put Paul, the prisoner there. The Good News of Jesus is climbing out of the prison and running in significant places.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Acts 22 B

At the beginning of this account the Lord came to Paul and told him to take courage, he would have to testify in Rome. While that takes some of the fear away it makes some of the present inconveniences seem like a charade or mere formalities. Very interesting to think how it might change our lives and our endurance to know specific points in the future with certainty. I'm not sure I would like it.

Paul is given special pretection. I am uncertain whether this was due to his Roman citizenship, the bogus charges against him, or political maneuvering, or all three. Either way the final sentence is significant -- he commanded the Praetorian guard to watch Paul. Caesar's household/palace is not within earshot of the gospel.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Acts 22 A

Paul gives his credentials apart from Christ. He recounts his conversion and call and makes claims that some of them would recognize.

His true defense is his testimony. God chose him to know his will, to see his righteousness and to hear his voice. He would be a witness of all he's seen and heard.

Paul recounts a vision in Jerusalem that amounted to his commissioning. We'd heard his conversion, but not this vision. This is news to us. He argues, apparently, that he should stay in Jerusalem because everyone would see the change -- God says go. Twice he speaks of being appointed or chosen.

He is shouted down and beaten by authorities then he appeals to his Roman citizenship which strikes fear in the heart of his captors.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Acts 21:17-40

The sovereignty of God is everywhere. Consider this sequence.
  1. The Spirit leads Paul to Jerusalem.
  2. The Spirit warns about the arrest.
  3. Paul sees James (chief elder in Jerusalem and brother of Jesus).
  4. James says, "Take these men to be cleansed."
  5. Zealous Jews mistakenly seize Paul for having Gentiles in the temple.
That means Paul's obedience to the Spirit and submission to spiritual leadership landed him in the trial of his life. This could not have been a coincidence.

At the very end there are two references to language. Paul's mastery of Greek and Hebrew proved useful in ministry and set him apart.

It must have been weird to be a believer in Christ and still have to go to the temple and make offerings.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Acts 21:1-16

This is fascinating. Twice Luke tells us "through the Holy Spirit," or, "The Holy Spirit says." What they prophecied came true and so I believe the Holy Spirit did tell them. Should he not have gone? Was God saying don't go? What good did it do to know what would happen and not do anything about it? How does the Holy Spirit direct Paul to go and his friends to beg him not to go?

A literal translation of verse 5 is beautiful: "And placing their knees in the sand, they prayed."

It was old home week. They stayed with Phillip (Acts 6:5) and Mnason one of the early disciples. What sweet fellowship they would have had with saints like that!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Acts 20:17-38

While this passage is used to commend small groups (house to house), and doctrinal preaching (all the will of God) and shepherding (watch out for wolves), the most striking feature is the warmth of the relationships between him and the elders. All of these are components of eldering, but the last is the most neglected.

This is a tender passage. It is cleansing and sober at the same time. His review of his own activity and motives reminds them that he brought them grace. He was not mercenary. His affection, their mutual grief, as they part ways shows the tenderness of their relationship. This tender love is indispensable to Christian leadership.

Proclaiming the whole will of God frees him from guilt. Do preachers who slant their message bear the responsibility for those who listen to them? Apparently.

They must watch the flock. The Holy Spirit made you an overseer. Jesus bought it. Wolves will destroy it.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Acts 20:1-16

Once the riot was over they made a quick trip to revisit several places. It reads as though this is a whirlwind tour.

The people in the first part of this chapter seems like a line-up in the sport's page before a ball game. These are the players God has assembled at this time for this game. It must be an all-star game.

The Eutychus episode is both hopeful and and hilarious! The length of the meeting as well as the depth of the tragedy are both comic in proportion. I think this is an encouragement to long winded preachers. Twice Luke records how long Paul talked.

They must have been gone from Ephesus for a considerable time because the trip back was a deliberate decision, even though they were just there only 15 verses ago!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Acts 19:21-40

This is, I believe, at least the third problem encountered by the church because their faith brought economic stress on non-believers! They altered the financial stability of an entire city. Wow! Not just book makers, but idol-makers were suffering on account of these radical Jesus-followers.

In the end, this riot proved to be an empty shouting match. Like a Blazer game . . . two hours of cheering. . . but without any baskets. They believed Artemis had fallen from heaven. The riot ended with, "Make your complaints legally. Now shut up and go home." And they did.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Acts 19:1-20

There were disciples who had not heard of the Holy Spirit. Nor had they been baptized except for repentance. On both accounts Paul took immediate action to make sure the disciples were not ignorant or handicapped. I cannot imagine trying to be a disciple of Jesus without the Holy Spirit! Speaking in tongues was good authentication, not for them, but for those traveling with Paul, that they had received the real thing.

The sons of Sceva make me laugh! We know Jesus and Paul, but who are you? Ha! Then the demon beat them up and sent them away without any clothes. As a result of their folly, fear fell on everyone and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified, a good result from a bad event.

After the book burning (5,000 pieces of silver worth!), the word increased and grew stronger according to the power of the Lord. Three different Greek words in this sentence for strength.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Acts 18:11-28

You've got to like Apollos! He was powerful in the Scriptures and eloquent. He "boiled in spirit." He had heat, but not quite enough light. He taught accurately. . . but needed help to teach more accurately. How great that those two mature saints cared enough for God's church to help him. In the end, he refuted Jews in public debate, showing from the Old Testament why Jesus was the Messiah! Yeah!

What grace to one church -- Paul stopped on his way through, Apollos spoke clearly, Priscilla and Aquila moved there, and then Paul ended up staying three years! God had particular interest in this church (Revelation 2:1-7).

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Acts 18:1-10

Paul got a violent reaction, so he moved next door! I'd have gone farther. He only had to move next door to get to the Gentiles. And. . . the synagogue leader came to Christ.

We cannot miss the providential relationship with some other tent makers who, haveing been with Paul are able to explain more clearly the gospel to Apollos. I'm amazed at the Sovereign Hand behind the scenes in building this web of relationships, to take care of His church. A decree form Claudius put Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth. And, they have just the right career to land next to the Apostle. Apollos happened into town when they were ready to talk with him. God gets the right people where He wants them.

"There are many people to me in this city. I am with you." It would make a huge difference in your ability to persever if you hade that direct word!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Acts 17:16-34

This speech is held up as a great example of contextualizing the message of Christ. Many who make much of adapting the message to fit the listeners miss Acts 17:16, "He was greatly upset in his spirit." That is the starting point for pluralistic engagement. Anything else is self-indulgent.

He spoke at their invitation and started the best place he could discern, the unknown God. He talked about a God they didn't know and called them to repentance. He contrasted the Living God with idols and ascribed breathtaking sovereignty to Him, down' to the very places and times in which we live. He spoke of judgment and the resurrection, but not explicitly about Jesus.

That must be why the response was joining Paul, not believing. He had not yet given them enough information. They had to hang around to get to Jesus.

The crowd had each of three possible responses: Some mocked him. Some needed to hear more. Some joined him and believed.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Acts 17:1-15

Paul was only three weeks in Thessalonian. A church started and an uproar drove him out of town. I must never lose sight of what can be accomplished in three weeks. His message was the same as before, Jesus is the Messiah, He died, and rose from the dead.

The frenzied crowd drug Jason into court for hosting Paul. This was beautiful example of Christian hospitality. He did what Jesus commanded and received the earthly reward Jesus promised.

Both good and bad people followed from Thessalonica. The Bereans were more noble because they listened eagerly and read the scripture to see of these things were true. I want to be noble like that.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Acts 16:26-40

Luke points out that, not just were Paul and Silas praying and singing, the prisoners were listening to them. They connected the dots between the prayers and singing and the earthquake. They were quick to follow their lead in staying when their chains fell off.

The jailer was essentially saved twice. After he was spared falling on his sword, the jailer asked, "What must I do to be saved?" I want people to ask me that question. I'm sure his was prompted not just by the earthquake, but by the fact they stayed in the jail. What do I need to do to prompt that question? What if it means staying in jail?

Paul refused to be let go quietly. Was he just belligerent or was he following the Spirit's leading? Should I follow him in this kind of self-defense, or should I let it go?