Wake up and smell the coffee!
Romans 13: Be up and awake to what God is doing!
I’m chest deep in my life in the church. I’m a pastor so I have a love and responsibility for the flock I shepherd. Beyond that, I’m a denominational pastor so I have connections to maintain, meetings to attend, reports to do. I’m okay with it all. I pastor a fine congregation and I’m proud of my denominational ties. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Still, I have to be careful that programs and meetings and traditions don’t own me. Sometimes, I need to be reminded that God doesn’t exist to help me plan the fall program of the church and he isn’t waiting on the denomination to tell him what’s next. In fact, sometimes God sees trends and opportunities that aren’t even on my radar screen. I need to be careful that my religious life isn’t all about me performing as God sits in the audience wondering what I’ll do next. I belong, not to my local congregation or the denomination or even the Church universal, but to the Lord. I’m reminded of all that today in the words of the Apostle. What’s God doing right now and how does he want me to be part of it? That’s how the Church at large needs to operate. This is how the local church is to think. It’s how I’m to live my life.
Take Away: Don’t get so immersed in church culture that you fail to maintain contact with the Lord.
Romans 12: Get the best of evil by doing good.
Having done the heavy lifting of theology, the Apostle turns his attention to practical Christian living and his opening instructions on the topic, Romans 12, feel a lot like Jesus’ beatitudes. Here I find a series of helpful and challenging concepts. There’s enough material here for an entire book, making it difficult for a writer to pick just one thing and focus on it. Paul’s summary, though, is attention getting. Christians, I’m told, live in a world containing plenty of evil. Opportunities to do wrong abound with even good things, like having personal resources, carrying with them some built in temptations. With the potential of wrong attached to everything from spiritual gifts to that which is obviously wrong how does a Christian cope? The best way, according to this passage is “by doing good.” I take each circumstance of life and ask, “What good thing can I do here?” Some things are easily understood. For instance, if I have the gift of teaching, I stick to my teaching, using that gift for good. Some things are quite understandable but harder to apply: if I have an enemy, I do good by blessing him rather than quietly cursing him. If I don’t have a clue as to what to do, I do my best, believing God will take care of it. This, I’m told is the secret to overcoming evil. I beat it by doing good.
Take Away: This is easier said than done, but, by God’s grace, it can be done.
You aren’t down for the count
Romans 11: Are they down for the count…the answer is a clear-cut no.
The people of Israel, Paul says, have, in general, messed up royally. They had an inside track to God but rejected him. Because of their disobedience and unbelief they’ve been cut off and are no longer connected to the “root” of God’s love and faithfulness. The Lord, who specializes in taking bad situations and turning them into good ones, has used their rejection as a way to open the door for all peoples of the world to come in. When an “outsider” believes in Jesus that person is grafted into the “vine” of God’s grace. In this the outsider becomes an insider. Now, what of those people of Israel who became dead to God because of their unbelief? Is it too late for them? Is their permanent loss a sad necessity that the way to God be opened for the non-Jews? Paul answers, “No way!” He serves a God of Second Chances and even now the Lord’s working out a restoration for those who’ve been cut off. In his plan it’s never been “Jews verses Gentiles.” The Lord’s working right now to bring salvation to all, grafting in all who will come, making them part of his family. Isn’t this good news! The Gentiles have never known God, but now a way has been made for them to connect to him. The people of Israel have a long history with God but blew it. Still, God works to bring them back home. Maybe you were raised in church and knew the Lord as Savior at one time but now all that’s past tense in your life. I have Good News for you. As it was for the people of Israel who messed up royally there remains hope. Right now the Lord invites you to return and be reattached to the vine of his mercy, love, and grace. Even if everyone else has given up on you, God hasn’t.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
Romans 10: Grand prossessions of people telling all the good things of God!
Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah all through this passage. In his day, Isaiah extolled the value of messengers who went from place to place proclaiming the message of hope to their generation. That, he says, is a beautiful thing. Paul is sorry that the people of Israel of his day aren’t the “message-proclaimers.” They’ve had every opportunity to play that role but instead insist on doing things their own way. They’re the losers in that. Now, I read this scenario and think about my own generation. Like the messengers of Isaiah’s day, the Church has Good News. We should be happily “telling all the good things of God.” All too often though, like the people of Israel of Paul’s day, we’ve retreated to our church buildings and busied ourselves with committees and programs, hanging our shingle outside inviting those want to know more to come on in. Beyond that, we’ve divided up into different camps, drawing lines and building walls. We’d rather argue over finer points of the Bible than go next door to offer a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. Isaiah reminds us that it’s a beautiful thing when God’s people take the Good News to those who need it so desperately. Paul, though, reminds us that it’s possible for those with the Good News to fumble and fail. Does this kind of thinking alarm us? It should.
Take Away: Who do I know who needs the Good News?
I’ve been included
Romans 9: They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them.
Big issues are in play here. Paul says that while the descendants of Abraham are the people with the promise of God that promise remains under God’s control. Even among Abraham’s descendants some are excluded and have no part in the promise. For instance, twin brothers (Jacob and Esau), before they’re ever born are treated differently from one another by God. One will be part of what God is doing in the world and the other won’t. Some Israelites have the idea that salvation is uniquely theirs because of their lineage. Paul says that’s not how it is. The only real decision maker here is God, so when some of Abraham’s descendants have tried to take the ball and run with it, making salvation their personal property, they’ve run head first into the Almighty who reminds them that this is his doing and not theirs. Israel doesn’t own salvation – God does. This is Good News for those of us who would otherwise be considered outsiders and ineligible for this wonderful plan of salvation.
Take Away: There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.
God’s answer to sin-in-me
Romans 8: With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved.
What’s the answer to a failure filled Christianity? Am I destined to a defense oriented spiritual life? Is my constant excuse, “the spirit is willing but the body is weak”? The gloom of Romans 7 is blown away by the opening words of Romans 8. Before Christ, Romans 7 was the norm, but it’s the norm no more. In Christ “a new power is in operation” and everything’s changed. When I cry out to God for relief from sin he responds in Christ to defeat sin-in-me once and for all. The blood of Christ is applied to my life to bring about a “deep healing” and sin-as-a-condition is defeated. Now, a new day dawns in my spiritual life. I’m led “out into the open, into a spacious, free life.” I’ve been “delivered from that dead life” and the Spirit is now living in me. As a child of God who struggles with sin, I cry out to my Heavenly Father for help. He responds by doing a work in me as “God’s Spirit touches” my spirit resulting in a deeper relationship with God and a level of spiritual living I never before dreamed possible.
Take Away: In God, there’s wonderful freedom from self and sin.
The greatest need of the believer
Romans 7: But I need something more.
In this passage the Apostle describes the frustration of many of God’s people. He’s been set free from sin’s prison and now wants to live God’s way. He understands that God’s ways are right but under the influence of sin even the purity of the Law becomes a tool of temptation and failure. He’s been freed from prison but some of that prison remains in him. He declares “I need something more.” A believer doesn’t have to attend a particular brand of church to identify with this statement. Having been forgiven of sins I set out to live a new life of righteousness in fellowship with the Lord. However, I come to the conclusion that this isn’t as easy as it appears. In fact, the harder I try to live that life of righteousness the clearer it becomes that, in Paul’s words: “I obviously need help!” Is this passage a pitiful surrender to sin? When all is said and done, is the Christian life all about grimly holding on through repeated spiritual failure? The Apostle will more fully answer these questions as he continues writing in what we call chapter eight, but he tips his hand when he says, “The answer, thank God, is…Jesus Christ.”
Take Away: Without the deeper work of God the Christian life is one of constant struggle.
Romans 6: You are dead to sin and alive to God.
The topic is freedom. When I was bound in sin, living a dead end life without hope Jesus came to rescue me. Taking my sin as his own, he carried it to death, stripping it of its grip on me. Then, in the resurrection, the possibility of new life came to me. When I join Christ at the cross I die to sin. When I join him at the tomb on resurrection morning, that resurrection life becomes mine. Now, I stand a free man, made new by the work of Christ. I’m filled with thanksgiving and forever indebted to the One who has made it all possible. The freedom I’ve received is a cherished possession, one that I guard carefully, realizing that some acts are out of bounds for me because to do them would place me back in bondage from whence I came. Instead, I willingly serve the One who gave me freedom, bound, not by sin and death, but by love.
Take Away: I’m bound…not by sin, but by God’s love.
Romans 5: When it’s sin verses grace, grace wins hands down.
Obviously, it all starts with Adam, the first human being. This first man’s failure puts in motion a whole string of failures. Humanity is in a death spiral. One man’s sin results in the sins of many. One man’s sin results in the deaths of many. Without an intervention this story is going to end badly. Then, God’s own Son, Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, steps into history. Adam’s disobedience brings death. Jesus’ obedience brings life. For humanity it’s a gift beyond understanding. Our sin: our crushing, destroying, death dealing sin seems insurmountable. Now, through Jesus, the remedy is given. Sin, as powerful as it is, meets its match. Grace wins.
Take Away: No matter how great the sin, it meets it match in God’s matchless grace.
A “me-story” or a God-story?
Romans 4: The story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story.
The Old Testament story of Abraham doesn’t start with “Abraham sought God” or “Abraham was a righteous man.” Rather, the focus is on God who approaches Abraham, makes promises to him, and calls him to follow. Obviously, without Abraham’s response there would be no story. However, it’s even truer that without God’s first call, Abraham would have had no opportunity to obey in the first place. In the book of Romans, Paul wants us to understand the route to righteousness. We don’t arrive at a certain place where the Almighty is impressed by us and decides to take us under his wing. Rather, even when we’re hopelessly lost the Lord seeks us out, calls to us, makes promises to us and then awaits our response. The greatest thing Abraham ever does is to respond to what God does. As I apply that to my life I find all the rules being rewritten. If it’s just me doing stuff, even things that impress others, it’s not worth much. However, if I respond to God’s grace in my life, and then live my life in him, things happen that would have never otherwise been accomplished. My life becomes, not a “me-story,” but becomes a God-story.
Take Away: It all starts with the grace of God. I plug into that grace by faith.