Archive for Romans

Sep
13

Put it into Practice:: 2

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Our Christian practice involves expressing love within the community of faith. The remainder of Romans 12 tells us that we must also extend love beyond the community of faith…to those outside the walls of our facilities.

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good
(Romans 12:14-21, NLT).

When I read these verses, part of me wishes they weren’t in the Bible! The content seems difficult, unreasonable, nonsensical, and unexpected. Do our enemies really deserve our love and concern? Part of the issue is that when we read the word “enemies” we think of those who oppose us and seek to do harm to us. But in the first century, everyone outside the community was a potential enemy. For the first century church, loving enemies was their evangelism strategy.

Jesus said one of the marks of authentic faith is not our ability to love the lovely and the lovable. The true mark of faith is our willingness and ability to love the unlovely and the unlovable. (cf. Matthew 5:43-47) So before we cast a critical eye of evaluation toward those who don’t deserve our love and concern, remember that God is asking us to love others (especially the difficult ones) as he has loved us. Who among us deserves God’s love? Who among us is worthy? In God’s eyes we’re all difficult to love.

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Sep
12

Put it into Practice:: 1

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Last weekend I finished my three week series from Romans chapter 12 titled, Training Camp. Together we learned that the foundational elements of church are worship and equipping for service. The final piece puts it all together in the practice of our faith. The final verses of Romans 12 deal with our Christian practice in two dimensions, the first of which is living our faith within the believing community.

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality (Romans 12:9-13, NLT).

As you can see, the remainder of Romans 12 contains the practical applications that flow out of our worship and living. If you were to sum it all up with one word, it would be the word love. Love is the foundation of our salvation, and continues to be the platform by which we live out our salvation. The verses I shared above should be viewed as normative behavior for Christians. Paul’s words are simple and sensible. You might even say that they are somewhat expected. Believers should naturally exhibit this level of compassion and concern for one another. While we may fail from time to time to live these verses to their full intent, we couldn’t argue with Paul’s point. And we couldn’t improve on his suggestions. But what about those outside the believing body? Well, that’s the content of the remaining verses. Check in tomorrow for the other side of the coin.

Categories : Church, Relationships, Romans
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Sep
06

Check Out Your Equipment:: 3

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Romans 12 begins with Paul’s statement on worship. In worship we present our bodies and have our minds renewed, enabling us to discern and agree with God’s will. This pattern works for the individual believer as well as the corporate body. As we agree with God’s will and put it into practice, humility is required because we are confronted with the immediate reality that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. We are individual members who belong to a unified body, working together for a common good. To accomplish this, Paul added, we have been given spiritual gifts.

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well (Romans 12:6, NLT).

Spiritual gifts are supernatural enablement given to each Christian by the Holy Spirit for the discharge of his or her special responsibility in the Church. Over the years, I’ve found the following principles to be of general help in understanding spiritual gifts. Most of this is nothing new, but at least should serve as a helpful reminder.
1. The gifts come from the Holy Spirit as He wills.
2. The purpose of the gifts is to build up the body of Christ and equip us for mission beyond the walls.
3. The gift lists in the New Testament are not exhaustive, otherwise they would be uniform. The focus of each list is on the variety of gifts available to believers.
4. Though we don’t possess all of the gifts, we are to exercise the function of all of the gifts. In other words, just because a person does not have the gift of mercy does not mean that person is exempt from being merciful.
5. The gifts may have as much to do with how you serve as they do where you serve. I’m not sure that the gifts were intended to be hard categories for positions of service in the church. I think people are free to pursue opportunities, passions, and callings for a variety of service in the body. However, your gift is your gift and your gift will inflect how you serve where ever you serve.
6. The single best way to identify your gift is to serve. There are all kinds of spiritual gifts inventories that are available that can help a person identify their spiritual gift mix. But the best way to identify your gift is to serve.
7. One way for us to discern God’s will in our churches is to see who God is adding to our bodies. Each person that joins your church either exposes a deficiency in your church or informs your church of God’s direction for your church.

We’re two thirds of the way through training camp. Next week I’ll talk about how we put all of this into practice. Thanks for dropping in this week!

Sep
05

Check Out Your Equipment:: 2

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“Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other” (Romans 12:4-5, NLT).

Right on the heels of his statement about humility, Paul provided two epic sentences about the body of Christ which would serve as the foundation for what he would write next regarding spiritual gifts. Paul was fond of using the body as a metaphor for the corporate life of the church. He did so very purposefully, as it perfectly illustrated his points about congregational life. First, Paul pointed out the diversity within the body of Christ. We are many parts with many functions. No one part has greater worth or value, for each plays a purposeful and important role. Every part is needed and necessary in order for the whole to operate efficiently and effectively.

Second, Paul emphasized the unity of the body. Even though we are many parts with many functions, we are one, unified body. Our goal as a church is unity, not uniformity. On Sunday I illustrated this difference by pointing to the block walls of our sanctuary and comparing those blocks to the stained glass window. The blocks are symbolic of uniformity, with each being the exact same size, weight, color, and shape. The stained glass is symbolic of unity. Different shapes and colors of individual panes brought together to make a beautiful whole. The stained glass is a great example of unity without enforced uniformity.

The final observation is mutuality. We belong to one another. We need one another. We are not independent, but are interdependent in our relationships in the body of Christ.

Diversity, unity, and mutuality are fundamental if we’re going to be church as Christ intended. It takes humility to behave accordingly. When those come together, we can then have an honest conversation about spiritual gifts and how they empower us to accomplish our mission beyond our walls.

Categories : Church, Romans
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Sep
04

Check Out Your Equipment:: 1

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Last week I posted a series on worship. I defined worship as “our appropriate response to the self-disclosure of God.” The value of corporate worship is that it energizes the church for its mission beyond the walls. As we present our bodies and become renewed in our minds, we are able to discern God’s will and direction for the body. This past weekend in worship I shared the second element of training camp: checking out our equipment.

“Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us” (Romans 12:3, NLT).

The first challenge Paul offers following his words on worship is that we should pursue genuine humility. Humility was a cardinal virtue of the early church, a philosophy that was totally counter culture to Greek and Roman thought. The value in Paul’s thinking was that humility would keep believers from becoming status conscious. Humility is not thinking less of oneself than is reasonable, but simply taking on an honest self perception.

An accurate self estimation, though, requires a point of reference. In today’s culture, we estimate our value on the basis of comparing ourselves with others. Am I smarter than those I work with? Do my kids have a higher G.P.A.? Do I make more than my peers? Do I have a nicer home or a more expensive car? Is my spouse more physically attractive that the spouses of others? Am I thinner than my friends and neighbors? When we lack true humility, those questions creep into our heads. The problem with such comparisons is that we seek out the company of those who feed our ego. Every Scott Farkus needs a “toadie” to validate himself.

In the Kingdom of God, we estimate ourselves on the basis of “the faith God has given us.” Our standard of measure is not our neighbor; it is the Lord Jesus himself. When Jesus is our point of reference, we are able to find our true self worth. Our significance is in Him. And when Christ is our source of significance, we can worry less about “self confidence” and more about “God confidence.”

Categories : Equipping, Humility, Romans
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Aug
30

Go to Meeting:: 4

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My final observation from Paul’s classic text in Romans 12 was that worship results in a life that is re-oriented and re-directed to the will of God. In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus published his final work, titled, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres. His supposition displaced planet Earth as the center of the universe and proposed that the Earth rotated around the Sun. For the believer, worship is a daily and weekly “Copernican Revolution,” where he or she is displaced as the center of the universe. Worship is our acknowledgement that God is God and we are not. We are creature, he is creator. In a sense worship is the denial of our own divinity.

In worship we become re-oriented to the greatness of God. He is God, and we are not. This is the foundational key to understanding God’s will. When we deny our own divinity, we are in position to discern God’s will, agree with God’s will, and act upon God’s will. This is true of our lives personally and our churches corporately. It all begins with God in worship.

This weekend I’m moving to the next paragraph in Romans 12. The title of my sermon is “Check out your Equipment.” From verses 3-8, I’m going to talk about the equipment God gives us to enable us to perform his will. I hope you’ll visit throughout the coming days of Training Camp.

Categories : Romans, Worship
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Aug
29

Go to Meeting:: 3

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This week I’ve been posting about worship from Romans 12:1-2. The third observation I want to make is that worship involves your total being. In the text, worship involves the presentation of our bodies and the transformation of our minds. Simply stated, worship involves both our thinking and our behaving. Allow me to unpack this a bit.

First, we are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. Paul intentionally uses Old Testament sacrificial language here to cause the reader to make the connection between the testaments. He wants them to reflect on the Old Testament system, yet at the same time desires to redefine sacrifice to make it fitting to the new covenant. There are no more bulls and rams. The sacrifice is now the sacrifice of self–our bodies, our minds, even our very lives.

The Old sacrifices were dead, the New are to be living.
The Old sacrifices were unwilling participants, the New are to be willing participants; yielded and surrendered.
The Old sacrifices had no thoughtful participation, the New are to exercise reason and thought.
The Old sacrifices were offered on behalf of others, the New are the offering of self.
No worship can be pleasing that is purely inward, abstract, and mystical. It must express itself in concrete acts of service.

Second, we are to experience transformation as God renews our minds. Our thinking processes are changed. We begin to think as God thinks with a view of putting it into practice. This world and God’s will are placed in contrast with one another. Paul challenges us to not be conformed to the world. The word here is schema, from which we get our word schematic. Paul points out that the world is constantly trying to force us into its schematic, trying to fit us into its system. Do you ever sense that? But rather than conform, we are to be transformed, experiencing the metamorphosis that God enacts in us and through us. This transformation allows us to live in the world without being of the world.

Worship, in short, involves you total being. Which makes perfect sense because that is all God has wanted all along. He wants you.

Categories : Romans, Worship
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Aug
28

Go to Meeting:: 2

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Worship is my appropriate response to the self disclosure of God. While worship may have private and personal expressions, it is also a corporate experience. There are a myriad of ways people feel most connected to God in personal worship. Some connect through a daily devotional exercise. Others through music or nature. There are those who feel most connected through in-depth Bible study. The list goes on and on. These personal and private expressions create avenues for God to reveal himself and for us to respond in worship.

But worship is not limited to our private experience. There is also an important corporate dimension to worship. In this week’s text, Romans 12:1-2, Paul references “brothers and sisters.” He’s writing to them as individuals and as a congregation, if you will.

Corporate worship is vital to the health and function of the church. When I served in Texas, I worked with a worship pastor who was completely convinced that corporate worship is the life blood of the church. It is where we draw strength for service and guidance for her unified mission. When the body worships together, a synergy is created that helps the body discern God’s will for the body, and, be strengthened to perform God’s will.

Categories : Romans, Worship
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Aug
27

Training Camp: Go to Meeting:: 1

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And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:1-2, NLT).

The first element of training camp that I emphasized to our congregation as we prepare for the fall is the importance of worship. I offered this simple definition: “Worship is my appropriate response to the self disclosure of God.” Let me unpack that a bit.

Worship begins with God, who reveals himself to his people. One clear example is found in Isaiah 6, where Isaiah, having seen the exalted, thrice holy God, sees himself as “undone” by his sin. God disclosed himself as holy, and Isaiah’s appropriate response was confession of sin.

Romans chapters 1-11 reveal God as the God of grace and mercy. In those chapters, Paul has reminded his audience that though they are sinners, God through Christ has extended grace and mercy to them. So his request in chapter 12 is based on the God who has revealed himself through the currency of mercy and grace. His plea for them to worship by presenting their bodies is not baseless or unfounded. The presentation of their bodies as willing offerings is their appropriate response to mercy and grace.

As I have mentioned, worship is our appropriate response to the self disclosure of God. How has God revealed himself to you? How is he presently revealing himself to you? Worship begins with God and involves more than our liturgy. It involves our attentiveness to him and his initiative. As we see him “high and lifted up,” our response becomes our act of worship.

Tomorrow I’ll continue with the second observation from Romans 12:1-2. Thanks for checking in today.

Categories : Romans, Worship
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When we pray for those who don’t, Paul has encouraged his readers to pray with understanding, but his real emphasis is that we pray God’s mission into action.

“But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, ‘How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!’ But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, ‘LORD, who has believed our message?’ So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ” (Romans 10:14-17, NLT)

Paul has listed five verbs in direct succession: calling, believing, hearing, telling, and sending. If you invert that listing, you’ll see a marvelous description of God’s mission in the world. God sends the messengers, the messengers share good news, people hear the message of good news and believe the message, and believing leads to calling on the name of the Lord.

At the heart of the prayer for those who don’t is the prayer for God’s mission to be unfurled in the world. The prayer for those who don’t pray does not begin with the unresponsive or the unreceptive; it begins with the sending of the church into the world.

But this concept isn’t original with Paul. Decades before, Jesus said it this way, “When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields’” (Matthew 9:36-38, NLT).

When we pray for the mission of God to be unfurled in the world, remember that God may use you to answer your own prayer.

Categories : Evangelism, Paul, Romans
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