Thursday, August 21, 2014

Acts 16 - 'No Good Deed..'

Monday, August 18, 2014 - 'Validated'
1 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, 2 and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe. 5 So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.

How far should a Christian go to be 'all things to all people' (1 Cor 9:19-23)? Would you go 'under the knife' in order to be accepted by a particular people group? Would you be willing to be circumcised to 'appear' like a Jew, even though your father was a Greek? Why was this important? How would anyone even know? Were people strip-checked as they entered a synagogue or church in the first century? Did Paul actually perform the circumcision of Timothy? What does this story tell us about Paul's theology?

What do these first five verses tell us about church 'organization' in the first century? Paul was delivering the Jerusalem 'decrees' in every city. Doesn't this suggest that the 'church' respected one central body that was tasked with making the final decision on all areas of dispute in theology and practice? Were the decisions of the Jerusalem council only respected when the members agreed with the decrees? Why wasn't there a separate council for the Gentiles? Who set up the Jerusalem council as the final arbiter of church disputes?

Whatever the case, agreement on 'doctrine' shifted energies to the task at hand - proclaiming the gospel of Christ. The church grew where there was unity of faith in the basics and a willingness to agree to disagree on all the non-essentials. In other words, the decrees of the Jerusalem council were mostly about what not to fight over.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014 - 'Complicated'
6 They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; 7 and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; 8 and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. 11 So putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis; 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days.

When we know 'what' our God-given mission is, we then need to be willing to be led by the one 'who' gave us our mission. In other words, if I have a calling to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, 'when' and 'where' should I start or does it even matter?

Paul had decided to revisit 'every city' in which he had already preached the gospel, in order to deliver the Jerusalem decree. According to verses 4 and 5 that had, so far, proved to have been a successful journey. Yet, when Paul wanted to go to Asia, the Holy Spirit forbade them. Similarly, when he wanted to go to Bithynia, the Spirit also did not permit him.

How did Paul 'know' that it was ok to go some places, yet that he was forbidden to go certain other places? Was it through a vision, as in verse 9, impressions of the Spirit, or did he reach those conclusions based on whether or not the 'door' appeared providentially opened or closed?

It seems that as soon as Paul was clear on 'what' his mission was, he just went forward doing it based on his own decisions, until he met a 'wall' rather than a 'door'. He seemed to have accepted the lack of opportunity as God's way of saying 'no, not that way'. On the other hand, when God not only wanted Paul to be on task, but on task in a certain place and at a specific time, He intervened with a clear-cut vision.

Of course, simply because God is leading doesn't mean that our way will be easy going. There is, though, a difference between a 'closed door' and a difficult way.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014 - 'Aggravated'
13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. 14 A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. 16 It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” 18 She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out at that very moment.

The apostles were certainly not afraid to talk openly with women, nor was Lydia afraid to invite these men to her house. The usual boundaries between men and women were crossed. Lydia could see that she was being treated as a person, not as an object. She knew that Paul looked upon her as a sister rather than sexually. Was this story included because it illustrated new covenant thinking - no longer male or female, free or bond, Jew or Gentile? Was this a reminder that Christians should be known for their moral integrity?

Why was Paul annoyed with this slave-girl? She was calling folks to listen to Paul proclaim the gospel. Surely that was a good thing, right?

Luke wrote that this slave-girl had a 'spirit of divination'. In other words, she was possessed by what 1st century folks considered to be an 'unclean spirit'. What Paul experienced was similar to what Jesus had often encountered in his own ministry. Evil spirits, fallen angels, used people to proclaim facts, but not truth.

The truth is not necessarily synonymous with the facts. Facts can be used to obscure and even destroy the truth. When a fact is shared prematurely it is not the truth. When a fact is shared to intentionally expose a person to risk, it is not the truth. Facts are often presented to divert someone's attention from the truth. People possessed by unclean spirits loudly proclaimed the facts about Jesus in order to overwhelm people who were not yet prepared to understand those facts. When people have wrong notions about what is right and wrong, something that is actually a 'good' fact can be considered a 'bad' thing. In other words, in the right context (time, place, education), a fact that was once considered to be a bad thing about someone could then be considered a wonderful truth about them.

For example, the Jews believed that the Messiah would be a human descendant of King David, yet the evil spirits claimed that he was the eternal God incarnate, that would be a fact, but because it was revealed before it could be rightly comprehended, Jesus was called a blasphemer. The fact obscured the truth. Anything that is an obstacle between man and God is 'satan'.

When called to testify in a court of law we swear that the evidence given will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God'. Unfortunately, we often assume that telling the facts is the same as telling the truth. But the truth exceeds facts because it takes into consideration people, place, and the Spirit's timing. Facts are not so nuanced.

The slave-girl was bringing undue attention to the apostles. They had simply and quietly come alongside others to share the gospel with them. The authorities were not alerted. The slave-girl proclaimed 'facts' in order to attract the attention of the authorities.

Did Paul command the unclean spirit to leave the slave-girl as the Spirit moved him or only when he was sufficiently irritated? Did God act as Paul commanded because it was the right thing to do despite Paul's anger or because of Paul's anger? Can the Spirit of God be commanded out of our anger? In other words, will God still do what is right even when we are wrong? What about when Moses hit the rock twice in anger (Num. 20:10-12)? Didn't God still respond and miraculously bring water out of the rock for the sake of the people?

Thursday, August 21, 2014 - 'Incarcerated' 
19 But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, 20 and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, 21 and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans.” 22 The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. 23 When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; 24 and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

Applying 20/20 hindsight, should Paul have permitted himself to act out of annoyance with the slave-girl? Look at how all this began. The apostles were only looking for a quiet place to pray each day. The slave-girl kept bothering them. Her masters were only thinking about profit. Luke made it clear that they acted against Paul and Silas because their source of income had been destroyed. If Paul had kept his cool the authorities wouldn't have had any reason to get involved.

Sometimes Christians believe that they cannot be 'Christian' unless they can conform their whole environment to that which suits their fancy. Yes, the world around us is irritating at times. It is not always conducive to prayer or for many things a Christian would prefer to be engaged in, but we live 'in the world', not in heaven. The world thinks in terms of profit, prestige, power, and possessions. When the church takes direct actions against these elements of carnal security, there will always be a reaction.

The Christian mission is focused on the heart of those who do not know God. Whenever we lose our focus, we reap unnecessary consequences. Now, if I can only remember what I just wrote....

Friday, August 22, 2014 - 'Educated'
25 But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; 26 and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” 29 And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, 30 and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. 33 And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. 34 And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.

Saturday, August 23, 2014 - 'Calculated'
35 Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, “Release those men.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The chief magistrates have sent to release you. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.” 38 The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, 39 and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city. 40 They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Revelation 13 - Dragon Powered

Monday, August 11, 2014 - 'A Beastly Dragon?'
1 And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore. Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. 2 And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority. 

The dragon was identified in the previous chapter as 'the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan'. As with so many other aspects in this book, John used symbols to convey various entities and events. There isn't, of course, any such thing as a dragon, any more than there is a literal 'woman clothed with the sun'.

The scriptures consider the 'great sea monsters' (Heb. 'tanniyn') that God created on the 5th day (Gen 1:21), the Leviathan (Heb. 'livyathan'), the serpent (Heb. 'nachash'), the snake, and the dragon as one and the same. In Genesis, God is the creator of the serpent ('nachash') that was 'more crafty than any beast of the field' (Gen 2:19,20; 3:1). This 'serpent' could speak, deceive, and then was cursed by God (Gen 3:14,15), becoming a snake - which, in the time of Moses, was described as both 'tanniyn' and 'nachash' (Ex  7:12,15) - entities God gave Moses the ability to 'create' from his rod. Curiously, the 'serpent' is both a sea monster - supposedly created on the 5th day, but also a beast of the field - created on the 6th day. Isaiah specifically equates them all (Is 27:1), as did John (Rev. 12:9). The point in all this is that the NT notion of the 'devil' as the 'dragon' and the 'serpent' has a rather convoluted historical development, which doesn't make its use as a symbol any less important, but it simply a fact that we need to keep in mind as we work through these texts.

The 'dragon' stands at the dividing point between the sea and the land. That 'fits' well with the historical development of the dragon symbol, as mentioned, because it has both a sea (5th day) and land (6th day) origin. Note that John saw a beast rising from the sea rather than from the land. He described this beast as appearing almost exactly like the dragon with seven heads, ten horns, and diadems (Rev. 12:3). The key difference was in where the diadems were located. On the dragon, the diadems were on the seven heads, yet on the beast the diadems were on the ten horns.

The prophet Daniel indicated that the 'heads' referred to empires and the 'horns' to specific kings within those empires (Dan. 7:23,24). Each empire received its power and authority from the dragon, thus each beast 'looked like' the dragon. Also, when John witnessed that the diadems were no longer on the heads but on the horns this may have indicated that the focus should be on one particular empire, maybe the last of the seven, and on its particular emperors. Recall that John first witnessed the dragon, 'before' the birth of the 'woman's son', with the diadems on its seven heads (Rev. 12:3). The seven heads of the beast had blasphemous names suggesting that each of them had chosen to work contrary to God's purposes. There is an intimate relationship between the dragon and each beast-empire.

A possible clue to the identity of the beast in Rev. 13:1 is that it had attributes of a leopard, a bear, and a lion. Daniel also spoke of these three 'animals' (Dan. 7:4-6), implying that they represent Babylon, Persia, and Greece respectively (Dan 8). Daniel also wrote that these 'beasts came up from the sea' (Dan. 7:3), yet later wrote that they arose 'from the earth' (Dan. 7:17). Daniel's fourth beast was considered the last beast, after which the Lord set up His own kingdom on earth (Dan 7:25-27). We may assume, then, that the four beasts of Daniel represent the last four 'heads' of the dragon, the last of seven. In other words, Daniel didn't refer to the three previous empires that existed before Babylon. He merely began with the empire that existed at the time of his writing. Maybe that is exactly what John did. Maybe John began with the empire that currently existed - Rome.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014 - 'A Dragonly Beast'
3 I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed. And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast; 4 they worshiped the dragon because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?” 5 There was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies, and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him. 6 And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven.

This particular beast - probably the seventh and last head of the dragon - had received what appeared to have been a fatal wound to the 'head', yet this 'head' survived. Remember, each head of the dragon represents an earthly empire that had been empowered by the devil. Each empire received a fatal wound when one of its horns - kings - failed. Thus empires have come and gone, one after another. John witnessed this last of the seven empires appearing to have been irreparably damaged because of one of its kings. Yet, to the surprise of all, it fully recovered and continued on. Curiously, though it was dragon powered and blasphemous, when its fatal wound was healed it seems as if it was a miracle of God. So, what historical event had John described?  

Many ideas have been proposed. One, that when the Julio-Claudian dynasty ended with the suicide of its fifth emperor, Nero, it appeared as if the empire might fall apart, yet it did not. A second proposal is comes from the belief, in Roman times, that Nero was resurrected in the form of one of his successors. This idea is known as the 'Nero Redivivus legend'. A third possibility during this same period had to do with the immediate successor of Nero, Galba. Galba was the first of what has been called the year of four emperors. He had been declared a public enemy (fatal wound?), yet later became the emperor (healed?) - if only for 7 months. Vespasian, who had been battling the Jews, was the fourth of these emperors during the year 69 AD.

From the perspective of the Jews, the Roman war against the Jews from 68-70 AD was a tremendous 'time of trouble' that lasted several years (42 months?) When Vespasian left the battle to his son Titus, in 69 AD, and returned to Rome in order to quell the civil war there, the whole empire rejoiced. Finally, there was peace - even for Christians. Another Roman dynasty, the Flavian dynasty, had begun. A rebirth of sorts for the Roman empire?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 - 'Authority'
7 It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. 8 All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. 9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear. 10 If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints.

The people of God had no place to go. Rome had conquered the then known world. There was no freedom except what Rome permitted. Rome's authority over the civilized world was complete. The stability that Vespasian brought to the empire was lauded by all except those who knew what true peace and freedom really was. Genuine peace is not achieved by the sword. When the believer takes up the weapons of mankind in order to establish peace, what may be won is merely a pseudo peace which will only last until someone stronger comes upon the scene with a bigger sword or some other more powerful weapon. This is one lesson that can be learned from these biblical accounts. Human empires come and go. Eventually someone mightier comes along and destroys the previous empire in order to create a new one. Yet, as Daniel prophesied, God will eventually set up an everlasting kingdom (Dan 7:27). The kingdoms of man are temporary. The kingdom of God is eternal.

John was telling us that we should not be sucked into a false sense of security gained through military 'might'. Our strength must only be in the Spirit (Zech 4:6). Our hope and peace must be in God's grace and His gift of eternal life, not in the promises made even by well intentioned earthly generals and politicians.

John presented a contrast between those 'destined for captivity' and those who use the sword. The patience and faith of the saints determines which of these two groups we will fall within - if and when we are presented with only these two options. If my confidence is in man, I will pick up the sword. If my confidence is in God, I will not fight my enemy, but accept being captured and even executed. We will all die some day. If I fight with the sword I may well lengthen my earthly existence, yet sooner or later I will die.

Thursday, August 14, 2014 - 'Replay'
11 Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon. 12 He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. 13 He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. 14 And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life.

As already discussed, after the death of Nero and the end of the first Roman dynasty, the civil war in Rome appeared to spell the end of Rome. Then arose Vespasian. He strictly controlled all the PR so that his reign appeared like a 'lamb', but it was the same old 'dragon-powered' beast. What he was able to accomplish appeared nearly miraculous, as if he had the backing of heaven. Vespasian ruled for ten years. The people of the empire could again place their hope and trust in the indomitable power Rome. But this too was a deception. Rome's power would last a long time, but it was temporary. The kingdom of God had already begun and was growing even within Rome itself.

Friday, August 15, 2014 - 'A Tight Ship'
15 And it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed. 16 And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, 17 and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name.

If we follow through with this one particular interpretation of Rev. 13, the 'beast' in question was Rome - the seventh 'head' through which the dragon worked within our world. The emperor Vespasian, was the tenth horn on this seventh beast. He ran a very tight ship. After years of chaos under Nero and the three following Emperors, Vespasian brought necessary stability back to the empire, yet the means by which he accomplished this goal was double-edged. Those who obeyed, flourished. Those who rebelled, perished. There wasn't anything wishy-washy about his leadership.

Three important facts reveal much about the unique leadership of Vespasian. (1) Vespasian was not assassinated like so many other rulers. (2) Vespasian was not run out of office and led to commit suicide like Nero. (3) Vespasian's oldest son, Titus, inherited the throne - unlike any flesh and blood son of any emperor of the previous dynasty. No wonder the whole world bowed down to him. His clever leadership deceived all but the saints.

Saturday, August 16, 2014 - '666'
18 Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.

The saints know the difference between the necessary rule of man by the power of the sword (Rom 13) and the kingdom of God. Those who are wise don't confuse or mingle the two. The 'sword' has no place in the kingdom of God, yet it is essential in the kingdoms of man. When the church adopts the way of the sword in order to accomplish its calling in the world, it has abandoned God and has become a tool of the dragon. 

The governments of this world can only rule by the might of the sword, because they have no power to change hearts. They may, of course, win the hearts of man through their displays of power, but that is not the same as having transformed the heart (Rom 12:1,2). The mission of the church is to serve as a 'matchmaker'. We introduce people to God and, hopefully, perform the wedding ceremony between the groom - Jesus, and his bride - the church. 

There is a saying, 'I know your number'. It means, 'I know what you are up to'. The number 666 is the number of man. Believers know the 'number of man'. In other words, they know how to distinguish the ways of man from the ways of God. This is made clear in Isaiah. God said, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are you ways My ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Is. 55:8,9). There is a proverb that also reminds us of this truth. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil" (Prov. 3:5-7).

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Romans 16 - Ends and Odds

Monday, August 4, 2014 - 'The Church'
1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; 2 that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well. 3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; 5 also greet the church that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia. 6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. 10 Greet Apelles, the approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my kinsman. Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord. 12 Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them. 15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.

Phoebe ('radiant') was a deacon at a church just 9 miles from Corinth. She not only served the church, but was a helper (Gk. 'prostatis' - guardian, overseer) to Paul as well (1 Th 5:12). Paul highly recommended her to the brethren. She may have also been a well-to-do Christian business woman traveling to Rome, bearing Paul's epistle to them. She may have even been the 'pastor' of her church group.

Priscilla and Aquila were an active, traveling couple, who - wherever they landed - started a ''church' in their home (Rome, Ephesus, Corinth). Paul clearly admired them, especially since they had been willing to risk their lives for him.

Paul then mentioned the 'esteemed' Epaenetus - the first convert to Christ in Asia. We don't know anything more about him or 'Mary', except that they were people of Christian character. Andronicus and Junia may have been related to him, but in that they also were Jews, related by blood to Abraham (Rom. 9:3). Whatever the case, they were both 'apostles' who had known Christ longer than Paul and had also been in prison for their faith. 

Both men and women are presented without any gender bias. He mentioned couples and singles, Jew and Gentile, free and bond, men and women, apostles and helpers, parents and children, brothers and sisters. People from all walks of life were known and valued by Paul. Might this have been his intention as he recommended them to the church in Rome? Was Paul illustrating the grace of God, symbolized through the very diversity of the people he sent to them?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014 - 'Kiss Me'
16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.

This was the practices of the early church, as it had long been the practice among the Jews. In fact, Jesus once rebuked his host for not greeting him with a kiss (Lk 7:45). Though the intimacy of a kiss symbolizes love of neighbor, it can also cloak evil intentions. Remember the infamous kiss of betrayal given to Jesus by Judas (Mt. 26:49).

Kissing someone you meet expresses proper affection for that person. It was, in bible times, usually either a kiss to the cheek or a kiss to each of both cheeks. The beauty of this cultural practice was that it involved touching another human being with a sensual part of one's body, without any erotic intention. The fear of having one's personal space invaded was suspended. In other words, this greeting expressed value of another - either male or female - for who they were and not as a sexual object. That made this greeting 'holy', in that it was 'wholly' platonic.

Why did Paul have to remind the church to greet one another with a holy kiss? Had some folks dismissed it as inappropriate for Christians? Or, could Jewish converts not bring themselves to greet Gentile converts as they had fellow Jews? Was there a prejudice being expressed in the refusal to greet one another with a kiss? It is one thing to accept someone 'different' as a member of your church, but it is far more difficult to 'touch' someone different.

Imagine this practice then as opposed to today. What might you have found disagreeable among the various people groups then? Which people in your church would you not want to greet with a holy kiss today? Why not?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014 - 'Neighborhood Watch'
17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.

One of the most valuable aspects of a Neighborhood Watch Program is that it gives the police department so many more 'eyes' into a community. It makes it much easier for the authorities to nab the bad guys earlier. Those who participate in a NW program at taught to be aware, to notice when things are out of the ordinary, and to know who to call. Just the existence of this program is a deterrent to would-be criminals. Knowing that many 'eyes' are always watching can persuade a person to turn from a temptation to do something they wouldn't ordinarily have done which, if caught, would have brought ruin to his/her life.

Paul was effectively urging the Romans to be 'noticers'. To be such requires Spirit-led wisdom. Like Christ, we want to see past the external failures of each individual we meet and see them as heaven views them - as precious, blood-purchased souls. We want to live out the kind of love that 'covers a multitude of sins'. Yet, true love is not blind. Wisdom is not naivete. Evil really does exist. All of us are faced with temptations and value the intervention of others who rescue us from spiraling down into a life of evil. Yet, sadly, there are many who love evil, yet pretend to be 'good'. It is this latter group that Paul warns us about - the wolf in sheep's clothing (Mt. 7:15).

There is good dissension and bad dissension. Jesus, of course, created division. He even told us that he would (Mt. 10:34-39). Those who follow Jesus will be a 'hindrance' to those who are superficial Christians. They will teach things that are 'contrary to what has been taught'. So, how can we discern the difference between one who should be welcomed as a 'divider' and one with wicked intents? Paul, who also brought dissension wherever he went, reminded the Roman church of what Jesus had taught, 'you will know them by their fruit' (Mt 7:15-23). Those who cause dissent out of evil intentions are 'slaves to unrighteousness'. The fruit of their lives will reveal greed, envy, malice, gossiping, slandering, arrogance, boasting, unloving words and deeds, and the absence of mercy (Rom 1:29-32). They will deceitfully smile at you and tell you how much they care about you, yet take advantage of you for their own gain. Beware. Keep your distance from them and warn the unsuspecting to do the same.

Thursday, August 7, 2014 - 'Satan-crushing Grace'
19 For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

These folks were known to be obedient to Christ. In other words, they actually loved God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength; and loved their neighbors. Whatever they believed God wanted, they did. No wonder Paul desired to visit them.

"But.." Choosing to be obedient to God in all things is limited by the means through which we discern God's will. Thus Paul wrote, "I want you to be wise in what is good.." Was he suggesting that their knowledge of what was 'good' was rather shallow? When we examine the issues that Paul addressed in this letter to the Romans it becomes clear that they had many deficits in their knowledge of God - at least from Paul's perspective. So the question is, did they love an erroneous picture of God? If they knew the God that Paul worshiped, would they love and obey 'his' picture of God?

Do we love and obey the God we want to believe in or the God of scripture? Can true love be misdirected when our knowledge of God is incomplete?

Does verse 20 suggests that Paul believed in the imminent and personal return of the risen and ascended Christ or that he believed the Roman church would embrace his gospel so thoroughly that it would powerfully transform their lives? The last sentence in verse 20 implies the latter.

"Satan" is crushed under the feet of each individual who lives out two important beliefs. (1) that through faith in God's 'grace' all sins - past, present, and future - have been covered by the blood of Christ once and for all, and that (2) there is life after this life. When we have the full assurance of acceptance by God and hope in eternal life, 'who can be against us'? 'Who can separate us from the love of Christ?' As Paul had already written (Rom 8:28-39), there is no tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, nor even death itself that can separate us from the love of God. Once we are settled in the truth of the gospel, 'Satan is crushed under our feet'. That is the power of the gospel (Rom 1:16).

Friday, August 8, 2014 - 'Introducing the Amanuensis'
21 Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen. 22 I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord. 23 Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus, the brother. 24 [The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.]

The Catholic church sets aside Oct 30 and Nov 10th as St. Tertius days, thereby remembering Paul's amanuensis. An amanuensis is someone who takes dictation as a literary assistant. This letter to the Romans was written by Tertius, possibly because of Paul's poor eyesight or because Tertius was writing a Latin translation of it as he listened to Paul dictate his letter - possibly in Greek. Tertius (tur-shi-us), according to tradition, was one of the 70 disciples of Jesus and later became a bishop in Iconium.

Tertius was also a common Roman name. There is the interesting, yet not probable, suggestion that Silas and Tertius were one and the same person. The reason behind this idea is because in Latin, tertius means third (ordinal), and 'silas' may be derived from the Hebrew word 'shalosh' which means three (cardinal). Again, though, coincidence is not providence.

Saturday, August 9, 2014 - 'Mystery Revealed'
25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.

Verse 25 tends to confirm our thoughts about verse 20. The 'way' we live is 'revealed' by the gospel we know. We live according to that we actually believe deep within our heart of hearts - rather than what we my profess with our lips (Mt 15:8). In other words, that in which we most genuinely place our faith is revealed by how we live. If our faith is in ourselves, our lives will reveal that fact. If our faith is in the Law, our lives will reveal that as well. If our faith is in God and the gift of his Spirit, our lives will manifest that truth (Rom 8:1-17). Paul made it quite clear that it is 'Him' who 'strengthens' (Gk. 'sterizo') us, and he is 'able' to best achieve this through a right understanding of the gospel.

Is God able to transform the hearts of those who don't understand the gospel? Of course, yet their erroneous notions will short-circuit much of what God desires to gift them with in this life. The truth sets us free, yet that which is truth to most people is not the 'revelation' that has been revealed through Christ. Rather, it is a cultural adulteration of scripture. 

To bring about the 'obedience of faith' had been Paul's objective from the beginning of his epistle to the Romans (Rom 1:5). That was what his apostleship was all about - to help people understand the true gospel so that they could live accordingly, rather than by some pseudo or distorted gospel (Gal 1:6-10). That really ought to be the task of the church - to help people know the living Christ and to understand his gospel, rather than to 'fit' into institutional religion.