Thursday, July 31, 2014

Acts 15 - Accepting Change

Monday, July 28, 2014 - 'Paul'
1 Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. 3 Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren. 4 When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.” 6 The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter.

Some things haven't changed. When a person comes to believe that Jesus is the Messiah of Bible prophecy, that doesn't instantaneously mean that they also understand all that Jesus taught. This was not merely an issue for those who were uneducated, but was particularly true even for the theologically elite. In this case, some of the Pharisees who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, didn't understand the significance of what Jesus accomplished at the cross.

Among those who still live without grasping the new covenant we will often hear these words, 'unless you ______ you cannot be saved.' Yet, it is by grace we have been saved, and not of ourselves. The gift of life eternal is free. There aren't any conditions. There aren't any things we must do in order to merit salvation. Well, like every gift, you 'do' have to at least receive it. Yet salvation isn't linked to baptism or circumcision, becoming a member of a particular denomination or believing a particular set of theological interpretations. 

A red flag ought to go up as soon as we hear someone say, 'you cannot be saved unless...' Paul traveled back to Jerusalem with the belief that the 'fruit' of having received the gift of grace was obvious despite having not conformed to the law of Moses. How could that be true unless a new covenant had come into play?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - 'Peter'
7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; 9 and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” 12 All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.

Peter's statement is very instructive. First, he allowed a lengthy debate to take place. It is impossible to formulate a reasonable answer of you don't have a full grasp of the questions. Second, once he understood clearly all the concerns he reminded them of two facts they couldn't argue against. (1) that God had called him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, and, (2) God alone can and does read the hearts of all people. These two facts established a solid foundation for what he would build next.

Thirdly, the evidence that God had baptized them in the Spirit just as God had done for believing Jews was incontrovertible. Fourthly, that being so, it must be true that God does not make a difference between Jew and Gentile. Fifth, the Gentile were filled with the Spirit apart from the Law, just as Abraham had been accounted righteous because of his before the Law had been given to Israel through Moses. 

Since all that was true, to doubt God's acceptance of the Gentiles apart from the Law, would be to try God's patience. He then made clear that the Law of Moses had been a burden to the Jews. In saying this he was also making clear that another covenant had come into play, replacing the old one. What is the new covenant? That all are saved through faith in God's grace. There is just one way to salvation for both Jew and Gentile, male and female, free and bond.

Everyone listened without comment.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014 - 'James'
13 After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brethren, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. 15 With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, 16 ‘After these things I will return, And I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, And I will rebuild its ruins, And I will restore it,17 So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, And all the Gentiles who are called by My name,’ 18 Says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago. 19 Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, 20 but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. 21 For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

James was clearly the leader. He had listened to the debate and then rendered a decision. In other words, his word was the final word. A summary statement wasn't voted on by all. None-the-less, when James spoke, everyone accepted his judgment as if God himself had spoken. This isn't, of course, the Western way, but it was the way of the early church.

The decision that James made was also a compromise. There were, as he reminded everyone, synagogues in every city that preached the old covenant. It would be best to inform the Gentile converts to Christ to 'not' unnecessarily agitate those who had not yet accepted Christ as the Messiah, yet were still influential in each city. Thus, the Gentiles were commanded to abstain from idol contaminated things, sex outside of marriage, and - curiously - non-kosher meats.

Probably the most important phrase in this whole passage is in verse 19: '..do not trouble those who are turning to God..' When we see the Spirit at work in someone's life we should be encouraging their 'turning', rather than making it more difficult. It is the 'direction' of one's life that is more important than the correctness of their religious beliefs and rituals. A person my have correct theology, yet be walking away from God. The devil, according to scripture, knows the truth about God, yet works against God.

Thursday, July 31, 2014 - 'Confirmation'
22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas—Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, 23 and they sent this letter by them, “The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings. 24 “Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, 25 it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 “Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. 28 “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: 29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.

The council in Jerusalem sent confirmation of their decision by both letter and representatives to the Gentiles. The important points were that (1) the Gentile converts were considered 'brethren', (2) admittedly, some Jewish converts were saying things that did not represent the views of church leadership, (3) church leadership was unanimous in their decision, (4) Paul and Barnabas were respected and approved apostles sent from church leadership, (5) the letter being sent could be confirmed as authentic by the 'mouth of the two' witnesses being sent along with the letter, (6) the work of an apostle was admittedly dangerous, (7) church leadership believed that it was the Spirit who led them to their decision, and (8) the few requirements being placed upon them were for the sake of 'body' unity.

Friday, August 1, 2014 - 'Letter Read'
30 So when they were sent away, they went down to Antioch; and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31 When they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. 32 Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message. 33 After they had spent time there, they were sent away from the brethren in peace to those who had sent them out. 34 [But it seemed good to Silas to remain there.] 35 But Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch, teaching and preaching with many others also, the word of the Lord.



Saturday, August 2, 2014 - 'Dispute'
36 After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. 38 But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. 40 But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.



Saturday, July 26, 2014

Revelation 12 - War

Monday, July 21, 2014 - 'Woman'
1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; 2 and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth.

The 'first woe' was related to the fifth trumpet (Rev. 9:1-12), the 'second woe' was connected to the sixth trumpet (Rev. 9:13-11:14). The 'third woe', is the sounding of the seventh trumpet when every kingdom of this world falls and the eternal rule of the Lord begins (Rev. 11:15-19).

John has given us a sequence of events that lead up to 'the end'. But, as expected, his explanations of events also raised many questions.

How did our world get into this mess? What is the source of so much evil in our world? Why have the kingdoms of this world lasted so long? Is anyone in control? Is there anything that we can do to prepare for the final end? Why wasn't the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ 'the end'? The next chapters deal with these questions. Beginning with chapter 12, John presents a peak into the behind-the-scenes play and counter-play.

Verse 1 begins with Israel. She was 'clothed' with the sun in that she is the chosen people of God tasked with revealing the light of God to all the nations. It is because of God's promise to the twelve patriarchs - the twelve stars that form the crown on her head - that the Messiah (her child) will arise out of Israel. The Jewish religion, the 'moon', was supposed to reflect the 'Sun'. At times it did, but usually did not. John witnessed the religion of Israel as the 'moon' under the feet of 'true Israel' - that remnant within Judaism - who lived by faith and would receive the coming Messiah while the religious leaders would work to crucify him. This was indeed a 'painful' birth as the people of God transitioned from the old to the new covenant as the basis for their belief and practice in the world.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 'Dragon'
3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. 4 And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.

There is more going on in our world than the issues among the chosen people of God. While 'good' is at play, evil exists as 'counter-play'.

John described the force of evil as 'great', 'red', a 'dragon', with 'seven heads and ten horns', with 'seven diadems' on his seven heads, with a 'tail' that 'swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the the earth', and with a plan to 'devour' the child of the woman. Nothing about the 'dragon' is nice. It represents the antithesis of Christ, thus being 'anti-Christ'. Whatever works to obstruct Christ-likeness in our world is 'satan'. 

This vision establishes several beliefs that were part of John's theology. First, that the 'dragon' pre-existed the birth of Christ, which underscores the idea that these next visions take us back in time again, rather than being part of a forward progression of visions from what has come beforehand. Second, that the dragon hated Christ and everything represented by Christ. Third, that the dragon was powerful enough to create havoc in heaven as well as on earth. In other words, its presence should not be taken lightly or mindlessly dismissed. Evil exists and is symbolized in 'the dragon'.

Clearly, this 'dragon' is not an actual dragon, since there aren't any such entities. John's descriptions are metaphorical. So, unless John explains what each of these symbolic representations are meant to be, we are left to guess. We may safely conclude that the dragon is powerful, has had a destructive influence even in heaven, is deceptive, is a threat on earth, and works through earthly kings. We could also surmise that the dragon didn't take on these attributes after the birth, but before the birth of Jesus, since John saw all these things about the dragon before the incarnation and he saw the dragon waiting for the birth of Christ. Whatever was symbolized by the seven heads and ten horns of the dragon probably preexisted the birth of the Messiah.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - 'Child'
5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne. 6 Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

The Christ child was born despite the efforts of the dragon to destroy him at birth. John gave an OT description of Israel's expectation of their Messiah - that he would 'rule all the nations with a rod of iron' (Ps 2). This certainly fit Isaiah's picture of the New Creation (Is 65:17-25) - which, interestingly, is quite different from the New Creation picture that John would later present in his Revelation (Rev 21:1-9). Israel's skewed expectation of their coming Messiah set them up to reject the actual Messiah.

The woman, God's people, had held on to a belief about her 'child' that didn't include his death. She, including the disciples of Jesus, had also become so accustomed to the old covenant she was not ready for the new. At the death of Christ all hope seemed to dissipate. Messianic expectations did not match up with reality. No wonder the 'pain'. 

Consequently, the woman - rather than being led by the 'male child who would rule all the nations with a rod of iron' - found herself fleeing into the wilderness for 1260 days 'after' her child had ascended to heaven. We encountered this same number of days in the previous chapter where John saw God's 'two witnesses prophesying for 1260 days clothed in sackcloth' (Rev 11:3).   

Were these 1260 days literal days - i.e. about 3 1/2 years? Or, were they simply symbolic of a period of persecution? If in these verses John was still speaking of the past, was this the same 'time of tribulation' for the disciples of Christ that was spoken of by Christ (Mk 13:14-19)? Did the 1260 days refer to the time between when Jesus was crucified and when the first Christian was martyred - Stephen? Or was this pointing forward to a yet distant and longer period of time?

John placed his discussion of the two witnesses (Rev 11) between the 6th and 7th trumpet. Was this a flashback vision to the beginning of the church or was this chapter intended to be interpreted in chronological order? If in chronological order, and taking place sometime still future to us, then why was John sent to measure the 'temple' which no longer exists? If it was a vision that was riveted in John's own time, establishing the foundation for what would later come, then it would make more sense. But, was the temple John was sent to measure the earthly temple or the heavenly (Rev 11:19)? Wasn't the earthy temple made from a vision of the heavenly temple (Heb 8:5), [which, interestingly, would have been contrary to God's commandment (Ex. 20:4)]? Yet, why would John measure the heavenly? Wasn't it the earthly temple that didn't 'measure up'? It would almost seem that Rev 11:1-13 should have followed Rev.11:19 rather than have been placed before it. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014 - 'War'
7 And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, 8 and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

Heaven, that 'place' where we all want to end up - as opposed to hell - was not always a perfect place. It was obviously plagued with the same issues as we have here - selfishness. We will, as Jesus said, be like the angels (Mt. 22:30), yet we hope that God will have already remedied the 'selfish' issue so that we will not be like the 'fallen' angels (1 Cor 15:50-54; Rev 21:4).

In this war in heaven the combatants were angels, not humans. If we assume that the angels were all initially created perfect beings, then they must be 'fallen' angels. How could a perfect angelic being fall into sin? The leader of the 'fallen' angels, is identified as 'the dragon'. The dragon is also known as 'the serpent', 'the devil', 'Satan', and is a 'deceiver'. 'He' and his angels lost the war in heaven and were thrown out. Up to this point the dragon had a 'place' that was 'up' in heaven - since they were thrown 'down' to the earth.

From this description we can assume that John pictured 'heaven' as some place up above the earth. That is rather consistent with most bible descriptions of heaven (Gen 28:12,17; 49:25; Mt 14:19; 28:2; Acts 2:34; Rev 21:10).

The one who successfully fought against the dragon was 'Michael'. He needed the help of an army of his own 'angels' - presumably 'unfallen' angels. Michael means 'one who is like God'. Who, though, is he?

The only other NT reference to Michael is in Jude 1:9 "Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, 'the Lord rebuke you!' An archangel is simply a leader of angels. Curiously, the word 'archangel' is used only one other place in the NT (1 Th 4:16) - "The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first."  The implication here is that the Lord is the archangel - the leader of the angels. Notice again that He 'descends' from heaven.

Michael is also spoken of in the OT. "But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia" (Dan. 10:13), "However, I will tell you what is inscribed in the writing of truth. Yet there is no one who stands firmly with me against these forces except Michael your prince: (Dan 10:21), and "Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued" (Dan 12:1).

Michael was identified not only as the leader of angels, a chief prince, a great prince, as the one who stands guard over the sons of Israel, but also as the one who is called 'the Lord himself who descends from heaven to raise the dead'. So, who do you think 'Michael' must be? Is he the head angel or the 'Prince' of peace (Is 9:6)? This is 'not' to suggest that Jesus was merely an angel, but the One who led the angels to victory over the fallen angel - the devil.

While this text may answer how the devil came into our world, it also raises many other questions such as how could sin develop in heaven, why did God send the devil to our world and not just eliminate him then and there, and if sin could arise in the perfection of heaven once why couldn't it happen again? Has heaven solved it's 'sin' problem, and now it is earth's turn?

But, first, there are a couple of other essential questions to ask. 'When' did this war in heaven take place and thus 'when' did the dragon first get sent into our world? Verse 3 suggests that the dragon had an army of 'fallen' angels prior to the birth of the 'child', yet was finally cast out of heaven after the 'woman' ran into the wilderness (Lk 10:18). Then, how long had the dragon been in this world? John refers to him as the 'serpent', which would place the dragon in our world as a deceiver from the beginning (Gen 3:1) or even before the creation of man.

Friday, July 25, 2014 - 'Brethren'
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. 11 And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. 12 For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.”

It would seem, at least from our context, that the dragon was 'thrown down' to the earth after the resurrection of Jesus. Prior to that he had access to heaven where he brought accusations against God's people (Job 1:6-12). When the new covenant was inaugurated at the cross, the 'blood of Lamb' covered all sins, for all people, for all time - which eliminated the dragon's heavenly role as chief prosecutor before the Judge of the earth. With no reason to be there, he was limited to earth - the place he has roamed since the beginning. Yet, according to scripture, the dragon (Satan/Devil) would 'soon' be taken from the earth and totally destroyed, along with his 'fallen' angels (Rev. 20:10).

So, how can we know that we are one of the 'brethren' and not one of Satan's deceived minions? John outline the characteristics of the 'elect'. They will have (1) faith in God's grace, (2) walk their talk, and (3) do not cling to anything but Christ - even when threatened with death. If that doesn't describe you, then maybe you need to sit down with God and think through your priorities.

Saturday, July 26, 2014 - 'Persecuted'
13 And when the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child. 14 But the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, so that she could fly into the wilderness to her place, where she was nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. 15 And the serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, so that he might cause her to be swept away with the flood. 16 But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and drank up the river which the dragon poured out of his mouth. 17 So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.

According to this scripture, who are the primary targets of the dragon? John says that they are those who claim to be Christians. Woe to those who are not 'genuine' Christians. But, if you claim to be a Christian, again, make sure you know Christ, not merely know 'about' him.

Jesus made it clear. If you follow him, you will suffer persecution (Mt 5:10-12). Be prepared. The dragon is determined to be at war with you. Your faith will be severely tested. There will, of course, be times when you feel safe, but don't let your guard down. There will also be times when you will be threatened with death if you don't surrender your faith in Christ. But, the 'brethren' fear nothing, because they know the One in whom they have believed and have securely placed their faith in.

The woman - the 'remnant' church - those who are true followers of Jesus, are known by two essential traits: (1) they know the voice of the Spirit (the commandments of God), and (2) they test each 'voice' by the teachings of Jesus (the testimony of Jesus).

Though many interpret 'keeping the commandments of God' to mean conforming to the letter of the law - the ten commandments. That would, of course, be contrary to the new testament teaching. The ten commandments are the old covenant (Dt. 4:13; 5:1-3). That covenant came to an end at the cross (Heb. 8:7-13; 10:1,19,20). The 'law was our tutor that led us to Christ..we are no longer under this tutor' (Gal. 3:23-27). Jesus taught that all the law and the prophets can be summed up by two great commandments - to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbor as our self (See Mt 22:40 and Gal 5:14).

If we interpret John's phrase, 'keep the commandments of God' as 'keeping the ten commandments', we unwittingly neglect the 'testimony of Jesus'. The 'testimony of Jesus' was all that Jesus taught. We judge all things by the 'testimony of Jesus'.  In his teachings he promised to send us the gift of the Spirit. Through the indwelling of the Spirit we are to be Spirit-led and thus enabled to know the voice of the good Shepherd and be able to follow him wherever he leads us (Jn 10:4). Surely this is what John meant in his Revelation. John alluded to this in chapter one with Christ's warning to the church at Ephesus, that they had left their first love. They had good deeds, but had forgotten Jesus. They had lived by the letter of the law, which had resulted in 'good' things, but hadn't done so through the indwelling Spirit of Christ. Then later, in Rev 14, he spoke of the 144,000 as those who 'follow the Lamb wherever He goes'. Sounds like John 10:4, right?

Hold on to the Person.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Romans 15 - 'Presuming'

Monday, July 7, 2014 - 'Selflessness'
1 Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. 2 Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” 4 For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is quickly obvious that the energies of Jesus were not self-directed. His primary objective was to please the Father in all that he did, but to please the Father meant to love his neighbor. We often get this confused. We think that the best way to please God is to not sin - to not break the commandments of God. Yet, since 'love' is the fulling of the law, if we don't love our neighbor, we have sinned and not pleased God. If a Christian truly wants to be 'right' before God, s/he will live a life of service to others.

The second quality about the life of Jesus is that in loving his neighbor he didn't merely love the lovely. He loved the weak, sinful, failing, and spiritually 'ugly' neighbor. The third quality we see in Christ is that he didn't just serve his neighbor out of his abundance. Rather he 'used himself up' in the service of others. He died for us.   

The 'self-protective' Christian may follow Christendom, but not Christ. As soon as we are secure by faith in our eternal acceptance with Christ, we are secure enough to no longer live to please ourselves, but to live for the good of others. We unashamedly (Rom 1:16) receive the disdain of others for our commitment to the way of Christ.

When we truly have the hope of eternal life, as promised by the scriptures, we will adopt the 'mind of Christ'. In fact, if the 'body of Christ' is following the 'Head of the church', it will act with 'one voice' within the world - serving those who are weak. Sadly, we often find the church primarily serving itself, making themselves comfortable and safe in the world. The operative word for the Christian life is self-sacrifice, to be living a selfless life as did Christ.

Paul 'presumed' that a Spirit-led life would be known for its 'selflessness'.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014 - 'Acceptance'
7 Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. 8 For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, 9 and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “Therefore I will give praise to You among the Gentiles, And I will sing to Your name.” 10 Again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.” 11 And again, “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, And let all the peoples praise Him.” 12 Again Isaiah says, “There shall come the root of Jesse, And He who arises to rule over the Gentiles, In Him shall the Gentiles hope.” 13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

If we stop for a moment to remember what Christ accepted when he accepted us, we will be more inclined to 'pay forward' that same spirit of 'acceptance'. We have been accepted by God's grace, in our imperfections. Christ died for us even when we were his enemies. People - both good and bad - are still people Christ loves. As Christ looks past our 'bad' and sees what we may become when embraced by his love, so must we look at others and see beyond their 'sin' and treat them as if they were Christ himself.

Do you want to be 'filled with all joy'? Love others as Christ loves you. Do you want to be 'filled with all peace'? Love others as Christ loves you. Do you want to 'abound in hope'? Again, love others as Christ loves you. All these things are possible when we walk in the Spirit.

Paul 'presumed' that a Spirit-led life would be known for its 'acceptance' of others - just as they are.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014 - 'Spirit Empowered'
14 And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another. 15 But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17 Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. 18 For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, 19 in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.

An assumption is a belief that is based on very little, if any, evidence. A presumption is a belief that is founded upon evidence-based probabilities. Paul didn't mindlessly 'assume' that the 'brethren' in Rome would be 'good'. He 'presumed' they would be 'good' for a valid reason. If a person is Spirit-led, then something 'good' will be created in them by the power of God (Gal. 5:22). He knew God. He knew how the Spirit worked.

He also 'presumed' that he would find them 'filled with all knowledge'. Why? Because he knew that if they were Spirit-led, that the Spirit would continuously be 'teaching them all things' (Jn 14:26).

Paul was confident that God had called him to be a minister to the Gentiles. He knew that he was called to be a minister 'of Christ' to them. In other words, he was not sent to the Gentiles as a minister of Paul, but as a minister of Christ Jesus. He was only to preach Jesus to them. But what did that mean to Paul?

For Paul, to be a minister of Christ to the Gentiles, meant that his job was to help them become Spirit-filled people. He was not merely to teach them 'about' Jesus. He was to lead them 'to' Jesus - the resurrected, living, gift-giving Christ. The gospel isn't merely a story that we tell others. Paul, in the beginning of his epistle to the Romans, wrote that the gospel is the 'power of God'..' (Rom 1:16). How can that be so? Jesus promised that he, the Father, and the Spirit would come to live within us (Jn 14:23). God living in us 'does His works' (Jn 14:10-12).

Paul 'presumed' that a Spirit-led life would be known for its God enabled 'goodness'. Additionally, he 'presumed' that a Spirit-led person would always be growing in knowledge - seeking to be an intelligent, Spirit taught follower of Christ.

Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 'God's Will'
20 And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; 21 but as it is written, “They who had no news of Him shall see, And they who have not heard shall understand.” 22 For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you; 23 but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you 24 whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while— 25 but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints.

Sometimes I wonder if Paul was an adrenaline junkie. He most certainly had a little 'gypsy' in him. He always found 'good' reasons to move on to a new place. In this case his reason was, so that he 'would not build on another man's foundation'. I found that to be a bit odd, since that is the whole point of faith, we are blessed by the fresh perspectives of others. We grow stronger through the strengths of others. We build up one another.

The better explanation was that Paul wanted everyone to not only 'hear' his gospel, but to 'see' its transforming power in his life - to see Christ in him. The gospel had changed his life and he deeply desired to 'pay it forward'. He couldn't imagine not bringing the light of Jesus to those who still hadn't heard about Jesus - or, at least, Jesus as Paul knew Him. He even had Spain on his heart with a hope to visit Rome along the way. If our God is that 'good' to us, how can we not want to tell others, unless we haven't yet experienced the power of God in our own life yet?

Here's some questions. Were these all of Paul's travels God-led destinations? If so, how did Paul discern that it was God leading him from one place to another? How did he know God wanted him in one particular city at one specific point in time, and not another? Did he receive explicit visions for each of his travel plans? Or, did he hear the voice of God speaking to him - specifying exactly where and when to go someplace new? Or, did Paul, having once received clarity on his mission - to preach the gospel to the Gentiles - just went forward whenever and wherever a door happened to be open? Did he believe that whenever an opportunity to preach the gospel was made possible that it was because of the behind the scenes, providential workings of God?

Paul presumed that a Spirit-led believer would feel compelled to share the good news with others and that God would prepare the way for him.

Friday, July 11, 2014 - 'Generosity'
26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. 28 Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. 29 I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.

Are you 'pleased to have an opportunity to help the poor'? Which poor? Did Paul believe that Christian generosity should be limited to only the poor within the church or for anyone who lived in poverty? Or, was there a larger principle at play here?

Gratitude requires that we both notice and remember those who have blessed us. Sometimes that takes a bit of work. Each of us have benefited from the efforts of others, yet we often take these blessings for granted. Sometimes we even feel entitled to receive them, therefore not inclined to even express thanks.

Paul's thinking was somewhat different. He took in the larger picture. He thought more globally rather than locally. The Gentiles would not have received the spiritual blessings God was now sending to them through him, had it not been for the Jews. Paul encouraged the Gentiles to stop and 'wonder' about 'what is' (ontology), why they believe what they believe about 'what is' (epistemology), and how 'what is' came to be (etiology). 

How often do you stop and think about the many blessings you have and how they originated? Do you feel a sense of 'indebtedness' to those who gave you what you now enjoy? How, then, do you respond? How do you express gratitude?

Paul presumed that a Spirit-led person would be generous when it came to helping the less fortunate. He also presumed that those who lived in the Spirit would be appreciative of the source of all their blessings - both from God and man.

Saturday, July 12, 2014 - 'Prayers'
30 Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, 31 that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; 32 so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company. 33 Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.

There is a lot here in Paul's request for prayer.

First, he urged the brethren to 'strive in prayer' on his behalf, along with his own prayers for himself. 

Second, to pray that he be rescued from 'believers' who sought to harm him - regardless of whether they were naively or intentionally doing so. In other words, pray that God would protect him from his enemies within the church.

Third, to pray that candidly minded believers within the 'mother church' would be able to discern that that God had directed him and that he was not a rogue operator.

Fourth, to pray that God would send him to Rome in joy - having had his work accepted by the brethren.

Fifth, to pray that if he arrived in Rome that he would find it a refreshing visit.

How do you pray? Have you ever asked others to prayer for you in very specific terms? Have you ever prayed for you enemies to be foiled, so that your that your work for God would be known and accepted?

Paul presumed that his calling was one that was worthy of prayer from other believers and that God would answer prayer.