Friday, June 24, 2016

Invisible Qualities Clearly Seen

Read Romans 1

Romans is sometimes called the gospel according to Paul.  It is jammed packed full of Christian theology and if we consider the fact that Paul did not establish this church body and have never been to visit Rome before, it stands to reason that this letter reads more like a text book than many of the other letters where Paul mixes messages of faith with personal counsel and encouragement to specific believers, and even some requests to bring some personal items when someone comes to visit.

The first part of this first chapter reads like many other letters.  There is an identification of the writer.  Today the letterhead would suffice.

There is a salutation—to all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.

Then there is a prayer and an expression of Paul’s desire to be with these believers.  These are something of a standard format of the age and surely of Paul’s writing, save the letter to the Galatians was a little terse even from the beginning.

But there is nothing standard in this standard format.  

Consider how much Paul packs into his first few words.  He says:

I am Paul--
·      Called to be an apostle
·      Set apart to deliver this gospel
This is the gospel--
·      It was promised beforehand
·      I came through the prophets in the holy scriptures
·      It was not the flavor of the month but delivered on a promise made by God from long ago!
Regarding this man that we call Jesus
·      Who was human from the line of David
·      Who was divine declared to be the Son of God
·      He was raised from the dead
·      He is our Lord
·      Through him we know grace
·      He calls us to call people from throughout the world
·      Through him we know faith and grow in God’s grace
·      We belong to this Jesus!

So Paul’s Identification is a little more than a letterhead. Paul takes every word of this letter that he wrote to this church that he had never seen and made it count in case he never got there.  He made this letter as a good, self-contained, all-encompassing guide to this new glorious way of life that he knew and we know in Christ Jesus.  He hoped, even longed, to visit these believers one day, but for now his letter would have to suffice.

To be sufficient, it must assume nothing.  There was no time spent together to build upon.  Paul must begin somewhere so he began with the beginning.

 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.  (Romans 1:20)

People have no excuse for thinking there is no God.  Paul offers a simple provocation:  Look around at what you can see and tell me there is no God.

Remember that Paul is writing to believers in capital of the Roman Empire and that empire had no shortage of gods.  The Romans were practical people when it came to gods.  The Greeks had a good established set of them, so just rename them and move on the other business.  Roads and aqueducts were more along the lines of where the Romans wanted to be creative and original.

But as for gods, “Let’s just go with whatever the last guys used.”  It all seemed practical enough.  Well, except for the fact that they threw in Caesar as a god a well.

Imagine what it would be like to live in that culture of pagan worship and idols.

Hey Joe!  How ya doin’
It’s the pits man.  Everything is a mess.
That’s no surprise.  You still have the old model gods.  You need to go trade those in for a new model.
Probably so.  June is god month down at the dealership.
Make sure you get the automatic prayer starter and satellite radio.
Yeah, that’s the ticket.  I’ll upgrade my gods.
Knowing what we know, can you even imagine a culture that made its own gods and then expected them to provide for their needs?

So Paul is writing to believers in the heart of the pagan world reminding them that there is one true God and by the very creation he made, they—and we—should understand that.

Even if you had a few pagan idols in your house, and were religious in your pagan worship and ritual, the creation itself is crying out saying:  “The one true God spoke this into existence not the stone or wooden images that you purchased at Caesarmart during the Buy One Get One sale.”

God’s creation cries out to us saying, “This ain’t not accident.”  The creation is better with its testimony than it is with its grammar.

For those of us who live here in western Oklahoma, you are probably thinking:  “Tell me something that I don’t know.”
You cannot witness an Oklahoma sunrise or sunset and think, “Now that’s a great accident.”

Watch the sun set in the western sky and try to convince yourself that a god made of wood or stone or shaped like a bird or in the image of anything else is responsible for all of this.  The creation cries out, “That dog don’t hunt!”

Do you know what the most photographed site in the world is?  It’s Mount Fuji in mainland Japan.  I lived at the base of this mountain for about three months in the Marine Expeditionary Camp.  Of course, we didn’t get to see much of the mountain because of the clouds.

Most pictures of Mount Fuji show the peak projecting above the clouds.  We were living below them.  On a rare cloudless day, we could look up and see this picturesque sight.

Do you know what the second most photographed site in the world is?  I don’t either but I know that the Burns Flat Cross is in the running for it, and most of those photos have been taken by me.

Morning after morning I am witness to this testimony that God is creator of all and by the evidence all around me, I should know that.  I do.

But some don’t get it.  Some are blinded.

We are blessed that we can just step outside, look in our rearview mirror, or sit on our back porch and know that our God is an awesome God.  We are blessed.

I am not sure that it is so easy for someone who live in an inner city, with constant noise and sirens, and even gunfire.  They are still without excuse if they chose to reject God or worship some idol, but we should know just how blessed we are to live where we do.

Even where we are, some do not have eyes to see what we do.  God is real.  He is present. He is love and he loves us.  Some remain blinded and turn to sinful things.

Paul is writing to believers in Rome but we are noting this foundational chapter in our current century and acknowledge that people are without excuse and deserve the wrath of God.
So Paul has set a foundation for what follows.  There is one true God and everyone should get this part even before they hear the gospel.  People are without excuse.

They should have known!

If not, well then they have picked their poison.

They made their bed and they can lay in it, or is it lie in it.  Most people don’t make their beds until they get out of them, so let’s not put too much stock in this example.

They should have known.  Instead of finding something in the creation to worship; they should have known by the creation itself that there is one true God.  They are without excuse.

They should have known.  They deserve what’s coming to them.

I love the images of Oklahoma sunrises and sunsets and love even more to use them as examples of God’s majesty and as an easy way to explain this passage; but we must understand it is not the only way.

Believe it or not, we can see God’s majesty in places outside of Oklahoma and it doesn’t always have to be a sunrise or a sunset or flowers in bloom or the smell of alfalfa in the evening.

Sometimes the evidence provided in the creation itself is us.

With all of our modern conveniences and distractions, few people stop to notice God’s handiwork in creation.  They get lost in loving something in that creation.  We are a nation with many idols and much idolatry.  We have a lot of lost people that have become blind to the evidence.

We could say, those people deserve what they get.  But we know better.  We know the desire of God’s heart.  We follow Jesus and he set us on a mission of love.

Paul is writing a foundation for the rest of his letter, but we know there is more and we know that we are part of that more.  We are part of the evidence.

We take God’s love to the world.  Last week we talked about being salty—letting people taste God’s goodness in our interaction with them.  Just because we have begun another letter does not mean that we put that counsel on the shelf.  We don’t put the salt back in the cabinet.

People—those who have given-in to the world—must see and taste and hear God’s goodness in us.  Paul was setting a foundation for the letter he wrote to believers in Rome, but we have that foundation and we cannot just be content to say, “We’ll get the rest of the story later.”

 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.  (Romans 1:20)

This is foundational in the letter but for those of us who have this foundation firmly established, it is a charge as the first fruits of this creation to be the evidence of God’s divine nature.  As brothers and sisters in Christ we are to be evidence of God’s eternal power.

People are to see evidence of God’s invisible qualities in us.  Yes, this is a foundational chapter for believers who lived in Rome 2000 years ago, but for us it is a mission to be the evidence of our all-powerful, divine, and loving God who sent his Son into this world to reconcile all things unto himself.

Our charge is to be the evidence of that unseen God.

Be the evidence of God’s love.

Be the evidence!


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