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!


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Cruising through the Colossians

We did not dissect this letter verse by verse but did address each chapter intact and found many familiar themes from the Apostle Paul.  He counsels us to live as the people that God has already made us to be.  Through the blood of Jesus we have been made right with God.  Isn’t it time that we lived as the people that we are.  In everything that we do, we should do it as if we were working directly for God and not for other people.  Our conversations should be full of grace and seasoned with salt.  People should taste the goodness of God when they speak with us.

Chapter 3 – Whatever you do

Chapter 4 – Seasoned with salt

Friday, June 17, 2016

Seasoned with Salt

Paul  wrapped up his letter to this church about 100 miles east of Ephesus.  He wanted to maximize the impact of this letter and asked that the church in Colossae share the letter with those in Laodicea and Hierapolis and that they in turn share whatever correspondence they have. 

Did Paul write more letters than we have in our Bibles?  I would think so.  For someone who had so much to say about how to live and grow in God’s grace, it is hard to image that he only wrote a handful of letters while sitting in prison.  We are blessed to have those that we have, but I would think there were more.

We should also remember that Paul wrote letters, not textbooks.  Many parts of his letters make for excellent biblical text books, but there is also stuff that is just unique to letters.  Paul made sure that everyone was caught up on what everyone else was doing, at least for those that those in Asia Minor might have know.

Tychicus was heading to this group of believers, most likely to deliver this letter but also to share all of the other stuff that people want to know. 

It might be compared to when Rick and I went to Africa.  We were truly on a mission from God and we reported on that mission upon our return.  Of course, there was the other stuff that people generally wanted to know as well.

The observation that crops were fenced in while livestock roamed wherever made for good discussion.  Our border crossing coming from Uganda to Kenya was interesting, considering the vehicle that we were in had issues, namely, “its papers were not in order.”

I thought it was interesting that after we received another vehicle that came with its own driver and functional air conditioning we started making good time.  Apparently, we were making better time that we should have been as the vehicle was pulled over.  Unlike the United States where the officer issues a ticket and you are on your way; the Kenyan way was to hold court on the side of the road.  That took about an hour and a half.

I remember passing a herd of cattle being walked along the side of the road about half an hour or so before we were pulled over.  Then I remember being passed by that same herd of cattle as we sat waiting on our driver.

Those are sort of the “Mission Plus” stories that Tychicus could tell that wouldn’t make it into the letter.  Another servant in the faith will Paul, Oneimus, planned to accompany Tychicus.   These men could bring everyone up to speed on the day to day life and tell whatever tall tales needed telling.

Paul noted that some were still contending at Paul’s side.  Aristarchus was evidently imprisoned as well.  Others were working outside the prision walls.  Mark, Justus, Epaphras, Dr. Luke, and Demas were all mentioned as contending for the faith, praying for those in the churches in Asia Minor, and desiring that those who followed Jesus would stand firm in the faith.

Paul had specific messages for those in the area.  Nympha or Nymphas—depending upon whether this person was a man or woman—had started a home church and Paul wanted to make sure that he acknowledged and encouraged that this work continue.  Many of your translations make the decision for you and describe this as the church in her home.  In any case, Paul encouraged this home church as he did those that met as a larger body.

Archippus was also singled out.  Paul reminded him to complete the work that he had been given.  We see only a brief reference to Archippus in Paul’s letter to Philemon.    He and his sister had a home church as well.  Whether ministering to this home church was the work that he received in the Lord or it was something else we won’t find out this side of eternity.

Paul had some specific instructions for specific individuals and he was sending men to share all of the other stories.
But Paul had a request and a bit more instruction for this church and its sister churches.  His request was simple:  Keep praying for me!  Keep praying for those with Paul.

He didn’t ask that people pray that God arrange another release from prison.  Paul asked that he continue to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ with clarity and that his ministry be effective regardless of where he was.  To apply one of Paul’s own metaphors that he did not use here—pray that he will continue to run the good race, fight the good fight, and keep the faith.

Then comes this final pairing of counsel.  Paul said:

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.

We find this same counsel in Paul’s letter to Ephesus.  God’s people have always desired his wisdom, but few actively seek it.

God’s wisdom tells us not to argue with a fool; yet, we are sent into a world that is foolish in the eyes of God.  We, however, must bediscerning.  We must understand how to use each situation to advance the gospel.

Sometimes this means that we are creative and find another way to reach the lost in the world.  Sometimes this gives us permissions to shake the dust off of our sandals and move on.

Making the most of every opportunity is to listen to God’s Spirit that lives within us and seize the moment when we are called to action.

Sometimes we offer a gentle word or a box of food or a Chewy Tuesdays lunch and sometimes we move on down the road so as not to argue with a fool.  If someone is spewing words of hate, they might be pleading for help.  Most likely, they are not.  They are not receptive to your overtures of love and hope.

Making the most of every opportunity means to move on in this case.  Getting into a spitting contest is not the wisest investment of your time and energy.  Use them elsewhere.
But what about those times where we might make some inroads?  Paul followed this counsel on wisdom and opportunity with another provocative statement.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

We are not going to connect with everyone.  Even Paul who set his sights very high noted that he became all things to all people so that some might be saved.  We should expect some rejection from this world that does not know God, but sometimes a door is opened to us with those who are struggling with knowing God.

How do we speak to them?  Our words are full of grace, not judgment.  These people who are ready to listen know that something is not right in their lives.  We do not need to be the voice of condemnation.

Our words speak of God’s grace.  We should convey this message in the first person as people who have received, live in, and continue to grow in God’s grace.

This life in Jesus Christ is not just theory for us.  It is real.  It is who we are!

When we talk with those who are still lost or at least disconnected, spice it up a little.  We should be interesting people!  People should get a taste of God’s goodness when they talk with us.

The term Stuffy Christian should be an oxymoron!  The two terms should be like trying to connect the same poles on magnets.  They should repel each other.

We should not be stuffy.  We are salty.  The term Salty Christians should be redundant.

What is it to be salty?

Salt was part of covenants and offerings and sacrifices.

Salt preserves.

Salt stings a little if it gets in a wound.

Salt was plowed into the fields of a defeated enemy to keep them defeated long after the battles were won.

Salt adds a distinctive taste to food.

When you add salt to something, you seldom just put it in one spot.  You spread it out.
Salt can make us thirsty.

Our bodies are made up of just less than half a percent of salt, but if you lose too much of that very small amount of salt that makes up you,  then you become weak and fatigued, and even irritable. 

If we get too much salt, we retain water, our blood pressure can go up, our kidneys don’t work as well as they should, your arteries can stiffen, as well as other things that don’t go well with living to a ripe old age.

Jesus called us the salt of the earth.  Paul told us that our conversation should be full of grace and seasoned with salt.

While there are many interpretations to being the salt of the earth; Paul restricts his to those that might apply to seasoning.  So let’s think about being this God seasoning in our encounters with others, especially those who have yet to experience what it is to live in and grow in God’s grace.

Every time that we converse—that term has a very broad definition in this age of electronic connections—we are full of God’s grace and we season our communication with a taste of God’s goodness.

Sometimes we say all that we need to for the moment in delivering a GOD LOVES YOU – LOVE ONE ANOTHER wristband.

Sometimes we communicate how far we missed the mark and how much farther God’s grace went than our transgressions.

Sometimes we ask if someone is ready to turn away from an ungodly lifestyle—people don’t always understand the word repent—and receive God’s love that we know in Jesus.

Sometimes we challenge people to think on why in the world they are in the world—what is your purpose in life?

We converse in grace—without condemning others.  We have fallen short, been rescued, and now live in right standing with God.  We grow in his grace. 

Sometimes that growth calls us to challenge others, but to do it in love.

One of the ways that we can season our conversation is to communicate in the first person.  We are not people of doctrine and rigid rules but of love.  We need to convey that in the first person.

You have a story to tell not a religion to promote.  People will taste God’s goodness in your story and in your experiences.

You have love to convey not scripts to memorize.  That’s what it is to be seasoned with salt.

You have a faith to share not converts to accumulate.

Your witness to others that is seasoned with salt will sound a whole lot like an everyday conversation, except that seasoning will speak to the goodness of God.

People will know the goodness of God not because you say Amen or Praise the Lord every fourth word, but because of your willingness to share what God has done and is doing in your life.

How are people to understand grace if it is only something we talk about as an event from 2000 years ago. 

We are people who live in and grow in grace, and that alone makes us interesting people.  For those who are struggling to know God, they shouldn’t be thinking, “Oh no, here come those Christians” every time that they see us.

People should want to talk with us.  We are full of God’s Spirit.  We live in and grow in his grace.  We practice love as a way of life.  We are interesting people.

But if we want to connect with others, we need to share our story.  We need to share how we know God’s love in our life.  We share the story of God’s love poured out on the cross but we do it by sharing how God is working in our lives.

We talk about God’s grace as a first person experience and that will season our conversations with salt.  We will know exactly what we need to say.

Think about all of the things that we know for sure—
·      God loves us
·      We have been made right with God
·      We are brothers and sisters to Christ
·      God will never leave or forsake us
·      We are commissioned to take the good news to the world
·      We are disciples of our Lord Jesus
·      God is love and we are to love one another
·      God’s Spirit is with us and within us
·      We know life, life abundant, and life eternal

The list goes on.  This blessed assurance continues in so many other ways not enumerated here; however, we should add this to the list that we are interesting people.

Living and growing in God’s grace, we are interesting people and uniquely prepared to season our conversations with the goodness of God.

As we follow Jesus, if we will just live as the interesting people that we are, continue to seek God’s wisdom, and be faithful in our prayer, we will find many doors open to us to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Some will reject our message no matter how interesting we are, but some will be saved.

Some will be saved.

Some will be saved.