Friday, November 25, 2016

A little self-inventory and preparation for the Money Message

Sometimes talking about money is tough stuff even for Christians.  Here are some quick self-inventory questions followed by the scriptures referenced in The Money Message.

Some questions about money, relationships, and giving:

Who is master in my life when it comes to money:  Me or Money?
Do I feel enslaved because of debt?
Do I trust God over my own understanding when it comes to money?
Should I have more money than I need to meet my needs?  Should I have enough to bless others?
What is my attitude towards giving?
Am I blessed by the tithe?

Supporting Scriptures for The Money Message:

The Money Message

Over the past several years I have talked to many people who say that they have attended churches where all they talk about is money, mainly how much they need. 

I have heard people use the term tithe in a variety of ways that didn’t exactly fit the definition.

I have seen people who had money for a big screen television from the rental place, the top of the line cell phone, and no money to pay the water bill.

I have never had cause to help anyone with money who was a tither.

As an elder and as a pastor, I have counseled men and women for close to a decade now about many things, but I have never come across anyone who sought my counsel who had a money problem.  Think about that.  I am going to discuss money from a godly perspective and I have never counseled anyone with a money problem.

That said, let’s get started.  A godly person, a good person, a wise individual stores up an inheritance for his children’s children.  Holy cow!  He’s already lost me.  I can’t even pay all my bills and have something left over for my own savings account.

Let’s stop right there.  Why are you reading this? 

Perhaps there is something to be learned, a new approach, a wiser way to deal with money.  If it’s somewhere in that ballpark and not just to see how many new terms that Tom invents this week, then wouldn’t it be nice to have an objective—a goal?

What exactly are we aiming at?  The godly use of money might be one answer.  It is sort of general and a lot of people can’t put actions or anything tangible with that big, broad target.  But here is something tangible.  Provide an inheritance to your children’s children.

How much?  There is a lot of maneuver room here.  Part of that inheritance will be a saving knowledge of life in Jesus Christ.  Part of it will be money, or not!  So many are in the or not arena at the moment.

If you want to make improvement, you have to set tangible goals.  Something else is required.  It is something that you don’t get in the direct language of a proverb but you find in one of the Parables of Jesus. 

Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.  To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.  The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more.  So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more.  But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

There is much more to this parable, but this part defines what we need.  What did the servants do when their master left?  The first two put their money to work.  In the money-person equation, the person was the master.  The money was the servant.  The money was put to work.

Do you remember Al Haig?  He had a distinguish military career, was chief of staff for presidents Nixon and Ford and was Secretary of State in the Reagan administration, but what is he best know for?

His statement after Reagan had been shot.  “I am in control here.”  Haig knew that the vice president was next in the success of command for the presidency but since the president didn’t say he was passing control to the VP, Haig presumed to be in command.

It is something to bring a smile to most students of American government and history.  Yes, Alexander Haig might have had a big ego, but he also had the exact attitude that we must have in a relationship with money.

I am in charge.  There is no discussion.  There is no leeway.  I am in charge!

If you have a relationship with money, you must be the master.  Dave Ramsey put it another way.  You tell every dollar where to go.

The typical response is, “But I don’t have enough money to tell it where to go.  It’s all gobbled up in bills and rent and car payments.”

So who is the master in the equation when you buy more house than you can afford?  That mortgage is going to be the master.

Who is in charge if you buy more car than you can afford? 

Who is in charge if you spend more with the “Buy with One Click” button on Amazon than you budgeted?

To tell your money where to go, you must also be the master of your decisions.  We are told to seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness first.  If we do that, then immediate gratification seldom takes hold of our decision process.

We still have free will.  We still make the choice but if we are seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness and his wisdom and his thoughts, then we might just be on top of this money thing.  We can be the master of our money.
We might live by different priorities.

I said early that I have never counseled anyone with money problems.  That was only half the information.  I have counseled many with relationship problems and with prioritizing problems that involved money.  Money was not the problem in these situations.

The problem was rooted in the fact that in their relationship with money, money or the love of money or immediate gratification with money had turned people’s life upside down.

I have $75 in cash because of a job I did for the guy down the street.  The water bill is $65 but it is not due until the end of the week.  So I can afford to eat out tonight, pick up a couple packs of smokes, get some beef jerky, chips, and bean dip from the convenience store to watch the game tonight. 

When it is time to pay the bill, I only have $35 left.  I have a money problem.  No!  I have a relationship problem or a priority problem, but money is not the problem.

To be able to tell your money where to go, you have to know what you want to accomplish.  If you want God to bless your goals, they should be objectives consistent with his will.  We must be wise.

In your relationships with money, you must be in charge.  In your relationship with God, he is in charge.  If you can connect those 2 dots, then you are ready to put your money to work.

What gets in the way so much of the time?  Debt.  In America, debt has become a part of life.  The proverb tells us that the rich rule over the poor.  We see that in most societies.  Democratically based governments try to spread the ruling authority over a broader base, but the rich have much more influence than the poor.  That’s not the main point here and does not have to govern you.

The borrower is slave to the lender.  Ouch!  Double ouch!  Debt robs you of being master in the you-money equation.  Debt—and we should take this at the personal level—steals your authority.  I don’t know that we can make direct application of this proverb to businesses and nations, but surely the principle governs.  So long as there is debt, there sovereignty is lessened.

The Bible does not prohibit borrowing and lending but does have strong counsel for both borrowing and lending, but the strongest is that the borrower is slave to the lender.

Have you noticed—I am sure you have if you have followed my discussions on this matter over the past few years—that the verse about bringing up a child in the way he should go immediately precedes this?

Often, when we think of debt, we fixate on our personal situation, but what are we teaching our kids about money?  What are we teaching them about debt?

If you have significant personal debt, what are you teaching your children?  The only debt that we should have is the debt to love one another.

Speaking of love, how can we serve the one true God who is love and loves us so much if we have another master?  If we love money so much that we go into debt for it, how can we say Jesus is our Lord and Master?

Jesus said that you can’t do it.  You cannot serve two masters. You will love one and hate the other.

People say that they don’t love money but need the stuff.  It takes money to buy the stuff or debt which is indenturing yourself to another so as to use their money.

Let’s back up to the proverb.  A wise—a godly person—leaves an inheritance for their children’s children.  How can you do this if everything goes to supporting your immediate needs?

The answer is that you can’t.  But I can barely afford everything that I own or rent or have to pay for.  Wisdom says, then maybe you have too much that you have to pay for.

The world tells you that you don’t have nearly enough.   You need a bigger car.  You need a bigger house with a pool.  You need a boat or a golf cart or a bigger television.  Your kids need all the new video games and how can you live without the I-Phone 9 or the Galaxy 28Z?

Remember the counsel of Romans 12.  Don’t be conformed to the image or the patterns of the world any more.  The world got its hooks into us but we must stop and turn around.

Many of us say that we will do this, but when it comes to our money we make an exception.  Maybe we should have a smaller house or less expensive car or we didn’t really need that 4K television.  When all the bills are paid, there should be something—a fair amount left.

That’s for our children’s children, right?  Maybe part of it, but mostly it is to bless others.  Consider God’s blessing of Abraham.  Abraham was blessed so that he could be a blessing.  In fact, the entire world would be blessed through him.  We know that blessing as Jesus Christ but we forget the concept of being blessed so that we can be a blessing to others.

So is this where the tithe comes out of?   Does the tithe come out of the left overs? No, the tithe is completely different.  Tithe means tenth or a tenth part that is set apart for the Lord.  It comes first.  In seeking God and his kingdom and his righteousness, we must remember that God only finds first place acceptable.  He is jealous like that.

We see the tithe mentioned notably 3 times in the books of the law and in an encounter between Abraham and  Melchizedek in Genesis 14.    Generally, the tithe was paid in animals and crops, but in Abraham’s case, it was with the spoils of war.  Plunder or booty was the standard pay of fighting men until only a few centuries ago.  The tithe is a tenth of whatever income we receive.

Now that’s after taxes, right?  Does God ever take second place?

But that’s Old Testament stuff?  Only those under the law were required to give 10%, right?  Actually, if you lived under the law, you gave something just over 25% if you add up all the other offerings that went with feasts and special occasions.

But we live in the church age and are not under the law are we?  Didn’t Jesus fulfill the law?  Aren’t we free to live without fearing punishment because of the law to include the tithe?

Do we have to give 10% to God?  No!

What does God consider an acceptable offering from us?  Hold on, it’s 100%.  We are to be a living sacrifice giving everything that we are and everything that we have to God.
Where am I going to live if I give my house to God?  Most likely you will live in the house that you gave to God, along with the body and mind and everything else that you gave to God.

Let’s get back to just money.  Do I have to give God a tenth of my income or not?  No, but why would you not want to considering God’s promise?  God said, “Put me to test!”

Hold on!  I know better than to put God to the test.  This is the one exception and God is very bold about it.  God is double dog daring us to try to out-give him.  God is telling us that he has so much blessing for us if we will just trust him.  We don’t’ see the word trust in this pericope but it is very much about trust.

Will I give God a tenth of what I have before I do anything else with my money?  Do I trust him enough—this God who created everything and even gave his own Son as an atoning sacrifice to take away my sin and make me right with God again—do I trust him enough to give him a tenth of my income?

For those of us who have done this, we can say that God makes 90% go farther than 100%.  We enjoy the blessings of the tithe.  In being a living sacrifice, we acknowledge that it’s all God’s anyway, but we totally let go of a tenth.

Some folks say that I give part of my tithe to World Vision or the Children’s Home or the Family Care Center.  That’s not accurate.  The tithe today is ten percent given to the church body where you worship without further individual designation.  This is how we trust God with the tithe in this century.

I hope that you also give to World Vision, and the Family Care Center, or to the shoe project or to the special fund raiser for fire victims, but those are offerings given beyond the tithe.  The food that we bring in most weeks that the children bring forward to be blessed are offerings beyond the tithe. 

You might want to get your skin lotion out before this next part, because it’s going to be a might prickly for many Americans.  Sometimes, we think that we know what God wants us to do with the tithe and so we just do that with the money that we would have given as the tithe.

Maybe we are helping someone who needs help.  Maybe we think that God wants us to pay off our mortgage sooner.  Maybe we feel strongly about supporting a missionary somewhere.  When we do those things, and call it a tithe we are only fooling ourselves.

I call it a trick tithe.  Understand, we can’t trick God.  We are only fooling ourselves that we are trusting God when we are trusting our own understanding.

Read Malachi.  God’s people had once again strayed away from God’s ways, especially in the tithe.  Instead of bringing God the best lamb, the owner would just cut out the scrawny, defective animals and say, “That’s good enough.”

Malachi challenged God’s people by asking, “Do you think you could get away with that with your governor?”

But why did God put this on my heart if he didn’t want me to take money out of my tithe to give to this person or cause or whatever seems to be tugging at me?  Why?

Have you considered that God wants to fulfill his promise of blessing to you so that you can bless others and do those things that are tugging at your heart?  Have you trusted him to bless you to be a blessing?  Have you trusted him with the first 10% of what you have received?

So if you take money away from your tithe to do other things, will God strike you down?  No.  He has given his own Son for you.  He loves you.  He will not hurt you.

Will he bless me as if I had tithed?  Don’t bank on it.  The tithe is graduate level trust.  It is a simple, two-part equation.  I tithe and the Lord blesses me.

So should I tithe as a mandatory tax I must pay to God?  No!  I say it again:  No!

The Lord loves a cheerful giver.  If you are going to tithe, then do so with joy in your heart and thoroughly enjoy the blessings that God will pour out on you.

If you tithe, joyful or not, God will fulfill his promise.  It’s a thing with God that he does what he said he would do.  He is like that.

But why not enjoy it?

The muscles in my neck tighten and my pulse increases when I hear other pastors and elders and church leaders say that we need to bring in enough to keep the lights on.  We have forgotten the other blessing of the tithe.

God’s storehouse will be full.  In today’s world, that means that the church bodies will do most of the things that somehow people have come to look to the government to accomplish.  When God’s storehouse is full, government programs of all sorts will be irrelevant. 

But God’s storehouse is not full.  I will say that we here in this body are closer than many, but it is not filled to overflowing.  I don’t see who gives what but I know that for a small body of believers, we have a very generous spirit.

Many individuals are blessed because they tithe, but the storehouse is not full.

This giving everything that we are and we have as a living sacrifice to God is tough stuff, but totally letting go of 10% seems to be even tougher, until you have made a lifetime habit of it.
It seems too hard for some, especially when we see people living the all about me life, raking in the dough, and living high on the hog.  That’s enough mixed money metaphors for one sentence.

The proverb says that the wealth of the wicked is stored up for the righteous.  To which many of us say, “Can we cash in on that now?”

God’s people are told not to be fixated on earthly accumulation.  If you want to start a money market account, open it in heaven.  The interest rates are out of this world.

Whatever we have in this world is consumable.  What we have in the next is everlasting.

Let’s revisit the parable of the talents again.  The first 2 servants took their master’s money and put it to work.  We got that part.  They were the master in that equation, but we should note that they put that money to work immediately.
They understood that money was a perishable commodity, especially if it is just buried in the ground.  It is meant to be put to work.

Had the 3rd servant just put the money into a certificate of deposit, it would have at least earned a little interest.  But the first 2 servants put the money to work right away.  They were not only the master in their relationship with money, they were a wise master.

They had surely done similar things with whatever their master had entrusted to them before.  Remember, that the master gave to them in accordance with their abilities.  They had surely taken what they had—it may have been very little—and put it to work before.

How much or little we have has no bearing on our relationship with money.  We must be the master.  We must be wise.  We must take the initiative.

Money is neither good nor bad.  It is to be our servant.  Debt makes us the slave.  The tithe is the litmus test of trusting God.  Will we trust him enough to let go of that first 10%?
God wants to bless us because he loves us.  He wants to pour out even more blessing when we trust him with our money.

God wants us to bless others out of the abundance that he provides.

God wants us to have more than enough so that we can not only be a blessing to our children, but to their children, and to those whom his Spirit calls us to bless.

There is more counsel on money in the Bible but we will wrap up here and I am going to shift to the first person.

Money will not be my God but I am thankful when my God blesses me with money.

I have been blessed in my tithe, cannot think of a situation where I would give up this most precious statement of my trust in the Lord, and because of this unqualified trust, I have been blessed to bless others beyond my tithe.

I will not serve two masters.  I serve the Lord, seek his kingdom first, and enjoy the fact that he blesses me with so many things that the godless world chases after with futility.

If I have to choose between going without and going in debt, then I will go without; though as the Lord directs my steps I have never found myself without everything that I needed.
I enjoy things of this world that it takes money to buy as part of the abundant life that God has provided.  He has not called me to be poor.  In giving my entire life to him, he has made me rich.  In terms of money, sometimes that means that I have enough money to eat the old people’s buffet at Sizzlin and sometimes it means that I can go on a cruise.  Sometimes it means eating beans and cornbread, but I make some really good cornbread.

I don’t have gobs of money in the bank, but I have more than enough to meet my needs and still have some to bless others.  If I am blessed with gobs of money, I will put it to work at once.

As far as money goes, I have lived according to the rules of the world and I have lived God’s way.  I have known debt and struggled with the tithe and purchased many things based on selfish impulse and not wisdom.  There was no peace in my finances and that robbed me of peace in my life.

Know this:  God’s instructions on money are very straightforward.  His promises are true.

Things are so much better living God’s way, and that includes my relationship with money.

I think that God wants us to have:
·     Some money in our pockets.
·     Some money in the bank.
·     Some money set aside to bless our children’s children.
·     Some money to put to work and produce a good return.
·     Some money to bless others when led by his Spirit.

God wants us to be the master in our relationship with money.

God wants to bless us when we truly trust him with our money.

God wants the only debt that we have to be the one that we can never repay in full.  That we love him for his unbelievable mercy by loving others every day of our lives.


Supporting Scriptures pertaining to money and giving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Racing Through Romans

Romans is sometimes called the gospel according to Paul.  It is a letter that presumes little from its target audience.  Paul knew some of the people to whom he wrote but he had not yet been to Rome.  He hoped to stop there on a missionary journey to Spain.  We know that he did make it to Rome but not quite in the manner he had thought when he penned this epistle.

This page that links to messages on each chapter of Paul’s letter to the Roman believers is titled Racing Through Romans.  That is because any chapter in this letter could easily support 3, 4, or a dozen stand-alone messages.  To press on towards the goal as Paul wrote elsewhere, the single message per chapter model was adhered to throughout.

Start your engines and get ready to begin your race!

Romans is unique in that it is full of both theology and very direction instruction on discipleship.  You will be blessed to read this letter authored by Paul.  You will be blessed greatly to study it and put its precepts into practice.

Thanks be to God!

Today we give thanks to God almighty, maker of heaven and earth, author of life and love, and the one who has claimed us as his own for all eternity.

We give thanks for our every breath, every beat of our hearts, and every minute of every day, for the very day is a holy thing as it is set apart in our lives as the time to bring God glory.

The sun rises and sets at his pleasure.  The wind proclaims his might and fury and its absence breathes his peace.

The newborn babe reveals the potential that he granted to all of us.  The tired and weary soul witnesses to his ceaseless mercy that gives worldly status no rank.

His invitation to receive his grace belies the justice and judgment that we deserve.
Merciful and loving God, we give you thanks!

Thanks be to God!


Friday, November 18, 2016

Romans Wrap Up, Review, and Rolling of the Credits

Read Romans 16
Paul finally concludes this lengthy epistle in what we define as the 16th chapter.  It is the longest of his letters.  That’s why it traditionally comes first in your Bibles.  His letters to the churches are sequenced not by date but by length with the short pastoral letters after that.

At the end of a stage play, the cast comes out for a last curtain call.  There are bows and curtsies.  Many are acknowledged with applause for their performances.

In a major motion picture, the credits may roll for ten minutes after the story is over.  The credits often have their own musical score.  They are something of a production in themselves.

Paul, in similar fashion, rolled the credits at the end of his longest letter.  He acknowledged those who had helped him in many ways.  We may know some of these people.  Some are from Corinth.  Some likely from Rome.  Some may have carried the letter penned by Paul’s scribe, Tertius, who is also acknowledged in this chapter for being the speech to text app that put Paul’s pontifications to papyrus.

Paul has a final piece of counsel to add to his acknowledgements, closes with a benediction, and in this final chapter has said, “That’s enough for this letter.”  His hope was to visit this congregation in person.  He mentioned that in the beginning and explained more of how that might happen near the end.

As we have approached this letter mostly as a biblical textbook, let’s do our final review.

·     By the evidence of creation itself, everyone should know there is a God.  He is real and you should know that with or without a preacher, a Bible, or instructions from another person.
·     God’s wrath awaits the rebellious person.  We deserve it.
·     OBTW—we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
·     We—just as Abraham who was the greatest example to the Jews—are justified by faith.  It’s not by our bloodline or strict compliance with the law, but by faith.
·     OK, let’s get historical and theological for a moment.  Sin entered the world through one man.  You guessed it.  Adam takes the rap for this one.  Sin’s partner in crime, death, followed closely in trace.  But through one man—Jesus who walked this earth as God in the flesh—we are made right with God again.  We are right with God.
·     We didn’t have to do anything to earn this gift of grace, so what should we do?  Go on sinning so we can get more grace.  No!  That is not who we are anymore.  In that “No” Paul begins his discourse on discipleship.
·     Discipleship is our response to God’s incredible and undeserved love.  It is how we love God back, and sometimes it is a struggle.  Salvation came in an instant.  Discipleship is a process and sometimes that process finds us doing things that we never intended to do.
·     And then we come to what we mark as Paul’s 8th chapter.  Paul talked about struggling and then follows it with affirmation after affirmation, at the heart of it all is that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!  That affirmation alone should get us through the toughest of days.
·     Our suffering in this present age can’t compare with what is to come.  Suffering, pain, and persecution may seem intense to us now, but won’t even muster an afterthought when we are living in what God has in store for us.
·     In all of these things that we deal with in our discipleship, we need to realize that we are victorious because of Christ Jesus.  In all these things, we are more than conquerors.
·     Sometimes we can’t make sense of much of anything but we are assured that God takes all things and works them for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.
·     What can we say here?  If God is for us, who can stand against us.  Remember that this is a rhetorical question.  God is for us.  We should have the boldness of David when he faced the giant named Goliath.  Don’t you wish that Mister T had written this part of the Bible.  “I pity the fool that doesn’t have God and comes up against his servant.  That poor, uncircumcised Philistine.”  God is with us!  God is for us!  Who and what can stand against us?
·     And then we come to some of the most poetic and empowering of Paul’s words.  Here they are in the New Living Translation.  And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
·     Just as it seemed that Paul was on a roll with discipleship and had accompanied it with some of the strongest affirmations in the New Testament, he changes course.  He tells us that we need to understand God’s sovereignty.  God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy.  That turns out to be a good thing for everyone who was not in the bloodline of Abraham, those people known only as gentiles at the time.
·     God has a chosen people but for a time they were blinded, numb, or in a stupor when the Messiah came, taught, healed, died for the sins of humankind, and took his life up again.  Most of the Hebrew people, especially their religious hierarchy, just missed it.
·     That’s good news for us and as it turns out, good news for these Chosen People as well.  All have been bound over to disobedience so that all my come to know God not by the bloodline of Abraham but by the sacrificial blood of Christ Jesus.
·     By the time that we get to chapter 12, Paul begins his upper level instruction in discipleship.  Some of what he has to say takes us to graduate coursework.
·     It begins with being a living sacrifice.  This could be an oxymoron or a paradox.  Most sacrifices don’t get to live.  The two words usually don’t go together, but when we give ourselves fully to God then we finally come to know the abundant life that Jesus came to give us.  I’m I thinking that I am coining my own Pauline term—paradoxymoron.  I think Living Sacrifice is a paradox of truth contain in this oxymoron.  Plus, I like inventing my own terms.
·     Next we are called to renew our minds.  We can’t just give God a little part of our mind and expect to see transformation.  We need to let him replough our entire field so we can be transformed into the exact person that he wants us to be.
·     OBTW—there is a fantastic benefit to giving our entire lives to God and surrendering to this transformation process.  We get to know God’s will.  We should not shrink back from this for it is a good and pleasing and perfect will.  Of course, we must surrender one of our biggest excuses when we become a living sacrifice and commit to the renewing of our mind; we have to give up saying, I don’t know what God wants me to do.  I don’t know what God wants me to do with my life.
·     Paul continues his discipleship discussion with a short discourse on gifts.  Our salvation was not just a Get out of Hell Free Card.  It also came with Spiritual Gifts.  We are to take our gifts and use them.  If God gifted us to teach, then teach.  If he equipped us to cook, then cook.  If he put music in you, then sing and play and lift your voice to the Lord like no other so as to bring him glory.  If it is to write, then write.  If it is to speak an immediate message from God—we call that prophesying—then speak the truth that God has given you.  Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that so many people die with their music still in them.  What a tragedy.  What terrible discipleship.  God gave us gifts so that we could put them to use and bring glory to his name and produce fruit for the body of Christ.
·     Paul then jumps to graduate level discipleship.  Love must be sincere.  Do you know how hard it is to fake sincerity?  Now that should be an oxymoron.  Our heart is being shaped like God’s.  We must have genuine love for one another—even the knuckleheads.
·     While Paul is working at the graduate level, he adds:  Bless those who persecute you.  To which many of us reply, I am happy with an undergrad degree. 
·     Do not repay evil for evil but overcome evil with good.  You can’t fake this, at least not for long.  It goes back to love must be sincere.  That goes back to our transformation.  We are being shaped in the image and likeness of Christ Jesus.  That goes back to our entire lives being given to God as our reasonable act of service, as our true worship, as the only acceptable response to God’s mercy and grace.
·     The next part doesn’t get any easier, especially for Americans.  We are to submit to authority. Ouch!  We are a nation born in rebellion.  We would rather dump tea into Boston Harbor than submit to what we thought or think is unjust governing.  This goes back to God is sovereign.
·     Those in power are there at the pleasure of God.  There serve as his lieutenants and if we are doing the right things, they shouldn’t bother us much.
·     Paul pushes further.  Pay your taxes.  Did he know what the tax rates would be in the 21st century when he said that?  Probably not, but the counsel stands.
·     Give honor and respect where they are due.  Okay, that makes this authority stuff a little easier to stomach.  We respect our service men and women, police and emergency service workers, and even the guy who climbs the pole in the ice storm to get our power back on.
·     Here comes some more graduate level stuff. Accept fellow believers even if they are weak.
·     We probably won’t agree on everything and we don’t have to.  There are some things that we might label disputable matters.  It’s just another term for stuff that we don’t have to agree on as we respond to God’s grace with our discipleship.
·     In that context we are counseled not to be a stumbling block to those who may be struggling with their faith by how you live out your salvation.  Don’t abuse the freedom that you have in Christ by making obstacles for those who are struggling in their faith.
·     Help those who are struggling in their faith.  Encourage and coach and mentor and help!
·     Do not judge fellow believers.  We are all accepted by Christ and will all make account to God one day.  Our sin won’t come into play during this accounting.  The blood of Jesus took care of that, but we will account for how we lived out our salvation.
·     Go to God’s word for our encouragement.  These words not only challenge us to live a better life, they encourage us along the way.  Dig into God’s holy word and know hope.  The verses that we memorize, the pericopes that we study, and the entire biblical witness that we have received give us hope.
·     And so we come to Paul’s final piece of challenge and counsel.  He told the Roman believers and is telling us, “Watch out for those who try to sell you a bill of goods.”  Be on the lookout for those with teachings contrary to what you have received. 
·     Watch out for what Paul elsewhere described as one who would preach to itching ears.  They serve their own interests and not the Lord.
·     For those who have stayed the course through these 5 letters of Paul, you might have asked yourself, “Why did he start in Galatians?”  The reason is simple and straightforward—to begin with this message:  There is no other gospel!  We wrap up Romans in the way we began this series.  There is no other gospel.
·     We are to stick to what we know to be true.  Don’t compromise the truth by making it fit into what would be easier to contend with by making it comply with your comfort zone.
·     Don’t try to make the gospel friendlier to what others think of you.  Stick to the truth.
·     Remember the words of Jesus as revealed in John’s gospel.  If you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed; and you will know the truth and the truth will set your free.
·     Hold fast to the truth.  No compromise.  Jesus is Lord!  Let us live our lives according to that truth that will never change.  Let’s live in response to the mercy and grace of God that we call salvation by being Christ’s disciples.

We have made it through Paul’s letter to these first century Roman believers.  We have remained faithful to the chapter per message model that we began with.  That is a double-edged sword.

It did get us through 5 of Paul’s letters at a good clip, but it also left many areas with only a 10,000 foot AGL fly over instead of digging in at every point of some very rich theology.  So don’t put Paul’s letters on the shelf.  Keep them on your reading list.  Much will sound familiar but you will find much that will speak to you anew.