Romans 15-16 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He burdens our hearts to ambitiously reach the lost 

@ Romans 15
I’ve been blessed with the opportunity on several occasions to share the Good News with those who have never heard it before and there’s nothing quite like that experience.  It was difficult for many of them to accept that there was a hope, a help and a future for the miserable existence they were living out, but when the Lord came and touched them, everything changed.  This was the goal of Paul, “My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else.” (20)  Paul’s ambition was a difficult ministry road, but the joy he reaped was immeasurable.

Many missionaries today are sent to areas of the world that have had the Good News for centuries.  The world’s cities are filled with ornate empty cathedrals, and most individuals no longer have even a memory of their function nor do they have a relationship with God.  Their hearts have become cold and dark to the gospel.  In fact, there are children in the United States that only know Christ as a curse word.  And this, too, is a challenging mission.

In Paul’s personal notes in Romans 15, I think we see the heart of a true missionary.  We have the impression that an ambitious person is someone only concerned about personal gain, numero uno.  But Paul had an ambition, a goal>aspiration>objective, that we can only admire, and it begs the question today what is my ambition?

Paul concludes Chapter 15 with a simple request, “Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me…” (vs. 30)  Paul did not have the advantage of slick colored prayer cards to hand out everywhere he traveled, nor did he have a website, facebook or twitter.  But even with these wonderful tools that our missionaries enjoy today, they are making the same request, Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me.  I’m confident that every second of every day there is a missionary somewhere in the world facing a struggle that is more difficult than we can even imagine.  Will I join in their struggle and pray for them?

“I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey.” (24)   Paul, so filled with ambition to get the Good News to Spain, allowed the Romans the privilege of assisting him on his journey. When our missionaries present to us the challenge of their righteous ambition, how can we resist the privilege of helping them on their journey to reach the lost?  “How can anyone go and tell them without being sent?” (Romans 10:15)  I think we have an assignment, an ambition, a mission if you will. 

Moving Forward: What is my ambition today?  Is it righteous?  Today I will join in the struggle with our missionaries through prayer, and I will give my offerings with joy to His sent ones. 

Tomorrow @ Genesis 28-31

Romans 11-12 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He transforms us into the person He created us to be

When my son was young, he had a collection of toy cars called Transformers.  Each car transformed into a warrior robot in full armor ready to conquer the world – talk about a makeover!  So popular were these Transformers that in recent years several movies have been made about their exploits.  Unique entertainment, to say the least.

More to my liking are the makeovers on television that take plain or fashion-challenged women and men and transform them into living, breathing creations of awe.  The audience always gasps when the transformation is revealed and then breaks into thunderous applause.  This causes me to wonder if my transformation, the new creation that I am in Christ, has been startling enough to bring perhaps a gasp out of heaven. 

@ Romans 12
“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you.  Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable.  This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” (1-2) The ultimate makeover!

I’m sure those makeover candidates feel a little like sheep going to the slaughter as they step behind the curtain to be transformed, uncertain of the outcome.  Similarly, Paul suggests we should present ourselves as living, sacrificial lambs on the altar, submitted to His transformation.  But of course, as they say, the problem with living sacrifices is that they have a tendency to climb off that altar.  It’s usually painful to change the way we think.

Now as Paul often did, he provided a little checklist for us in verses 9-21 to see just how transformed we really are, a gasp meter if you will:

  • “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.
  • Hate what is wrong.
  • Hold tightly to what is good.
  • Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.
  • Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.
  • Rejoice in our confident hope.
  • Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.
  • When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them.
  • Always be eager to practice hospitality.
  • Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.
  • Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.
  • Live in harmony with each other.
  • Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people.
  • And don’t think you know it all!
  • Never pay back evil with more evil.
  • Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable.
  • Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone…
  • Never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God…
  • If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them…drink…
  • Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.”

Well, then.  I think the only gasp I’m hearing right now is my own. These aren’t bucket list items.  They are characteristics of the transformed life!  This is the life of one who has remained on the altar and allowed the transformation of God’s power to change that life, even the way he or she thinks and relates to others.  And the makeover bonus, the parting gift for this transformed life, “Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (2)  Who doesn’t want to know that! And again I gasp. 

Moving Forward:  I pray I will do something today that leaves heaven breathless…even just for a moment. 

Tomorrow @ Genesis 20-23

Romans 9-10 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He saves us through our acceptance of the risen Lord

The other day I was speeding down the busy aisles of the grocery store, trying to accomplish too much in a short period of time as usual.  The store was crowded because it was during those magic hours when teachers and employees flood the grocery stores on the way home from work.  I try to avoid the store and Starbucks during this time frame whenever possible, but there I was in the mix!

I was down to one last needed item and made the turn down the aisle to find a major traffic jam.  Boxes of pasta had fallen into the aisle and busy shoppers were either trying to turn their carts around to go another way or trying to go around them.  I slipped through the maze, picked up the boxes, shoved them on the shelves and happy shoppers sailed through.  To me, it’s just better to deal with the obstacle in the road when possible rather than trying to avoid it.  Unfortunately, the Jews in Paul’s day didn’t see it this way. 

@ Romans 9
“My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters…They are the people of Israel, chosen to be God’s adopted children. God revealed his glory to them. He made covenants with them and gave them his law. He gave them the privilege of worshiping him and receiving his wonderful promises.” (2-4)  Paul grieved over the lost people of Israel, people of promise, people of covenant, who failed to deal with the Rock in their path.

“The people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded.  Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in Him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path.” (31-32)  Of course, this great rock was Jesus.  The people of Israel were so focused on their traditions and law about who the Messiah was that when He came in the flesh, right in the middle of their world, they stumbled their way around Him.  When they finally dealt with Him, rather than accepting Him, they crucified Him. 

@ Romans 10
This response is not relegated only to Jews.  Everyone at one time or another will deal with the Great Rock in their path.  Many have their own set of traditions and laws about God’s acceptance – do good, go to church, serve their country and community – but they stumble over the One who truly makes us acceptable to God.

The message of acceptance is uniquely simple, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (9)  However, just like the people of Israel, individuals today find this message difficult to accept because it requires humility, giving Jesus the position of Lord in their lives, and it requires faith that Jesus, whom they have never seen, is the Son of God and rose from the dead.  They may stumble over these requirements, but eventually all will deal with this Rock.  Of course, this opportunity to accept the Lord is a mute point if they have never heard the message.

“But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, ‘How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!’” (14-15)

The condition of our world and its lost souls often cause those who love the Lord to grieve just like Paul, but Paul didn’t sit around grieving.  He went, he wrote and he preached the good news of Jesus whether he was in church, in the marketplace or in prison.  We don’t know a lot about Paul’s physical features, but we do know that he surely had beautiful feet. 

Moving Forward:  I pray for beautiful feet today that will take me to tell someone about the Rock. 

Tomorrow @ Genesis 16-19

Romans 7-8 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He has adopted us as His very own

Back in the ’70’s, America was singing and dancing to “We are family…I got all my sisters with me.  We are family…get up ev’ry body and sing.” (Rodgers/Edwards, 1979)  Our post Vietnam/Watergate nation was looking for kinship and trust in somebody.  With the rise in broken homes and families over the past few decades, we find teenagers in a similar search for family.  Symbols and colors have separated youth into alternative families that hold their loyalties and commitment.

Aside from the occasional hermit, most everyone longs to be part of a family, something bigger than themselves, a place of belonging.  When God created the family unit back in the Garden, this desire of connection and belonging became a part of us.  When Jesus came along to redeem us, He sealed the deal with his blood, and we were adopted into God’s family.  We are family! 

@ Romans 8
“You received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children.  Now we call him, ‘Abba Father.’  For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.” (15-16)  Our family has a daddy, and we have inherited His spiritual DNA.  Paul really stepped out on a limb when he addressed God in this familiar way because this Aramaic word “Abba” was not used to reference God in Paul’s day.  Paul wanted us to understand that the Father is our Father, our loving, approachable dad.

“All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God…And since we are His children, we are His heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory.” (14,17)  We have siblings!  And although it may be difficult to understand, we adopted siblings are blood relatives thanks to the sacrifice of our elder brother, Jesus, whose blood covers our sin.  “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” (Ephesians 1:5)

As with all families, sometimes we siblings fight and don’t get along, but we would do well to remember of what family we are a part.  Our family is to be known to the world by our love for each other (John 13:35), and some of His “house rules,” help us to behave like His family should, “You must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12-14)   These rules alone should keep us too busy to fuss at each other.

I love our family gatherings, on Sundays or whenever, with the Father and our older brother.  We often talk about the great family reunion we all will attend one day.  There’s no worry about being left out or being disinherited because, unless we choose to leave it, we are blood relatives forever.  This is all because Dad loves us.  “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.” (38-39)  We are family – forever! 

Moving Forward:  I’m thankful today that I’m one of His kids, with no fear of abandonment or rejection, so thrilled to be part of His amazing family. 

Tomorrow @ Genesis 12-17

Romans 5-6 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He made peace with us through His Son

When two nations are at odds with each other, the conflict will continue until some sort of an agreement can be reached to end it.  The two parties involved will send mediators to a peace summit where a peace agreement is signed and usually a celebration follows, everyone feeling the love and warm fuzzies.  However, most of us have observed through the years, especially in the Middle East, that this euphoric feeling of peace and safety is often short-lived because it was based on an agreement to be at peace and not a standing or position of peace. Signing an agreement is a good initiative and may make those involved feel good at the moment, but real peace is much more than a feeling.

@ Romans 5
“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.”(1)  Paul is not talking here about the peace of God, which I might add is one of the great blessings we receive in our walk with God, but he is talking about our peace with God because of what Jesus has done for us.

This is not a peace that comes and goes according to our feelings at the moment.  This peace is a standing or position of peace with God, and it comes with benefits as well, “Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.” (2)

I appreciate that someone, and Paul of all people, placed some blame for the fall of mankind on Adam.  Eve has shouldered most of the blame for man’s separation from God, but Adam could have resisted that beguiling woman of his had he wanted to do so.  “Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.” (18)

Because of Christ’s one act of righteousness, we are no longer in conflict and hostile with God.  We are at peace with God.  We are not only in agreement with Him, but in good standing with Him.  We are standing in a place of undeserved privilege where God shares His glory with us.

Our position of peace with God allows us to receive the peace of God and that is why Paul says, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” (3-5)

Sometimes reading the complexity of Romans makes my brain hurt, but I get this one.  God sent His Son, our mediator, to make possible our peace with Him before we ever even came to the peace talk, while we were still His enemy, because of His great love for us. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners… So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” (8,10)  Friends of God!  Not only are we enjoying peace with God and the peace of God, plus all the privileges, but we are friends! 

Moving Forward: I can’t help singing today, “I am a friend of God.  I am a friend of God.  I am a friend of God – He calls me friend.” (I. Houghton)  So thankful for Jesus.

Tomorrow @ Genesis 8-11

Romans 3-4 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He counts us righteous because of our faith

The basket of strawberries caught my eye at the grocery store – plump, deep red, juicy-looking strawberries.  Was it strawberry season? I didn’t think so, but they were so very perfect that I had to buy them.  As I unpacked the basket at home, it didn’t take long to realize that the only good strawberries in the bunch were on top, and the rest were mostly white, hard and awful.  I was ripped off, as they say.  No matter how good the ugliness of those unripe strawberries made the five delicious strawberries look, the unripe ones were still useless to me.  As we read in our scripture today, some would disagree.

@ Romans 3
“But,’ some might say, ‘our sinfulness serves a good purpose, for it helps people see how righteous God is. Isn’t it unfair, then, for him to punish us?’” (5)  Of course, in reality, it is just the opposite.  The five ripe luscious strawberries served to show how deficient and unappealing the rest of the strawberries were and how far short they were of what they could have been, but they really couldn’t change their condition.  Paul went on to counteract this false assumption for those who were certainly trying to justify their sin, their unripeness if you will.

Paul took this opportunity to open the dialogue about the Law, something that the Jewish Christians stumbled over again and again.  “Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.” (20)  Like the ripe strawberries in the analogy, the law shows us our sin, our deficiency but can do nothing to change us.  Sometimes we get uncomfortable reading the Bible because instead of offering comfort and inspiration at the moment, it reveals our sins and shortcomings, those feelings of resentment, pride, hatred, or whatever.  But we can assume it is serving its purpose in those moments as well.

Fortunately, we no longer must keep the requirements of the Law to redeem ourselves, selecting a perfect sacrifice down at the local farmyard and all the bloody mess that would follow.  “But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law…We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”(21-23)   After all, those delicious strawberries were at one time hard and pale, but they remained on the vine in the light of the sun and everything changed for them.  Unfortunately, there was no redemption for my unripe strawberries because they had left the vine.  I’m not sure, but I think that will preach. (John 15)

@ Romans 4
Abraham was probably Paul’s favorite example of a faith-filled life, “For the Scriptures tell us, ‘Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith’… And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.” (3,23-25)  So when the Lord convicts me of sin or my falling short through His Word, I must run to Him in repentance because only He can make me right – ripe and beautiful in His sight.

Moving Forward:  As I remain in His Word today, I pray He will reveal to me my sins and shortcomings so that I may respond with a heart of repentance and be made right with Him through Jesus. 

Tomorrow @ Genesis 4-7

Romans 1-2 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He will determine our faith in Him by our deeds

My mom seldom made pies for her large family because of the time factor involved, but one day she made a beautiful blueberry pie.  I watched her roll the pastry dough, mix up the blueberry filling, top the pie and slide it into the oven.  The smell as it baked was almost intoxicating – I love pie.

After dinner mom sliced up big pieces and topped them with vanilla ice cream.  We all took a big bite simultaneously and then one by one our smiles turned to frowns from the bitter filling.  It seems mom mistakenly used baking soda instead of cornstarch to thicken the sauce.  It looked like a blueberry pie and smelled like a blueberry pie, but it sure didn’t taste like one.  The old English phrase comes to mind, “The proof is in the pudding,” or more accurate is the original saying, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”  In our reading today, Paul challenged us with the proof of a believer. 

@ Romans 1
The church in Rome had been around for quite some time, but the Apostles had not had opportunity to visit Rome.  Paul longed to visit the church to strengthen its members in the faith and to teach them, but in the meantime, his letter to them would have to suffice.  His first order of business was to establish their faith.  In this chapter, faith is not the same faith of hope and trust mentioned in Hebrews 11 but is a faith signifying a belief in God.  “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life.’”(16-17)  Our belief, our faith in God, is what we live by and what brings us to eternal life. 

@ Romans 2
But then Paul made a statement that could be considered contrary to this scripture when he wrote, “He will judge everyone according to what they have done.  He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers.(6-7)  We may look like a believer, walk like a believer, go to church like a believer, but He and others will determine if we truly are a believer by what we do.  In other words, the proof is in the pudding.  Our deeds give overwhelming proof of our belief and what is in our hearts.

Paul went on to write that the condition of our hearts is not determined by strict adherence to the law, but rather by the work of the Holy Spirit, “One is not a Jew outwardly. True circumcision is not outward, in the flesh. Rather, one is a Jew inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit, not the letter; his praise is not from human beings but from God.” (28-29)  Only a heart that is submitted to the spirit of God will do the good deeds that the Lord will judge.  Like that old saying, the proof is in the pudding.

Moving Forward:  As I submit my heart to the Lord today, I pray my deeds will prove my faith in God – overwhelming proof!

Tomorrow @ Genesis 1-3

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