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

Acts 15-16 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He guides our decisions through His Word and godly leadership

I really look forward to the biennial meeting of the ministers in my fellowship from churches all across the United States.  It’s a great time to visit with old and make new friends from all over the country.  We eat together, shop together and talk for hours about our lives, the ministry and the future.  The evening services are inspirational, encouraging and they challenge us to reach more souls with the gospel. What I must admit is that I don’t enjoy the business sessions, a primary purpose of the General Council meeting.

In these business meetings as well as those on a state level, I’ve observed a few men and women through the years act in a way that should have been an embarrassment to them.  Fortunately, I’ve seen godly leadership respond with grace and wisdom in these situations, and decisions were made in a calm and friendly atmosphere…for the most part. That being said, I still rather spend my time visiting with a friend over a cup of coffee or walking around the huge exhibition hall receiving free pens, mints and other good stuff, but I guess somebody has to do the business. 

@ Acts 15
Well, a little altercation had developed in the early church, and it was causing some dissension within the body of believers.  Some were insisting that Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised like the Jewish Christians.  They were calling for a strict adherence to the Old Testament laws.  Paul and Barnabas, who were out on the front lines, strongly disagreed with this requirement.  “So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue.  At the meeting, after a long discussion…” (6)  Yes, welcome to the first General Council!

The main contributors to this discussion were James and Peter, elders of the church in Jerusalem, and Paul and Barnabas, missionary evangelists.  Paul and Barnabas, who were in the trenches ministering to the Greeks and others, had come to accept the Gentiles as is.

Peter’s very liberating experience with Cornelius earlier in Acts 10 had softened his heart to the acceptance of Gentiles, “God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us.  He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear?” (8-11)  According to Peter, circumcision was not going to change God’s love and acceptance of the Gentiles.  Let’s hear it for sound reason in a business meeting!

James, who had been a strict Palestinian Jew and who was obviously the leader of this Council, could have been the sticking point in this discussion, but instead he only proved his godly spirit-led character.  “When they had finished, James stood and said, ‘Brothers, listen to me. Peter has told you about the time God first visited the Gentiles to take from them a people for himself…And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.’” (13-14,19)   All were in agreement and the matter was settled.  Letters confirming the agreement were delivered throughout the church world. “And there was great joy throughout the church that day as they read this encouraging message.” (31)

This agreement not only affected the church world at that time, but also right up to today.  Godly men discussed and reasoned together according to scripture. (16-18) From what we read, it appears there were no politicians or agenda-driven dialogues to cloud the issue or bring division.  I think I could have handled this business meeting and would have been blessed for having been there.   However, at this juncture in church history, I wonder if women were welcomed in the dialogue.  Just as the decision that day, change and acceptance can be good. 

Moving Forward:  I’m thankful for our early church leadership and for leaders today who listen to all sides and make godly decisions to bless the church.

Tomorrow @ 2 Peter

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.  As they say, I was ripped off.  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, 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