Friday, December 31, 2010

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Sixty-Five

Day Three Hundred Sixty-Five, Revelation 19-22

In today, the final reading of John's Revelation--and the final reading of the Daily Bible--John is invited to a great wedding feast, that of the Lamb to His bride. John heard a shout of "Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear."

Then he says, "I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God...Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations...On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: 'KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.'"

Wow.

In the rest of John's vision, Satan is destroyed, and a description is given of the New Jerusalem which comes down from heaven. I'll just let these words of prophecy speak for themselves:

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first erath had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.' He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!'"

The actual description of the city goes on a few paragraphs later with, "I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life. Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever."

Jesus Himself confirms this revelation with these words, "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city." Christ ends this revelation with so glorious an invitation. "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!' Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life."

As I complete my thoughts on this Revelation, and really on this entire inspired Word of His, which I have just read through in its entirety for the first time ever, there are so many different things that He has said that go through my mind. So many different things to learn. But of all of them, there are three thoughts that stay in my mind, really the only three things that matter. Three facts that I have heard (more than once) so simply, and yet so beautifully expressed by my beloved blogfather, and they seem appropriate to close out this blog this year.

Satan loses.

God wins.

And Jesus comes to take us home.

Amen.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Sixty-Four

Day Three Hundred Sixty-Four, Revelation 14-19

John's vision continues still, with a type of harvesting of the earth, and bowls of wrath poured out upon the earth which are described as God's final judgment. As we saw in yesterday's reading, Satan has made it his goal to accuse and wage war against the people of the earth.

However, in today's reading, we see that those who were victorious "held harps given to them by God and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: 'Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.'"

A portion of John's vision is described as being those who "will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is the Lord of lords and King of kings--and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers."

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Sixty-Three

Day Three Hundred Sixty-Three, Revelation 8-13

In today's reading John's vision continues with seven angels with seven trumpets. As each of them blows a trumpet, a type of plague is unleashed upon the earth. There is also a scroll that John is instructed to eat, being told that it will taste sweet in his mouth, buy it will turn his stomach sour.

The main thing that stands out to me from today's reading is the description of Satan and his opposition to God and those who follow Him. John says, "And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down--that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say, 'Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short."

One thing clear from this passage that Satan is the accuser, and he is depicted as raging war against "those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus."

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Sixty-Two

Day Three Hundred Sixty-Two, Revelation 4-8

In today's reading, John's vision includes four living creatures, twenty-four elders, a scroll with seven seals, a Lamb who is the only One able to open the seals on the scroll, and the saints and angels worshiping.

The first thing that I am amazed by in today's reading is all of the praise that is given to God. The four living creatures say, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." The twenty-four elders say, "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being." The elders also praise the Lamb with, "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." The angels praise the Lamb with, "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!" Finally, the entire universe, every creature, says, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!"

I do love the fact that in this reading the prayers of the saints are described as "golden bowls of incense."

Regardless of what all this symbolizes, one thing is certain: God will take care of those who belong to Him. "They are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Sixty-One

Day Three Hundred Sixty-One, Revelation 1-3

Today's reading begins the last week of reading, in which we cover the Revelation to John. While exiled on the isle of Patmos, John had a most thrilling and terrifying vision, and to be honest, when I read it, one of the first things I think is, "Glad it was him, and not me!" He uses much apocalyptic language to describe things that there is just probably no good earthly way to describe. Also, keep in mind that this Revelation, though it speaks of some events still yet to come, was primarily written to the churches at the time, in order to encourage them as they were facing severe persecution.

I do think the power and majesty with which we now see Christ is wonderful! He is described as "someone 'like a son of man,' dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters." Notice John keeps saying that He is "like" this or that...which means He was probably indescribable. Whatever his appearance was, my minister once, in speaking about this passage, asked us to recall that John was "the disciple that Jesus loved." Probably his best earthly friend. The one Jesus asked to look after His mother. The one who was reclining upon his chest at the Last Supper. And now, just at the very sight of Him, John was terrified and "fell at his feet as though dead."

In the first day's reading, John includes seven messages from Christ, to seven different churches. I love the descriptions of Christ in each of these letters, and the promise each of these letters contains to him that overcomes.

Christ is described as:

--"Him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands."

--"Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again."

--"Him who has the sharp, double-edged sword."

--"The Son of God, whose eyes are blazing like fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze."

--"Him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars"

--"Him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open."

--"The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation."

The promises that Christ offers are:

--"To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God."

--"He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death."

--"To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it."

--"To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations--'He will rule them with an iron scepter, he will dash them to pieces like pottery'--just as I have received authority from my Father, I will also give him the morning star."

-"He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels."

--"Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name."

--"To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne."

At the end of the last letter, to the church in Laodicea, He says, "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me."

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Sixty

Day Three Hundred Sixty, I and II and III John

John is one of my favorites, at least these later writings of his, because he is the apostle of love! I like how he starts out I John, it reminds me a little of Peter's comments in II Peter, as John also claims to be an eyewitness to the things of Christ. "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete."

John talks about the importance of walking in the light, walking in obedience to Christ. "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin."

He also says that we are not to love the world. "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him...the world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever."

I also appreciate John's comments in II John and III John, regarding news that his children are walking in faith. In II John he says, "It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth," and in III John, he admits that, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth."

Following are just a few of my favorite love quotes from I John:

"If anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did."

"Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness."

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!"

"This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another."

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If any one has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."

"This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything."

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love."

"And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us."

"If anyone says 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen."

"This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith."

I love that John says that the reason he is writing is "so that you may know that you have eternal life."

I think the message of these three letters can best be summed up by a quote from II John, in which he says, "I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands."

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Fifty-Nine

Day Three Hundred Fifty-Nine, Hebrews 10-13

After two days of reading: that Jesus is superior, that Jesus is a permanent and perfect Priest who was able to once and for all take away our sins, and that we are recipients of a better covenant, one might be left thinking, "Great, but what does all that do for me? I mean, I can come to church on Sunday morning learn all of these powerful theological principles, but how does that translate into how I live my life on Monday morning?" Glad you asked.

The Hebrew writer continues with, "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place, by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

"Therefore..." You knew Hebrews was my favorite, but you didn't know that one of my favorite words in the book of Hebrews is "Therefore."

Therefore...since Christ is superior...since He is a permanent and perfect Priest who has taken away our sin...since we are recipients of a better covenant:

--We can have access to God

--We can draw near to Him

--We can have full assurance of our faith

--We can have our consciences cleared

--We must hold unswervingly onto our hope

--We must spur one another on toward love and good deeds

--We must continue meeting together

--We must encourage one another

If that's not enough for you, the Hebrew writer also gives you some examples of faith: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the Israelites, Rahab. And after telling the stories of what these people accomplished by their faith, he continues with, "And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephtah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated--the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Therefore..."

There's that word again..."Therefore"

After giving all of these powerful examples of people and their faith, and what their faith accomplished, the Hebrew writer encourages his readers to persevere in their own faith, with what is my absolute favorite passage in all of Scripture: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

A little later on in this letter, the Hebrew writer will tell his readers to "remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith."

That's it, folks. That's the message of the Bible, as summed up by the author of Hebrews. In view of God's powerful and mysterious and wonderful way of establishing a greater covenant for us to participate in, and in view of the fact that you are not alone in this, consider what the faith and obedience of others has accomplished, and do not lose heart!!!

The Hebrew writer ends by giving a few very practical examples of what that means:

--We are to "endure hardship as sons."

--We are to "keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it."

--We are to maintain sexual purity. "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure."

--We are to be content, not lovers of money. "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have..."

--We are to constantly praise God. "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise--the fruit of lips that confess his name."

--We are to obey our leaders. "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account."

As I've previously mentioned that I'm a lover of the humor in the Bible, I can't let go of Hebrews without pointing out that the Hebrew writer didn't consider 13 chapters a long letter! He wrote, "I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter." Short??? Compared to what, the book of Psalms?!?!?

I'll leave you with a few passages from chapter 12 of Hebrews to sum all of this up, as the Hebrew writer points out that unlike the Israelites, we did not meet God on a physical mountain on which He descended, a mountain with burning fire and darkness and storm, a mountain which no one could touch, a mountain that no one wanted to touch.

"But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel...Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire."

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Fifty-Eight

Day Three Hundred Fifty-Eight, Hebrews 6-10

In yesterday's reading, we saw where the Hebrew writer explained how Jesus, the Son of God and the exact representation of His being, is superior to the Law and to any person associated with it. He explained how Jesus is a Priest, indeed a High Priest.

The Hebrew writer goes on, teaching that:

--Jesus is a permanent Priest. "Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them."

--Jesus is a perfect Priest. "Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself."

Because of these two facts, we are now participants in a better covenant with better promises. "But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises." The Lord had spoken of that covenant through the prophet Jeremiah, when he said, "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."

The Hebrew writer seems to sum up Christ's role as both Priest and Sacrifice in this way: "Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy."

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Fifty-Seven

Day Three Hundred Fifty-Seven, Hebrews 1-6

Ah, Hebrews. My absolute favorite book of the Bible. I've waited all year for this! Especially after having read the Bible through in its entirety for the first time ever this year! The reason I love Hebrews so much is because, to me, it is the book that best ties the story of the Old Testament to the message of the New Testament, and I find that breathtakingly beautiful!

Hebrews starts out similarly to the book of Colossians, with the powerful message of Christ's deity. "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven."

I've heard a couple of different themes that could be given to Hebrews...it contains the "Hall of Faith"...it definitely teaches the message of "Once for All"...but I believe my favorite is that it is "the Book of Better Things." The Hebrew writer, after talking about Christ's deity, goes on to declare that Christ is greater than Moses and greater than Joshua. He explains that Christ is a priest, a high priest, and even better than the Levitical priests descended from Aaron, Christ was a priest in the order of Melchizedek. You remember Melchizedek, don't you? He was a priest and a king, the first priest of God that we see mentioned in the Bible; in fact, the Hebrew writer makes the case that Melchizedek was even greater than the Jewish patriarch Abraham, because Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek. He was not of the tribe of Levi, not descended from Aaron; he was before the Law. Likewise, Christ, although not descended from Aaron, not of the tribe of Levi, is a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, as the psalmist writes, "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek."

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Fifty-Six

Day Three Hundred Fifty-Six, II Peter

This second letter by Peter speaks mainly about our knowledge of God, and that knowledge should prompt us to lead godly lives. He begins with, "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires."

After speaking of knowledge, Peter then assures the people that they can know for a fact that the gospel is true. "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.' We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain."

Did you catch that? Peter's saying, "We're not making this stuff up! We saw it with our own eyes!!!"

Peter, like so many of the other New Testament writers, also spends some time warning against false teachers. But again, notice that his definition of false teachers is those who are "denying the sovereign Lord who bought them."

Finally, Peter speaks of the second coming of the Lord. He reminds the people that "with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

Have I mentioned that God keeps His promises? Always.

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Fifty-Five

Day Three Hundred Fifty-Five, I Peter

Ah, Peter. The guy who always had something to say. Gotta love him! I love how wise his words are, though, after Christ has been raised and he has been filled with the Holy Spirit. He begins his letter by talking about the blessings of God's grace. "In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade..."

He continues by explaining what our response should be, and how we should live, in view of such mercy. "Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'"

Peter speaks of the importance of becoming mature in our faith, as we try to live lives that are pleasing to the Lord. He says, "Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good."

As Peter is encouraging the people to live holy and pure lives, he reminds them that they are "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."

Peter gives more specific instructions about holy living, as he instructs how to live in relationship with each other: slaves, citizens, husbands, wives. He talks about the necessity of treating each other with love. "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms."

Finally, Peter ends by talking about suffering. He both warns and encourages the people, who are in the midst of facing terrible persecution, with these words: "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings."

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Fifty-Four

Day Three Hundred Fifty-Four, James, Jude

James is absolutely one of the most practical books in the Bible. It is a book that you can read it and walk away from it with some real ideas of things that you can actually do to be more like the kind of person that God wants you to be. It's not necessarily one of my favorites, but I do appreciate it for that reason.

James starts off talking about how trials, though they are difficult, are good for us as Christians in the long run. "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

He speaks of the importance of wisdom and being willing to ask God for it. "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."

A few paragraphs later, he talks of being wise enough to listen to the Word and put it into action. "Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." James even gets specific about what it looks like to do what the Word says. "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

James continues on this theme, stressing the importance of action that must go along with our faith. "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well-fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."

James warns against materialism and being distracted by the things of this world. He reminds the people that "friendship with the world is hatred toward God." To help give further perspective, he reminds the people of the brevity of life. "What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes."

Finally, James ends with one of my favorite passages, which talks of the importance of praying for each other. "Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."

The book of Jude is another short little, one-chapter book which speaks against false teachers. It instructs to "contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints." But I think it's very important to pay attention to what kind of person he instructs to contend against: "godless men who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord."

In warning against such false teachers, Jude gives a couple of important instructions. Regarding oneself, he says, "But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life."

Regarding others, he says, "Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear--hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh."

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Fifty-Three

Day Three Hundred Fifty-Three, II Timothy

In this second letter to Timothy, Paul's dear son in the faith, it appears that Paul has once again been arrested. This letter of Paul's is perhaps the last one that he wrote. From the wording of the letter, one can tell that Paul knows his time is drawing near. This letter, and these instructions seem to read with a sense of urgency, and they can easily be viewed as Paul's final words, his dying words to his son in the faith.

Paul begins by expressing both his thankfulness and concern for Timothy. "I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also."

Paul encourages Timothy in his teaching, as he urges Timothy not to be afraid to join him in suffering for the sake of the gospel. Paul writes that although he is suffering, "I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day."

I think it's important to note that again, Paul warns against false doctrine, and he warns of the importance of keeping the faith. Those were obviously strong concerns of his for his young sons in the faith as they were ministering, since he mentioned it in each of these three letters. In talking about remaining faithful, Paul reminds Timothy that, "If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself."

Paul reminds Timothy of the importance of the Scriptures as he tells him to "continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

He charges Timothy to "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction."

He reminds Timothy of the reward that will be waiting for him if he continues faithfully--this reward which Paul himself is near to receiving. "For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing."

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Fifty-Two

Day Three Hundred Fifty-Two, Titus

Today's reading contains a short letter to Titus, a young man whom Paul also refers to as his "son in the faith."  Titus had been working with the church in Crete, and this letter reads similarly to I Timothy, as it contains similar instructions.  Paul begins by talking about qualifications for elders and deacons in the church.  He also warns against false teachers and false doctrines.

Paul goes on to talk about teaching various groups within the church, but he goes into a little more detail here than he did with the letter to Timothy.  He ends the letter to Titus talking about the importance of living a righteous life.  He instructs, "Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men."  He reminds them that "when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life."

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Fifty-One

Day Three Hundred Fifty-One, I Timothy

Today's reading is the first letter we have from Paul to Timothy, his "son in the faith."  Paul gives Timothy some instructions as he is working with the church in Ephesus.  Paul begins by warning about doctrine, and he strongly encourages Timothy to hang on to his faith.  He mentions that some have left the faith, but he tells Timothy to "fight the good fight."

Paul gives several instructions about working with this church.  He talks about the type of men who should be elders and deacons.  He gives instructions about how to treat people in the church as brothers and sister, and how to ensure that the widows are taken care of  Paul ends by warning again about false teachers who teach false doctrines, people who "think godliness is a means to financial gain."He continues this thought by teaching about what one's attitude toward money should be.  As we read previously in Philippians that Paul has learned to be content whatever the situation, he also teaches his son Timothy that "godliness with contentment is great gain."

Of all the instructions in this letter, though, I think my favorites are the ones directed specifically at Timothy, as he says, "Train yourself to be godly.  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come."  He also says, "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Fifty

Day Three Hundred Fifty, Philippians

So Philippians is my favorite of Paul's prison epistles. I know I said that II Corinthians is becoming a second favorite book of the Bible...but its rival is Philippians. I love how Paul is so devoted to Christ. He shares his struggle with the Philippians, so to speak. His own personal desire is to leave this life and be with the Lord, but he knows that while he is here on the earth, he can preach the gospel effectively. He says, "I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body."

Did you catch that? "To live is Christ and to die is gain."

Wow.

Paul includes a passage encouraging them to live with humility toward one another, and in order to do so, he uses none other than the perfect example of Christ. "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus,who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place, and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Paul reminds the people that they should not complain or argue, but rather, they should be willing to serve as examples in the world. "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life--in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me."

Paul warns the Philippians, similar to the warnings found in Corinthians, against putting confidence in the flesh. He writes, "If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."

Based on the previous passage, and its follow-up passage, I am truly blown away just by Paul's determination! He has his eyes on one goal. He only has eyes for One and that is Christ. There is one thing he does. Paul follows up with, "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

"One thing I do...." Oh that I may have such singleness of mind and heart!!!

Paul ends his letter to the Philippians by giving them some practical instructions:

--To Rejoice--"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentlenes be evident to all. The Lord is near."

--To Seek Peace--"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

--To Dwell on Things Above--"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you."

--To Be Content--"I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength."

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Forty-Nine

Day Three Hundred Forty-Nine, Ephesians

This is another of Paul's prison letters, written while he was under house arrest in Rome.  That's not too difficult to believe, because there are parts of it that are structured very similarly to Colossians, but we'll get to that in a bit.  I do think it's worth noting that, as opposed to Colossians which is believed to have been sent to people that have not met Paul, this letter went to Ephesus, where Paul had lived and worked for quite some time.

I love how Paul starts out this letter, as he just jumps right in, talking about God's wonderful grace.  He almost bombards the people with the blessings they have received in Christ.  In a Beth Moore study I did last year, she very quickly pointed out six facts just to be gained from the first few verses:  as Christians we are "blessed, chosen, accepted, adopted, redeemed, and forgiven!"  Indeed, Paul writes, "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding."

Paul also tells the people that they have been given the Holy Spirit as a deposit to guarantee God's promise of redemption.  "Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance..."  (Can I just say that God keeps His promises.  Always.  Amen?)

Paul explains a little bit more to the people about what this actually means for them.  They have passed from death to life, and God has given them a purpose in life.  "Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved...it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

Paul talks to the Ephesians about the importance of unity, again with the body metaphor.  Then he gets into what is kind-of a twin passage to what he wrote in the letter to the Colossians.  He tells them about what kinds of sinful behavior to avoid.  Then he tells them, rather, how to "be made new in the attitude of your minds" (sounds similar to "set your minds on things above") and he talks to them about the importance of walking in the light.  There is one little extra in this letter, as he tells them to "be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."

Paul's letter to the Ephesians ends uniquely enough, however, with a warning to the people about spiritual warfare and  how they should be prepared to fight with the armor of God.  That passage is worth sharing here:

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints."

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Forty-Eight

Day Three Hundred Forty-Eight, Colossians, Philemon

Today's reading covers a couple of Paul's brief "prison letters", which were likely written when he was under house arrest in Rome.  I like Colossians, mainly because it is so Christ-focused.  Not that Paul is not always Christ-focused in his writings, but he talks here so much about the preeminence of Christ--everything is truly about Him.  It was interesting to read Colossians again, because it spoke to so much of what I read about Christ through the gospels this time around.  It's all about Him. he is all I need.  Regarding Christ, Paul says, "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created:  things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities;  all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile himself to all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."

A couple of paragraphs later, Paul continues with, "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority...When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.  He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.  and having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross."
(I also have to admit that I love those passages at the beginning of Colossians about Christ, because they remind me of the passages about Christ in my favorite book of the Bible, Hebrews.  We'll get to it soon enough, and I can hardly wait!)
Anyway, after Paul has established that Christ is supreme and everything is by Him and for Him, and that it is He that triumphed over everything that was opposed to us, he goes on to give some practical advice.  He reminds the Colossians that Christ is now to be their life.  He warns them of the types of behaviors to stay away from, and then tells them how they should live their lives focused on Christ instead.

"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and  your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature:  sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry...anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language...do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator...Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other, and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful...whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

I have to say that the book of Philemon is a neat little (only one chapter) book, in that it was written to a particular person, rather than to one of the churches.  In this letter, Paul gives a fellow Christian, Philemon, instructions on how to treat and accept a slave of his that had run away from him, but in the meantime, he had become a Christian.  Paul now sends this slave, Onesimus, back to Philemon and asks Philemon to receive him as a brother.

One other thing I want to point out about Philemon is this:  towards the beginning of most of Paul's letters, he writes to the person/church that he is thankful for them and praying for them.  This greeting of his worded a little differently in each letter, and it probably varies from one translation to another.  They make for neat little verses to rip out of context and place in our own writing, to let someone know we are thinking of them or praying for them.

Since I'm mainly an NIV reader, I have to admit that the way the greeting is worded in the NIV translation of Philemon is the one that I like the best and use most often when ripping one out of context to send to someone that I know.  It's my favorite verse to use to let them know that I'm thankful for them and praying for them.

"I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers."--Philemon 4

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Forty-Seven

Day Three Hundred Forty-Seven, Acts 27-28

In today's reading, Paul travels from Caesarea to Rome. Great story, very action packed, it includes a hurricane-type storm, a shipwreck, landing on an island, being snake-bitten by a viper, and finally, being under house-arrest in Rome. I highly encourage you to read it.

However, my favorite of this day's reading is when Paul is encouraging the people who are on the ship. "I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom i serve stood beside me and said, 'Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.' So keep up your courage, men, for I have faithin God that it will happen just as he told me."

Can I just say, yet again, that God keeps His promises.

Always.

Can I get an amen?

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Forty-Six

Day Three Hundred Forty-Six, Acts 24-26

These passages in today's reading describe some of the most interesting moments in Paul's story, as he has the opportunity to speak to the Roman leaders about his faith in Christ. When God first called Saul, he sent Ananias to him to teach him, and the Lord told Ananias that Saul was His chosen instrument. He said Saul would preach to the Gentiles and their kings, and indeed, this was Saul's time to do just that.

However, it's also the most heartbreaking part of Paul's story, at least for me. Because these men are acquainted with Jewish customs and/or the Way of Christ. Because they come so close to the message of Christ...they are hearing it from perhaps the most zealous person ever to preach it. Because they are close enough to it to be convicted by it. "As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, 'Theat's enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.'"

A couple of years later, when Felix is replaced by Festus, Paul has an opportunity to speak to both Festus and King Agrippa. As Paul is finishing his defense to these two officials, Festus interrupts him with, "You are out of your mind, Paul! Your great learning is driving you insane."

Paul's response is, "I am not insane, most excellent Festus. What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do."

Agrippa's heartbreaking response, though, is, "Do you think that in sucha short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?"

I can't help but agree with Paul. I can almost hear desperation in his voice, as he says, "Short time or long--I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains."

Amen, Paul.

Sadly, there is no evidence that either of these men became Christians. They did, however, at least acknowledge Paul's innocence, and they would have set him free, had he not already appealed to Caesar.

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Forty-Five

Day Three Hundred Forty-Five, Acts 21-23

In today's reading, Paul arrives in Jerusalem. Here he ends up being arrested, as he is accused of desecrating the Temple. There is such an uproar among the Jews that the Roman authorities arrest Paul and take him into custody. As they are about to flog him, basically in order to get to the bottom of things, Paul insists to them that he is a Roman citizen.

That puts an immediate stop to that plan. The next day he has opportunity to speak to the Sanhedrin. I love how Paul explains himself to them, reminding them the is one of them. He is a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. The only difference, he says, is that he is on trial for his belief in the resurrection of the dead.

This causes a violent dispute between the Pharisees and Saducees, so violent that the Romans have to step in to protect Paul. They take him back into custody, and when word of a consipiracy to murder Paul gets to the Romans that evening, they transfer him into the custody of Governor Felix in Caesarea.

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Forty-Four

Day Three Hundred Forty-Four, Acts 20-21

In today's reading, Paul ends his time in Ephesus, as he begins to head toward Jerusalem.  Just a couple of things in this reading that are a couple of my favorites, things I wanted to mention.

The first is just the humorous situation of poor Eutychus.  I'm sure it was one of those moments that wasn't funny at the time, but when you look back on it...

Poor, poor Eutychus was sitting in a window of an upstairs room, and he sank into a deep sleep, "as Paul talked on and on."  Believe me, Eutychus, I know the feeling...

Unfortunately, he fell from that window ledge and died!  But Paul ran down, threw his arms around the young man and prayed for him, and the Lord restored his life to him!

Also in this reading, as Paul is preparing to leave Ephesus, he gives the elders there some final instructions.  I just love what Paul says to them.  I pray portions of this passage over my own elders from time to time, and I wanted to share some of it:

"Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood...be on your guard...Now I commit you to God and to the word of His grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified."

Amen.

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Forty-Three

Day Three Hundred Forty-Three, Romans 12-16

Back to some of my favorite passages in this final part of Romans, as Paul gets out of the weighty and theological, and back to the more real and practical.

I love that he starts off by first challenging the people to be holy.  Their entire lives are now to be worship to the Creator.  "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing, and perfect will."

Paul again uses the body metaphor to talk to them about the use of their spiritual gifts.  I won't go into that here, because we covered that sufficiently in looking at Corinthians.  But he also gives some wonderful instruction--some of my favorite, really--in talking about loving your fellow man:

"Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with God's people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: '"It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.'  On the contrary:  'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.'  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

He goes on to talk about our duty to submit to the authorities that God has placed over us.  But then he continues again, saying that we are to do all that we do out of love:

"Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law."

Paul also talks again about mutual submission to each other as brothers and sisters.  He talks about the fact that there are certain issues that are matters of conscience, and he talks about the importance of not causing a brother to stumble.  Again, this was covered sufficiently in the letter to the Corinthians.

Paul ends his letter talking about his ministry, commending some of the brothers and sisters, and telling the Romans of his desire to come to them.




Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Forty-Two

Day Three Hundred Forty-Two, Romans 9-11

Today's reading form Romans is the reason I dislike Romans so much.  Seriously.  Sometimes I really have trouble with these passages.  Paul uses a couple of examples from the Old Testament to speak about God's sovereignty.  He talks about Rebekah's children, and God's choosing Jacob over Esau to fulfill God's purposes.  He also talks about Pharaoh, whom God raised up and placed in the very position he was in, in order for God to display His own power and majesty.

Paul quotes God's own description of Himself that He had given to moses, as He said, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."  Again, talking about Pharaoh, Paul says, "God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden."

Paul's point here is clear:  God is sovereign.   To me, the thought of an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent God, who is sovereign over everyone and everything, who does what He wants to when He wants to just because He wants to is chillingly frightening.

Until you remember that He's GOOD.  He's SO good!  That's the only way I can have any peace about this passage in Romans 9.

Paul goes on to speak about God's grace.  The prophets of the Old Testament foretold of God's grace which was to come, but the Jews rejected their message.  They refused to listen to the prophets and instead tried to earn their salvation.  Thus, they missed God's grace when He came in human form. God's grace was then offered to the Gentiles, as Paul makes the point that the gospel is for all people everywhere.  Likewise, God's grace is for all.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Forty-One

Day Three Hundred Forty-One, Romans 3-8

At the beginning of today's reading, Paul begins to explain the reason that the law was put into place. In yesterday's reading, he made the case that Jew and Gentile alike are both under sin. So why did the Jews receive the Law? Were they expected to be able to perfectly keep this law? Many of them tried to, in an effort to be justified and consider themselves righteous. But Paul teaches that no one is able to keep this law. Rather, the law was put in place to teach people of their need for a Savior. Paul says that "through the law we become conscious of sin."

Rather than by keeping the law, Paul teaches that one is justified by faith. The example that he uses to base this teaching upon is none other than the first and foremost patriarch of the Israelites, Abraham, as "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Paul reminds the people that Abraham was justified by faith before the Law was ever given. He also teaches that this promise of justification--of grace--is not only for the circumcised children of Abraham, but for the uncircumised. He teaches that Abraham "received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all hwo believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them."

Paul goes on, and honestly, this is where it begins to sound good, begins to sound a little more like 'gospel': "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God...You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation."

Paul goes on to explain what this means for us as Christians. First and foremost, we should absolutely not use this grace He has given us as a license to sin. As the KJV says, "God forbid!" Paul explains that as we have been buried with Christ and raised with Him, so also, we have died to sin and have been risen to live by the Spirit. We should no longer continue as slaves of sin, but as slaves of righteousness. Paul even goes on to admit a little bit of what this struggle feels like, the struggle of trying to live by the Spirit, as opposed to living in the flesh, as he admits that "what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do...nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature...when I want to do good, evil is right there with me...what a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

This passage, where Paul speaks of the struggle with sin, is encompassed in chapter 7 of Romans, and I recall one of my favorite bloggers once writing something along the lines of feeling "trapped in Romans 7, when I'm called to live in Romans 8." I absolutely loved that comment of his, because I feel like I totally understood what he meant. Although, as I mentioned earlier, Romans has some of my least favorite writings, it's not all bad, and chapter 8 is probably its best chapter of all, just absolutely jam-packed with some precious and powerful promises of God. I'll just try to cover some of those here:

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death."

"Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit himself testifies withour spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we hsare in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."

"I consider that our present sufferings are not worht comparing to the glory taht will be revealed in us."

"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordane with God's will."

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of all those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

"What, then, shall we say in repsonse to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-p-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chose? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us."

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."



Dead to sin, slaves to righteousness

Life in Christ

Struggle with sin

Promises of God

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Forty

Day Three Hundred Forty, Romans 1-3

As I just finished the readings from II Corinthians, which contains some of my favorite NT writings, I now have the pleasure of moving into Romans. I'll just be honest and say that Romans contains some of my least favorite NT teachings, besides the book of Revelation. It's got some pretty weighty theological stuff that's just not easy. But we'll get to that soon enough.

I've heard it said by someone who's pretty knowledgable about the book of Romans, that "Romans is a better gospel than the gospels." I'm not sure I'm willing to go that far, considering my personal feelings toward that, but I'll give you this...Paul knows his stuff, and it shows more in this book than in any other of his. He starts out with, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'"

Paul begins his teaching by talking about the Gentiles and how they have lived without the law of God. He talks of all the things that they have done that are unlawful, and he claims that still, even without having been given the law, they should have known better. "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 men are without excuse." Paul says that even without they law, God should be evident from nature itself. However, the Gentiles refused to worship God and went off on their own way. So God let them go off on their own way.

However, just as he is finished making his case against the Gentiles and their way of life, Paul turns on the Jews and tells them that "you, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things."

Paul goes on to talk about how the law cannot justify--it only condemns those tho whom it was given. Neither can circumcision justify. So Paul's conclusion is plain. "Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: 'There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no on who does good, not even one.'"

That's a pretty bleak conclusion for this first day of Romans, if you ask me...doesn't sound too much like 'gospel' just yet...but it'll get better.

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Thirty-Nine

Day Three Hundred Thirty-Nine, II Corinthians 10-13, Acts 20

In today's reading, Paul goes on in his letter to the Corinthians, defending his apostleship. He tells the people that he writes the way he does out of love for them. He reminds them that he has seen revelations and has been able to perform miracles which confirm his apostleship. Also, he again reminds them that he had no ulterior motive for preaching to them--he did not try to take advantage of them in any way, but worked for himself while he was among them. He seems to be saying all of these things of himself, as opposed to some others who are teaching the Corinthians, as he says, "I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about."

Finally, Paul boasts about himself and what he has been through, in order to point out that the boatsing really doesn't matter. All of his strength is from Christ, not from himself. "What anyone else dares to boast about--I am speaking as a fool--I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham's descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness...to keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weakness, in insults,in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Thirty-Eight

Day Three Hundred Thirty-Eight, II Corinthians 1-9

I have, for several years now, maintained that the book of Hebrews is my absolute favorite book in the Bible. II Corinthians is becoming a close second. In this letter, as Paul speaks to the Corinthians, he starts off talking about his letter-writing and his travel plans, bu tthen he seems to get sidetracked. he goes off on a tangent, talking about his ministry, and it is, in my opinion, some of his most beautiful writing.

He describes the Lord as leading them in this ministry, as their lives are a type of offering: "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God."

As he said, "Who is equal to such a task?" Paul knows that it is God who is his strength and power. "Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."Italic

Paul then compares the glory of the old covenant, using Moses as an example, to the glory of the new covenant, of which he is a minister. The glory of the old covenant was such that Moses' face would be shining, and he would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from staring at it. Paul says, "If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious the ministry that brings righteousness...and we, who with unveiled facces all reflect the Lord's glory are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."

Finally, Paul talks about all that he has faced, without forgetting the reason that he is able to persevere: "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so taht his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. It is written: 'I believed, therefore I have spoken.' With that same spirit of faith we also believe adn therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit,k so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow tot he glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

Paul also mentions his ministry as being one of reconciliation. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation...we are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: be reconciled to God. God made hi who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

Finally, as Paul gets back on track, he talks about the collection for the church in Judea, and he gives some good instuctions on giving: "Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly, or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work."