Romans 9 and 10

Today’s reading:  Romans 9 and 10

Sovereignhaving the highest power or being completely independent (Cambridge English Dictionary).

Romans Chapter 9 is about God’s sovereignty.

The chapter begins with Paul expressing sadness that his fellow Israelites, God’s chosen people, had missed their long-awaited messiah.  Jesus didn’t look or act like the Savior they had dreamt of, so when he showed up, they were too wrapped up in doing the “right” things that they didn’t recognize him.

Paul goes on to explain that it isn’t family lineage (physical descent) or good works that makes someone a child of God, rather, faith in Jesus is what makes them a “descendant of Abraham” or a child of God.  You can’t earn God’s favor or salvation, it is the free gift of God.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

This is where God’s sovereignty comes in to play.  If God is the highest power, he can decide what he is or isn’t going to do, who he is and isn’t going to bless, and who he is and isn’t going to save.  How does this make you feel?  Does God’s sovereignty give you hope or cause you concern?

Tyranta ruler who has unlimited power over other people, and uses it unfairly and cruelly (Cambridge English Dictionary).

Sovereignty often times makes us squeamish because it is usually connected with tyranny.  Putting your trust anyone with that kind of power very likely will put you at the mercy of someone who doesn’t have your best interest in mind; someone who may try to harm you.  As a result, we resist trusting anyone with absolute power over us.  This makes sense until it comes to God.  While God’s has the authority to do what he wants, his sovereignty is what gives us hope.

The apostle Paul pointed out that his hope came from understanding of God’s sovereignty in conjunction with the knowledge of God’s goodness.  God, by his nature, is love. Here’s  how the Bible describes it:

 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

Understanding God leads us to recognize him as the ultimate authority.   The real question is whether we can trust the sovereign authority of a God who is Love, and who has our best interest in mind.

Acts 19

Today’s reading:  Acts 19

Have you ever been in a situation where you think someone is going to ask you to explain or defend your theological beliefs?  I have shied away from those conversations many times out of fear I don’t know enough or will say the wrong thing.  Rather than draw others to Jesus, I have been afraid I will turn others away from him because I say the wrong thing or completely confuse them with explanations that make no sense.

I love how our pastor Mike Baker usually describes his response to people when they ask him to opine on a hot topic.  When asked, “what do you think about…”, his response is always, “Why do you care what I think?  Let’s see what God has to say about the topic.”

The apostle Paul was known for his willingness to take on any subject with anyone.  Paul’s third missionary journey, as described in Acts 19, was no exception.  Check out these examples.

The chapter begins with Paul meeting up with a group of “disciples” in Ephesus.  Right off the bat, he asks them if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed (verse 2).   Why in the world would Paul lead with this question?  Did the actions of these men cast a doubt on whether they were really Chrisfollowers, or had someone tipped off Paul to their questionable theology?  I’m not sure, but I’m positive I would never have “picked that scab.”  I would have been way too fearful that my question would have been greeted with a counter-challenge that I was ill-prepared to address.  Turns out, Paul’s question led the group to discover they knew about John the Baptist, but didn’t really know about Christ or the Holy Spirit. When Paul shared the gospel message and challenged them to put their trust in Christ, they were quick to accept and be baptized.  As Paul prayed over them, they received the Holy Spirit.

If Paul wouldn’t have been bold enough to ask the question, these men may have never put their faith in Jesus Christ.

Jump forward to verse 23.  Craftsmen in Ephesus made their living making various idols, gods and shrines to the Greek goddess Artemis.  Paul had gone on record stating that gods made by human hands were/are no gods at all.  This caused riots in the city not only because it challenged the religious beliefs of the Ephesians, but also because it threatened their livelihood.

And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all (Acts 19:26).

If Paul wouldn’t have been bold enough to speak the truth and risk offending Ephesian business men (which he did), large numbers of people in Ephesus and the province of Asia may have never come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Just like God used Paul to share the gospel message and lead others to faith in Jesus in the first century, God still works through us to lead others to faith in Jesus in the 21st century.  But we must be faithful to our calling.  When we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit and are filled with his presence and power, God does amazing things.  Be bold!

 

 

Crossfit, Aldi and Aquaphor

Today’s reading:  Acts 4

When I encounter something that has a significant, positive impact on my life I have a tendency to talk about it a lot.

Case in point #1 – when I started Crossfit in 2009 I did exercises I never thought I could do and found muscles I never knew I had.  I couldn’t stop talking about it and trying to get everyone else to try it with me.  In fact, 12.5 years later I am still going and still talking about it.  (I can see B.J. rolling his eyes as he reads this.  Please do not ask me about Crossfit when he is around.  He is not a “believer” and is very tired of listening to it after all these years…hehehe!)

Case in point #2 – my favorite store is Aldi.  Yes, you have to have a quarter to get a cart and yes, you have to buy grocery bags if you don’t bring your own.  But it is still the fastest store in town.  Even at its busiest time, I can be in and out of that store with a cart full of food in less than 25 minutes.  Their produce is great because they turn it over fast.  While you can’t generally buy name brands at Aldi, I’m pretty sure many of their “off” brands are the made in the same factory and just have a different name stamped on the label.  (Lovin’ Fresh Italian bread looks and tastes exactly like Brownberry.)  Best of all, everything costs less!  (Again, B.J. is tired of hearing about Aldi, although occasionally I get him to go there with me.)

Case in point #3 – Aquaphor is a miracle ointment.  When Freddy was born, I can’t remember who told me about this supposedly fantastic product called Aquaphor, but I know I was skeptical.  Do you know how expensive that stuff is?  All it took was a teething baby with a red butt and I was willing to pay $1/ounce!  Seventeen years later, I have Aquaphor stashed everywhere – in my bathroom drawer, in my purse, in my desk. While I don’t need a cure for diaper rash anymore, I still use it every day on every sort of skin disorder – chapped lips, dry skin, cuts, burns, etc.  (Feel free to ask B.J. his thoughts about Aquaphor, he is a “believer”…or at least he uses it all the time too!)

The impact these 3 things have had on my life is measurable – I can see the muscles, count the savings and feel the relief.  While I might drive you nuts with my chatter, you can’t deny the results.

Acts 4, our scripture for today, has a similar slant.  Peter and John had spent the last 3 years with Jesus.  They watched him turn water to wine, give sight to the blind, heal the sick, and ultimately give his life to take away the sins of the world.  Now that he was gone they couldn’t stop talking about the impact he had on their lives.  Even though he was no longer with them in person, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were able to perform miracles including healing a lame beggar (Acts 3).  They wanted everyone to know the love of Jesus and experience the same hope they knew.

Consistently preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, however, threatened the status quo and the stranglehold religious leaders had on the culture.  These leaders were in an interesting spot.  They had just convicted and crucified Jesus, but he had proven his deity by rising from the dead, then ascending to Heaven.  Further, everyone in Jerusalem had just seen Peter and John heal the lame beggar.

 

At their wits end, the religious leaders arrested Peter and John and put them in jail just to shut them up.  But as much as they didn’t like it, they couldn’t deny the what they had seen with their own eyes.  So, they scolded the disciples and sent them on their way.

 

“What are we going to do with these men?” they asked.  “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it” (Acts 4:16).

 

After they were freed, Peter and John went straight to the community of believers and told their story.  When everyone began praising God, do you know what happened?  God showed up.

 

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly (Acts 4:31).

 

Today I challenge you to reflect on the measurable impacts following Jesus has had on your life.  Praise God for them.  If you ask, I’m positive the Holy Spirit will show up and embolden you to talk about your faith (a lot)!

Miracles

Today’s reading:  John 9

At the beginning of John chapter 9, Jesus healed a man who had been blind since birth.  The remainder of the chapter works through the reactions of different groups.

  • The disciples initially assumed the blind man’s handicap was a result of his, or his parents’, sinful actions; after Jesus’ corrected their theology, the Bible does not record any further reaction from the disciples.
  • The blind man’s neighbors were divided over whether this was really the blind man who could now see, when they confirmed it was him, they questioned how it happened, who did it, and where Jesus was.
  • The Pharisees wanted to know how it happened, concluded Jesus wasn’t from God because he healed on the Sabbath, turned to the man’s parents to corroborate his story, then insulted the man when he pointed to back to Jesus.
  • The blind man’s parents, when questioned by the Pharisees’, sent the religious leaders back to the man for answers, as they were afraid of being kicked out of the synagogue.
  • The blind man himself combated the Pharisees’ conclusion that Jesus wasn’t from God; then after Jesus’ confirmed he was the Messiah, the blind man quickly began to worship him.

When I think about the various groups’ reactions above, I think it reveals a lot about their hearts.

  • The disciples were trying to learn everything they could to become more like Jesus.
  • The blind man’s neighbors were skeptical/cautiously optimistic; they wanted to believe, but needed a few more details to make sure it was wise.
  • The Pharisees’ hearts were hard towards God; nothing Jesus could have done would have changed their minds.
  • The blind man’s parents were selfish/scared about what others would think (I choose to believe the parents eventually got out from under the Pharisees’ influence and believed, as the evidence was too compelling).
  • The blind man quickly put his trust in Jesus and whole-heartedly worshipped him.
When you think about various groups’ reactions, do you identify with any of them?  Are you like the disciples and trying to become more like Jesus every day?  Are you skeptical and want more answers? I trust (and hope) that because you are reading this blog, your heart isn’t hard toward God.

 

I believe God still does miracles, but why?  I think Jesus’ response to the disciples in verse 3 gives us insight.

 

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him (John 9:1-3).

While the individual recipients of all Jesus’ miracles were/are benefited in some way, the purpose of miracles were/are to authenticate Jesus’ identity as God’s son, to influence peoples’ belief/trust in him, and to show God’s love.

 

Today if you find yourself in the Pharisees’, Parents’ or Neighbors’ category, I encourage you to lean in and open your heart to Jesus.  You will not be disappointed.

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:3-5).

 

Luke 19

Today’s reading:  Luke 19

Corporate America’s response to the social unrest, racial tensions and political divide that were spiraling out of control in 2020 has been an increased focus on diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

 

Diversity – All the ways are different from each other.

InclusionBringing together and harnessing these diverse forces and resources in a way that is beneficial; inclusion puts the concept and practice of diversity into action by creating an environment of involvement, respect and connection – where the richness of ideas, backgrounds and perspectives are harnessed to create business value (T. Hudson Jordan, 2011).

 

From 20 years of experience in various corporate leadership roles, I truly believe in the power of diversity and inclusion.  Diverse perspectives, when coupled with an engaged group of employees who are inspired to be their best, is a recipe for great results and innovative solutions that exceed expectations.  Looking back over the last 20 years, I will attest that some of my greatest successes have been in situations where I was leading leaders and teams who were vastly different than me and each other.  How inspiring it is to reflect on the hurdles we overcame as a team made up of many individuals who were so diverse.

 

Our scripture for today begins with the story of Zacchaeus.  I’ve read this story (and sang the VBS song) thousands of times in my life.  But it wasn’t until yesterday that ever thought of it in the context of diversity and inclusion.  As you know, Zacchaeus was a tax collector.  Though Jewish by birth, tax collectors were some of the most unpopular people in Israel because 1) they chose to work for the Roman government, and 2) they gouged their fellow Jews in order to make themselves rich.  As such, they were shunned by Jews, including God’s people.  It is no surprise that those who witnessed Jesus heading to Zacchaeus’ home in Luke 19 looked on with disapproval.

Despite his differences, Jesus sought to intentionally engage Zacchaeus.   He called him by name, insisted on coming to his house, and quickly won Zacchaeus over.   In response,  Zacchaeus confessed his sin, promised to make retribution for all the people he had wronged, and Jesus rejoiced.

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10)

 

Are there groups of people you avoid associating with because of their political views, immoral behavior or life style you don’t agree with?  Today’s scripture is a good reminder that Jesus calls us to include and to love those that are different from us.  See, the reality is we are a lot more alike than we often think we are – you and I are sinners just like they are sinners, you and I need salvation every bit as much as they do.  Rather than avoiding them, God calls us to love them and share with them the Good News of Jesus Christ.

This is for everyone

Today’s reading:  Luke 7

Segue – to make a transition without interruption from one activity, topic, scene, or part to another (Miriam Webster).

Do you ever feel like the Gospels are a bunch of short, random stories that jump around?  While I know the Gospels, as a whole, are the story of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, zooming from story to story sometimes feels a little disjointed to me.  I’m often left wondering what happened to the ever so important segue?

Our text for today, Luke 7, felt a little fragmented to me at first blush.

Start with the story of the Centurion.  This man was a high ranking Roman official.  While the Jews generally hated Roman soldiers, this official must have have been unique.   The group of Jewish leaders that sought Jesus’ help on behalf of the Centurion made their case by attesting, “he loves the Jews and even built a synagogue for us” (Luke 7:5).  Even so, the Centurion recognized he was not worthy of a personal meeting with Jesus.  His humility, coupled with a faith in Jesus uncommon of Roman officials, led Jesus to miraculously heal the Centurion’s ailing servant.

Next, the story of a widow.  Her situation couldn’t have been more opposite of the Centurion.  Her husband, and now her only son, were dead.  Without them and their financial support, this woman was soon to begging for food.  Jesus had compassion on the widow and raised her son from the dead.

On to John the Baptist.  John’s purpose in life was to “pave the way” for Jesus.  Nevertheless, he was human like we are, and had some confusion and doubt that Jesus was really the Messiah.  Jesus didn’t reprimand John for his doubt, rather he recounted his actions and correlated them to Old Testament prophesies to help John connect the dots and be confident Jesus was truly the son of God.

Finally to the sinful woman.  This woman, an uninvited guest, shows up at a dinner being hosted by one of the Pharisees.  She knelt behind Jesus, pouring perfume on and kissing his feet.  Jesus used the situation to rebuke the Pharisees and to teach his disciples – “I tell you her sins, and they are many, have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love.  But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love” (Luke 7:47).

Here we are at the end of Luke 7.  Four short stories about Jesus’ interactions with different people, no real segue between them.  They are linked, however, by one very powerful message.  Jesus cares for everyone.  It doesn’t matter if you are a successful businessman/woman or government leader, it doesn’t matter if you are unemployed or homeless, it doesn’t matter if you are serving in full-time Christian ministry or if you’ve lived your life entirely apart from God so far.  Jesus cares for you.  Because he voluntarily paid the price for every one of our sins, we have a way to be acceptable to God.  Only when we realize the true depth of our sin and the complete redemption offered through Jesus, however, are we able to offer God the gratitude and love he deserves.

 

Get Ready

Today’s reading:  Matthew 24

A global pandemic, the busiest hurricane/wildfire season on record, political divisions and racial tensions made 2020 a year like no other.  It was so crazy, the word “unprecedented” became over used.  With each awful development, I heard more “chatter” about whether the end times were upon us.  In our scripture for today, Matthew 24, Jesus was talking to his disciples about the end times – foretelling what is going to happen in advance of Jesus’ return or “the second coming”.

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of birth pains (Matthew 24:6-8).

Does this sounds a little like 2020?  I’ll admit it did to me when I read it this week.  At least until I got to verse 36.

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Matthew 24:36).

If no ones knows the day or the hour, including Jesus himself, is it reasonable to think it would be that easy for us to figure out?  We are not that smart.  Why then would we waste our time?  Rather than evaluating the “signs” and trying to predict what’s next, or worse yet, spending our time worrying about it, we should be focused on getting ready.

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come…So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him (Matthew 24:42, 44).

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned that in Gallup’s Strengths Finder 2.0 my top strength is Achiever – I like to get stuff done.  My second and third strengths are Futuristic and Strategic – I am inspired by what could be and have a knack for coming up with alternative ways to move forward.  When I think about Matthew 24:42 and 44, I am energized about how glorious Jesus’ return will be.  But my mind quickly turns to thinking about what I need to be doing so that I’m ready when he gets here – what is my path to get from here to there.  The answer is pretty easy to come up with – I need to be following Jesus Christ and transforming my life to look like his.

That is much easier said than done, of course, so how do we break this bold goal into smaller, more consumable chunks on which we can make progress?  As I thought about this a little more, my mind went to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  These chapters are probably Jesus’ most complete description of what the life of a Chrisfollower should look like.  Starting with the Beatitudes (qualities that describe Christfollowers) and moving on to topics like murder, adultery, divorce, giving, prayer, worry, judging, etc, Jesus provides a playbook for how we should think about, act, and react when faced with various topics and challenges in life.  If you are like me, energized about the future when Jesus comes to take us home, yet want to make sure you are prepared for his arrival, spend some time studying the sermon on the mount and let it guide your choices.

…for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:).

Get Ready!

 

 

Matthew 9, 10

Today’s reading:  Matthew 9, 10

The New Testament begins with four gospels all written about the same subject, the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.   They are each, however, written from a different perspective and to a different audience.

  • John was written to new Christians and non-Christians searching for truth.  His goal was to demonstrate that Jesus was (and is) the Son of God and the only source of eternal life.
  • Luke affirms Jesus’ divinity, but emphasizes his humanity.  Luke was written to Gentiles.
  • Mark was written to present the person, work and teachings of Jesus to Roman Christians, proving to them that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah.
  • Matthew was written to Jews.  His objective was to prove that Jesus was the Messiah for whom they had been waiting, and to provide a better understanding of God’s Kingdom.

Matthew was a Jew himself.  He understood Mosaic Law and was familiar with its rules/traditions/sacrifices.  In chapter 9 verse 13 he challenged the Pharisees, who were criticizing him for keeping company with sinners, to search for a deeper understanding of the Old Testament words from Hosea 6:6.

But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Matthew 9:13).

God calls us to demonstrate faith in Him by showing love and mercy to others. True believers in Christ genuinely care for others, just as Christ did.  This, not empty ritual, is what God desires for His children.  This was hard for the Jews, who had been living under Mosiac Law for centuries, to fully understand and accept.  Under the new covenant, relationship replaced ritual.

Today, I spent the day celebrating the life of my great aunt Veva Appel.  After a visitation, funeral, graveside service, lunch and family pictures, the day was long and I was tired.  But I left with a full heart.  It was so fun to see cousins I hadn’t seen in many years and share stories of the crazy summer vacations we spent on Long Lake as kids.

I am part of the Appel family through my grandma Evelyn Doris Appel York.  But more importantly, our extended family is bound together by our faith in Jesus.  As I listened to the stories of Veva’s life, I left knowing she spent it showing love and care for others – the same mercy Jesus talked about in Matthew 9:13.  I am confident she was welcomed in to the arms of Jesus last Sunday with these words:

Well done my good and faithful servant.

 

Psalm 144

Summer is the only season I like.  June is my favorite month of the summer and, therefore, my favorite month of the entire year.  Kids are out of school, the temperature is warm (but not super hot and humid), and fun summer activities are in full swing.  After June of 2020 when COVID was on the rise and so many things were cancelled, I have found June of 2021 to be extra fun doing things WITH people rather than trying to social distance all the time.  In fact, I have played more golf so far in 2021 than I played in 2017, 2018 and 2019 combined.

I play golf and have dinner most every Tuesday night during the summer with a group of friends.  Five of us played together this week (rather than a typical foursome), so 9 holes took us a little longer.  Because it was guest night, there were also more people eating dinner than usual.  It was almost 9pm my the time we got our food and I found myself starting to get a little frustrated because everything was so slow…UNTIL…I realized it was June 15.  My favorite month of the year was half over already.  Oh no!  The “self talk” that followed this revelation sounded just like the Zac Brown song I’d listened to earlier in the day –

Quiet your mind
Soak it all in
It’s a game you can’t win
Enjoy the ride (Zac Brown and Wyatt Durrette, 2010)

I stopped and reminded myself to slow down, as I really had NOTHING for which I needed to get home – kids are too old to need my help at bedtime, I didn’t have any work to do, and I didn’t need to get my lunch and clothes ready for tomorrow since I’m working from home.  So, we ordered dessert and stayed out a little longer.  So fun!

Given the events of Tuesday night, it is no surprise that my heart was draw to David’s words in verse 4 of our scripture for today –

For we are like a breath of air; our days are like a passing shadow (Psalm 144:4).

Life is short.  We have the opportunity to choose Jesus and live the life to which God has called us while we are alive, but when life is over, we don’t have a “re-do” option.  Knowing that God alone is the source of purpose, fulfillment and joy for our lives, why then would we chose to live for anything else?

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is (Ephesians 5:15-17).

Carpe diem!

Psalm 132

The author and occasion for this Psalm are not mentioned in the Bible.  However, the context suggests the setting may have been when the tabernacle was brought to Jerusalem during David’s reign.  In the first half of this passage, we see that David was obsessed with finding a permanent dwelling place for the Lord.  After many years of dwelling in a traveling tabernacle, David was convinced God deserved better and was willing to do whatever it took to make it happen.

 

“I will not enter my house or get into my bed, I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob” (Psalm 132:3-5).

By describing him as a man after God’s own heart, the Bible tells us David was in close relationship with God.  The kind of relationship marked by putting others’ needs ahead of your own.  Can you identify?  Are you in a relationship that is so close you prioritize others’ needs ahead of your own?  If yes, consider yourself very fortunate.  Relationships that close are rare and seldom exist outside of a family.  I would love to say I’m good at this, but I’m not.  Case in point – I’m writing this post today from the parking lot outside of the Orange Leaf frozen yogurt shop where I wait for my daughter.  Putting someone else’s needs ahead of mine today looked like 4 trips to/from the pool, a trip to/from Orange Leaf, a trip to/from the park, then home to make dinner. This certainly isn’t how I planned to spend my day.  I was willing to do it, however, because I know my 14 year old daughter needs every opportunity to get summer off on the right foot after 15 long months of COVID isolation.  Did I put her needs ahead of mine today?  Yes.  But I’m tired and did I do it without grumbling at least a little bit?  No.

 

As I think about my life and my relationship with God, I am humbled today.  Despite occasionally putting others’ first, I am not capable of “outgiving” God.  He created me and continually provides for my needs.  Even though I am undeserving, he continues to provide for me and my family.  Most importantly, he sent Jesus to make a way for me to spend eternity with him.  Thank you Lord.