Psalm 34:8

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A stickman is stumbling

In today’s Bible reading, Paul addresses an issue that is commonly misunderstood in Christian circles. He discusses this issue elsewhere, but I’m limiting my discussion to the words he uses here.

One of the issues we must deal with as believers is the tension between liberty and love, or freedom and maturity. Believers are not under the Law, but under Grace. But this doesn’t mean that we can do anything we want to whenever we want to. The tension comes when we consider the fact that other believers are not at the same level of maturity as us. Therefore, we need to extend grace to them, and they need to extend grace to us.

In Paul’s day, the hot-button issue was eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. After being slaughtered, the sacrificed animal could be brought home and cooked up for dinner. For some, eating a sacrificed animal was tantamount to sacrificing it yourself! For others, it’s just another meal to be enjoyed. Paul says that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Romans 14:17 (CSB)

For Paul and his context, it was eating sacrificed meat. For our context, it may be going to a party where people may be drinking and dancing. Paul is not saying that believers can’t drink or dance. Rather he says that if drinking or dancing causes another believer to drink to excess or otherwise stumble into some other sin, it’s better to not exercise our freedom at that time in the presence of that other believer.

Does this mean that we’re hypocrites practicing “situational ethics”? No, it means that we recognize that we’re not at the same point in our walk with Christ. Some of us aren’t (yet?) capable of doing some things that others are free to do.

Let me throw this out…. the party I mentioned above where people are drinking and dancing … what if the party is a wedding reception at a local country club? Does that change the situation? Does that change whether a believer should attend? What if the believer has been sharing her faith with the mother of the groom? This could open doors to share her faith with other family members. But should the faith-sharing believer not go to the wedding reception simply because a church member (who has no connection with the wedding party and thus, isn’t invited to the wedding) might be “offended”?

Paul’s use of two words may help us to understand how to handle the situation. He says believers should not put a stumbling block or a pitfall before another believer. (Romans 14:13) Both words can be translated as “stumbling block”. But the use of both words seems to indicate there’s a difference between the two. The second word can mean, not only something that someone trips over, but also a snare or a pit.

What Paul is trying to say is that believers should watch how they live so that other believers won’t stumble into, be ensnared by, or otherwise fall into sin. In other words, don’t set up someone to sin.

Scripture consistently condemns drunkenness, however, it never condemns consuming alcohol. Actually, Paul encourages Timothy to drink wine for “medicinal purposes”. (1Timothy 5:23) Drinking alcohol with a meal was commonplace until about one hundred years ago, even in the homes of the church leaders in current “teetotaling” denominations. The “Prince of Preachers”, Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon enjoyed his beer and cigars back in the 1800s. And I remember the painting of Southwestern Baptist Seminary’s first President that hangs in the Rotunda on campus. If you look at his left hand, it’s oddly placed in his pocket. Actually, the pocket was painted over Dr. Carroll’s cigar.

If you knew that a new believer had been delivered from years of alcoholism, you wouldn’t serve wine to him at dinner at your house. In fact, if you’re living according to the Law of Love that Paul has been discussing, you yourself wouldn’t drink wine at that time either. Even in your own home. Is it ok to drink in your own home? Sure, so long as you don’t drink to drunkenness and you don’t cause another believer to stumble into sin. In other words, you’re free. But don’t set a trap for someone else. Elsewhere, Paul says, you’re free, but don’t use your freedom as a license to sin. (Galatians 5:13)

Application

I have already provided several examples of how to apply living with the Laws of Liberty and Love. The bottom line is that you don’t need to look over your shoulder, afraid your pastor or deacon might see you take a sip of beer. Your pastor and deacon should be more mature than that.

Instead, you should live with a mind to avoid setting up someone to fail when tempted. Build them up. Set them up to succeed. (Romans 14:19 CSB)

This devotional was originally published on June 1, 2019.

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BSA Citizenship in the World Merit Badge

Taxes. Laws. Government Officials. Law Enforcement Officials. What do these have in common? Like them or not, they’re all part of Citizenship in the United States of America.

Believers are citizens of two kingdoms. In today’s Bible reading, Paul asserts that a believer living with a Kingdom of God mindset will be a good citizen of the world in which he/she lives.

Paul says, “Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God.” Romans 13:1 (CSB)

Yes, obeying the inconvenient traffic laws, honoring and praying for government officials from the “other” political party, even paying your income taxes. All of these will mark a child of God who lives with a Kingdom of God mindset. Why? Because it’s an expression of Christlikeness. (Romans 13:14)

I remember walking into an IRS audit (my only one). I had heard horror stories. I knew I had been honest in reporting my income and deductions. And yet, I was still nervous. There was a red flag, but not a violation. After reviewing my paperwork, the IRS agent told me that I was “in compliance”. When I asked what that meant, she replied, “It’s all good.” I asked her how often says that to people under audit. She replied, “Let’s just say that we earn our money.” Ouch!

Application

Being a good citizen in the Kingdom of God doesn’t mean that I’m not involved as a citizen of the USA. In fact, my Kingdom of God citizenship informs my US Citizenship. It affects how I vote. It affects how I pray. It affects how I interact with the police officer when he pulls me over. It affects how I respond to the Red Light Camera citation in my mailbox.

Look, I’m not perfect. I struggle with laws (eg, Red Light Cameras) I don’t like. And when called to account, I paid the fine. I didn’t want to. I feel they’re unconstitutional (you can’t face your “accuser” in court). But as a citizen of the Kingdom of God, I had to suck it up and write the check for the fine.

There are speed zones I don’t agree with. There are politicians I don’t agree with. But being a good citizen in the Kingdom of God will influence my citizenship in the United States of America.

And if you’re a believer, you’re a citizen of two kingdoms. As a child of God, you’re called to be a good citizen of both. Doing so is a reflection of Christlikeness.

This devotional was originally published May 31, 2019.

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A living sacrifice

Today’s Bible reading presents a difficult visual. Paul appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices. (Romans 12:1-2)

Look carefully at what Paul says. He appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices in the light of God’s mercies. He doesn’t give the appeal in a vacuum. It’s in the context of the last few verses of Chapter 11.

In just three verses (Romans 11:30-32), Paul uses the word mercy four times before launching into a hymn of praise. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to miss the connection between 11:30-32 and 12:1, given the chapter division in our Bibles. Given that our daily readings were broken between chapters eleven and twelve, the problem is compounded. But in Paul’s mind — and in God’s mind — the intended connection is there.

It’s in light of God’s mercies, Paul invites his readers to die. The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to die. Jesus said that if anyone wants to follow Him, he should deny himself and pick up his cross daily. (Luke 9:23) A cross was an instrument of death. Picking up one’s own cross is a willingness to die. And picking up one’s own cross is a daily choice. Paul’s choice of grammar in Romans 12:1 means that one doesn’t just make a one-time sacrifice. It’s a continual sacrifice.

It’s in light of these mercies that he appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices. Could Paul have been thinking of 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 when he made this statement? I think so.

Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body. (CSB)

Paul says that because God’s Spirit lives in us and we have been bought with the blood of Jesus, we can — and should — glorify God with our bodies. Actually, the context suggests that glorifying God doesn’t stop with our physical bodies; it extends to all that we are and all that we have, not unlike the Great Command to love God with all that we are. (Matthew 22:37)

Presenting all that we are is a daily choice. Every day we make the choice of staying on the altar … or crawling off.

The problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar!

Application

Every single day, each of us has a choice to make. Am I going to continue following Jesus? Am I going to die to my choices? Am I going to pray that His will be done, realizing that that includes that my will not be done?

Every. Single. Day.

Will you stay on the altar? Or will you crawl off?

I like the way that Eugene Peterson translated Romans 12:1-2:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Romans 12:1–2 (The Message)

This devotional was originally published on May 30, 2019.

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There are so many things about God and His Kingdom that I don’t understand. And it seems the longer I walk with Him, the more I know… and the less I know.

grafting one branch onto another

In today’s Bible reading, Paul talks about a partial hardening of the hearts of Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25) I think what this means is that God has hardened their hearts — as He did to Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus 4:21 — for a time, and all for His glory. And as soon as the set number (who knows what it is?) of Gentiles are saved, God will remove the veil that covers their eyes to see God’s Kingdom at hand. Until then, God will continue to graft Gentiles into the True Vine.

I’ll repeat what I said a few days ago: we need to approach things from a Biblical, God-centered viewpoint when we ask questions about God’s unconditional election of some people. (I say “unconditional election” because there is no condition that anyone can meet that would earn God’s approval.) If no one deserves salvation in the first place, and if only a miraculous work of God can save someone, then we can only plead for God to save our family members and friends who don’t (yet) know Jesus.

Yes, plead for their salvation. Plead for their sensitivity to God’s voice. Plead for a soft, moldable heart. Plead for God to overwhelm them with a sense of His presence so that they call out to Him. Plead for opportunities for you and others to talk with them. And tell them lovingly about how good God is. For what it’s worth, lovingly telling them what God is doing in your life and how their lives can be changed will probably work out better than continually beating them over the head with a 25lb Bible every time you talk with them.

To be able to answer the question of why God would save one and not save another is above my pay grade. I have to leave that up to God because I know that He is good and His ways are always right. I have to leave it up to God, but I have to be willing to be part of bringing them to Christ. Oftentimes, we are — at least partly — the answer to our own prayers.

Application

You may be heartbroken about a child or grandchild who no longer goes to church. Or maybe it’s a sister or a brother. Maybe it’s a friend. People can become disenfranchised with church for any number of reasons. If you’re part of the reason by being a stumbling block to them, or if you have hurt them in some other way, seek reconciliation today. Live at peace with everyone as far as you have control over the situation. (Romans 12:18)

But also realize that it isn’t about going to church. It’s about a relationship with Jesus Christ. If someone dropped out of church, it may have nothing to do with church and everything to do with not having a relationship with Jesus; in other words, they aren’t saved! Perhaps your prayers should be, “God, please bring them back!” Or perhaps your prayers should be, “God please save them!”

This devotional was originally published May 29, 2019.

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Christ is your righteousness

In today’s Bible reading from Romans 10, Paul points out that the Jewish people were attempting to establish their own righteousness. He says, they may be very zealous, but they haven’t submitted to God’s righteousness. What does that mean?

I have heard people say that it doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you’re sincere. That statement is borne out of the belief that all religions are basically the same, that all religious expressions are equally valid. It sounds as good as a “Coexist” bumper sticker; you’ve probably seen them with each letter of the word a symbol from a different religion, the “C” is a Muslim Crescent and the “t” is a cross.

The problem with this belief is that Jesus made some very exclusive claims that are at odds with every religious expression out there. If Jesus is correct in His exclusive statements, then all religions are not equally valid. And if all religious expressions are not equally valid, then our response to Jesus’ statements on salvation affect our eternal destiny which begins on this side of eternity.

So what were some of Jesus’ exclusive statements? I’ll just call your attention to just one: John 14:6 “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (CSB)

That statement cannot coexist with statements made by any and all other religious leaders. Jesus was not just another “good moral teacher” among many; CS Lewis was correct when he said that Jesus didn’t give us an option to consider him just a good moral teacher.

Application

Getting back to Paul’s statement… Paul says it doesn’t matter how sincere you may be, if you aren’t submitting your idea of righteousness — regardless of how sincere you may be — to God’s righteousness, you’re sincerely wrong. And that wrong belief will cost you blessings with God now and blessings in your destiny in the eternal future.

So how do you submit to God’s righteousness? First of all, you have to reject your own attempts to establish your own righteousness. Next, Paul answers the question in Romans 10:9-10:

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation. (CSB)

The message of the Gospel is simple, but it isn’t easy. It is as simple as believing that Jesus was raised from the dead (something that no other religious leader predicted, much less fulfilled) and verbally expressing that belief. And if you truly believe that Jesus rose from the dead and really believe Jesus is Lord, then your other beliefs, attitudes, and behavior will be affected over time.

Note: Lordship is necessary for salvation. It means that Jesus is your ruler, your master, your boss, while at the same time, He is the lover of your soul. Yes, being a disciple of Jesus is about obedience (Matthew 28:19-20). But being a disciple is borne out of a relationship. This is the knowledge that Paul is talking about in Romans 10:2-3.

“This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God,
and the one you have sent—Jesus Christ.” John 17:3 (CSB)

Don’t miss out on the message of the Gospel;
come to know God through Jesus today!

This devotional was originally published May 28, 2019.

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