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Christian Hedonism

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!”

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freedom

Yesterday, I said that grace overcomes sin and there is no sin that God’s grace cannot cover. Where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more. (Romans 5:20)

In today’s Bible reading, Paul asks the natural follow-up question: If that’s true, then, can’t we just sin it up, knowing that God’s grace is sufficient to cover it? (Romans 6:1)

He responds to his own question by saying that such a thing is unthinkable: How could someone who has been set free from sin’s grasp continue to live in bondage to it? Paul says that believers have died to sin and have been buried, and because of Jesus’ resurrection, we have been raised to walk a new life. In case you missed it, this is where we get the imagery of baptism by immersion.

A few days ago when we looked at Romans 4, I said that Abraham believed God and God credited Abraham’s faith as righteousness. The word credited or accounted in Romans 4 is the same word that Paul uses in Romans 6:11 for how we should consider ourselves as dead to sin. Another translation may say that we should reckon ourselves as dead to sin. Again, this is using the language of an accounting ledger where we reconcile accounts. When God reconciles His Righteousness Ledger, He sees Abraham’s faith, your faith, and credits Jesus’ righteousness to the bottom line.

Application

Believer, you, too should reconcile your own account and realize that Jesus’ righteousness is right there on the bottom line! Don’t forget that you have been set free from sin’s reign. You have died to sin and now you’re living a new, free life in Christ. Reckon yourself as dead to sin and alive to Christ.

Don’t turn back to the desires that once controlled you. Realize that what God has done for you in Jesus is so much more valuable, attractive, and satisfying than anything sin ever hoped to offer you.

Don’t live on the wages of sin.
Instead, receive the free gift of God’s grace.

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Today’s Bible reading begins one of my favorite books of the Bible: Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul begins his Magnum Opus Systematic Theology by laying out the gospel message with a description of man’s descent from the time of Creation to his day — and to our day.

Paul says that God’s wrath is already being revealed against ungodliness because mankind has been able to clearly see God’s revealed glory, and yet refused to acknowledge God’s existence. He wrote this around AD 57. And yet, little has changed.

When the Jewish people cried out to the prophet Samuel for a king (1Samuel 8), he warned them that they didn’t need a king, since God was their king. The people said they wanted to be like other nations and to do that, they needed a king. The people kept asking Samuel for a king until he gave them what they asked for: King Saul. And he did everything that God warned the people he would do. (1 Samuel 8:11–18) They got everything they wanted.

In Romans 1, Paul says that God gave the people what they wanted. And the very thing that they wanted became their judgment.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. Therefore God delivered them over in the desires of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.
For this reason God delivered them over to disgraceful passions. Their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. The men in the same way also left natural relations with women and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error.
And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a corrupt mind so that they do what is not right. They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful. Romans 1:22–31 (CSB)

Finally, Paul complete his description of God’s judgment against Fallen Mankind:

Although they know God’s just sentence—that those who practice such things deserve to die—they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them. Romans 1:32 (CSB)

Paul says, it wasn’t enough that people sinned against God. They took it one final step further: they encouraged other people to sin.

Even in my lifetime, I have witnessed this descent played out in society’s acknowledgement to leniency to approval of the sins that Paul spells out here. God has given mankind what mankind has asked for.

Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men—all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it—emptied of God and love, godless and loveless wretches. Romans 1:27 (The Message)

Here in verse 27, Paul is referring to Isaiah’s warning:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Isaiah 5:20 (CSB)

Application

You may not have personally participated in, approved, or encouraged other people to commit the sins that Paul spells out so clearly. But Mankind has. And America has. We, believers, are at least partially to blame for society’s sinful demise. We have not been the salt and light that we are called to be. (Matthew 5:13–16)

Believers, we must confess and repent for our own participation in the sins of our culture. And we must beg for God’s forgiveness, grace, and mercy for our nation’s sins. Our only hope of avoiding God’s wrath being poured out on us is to repent and pray. (2Chronicles 7:14)

Pray for God to send a spiritual awakening and revival, unlike anything our nation has ever experienced. Pray for the Holy Spirit to convict believers of their own sin, as well as our sin of silence while the world has gone to hell around them. Pray that pastors will faithfully speak God’s Word and disciple new (and old) believers in the faith. And pray that believers will hear God’s invitation to seek Him with all that they are.

If we don’t pray, no one will. Lost people definitely won’t do it!
Prayer is our job!

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Jesus uses parables in today’s Bible reading to illustrate stewardship. Normally we think of stewardship as pertaining to money. Stewardship includes the wise use of money, but it isn’t limited to money. God’s people are called to be good stewards with everything we’ve been entrusted.

The foolish virgins weren’t good stewards of their oil; they didn’t have enough to make it through the night. And had the wise virgins shared their oil with the foolish virgins, no one would have had light to last through the night.

The servants in Jesus’ parable were entrusted with the master’s talents. We tend to think of talents as, well, “talents”. But the talents Jesus referred to in His parable was a measure of money. Last year when I preached through Jesus’ parables, I presented the following information so our people could grasp the tremendous amount of wealth that the master had entrusted to his servants.

  • 1 danarius = 1 day’s wage
  • 1 mina = 3 months’ wages
  • 1 talent = 60 minas = 180 months’ wage = 15 years’ wages

  • 1 talent = 15 years’ wages
  • 2 talents = 30 years’ wages
  • 5 talents = 75 years’ wages

Two of the servants were good stewards and made a good return on their master’s investments. However, one of the stewards was foolish in the way that he simply buried his master’s talent in the ground. Though not doubling the original amount like the wise servants, the foolish servant could have taken his master’s talent to the bank and the fifteen years’ wages would have generated interest.

I used to think that it was cruel for the master to take the talent from the foolish servant and give it to the servant who had the ten talents. That is, until I read the parable a little more closely.

Matthew 25:14, 18, 27 highlights the key to understanding why the master was not cruel to take the foolish servant’s talent: It was the master’s talent! At no point in the parable are the talents given to the servants; the entire time, the talents remained the property of the master. The servants are merely given stewardship of the talents and they are responsible to the master for their use of his talents. (Matthew 25:14)

Application

If you are like most people, God has entrusted you with a lot: your body, food, housing, vehicle(s), and employment. He has also given you friends, coworkers, family members and extended family members. Granted, He probably hasn’t entrusted multiple years’ wages to you in one lump sum. But still, He has entrusted you with a lot.

So what are you doing with what He has entrusted to you?

Each of us has twenty-four hours each day. Each of us has seven days each week, twelve months each year, etc. How are you investing His time?

How are you stewarding your body, food, housing, vehicles, employment, friends, coworkers, family members, extended family members?

Remember, all of these belong to Him. How can you better steward what belongs to Him?

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. 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 (CSB)

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reading One Book

In today’s Bible reading, we see a couple of occasions when the Jewish leaders posed “academic” questions, trying to entrap him, or at least distract him. “Should we pay taxes or not?” “Who will be a woman’s husband in the resurrection if her husband dies, her next husband dies, etc.?” “Which is the greatest commandment?” “What is the Messiah’s relationship to David?”

To think… The Sadducees asked Jesus questions about a Resurrection they didn’t even believe in.

Only one of these questions really mattered. I confess, it’s easy to get distracted with “academic” questions. I remember spending many late nights discussing deep theological issues in the stairway in the Men’s Dorm at Southwestern Seminary. Some of the questions were good and challenging. Many were just distractions from studies and many were distractions from my walk with the Lord.

I’m glad that someone asked Jesus which is the greatest commandment. The Jewish leaders had developed a commentary on the Old Covenant Law. Then they developed a commentary on the commentary. By this point, they had over six hundred laws that divided hairs on what could and what couldn’t be done without breaking the Sabbath. At least someone had the guts to ask Jesus that question!

As He often did, He cut right through all of the “academics” and went straight for the heart: The greatest commandment is to love God with all that you are and to love others as you love yourself.

Application

I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I have several T-shirts to spare. It’s easy to get distracted with the “academics” and miss the “heart of the matter” which is actually the “matter of the heart”. It’s so easy to amass a library of hundreds of books about the Bible, prayer, the Christian life, etc. written by godly people and not read the one Book that God wrote. Making the connections between my head and my heart is a daily struggle.

How about you? Do you find yourself talking about God or talking with God? Do you find yourself reading about the Bible or reading the Bible? Do you find yourself talking about loving others or loving others? Do you find yourself talking about holiness or pursuing it?

Take some time today to think about what you think about. Then take some time to get to know the One you talk about by taking some time to actually open your Bible and read it, study it, and meditate on it.

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