OK, here's the plan (if God is willing):

1) Every day will be a new devotional. I have enough devotionals for every day for three years

2) Also as I can, I'll be posting on my new political blog (see bottom of page).

Some other housecleaning:

A) If you'd like to just get new postings sent to your email, just submit your address in the box on the left just below. There's just one possible downside, though. Occasionally I'll add a music video at the end that's relevant to the devotional, and you won't get them in the email sent to you. If I add a video though, I'll make sure to mention in the posting, so you'll know to come to the site to see it if you'd like.

B) I actually finished writing new blog posting for the TAWG at the end of 2016. So what I'm doing now is at the beginning of every month, I'll move the earliest month from 3 years ago ahead so that a "new" posting appears every day. That's why you won't find any postings for January 2014, for example.

C) When I started this Blog, I was using the 1984 edition of the NIV, and that’s what I linked to on the Biblegateway site. However, in 2011 Zondervan updated its edition and thus reworded a lot of the NIV translation. Therefore, all the links which went to the 1984 edition now redirect to the 2011 edition, which often has slightly different wording. Thus, part of my editing process has been to update my Scripture quotes in my postings. But I might have missed some, in which case you might see my quote in the posting as a little different from what comes up when you click on my citation link, since that redirects to the 2011 edition on the Biblegateway site. It's a good thing that we realize that the work of translation never ends, but it can be a kind of a pain on a site like this. If you see any difference in verbiage between my quote and what shows up as a link on the Biblegateway site, or if you hover over a link and it has "NIV1984" at the end of it, please notify me and I'll correct it.

D) I can't believe I have to say this, but here goes. At the end of every posting is a suggested short prayer that has to do with what we discussed. This is actually what I've prayed when I finished writing it. In no way am I asking you to pray the exact verbiage of my suggested prayer. It's just a springboard for your own prayer, nothing more. Quite frankly, I've never been a fan of praying rote prayers written by someone else. As with everything else I do here, to the degree it helps, great; to the degree it doesn't, chunk it.

As always, thank you so much for reading, even if it's to read one post. God bless.

[Sept 20]—Division, Wisdom, and Victory

            As you might have noticed, we’re wrapping up the book of Romans with just a few short verses to go. Remember when I said that Paul started out with the “heavy” material and ended the book with slightly lighter fare? Well, I misspoke: Maybe I should have said “heavi-er” material, because even in these “housekeeping” type of verses, there’s plenty to absorb and digest.
            I’ve mentioned this before, but I really think that the common nostalgia lots of Christians have for the 1st century church is a bit overdone. Human nature hasn’t changed, and God certainly hasn’t. All of the problems we see today are pretty much the ones the church struggled with 2000 years ago.
            Case in point: Paul warned about false teachers and pseudo-Christians who’d snuck in and introduced bad teaching, which had caused division in the church. Sound familiar? He tells the rank-and-file believers reading this to stay away from them. Don’t listen to their “smooth talk and flattery.” This was a danger back then, and it’s a danger now.
            That brings us to something that the modern American Christian desperately needs to hear: When it comes to God’s truth, ignorance is not bliss. Paul tells them in vs. 29 that he wants them to “be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” Not ignorant. Innocent.  Jesus was referring to this distinction when he told us to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” According to vs. 19 in today’s passage, these con-men are targeting “naive people,” so by not being discerning you’re opening yourself up to deception.  
            Keep in mind that bad teaching does more than lead individual Christians astray. It also tends to divide churches. Christians who should be united in the truth instead bicker over issues that should've been settled long ago. And the Devil watches and laughs.
            So what does it mean? It means when someone presents some teaching that sounds new, you need to carefully examine it in the light of what God’s word says. And if it doesn’t match up, then drop it. Don’t indulge in it.
            And near the end of this book, he presents a glorious promise right after these warnings. False teachers will always be with us, but ultimately the source of all their “teaching” will find himself under the boot. Of course, we know that at the end of history as we know it, the longstanding war between Satan and our Lord will culminate in Satan being tossed into the Lake of Fire. And I can see why that’s part of what Paul’s referring to here.
            But I think we can experience some of that ultimate victory right here and now. When he told the believers in Rome that the God of peace (ironic title considering the rest of the verse) will “soon” crush their Enemy beneath their feet, I don’t think he was just talking about the end of the Age. When we’re discerning about good and evil--listening to the good and shunning the bad--that’s a good way to put the Enemy under our feet right here and now. He sometimes attacks frontally, but most of the time in the Age his most dangerous weapons are lies.
            And of course covering all of this is God’s grace. We desperately need his grace—his unmerited favor-- to discern truth from lies, turn away from these lies and towards our Father, and to crush our Adversary beneath our feet.
            If we listen to our Father, we can’t lose.

Father God, it seems like I constantly need my ears unplugged and my heart softened. Help me to be deaf to the Enemy, listening only to your voice.    

[Sept 19]—Greetings

            I know what you’re thinking: “Lists of names!!! Yay!!! Just what I’ve been looking for!” I know I know I know. To modern Americans, a list of names is about as interesting as watching paint dry. But let me quote myself:

“[These] “boring” parts are important, if for no other reason than this: They remind us that the Bible is literally true. It doesn’t really matter to a Buddhist if Buddha never physically lived, but things like this do matter to a Bible-believer. The Bible claims to deal with real people who historically lived in the physical places the Bible records. If not, then we should accord the Bible no more authority than Dear Abby. Also this means that the Bible deals with real people like you and me, not some fantasy world of people who don’t have real problems.”

            But setting that aside for a moment, there’s some points here for us from a theological/practical standpoint.
            First, let’s talk about Phoebe. She’s not mentioned anywhere else, so the only knowledge we have of her is contained here. However, within these two verses is a whole boatload of controversy. The key word is the description of the Phoebe’s position in the church at Cenchreae, the Greek word diakonos. The NIV translates it as “deacon,” while other translations render it as “servant,” since that’s literally what the word means. Conservative Evangelical scholars are divided on whether or not Phoebe held the actual office of “deacon” in the church (MacArthur--Mr. Bible Conservative--comes down on the “deacon” side, believe it or not). I’m not going to publically come down one side or another on that question, since that’s a rabbit trail that’s more trouble than it’s worth.
            However, whether she held an official title or not, she was definitely a great servant to that church. Paul praises her as someone who’s been a benefactor to lots of people, including himself. And apparently he considered her incredibly trustworthy, dependable, and competent. Why? Because the best indications are that Phoebe was the one Paul entrusted to carry this letter to the Roman church. If so, that was an incredible responsibility that he asked her to bear, and she did so willingly. The Lord used her to get this epistle to us; humanly speaking, she’s the reason you’re reading this right now.
            The rest of them are names that Paul knows and remembers, dear ones who have been his co-workers and fellow soldiers. Some of them (Priscilla and Aquila, for example) are fairly well-known. Just a bit of trivia: “Rufus” was probably one of the sons of Simon from Cyrene, the man enlisted to carry Jesus’ cross. But most of them we know little to nothing about besides what Paul says here. Details about their lives, about the service they provided Paul and others, and about the sacrifices they gave for the sake of their Savior are lost forever to history. To us they’re little more than names on a page.
            But no, they’re not forgotten. The Lord in whose name they loved, gave, and sacrificed has not forgotten a thing. From the smallest inconvenience to martyrdom, he watched it all. He’s written it down. And one day, we’ll hear a lot more about what they’ve done.
            And think about it. These people in chapter 16 are forever enshrined in God’s word as examples for us, even if we don’t know all the details. But for every one of these names, there are countless millions throughout history who’ve given things large and small for their Lord.  There are many many more whose names we’ll never hear. . . this side of the Great Divide.
            If this is you, please take heart. Please be encouraged. If you’ve been working behind the scenes as a hidden servant, be sure of this: Your Savior knows about it. You’ve not been forgotten. Let the writer of Hebrews speak to your heart right now: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” When you feel unappreciated and unknown, read passages like this, and keep in mind that he knows your name too.

Father God, for all the hidden servants who are reading this, please bless them and encourage them and strengthen as only you can. And for those who’ve helped me over the years, thank you so much. 

[Sept 18]—Pass It Back

            In contrast to how we usually write letters today, Paul started with the “heavy” stuff at the beginning of this epistle and put the lighter “housekeeping” material nearer the end. But even here there are plenty of important points we need to pick up.
            Paul is laying out his plans: He’s planning to come visit them, but first he needs to go to Jerusalem with a relief offering that’s been collected from believers in Macedonia and Achaia. There apparently was a huge need for financial assistance to the poor in Jerusalem.
            He makes a very crucial aside here which we need to consider. We talked about our debt to the Jewish people last year, but it’s always worth remembering. Once again, I think I’ll plagiarize myself:

“You pay tribute to their language every time you pray: ‘Amen.’ When you say ‘Hallelujah,’ you’re speaking Hebrew. A verse from Leviticus is on our Liberty Bell and a representation of Moses with the Ten Commandments is above our Supreme Court.

Yes, I know that the Lord gave us all that. He gave us the Ten Commandments. He revealed all we know about where we came from and what went wrong in the book of Genesis. He gave us the thrilling stories of Joshua and the lessons from the life of David. But he gave us all these things through the Jews.

But most important, above everything else, God gave us our Savior through them. When he came to earth, he entered the womb of a Jewish teenager. He grew up in a faithful Jewish home, and all his first followers were Jewish.”

            Add to this the fact that all of God’s word which you hold in your hand (or see on your computer screen)—minus two lonely books—came to us through the Jews. All of the apostles were Jewish. Our spiritual debt to them is literally incalculable.
            And because of this, the situation called for more than merely saying “Thank you.” There were Jewish believers in physical need, and this called for practical help. That’s what Paul means in vs. 27: “For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.” It’s nice to think and say nice things about those who’ve been the conduit of spiritual blessings to you. That’s good and right and proper. But all too often our gratitude ends with thoughts and words. Gratitude, like love, needs to be a practical thing.
            On a more personal note, how’s about the people who’ve blessed you spiritually in a more direct way? How’s your pastor doing financially? Or your church staff? I know I know I know. Money’s not supposed to be the reason why anyone’s in ministry. Any minister should be perfectly willing to make financial sacrifices in order to further the Kingdom’s work. But that in no way relieves you of your responsibility to financially support those who’ve blessed you spiritually.
            And there’s another point here, one that’s very touching. In verse 30, he asks the believers in Rome to pray for him. He asked them to pray for safety in his travels, that his love offering would be favorably received in Jerusalem, so that he could ultimately come to them and “in your company be refreshed.”
            Let’s ponder that for a moment, shall we? Paul—the apostle Paul, who’s been visited personally by Jesus and who’s writing Scripture at this very moment—is asking them to pray for him. And he wants to see them, so that he could be refreshed (encouraged, strengthened) by them. By ordinary believers, just like you and me.
            My friend, I can only dream of being as close to Christ, as spiritually mature, as bold in proclaiming the Message as this man was. But he wanted and needed prayers and intimate encouragement from ordinary believers. That tells me that no matter how far along you are in your walk with Christ, you still need prayers from others. You still need encouragement from others. In this life, you’re never “past” this. The Lord designed his Body so that each of us needs the other. As we say in the IT world, it’s a feature, not a bug.
            Again, I can see an immediate application in the person of your pastor. How often have you sent a note encouraging him, letting him know how much he’s blessed you and that you’re praying for him? I certainly can’t claim innocence in this either. Let’s make a pact, shall we, to pray for and encourage those who’ve blessed us. And make sure that their material needs are met. Instead of adding to their burden, let’s see what we can do to make it a little lighter.

Father, how can I bless my pastor today? How can I work off some of that debt which I owe him?

[Sept 17]—Pushing the Edges

            Before we get to the main part of the passage I want to discuss, here are some notes about vss. 14-19:

·         Notice that he praised the church in Rome that it was common for them to instruct each other. This is supposed to be the norm in the church. Yes, we have spiritually-gifted people who’re called to teach. But each of us is responsible for encouraging, admonishing, and challenging each other from God’s word.

·         But even though this was a strong, growing church (spiritually and numerically) in which members could instruct each other, he knew that they needed to be “reminded” of some things. To be reminded means that it’s something that you already knew. All of us need to be reminded of what we might consider the “basics” of the faith, such as the nature and work of Christ, salvation by grace through faith, the Cross and Resurrection, and what he expects of us. It’s good to delve into some of the more esoteric and mysterious aspects of the Bible, but we always need to bring it around to the First Things which are “of first importance.” C. S. Lewis said that the best teachers are not the ones always coming up with something brand new, but the ones who bring us back again and again and again to the lessons we learned in Sunday School which we naturally tend to shirk.

·         Think how important a priest’s job was under the Old Covenant. You were selected at birth, chosen for a special purpose. You were the representative between God and his people, and if you didn’t do your job right, people might die. What an awe-inspiring and intimidating task! But Paul said that the Lord Jesus had given him “the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God.” Guess what! As a believer in Christ, this applies to you. In a very real sense, you’re the go-between that God’s appointed to represent him before a lost and dying world.

            That brings us to the last main point to consider here. Paul says that it’s “always been [his] ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that [he] would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” Now, is it wrong to build on someone else’s foundation? Of course not. That’s the job of preachers and pastors and teachers, those who are to “equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
            But Paul had a different calling from most. In the realm of missiology (the study of missions), they make a distinction between evangelism (sharing Christ within your own people group) and cross-cultural missions (sharing outside of your people group). This would be me going to another people group (usually--but not always--to another nation) and proclaiming the Good News, discipling believers, and establishing churches “where Christ [is] not known.” This is not something that every Christian is called to do.
            But it is something that every Christian is called to be involved in. If you aren’t on the field, then you’re called to support—by prayers and money—this type of work. This is not an option: In what’s famously known as the Great Commission, our Lord told us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” On the frontier between Christ’s Kingdom and Satan’s, it’s our responsibility and privilege to take part in pushing the edges into the Enemy’s territory.
            So what’s your part? What’s mine?

Lord Jesus, wherever you want me to go, whatever you want me to do, the answer’s “yes.” And I pledge to support those on the frontier of your Kingdom, being light-bearers to those in darkness. Help me to help them, please. 

[Sept 16]-- Disputable Matters, Part Four

            Today we’re wrapping up Paul’s discussion on “disputable matters.” When the Bible is silent or more ambiguous on an issue, we need to recognize that fact. If another Christian disagrees with us on something like this, we need to respond with love, accommodation, patience, and humility. If you’re on the “abstain from X” side, you need to avoid judging your brother. If you’re on the “X is OK” side, then you need to avoid looking down on your brother who disagrees with you. There’s an aphorism I’d like to introduce: “In essentials, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.” Apparently this was introduced by Archbishop Marco Antonio de Dominis, and popularized by the Puritan preacher Richard Baxter. Whatever the source, it’s a great summarization of Paul’s teaching here.
            Let’s take a moment to bring this into the modern world. The once-important controversy about whether or not Christians should or shouldn’t eat meat sacrificed to idols is pretty moot at this point, right? So what might be modern equivalents? Well, off the top of my head, I’d submit A) Going to ‘R’-rated movies, and B) Drinking alcohol.
            I’ve had really dear siblings in Christ who were adamant that going to any R-rated movie is sinful, and I really respect their desire to be holy and pleasing to our Lord. They’ve had me really reexamine my commitment to my Savior. Here’s my response: You might make a case that it’s not a good idea, but unless you can find the words “R-rated” or “movie” in your exhaustive concordance, you can’t say that it’s categorically sinful like adultery or theft. Now, if watching any movie leads you to think sinful thoughts or speak sinful words, then obviously that’s more than enough reason to abstain. If it leads you closer to Christ, then it’s good. If not, then it’s not. For myself, I really avoid movies with nudity or anything that will lead me into lust or sexual desire for anyone besides my wife, no matter what their rating. 
            Regarding alcohol, let me quote C. S. Lewis: “Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who cannot drink at all without drinking too much, or because he is with people who are inclined to drunkenness and must not encourage them by drinking himself. But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying. One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting everyone else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons--marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who use them, he has taken the wrong turning.” I think that sums it up beautifully.
            However. . . in American society, which commonly sees alcohol not as a beverage you drink with your meal but as source of a "buzz," I take that "tipping the scale" consideration as the main reason not to drink in public. 
            I’d like to wrap up this discussion with the last reason why Paul’s calling for charity on both sides of issues like this: Christ. Christ, the Son who took on human flesh and died in our place, gave up his rights and privileges for our benefit. Yes, we have beautiful freedom in Christ, but our freedom is not the most important consideration here. Glorifying the Father and a love for people will lead us to lay aside our “rights” if necessity dictates.
            What’s Paul’s point in vss. 8-13? He starts out by telling us to accept one another and strive for harmony and unity as much as possible, and then launches into a series of O.T. quotations. What do these latter verses have to do with the earlier ones, the discussion about disputable matters?
            Think of it this way: Jesus laid down his rights and privileges—“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped”—and what was the result? His first generation of followers were all Jewish, but that quickly changed. Paul quotes from the Torah (Deuteronomy), the Psalms, and the Prophets in order to show the result of this submission to the Father’s will: A worldwide movement of Gentiles of every race, nationality, ethnicity, language, and tribe worshiping and praising and submitting to the Lord alongside their Jewish siblings.
            That’s why in vs. 7 he tells us to “accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” When we’re willing to lay aside our “rights,” there’s no telling how the Lord will use that to bring others to him and increase his praise. I once heard that evangelists and missionaries are “worship recruiters,” and there’s a lot of truth to that. It’s not about you, and it’s not about me, it’s about him. Please remember that.

Lord Jesus, it is all about you, and I tend to forget that at times. I cling to my “rights” so tightly they burn me. If you clung to your rights like I cling to mine, I’d be lost forever. I want you not just as my Savior, but as my example. I’m your follower, and I need to demonstrate that better. By your grace, I will. 

[Sept 15]—Disputable Matters, Part Three

            Once again, I’ve given you a passage to read, but I might cite verses which are prior to or after these. If I do, I’ll link to it.
            The reason I’m doing it this way is because Paul is speaking to both the “strong” (more mature) and the “weak,” (less mature) throughout chapter 14 into 15:13, and it’s difficult to divide the passage topically. In other words, he places instruction to the “strong” right next to instruction to the “weak,” and several points can be applied to both, for example vs. 4.
            Yesterday we looked at Paul’s counsel to the “strong,” those more mature in the Christian faith. Today I’d like to examine what he says to those less mature.
            First, he tells you not to judge those whose decisions in “disputable matters” are different from your own. Again, we’re not talking about anything that’s explicitly laid out in Scripture. For example, the fact that God has categorically forbidden theft is not disputable; he mentioned in his own “Top Ten List.” No, we’re talking about personal decisions that can be debatable, such as whether or not it’s OK to eat meat that’s been offered to idols.
            If Scripture doesn’t forbid it, then don’t pretend that it does. Don’t judge another believer if they’re doing something that isn’t laid out in black and white. You might think that they’re making an unwise choice, and you’re perfectly free to try to persuade them as such. But God has some pretty harsh warnings to those who try to pass off their own opinions as something that’s come directly from him. That’s why I’m extra extra extra careful to distinguish what the Bible plainly says from any speculation or interpretation on my part.
            On a side note, I feel a little weird giving out these warnings. The zeitgeist in which we live is so heavy on being nonjudgmental that I feel like someone working really hard against polio. It's a horrible disease for anyone to get, and it once ravaged the lives of millions, but now it’s pretty much eradicated as a modern threat. I don’t think that Christians in America are in particular danger of legalism. The main modern danger seems to be antinomianism.
            But even though the threat seems to come from the opposite flank, judging others based on your personal opinion masked as Scripture is still a danger. New Christians in particular, with their (very laudable) zeal, want to please God with all their hearts, and they base their convictions off of their personal experience, not what the Bible actually says.
            Second--and this is extremely important—don’t violate your conscience. If your conscience is bothering you about something, STOP. If your conscience is telling you that eating meat that’s been offered to idols is wrong, then don’t eat it. MacArthur: “Each Christian must follow the dictates of his own conscience in matters not specifically commanded or prohibited in Scripture. Since conscience is a God-given mechanism to warn, and responds to the highest standard of moral law in the mind (2:14, 15), it is not sensible to train yourself to ignore it. Rather, respond to its compunctions and as you mature, by learning more, your mind will not alert it to those things which are not essential.” If you feel like something is wrong, it’s better for you to abstain and find out later that you were incorrect than to go forward and later find out that your conscience was accurate.
            But—and I’ve haven’t heard this point in a lot of discussions and Bible studies I’ve experienced about this topic and passage—the weaker brother in this passage is less mature than the “strong” brother, and regarding his immaturity, while we indulge it temporarily for the sake of love, this is a temporary accommodation, not a permanent acquiescence to those whose understanding of Scripture is faulty. A less mature believer needs to. . .well, mature. They need to examine their convictions in the light of Scripture.  They need to move from basing their convictions on their personal feelings and experiences towards basing their personal convictions on what God’s word actually says.
            And of course, this is a never-ending process while in this life. I’ve known the Lord for decades, and I constantly need to put my thoughts, convictions, speech, and actions under the microscope of his word. The main result of my becoming more mature in the faith has been to see more clearly just how much further I need to go. The danger of mistaking my personal opinions for God’s revealed truth is an ever-present one. I say this to myself as much to anyone reading this: Watch out.

Father God, it’s so much better for me to mold my conscience around your word, but way too often I do the opposite. Above all else, I just want to please you. By your grace, please help me do that. 

[Sept 14]—Disputable Matters, Part Two

            Sorry for the slight overlap of verses from yesterday. I’ve put some effort into figuring out how to divide up the verses in the passage that deals with this. The problem is that it’s pretty difficult to sort through Paul’s thoughts on this topically, and I fully realize that most people can’t or won’t read through a chapter and a half for a devotional. So I’m going to suggest you read the above verses, and if I reference something that’s outside of today’s reading, I’ll prepare a link for that when I cite it.
            Today we’re going to examine what Paul has to say to the “strong” believer (who’s more mature). Hopefully as you’ve known the Lord longer chronologically, that’ll roughly correspond to more intimate knowledge about God and knowledge of him (on a personal level). As you know him better, you come to a better understanding of what’s more important to him, and what’s less important. Worshipping the Lord as who he really is, not some made-up version of him—that’s important. The eternal fate of souls—that’s important. Whether or not I eat certain foods or observe certain holidays—much less important.
            In Christ, everything is either sinful or it’s not. And as we saw yesterday, Paul made it clear that—as far as ultimate truth goes—the Christians who ate whatever was sold in the market and who didn’t feel obligated to observe special days were in the right. Maturity in Christ gave them a better understanding of 1) what’s sinful and 2) what’s not, based on God’s revealed word.
            But to anyone who’s more mature in Christ than the siblings around you, Paul has some words to say. This is so important, and especially to Christians in modern America, since this goes sooooooo much against our inclinations: Your freedom in Christ is not the most important consideration here. Yes, there’s no intrinsic moral issue involved in stuff like this. But that’s not the point. As Paul put it in vss. 7-8: “For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” Or as he put it in another context: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.”
            Because of this, we need to “make up [our] mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” “Make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” Act in love towards your sibling. “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.” What does this mean?
            Well, as best as I can tell, it means that you don’t flaunt your freedom in front of someone who can get confused. To take an example from this context, let’s say that you’re the more mature brother, and someone else has just come to faith in Christ, and they came out of an idolatrous background. To them, there’s an inextricable association between buying the meat and literally bowing down before a statue, and to them the two are morally equivalent. So if they see you, a mature believer—a model for them to follow—buying meat in the marketplace, they might make the logical leap that idolatry really isn’t all that bad, or even that bowing before an idol is compatible with being a follower of  Jesus.
            And you, as the more mature believer, have caused harm, perhaps irreparable, to a babe in Christ. And you haven’t acted in love towards him. Quite the opposite. And may I submit here that in this case, if I were you, I’d be very afraid that Jesus’ warnings would apply. Our Lord apparently takes this sort of thing very seriously, so it’d be a good idea for me to do so too.
            And as a final note, I’d point you to his admonition near the beginning of the chapter: “The one who eats everything [the more mature] must not treat with contempt the one who does not.” If you have a deeper understanding and better discernment, then the last thing this should produce is arrogance or pride or looking down on someone who disagrees with you. In fact, I’d submit that this type of attitude shows ipso facto that you’re not as mature as you might think. I know from my personal experience—backed up by the experience of everyone I’ve ever heard of—that the closer I get to Christ, the humbler I get, and the easier it is for me to see how far I have yet to go.
            “Let us stop passing judgment on one another.” “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.” In other words, instead of worrying so much (with a judgmental attitude) about someone else, how’s about I focus on the one person I’m going to ultimately give an account for someday: ME.

Father God, I confess that it’s awfully easy for me to fall into the trap of looking down on someone who doesn’t know the Bible as well I do, who’s not as far along in their walk with you as I am. Wow. How arrogant can I get? Please forgive and change.

[Sept 13]—Disputable Matters, Part One

            Chapter 13 deals mostly with how we as Christians relate to the nonbelieving world, particularly the government. We submit, we honor, we pay our taxes. In our conduct we need to be living like people who know that the Dawn is coming, not like people who live in the darkness. We fulfill the Law by showing real love to our neighbor.
            The rest of the book of Romans lays out how we’re supposed to relate to fellow believers. Specifically Paul’s talking about what he calls “disputable matters.” What’s this referring to?
            Let’s start out by distinguishing this from in-disputable matters. This is not talking about essentials of the faith, such as the nature and work of Christ, the Resurrection, the fact of his Return, the authority of Scripture, the reality of Heaven and Hell, salvation by grace thru faith, etc. If someone claims to be a Christian and disputes any of these, there’s a major problem.
            For example, the main point of the book of Galatians is to confront any perversions of the Good News about how we're reconciled with God. Paul called down (or at least declared) a curse on anyone—man or angel—who dared to present another message. In another letter he made it clear that a belief in the physical resurrection of Christ is absolutely essential to our faith.
            He’s not talking about essentials in today's passage. So what examples does he provide of nonessentials?
            Apparently there were disputes in the church at Rome over 1) Food and 2) Sacred days. Jews who became believers in Jesus (or Yeshua as they would’ve called him) came out of a background in which they were expected to keep the O.T. dietary restrictions and holy days. Now that they’re believers, it would’ve been difficult for them to just abandon the traditions of their fathers. Also there’d be Gentile believers who'd worshipped idols before they received Christ. Now they worshipped the one true God of the Bible and had abandoned their idols, as they should have. But there was an thorny question: It was common for pagans to “offer” up an animal to one of their “gods,” then sell the meat in the open marketplace. Would it be right for a believer to buy the meat and eat it? Were they participating in idolatry when they did this?
            And of course the Jews kept several holidays throughout the year, including the Sabbath which they were expected to observe every week. Now that all of us are under the New Covenant, do we still need to keep the Sabbath? The religious holidays and festivals?
            When Paul is talking about the “weak” here, he’s referring to less mature believers. To a “weak” Christian who hasn’t known Christ all that long, these were weighty issues. If they ate whatever was available in the market and didn’t observe the Sabbath, they felt like they were sinning against their Lord.
            When Paul is talking about the “strong,” (in another passage), he’s talking about more mature believers (in which he groups himself). These know that under the New Covenant we’re free to eat whatever we like, that there’s no such thing as “unclean” food (as far as God is concerned) anymore. They also know that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with buying meat that’s been offered to idols and eating it. They also know that under the New Covenant we’re under no obligation to observe Jewish holidays (including the Sabbath).  Of course, this applies to Jew and Gentile alike.
            So now that we have the background, how do we apply this? We’ll get into more detail tomorrow. But first and foremost, the first step we need to take is to be careful about what God’s word actually says. That means you read it (all of it) on a regular basis. If he’s made something a categorical sin (like adultery), then he’s made it explicit in his word. Sorry to be repeating myself, but one of my favorite aphorisms comes from Alistair Begg: “The main things are the plain things and the plain things are the main things.” Before we delve into the less important, let’s be sure to focus on what’s most important, in fact “as of first importance”: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” This sort of thing we all agree on, and we must.

Lord Jesus, may I never ever ever get over who you are and what you’ve done. .  .for me. Everything else is just trivia compared to that. 

[Sept 12]—I Shot A Lion In My Pajamas. . .

           ". . . and how that lion got into my pajamas, I'll never know!" Sorry, couldn't resist the old joke. 
           I have a confession to make: I’m really a night owl. If I had my “druthers,” I’d stay up until 2AM or so, sleep until noon, then go about my day. Of course, my boss has something to say about that, and having a job means you don’t do whatever you feel like doing. So I get up at 5:30 so I can be at work by 7:30. 
            But when it comes to our spiritual lives, we all tend to be “night owls.” That seems to be our default setting. In our regular lives, we might get up at the crack of “oh-dark thirty” (as we used to call it in my Army days), but in our spiritual lives we’re acting like it’s time to drift into dreamland.
            When I read today’s passage, a word keeps coming to my mind: Incongruity. Imagine that you have an appointment with someone, and you’re supposed to come by their house to pick them up for a very important meeting. The meeting is at 10 A.M. and is about 30 minutes away from your friend’s house. You show up at 9:20 to give yourself a little extra drive-time if needed. You knock on his door, and nobody responds. You knock again, nothing but silence. You pound on his door, and finally you hear shuffling to the door and someone muttering “All right already, I’m coming, hold your horses!!!’ Your friend opens the door, and he’s. . . in his pajamas. What would your reaction be?
            That’s Paul’s reaction. He’s saying it’s high past time I stopped living like a night owl and started living like it’s time to get up. The pajamas are inappropriate for what time it is.
            By the way, when he says our “salvation is nearer now than when we first believed,” he’s not talking your personal salvation, your conversion from being a nonbeliever to a believer. He’s not referring to your salvation from the penalty of sin; he’s referring to our future salvation from the presence of sin. Each ticking of the clock brings us one tick closer to the time of our “blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
            So what are we supposed to do?
            We’re supposed to. . .

·         Put aside the “deeds of darkness.”
·         Put on the “armor of light.” What’s he referring to? Well, a good guess is that he’s talking about the “full armor of God.”
·         Behave decently, as in the daytime.
·         Don’t indulge in “carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.”
·         “Clothe yourselves in the Lord Jesus Christ.” Again, this is not talking about personal salvation (such as in Galatians). This is talking about putting on “Christ” like you put on your daytime clothes. MacArthur: “This phrase summarizes sanctification, the continuing spiritual process in which those who have been saved by faith are transformed into His image and likeness.”
·         Finally, “do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” Please forgive me for reusing one of my favorite analogies, but I need to treat sin as a deadly stalker, not like a sexy ex-girlfriend I keep on my contacts list just in case I’m bored and decide to give her a call.

            This is all talking about personal behavior. The world is acting like it’s Spring Break at midnight at Daytona Beach or some other party spot. But if you’re a believer, you know better. You know that the night is nearly over, and the Dawn is coming. That’s when all the misdeeds of the night before come to light, literally. And you need to start acting like it. Take off the pajamas, put on your Daytime clothes, and keep looking for the glimmer of the sun breaking over the ridge. It’s a lot closer than you think.

Lord Jesus, it’s so easy to drift into spiritual slumber, but that’s no excuse. I know better. Please, by your Spirit, using any means necessary, wake me up. Get me out of my pajamas. Get me onto the battlefield where I’m supposed to be. 

[Sept 11]—Some Tough Love About Debt

            Before we move on, I think we need to spend a day talking about debt. I did mention this before when we studied Proverbs, but this is a good time to review and then expand on it a little.
            First question we need to grapple with: Does Scripture categorically forbid debt, like it does adultery? No. Today’s verse in Romans is the closest thing you can find to a prohibition, and it doesn’t really tell you that you can’t go into debt at all. The NIV says don’t let any debt remain “outstanding.” Now, it's true that other more literal translations, such as the NASB, say things like “Owe nothing to anyone.” But if we look at the whole of Scripture, we see that in both the Old Covenant and in the New, debt is regulated, not outright forbidden. On whether or not it’s OK to charge interest, here are my thoughts, if you’re interested.
            So, how do the Scriptures view debt, if they don’t outright forbid it?
            I summarize it this way: Scripture doesn’t forbid debt, but it sure discourages it. Solomon in the Proverbs passage really presents a stark image: Just like a king rules over his poor subjects, a creditor “owns” the borrower. The image of a borrower who’s behind on bills is quite common: He’s ducking and dodging his creditors, screening every phone call for bill collectors, dreading each trip to the mail box.
            I think--other than sex--that this is probably the area where American society has ignored God’s wisdom the most. This is a nation in which it’s considered normal for a person to get into debt. You can hardly buy a house or a car without it. If that’s what you need to function in society, then I think that’s understandable. I’m not Doug Ramsey, and I honestly think he goes a little overboard at times. But if you’re amassing debt in order to keep up a certain lifestyle, then I think you need to listen to Solomon again: You are not a free man (or woman) until you don’t owe anyone any money. To the degree that you owe people money, you’re a slave to them.  And I think there’s a huge difference between A) going into debt to buy a house or a decent (functioning) car and B) doing it to get the latest wide-screen high-def TV for your living room. The first is a necessary investment, the second, not so much.
            Also, getting back to Paul’s verse in Romans, even though I don’t think he’s forbidding debt, he is saying that if you owe someone money, you need to pay them as soon as possible. That really needs to be your top financial priority. If you agree with me that Paul’s verse doesn’t categorically forbid debt, then at the very least we need to allow that he’s telling us to get out from under debt as soon as possible.
            Ideally the only “debt” you should have is the “debt” of love you “owe” to each other. I need to see siblings in Christ as an opportunity to serve him. That’s the only debt I know of that God smiles upon. Everything else is—at best—a collar around your neck and a chain holding you down. I urge you, with God’s help, to get them off. It’ll feel a lot better, I promise.

Father God, I’ve fallen into the debt trap before, and it’s so easy to fall into it again. Please help me to be free to serve only you and my brothers in Christ. By your grace.

[Sept 10]—Keeping the Law

            What’s the relationship between the Christian and the Old Testament Law? We’ve discussed this before, but let me plagiarize myself a bit. The Law is holy, righteous, and good. The problem was never with the Law, but with us. Besides leading us to Christ (by showing us how far short we fall from his standard), it’s also useful for showing us his heart and his priorities in life. The particular applications of a law might be out of date, but the principle behind that law is as eternal as God himself, and will never change any more than he will. For example, his standard is that we sacrificially help those in need. That’s the principle. The particular application he set forth in his Law was that land-owning farmers were to leave the gleanings of their harvest to the poor. I’m not a land-owning farmer, so the application no longer applies, but the principle sure does.
            Today's passage is where Paul gives us an even deeper understanding of the Law and how we relate to it. Of course, when Jesus was asked what the most important in the Law is, he said "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
            If I love my Savior, I’ll obey him. I’ll try to please him. I won’t blaspheme, but I’ll use my tongue to praise and thank him. I’ll stay away from idols. I’ll do things his way in the areas of sexuality, marriage, child-rearing, etc.
            But—and this is an important point—mostly the way that I show love to my Savior is in how I treat other people. Yes, idol worship is disgusting to him. But a huge portion—even a majority--of this whole “obedience to God” thing is displayed in how I treat other people, especially other believers.
            That’s why Paul focuses so much here on our “horizontal” relationships as opposed to our “vertical” relationship with our Lord. The only outstanding debt between believers should be the “debt” of love to each other (because that can never be paid back). We honor our spouses and don’t cheat on them (in the mind as well as in the body). We don’t murder anyone (in the mind as well as in the body). We don’t steal from them. We don’t covet what they have.
            You see, if I truly love my neighbor, I won’t do any of these things. Not only will I not harm them, I’ll positively look out for their well-being. Love is the fulfillment of the law.
            So here’s a question on the side: Why do we need all these details? Why not just tell us “love your neighbor as yourself,” and just assume that everyone knows instinctively that that means you don’t steal from them? I can sum it up for you in three words: Deceptive sinful nature. As we studied in Jeremiah a few months ago, our hearts—and this includes our natural instincts—are deceptive above all else. It’s the easiest thing in the world for me to deceive myself into thinking that I’m loving my neighbor when I’m not. Therefore, it’s like God is saying “I want you to love your neighbor. And just to be clear, that means you don’t steal from him.”
            By the way, notice that Paul keeps using the term “neighbor” as opposed to “brother.” This applies to all our horizontal relationships, not just with fellow believers. As Jesus made clear, your neighbor is anyone you come across, especially someone in need. You love your neighbor because you love your Savior.
            I know, I know. Simple enough to say, not so simple to do. But’s it’s gotta be done. And by his grace, I know I can do better than I have been. How about you?

Father God, I sure don’t show love to my neighbor like I should. By your grace, please forgive and improve. I desperately need both.             

[Sept 09]—The Taxman Cometh

            Now we come to the subject that I’m sure you’re all waiting for: Taxes!!! People love to think about them, talk about them, and—most of all—pay them! With a smile on our face! Right?
            OK, you can turn your sarcasm meter off that’s maxxing out right now. Everybody hates everything to do with taxes, with the lonely exceptions of those who directly benefit from the taxation system, like IRS agents and accountants. And of course IRS agents are about as popular as cancer and cockroaches.
            But let me tell you something: People today have nothing but love and affection for the IRS compared to how people (especially the Jews) looked upon tax collectors in the 1st century. When Jesus (and the people he dealt with) used a shorthand list of your stereotypically despised sinners, tax collectors were commonly on the list. On the short list I just linked to, the passage in Matthew 21 is my personal favorite, since it links tax collectors with prostitutes as being roughly morally equivalent careers.
            Even under a system such as ours,  in which we actually have a voice in our government (like the U.S.), people only pay their taxes under threat of a gun. But when Paul was writing this, most people had little to no voice in their government, and the Roman Empire in particular was famous for taxing conquered nations onerously.
            But for us as believers, it’s different.
            Paul here tells us to pay our taxes. According to MacArthur, “The Greek word referred specifically to taxes paid by individuals, particularly those living in a conquered nation to their foreign rulers—which makes the tax even more onerous. That tax was usually a combined income and property tax.” And the same principle applies here as it did a few verses prior: Unlike unbelievers, we know that the government is an institution created and empowered by God. He’s the One who put the sword in its hand. But that sword—that threat of punishment--is not the main reason why we (as followers of Jesus) obey the government.  He tells us we obey (and pay taxes) “not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.”
            What does this mean? How do we apply this?
            Well, let’s first examine what it does not mean. It doesn’t mean that it’s wrong for you to take legitimate exemptions. If the law’s clear that you can take a home mortgage exemption, then take it. I don’t think it’s wrong for you to hire an accountant to look through your finances to see what you can (legitimately) claim. I also don’t think it’s wrong to vote for politicians who support the tax level you think is appropriate.
            What is not right is for you to cheat the system. Being a follower of Christ means that you’re scrupulously honest in all your business dealings, and that’d include your dealings with the IRS. If there’s a question about whether or not a deduction or exemption is legitimate, don’t take it. Don’t hide income when paying your income taxes.
            If the law says that you owe something, in taxes or otherwise, pay it. Paul sets out some general rules for us to follow: if you owe taxes, pay up. If you owe revenue (the word refers to things like tolls and fees to the government), pay it. If someone’s position is traditionally entitled to respect or an honorific title, then you don’t buck the tradition. No matter how much I might disagree with a President’s policies or am disgusted by his personal conduct, I stand up when he enters the room, address him as “Mr. President,” and show him respect in my conduct towards him. I show respect towards the position, not necessarily the person holding that position.
            I know that in this country, we have a huge rebellious streak. As I’ve mentioned before, this whole nation started off by telling the Mother Country “You can’t tell us what to do!!! More taxes? On tea? Well, we’ll just dump that tea in the harbor!” Mocking and standing up against established authority has a venerable tradition in this country. But when the zeitgeist conflicts with what the Bible tells me, I know which one takes precedence.
            Do my speech and my relationship with government reps reflect this truth? Do yours?

Father, sometimes it’s really hard to show respect to people whom I don’t think deserve it. But giving them what they deserve ultimately is your job, not mine. May my speech and money and everything else about me reflect your truth and your standards. By your grace.

[Sept 08]—More Questions About Authority

            I know you were just chomping at the bit to get into taxes (everybody’s favorite subject), but I thought we need to spend one more day contemplating some of the deeper implications of a simple statement that Paul makes here: “[There] is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
            Does Paul only mean the national government by this statement? No. In verse one he says that we must be subject to the governing authorities, but the reason he gives for our obedience is because every human authority has been placed there by God. If someone has been put in authority by another, he’s been placed there by the Almighty, and rebellion against that authority (with the lone exception of when they command us to do something contra Scripture) is rebellion against God.
            But we live under a system of rule by law and in a democratic republic. What about bad government? I mean really really really bad government?
            Was Adolph Hitler “established” by God? Stalin? Pol Pot? Fidel Castro? The Ayatollah Khomeini? The death toll, the mountains of corpses that number in the millions (about 100 million killed in the name of Communism alone) would seem to bring that proposition into question.
            Let’s get this out of the way. Yes. All of these monsters in human form were put into their place of authority by the Almighty. It wasn’t chance, and it wasn’t contrary to his will, and it wasn’t just him passively letting it happen. Paul’s pretty explicit here. Around the time he wrote these very words, they had Nero as Roman Emperor. Look him up if the name doesn’t mean anything.
            But we need to ask some clarifying questions. Does that mean that the Lord who placed them there agreed with everything they did, that he smiled upon their policies? When Hitler was planning the Holocaust, or Stalin was inflicting mass starvation on millions of Ukrainians, was God smiling on them?
            To ask is to answer. If you hesitated for even a moment on those questions, something’s wrong. You know him better than that, or I hope you do.
            Just because God puts someone into a position of authority has no bearing on whether or not (or how much) he agrees with their policies. The same Bible that gives us today’s readings gives us plenty of examples to make this clear. Think about Pharaoh. This monster murdered thousands of little Jewish babies. He then oppressed millions of more Jews, forcing them into backbreaking labor for his personal building projects. And of course the Lord expressed his hearty disapproval of these actions by destroying the nation that did it and which refused to let them go. But the Lord gives us insight into the purpose behind all of this. This was not an accident. The Lord didn’t just passively sit by and watch Pharaoh rise in power. He specifically says that “I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
            And this isn’t the only place the Scripture proclaims this truth. The Psalmist said “No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt themselves. It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.” In the right way and in the right time, the same Lord who raised them up will remove them. And he will judge them for everything they do.
            Why does God do this? Why doesn’t he give us leaders like David or Hezekiah, like Winston Churchill or George Washington all the time? It seems like really bad leaders outnumber really good leaders by about a hundred to one. For every David, you get about a hundred Ahabs. I don’t know why. But I know he knows what he’s doing, and I’ve chosen to trust him. The Bible proclaims it, so I can either whine in ignorance of his sovereignty or I can trust him.
            There’s another point to consider. I really haven’t touched much upon the passage in Peter, but there’s something there really worth observing. For the most part, he’s echoing Paul here: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority.” But he goes out of his way to go down the list of authorities: Kings down to local governors. This means two things we should observe.
            First, this includes local governing authorities, not just national ones. Your city council and mayor are over you in authority. Police are over you in their official capacity as law enforcers.
            This would also include employers and bosses. If you’ve taken a job, you’ve volunteered to be under the authority of your employers. If your boss tells you to do something, you do it. Show proper respect for everyone. We love other believers, fear God, and honor those in earthly authority over us.
            I’d like to remind you (and me) that this is not an option. These are not suggestions. These are commands from God Almighty. And we should not be obeying just because we’re afraid of earthly consequences. Like it or not, whether we agree with them or not, whether they’re good leaders or not, our Father has placed them in the spot where they are. Once again, it all comes down to one question: “Do I trust him or not?”

Yes, I trust you. But the world gets so dark sometimes, and so often it looks like Wrong is on the Throne and Right is on the gallows. Please help me to trust, and to obey, and to wait.