Be Wise This Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve.  All the presents are wrapped. The hustle and bustle is coming to an end. Finally, a chance to sit and open the Bible, and here is where it opened:

I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles, in opposition to the teaching that you learned; avoid them.  For such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the innocent.  For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise as to what is good, and simple as to what is evil; then the God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

Romans 16:17-20

My first thought was, “well, that’s not a very cheery Christmas message.”  And so I read it again.  It is hard, at first, to see the Christmas cheer in this verse, which very clearly contains a warning.  Watch out for those who create dissension and obstacles in opposition to God’s teaching.  Watch out for fair and flattering speech that deceives the hearts of the innocent.

Perhaps this is a perfect message for Christmas, a holiday that is supposed to celebrate our Lord and Savior’s human birth, but has become filled with wrapping paper, scuffles in the mall and “Holiday” celebrations so we do not offend anyone who is not fortunate enough to believe.  A holiday in which we spend more time talking about believing in Santa instead of believing in God.  I am as guilty as the next in terms of getting “caught up” in the “season”, in the obstacles and fair and flattering speech.  We say the words, we sing the songs, but what are we celebrating?  And at the end of the day, do we feel the joy that Jesus offers us, or just the headache of in-laws and high credit card bills?

Paul’s words to the Romans, are a good reminder today.  And his wish for them, is my wish for all of us this Christmas:

Be wise as to what is good, and simple as to what is evil.

May you have a Merry Christmas, filled with the Joy of knowing Jesus.

Father’s Love

I found a new favorite verse in the bible:

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!”

Romans 8:14-15

I have heard before that we are children of God, and of course that sounds wonderful.  But tonight the part that struck me was that we “did not receive a spirit  of slavery to fall back into fear.”  God does not want slaves.  He does not want us to choose Him out of fear.  To me, the Old Testament often seems full of fear.

God sent His Son and His Spirit so that we would know His love.  His Spirit surrounds us, not to force us into a relationship with God, for what kind of a relationship would that be.  (Can a slave love his master, or is he always looking for the day when he can get away, when he is finally free.)   But rather the Spirit is a constant reminder that  God chooses us. He willingly adopts us.  He is not stuck with us like a birth parent might be.  Not only did He create us, but even with all of our faults and sins, He chooses us again and again every day. He sent His Spirit to lead us to Him, if we choose to follow, so that we can have a real relationship with Him, so that we can run to him like an innocent child runs to her father crying “daddy” as we leap into His arms, with total confidence, trust and the purest love.

Father!

Forgive me for turning away.  Send your Spirit to lead me and guide me.  I want to be with you!

 

 

 

I saw God today

Well, the New England Patriots have made it into the Super Bowl once again.  This will be Tom Brady’s eighth Super Bowl appearance.  He has already won 5.  Some believe Brady may be the best quarterback ever to have played.  And some revere him as a football god.

As I watch the Vikings and Eagles battle it out to see who will play against the Patriots, the Bible opened to Romans:

The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness.  For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them.  Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.  As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened.  While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes.

Romans 1:18-23

How often do we exchange the glory of God for that of a mortal man?  It makes me wonder what the Nielsen ratings might be for attendance at church this morning as compared to the ratings of tonight’s playoff football games.  We idolize athletes, movie stars and whoever has the latest social media viral video.   We want to be like them.  We work hard for our own glory, our own reward.  We ignore the truth.

Since I was a child, I have wanted to be one of those who gets to see God.  And I am not talking about just seeing him when I die.   I want to see Him here on earth.  I have prayed for Him to reveal Himself to me.  What struck me in this passage is how foolish I have been.  We have the opportunity to see God everyday.  To witness His power and divinity.  To see the beauty in His creation.  To witness His design behind each of us.  God created Tom Brady, and George Clooney, and you, and me.  Each of us great in our own way, and each of us owing that greatness to our creator.  We see God everyday.  We just sometimes forget to recognize or acknowledge Him.  We become vain in our reasoning (see yesterday’s post on vanity).  We think it is all about us.

God,  Help me to recognize you in all of your creation, in the beauty of the sky as it meets the trees, the purity of the snow falling down, the majesty of the eagle, the amazing strengths and differences of the human creatures that you created in your likeness.  I am in awe when I watch some athletes, but I recognize that their gifts, just like my gifts, come from you alone.  I don’t need to be like them or be like anyone else.  I want to be like you.  I want to be like you made me to be.   You are amazing.  You are mighty and wonderful.  Thank you for your creation.  Thank you for making me.

Conquer Evil With Good

Another day marked by tragic events. I was led to today’s verse by the radio this morning.  Do not let evil overcome you, the radio announcer said, but overcome evil by good.   Tonight I flipped the Bible to Romans and read the entire section:

Let love be sincere;
hate what is evil,
hold on to what is good;
love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor.
Do not grow slack in zeal,
be fervent in spirit,
serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope,
endure in affliction,
persevere in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the holy ones,
exercise hospitality.
Bless those who persecute [you],
bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice,
weep with those who weep.
Have the same regard for one another;
do not be haughty but associate with the lowly;
do not be wise in your own estimation.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil;
be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all.
If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.
Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.”
Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21

This seems to say it all. If only it were easy to do.  Let love be sincere.  Love is not always easy.  Sometimes we just pay it lip service.  But God’s love is always sincere.  God’s love for us is true even when we do wrong  – even when we hurt Him.  Can we show the same love to others?

Weep with those who who weep (our thoughts certainly go out to those who are suffering). But do not  repay evil with evil.  Live at peace with all.  That is hard.   Even harder is this: bless and do not  curse those who persecute you!

Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit.  It is easy to to rejoice in God when the sun is shining.  We cannot grow slack in zeal when dark clouds surround us.  Even more must we be fervent. Even more must we ignite God’s fire.

Rejoice in hope — no matter the struggle, our hope in the the Lord, in His salvation, is empowering.

Endure in affliction — GOD will see us through!

Persevere in prayer — all we need to do is Pray!

Serve the Lord!

If we do these things, if we persevere in prayer and try to do these things, we will not be conquered.  We will not be conquered by evil. We will conquer evil with good.

Dear Lord,

Take care of those who are suffering tonight.  Wrap them in your loving embrace.  May they rejoice in hope.  And please bless those who have caused the suffering.  I pray that they come to know you.  Wrap them in your loving grace.

 

 

I found my map!

I have been gone for a week on a trip across country.  Packing space was tight.  And I left my Bible at home.  The week dragged on and I realized that I was lost.  I had forgotten my map!

Tonight, after a long day catching up at work and an exhausting week of travel, it felt good to open the Bible once more and read these words:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access [by faith] to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God.  Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.  For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly.  Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.  How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath.  Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life.  Not only that, but we also boast of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Romans 6: 1-11

Let me boast in my afflictions!  Work is hard and tiring.  There is never enough time for what I want to do.  The chore list at home keeps piling up.  There are so many regrets and things I wish I would have done.  I am constantly reminded of parenting mistakes I have made or things I wish I could change. Good friends have moved away, others are moving on in directions that will take them away from close counsel and guidance. Too many people are in pain or sick and ailing.  A niece and nephew just lost their caregiver to cancer.  Life sometimes just sucks.  Sometimes everything seems to be a struggle and every task seems meaningless.  The end seems too far out of reach.  And it is easy to put God to the side. My sins and regrets can feel overwhelming.

But I boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Indeed I thank God for the struggles. Thank you God!  Thank you God for reminding me that today’s struggles are temporary.  For reminding me that every affliction, pain and difficulty breeds endurance, and endurance leads to proven character, and character to hope.  And hope allows me to be filled with the knowledge of you and your love and your Holy Spirit.

You loved us even when we did not love you.  I love you Lord!  Thank you for providing me with the map I need.  I am blown away by these words:

“Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life.”  I have hope in the glory of God!

For there is no distinction

I love tonight’s passage from Romans:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, though testified to by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.  They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, to prove his righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed, through the forbearance of God—to prove his righteousness in the present time, that he might be righteous and justify the one who has faith in Jesus.

What occasion is there then for boasting?  It is ruled out. On what principle, that of works? No, rather on the principle of faith.  For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.  Does God belong to Jews alone? Does he not belong to Gentiles, too? Yes, also to Gentiles, for God is one and will justify the circumcised on the basis of faith and the uncircumcised through faith.  Are we then annulling the law by this faith? Of course not!  On the contrary, we are supporting the law.

Romans 3:21-31

“For there is no distinction.”  We are all sinners.  And we are all justified freely by God’s grace.  We have no grounds for boasting.  Our works on earth are not worthy of boasting.  We can not “achieve” our place with God.  It is only by his grace that we are worthy.  It is only through our faith that we realize this grace.

Thank you God for your grace and your love!  You are almighty.  Your grace is amazing and undistinguishing among us sinners.  Help me to not make distinctions among your children.  I know your way is the right way.  Help me to be strong in faith.

I believe!

Tonight the Bible opened very quickly to this.  I read the verses all around it, but my eyes kept coming back to this short but powerful verse:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: for Jew first, and then Greek.  For in it is revealed the righteousness of God from faith to faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous by faith will live.”

Romans 1:16-17

And all I can think in response is: I believe!

Evicted! For the Cross

Tonight I watched two Catholic high schools play a baseball game.  And mid way through the game one of the boys from our team was ejected from the game.  Not for fighting.  Not for cursing at the umpire or even arguing with the umpire.  Not for taunting or excessive celebration.  Not for reckless or injurious play.  He was ejected for wearing a cross on a chain around his neck.  Now , yes there is a rule against wearing any jewelry and so yes, he was in violation.  And in some sports a necklace can be dangerous — but in baseball?  When both teams are from Catholic high schools?  It warmed my heart to see this 15 year old proudly wearing the cross.

Fittingly, tonight the Bible opened to Romans:

“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach), for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.  For the scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him.  For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Romans 10:8-13

“For, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Tonight on the baseball field,  a high school teenager confessed that Jesus is Lord.

Lord,

Help me to spread your good news!  Help me to spread it not just on an anonymous internet page but in my every day life.  I know that you can save me.  I believe that you will raise me up.  I know that righteousness comes from faith and your grace.  Only you can save me.  You are my hope and my salvation.

Jesus is Lord!

Alleluia!

There is Dissension All Around Us

Romans is one of my favorite books in the Bible.  Today it opened to the end of Romans:

I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles, in opposition to the teaching that you learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the innocent.  For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise as to what is good, and simple as to what is evil; then the God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

Romans 16:17-20

“Watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles.”  I feel like that is all of us at some point or another.  Think about all of the arguments that occur every day, in your own life, in the world.  Think about all of the ways that we classify each other or otherwise try to draw lines of distinction between us and others.  Think about all the times we try to feel better about ourselves at the expense of others.  How many times do we start arguments or otherwise create separation between us and others?  Watch out for everyone?  Watch out for ourselves?

This one is hard for me, because I feel like I live in dissension.   Sometimes I even thrive on it.  I need to recognize that every time I argue, or try to place myself above others, or classify or rank individuals into groups, I create dissension.  And in doing so, I am certainly not serving the Lord, instead I am serving my own appetite, my own desire to feel right.  I am flattering myself and deceiving myself from what is right and what is good.  This false flattery weakens us, weakens me — it doesn’t make us better, it doesn’t make us right.  It pulls us away from God and his purpose for us.  It pulls us away from love.

Lord,

Let us be wise to what is good and simple to what is evil.  Let us reject the dissension around us (and that sometimes bubbles up inside us (me)).  Let us recognize it for what it is.  Provide us with the peace of knowing your love and knowing that there is enough for all of us.  We do not need to fight over it or try to put ourselves above others to receive it.  Help us to share your love.