Ever feel like you just gotta get out of the house? You have no idea where you will go or what you will do, but if you stay indoors much longer, you’re probably going to lose your mind…can you relate?
Well, that happened to me and the Mrs. on Monday evening this week. We just needed o-u-t, OUT.
Not wanting to waste money or gas, we ended up at a park next to a reservoir, not too far from home. She sat down in a pavilion to sketch, but I felt like strolling. I wandered down to a large wooden platform at the water’s edge. I found that I could sit on the platform and my dangling feet would hover just above the water. The sun’s rays were warm, the slight breeze was cool, and sound of city traffic was barely above the level of a quiet hum. That’s when I saw it.
Above the pavilion my wife was sitting under, I saw a large puffy cloud that loosely resembled a bowler hat. While the breeze at my level was light, you could tell the air at the cloud’s level was moving quickly. So I watched.
Admittedly, I do not give much thought to clouds – unless they’re going to drop some rain. And if I happen to think about clouds, I tend to imagine them making their trek across our sky as an unchanging blob, just a fluffy block of moisture.
But as I sat and watched, that’s not what I saw.
What I saw was a mass that was constantly changing shape as it moved. It wasn’t uniform. It wasn’t symmetrical. The cloud, as a whole, was moving in a direction, but it was vigorously forming and reforming as it proceeded across the sky. In order to really see and understand how it shifted from one movement to the next, I had to focus on one small part of the cloud at a time. When my eyes moved to a new section – I could only tell that it was different, but I had no understanding of how the cloud made its new edge. All the while, my previous focus-point continued to roll into new areas of the atmosphere.
What really stood out was the cloud’s depth. As the cloud would billow and expand, stretching and reshaping, it was obvious there was a lot going on beneath the cloud’s surface that I was not able to see, understand, or predict until the movement happened.
Then it dawned on me…creation was giving me a lesson about our Creator.
God is on the move.
We are privy to the overall direction where God is moving history.
While history is happening, God doesn’t move in ways we expect.
When I try to take in the grandeur of God, I cannot see the beauty in His intricate details.
When I focus on an intricate detail, I am blown away by what He reveals.
While I am focused in, God is still moving in other ways that are outside my vision.
I am unable to keep up with all of God’s details.
There is a depth to God that we are not privy to.
We cannot fully see, understand, or predict how and when God will move, proceed, or pull back.
While even the best of analogies will breakdown (for example – God moves as He pleases, not because He is forced to, like the wind and sun move the clouds), creation can tell us much about our Creator. Both David and Paul wrote about this:
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the expanse proclaims the work of His hands.
Day after day they pour out speech;
night after night they communicate knowledge.
For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.
In order to have this teachable moment with creation, I had to sit down, be still, and think. After all these realizations had flooded my mind, I was convinced that I had sat there too long and my wife was likely waiting on me to come find her. I looked at my phone to see how long I had been there:
Not even 15 minutes.
In less than 15 minutes of looking up at the sky, God used His creation to remind me of His greatness, His beauty, and His depth. Day after day and night after night, the lesson was there, ready for me to learn – but I wasn’t looking or listening. For certain, I am without excuse.
Will you take 15 minutes today to look at creation…and see His eternal power and divine nature?
The heavens declare the glory of God, so let’s take just a few moments…and look up.
Filtering by Category: Romans
Ever feel like you just gotta get out of the house? You have no idea where you will go or what you will do, but if you stay indoors much longer, you’re probably going to lose your mind…can you relate?
Ever get the urge to just “knock some sense” into someone?
Or at the very least, give them a verbal beat down that will “set them right” – and maybe let us blow off a little steam?
Take Paul’s protégé Timothy as an example.
He’s in a major metropolitan city he didn’t grow up in, he’s (at most) 30 years old, he’s in charge of the entire Christian church family in the city, and Paul has charged him with combating false doctrine and incorrect teachings of others.
How much conflict is going to come his way? How many folks will be coming at him to argue with him? Think he’ll have days where he feels the need to put someone in their place?
The Greek word for rebuke means just that – to strike or beat upon, to chastise with words. I’m sure there were more than a few people (even some of them believers) who would have needed a strong dose of correction.
But look at how Paul says the young leader Timothy should handle those people:
1 Timothy 5:1-2
Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and with all propriety, the younger women as sisters.
While a rebuke would be a sharp, cutting word of correction, Timothy’s choice to exhort the person sits at the opposite end of the spectrum. The Greek word translated exhort means to call to one’s side, to encourage and strengthen by consolation, comfort, or instruction.
Paul knew his Old Testament well. As he directed Timothy, he likely had this proverb in mind:
A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.
In a separate letter, Paul reminded the believers in Rome:
Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
Going toe-to-toe with an angry patron would make it difficult for Timothy to reach them with lasting correction and change. Nor would harsh words model how God treats us.
One last observation to make. Did you see the extra note Paul included for Timothy’s interaction with younger women? With all propriety, [exhort] younger women as sisters. We’ve all seen it too many times. A high-ranking church leader losing his reputation, his job, and his influence for Christ due to an inappropriate relationship with another woman.
Men, hear me clearly – if we do not keep ourselves intentionally pure and sinless in this area, especially with younger women, then we are inviting destruction into our lives. Carelessness in this area will bring shame to ourselves and significant damage to God’s reputation in this life…and then we’ll have to answer to Jesus at the Bema Seat judgment. You don’t want that. I don’t want that. We must take any steps necessary to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
So, here’s Paul direction to Timothy, all fleshed out:
Do not rebuke and older man, but exhort him as a father
Do not rebuke a younger man, but exhort him as a brother
Do not rebuke an older woman, but exhort her as a mother
Do not rebuke a younger woman, but – with all integrity – exhort her as a sister.
Put these into practice, and you will reflect God to others.
There were deacons in the church I grew up in, but honestly, I had no idea what that title meant for them. Many Christian denominations have deacons on staff or as specially chosen volunteers.
What does a deacon do? How are they different from the overseers?
The Greek word for deacon (diakonos) translates into humble servant. While all Christians are called to serve others like Christ did, the early church found themselves in a situation where they needed officially identified servants to address specific needs in the church family. Here’s how the apostles in Jerusalem established this office:
Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry.
This division of labor makes a whole lot of sense. We can’t expect our church’s pastors and overseers to handle every single ministry need of the congregation. Notice that these first deacons were to be highly regarded men from within the church family – but their role as an official church servant was to then be appointed by the church leadership.
Paul wanted to keep this balance of structure within the churches outside of Jerusalem as well. After explaining to Timothy the qualifications necessary to be an overseer, Paul then turns his attention to the qualifications necessary to be a humble servant for the congregation:
1 Timothy 3:8-13
Deacons, likewise, should be worthy of respect, not hypocritical, not drinking a lot of wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And they must also be tested first; if they prove blameless, then they can serve as deacons.
Wives, too, must be worthy of respect, not slanderers, self-controlled, faithful in everything. Deacons must be husbands of one wife, managing their children and their own households competently. For those who have served well as deacons acquire a good standing for themselves, and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
Paul’s directions to Timothy do not list what places a deacon is to serve; rather, Paul is more concerned that Timothy understands the type of person who would be allowed to represent the church’s ministry to others by their serving.
It should be noted, too, that the Greek word for wives is often translated as “wife” or simply “women”, depending on the context of the word. Commentators have made reasonable arguments for either interpretation here – that Paul is referring to qualifications for the wife of a deacon, or that Paul is allowing for women to also hold the deacon-servant role within the church. Supporters for the latter interpretation often refer to Paul’s comments at the end of his letter to the Roman believers:
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant (diakonos) of the church in Cenchreae.
Additionally, with the deacon role’s subordination and support function for the activities of the church’s overseers, having both men and women official serve the church would fit nicely into the leadership model Paul describe just a few verses prior (see 1 Timothy 2:1-15).
Paul then closes out his discussion about deacons by reminding Timothy of the two-fold reward available to those who serve well in this capacity. First, that by their quality service, a good standing and reputation would be enjoyed by both them personally and the church corporately. Secondly, a quality deacon would imitate Jesus’ servanthood so well that they would acquire a great boldness in the faith. The Apostle John also believed that obtaining this boldness was worth working toward:
1 John 2:28
So now, little children, remain in Him, so that when He appears we may have boldness and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.
A deacon’s actions are a great help to the pastors and overseers, allowing them to focus on spiritual needs of the congregation through teaching and prayer. Serving and ministering the physical needs of the church congregation is an important and rewarding labor, which is why Paul wanted Timothy to carefully select those who would serve in this manner.
Think of a major accomplishment in your life. To get there, you had to work hard. Perhaps you worked for a long time, even years. Significant progress was made, and you know – more than anyone else – how much effort and time and worry and late nights went into finally “arriving.”
Maybe your mountain is a promotion or tenure. Maybe it’s a high school or college degree. Maybe it’s the applause of your peers, the community, or even your family. We strive and work toward many noble goals in this life – financial freedom, career advancement, raising a family, business success, doing adult-things and doing them well.
Whenever we get to the point where we feel like “we’ve arrived”, there’s a seemingly innocent urge that sneaks into our minds. While we relish the moment and reflect on the work that got us there, there is also a subtle tug to coast (just a little) and take it easy.
Now, don’t misunderstand me…rest is good. Rest is Biblical. God rested after six days of creation. However, when rest is complete, we will have to make a choice – will we allow our rest to become self-indulgent, or will we face the difficult question of what to do next?
As Paul was finishing up his letter to the believers in Rome, he touched on several practical issues. He approached these issues from two sides – from those believers who had already arrived at maturity and those who had not yet matured. We find that kind of mixed company in the church today also. Here, Paul talks about the responsibility of those who have developed a strong relationship with God:
Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, in order to build him up. For even the Messiah did not please Himself.
When we have a mature, developed relationship with God, it is not time to be self-centered. God doesn’t want us to sit around being full of ourselves. Rather, He wants us to leverage our development in a way that pleases our neighbor.
And this kind of pleasing isn’t about just making them feel happy, either. We are to purposely act for their good, encouraging them and building them up so they can experience and live out the same kind of relationship we have with the Father.
Honestly, even for someone who has walked with God for a long time – developing others is hard. Building up a fellow believer can be really messy sometimes, it’s not a give-advice-once-and-be-done kind of thing. In case we have any question as to what that looks like, Paul says that the model for the mature believer to follow is Christ’s example. Jesus found motivation to continue on, complete His mission, and please His Father by looking ahead to the mission’s end result.
A few verses later, Paul points his audience toward the end result of building up their fellow believers:
Now may the God of endurance and encouragement grant you agreement with one another, according to Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a unified mind and voice.
That’s the goal here, humanity’s created purpose – to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and for us to do so with a unified mind and voice. We who are strong and mature are to bear with those who haven’t made it yet. Not just to tolerate them, either. After we build them up to maturity, together we can all give God the glory He deserves.
David’s psalm started with fear and a request for protection from his enemies. Once God steps in and rescues him, David begins to sing God’s praises.
I will praise You, Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to You among the nations.
For Your faithful love is as high as the heavens;
Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
God, be exalted above the heavens;
let Your glory be over the whole earth.
The key to David’s rejoicing and praise toward God is found in a special phrase used in this section of the psalm. David identifies God’s faithful love as the reason for singing God’s praises.
The Hebrew word translated as faithful love is hesed. Hesed means to have a zeal (in a good sense) in love and kindness toward any one; it especially refers to the grace, favor, mercy God shows toward men or that one person may show to another.
It was this portion of God’s character that David was banking on when he petitioned God for refuge and shelter as his enemies closed in. David says that God’s hesed is so great that it fills all the skies of the entire earth. If that aspect of God’s character is true – and it is – then David felt that he could confidently approach God with his request for shelter.
When we recognize the magnitude of grace, favor, and mercy God has shown us…well, take a look at how Paul described God’s feelings for us:
Romans 8:31-32 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He did not even spare His own Son, but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything?
A few verses later, Paul adds:
Romans 8:38-39 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!
In a word, he’s crazy about us. We can count on God’s hesed towards believers. As a result, when trials come, we can have the same confidence as David to approach God with requests for refuge. We can find shelter and rest in Him because of His faithful love toward us.
Most Christians are familiar with the story of Peter denying Christ three times. This event happened at arguably the worst possible time – after Jesus had been arrested and then brought before the Jewish religious leaders at a secretive, illegal nighttime tribunal. Even though Jesus being deserted by all of His disciples was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, none of them saw it coming.
During the Last Supper, Jesus had given this warning:
Luke 22:31-32 “Simon, Simon, look out! Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
The “you” in Satan has asked to shift you like wheat is plural. Sifting wheat was a filtering process that removed dirt, rocks, and chaff from the valuable wheat kernels. Satan certainly wasn’t advocating that the disciples be purified and have the chaff of their lives removed – rather, Satan was accusing the disciples of being useless chaff, and he wanted the opportunity to prove it.
The “you” in the rest of Jesus’ words are singular. The upcoming denial of knowing Jesus is going to severely shake the guy who has been known among the disciples as “the rock”. Jesus is specifically telling Peter that He has interceded for him, not to the exclusion of the other disciples, but because he will need to know this information. Later on, Peter will be able to look back and remember Jesus’ encouraging words.
When speaking of God’s unfailing love toward those who believe, Paul also mentioned a similar situation to the believers in Rome:
Romans 8:34 Christ Jesus is the One who died, but even more, has been raised; He also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us.
Christ’s prayerful intercession between Peter and God the Father wasn’t a one-time thing. He now acts on behalf of all believers. Jesus hears the accusations of Satan, knows our weaknesses, and then intercedes on our behalf to God the Father.
How incredible is that?
There are troubles on the horizon that we don’t see coming. When our failures in those situations shake our faith, we need to remember that we have an advocate. We haven’t been abandoned due to our mistakes. We can take a lot of encouragement from remembering that Jesus is on our side…just like Peter did.
Titus 3:5-6 ...He [God the Father] saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior
All three members of the Trinity – God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit – participated in securing our salvation from sin’s ultimate penalty. Without God acting on our behalf, we would have been eternally separated from God and unable to become whom God created us to be.
While our rescue from eternal death was God’s primary motivation, it wasn’t the only outcome from what God did for us. Paul continues and explains God’s motivation in providing such a great salvation:
Titus 3:7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
To be justified means to be declared legally righteous. Not guilty of the sin I’ve committed. Since Jesus paid the penalty for all of humanity’s sin, and I have accepted that he took the punishment I deserved, I cannot be condemned to eternal separation from God. As Paul said in his letter to the believers in Rome:
Romans 8:1-2 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
But did you catch what Paul was saying to Titus? There is more to a believer’s life, something that goes beyond the initial salvation moment and experience.
Titus 3:7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
I have often heard justification explained as God treating the believer “just-as-if-I-had-never-sinned”, however Paul is saying that there is more to it than that. We become heirs, we now have hope in an eternal future of life with God. Perhaps a better statement for justification would be that God now treats the believer “just-as-if-I-were-Jesus-himself”.
While I am now treated as if I were sinless, I am also received as a member of the family and brought into the relationship found within the Trinity. That does not mean that I become God, but I am loved as much as God the Father loves God the Son…which is an eternal, unbreakable love. We are given privileges unknown to any other created being…and it’s all because we are associated with Jesus.
Also notice how we are justified…it is by his grace. Not by anything we did or will do. We saw earlier that our rescue was not because of righteous things we had done, it’s all a gift.
How great is God’s love toward us?!
Did you know that there are some words common to Christian discussions, which are not found in the Scriptures? Two examples include the words “Atheism” and “Bible”. Try to find them in a concordance (a dictionary-type book that alphabetically lists all words used in the Scriptures), and you won’t find them. However, the concept of both Atheistic beliefs and the collection of God-inspired books forming the Bible are clearly taught within God’s Word.
Psalm 14:1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
God inspires the Bible:
2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Another Christian term that critics like to point out as being “un-Biblical” because it is not found in the Bible is the word Trinity. Many believers struggle to understand, let alone explain, the concept of a 3-person/1-being God. God has always been “one” in direction, purpose, and essence.
Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
However, we do find throughout Scripture that each person – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – are identified as God (Galatians 1:1, Titus 2:13, Romans 8:14), and each person relates to the others in specific, unique roles and actions (John 15:26, Hebrews 9:14, 1 Peter 1:3). There are many other Scripture references that could be used to further these points, but the ones cited are a good starting place.
While we may not fully understand all the particulars of how God is like this, we can certainly recognize the Trinity when we see it in action. Paul brings up the concept of the Trinity as he instructs Titus to teach the Cretans. Look for the actions of each member:
Titus 3:4-6 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior
When we read these verses, we find that Paul refers to both God the Father and Jesus Christ as Savior and also states that it is the actions performed by the Holy Spirit that saved us. The fullness of the Godhead, all three persons of the Trinity, were involved with our rescue from the penalty of our sinful living.
You can easily tell the importance of a project based upon the rank of the one who leads it. A project led by a Manager has a different emphasis from a project personally led by the CEO. Given that all three members of the Trinity participated in our salvation…the value that God placed on us and our rescue cannot be understated.
God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit acted in concert to redeem us, and not because of righteous things we had done, but because of [God’s] mercy.
When I stop, take a deep breath, and let that one truth sink in…it blows my mind. Literally makes my head hurt. I struggle to fathom it. It’s almost too good to be true, right?
Gifts are like that. Spend some time thinking about it, you’ll be glad you did. When you’ve fully wrestled with it, when you’ve accepted his gift that none of us deserve, there’s only one thing left to say:
Life is messy. Our selfishness and sin tangles up everything, doesn’t it? I can make such a tangled mess out of my life that I am bound by knots that I cannot undo…however, our sin-soaked human condition is made even more difficult as each of our tangled messes become interwoven in everyone else’s tangled messes. Every mess we face is caused by either our own selfishness or someone else’s selfishness. When we recognize our sin for what it is, we quickly realize that life is so messy that we could never un-messy it.
Titus 3:3-4 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But…
In our heart-of-hearts, when we are honest…that is who we were. Disobedient fools that happily chased and submitted to all kinds of destructive behaviors. We lived in constant suspicion and envy of others, hating anyone who appeared to have something we did not. Every aspect of our existence was focused completely on ourselves.
The word “but” always signals a change in direction. It is a key term to look for when we read the Scriptures. “But” tells us that the subject matter is about to change, that something different is coming.
Titus 3:4-5 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.
In direct contrast to the hateful, envious, disobedient mess that all people are in, God steps in to rescue us. God intervened in the mess of our sinful lives. When our lives were full of malice, envy, and hate – God stepped in with kindness, love, and mercy.
These qualities of God and his salvation are the polar opposite of the qualities we possessed.
And just in case we ever think that we maybe earned it, or we somehow convinced God to save us, or that we were “good enough” – Paul instructs us that God’s rescue was not because of righteous things we had done.
but because of his mercy – in direct contrast to any outside influence of our works, (because there wasn’t any), God’s motivation for saving humanity comes from his own mercy. Mercy is defined as the moral quality of feeling compassion and especially showing kindness toward someone in need. What better way to describe the entire human race?
We needed someone to feel compassion toward us, to act in kindness on our behalf, someone to deal with our need to have our sin nature resolved. We couldn’t do it – individually or corporately – and there was nothing about us that could influence God to act on our behalf.
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
While we were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures…living in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.
We couldn’t fix our mess. So God did for us what we could never do for ourselves.
As believers, how do we manage the battle that goes on inside us? Paul made the perceptive observation in his letter to the Christians living in Rome:
Romans 7:19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.
It wasn’t just the Christians in Rome who struggled with this. Paul also addressed how to deal with this inner turmoil in his letter to Titus:
Titus 2:12-13 [The grace of God] teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age
I think we all want to say “No” to the things we know aren’t good for us. Living a life that is self-controlled, upright, and godly certainly seems like an attractive alternative…but we also have some doubts about that kind of life. We wonder things like “Can I really live like that?” and “Is a godly life truly fulfilling?” and “What if it’s hard, or even boring?”
It’s at this point that many of us just try a little bit, lose the fight a few times, and then check out. We entertain thoughts that sound a lot like “I gave it my best shot” or “I’m too much of a mess to have any significant change” or “Maybe I’m not cut out for this Christian life like other people seem to be”.
When we have discouraging times like these, we’ll find us glaring at ourselves in the moment. We have a very limited perspective because we are narrowly focusing on a particular failure, or even characterizing our past as “bad” due to our present failures. Instead of looking back, we need to look forward. We need to broaden our view to include God’s future plan for us, both individually and for all of us who trust him as our Savior.
But if I should look forward, then what I should look forward to? What event am I waiting for, what am I hoping will someday happen that will actually be “good”?
Titus 2:12-13 [The grace of God] teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,
When we fail, when we say “Yes” to the ungodliness and worldly passions within us, the last thing we need to do is wallow in our sin and self-pity. Instead, look forward to Christ’s coming. God’s grace – the gift of Christ himself – continues to work in you even after accepting him as Savior. In the very next verse, Paul reminds Titus that it was Jesus
Titus 2:14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
Jesus has not abandoned us to figure out this Christian life all on our own. His mission is twofold – redemption of sinners and purification of his people. Today’s failures do not negate his purpose toward you.
So, what do we look forward to, what event are we waiting for? Keeping our eyes on his coming keeps us focused on Jesus, remembering that we are a people that are his very own, and that he is actively training us to be eager to do what is good.