Archive for February, 2023


“Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me” (Romans 15:30).

Paul’s prayerful request is for two specific things; that he might be rescued from the disobedient in Judea, and that his service for Jerusalem would be acceptable to the Jewish believers (v.31). Though both petitions resulted in the desired outcomes, God’s “Yes” would not leave Paul unscathed. The disobedient in Judea represented a rising nationalistic fervor, characterized by a militant fanaticism that condemned as traitors those Jews, even Jewish believers, who associated with Gentiles (1 Thess. 2:14-16). Read Acts 20-28, and you discover that Paul’s “rescue” was filled with hardship and adversity: detours through Macedonia, escaping a lynch mob, evading being flogged, facing bitter opponents, dodging assassination, enduring two years of imprisonment, surviving a shipwreck and a murderous plot by the deckhands, a venomous snakebite, and, finally, as he had long desired, arriving to Rome, albeit in chains. Yes, we are to be a people of unceasing prayer, but do it with the knowledge and understanding that even God’s “yes” can can leave you bruised and tattered…but fulfilled, enriched, and part of greater purpose.

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“Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain” (Romans 15:28).

Having made mention so often within Romans of his desire to do missionary work in Spain, one can’t help but wonder, did Paul ever make it there? While he made it Rome in chains, there is no biblical evidence to indicate that after his imprisonment, Paul traveled to Spain. And, though there are a few ancient, extra-biblical texts (outside scripture) implying that he did (1 Clement; Chrysostom (347-407), most modern scholarship rejects the notion that Paul ever arrived to Spain. Whether he did or not is irrelevant. Paul wasn’t a tourist, desiring to see as much of the world as he could; he was a missionary concerned only about one thing—the westward expansion of the gospel and the kingdom of God. That you and I are reading these words today bears testimony that his concerns and desires were fully met, and in far greater scope and measure than the apostle could have ever imagined.

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“When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me” (John 8:28).

When you long to know what God is like look no further than the cross. It is God’s single greatest meeting place with humanity. Being lifted up on a cross is the most unexpected display of not only how much God loves you, but also how much he is willing to suffer that he might have a relationship with you.

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“Now Moses was pasturing the flock… and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed” (Exodus 3:1-2).

When God lights the fire that offers us the awareness of his presence, and the purpose for which we should live, it usually occurs in the routines of everyday life; sometimes on a mountain, sometimes in a sanctuary but, most often, in the routine of the day. What Jesus did, he did in the streets, among the people, in the midst of human pain and lostness. Just as his life and ministry confirmed the presence and working of God, so does ours.

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“For they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to do them a service also in material things” (Romans 15:27).

That the Gentile believers of Macedonia and Achaia were willing to participate in a famine relief offering for the benefit of Jewish believers in Jerusalem (v.26), reveals their sense of indebtedness to the mother church in Jerusalem and her obedience in sending forth missionaries into the world, that all might come to faith (Lk. 24:46-48; Acts 1:8; 8:1-4). This may well be the most distinguishing characteristic between the living out of a biblical faith and the pursuit of consumer religion. Consumer religion expects and never reciprocates; it expects to be appeased and accommodated; it lives under no other authority but its own subjective and selfish desires, and never links itself to the larger community; it wants only what it wants and wants it now, or it picks up its toys and goes home. In contrast, one who lives the faith as a debtor seeks opportunities to pour itself out, just as it has been poured into; it invests itself back into a common family of faith, just as the family of faith has vested itself in you. Are you a consumer or a debtor?

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“in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Holy Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and all around as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ” (Romans 15:19).

The signs and wonders that bear testimony to the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God are visible expressions of an invisible reality that is viably significant. Knowing that the role of the Holy Spirit is to bear witness to Christ (Jn.16:13-15), the validity of God’s presence in such things is proved out by conviction, conversion, and commitment to a life of obedience, made known through the proclamation of God’s word. Where these things are absent, so is the presence of God. When the Holy Spirit performs signs and wonders it’s never for the purpose of “showing out” for the emotionally needy, but the calling out of those He would have be His people.

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“Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God” (Romans 15:17).

In a consumer market, swayed by popular products and personalities, it’s not surprising that even confessing Christians are vulnerable. Ask someone where they attend church, the likely response will be not the name of the church, but the name of the pastor, especially if that pastor has a large social media footprint and podcast following. Paul expressed concern over such cult-like allegiances. When the immature Corinthian believers were identifying and aligning themselves with popular leaders in the Christian movement—Paul, Apollos, Cephas (1 Cor. 1:12; 3:4)—the apostle identified such behavior as “fleshly;” that none of these were crucified for you, nor were you baptized in their name. For this one who determined to never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:14), I believe Paul would be shocked learn that there are churches that bear the name St. Paul. Boasting in Christ alone will spare you a great deal of inevitable disappointment.

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“to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:16).

In describing himself as a minister, Paul’s particular word selection is noteworthy. While he could have utilized the word doulos (servant), or a diakonos (servant or minister), Paul chose, instead, the word leitourgon, from which our word liturgy is derived. Liturgy is an ancient word associated with the handling and dispensing of the “Holy” as an act of worship. Seeing himself in such priestly role, Paul holds forth a self-perception vital to the missional task of the church; that having been consecrated by God for God, I can no longer distinguish in life between the secular and the sacred. Now, all of life is to be understood as holy. Whether it’s a kind or encouraging word to the disheartened, a thoughtful note to the grieving, a timely smile, an embrace of the lonely, each one becomes a liturgical, sacred, holy moment that proclaims to the world, the kingdom of God is among men.

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“Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7).

Remembering how Christ accepted you is of vital importance. He accepted you when you were unworthy, when you were a sinner; he received you and all the “baggage” from your past. In so doing, he initiated a transformational relationship that would move you from where you had been, and the course of destruction you were upon, to a destiny that will see fulfilled the redemptive purposes of God. If Jesus was willing to do this for the glory of God, our willingness to accept others is no less a glorious act. What is received must be given; what has been modeled must be emulated.

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“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem” (Matthew 16:21).

The life of faith is a commissioned existence oriented, always, to the future; to the pursuit and fulfillment of the unfolding purposes of God. Like any teacher of his day, Jesus could have focused solely on a local collection of disciples, drawing them ever closer into their own existence, self-interests, preferences, traditions, and an ever-growing preoccupation of maintaining what they now have, while convincing themselves that this is pleasing to God. A commission, however, is for all and not some, the many not the few, the lost and not the found, for Jesus and for us.

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