“God, I’m sorry if I sinned in some way”

Ezra 9-10 … 1 Corinthians 6

We hear a lot of meaningless apologies. “I’m sorry if you took that the wrong way,” “I apologize if anyone was hurt,” or “Mistakes were made.”  But the reality of sin in light of God’s holiness doesn’t allow for wiggle room with insincere confessions like, “God, I’m sorry if I sinned in some way.”

When we are confronted with the reality of our sinful attitudes and actions, our response should be like Ezra — to throw ourselves before the Lord in repentance and confession. Not because we are worms groveling at the feet of a sadistic monster, but because, like Ezra, we know that our God is gracious.

“Even in our slavery, God has given us new life and light to our eyes. Though we are slaves, our God has not abandoned us in our slavery. He has extended grace to us in the presence of the Persian kings, giving us new life, so that we can rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.” Ezra 9: 8b-9

Upon arriving in Jerusalem, Ezra finds out that the people of Israel, including the priests and Levites, have been intermarrying with the pagan cultures surrounding them. His reaction?

As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled” (9:3)

It seems almost inconceivable that the Israelites of Ezra’s day could have fallen into the sin of intermarrying with the idolatrous peoples around them. God had strictly forbidden inter-marriage with other nations, because He knew that His people’s hearts would be led astray by these unions. This was not an issue of racial purity, by the way, but spiritual purity.

And much like patterns of sin in our own lives, Israel’s pattern of intermarrying with pagan cultures was not new. Solomon married many foreign women who worshipped detestable idols and turned his heart from the Lord.

We might have thought that Israel’s seventy-year captivity in Babylon finally cured God’s people of their infatuation with idol worship. But here were some of the former exiles, including the leaders, disobeying God and inviting His judgment again by taking foreign women as wives for themselves and their sons. No wonder Ezra tore his clothes and even pulled out some of his hair, a sign of extreme anguish.

In my more modern image, I picture Ezra doing a major forehead slap and screaming at them, “Are you KIDDING me?!?!”

If spiritual amnesia comes as easy to us as it did the people of Ezra’s day (and it does), maybe we need to practice our remembering.

Here’s a brief prayer checklist list I found that you can use each day to keep your memory of God’s will sharp in your mind.

1) Give thanks in everything (1 Thess. 5:18)

2) Ask God to search your heart and show you any “offensive way” (Ps. 139:23–24)

3) Don’t be anxious about anything, but bring your requests to God (Phil. 4:6)

4) Ask God to cleanse you from “hidden faults” and keep you from “willful sins” (Ps. 19:12–13)

After sitting appalled, and praying to God himself, Ezra gave the people this advice,

make a confession to Yahweh the God of your fathers and do His will. Separate yourselves “ Ezra 10:11

Being sorry is a necessary step, but doing something about it is what shows sincerity. It also can help to keep us from repeating the same mistake again. 

Maybe we should add a step 5 to that list in honor of Ezra…

5.) Take action in your repentance. Show it. Live a changed life. (Ezra 10:11)

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezra 9-10 and 1 Corinthians 6

Hupernikao: Overwhelmingly Conquer

Reading for today:

Ezra 7-8 … 1 Corinthians 5

It may not seem like there’s much of a time gap between chapters 6 and 7 in the book of Ezra, but if you were to look at a timeline of Persian rulers (and why wouldn’t you?) you would notice that between Darius (chapter 6) and Artaxerxes (chapter7) they skip a whole ruler: Xerxes.

And that name may ring a bell if you’ve ever read the book of Esther (if you haven’t, you definitely should). The book of Esther spotlights Jewish exiles who chose to stay in Persia rather than return to Israel, and Esther’s heroism in rescuing them from annihilation.

“…who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14b)

Like Esther, Ezra had a purpose to fulfill in his specific place and time.

We learn that this godly man was a descendant of Aaron, which established his right to function as a priest and teacher (7: 5-6). Ezra also knew the Word of God and lived it, which was one of the most important features of his life. He was skilled in understanding God’s law and explaining it to others.  Ezra’s commitment to know and live God’s Word was one reason for the impact he had for the Lord in his time.

Preparation. “Ezra prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach” (7:10). Our heart must first be put right with God before our life is truly ready for Him to use fully. Certainly, he can use anyone, anytime…but if we want to be all that God designed us to be, we need to start inside. Other translations of this verse use words like “dedicated, devoted, firmly resolved, and set his heart” to give us a greater picture of what this preparation might look like.

Power. “The hand of the Lord his God was upon him” (7:6). Because of this invisible and powerful hand upon him, the king granted him “all his requests.” I don’t think it’s any accident or coincidence that God’s hand acted on Ezra’s behalf, helping him in his endeavors. After all, Ezra was a man who had “devoted his heart” to seeking God’s ways. What a lovely illustration of God actively intervening to act on behalf of those who actively set their hearts on Him.

In chapter 8 we see Ezra, again, preparing not only himself, but all the people for their trip to Jerusalem.

Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods.” Ezra 8:21

As we seek God in prayer and fasting, we honor him and set our hearts on Him. We acknowledge that we don’t possess a power great enough to overcome that which is before us, but we know HE does, HE is.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Romans 8:37

The Greek word translated as ‘more than conquerors’ in this verse is “hupernikao” which means “overwhelmingly conquer.” It doesn’t mean “barely eek out” or “just get by.” It indicates a crushing victory.

Picture a wrecking ball.

You and I don’t possess wrecking ball kind of power on our own, but this verse tells us that through our great God, we have that power in us, available to us.

Ezra knew it.

And he knew how to utilize it, too. Not by looking within himself– but by preparing, dedicating, setting his heart on God’s word and trusting that God’s hand would overcome.

“I took courage, for the hand of the Lord my God was on me…”  Ezra 7:28

hupernikao

it’s fun to say

– Susan Landry

Today’s Bible passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezra 7-8 and 1 Corinthians 5

Overcoming evil with good

Reading for today:

Ezra 5-6 … 1 Corinthians 4

We’re going to hop away from Ezra and the daily readings for a minute here today and turn our focus to the theme passages that the FUEL youth campers will be examining.

I heard once that whenever we read the phrase ‘the flesh’ in Scripture we can plug in ‘what comes naturally’ in its place. So when we read in Galatians that, “the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit” … that makes a lot of sense. What comes naturally to us often (usually, almost always) involves what is contrary to what God’s way is.

For example, Paul gives us this long list of things in Romans 12, that pretty much all fall into that category:

Love must be sincere. 
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
 
Be devoted to one another in love. 
Honor one another above yourselves. 
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.Live in harmony with one another. 
Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. 
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
 
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21

When you read that list, which ones jump out at you? Which ones most fit that description of not coming naturally to you?

Honor one another above yourself. All of us struggle with selfishness at times, but maybe you really have a difficult time setting your own needs aside. Maybe you would put others first, but you don’t notice their needs. 

Never be lacking in zeal—keep your spiritual fervor.  Is apathy your go to? Are you difficult to motivate? Maybe you just feel kind of … blah… about spiritual things.

Don’t be proud. Pride is a tricky one, and one that trips up a lot of people. Enough that Paul reiterates his instruction again with ‘Do not be conceited.’ Was he writing to you? Do you care more about what people think than what God thinks?

Maybe it’s as basic as hating what is evil. That sounds like it should be a simple one, but the fact is that evil is often attractive. Perhaps you know that you are drawn to things you know God would not want for you.

The answer to all of these is not to try harder, by the way. Christianity is not about behavior modification. That’s why Paul ends with this, “…overcome evil with good.”

Again—sounds simple, and it is. But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Because it’s not.

Starting with a prayer asking God to change your heart toward those things that come naturally to you is a good place to start. I tend to believe these are prayers he loves to answer.

Our hearts and our minds are where everything begins. The way that we think will always affect the way we live our life. Always. And if our thoughts are rooted in a lie (even if we don’t know it) we’ll live like it is true.

Think about this. Imagine you are in a room and your friend, who is outside the room, tells you the door is locked. You try the handle and it is indeed locked. So, you go sit down and spend the day sitting in the room, assuming it’s locked all day, never trying the handle again. All the while, the door is actually unlocked because your friend unlocked it right after you tried the handle. You lived like the lie was true.

If you live like a lie is true, it is true for you. Unfortunately, much of the time we don’t even know we are believing a lie. What we do know is that we struggle with pride, or that we are drawn to things we know God says are evil, or that our life just feels like it’s falling apart.

Hidden lies are hard to identify. Problems are easy to identify. That’s why we start there. Start with the problem and backtrack to find the lie.

If you didn’t read yesterday’s devotion, go back and do that…it has some suggestions to help root out lies, and a book that has some great resources to help you with this as well.

I’m encouraged by the end of the Galatians verse, where Paul says, “They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”  What he doesn’t say is that we should somehow expect to magically stop wanting what comes naturally to us (the flesh). What he does say is that we can learn to control our desires, we can overcome them.

I have heard recovering alcoholics say that “Sobriety is never owned, it’s rented. And rent is due every day.” Overcoming desires that come naturally to us is a battle that we must take up daily. The battle gets easier over time, and with help… but be clear: as long as we are walking in a body of flesh, the desires of our flesh will war against us.

And in case that makes you want to lay down and give up, remember that you’re not in this battle alone. Stay tuned tomorrow to find out about the kind of power you have on your side.

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezra 5-6 and 1 Corinthians 4

Overcoming your Thoughts

Reading for today:

Ezra 3-4 … 1 Corinthians 3

If you were to get the Bjorksnas dresser from Ikea with all of its 678 (just a guess) pieces, are you the kind of person who would meticulously follow the instructions or are you more of a ‘this looks about right’ kind of person?

Twice in today’s passage, Ezra records that the people returning from exile did things “in accordance with what is written”

“Jeshua son of Jozadak and his brothers the priests along with Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his brothers began to build the altar of Israel’s God in order to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the law of Moses, the man of God.” (Ezra 3:2)

“They celebrated the Festival of Booths as prescribed, and offered burnt offerings each day, based on the number specified by ordinance for each festival day.” (Ezra 3:4)

What makes this even more impressive is what we find out in between these two verses:

“They set up the altar on its foundation and offered burnt offerings for the morning and evening on it to the Lord even though they feared the surrounding peoples.” (Ezra 3:3)

Even though they feared…

They did all these things, so careful to faithfully follow the specific instructions of their God, despite their fear. Impressive.

We’re doing a study in our Wednesday night class right now on a book about changing your thoughts, which leads to a changed life.

The place we’re at in our study currently is teaching us that at the root of any behavior that we might wish to change is a lie that we have (probably unknowingly) believed. We are learning how to identify those lies and create new neural pathways in our brains to (hopefully) eventually develop new behaviors. (If you’re interested, btw, the book is Winning the War in Your Mind, by Craig Groeschel .)

Typically, when we start to practice taking that new pathway, it can feel weird…it can feel uncomfortable…it can even feel scary. But it’s only in acting when we feel scared or uncomfortable that we are able to overcome the existing pathway and create a new one.

This scientific knowledge confirms what the Bible has told us for generations, which is that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2

The only way to overcome a falsehood is with the truth. And in order for truth to really permeate our mind it has to become personal to us.

Simply printing out a Bible verse and sticking it to your mirror isn’t going to cut it. Take that verse, pull out the truth as it applies to the lie you are believing and write a declaration.

Here’s what I mean:

  • You struggle with trusting God, so you decide to hang up the verse that says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” to remind yourself of the truth that you can trust God to take care of you.
  • Instead, consider taking that same verse and personalizing it by writing out a statement like this, “God loves me more than I love myself. He knows me more than I know myself. He has my best interests at heart and He can be trusted. If He didn’t spare His own Son, but gave Him for us all, I can trust that he will graciously give me all things as well.”
  • And then even shorten it further, perhaps, to put to memory, “I can trust that God will graciously give me all things.”

Write it. Speak it. Think it. And as you begin to practice a new behavior, rooted in truth, it may feel scary. But press through and keep at it!

Renew your mind and overcome the lies that hold you back from living the life that God intends for you to live.

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezra 3-4 and 1 Corinthians 3

Overcoming Fear with Trust

Reading for Today:

Ezra 1-2 … 1 Corinthians 2

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

Here’s a bit of a set-up for the book of Ezra:

Assyria conquered Babylon, then the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

But then Assyria got conquered by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire who went back and conquered Jerusalem.

Then Babylon got conquered by Cyrus of Persia.

Lots of leaders doing lots of conquering, making lots of decisions that affected lots of people.

Let’s talk about that a little.

This story has great implications for us today. In a world that can seem out of control, we can rest assured that God can move the hearts of leaders.

“A king’s heart is like streams of water in the Lord’s hand:
He directs it wherever He chooses.”
Proverbs 21:1

The book of Ezra begins…

“In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia…”

We know that Cyrus reigned from 559-530 B.C. and so can accurately date this book historically.

The book continues…

“the word of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The Lord put it into the mind of King Cyrus to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom and to put it in writing:

This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build Him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Whoever is among His people, may his God be with him, and may he go to Jerusalem in Judah and build the house of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. Let every survivor, wherever he lives, be assisted by the men of that region with silver, gold, goods, and livestock, along with a freewill offering for the house of God in Jerusalem.’”

Jeremiah had prophesied that Judah would be cut off from its land for 70 years (see Jeremiah 25:1-12 & 29:10), and here we see this prophecy being fulfilled.

Many people like to keep the Bible solely in the ‘religious book’ category. But today’s reading reminds us that it is far more than that. Scripture is an historically accurate account that we can rely upon. It is also an accurate prophetic tool (albeit one that we may wrestle to interpret at times.)

Trusting that God is in control brings a peace that no amount of managing things on our own can muster.

Trust doesn’t mean that we can see everything clearly. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. In his book Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning describes what I mean when he says,

“Craving clarity, we attempt to eliminate the risk of trusting God…We often presume that trust will dispel the confusion, illuminate the darkness, vanquish the uncertainty, and redeem the times. But the crowd of witnesses in Hebrews 11 testifies that this is not the case.”

The youth at FUEL today are considering the idea of overcoming anxiety with peace, and focusing on Isaiah 41:10 which says,

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Do not fear…why?

Do not be dismayed…why?

No matter the circumstances of our private lives or our entire civilization, we can trust that God is with us, and that he is our God.

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezra 1-2 and 1 Corinthians 2

Take Heart! I have overcome the world.

Reading for today: 2 Chronicles 35-36 & 1 Corinthians 1

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

You might wonder why our focus verse for today is from John when the daily readings are in Chronicles and Corinthians. This week is FUEL, a National Youth Camp in which young people from all over the country gather to learn and grow in their faith. And the theme for the camp this week is ‘hupernikao’ … a Greek word that means ‘overwhelmingly conquer’.

Every day this week, except for today, we will pull from the daily readings as well as the daily FUEL themes, to explore this theme of overcoming or conquering.

Today, I want to focus on the big picture a bit. Overcome what? How?

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

This verse in John is rich in helping to answer those questions. We might think that Jesus, who is the speaker here, is being kind of a downer if we just look at part of the verse. In this world you will have trouble? Not much of a pep talk, Jesus.

But if you’re anything like me, this is exactly the kind of pep talk you need.

The truth.

A little aside: A pet peeve of mine is people who sell things who won’t admit that their products have flaws. Their company is the best thing ever, producing the best products ever, which will of course give me the best results ever…Every. Single. Time. Am I the only one who would always be more likely to believe someone who is honest about the limitations of their product line or who is able to admit that while there are great options, there are also some weaker products to avoid? Rant over.

Jesus is laying out the truth here. “You’re a human person living in this world? Yup, you’ll have trouble. Pain. Sorrow. Heartache. Difficulty. Expect that too.”

But he doesn’t leave us there. “Yes, life is hard. Really hard sometimes. … BUT … hold on! You can make it because I have overcome all of it!”

Do you know that in other places in Scripture we’re given specific assurances of overcoming the hard stuff Jesus warned us we would face? Here are a couple of examples:

1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that God will provide us the means to overcome temptation:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.

And Romans 8:31-39 paints a beautiful and poetic word picture of overcoming a variety of troubles. Spend some time while you read this thinking about what you could use some overcoming in… Are you feeling separated from God’s love? Do you feel pain, even anguish that feels unbearable? Persecuted? Hungry for something but you don’t even know what so you keep going after the wrong thing? Are you in need, bare before Him? Or even feel in danger of slipping out of His grip?

Take heart.

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?
Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect?
God is the One who justifies.
Who is the one who condemns?
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.
Who can separate us from the love of Christ?
Can affliction or anguish or persecution
or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
As it is written:
Because of You
we are being put to death all day long;
we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.
No, in all these things we are more than victorious
through Him who loved us.
For I am persuaded that not even death or life,
angels or rulers,
things present or things to come, hostile powers,
height or depth, or any other created thing
will have the power to separate us
from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Chronicles 35-36 and 1 Corinthians 1

Detestable Practices

2 Chronicles 33-34

I have two dramatically different directions I’d like to go with today’s reading, and decided I’d share them both.

In 2 Chronicles 33:1-2, 6, we find, “Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years.  He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. … He sacrificed his sons in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced sorcery, divination, and witchcraft, and consulted mediums and spiritists.  He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, provoking him to anger.”

Did you catch that, he sacrificed his sons in the fire.  As repulsive as everything else is that he did, in my mind, nothing can compare with that.  That sounds horrible, and in my mind, he deserved a horrible punishment.

2 Kings 24: 1-4 tells the end of that story.  It goes like this, “During Jehoiakim’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon invaded the land, and Jehoiakim became his vassal for three years. But then he turned against Nebuchadnezzar and rebelled. The Lord sent Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite and Ammonite raiders against him to destroy Judah, in accordance with the word of the Lord proclaimed by his servants the prophets. Surely these things happened to Judah according to the Lord’s command, in order to remove them from his presence because of the sins of Manasseh and all he had done, including the shedding of innocent blood. For he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord was not willing to forgive.”

God annihilated the nation of Judah because of all the innocent blood Manasseh had shed.  God wasn’t willing to forgive.   As I read this, I have to agree that God was right in his judgement against Judah.  They deserved everything they got.

But this makes me wonder, how are we different from Judah?  We may not sacrifice our children in the fire, but we do have rampant abortion in our nation.  I wonder, in God’s eyes, how do those two ways of shedding innocent blood differ?  Which makes me wonder how much we are provoking God to anger, and what will be the end of our story as a nation.  I see parallels, and they concern me. 

The second thing that jumps out at me from today’s reading is that Manasseh was born during the additional 15 years that God had extended Hezekiah’s life.  If Hezekiah had died when he was originally very sick, Manasseh would not have been born, and someone else would have been king.  It may have been that Judah would have existed as a nation far longer.  In this case, I think we can agree that for the greater good, it probably would have been better if Hezekiah had died young, so Manasseh would not have been born.

I know probably more than most, how we long to have life extended, and how we may plead with God to spare life.  But I’m reminded of Isaiah 57:1-2, “The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart, devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.  Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.”

We don’t often think that sometimes the righteous die, basically for their own good.  We view death as the enemy, and rightly so, but this life isn’t our final reward.  This life is the test to see which eternal reward we will receive, life or death.  It’s easy to say, but hard to put into practice that we should live so sold out for God, that we shouldn’t be concerned about our life or our death.  We need to seek first God’s kingdom, and God will take care of everything else.


–Steve Mattison

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at Bible Gateway here – 2 Chronicles 33-34 and Romans 16

Fully Proclaim the Gospel of Christ

2 Chronicles 31-32 and Romans 15

Today’s reading is packed with so much good stuff, it’s hard to know what to write about.

I could comment about the overflowing generosity of King Hezekiah and the people when giving to the Lord, as found in 2 Chronicles 31.  But I won’t.

I could stress how God blessed another faithful king, as found in 2 Chronicles 31:21, which says, “In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly.  And so he prospered.”  But I won’t.

I could comment extensively on how Hezekiah trusted God completely when attacked by the Assyrians, and then God sent the death angel, who killed 185,000 of the Assyrian army.  But I won’t.  (Besides, I prefer the accounts in 2 Kings 18-19 and Isaiah 36-37.)

I could talk about how Hezekiah cried out to God when he was about to die, and God added 15 years to his life, as recorded in 2 Chronicles 32.  But I won’t.  (Again I prefer the 2 Kings 21 and Isaiah 37-38 accounts.) 

I could even expound on 2 Chronicles 32:31, “…God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart.”  But I won’t.

Since I already commented yesterday about doing things to build up our neighbor, I won’t comment on that even though it is recorded again in the beginning of Romans 15.

Instead, I’d like to point out Paul’s faithfulness in evangelism.  You may remember that Paul had a vision, where Jesus commanded him to spread the gospel to the Gentiles.  In Romans 15:19-22, we read, “… So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.  It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. … This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.”

It’s easy to pass over what Paul just said, so I’ll point out that according to The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, “from Jerusalem to Illyricum” covers about 14,000 miles (yes, fourteen thousand miles).  When you consider Paul’s mode of travel, and the difficulties he endured (read 2 Corinthians 11:23-27), you can understand the immense achievement of Paul’s missionary work.

For your convenience, I’ll include 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 here:

… I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,  I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.  I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

The real clincher comes in Romans 15:23, “But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions…”  Did you catch that?  Paul has traveled 14,000 miles and told everyone he could about Jesus.  Paul is basically saying, “But since there’s nobody else to tell (because they’ve all heard now); I’m done here; so I’ll finally come to visit you.”

What an astounding accomplishment.  What an astounding example.

Jesus commanded His disciples to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey all that Jesus commanded.  And part of what was commanded includes making more disciples.  So, through the Great Commission, Jesus commanded you and me to share the good news about Jesus with the whole world.  Maybe we weren’t told as directly as Paul was, but we were told.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t say, “since I’ve told everybody I know about Jesus, I need to move on to find more people to tell.”  I think all of us need a good reminder that God still expects us to make disciples today.
–Steve Mattison

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Chronicles 31-32 and Romans 15

Peace and Building Up

Romans 14

So far this week, I’ve been focusing on the Old Testament reading, since fewer people are as familiar with the Old Testament, and there is a lot to learn from it.  But today, I’d like to point out something from Romans 14.

Romans 14 is written to “strong” Christians, and discussed the topic of doing things that may offend a brother (i.e. cause someone to stumble into sin).  Back in the day, apparently there were some who felt they shouldn’t eat meat, because it may have been sacrificed to an idol.  But since we know idols are nothing, it’s fine to eat meat, as long as we thank God for it.  But here comes the rub, in Romans 14:15, “If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love.  Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.”

It continues in Romans 14:19 by saying, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”  And in Romans 14:21, “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.”

I share this because it hits me personally.  Years ago, we had someone in our church who thought it was a sin to drink wine.  I happened to drink wine (sparingly, but still…).  Somehow, it came up that I drank, and he came to me to point out my sin.  I was familiar with this passage, and others like it, and knew it wasn’t a sin to drink, but it’s a sin to get drunk.  Of course I thanked him for his concern and for pointing this out, while secretly I was scoffing.

But Beth, my late wife, pointed out 1 Corinthians 8:9, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.”  In my arrogance, I was quick to point out that he was the weak one here, and I am the strong one.  That was irrelevant.  I was commanded to do things that lead to peace and to not put a stumbling block in front of the weak.  So, with Beth’s persistence, I was able to comply.

This points out a truth I’ve come to understand over the years.  Many times, we may recognize what God has to say, but we don’t necessarily want to do it.  In cases like these, I have found that it really helps to have an accountability partner to help hold us accountable, to do what God demands, even if we don’t necessarily want to obey.  And ultimately, obeying God works out best for everybody.

So if you haven’t considered having an accountability partner before, you may want to consider how this could be used to draw you closer to God.

-Steve Mattison

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Chronicles 29-30 and Romans 14

Governing Authorities

2 Chronicles 27-28 and Romans 13

In today’s reading, we read about Jotham, in 2 Chronicles 27:6, that “Jotham grew powerful because he walked steadfastly before the Lord his God.”  Then about his successor, Ahaz, in 2 Chronicles 28:19, “The Lord had humbled Judah because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had promoted wickedness in Judah and had been most unfaithful to the Lord.”

Then in Romans 13:1, we read, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.  The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

Wait a minute, in the Old Testament reading, we read about a good king, and the blessings that came because of his faithfulness, then we read about a wicked king, and the punishment that came because of his unfaithfulness.  And then in the New Testament reading, we’re told to submit to all governing authorities, because God has established them?  This doesn’t seem to make sense.  Shouldn’t we submit to good rulers, and rebel against bad rulers?

As intuitively right as this seems, this isn’t what God commands us to do.  By submitting to authority, God isn’t telling us to take part in their sins, or even endorse their sins.  But we do need to submit to governing authorities.  Period.  I have known of Christians who refused to pay taxes, because they alleged those taxes went to fund wicked practices.  But God demands submission.  We, as Christians, need to submit to ruling authorities.  We must pay our taxes (in this example), because that is our responsibility.  We aren’t responsible for how those taxes are spent.  Judgement for that will fall on someone else’s head.

Romans 13:2 goes on to say, “Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves.”  You may complain about my pointing this out, but God is the one who said it, so if you have a complaint, take it up with Him.  This clearly says that civil disobedience is sin.  Period.

Romans 13 goes on to say in verse 7, “Give everyone what you owe him.  If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”  I’ve seen Christians who have a bumper sticker that says, “Not my president.”  I think that bumper sticker should really say, “I claim to be a Christian, but I am a hypocrite.” or “I refuse to obey God.”  

The problem is, many Christians think that this or that political party will save them.  They don’t seem to realize that all human rulers are wicked.  Instead of getting so worked up about politics, we should focus on the end of Romans 13, where we’re told in verse 11, “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”

The bottom line is this… Jesus is coming soon.  Don’t get so worked up about politics, or following this leader or that leader.  Wake up.  Follow Jesus.  His return is very soon.  Don’t love this world or the things of this world.  Be zealous for Jesus!

I’ll close with Luke 21:28, “…Stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”


–Steve Mattison

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Chronicles 27-28 and Romans 13