Tag Archives: Romans

Something New

Note: As you read this post, you might ask yourself why I am telling you so much about my hair dyeing experiences. Trust me, there’s a purpose and a lesson to follow my seemingly rambling story.

In early July I decided to color my hair with a box of auburn hair dye that had been in my hall closet for about five years. We were on vacation for two weeks but didn’t go anywhere and I was starting to go stir crazy so it seemed like a good thing to do. The dye was more like a bit of highlighting, only slightly changing the color of my hair. A few people noticed but not too many. Within six weeks the color had faded significantly because it was the kind that washes out in 24 shampoos.

Then over Labor Day weekend I decided I wanted to do it again because I liked the slight red hint to my hair color, so I went to the store to get a box of the same dye. Unfortunately, that brand and color were no longer available (it having been five years or more since I bought it). So I selected another shade of red in another brand, though still the non-permanent kind that is supposed to wash out, this time after 28 shampoos. I took it home and dyed my hair the Sunday before Labor Day.

The color change was much more dramatic this time. I really wasn’t sure I liked it at first and was reluctant to go out in public as a redhead. Even my color blind husband could tell it was a very different color when he returned home from a backpacking trip at the end of that week. Many people have noticed and commented on my new hair color, and a number of them have taken to calling me Red. Even now, several weeks and many shampoos after dyeing it, my hair is still strikingly red. Today at church I had someone I barely know come up to me for the express purpose of telling me she really liked my hair color. Because the many comments I’ve gotten have all been positive, the new color is starting to grow on me and I think I will probably re-dye it when it fades.

On my way home from church I was thinking about how many more comments I’ve gotten with this dramatic hair color change then I did when I just highlighted my hair. It occurred to me that these experiences are a great analogy for the Christian life.

Scripture tells us that faith in Christ will change us. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV). But sometimes we are afraid of a bold new creation that God has called us to be. Instead, we allow little highlights of the new to show through. The change in us is subtle and noticed by only a few, just like my first experience of dyeing my hair with a subtle red highlight.

But if we allow Christ to truly change us and boldly allow His light to shine through, others will notice, even many people we don’t know well. People may even comment on the change. As Christians, as we see this new creation in others, we should comment on this change and provide them with encouragement. Just as receiving positive comments about my new hair color has made me feel much more comfortable with this change, the new Christian will feel much more comfortable with the changes Christ makes in them if they receive positive encouragement.

The apostle Paul taught us to encourage one another when he wrote, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” Romans 1:11-12 (NIV). Let us, then, mutually encourage one another to let the Light of Christ shine so that others may see the change He has made in our lives. Let us share the great peace and love He has placed in our hearts. Let us never be ashamed of the new creation that we are in Christ, even when the world scoffs at our faith. Just as I have come to appreciate the nickname Red, let us appreciate and rejoice in the name Christian, followers of Christ, His new creation.

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Revenge Is Not the Answer

I have been noticing lately how vengeful our society has become. People so often just want to get even with those of have hurt them, or maybe just annoy them. It becomes a never-ending cycle.

Last weekend we watched a Kevin Costner movie called Open Range that involved some innocent people being killed for revenge. Right now we are watching The Winner Is . . ., a singing competition, and one of the singers just performed Before He Cheats (by Carrie Underwood) that involves a woman getting even with her cheating boyfriend by vandalizing his car. Dwight Yoakam goes even farther in What I Don’t Know, with a man threatening to kill his girlfriend if he finds out she’s been cheatin’.

The theme of revenge permeates our movies, television, and music. It is even prevalent in the news and social media “discussions” of the news, such as when some argue that George Zimmerman should have been convicted and others saying Trayvon Martin got what he deserved.

But I think the example that saddened me the most was a discussion I had with some mothers not too long ago. They both had teenage daughters and were complaining about how difficult they were. I commented that I was glad I had a son because I didn’t have to deal with that. One of the mothers said something to the effect that when her daughter is bad-tempered and surly, the only way to respond is to give it right back. It occurred to me that she has created a never-ending cycle.

Then yesterday during my prayer time I read Romans 12:17-21 (NLT), in which God shows us a better way:

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

“I will take revenge;
I will pay them back,”
says the Lord.

Instead,

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
burning coals of shame on their heads.”

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

I’ll admit that it can be easy to fall into the trap of believing revenge is the answer. But God’s way really is better, and if we all obeyed the command to leave it to God to pay back what is deserved (since only He can see into people’s hearts to know what they really deserve), then I believe the world would be a better place.

Some time ago I had an experience that illustrates how God’s way is better. Someone did something that was very hurtful to me and didn’t express any remorse. I then had the urge to do something that I knew would be hurtful to them. It wasn’t anything really terrible or “evil,” but I knew that it would hurt them and I kind of wanted to do just that to “get even.” But the Holy Spirit stepped in and reminded me that such payback was not what God has called me to do. I resisted the urge to get even, though I had several conversations in my head arguing that I should go ahead and give into my urge. Instead, I prayed about it, crying out to God to heal my hurt.

Then, several days later, the person who had hurt me unexpectedly apologized and promised to never do the hurtful thing again. Just as God promised, when I left the outcome to Him and instead of seeking revenge was kind to the person who had hurt me, I was able to “conquer evil by doing good.”

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Choosing to Trust

I’ve been thinking about trust lately. It has been said that trust must be earned, and that once lost it is hard to regain. But it occurs to me that trust is a choice, and that sometimes we must choose to trust even when it isn’t earned.

I decided to check The Quotable Lewis to see what C.S. Lewis had to say on the subject of trust and I found this little gem:

To love involves trusting the beloved beyond the evidence, even against much evidence. No man is our friend who believes in our good intentions only when they are proved. No man is our friend who will not be very slow to accept evidence against them. Such confidence, between one man and another, is in fact almost universally praised as a moral beauty, nor blamed as a logical error. And the suspicious man is blamed for a meanness of character, not admired for the excellence of his logic.
C.S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night, “On Obstinacy in Belief” (1955), p. 26.

It seems that Lewis agrees with my thought that trust is a choice. (I always love it when I discover that Lewis and I agree on something.)

We choose to trust God in spite of the lack of absolute proof that He exists and is on our side. In the face of tragedy and the existence of evil in this world, we choose to trust God to have our greater good as His chief aim. We choose to trust “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 (NIV). We trust God because we believe that He is inherently trustworthy.

But to live we must trust others as well. There would be no basis for a civilized society without some degree of trust. Such trust can be difficult because experience and scripture often tell us that humans are inherently untrustworthy. The prophet Jeremiah observed that, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9 (NIV).

In spite of evidence of untrustworthiness all around us, we must trust someone. So we also choose to trust our spouse, our family, and our close friends; we choose to trust those we love, because as Lewis says, “love involves trusting.” Sometimes we encounter evidence that suggests even our closest beloved family and friends are untrustworthy—not surprising, since they are human. It is then that we face the real choice: to continue to trust or to give up on love.

It occurs to me that this is the point at which we must really examine the situation with a critical eye—not critical of others, but critical of our own hearts. If we can honestly say that we have always been trustworthy ourselves, perhaps we can justifiably decide to give up on love and choose to no longer trust. But I suspect that none of us can honestly reach that conclusion. To do so in and of itself is evidence of our own untrustworthiness. As the apostle John wrote, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8 (NIV). If we think we are inherently more trustworthy than our loved ones, we deceive ourselves.

One thing we can be sure of, though, is that we do not deceive God for He alone fully knows our untrustworthiness. “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7b (NIV).

This day you and I must choose. Will we trust God, who is unequaled in His trustworthiness? If we do, then we are free to choose to also trust our loved ones because we know that God is in control and will bless our choice with His grace and love.

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Before the Throne – A Poem

This morning as I was listening to music on my iPod the song Trust in Jesus came on and I started to think about standing before God’s judgment throne. Paul confirmed what is written all throughout the Old Testament, that everyone, even Christians, will face God’s judgment.

For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.
It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will confess to God.’”

So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Romans 14:11-12 (NIV).

It occurred to me that as much as I appreciate what Jesus has done for me now, it will only be as I face the judgment throne of God that I will be able to fully appreciate the magnitude of His grace. Just as Solomon did, “I thought in my heart, ‘God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time for every deed.’” Ecclesiastes 3:17 (NIV). Perhaps it is to fulfill His promise to bring us great joy and blessing that God will reveal, at the end of our days, how much He truly loves us. Only by revealing our great need for His redemption can He make us understand.

Before the Throne

I stand before the throne of God
He opens His book to my list of sins
His messenger begins to read
my transgressions, one by one

In my mind I begin to prepare
my defense, my justification for each sin
I think I am ready to answer
to show that I deserve mercy

The list goes on and on and on
Will it ever end?
My justifications begin to fade
My heart grows weak with shame

How can I stand before His throne
the judgment throne of the Almighty
I tremble in fear of His wrath, His righteous judgment
I know it will destroy me, I cannot stand

I fall to my knees before His throne

I bow my head knowing His judgment is true
Realizing I have no defense
I have broken every commandment, every law
without a single justification

Suddenly before the throne
between me and God’s final judgment
Stands the One who came to save me
His mercy and grace pour over me

I remember with great joy
that while I was yet a sinner
He loved me, He redeemed my soul
I trusted in Him and He is faithful to forgive

Before the throne of judgment and grace
I lift my voice in praise and adoration
Finally understanding completely
What His great love has accomplished

1/8/13: Shared this for Open Link Night at dVerse Poets Pub today.

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The Problem with Santa Claus

For many people, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Santa Claus. As soon as Thanksgiving is over, they start looking forward to Jolly Old St. Nick bringing presents to all the good little boys and girls. Every shopping mall has a Santa Claus waiting for long lines of children to sit on his lap and tell him what they want for Christmas. I’ve even known people whose only Christmas decorations in their homes are Santa themed.

Now I will admit that I have a few Santa Claus decorations and we do hang stockings to be opened on Christmas morning. We even label some family gifts as “from Santa.” The spirit of giving that surrounds Santa Claus—which started with the very first real St. Nicholas who gave presents to needy children—is wonderful.

But there is a problem with Santa Claus. The whole idea of a Jolly Old Elf bringing presents only to good boys and girls contradicts the Gospel message of Christmas. We are reminded in Christmas songs that Santa “knows if you’ve been bad or good,” and if you are bad all you get is a lump of coal.

This is the story of most major religions—that if we are good enough we will earn whatever it is we want most.

Jesus tells a different story. Immanuel, God with us, came because He loves us all whether we are good or bad. He offers salvation and eternal life to all. It’s a free gift and all we have to do is accept it to be on His list.

Santa’s list of who’s naughty and who’s nice might seem to work for making kids be good. But long ago God showed that the threat of punishment or withholding of blessings doesn’t work to make people do what is right. “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.” Romans 8:3 (NIV).

That is why for me Christmas isn’t Christmas without the Christ child and most of my Christmas decorations are nativity scenes. And my favorite Christmas songs aren’t about Santa Claus but are old standards like O Come O Come Emmanuel, O Holy Night, and Mary Did You Know?

Which is why today I want to share Jeremy Camp’s rendition of that last of these on his recently released Christmas CD.

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What If Eye for an Eye?

The other day I was listening to Creed in my car and one of my favorite songs came on. The song is called What If? It asks the very important question about what happens if we take vengeance on those who hurt us. The chorus says:

What if you did?
What if you lied?
What if I avenge?
What if eye for an eye?

I thought of what is going on in the news in the Middle East and Northern Africa in response to an anti-Islamic movie that was recently released. It is a perfect example of the end result of eye-for-an-eye mentality.

I have not seen the movie, or even the trailer, and I have no intention of doing so. I am not interested in watching a movie that purposely insults or degrades other humans or their religious beliefs. But I fail to understand how the violent protests that have erupted are a reasonable response to a movie. As insulting as this movie might be, it hasn’t hurt anyone. What if someone made this movie and perhaps even lied about Islam? What if those lied about avenge that injury? The result is violence and death.

This is certainly an extreme example of eye-for-an-eye mentality, and is not indicative of the mentality of all Muslims at all.

But unfortunately we see this mentality on a smaller scale in our everyday lives. When we are hurt we want those who hurt us to pay; we want vengeance.

Many people think eye for an eye is Biblical, and there is certainly some of this mentality exhibited among people in the Old Testament. But God does not call us to such an attitude. In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul reminds us to trust God for justice:

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21 (NASB).

My favorite part of the song What if? is the bridge at the end that says:

I know that I can’t
hold the hate inside my mind
‘Cause what consumes your thoughts
controls your life

If we cling to hatred and our “right” not to be insulted by others, then hatred will control our lives. I prefer to cling to God’s love and let that love control my life.

One last thing, a warning of sorts: If you don’t like hard rock you might not want to listen to this song. It’s pretty rockin’!

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Worship – A Poem

The past two Sundays I have not attended church because we were out camping both weekends with family. I know that attending church is not necessary for my salvation, but I miss it terribly when I don’t go (even when I’m enjoying whatever I’m going instead, like spending time with family or reading a good Christian novel).

I know there are some denominations that believe that missing church on Sunday is a sin, but I’m not sure that is the most useful way to view missing worship services. I believe that the clergy do a disservice to the Gospel when they guilt their congregants into attending Sunday (or Saturday) services.

Sin is anything that separates us from God. It is an attitude of the heart, not the location of our body, on any given day that is important. Attending church services is a privilege, not a duty.

I do believe that the act of corporate worship is important when it strengthens our relationship with God and with one another. It is an essential part of the Christian life because the Christian life is one grounded in relationship. Habitual avoidance of church can certainly lead to a weakened faith and tendency towards sin and separation from God. But occasionally missing a church service does not preclude worship of the Almighty.

As I thought about this, and about how thankful I am that we enjoy the privilege of corporate worship without fear of reprisal in this country, this poem came to my mind.

Worship

Hands lifted high
Our voices rise in adoration
Songs for the King upon His throne
The One who died to save our souls
This is our act of worship

Head bowed down low
On bended knee in supplication
Prayers to the King who does listen
The One who cried for my lost soul
This is my act of worship

Feet on the move
Sharing His love in appreciation
Service of the King who loves deeply
The One who tried to redeem all souls
This is our act of worship

Sneaking through the night
Seeking others in congregation
To learn of the King who reigns eternal
The One who died to save their souls
This is their act of worship

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritualact of worship. Do not conform any longer 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 12:1-2 (NIV).

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No Condemnation in Christ

I’ve been reading through the Psalms in a book called The Psalms for Prayer. Each Psalm includes a short descriptive paragraph at the beginning, a suggested Bible passage to read, and suggestions for prayer focus interspersed throughout the Psalm. The other day I read Psalm 24, and the suggested Bible passage was Romans 8:1-11. This is one of my favorite parts of Romans, and I especially like the first three verses:

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. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. Romans 8:1-3 (NIV).

This passage is a great reminder that the purpose of the law is to help us realize our sinfulness and need for a savior.

The law is necessary for a civilized society. It is good to have an idea of what is right and what is wrong. But the law is powerless to make people always do what is right. Absolutely powerless.

But God’s grace is out strength and power to overcome; Christ is our Savior.

The dictionary definition of condemn is “to pronounce to be guilty; sentence to punishment.” Because of Christ, we are pronounced innocent and are pardoned from the punishment we deserve.

This morning I saw a quote on Facebook that said, “This is the Karma Café. There are no menus. You will get served what you deserve.” My first thought was that I am glad Christianity is not based on karma. When we trust in Christ, we do not get what we deserve.

The law can only give us what we deserve, but the God of grace gives us what we do not deserve. What a blessing that is!

So how about you? Are you still living a condemned life under the law, or have you been set free from the law of sin and death?

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It’s About the Heart

In church last Sunday we continued with our sermon series on the Essential Jesus based on the Sermon on the Mount. The scripture reading for the day was Matthew 6:1-18.

There are three things that Jesus talks about in this passage of scripture: Giving to the needy, Prayer, and Fasting. Our youth minister gave the sermon, and she pointed out something I’d never noticed before. In talking about these behaviors Jesus does say “if” you do these things, but rather He starts with the word “when” – as in “When you give to the needy,” “When you pray,” and “When you fast.” He assumes those He is teaching will or already do these things and He focuses on how they should be done.

Giving to the needy, praying, and fasting are all desirable behaviors and they can each draw us closer to God. But Jesus says we should do them all in secret so that only He knows what we have done. If we parade our good deeds in front of men in order to gain their praise then the praise we receive will be our only reward. But if we do these things in secret so that only God knows, then we will be rewarded by our Heavenly Father.

As I listened to the sermon and pondered these words of Jesus, I thought about why I write this blog. I actually had someone ask me recently why I blog.

I have to confess that sometimes I become a bit obsessed with how many page views I’ve had and whether anyone has commented on or liked each new post. And I clearly don’t blog in secret – I don’t think that is even possible.

But as I thought about what is at the core of Jesus’ message – that our giving, our prayer, and our fasting need to be a matter of the heart that are all done to draw us closer to God and not to gain the praise of men – I realized I’m okay with my blogging. I know that in my heart I blog because the writing draws me closer to God and because it is a way that I can bring the Good News of the Kingdom of God to others.

God has gifted me with a talent for writing and rather than bury it in the ground and keep it a secret, He has called me to use it for the furtherance of His Kingdom. I am reminded of a passage from Romans:

But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Romans 10:8-15 (NIV).

So I’ll continue to call on the name of the Lord and to be those beautiful feet that bring the good news of His mercy. I won’t keep His word and wisdom a secret.

Some things are meant to be done in secret so that only the Lord, who knows the heart, will see why we have done them. Other things are meant to be shared with all who will listen so that they will know Him, too. But all things are a matter of the heart and to whom it belongs.

My heart belongs to Jesus. Who does your heart belong to today?

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Out of the Heart

I know that we are not supposed to judge others (see Luke 6:37), and that only God is able to see into the heart of a man (see 1 Samuel 16:7).

But right after command us to not judge, Jesus says:

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:43-45 (NIV).

So even though we are not to judge others in terms of pronouncing their ultimate fate — for only Jesus is our ultimate judge — we can still sometimes tell what another has stored up in their heart, whether it be evil or good, by the things that they say.

One who stores up anger, hatred, envy, jealousy, and pride in their heart will often speak ill of others, revealing the evil that they cling to. They will constantly complain about and judge others. Having people such as this in our lives can be truly exhausting as they are difficult to love as the Lord has commanded us to love.

Each of us must be careful of the words we speak and be aware of any evil in our own hearts that words of bitterness might reveal. When we see such bad fruit in the lives of others it is a good time to take an inventory of our own fruitfulness. It is also a good time to practice the lessons our Lord has taught us about how we are to live and not allow such evil to spread to our own hearts.

Above all, I believe the Lord calls us to be a witness to and pray for those in our lives whose bitterness, envy, and pride can cause us such grief. Quoting in part from Proverbs 25:21-22, the apostle Paul wrote:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my 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 12:17-21 (NIV).

When Paul, quoting from Proverbs, says being kind to your enemy “will heap burning coals on his head,” what exactly does he mean? According to Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, this phrase signifies “retribution by kindness, i.e., that, by conferring a favor on your enemy, you recall the wrong he has done to you, so that he repents, with pain of heart.” Vine’s pg. 107. In other words, by repaying another’s evil with kindness, you might cause him to return to the Lord and be saved so that Christ might reign in his heart.

But it is important to remember that it is only by the grace of God that we are able to treat the one whose bad fruit seems to plague our lives with love. It is Christ living in us who loves them and wants to change their heart, to destroy the evil in their heart and replace it with good, who is alone able to give us the capacity to show them love. For it is when we store up Christ in our own hearts that we are able ourselves to bear good fruit.

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