Who are you to pass judgment ...

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. -Romans 14:1-4 ESV

Do you find it strange that, in light of these verses, people still argue over food. I know of one religious denomination that advocates the vegetarian lifestyle. The context for these verses was the way that some Jews were hanging on to the idea that foods like pork were to be abstained from. Apparently, the Law of Moses was still a strong force in the church at Rome. It is interesting how Paul tells people to not pass judgment after he judges some as weak.

I think that it is so easy to judge by outward appearances. One thing that life has taught me is that things are not always how they appear. Sometimes the ones who are the strongest on the outside are weak. Many times, people who preach the loudest about sin struggle with the things that they rail against. People will stand or fall before God. God is able to make the weakest stand. Our mission should be one that doesn't judge but helps people to stand.

Help us Lord to be humble encouragers and not pride-filled judges.

Decent lives for all to see ...

The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires. -Romans 13:12-14 NLT

The imagery of clothing in these verses fascinates me. What do you make of the idea that we are to shed the dirty clothes of bad behaviors and put on the presence of Christ? Certainly Paul is not writing about entering into some sort of hypocrisy and being someone you are not. So how should we read these verses? I think that he is saying that a Christian acts like Christ. The truth is that when we live an inside-out life we show the beauty of Christ in our hearts.

I love the phrase "we belong to the day". It speaks to me of how my life is an open book that is read by all I encounter. When Paul advises us to stay away from immoral behavior he is telling us to be different from those who do not bear the mark of Jesus Christ in their heart. He is not throwing cold water on the things that make us happy but is confronting us with the reality that people are watching. As he says, "We must live decent lives for all to see."

Shine through me today Lord. Help me to show Christ by my words, my actions and my attitudes.

Your obligation to love ...

Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. -Romans 13:8-10 NLT

The Ten Commandments embody the idea of loving God and loving each other. As Paul indicates here no one steals from another if they love them. Neither do they murder them or commit adultery with that person's spouse. When someone gossips or bears false testimony they prove that they do not love the one that they malign. In the same way a person proves that they do not love God when they treasure earthly things more than they esteem God.

Love can do what no written law can ever do. Love compels us to do things that cannot be listed in written documents. In the gospels Jesus consistently contrasted divine love with Mosaic Law. When a woman caught in the act of adultery was brought to him he showed us the weakness of that law. All walked away from judging this woman by stoning because none were free of sin. Perhaps we can only love when we first understand that we are all sinners?

Lord Jesus, conquer our desire to sin and help us to love the way that you love.

Pay your taxes ...

Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority. -Romans 13:6-7 NLT

Yesterday I wrote of how it is sometimes necessary to prophetically oppose governmental authority. I want to look at the flip side today and write about how we are called to respect and submit to the governmental authority. In these verses Paul speaks to us about the ways that we render such respect by paying taxes and giving money to a government that we might not agree with. He says that governmental workers should be paid because they too are serving God.

This reminds me of how Jesus paid his taxes with a coin miraculously found in a fish. In that gospel passage he told his disciples to give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's. In paying his taxes Jesus showed respect for the government and gave us an example of how we should submit to human authority. Jesus also commended a widow who gave all she had at the temple and showed us how we should honor God.

Keep us dear Lord from the love of money. Help us to respect and honor the authority we are under by paying taxes.

Keep a clear conscience ...

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. ... The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience. -Romans 13:1,4,5 NLT

I wonder what American revolutionists who were Christians thought when they read the words (in the King James of course) "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers"? Christian Brits like the preacher John Wesley thought the Colonists had no business rebelling - he said that they "enjoyed their liberty in as full manner as I do". And when Paul wrote these words the Israeli nation was under the harsh thumb of the Roman Empire. Authority is a complex issue.

Martin Luther King, Jr. bucked the authorities in the Deep South and proved to be a courageous prophet. Jesus spoke of such prophets being killed in Israel. Often a government or a leader is corrupt and must be prophetically opposed the way that the prophet Nathan opposed King David. That said, I think that we should take Paul's words to heart and keep a clear conscience as we recognize God's direct and delegated authority in our lives.

Cleanse me Lord from any way that would be in rebellion to your authority. Teach me to pray for my leaders.

Overcome evil with good ...

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 12:18-21 NIV

I think that we often forget what the apostle James instructs when he writes how "human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires". There is no room for payback in the kingdom of God because revenge is evil and it is the polar opposite of love. I think that even the wrath of God is not what many of us to imagine it to be. Doubtful that God is watching over those who oppose us waiting to trip them up and avenge the wrongs done to us. God is love.

Ever wonder what the significance of burning coals is? I have read that in eastern villages one would rise first and build a fire. Then the burning coals from the fire would be distributed throughout the village in pottery balanced on a boy's head. It was a pleasant task because the coals gave warmth to the boy's head. I love that image! It reminds me of how we can overcome evil by sharing the warmth of God with others by caring for those who do not love us.

Help me to be your hands and your feet today Lord. Cause me to carry your love to others in my village.

Live at peace with everyone ...

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. -Romans 12:14-18 NIV

It is hard to look at the life of Jesus in the gospels and see a person that was at peace with everyone. On many occasions he deliberately confronted religious leaders and made them angry. Christ's life, I believe, is the proper backdrop for Paul's instructions in these verses. He is not telling us to be doormats for the bullies of the world. Neither is he saying that it will always be possible to live in harmony with those oppose the gospel of Christ.

So what is he saying? I think that he is speaking about what it means to love everyone - friends and enemies. To love some means to see the best in those who treat you badly. To love others is not to self-righteously judge those who have fallen on hard times. Love is what Paul means when he speaks of doing what is right in everyone's eyes. In truth peace can only come from a love that is unconditional in nature and willing to put others interests above our own.

Teach us to love the way that you love Lord Jesus. Remind us of how you forgave your accusers from the cross.

Honor one another above yourselves.

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. -Romans 12:9-13 NIV

The words in these verses are so descriptive of what it means to live in Christian community. The ideas they represent are both inspirational and challenging. In this narrative Paul is calling the Romans, and us, to a devotion that is not attained by human means. For who has it in themselves to honor others above themselves? Yet is this not the kind of love that Christ calls us to? Are we not called to love and serve others as Christ has loved and served us?

The apostle goes on and tells us what this love looks like using words like zeal, fervor, joy, hope, patience, faithful and hospitality. As I meditate on these words I find myself lacking. Often I am not hopeful, joyous, patient or prayerful in affliction. In these times I need the love of the Lord's faithful people to encourage me. When I hurt the most I need the community of those with spiritual fervor to share love with me and to remind me that I am not alone.

Surround those who are hurting and alone Lord. Encompass them with the presence and love of the saints.

The proportion of his faith ...

Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. -Romans 12:6-8 NASV

Have you ever spoken extemporaneously in front of a group of people? It is an interesting phenomenon. You begin by speaking a sentence or two from your mind and then words just begin to flow. I somewhat liken gifts and faith that way. It is the way that the disciple Peter once walked on water. He began with the word of Christ. In faith he took a step - a very natural action. When his feet touched the water the natural became supernatural. So it is with gifts and faith.

In my life I have seen this in operation as I have exercised faith in God by exercising the gifts that he gives me. Often in conversation I might discern a wise word and speak it. Sometimes I sense a leading and I follow it in faith. Many times I read a scripture and simply obey it. God has given each of us gifts. Like the gift of salvation, each gift is actuated as we respond by exercising faith and moving in it. And as we are faithful, God increases these gifts within us.

Teach us to stir up the gifts within us Lord. Help us to be faithful with the gifts you have graced us with.

Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves ...

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. -Romans 12:3-5 NLT

This lifelong journey of self image seems to have two ditches - self-deprecation and pride. One ditch causes us to deny every gift that God has bestowed on us. The other does not even realize that the gifts we have are God given. A healthy self image seems to lie, somewhere in between these two ditches, on a road called humility. This pathway calls us to walk in full knowledge of our weaknesses yet with full confidence in God's gifts and calling in our lives.

We do not travel this humble road alone. We are called to walk it with others. In truth no one can be humble by themselves because, like a great symphony, one instrument often must defer to another. Sometimes our gifts call us to lead and other times they call us to follow. Paul likens these gifts of grace to parts of the body - the ear and the eye must work together to watch a movie. So also we must walk together realizing that "we all belong to each other".

Help us to be humble Lord. Open our hearts that we might know when we are to lead and when we are to follow.

Do not be shaped by this world ...

So brothers and sisters, since God has shown us great mercy, I beg you to offer your lives as a living sacrifice to him. Your offering must be only for God and pleasing to him, which is the spiritual way for you to worship. Do not be shaped by this world; instead be changed within by a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to decide what God wants for you; you will know what is good and pleasing to him and what is perfect. -Romans 12:1-2 NCV

I am struck by the dichotomy that Paul speaks to in these verses. Pleasing to God or pleasing to ourselves. Shaped by God or shaped by the world. The will of God versus the will of the flesh. Some might read these words and think that God wants us to live in a monastery. Nothing could be further than the truth. We must remember that He created us to be a part of his creation - to live in it in such a way that causes blessings to come every part of creation.

Jesus puts it this way: "If anyone wants to come with me, he must deny himself, pick up his cross every day, and follow me continuously." This is true worship. It is the living sacrifice that Paul speaks to. It begins with a new heart that has the ability to conform our minds in ways that resonates with the Holy Spirit. The changes begins within and bubbles to the surface in ways that cause us to live continuously sacrificially as we discern what God wants us to do.

I offer my life to you again this morning Lord. You are the Potter and I the clay. Shape and mold me dear Friend.

Who can know the Lord’s thoughts?

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen. -Romans 11:33-36 NLT

This passage screams one word to me - trust. By that, I am not referring to some sort of pie-in-the-sky positive thinking - albeit positiveness is a good thing. I am also not making reference to an ignorant hope that believes things will get better - often things get worse. The trust I am speaking to is the belief that God is wise, good and loving. Trusting in God is really not about us but is one hundred percent about Him - his love, sovereignty, power and understanding.

Sometimes people use these verses saying that we cannot know why God has done something. Often they are told that God is the one who, as Job whined, "gives and takes away". These believe that He is the author of troubles as well as blessings. I find it hard to trust God when he is painted that way. Better that we understand that trouble comes because He has delegated sovereignty to nations, groups and people. No need to blame God for our pain. He is Love.

With Paul we agree Lord - we are intended for your glory. Please lead us in ways that glorify you today.

God’s oldest friends ...

I want to lay all this out on the table as clearly as I can, friends. This is complicated. It would be easy to misinterpret what’s going on and arrogantly assume that you’re royalty and they’re just rabble, out on their ears for good. But that’s not it at all. This hardness on the part of insider Israel toward God is temporary. Its effect is to open things up to all the outsiders so that we end up with a full house. Before it’s all over, there will be a complete Israel. ... From your point of view as you hear and embrace the good news of the Message, it looks like the Jews are God’s enemies. But looked at from the long-range perspective of God’s overall purpose, they remain God’s oldest friends. God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty—never canceled, never rescinded. -Romans 11:25-26, 28-29 MSG

Over the centuries, since Paul first penned this epistle, many have looked upon Christianity as a European religion with headquarters in Rome. As the apostle writes, it is easy to look at the resistance of Jews to the gospel and misinterpret what is going on. As he says, it is complicated. We should not judge what is going on by external reactions but join with believers in every nation in hoping that the hearts of ethnic Israel will be softened to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We who know Christ must never forget that our savior came from Jewish roots - his mother, father and grandparents were all Jewish. We owe such a great debt to the faithfulness of the Jewish remnant that nurtured the message of Christ and preserved it in the scriptures. It is so easy to allow ourselves to see the Jews in the light of the unbelieving Pharisees and forget that all of the apostles were Israeli. Let us not forget that they remain God’s oldest friends.

Father, I am so moved that your gifts and your call are under full warranty—never canceled, never rescinded.
Cause me to always live remembering that that you will never leave or forsake me. Help me to be faithful.

Grafted in ...

For if the roots of the tree are holy, the branches will be, too. But some of these branches from Abraham’s tree—some of the people of Israel—have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree. -Romans 11:16-17 NLT

Trees are often use in the scriptures to represent spiritual ideas. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is central to the beginnings of humanity in the book of Genesis. In the last chapters of Revelation we read about the tree of life. In these verses Paul uses an olive tree to contrast the gentiles with the Israelis. He speaks of this tree with regard to the lineage of the patriarch Abraham and says that the tree has holy roots.

What do you think this tree represents? Is the tree one of ethnicity or is it one of faith. Is the apostle saying that gentile Christians become Jews when they are grafted in to this tree? Or is he saying that both Jews and gentiles are grafted in through faith. My thinking is that the tree is not ethic but spiritual in nature. I liken the tree to the vine that Jesus speaks about in John's gospel. Jesus is the root and trunk of the tree. We are branches that are attached by faith.

Help us today Lord to stay connected to the vine that is Christ that we might receive spiritual strength.

Has God rejected his own people?

I ask, then, has God rejected his own people, the nation of Israel? Of course not! I myself am an Israelite ... It is the same today, for a few of the people of Israel have remained faithful because of God’s grace—his undeserved kindness in choosing them. And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is—free and undeserved. So this is the situation: Most of the people of Israel have not found the favor of God they are looking for so earnestly. A few have — the ones God has chosen — but the hearts of the rest were hardened. -Romans 11:1,5-7 NLT

Once again Paul reminds us that it is not about the nation but the remnant. Not about ethnicity but about faith. Not about religion but about the Spirit of God. The apostle insists that God has not rejected Israelis but the majority, the non-remnant, have rejected Him. In the intervening verses he tell us about how the prophet Elijah felt all alone and wondered if he was the only faithful believer left. Faith can be sometimes be such a lonely remnant experience.

Some believe that the grace of God's is not available for everyone claiming that Paul is saying just that in these verses. These call such grace irresistible implying that a person does not have a choice in their response. My thinking is that these verses should be interpreted in light of divine foreknowledge. God should not be blamed for hard hearts even though he foresees them. And his love must not be blasphemed just because all do not respond to divine grace.

Thank you for the grace, love and mercy that you have shown the world. We accept these gifts again today.

How beautiful are the feet ...

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. -Romans 10:14-17 NLT

There is a religious tendency to read these verses and ponder the words "evangelist" and "missionary". For sure many with those callings have gone forth with this message of beautiful feet emblazoned on their minds. Yet I wonder if we have somehow interpreted these words incorrectly? I guess it depends on what we believe about the Good News of Christ. Do we see it simply as a way to escape hell when we die or do we see it as as way to escape hell on earth too.

My thinking is that it is both. With each word that we speak and each act we do we testify of the influence that Christ has had in our lives. Jesus proclaimed that the good news was about binding up broken hearts, setting captives free and healing those in pain. I suggest that this gospel is so much more about the present than it is about the future. The feet of those who bear such news and do such things in the name of Jesus do indeed have beautiful feet.

Cause my feet to be beautiful today Lord. Cause them to take me to places of healing, liberty and love.

All who call on him ...

For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” -Romans 10:11-13 ESV

History is replete with stories of people who called upon God in times of trouble. These often made promises to God of repentance - some committed to following Him if the Almighty would just answer their prayer. This is not what Paul is saying here. For sure a few of these cries for help have changed lives but so many have not. The apostle is teaching us about the cry of the heart - that moment when we abandon all fleshly hope and call out to God from deep within.

I remember that moment in my life. Watching my wife go forward for prayer my heart was moved and for the first time I closed my eyes and began to pray. I started the prayer by telling God what I would do if he healed my wife. A few words into the prayer I sensed a divine presence - I felt sinful, I began to repent and call upon his name. My life has not been the same since that day I called upon the name of Jesus. Calling upon His name from my heart changed everything.

Help us Lord to abandon our fleshly pride and humbly call upon you from the very depths of our hearts.

With the heart one believes ...

“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” -Romans 10:8-11 ESV

This passage compels the question: "Is it possible to be a secret believer?" The question is a good one. Is it really possible to live a life of faith that is simply confined to the inner recesses of the heart? Can genuine faith never surface and affect the things that we say or do? The evidence of scripture, and of history, seems to answer with a resounding no. Faith that begins in the heart always seems to spill out like a cup running over or a spring bubbling up.

These verses teach us that a generic faith is not enough. Paul tells us that our confession must be one of a divine lordship that can only be proclaimed when we believe that Jesus is alive. A dead savior can save no one. If Jesus did not rise from the dead then no one will rise. This is the gospel. Jesus is alive and He is Lord. Our response is to embrace this risen Messiah with every fiber of our hearts and to proclaim that he is Lord. In that God is glorified.

Jesus has risen from the dead and He is Lord. Let every tongue confess and every heart believe that He is Lord.

But not according to knowledge ...

Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. -Romans 10:1-4 NLT

The world is full of religious zealots. In 2001 Islamic zealots flew planes into buildings and killed many innocent people. These had a perverted and ignorant zeal for God. These were blinded by hate and did not have a knowledge of the love of God. In some sense all fleshly zeal is bereft of any sort of love or compassion. Such zeal is filled with pride and totally bankrupt of any sort of righteous humility. As Paul says here, such zeal seeks to establish its own righteousness.

What do you think the apostle means when he states that "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness". Theologian Adam Clarke writes "Where the law ends, Christ begins." I love that! One will not be made righteous in Christ if they seek to be right with God by hanging on to external laws, principles and rules. For what the law does for the head Christ does for the heart. Following the law has the ability to change our head but following Christ changes our heart.

Teach us Lord that we may have a zeal for you that is in accordance with your love and your compassion.

A rock of offense ...

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” -Romans 9:33 NLT

Paul wraps up the chapter once again quoting from the prophet Isaiah. In this brief passage he tells us that the gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive to a mind trained in the law. This gospel is good news for the heart but a stumbling block for the mind. In truth I have a difficult time grasping it at times. How can it be be that the most devout followers of the law ... the most sincere adherents to the Jewish religion ... missed this good news? It can only be their hardness of heart.

The scriptures teach us that believing in Jesus frees us from shame. Theologian Albert Barnes expounds on this verse saying: "The meaning here is, that the man who believes shall not be agitated, or thrown into commotion, by fear of want or success: shall not be disappointed in his hopes; and, of course, he shall never be ashamed that he became a Christian." That makes sense. Shame comes from our heads and is defeated by the faith that comes from our heart.

We are witnesses and embracers of your good news. Help us Lord to defeat the shame in our lives with faith.

Only a remnant of them will be saved ...

Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” ... What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. -Romans 9:27-28,30-32 NLT

When we think of the nation of Israel today we must remember the heart of what Isaiah prophesied. Not all of Israel is promised Salvation. Only those who respond to God in faith will be saved. Only a spiritual Israeli remnant will taste of God's promises. It goes against the grain for some who see the nation and not the people. Even so, it heartens me to understand that all of creation, Jew and non-Jew alike, is treated the same with regard to salvation.

It is interesting to me how Paul speaks of pursuing the law by faith. I love how he contrasts faith with work in that context. It reminds me that even following a rule can be beneficial when one follows it with their heart and not their head. Salvation cannot be worked for but it can be worked out. Following after God often means that we follow after the things that He has spoken to us in our heart. Sometimes faith and law work together.

Remind us today Lord of the things that you have spoken to our hearts. Help faith to arise in us.

Those who were not my people ...

As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’” “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” -Romans 9:25-26 NLT

I think that, from the very beginning, God has always loved the whole world. For sure, certain people have often believed that He loved them more than others. Even so that kind of thinking goes against the idea presented by Jesus when he spoke to the pharisee Nicodemus. In that beautiful passage the Son of God told the religious leader that God loves the whole world. A foreign concept for the religious leaders of his day who believed that God only loved Israel.

The idea that God actually loves me moves me deeply. The notion that He calls me a son of the living God changes everything. The familial relationship with God that Jesus introduced in the gospels is so revolutionary. No longer are we foreigners but now we are beloved children. Now we can speak to the Lord and he will listen as a dad does with his child. The love of God changes so much. We who were hopeless now have hope of being with a loving Father forever.

Teach us to receive your love Lord. Help us to see ourselves as your beloved children.

Why have you made me like this?

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory — even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? -Romans 9:20-24 NLT

The idea that God has made some "for dishonorable use" presents us with interesting questions. Is Paul saying that God is the author of dishonorable actions? Some think that is exactly what he is saying. Or is the apostle speaking to how God created each of us with the capacity to do things that are dishonorable? I tend to see it in that light. For if we each do not have the capacity to be vessels of honor then we have not all been made in the image of God.

When we focus our attention on the words "vessels of wrath" is is easy to skim past the phrase "vessels of mercy". Have you ever thought of yourself in that light? Perhaps we would all act differently if we did? Maybe this idea would totally revolutionize the way that we see ourselves? Being a vessel of mercy would mean that we would speak kinder words and act with loving compassion like our teacher Jesus - the divine image and personification of a vessel of mercy.

Forgive us Lord. We often speak and act unmercifully. Teach us to be vessels of mercy prepared for glory.

Is there injustice on God's part?

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. -Romans 9:14-18 ESV

Have you ever compared yourself to another and questioned why they seemed to be more blessed than you? I have. Occasionally I will see a couple walking together holding hands and recall the times before Ann was disabled when we were able to walk together. There is a wondering in that thought about the fairness of life and sometimes that sort of thinking can bleed into our spiritual life - and we subconsciously blame God for the the things that we deem as unfair.

In this passage Paul takes a stab at interpreting this image of fairness that we all struggle with. The story of Pharaoh illustrates the way that hearts are so often hardened. Certainly there was opportunity for him to experience mercy when he first heard the word of the Lord spoken by Moses. Yet each time he rejected God he hardened his heart a bit more. Eventually mercy seemed unobtainable to Pharaoh. It reminds me how easy it is for a heart to become hard.

Your mercy is new each morning. Teach us how to keep our hearts soft and open to that mercy.

According to his own purposes ...

This son was our ancestor Isaac. When he married Rebekah, she gave birth to twins. But before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.” In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau.” -Romans 9:10-13 NLT

Some theologically oriented people use this passage to support a deterministic view of salvation where God chooses heaven for some and hell for others. I do not see this passage speaking to issues of eternal destination but about calling and vocation. Consider this thought from the forty-ninth chapter of the book of Isaiah:
"The Lord called me before my birth; from within the womb he called me by name."
Isaiah believed that he was called to prophesy even before he was born. It speaks to me of divine foreknowledge and purpose. In these words Isaiah speaks to us about doing something that we were born to do. Can you relate to this? Have you ever experienced working in a job that you felt that you were born to do? I can and it was not a religious job.

What encourages me the most about this is the idea that God knows us so well that, even before we are born, he calls us to things that uniquely brings life to our lives. He called Jacob to be a shepherd and knew that Esau loved hunting. Jesus was the Messiah before he was born. What has he called you to? What are the things that brings life to your life?

Help us Lord to understand the things that you have called us to do - the things that bring life to our lives.

Only the children of the promise ...

Has God failed to fulfill his promise to Israel? No, for not all who are born into the nation of Israel are truly members of God’s people! Being descendants of Abraham doesn't make them truly Abraham’s children. For the Scriptures say, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted,” though Abraham had other children, too. This means that Abraham’s physical descendants are not necessarily children of God. Only the children of the promise are considered to be Abraham’s children. -Romans 9:6-8 NLT

From the very beginning of history God has always been about faith and not ethnicity. This is a hard concept for some to grasp. Middle Eastern history is replete with blood feuds and family strife that speak to the ways that so many embrace their ethnic ancestry. It is a sad commentary on religion and religious people. Small wonder that Jesus was rejected when he rebuked the Jews who claimed Abrahamic ancestry. Ethnicity and religion are often bound so tightly.

What promise do you think that Paul refers to in this passage? Is it not the promise to Abraham to "make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore"? Doubtful that such a promise would be fulfilled through Jewish ethnicity. More likely that this promise would be fulfilled through faith. The end result of such an approach is one that creates a new spiritual ethnicity where we are brothers and sisters in God's family.

Help us to push past our ethnic boundaries Lord. Help us to embrace all members of your family.

My Jewish brothers and sisters ...

With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it. My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ! — if that would save them. They are the people of Israel, chosen to be God’s adopted children. God revealed his glory to them. He made covenants with them and gave them his law. He gave them the privilege of worshiping him and receiving his wonderful promises. -Romans 9:1-4 NLT

This passage speaks to me about how a person can be raised in a religious environment be totally lost. All throughout the Old Testament we read of such people. The Israelites had laws, culture and environment that pointed them to God. Yet time after time they rejected God in favor of fleshly appetites. For sure there seemed to be many who were faithful but each generation of Jews seemed to find new ways to rebel against God. And ultimately they rejected God's Son.

Do you resonate with Paul's grief? Has there ever been one in your life that refused the love of God? Can you relate to the apostle's passion for souls that are lost? His words convict me of my sometimes apathetic attitude towards the people all around me. It is so easy to write people off and act indifferently towards their spiritual well being. These verses encourage us all to a renewed fervor to love the unlovable and pray for sheep that have strayed from the fold.

People need you so much Lord. They need your love. Help us to be gracious ambassadors to the lost and hurting.

Who will separate us?

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. -Romans 8:35-39 NLT

The lie that many believe is the one that whispers "If you do that He will not love you!" It is hard to really believe that something like sacrificial or unconditional love really exists. Our experiences in life has taught us that people often withhold love. Life also teaches us that human love can often be self centered. So how is it possible that God could love us with no expectation of that love being returned? How can His love be so pure, sacrificial and unconditional?

I really do not understand this kind of love. I am blown away by the idea that there is nothing that can separate me from God's love. I have sensed God's presence in my life in my darkest moments. He was there a week ago when I shared at my sister's memorial service. He was there when I first heard of her passing. He has heard the groanings of my heart and His love has comforted me in this awful pain. In Him I am meeting and overcoming my greatest challenges.

Teach us Lord to love the way that you love. Help us to get past our human limitations and embrace unconditional love.