Monday, August 10, 2015

Romans Part 6

Part 6
“Wooden Bridges”

9 August 2015         The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost     
Year A  Color: Green

Scripture Reading:Romans 5:1-5 

Research studies indicate that up to 45 percent of adult siblings have relationships marked by rivalry or distance. A story from the Wall Street Journal featured Al Golden, 85, who still chokes up when he talks about his twin brother, Elliott, who died three years ago. The brothers shared a room growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., graduated from the same college and then married within a month of each other in 1947.

Yet Mr. Golden still remembers how their father often compared their grades, asking one or the other, "How come you got a B and your brother got an A?" Elliott Golden became a lawyer and eventually a state Supreme Court judge. Al Golden went into the mirror business then sold life insurance. He says he always envied his brother's status and secretly took pleasure in knowing he was a better fisherman and owned a big boat. 

Once, Elliott asked him, "I am a lawyer. How come you make more money than me?" Mr. Golden says. "He meant: 'How come you are making more than me when you are not as successful?' But it made me feel good."
One day, Elliott accused him of not doing enough to take care of their ailing mother. After the conversation, Al didn't speak to his brother for more than a year. "It might have been the built-up of jealousies over the years," he says. His brother repeatedly reached out to him, as did his nieces and nephews, but Mr. Golden ignored them.

Then one day Al received an email from his brother telling a story about two men who had a stream dividing their properties. One man hired a carpenter to build a fence along the stream, but the carpenter built a bridge by mistake. Mr. Golden thought about the email then wrote back, "I'd like to walk over the bridge." "I missed him," Mr. Golden says now. "I never had the chance to miss him before."

Elizabeth Bernstein, "Sibling Rivalry Grows Up," Wall Street Journal (3-20-12); submitted by David Finch, Elk Grove, California

The Bible says that we, the human race, declared war on God.  We made ourselves the enemies of God.  We were the ones who parted ways with God.  We sued for divorce.  The distance was caused by us.  But the Bible also says that through Jesus, we have been reconciled to God.  

Jesus’ coming to earth was God building a bridge across the barrier we had erected between us and and God.  It is now possible for us to know God relationally.  

To really grasp this fact, we need to get it out of our minds the idea that God is simply a bigger version of us.  God is a personal being.  He can know and be known; however, he is not simply an inflated version of us.  The human mind has been so warped when it comes to God, that the thought of God knowing each of us get’s picture in absurd ways. 

Let me give you an example of what I mean.  Some picture God as busy switch board operator, trying to keep up with all the incoming calls is silly.  God is infinite and infinite in his capacity for knowing each of intimately, as if we were the only person in the universe he had to keep up with.  

Jesus came to bring us peace

Jesus gives us right standing with God.  This is an objective truth, not subject to how we feel about it.  Our feelings about our relationship with God are not a good index for judging our relationship with God.  If we are in Christ, we have solid ground under our feet when it comes to God.  Feelings come and go and shift like the sands of time.  They are unpredictable; but God is solid and dependable.  

Because of what Jesus has done for us, we can run into the arms of God with gratitude, even in times of suffering; knowing that we share in the Father’s work in this broken world. 

Our sufferings are not caused by God, but are a sign to us that God is still at work in our lives.  He uses our trials and sufferings to slowly mold us and transform us, building in us a Christ-like character.  

We are people of Hope

To the world, Christians look foolish to be looking for and anticipating something we cannot yet see.  But when we look out upon this sad world of ours, we see rays of hope and remember the promises God has made to us and to our father Abraham and our mother Sarah.  

Our hope is built on something deep and profound.  We are part of the family of God, to whom precious promises have been entrusted.  

Isn’t this being a bit Pollyanna?

The 1960 film Pollyanna starring Hayley Mills, based on the novel by Eleanor H. Porter, written in 1913 was released. The lead character's full name was Pollyanna Whittier. After the death of her parents she went to live with her wealthy but rather unpleasant Aunt Polly in Vermont. The approach Pollyanna took to life was highly optimistic, to say the least. She called it "The Glad Game". Regardless of the circumstances in which you find yourself, you must always find something to be glad about. Pollyanna first thought of the game when instead of a doll for Christmas she ended up with only a pair of crutches. She made up the game on the spot, determined to look on the bright side of things. In this case, she was glad she had crutches because she didn't need to use them! And that's something to be glad about!
Playing "the glad game" is about the only thing that enabled Pollyanna to survive in the house of her Aunt. When she is confined in the attic, she is "glad" that there is at least a beautiful view from a high window. When she is punished for being late and her dinner is only bread and milk, she is again "glad" because she at least has something to eat.
Pollyanna's philosophy of life is genuinely put to the test when she is hit by a car and loses the use of both legs. Lying in bed, she comes to grips with the severity of her situation. But instead of falling into depression or bitterness, she decides she can at least be glad that she has her legs, even if they don't do her much good. Pollyanna eventually is sent to a hospital where she learns to walk again and thus once more finds a good reason to be glad.

Pastor Sam Storms asks, "So, is this how a Christian is supposed to view life and adversity and heartache? Does God ask us to play our own version of 'The Glad Game' in order to cope and survive in a fallen and corrupt world?" Although we can commend Pollyanna for not complaining, "The Glad Game" is a far cry from true biblical hope. Biblical hope isn't wishful thinking; or thinking, at least we are not as bad off as someone else.  Instead, it’s an act of trust in the bedrock promises of God.
Sam Storms, "Pollyanna versus Christian Hope: Discerning the Difference," sermon given at Bridgeway Church (4-6-14)

Our hope is not wishful thinking or based on something we have dreamt up.  We believe in the historical reality of Jesus Christ, and the concrete actions he took on our behalf, to save this world.  He is the reason we have for hope. He our Chief Cornerstone; that which holds our lives together when they seem to be falling apart.

Romans Part 7 Podcast

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Romans Part Four Podcast

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Romans 5 Podcast

Romans Part 5

Part 5
“The Beauty of Adoption”

2 August 2015         The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost     
Year A  Color: Green

Scripture Reading:Romans 4:1-8 

We, and all the people of the earth, have been invited to become a part of God’s human family.  This human family began with Abraham and has spread to every part of the globe.  Our invitation to become a part of this family has been given to us through Jesus.

We have also been invited to become the adopted sons and daughters of God, and to share with Jesus his relationship to our Heavenly Father.  In other words, we are receiving the same invitation Abraham received; to be a part of the divine fellowship found in the Trinity.  

Both of these invitations come from and through Jesus.  We are invited to be part of the human family of God and to be part of the fellowship enjoyed in the Trinity.  In essence, we are talking about family.

Danny The Hamster
By davew On September 23, 2006 · Add Comment
InstanceEndEditable InstanceBeginEditable name="Joke10"
The children begged for a hamster, and after the usual fervent vows that they alone would care for it, they got one.
They named it Danny.
Two months later, when Mom found her- self responsible for cleaning and feeding the creature, she located a prospective new home for it.
The children took the news of Danny's imminent departure quite well, though one of them remarked, "He's been around here a long time–we'll miss him."
"Yes," Mom replied, "But he's too much work for one person, and since I'm that one person, I say he goes."
Another child offered, "Well, maybe if he wouldn't eat so much and wouldn't be so messy, we could keep him."
But Mom was firm. "It's time to take Danny to his new home now," she insisted. "Go and get his cage."
With one voice and in tearful outrage the children shouted, "Danny? We thought you said Daddy!"

Romans 4:1-8

In Romans chapter three, Paul teaches us about justification.  Justification is the idea that God has done for us what we could not do for ourself.  Through his Son Jesus, God made it possible for the demands of justice and holiness to be met, while offering mercy to sinners.  Love and justice were satisfied in the cross of Jesus.  And, we are made right with God the moment we place our faith in the faithfulness of God.  That is justification.  It is the big idea of Romans chapter three.

But, if Paul’s topic has been justification, why then does Paul suddenly want to talk about Abraham?  The answer is because justification means that we have been made a part of God’s family.  The moment you placed your trust in Jesus, you became a part of Jesus’ family, and by extension, a part of Abraham’s family. Paul wants to talk about Abraham, because he wants us to understand what kind of family we have become a part of.  

Abraham started out where every pagan and non-believer starts.  He had to decide whether or not to trust in God and in God’s promises.  Abraham and his wife Sarah chose to trust in God.  Thus, Abraham and Sarah became the chosen instruments and family through which God would save the world.

Regarding the idea of being chosen by God, Christopher Wright notes that being chosen, what we call in theology the doctrine of election, isn't just for our individual benefit and salvation. According to the biblical story, election means that "the elect" become agents of blessings to others.
Wright uses the following story:

It is as if a group of trapped cave explorers choose one of their number to squeeze through a narrow flooded passage to get out to the surface and call for help. The point of the choice is not so that she alone gets saved, but that she is able to bring help and equipment to ensure that the rest of the group gets rescued. "Election" in such a case is an instrumental choice of one for the sake of many.

Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God's People (Zondervan, 2010), p. 72; submitted by Van Morris, Mt. Washington, Kentucky

Romans 4:9-12

God had promised Abraham that through his descendants, all the nations of the world would be blessed.  The family of Jesus includes every person who choses to trust God in the same way that Abraham and Sarah trusted God.  Through Jesus, God has extended the invitation to every man, woman, and child to become a part of the family of God.

Man Risks His Life to Bring Adopted Daughter Home

Matt Woodley writes: Eighteen years ago my friend Andy and his wife traveled to a South American country to complete their adoption of a little girl. At the time this country was gripped by corruption, violence, and political chaos. After Andy arrived, they (that is, anyone who could profit from Andy's plight) kept upping the price for the adoption. When he finally threatened to take the matter to the U.S. consulate, a mysterious figure confronted Andy, warning him of vague but dreadful consequences. It was like a spy thriller, except that it was Andy who was caught in the middle of some sinister, dangerous plot.
But he refused to leave without his daughter. The odd thing was that Andy had never even met this girl. She was small and helpless. She hadn't won any awards or aced any tests. He didn't know that one day her smile would light up their living room, or that she'd love their cats and dogs, or that she'd play Mozart pieces on the family piano. For all practical purposes, she was just an orphan condemned to a life of grinding poverty in a far-flung developing country. But for some crazy reason, Andy stayed there, negotiating with corrupt officials, spending oodles of money, squandering time, and even risking his life to find and win this little girl.

Now, eighteen years later, Andy was telling me about an intimate high school graduation party for Maria, his adopted daughter. At one point during the meal, Maria unexpectedly stood up and gave a beautiful speech thanking everyone who had helped her find a better life on Long Island.
As Andy told me this story, he was trying to fight back the tears. I got the impression that he could have lived a hundred more years, or even a hundred lifetimes, and nothing would compare to hearing Maria's spontaneous thank-you. And it all started when Andy walked into that dangerous nightmare in an attempt to bring her home.

When he finished telling me this story, it struck me that Andy, my non-Christian friend, had discovered the heart of the gospel: God's loving, daring, persistent pursuit of people like you and me. Like Maria, there's nothing we can do to earn God's love, but he still loves us. And he doesn't want to leave us behind. Instead, in the presence of Jesus, God walked into the "dangerous nightmare" of human sin and pain in order to save us and bring us back home.

Adapted from Matt Woodley, The Gospel of Matthew: God With Us (InterVarsity Press, 2011), pp. 248-249

Romans 4:13-17

As you re-read the stories of Abraham in the book of Genesis, it is abundantly clear that the plan had always been about setting the world right.  The scope of the promises always encompassed all of the world.  The Promised Land was only a symbol of the larger plan.  

Giving the Law to the Jews was not meant to give them head start or an unfair position.  It was given so that sin could be dealt with sufficiently, so that all the world might come to God through Jesus.  

Romans 4:18-25

God made an extraordinary promise to Sarah and Abraham and that promise has been extended to us.  Through Jesus, God is fulfilling his promises to them and to us.  God  is putting humankind back together.  We are invited to rediscover what it means to be genuinely human. 

In the beginning, humankind chose not to trust.   Abraham and Sarah made a different choice.  They chose to trust God.  Humankind knew about God, but chose to worship created things rather than God.  Abraham and Sarah chose to honor and glorify God.  

They believed that God’s life-giving power, at work in their lives, could change their destiny.  God gave them hope and a new start.  Thus, Abraham and Sarah become a sign of things to come. What was promised to them has now been completed in Jesus.  In Jesus, the new creation has begun and he invites us to trust him to complete it.  

The question is: do we share Abraham’s faith? Abraham and his family were invited to become a part of something bigger than themselves.  They, too, were invited to become a part of the family of God; to join the fellowship and intimacy that exist within the Trinity.  Do you share Abraham’s faith? Do we trust that God will complete what he has started?  Are we willing for our lives to be re-organized around the celebration of this God?  Then, through Jesus, we have been invited to become a part of the family of God.

Skye Jethani uses the following personal story to illustrate the beauty of God as a Trinity, a party of love and goodness and power:

Have you ever found yourself at a party you stumbled into, maybe uninvited or totally unexpected—and just had a great time? I was in Cooperstown, New York at the Baseball Hall of Fame on the weekend when three players were inducted. The night before the induction there was a private, red carpet reception at the Hall of Fame—and I was there.

I'm not even a baseball fan, but there I was getting a picture with Cal Ripkin, the former short stop for the Baltimore Orioles who still holds the record for starting in the most consecutive pro baseball games—an astounding 2,632 games in a row. I was chilling with former L.A. Dodgers' manager Tommy Lasorda (who sat in one corner like the godfather as people kissed his ring). I had a nice conversation with Jonny Bench, the former catcher who played in 14 All-Star games. There was Andre Dawson, Wade Boggs, and Carlton Fisk. I didn't even know who most of these guys were. But I had a great time. But I had no right being there. I have friends—huge baseball fans—who would have killed for my place at the party. How did I get in?

Turns out that one of the inductees this year was a player named Deacon White. White played in the 1870s—he was one of the early superstars of baseball—an amazing athlete. And it just so happens that I married his great, great, granddaughter. So we got invited to the VIP party at the Baseball Hall of Fame—and we had a great time.

Jethani adds, "Friends, the Trinity is a party of love, joy, goodness, creativity, and glory that has been going on forever—and it will continue forever. And you and I have been invited to join it. Not because we've earned the right to be there, but because a long time ago, the Father sent the Son. And the Son died so that our sin would not prevent us from joining it. And the Father raised him from the dead through the power of the Spirit. If we put our faith in him, we too can be filled with the Spirit, raised from death to life, and join the Father, Son, and Spirit in this party that will never end."

Skye Jethani, sermon "Party of Three,"

Romans Part Four

Part 4
“He Took Our Fall”

26 July 2015         The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost     
Year A  Color: Green

Scripture Reading: Romans 3:9-26

Romans chapter three paints the picture of a public trail, which nearly all ancient trials were.  In this trial Israel and the rest of the world are in the dock, standing guilty before a holy God, without any defense.  All are guilty and must face a holy God.  

There are sins and there is SIN.  Sins may refer to particular behaviors or attitudes which fall short of God’s glory; but SIN is a force within the human heart, with a life of its own.  

The problem, as Paul describes it, is that God’s people regularly and repeatedly fail to reflect the wisdom, goodness, and love of God.  This was the most basic role humans were created to play.  Being created in the image of God means that God intended that we would reflect his character by the way that we live.  Almost no one would argue that humankind has fulfilled that mission.  

And no group of people, including Israel, is capable of doing anything to set things right.  The human race is helpless before the power of SIN.  The Gospel is the message that God has come to rescue the helpless, and in spite of everything that has gone wrong, to renew his covenant with his people.  

In 2006, Yoko Ono placed a full-page ad in the New York Times calling for December 8—the anniversary of John Lennon's death—to be made a global day of healing.

"One day we will be able to say that we healed ourselves," Ono promised, "and by healing ourselves, we healed the world."

"Good Week for...All Humanity," The Week (12-8-06), p. 4

But here is the thing, we cannot heal ourself.  Nor can we be made right simply by someone handing us a copy of the Torah or Ten Commandments, ore even by an appeal in the New York Times.  This is the problem with Christians focusing too much on tasks like getting the Ten Commandments back in public places.  It’s not a bad goal, but it won't set our nation right.  The Law of God simply says to sinners, “You have broken me.”  

One who is caught in the act of breaking God’s law is not going to be helped simply by hearing the jury pronounce them guilty; which is all that the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Torah can do for broken sinners.  

Romans 3:21-24

So, what did God do when the whole world turned away from him?  God made a promise to Abraham that through his descendants all the world would be blessed.  But, even Abraham’s family turned its back on God.  So, how would God remain true to the promises he made to Abraham’s family, without compromising his own justice and faithfulness?

If at least a few Abraham’s family members or descendants had been completely faithful to the covenant, then the solution would have been easy.  But Paul says there is no one who has been completely faithful to the covenant.  God was then faced with a world that had gone wrong.  It is this setting in which God made a covenant with Israel; but, Israel  demonstrated by their own track record that they were simply a part of the world that needed to be saved.  

Yet, Israel still expected the Lord to act on their behalf, being faithful to them, while forgetting the rest of the world.  That had never been the plan. God had always intend to bless Israel in order for Israel to be a blessing to the world. Besides, Israel was in no position to demand that God bless them, while judging the world, when they themselves had broken faith with God. 

The surprise of the Bible is that God would fulfill his promises and the covenant he made with Israel in way that resulted in humankind and the world being set right.  But to do this, God would need an Israelite who would be completely faithful to the covenant, in the way Israel had been called to, but had failed to live out.  

Jesus fulfilled Israel’s call. He did for them and for us what we were unable to do for ourselves.  In doing so, he provided redemption for the world.  He set us free from guilt and bondage.  He set us free and has declared us innocent.  It is a new Exodus.  The captives have been rescued and set free.  We have been called into covenant with God, to live before him as his people. 

Romans 3:25-26

The mercy of God has been extended to us through the sacrificial death of Jesus.  Sacrificial death has always been at the center of God’s plan to save the world.   

In the Old Testament Law a system of animal sacrifices was set up to atone for the people’s sins.  Some of you are repulsed by the thought of an innocent animal being used to cover for the sins of guilty people.  You should be.  It should sicken and sadden the heart to think of an innocent life standing in for guilt of another.  

Over the centuries millions, perhaps hundreds of millions of animals were killed.  And, the loss would not have been missed by those ancient Hebrews.  Animals were very costly, precious commodities.  Ancient people did not regularly eat meat because the cost was too high and ancient people depended on these animals for milk, labor, and wool.  They lived in very close proximity to their animals.  They didn’t go to a grocery store and buy packaged meat.  Any meat they ate came from animal they would have had to slaughter; an animal they knew quite well.  So, we’re wrong to think that the high cost of these sacrifices would have been un-noticed or unfelt by ancient people. 

But, the centuries of animal sacrifices were but a shadow and sign, pointing to the real cost of Sin.  God himself would pay the ultimate price for our atonement, laying down his own life, so that he could deal fairly and justly with sin, while still holding out help to those trapped in sin.  The Cross of Calvary is the way God would be faithful to the covenant.  

Sometimes you will hear people say that in the Old Testament God was really strict and that the bar was set impossibly high.  Humankind failed, so God lowered the bar so we could be saved.  That is a very poor way of describing what God did in Jesus. The bar remained incredibly hight.  In Jesus, God grabbed us, held us in his arms, ran, jumped, and cleared the bar with us in his arms.

Romans 3:27-31

Paul is very clear.  God gave Israel the Torah.  The Torah is good.  Israel was required to keep it.  Jesus, a son of Abraham and David fulfilled the aims of Torah. All who trust in Jesus, the Messiah, are marked as members of God’s people.  Torah has been completed in way no one could have imagined.  The only badge that matters now is not circumcision, Kosher food requirements, or ethnicity; it is faith in Christ.  

The doctor said, "If you are a believer in miracles, this would be one."

The doctor was talking about Alcides Moreno. By every law of physics and medicine, Moreno should have died. Moreno was a window washer in Manhattan. He rode platforms with his brother Edgar high into the sky to wash skyscrapers. From there he could look down to see the pavement far below where the people looked like ants. On December 7, 2007, catastrophe struck the Moreno family. As the brothers worked on the 47th story of a high rise, their platform collapsed, and Alcides and Edgar fell from the sky.

If you are a believer in miracles, this would be one.
No, Alcides Moreno didn't land on a passing airplane or catch his shirt on a flagpole or have anything else amazing happen like you see in the movies; he fell the entire 47 stories to the pavement below. As would be expected, his brother Edgar died from the fall, but somehow Alcides did not. He lived. 

For two weeks he hung on to life by a thread. Then, on Christmas Day, he spoke and reached out to touch his nurse's face. One month later, the doctors were saying that he would probably walk again some day.
If you are a believer in miracles, this would be one.

In the beginning of the human race’s story, Adam also fell from a great height. From sinless glory in the image of God, Adam rebelled against God and fell into sin and death and judgment, and in this terrible fall he brought with him the whole human race. But "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). 

God the Son left the heights of heaven and descended to the earth to become a man. He lived a sinless life and then willingly went to the cross to die for the sins of Adam's fallen race. On the third day he rose again, and in his resurrection he made it possible for all to rise again and live forever.

If you are a believer in miracles, this would be one.  Christ took the fall for us.

Craig Brian Larson, editor of; source: "It Wasn't All Bad," The Week (1-18-08), p. 4

Monday, July 6, 2015

Romans 2 Podcast