Tag Archives: Romans

Jew or Gentile?

sermon given on Sunday, July 9, 2017

Scripture connections:

Opening: Romans 9:21-24, NLT

21 When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? 22 In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. 23 He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory. 24 And we are among those whom he selected, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles.

 

Sermon: Romans 9:25, 31-32, NLT

25 Concerning the Gentiles, God says in the prophecy of Hosea,

“Those who were not my people,
I will now call my people.
And I will love those
whom I did not love before.”

 

31 But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. 32 Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law[a] instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path.

 

Closing: Romans 10:9-13, 16-18a, NLT

If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”[a] 12 Jew and Gentile[b] are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” . . .

 

. . . 16 But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?”[a] 17 So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. 18 But I ask, have the people of Israel actually heard the message? . . .

 

Reflection: Jew or Gentile?

Have you ever wondered what it was like to live in a different time? Over the holiday weekend Ancestry.com offered free access to certain records and I started looking at them. Of course I could not remember my sign in but I did discover a World War I draft notice for my grandfather was listed. I was surprised and really should have gotten up to investigate more closely, but did not because I know he never served in the military. But now I want to know more.

Then another question came to mind: If I were living in Jesus’ time, would I have been a Jew or a Gentile? I suppose I could even ask if I would have been a pagan, but that seems a bit too unlikely. This question started my mind spinning and I started putting my thoughts together:

  • Was I born into a religious family?
  • Did I grow up following the religious law or the civil law?
  • Was my dad or my mom the driving force?
  • Was my church strictly structured around The Law?
  • Did church come first or did civil matters?
  • Was my community centered around the church or on business?

 

As you can tell, deciding whether I would have been a Jew or a Gentile lead to many other considerations other than just my personal faith.

Reading Romans, one can get a different perspective of the cultural shift that must have occurred for Paul, but also for other new Christians.   Paul certainly was Jewish before his conversion. Raised in the Jewish faith, having served in the Jewish leadership, his life was immersed in The Law. He knew it so well, he was actively involved in administering justice—or at least that was the Saul of Tarsus as he was first introduced in Biblical literature.

Paul prosecuted the earliest disciples of Christ. Paul was a Jew and the first Christians who were Jewish must have felt confused as they believed Jesus Christ was simply the fulfillment of their own religious foundation. How difficult it must have been to be firmly rooted in a faith and then be prosecuted by your own religious leaders for believing the prophecies had indeed been fulfilled!

With that thought, I wonder again whether I would have been a Jew or a Gentile during those ancient times. I think it is possible to compare my own upbringing and belief system to the Jewish culture. As I look over my history I can see the similarities:

  • I was born into a faith-centered home environment.
  • We attended Sunday school and worship every Sunday.
  • We actively participated in all the age-appropriate activities—choir being the most obvious other than Sunday school.
  • We offered a table grace at all three meals in our home.
  • Dad appeared to be the faith leader because he said the grace.
  • Mom was in charge of the household including the education both after school and for Sunday school.
  • Dad served on the various Administrative Board committees and even as a lay leader.
  • Mom was a soloist and even evolved into the closest thing in our community to an activist for social justice.
  • We attended the carry-in dinners and social functions at church but seldom social events outside of the church.

 

Certainly, in my 20th century life, I was following the social profile that would have been a Jew during Christ’s lifetime.

Now, though, for comparison purposes consider the ancient Gentile. Here was an individual whose life hinged around the daily grind of life. Making a living, providing for the family, and managing to live in the ruling culture of the time. Reading Romans, the first century after Jesus was born, the Roman Empire dominated the Euro-Asian region. No state religion, but the Greek and Latin gods were worshiped. The pagan laws were not as severe as the Law of Moses was in the Jewish culture. For Roman citizens, the law was the ruling emperor’s law.

Today’s Gentiles may be more difficult to identify. Or maybe not because I suspect that today’s Gentiles profile might be like so many of our friends and neighbors, even family members. I believe the Gentiles are all those who have been raised with much of the same expectations as those in church-attending, church-centered families. The difference is they may not see a connection to living one’s faith in relation to their role in today’s world.

Consider how many in our community, maybe even in our church, who live a “good” life, not breaking any laws, working hard to make a living, and doing all the things our society deems appropriate—raising kids, going to sporting events, taking vacations, staying in style, and the list just keeps growing. There may be some curiosity about God and faith, but their lives are ok, maybe even extremely successful by all outward signs. Maybe they go to church occasionally, at least on Christmas and Easter, because they say they believe.

In today’s culture, I believe it is more difficult to see a distinction between the Jews and the Gentile labels that were evident during ancient days of Christ. Yet I believe it is also evident that there is a defined line between those who are living a faith-filled, Christ-centered life and those who are simply living in a spiritual void with all the outward appearances but no conviction of their faith in God.

Paul’s letter to the Romans was a logical argument for Christianity, written to an audience with whom he was not personally connected. Today we can read the letters Paul wrote and evaluate them against the experiences of Christians for over 2,000 years. We can even check ourselves to determine whether we are living the very principles Jesus demonstrated and Paul reinforced in his letters.

Romans is an introduction to Christian living whether one was raised a Jew or a Gentile; whether one was raised in a religious setting or not; or even if one has never had any simply unchurched. Paul assures us that salvation is available to any one who accepts that Jesus Christ lived, died and arose so that we are saved by the grace of God.

Paul’s letter goes on to explain that God genuinely loves us and that we are all equipped with spiritual gifts. We are to use those gifts living as good citizens in our communities. We are to accept all those who believe in Christ regardless of their previous beliefs—another words whether they were Jew, Gentile or pagan. We are to live in Christian unity with one another because God’s mercy is available to everyone.

Again, though, I find myself wondering whether I would have been living as a Jew or a Gentile or as a Christian? As much as my faith is the faith that I was born and raised in—a cradle Methodist as we say, I wonder if I could have been the Jew openly accepted the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in those ancient days?

Today I am fortunate to have the 2,000 years of Christian history to support the arguments for Christ. I am fortunate to live in a society that allows freedom of religion. Yet, in truth I wonder whether I am a Jew or a Gentile in behavior. Am I too caught up in the legalistic structure of our faith to open my heart, my mind and my doors to others regardless of their personal history? Am I afraid I cannot preserve the church in which I am so comfortable that I fight any change? Am I able to live in unity with others regardless of where they are in their faith journey?

If I did not have my faith in God, I would not see the value in this life I do have. If I did not follow the one commandment to love others as I want to be loved, I would be hiding within my own home fearing the unknowns. If I did not believe that God has given me gifts to use in this world, I would not be able to do what all I try to do.

My challenge to each of us here is to consider just what role do you have personally or we as a full church have in reaching out to the other Jews, Gentiles, pagans or unchurched. Do we honestly open our hearts, minds and doors to all in hopes that they too can discover God’s grace and salvation through his son Jesus Christ? Do we live the very example of a Christian right here in our own community?

Our responsibility is to find ways to demonstrate the motto that the United Methodist Church adopted in 2004: Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors. Let us truly be remarkable with our efforts to make sure that our church is being Christ-centered in this community.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

 

Open our hearts so they may be filled

With love for one another as Jesus taught.

 

Open our hearts so we may see

those in our community in need of your love.

 

Open our minds so they may be filled

With the methods and means to share your love.

 

Open our minds so we may grow

our spiritual gifts to serve and love others.

 

Open our doors so we may see

The lost, the lonely, the sick, and the hungry.

 

Open our doors so we may serve

To welcome those needing your love.

 

Only with you can we be

the Christians you call us to be.

 

In your name, dear God,

And in the name of Jesus Christ,

And the Holy Spirit, amen.

 

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Faith Is Freedom

given on Sunday, July 2, 2017

Scripture connections:

 Opening: Psalm 68:19-20, NLT

19 Praise the Lord; praise God our savior!
For each day he carries us in his arms. Interlude
20 Our God is a God who saves!
The Sovereign Lord rescues us from death.

 

Sermon:

Romans 5:20-21, NLT

20 God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant.21 So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Romans 6:3-4, 10-12 & 14, NLT

Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. . . .

 

10 When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. 11 So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. 12 Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. . . .   14 Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.

 

Romans 7:4-6, NLT

So, my dear brothers and sisters, this is the point: You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ. And now you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God.  When we were controlled by our old nature, sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death.  But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.

 

Closing: Ephesians 1:6-7, NLT

So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.

 

Reflection: Faith Is Freedom

 

I picked up the latest copy of Reader’s Digest the other day and began absent mindedly flipping through the pages starting at the back. The first thing that caught my attention was a series of pages with colorful maps on them. I slowed to figure out what was being shared—“Who Knew? You say tomato. . .” was the article title and each map simply showed the differences in terminology Americans use. For instance, the western 1/3 of the country uses ‘fireflies’ while the rest of the country, primarily the Midwest and South, uses ‘lightning bugs.”

Interesting, but what else was in the magazine?

In a world that the print media is struggling to survive, the Reader’s Digest holds a special place in my life. We grew up with it and it resided in the bathroom. By the end of the month, it was well dog-eared. I loved the humor sections, the drama in real life, and who knew what else would capture me. This month’s edition is a special issue, “Your America,” and is filled with features about all facets of our lives.

The brief story, “Sergeant Turner’s Ride Home,” caught my attention. A veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder committed suicide in California, but his family was in George and could not afford to claim his ashes. The Marines stepped in and tried to figure out the best way to get him home.

We live in a country that has struggled to understand how to live with God and country while not infringing on anybody’s individual freedoms. Yet, God works in mysterious ways and this holiday weekend we are graphically reminded how important freedom is. Sometimes we forget that freedom is not a political platform of any one party—Democrat, Republican, Independent, etc. Freedom is living in a manner that allows for free decisions about how we live.

All too often, the simplest solution to a problem is forgotten by all the legalistic hoops that humans have created in an effort to live in an orderly, independent, free society. The answer is so simple: love one another as you want to be loved. God’s Golden Rule solves all the complications that one might encounter in daily life, yet it is ignored as our elected officials try to find ways to spell out the specifics and include all the different exceptions to a rule it can.

Faith is freedom. God is. God loves. And we mess things up over and over because we are human. We have the ability to make decisions on our own. The gift of free will has caused the downfall of humanity over and over. Paul, himself, experienced the rigidity of the Jewish faith, the legal structure of the Roman government, and God’s attention-getting blindness. He knew free will, he knew the Jewish laws, and as a Roman citizen he experienced unique privileges. Yet he had to be blinded to see that true freedom comes from faith in God.

Do we have to be blinded in order to see, too? Paul wrote to the Romans in order to introduce himself, but also to outline what faith means in the lives of the new Christians whether they were Jews or Gentiles. He knew the complex Jewish rules. He was a Roman citizen, too, so he knew the civic laws under which he had to live. But when he was blinded and learned the extent of God’s forgiveness, he was freed of all the restrictive laws of the Pharisees and the Romans.

In his letter, he outlines the connection of the sinfulness of humanity to God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ:

21 So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

The life and teaching of Jesus was designed to free us from all the sins of our own choosing and from all the evil outside forces that could enslave us too. Choosing to accept God’s grace and the forgiveness provided through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus provides us with freedom:

Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death?

 

Once we have accepted Jesus Christ as the means of salvation, we are choosing to live by the simplest laws possible. First, we chose to love God above all else; and then we chose to make daily decisions based on the Golden Rule. The freedom we experience from our faith provides unlimited joy. It guides our decisions, our relationships, and our perspective in life:

11 So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. 12 Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires.

 

As Americans, we celebrate the birthday of this country this week; but sadly, we have failed to celebrate the fact that we are Christians first who are free from sin and all earthly constraints because God loved us so much that Jesus Christ was sent to demonstrate how to live the very freedom that faith in God provides.

As Americans who are Christian first, the decisions we make are to fulfill the commandment to love one another as we want to be loved. Christian freedom is the foundation to live freely loving one another without fear that we are breaking any law that humanity can design

Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.

 

Paul’s letter may have been written to the Romans back 2,000 years ago, but the words apply to us here in America right now, too. We are to live our faith freely to do all that we can in all the ways that we can for all that we can.

The Marines freely did what they were called to do. They could not allow Sergeant Turner’s ashes to be simply boxed up and sent via FedEx or any other delivery service to his family. The Patriot Guard Riders, American Legion motorcyclists who provide escort services to the veterans, organized the return, “. . . a caravan—or as they described it, a ‘pony express of iron horses’”:

“On August 5, 2015, dozens of Patriot Guard Riders, many veterans themselves, accompanied Turner from Ontario, California to a Love’s truck stop in Lake Havasu, Arizona, on the California border. A veteran wearing white gloves somberly handed off the wooden box containing Turner’s ashes to the PGR captain from Arizona. Then the Arizona chapter drove the ashes 388 miles to the New Mexico border. The handing-off ceremony was repeated, and then the New Mexico Patriot Guard Riders transported the ashes to Texas, and so on until the ashes reached Georgia five days and some 2,000 miles after leaving California.

“The great state of Georgia proudly accepts this man on the final leg of his return home,” the captain of the Georgia PGR told his Alabama counterpart. “Thank you, Alabama, for bringing him home.” (Simmons 2017)

 

Faith is freedom, but freedom does come with a responsibility and that is to live your life in relationship with God. Accepting Jesus Christ as your savior, being baptized, and participating in a faith community provides the means to live a Christ-centered life with others to assure that we continue to grow in faith, be accountable to God, and to serve one another in love.

Members of the Patriot Guard demonstrated the very principles that God asks of us to love one another as we want to be loved. The riders did not know Turner personally, but they demonstrated their love for a fellow patriot by escorting his ashes across the country. Do we live our lives demonstrating love of one another?

As we step to the table to share in the bread and the cup, we can celebrate our freedom from sin. Faith is freedom. God loves us so much he sent Jesus Christ to demonstrate how to live our faith freely. He assures us that we are saved from our sins by our faith. We accept that gift of salvation at our baptism, we remember it through communion, and we live it freely as we love one another in the same manner that Jesus Christ showed us.

Closing prayer

Dear almighty and loving God,

 

We celebrate the freedom

that you have designed for us.

Even when we stumble and stray,

You continue to love us:

Loving us so much

that you forgive us when we ask.

 

During the week ahead,

May the freedom of our country

Protect all those who seek

To live the freedom you provide.

 

Guide us to live responsibly

Protecting the freedom you provide.

Help our faith be beacons of hope

To those still seeking freedom from sin.

 

May our actions of love for one another

Provide evidence of your love

In your name

and of the Son

and of the Holy Ghost, amen.

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Building our Christian foundations: 5. Grace & grace with accountability

given on Sunday, February 8, 2015

5.  Grace & Grace with accountability

Building a new home takes knowledge, planning, and supplies in order to create a structure that is durable, safe, and functional. Adding the touches that turns a house into a home depends on those living within the walls of that structure. A home, built on a solid foundation, becomes a source of comfort, provides security, and reflects the personalities living there.

Building our Christian foundation can be compared to building a house, also. Yet, without Christ in our lives, we are empty inside. We can attend church and show that we know who God is—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; but living our faith honestly takes grace.

Grace is the intangible quality of unconditional love that God provides each and every individual, even every living creature living here on earth beside us. He accepts us as we are; He comforts us when we hurt; He provides us the security of eternal life; and He grants us the gifts that make us who we are.

Why, then, is grace so hard to understand? Grace from God is free, arrives with us even as we are born, cradles us as we grow up, and catches us whenever we make mistakes. God’s grace is a constant we can count on.

How come we, as his children, do not accept that grace? How come we do not model that same grace in our own lives? Why can’t we use grace automatically like God does? Among all the wonderful gifts and traits that we are born with, why do so many seem to have missed the grace gene?

Really it does not matter, what does matter is that we accept God’s grace and work on all the essential pieces that do build our Christian foundation. As we read and study the scriptures, we find example after example of God’s grace. As we study the gospels and learn how the Holy Spirit baptizes us into God’s family, we experience God’s grace. As we join in the universal church, we begin practicing that grace by unconditionally accepting our Christian brothers and sisters also.

Grace is part of Christianity. Grace is part of the DNA of Christians around this world. God’s grace is reflected in each and every one of us. All the ways that we share God’s love, without reservation, demonstrates the power of grace even in the worst circumstances imaginable.

John Wesley identified grace as a core term for Christians. In his notes, he provides insight into the application of grace in our lives:

Grace is actually a relational concept: God’s active presence and transformative power in our lives. The name Emmanuel speaks to this reality—God with us. We perceive the divine presence by the results of the divine energy working within us, enlightening, convicting, forgiving, liberating, assuring, chastising, empowering, strengthening, comforting—assisting us to become what God intended humankind to be, faithful creatures whose love for God and their neighbors is manifest through works of piety and mercy.

 

God’s grace is ours for the taking; but once we take it, we must use it. We are to be accountable to God in how we use grace in our lives.

As God’s missionaries, we are to use grace with accountability. This phrase is key to working with one another. And yes, the phrase is even used in schools. In fact, one behavior system BIST has developed in the Kansas City area and is used at the Ozanam School and Crittenton, a treatment approach to managing student behaviors. BIST’s key phrase is “grace with accountability.”

God’s grace is given and when we accept it, we agree to provide grace to one another. The human element of grace is accountability. We are accountable to God in how we use grace with others, but we are expected to use it responsibly. We are commissioned to share God’s Word so others, too, may join in relationship with God, accepting love and grace.

Our baptism into the Christian family includes a promise to be accountable. We are to love one another as God loves us. We are to offer grace to others just like God offers it to us. We are to do all that we can—as you so often hear said—to all we can.

If God can demonstrate grace to Saul, the Jewish Pharisee who was persecuting the earliest Christians, then we have no reason to doubt that he offers the same level of grace to us. Saul was struck blind in order for God to get his attention, but upon accepting Christ, Saul—now Paul—became accountable by demonstrating grace to others even from the prison cells. Paul knew what grace with accountability meant.

The letters we have from Paul share how to accept grace and how to use grace with accountability. In the letter to the Ephesians, we learn the formula in that first chapter, verses 7-8:

He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

The connection to another essential in building Christian foundations is referred to in these two verses: The Triune God. Wesley wanted to make sure Christians understood that connection in explaining the core term grace:

Grace is a Trinitarian concept, grounded in the love and mercy of God the Father; especially manifest in the life, death, and resurrection of God the Son: and experienced through the work of God the Holy Spirit in our lives.

 

Grace is essential in our Christian foundation. Grace is the mortar used to create the brick walls, the screws and nails connecting all the pieces, and even the wires running throughout the structure carrying all the energy to all the places it is needed.

As Christians, we accept grace and we must use it with accountability. Paul never gave up on any of the young Christian churches he planted throughout the Mediterranean area over 2,000 years ago. His own methods of communicating and demonstrating grace kept those young Christians accountable just as he does today as we study the scriptures.

James, too, Jesus’ own brother, taught the early Jewish Christians how to be accountable with grace:

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

Each one of us must work to maintain the Christian foundation God has provided us. We have all the instructions needed in the scriptures. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit. We have the skills and talents God has given us. We have grace for all the times we make mistakes because God loves us so much he gave his son so that we might have eternal life.

God’s grace is the essential element that takes us and makes us the hands and arms of God in this community in which we live. We are accountable for how we demonstrate grace to one another. We are Christians filled with grace.

Closing prayer

Dear Gracious Father,

We arrived this morning with weariness in our souls.

We have had un-Christian thoughts and made poor decisions.

We even questioned whether or not we believe.

Thank you for your grace.

Thank you for unconditional love.

Thank you for our Christian family.

Renew my faith through today’s worship.

Renew my spirit with the hope you provide.

Renew my resolve to offer grace to others.

Help me to be accountable to you and to others.

Help me to trust in the Holy Spirit to guide me.

Help me to share your Word

so others, too, may experience your grace.

–Amen.

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Are you an Olympian Christian?

given on Sunday, February 23, 2014

Are you tired of all the news from the Olympics?  Has the coverage interrupted every morning and evening viewing routines?  Has the social networking pieces driven you to consider life as a hermit?  Or have the Olympics left you inspired?

Regardless of how the Olympics have affected your life these past two weeks, there are stories that inspire men, women, and children regardless of nationality, education, or income.  The dedication these athletes exhibit often causes the viewers to pause and reflect on just what it takes to become an Olympic athlete.

Consider this:  An Olympian is born with natural abilities and then discovers a passion for a sport, commits oneself to that sport, and begins a lifestyle of training in order to compete with, not against, others with the same passion.  Is it possible for Christians to become Olympians, too?

Romans is a manual for Olympian Christians.  Paul is the master coach who can guide the newest Christians into a lifestyle that exemplifies all the qualities Jesus demonstrated in his three years of ministry.  Never having met these newest believers, he felt akin to them and wanted them to have all the skills needed to compete against the non-Christian influences existing in the world.

Paul himself was an Olympian Christian.  As a convert from Judaism, he quickly transferred his leadership skills to coach the earliest Christians.  He was worldly, knew several languages, understood the Old Law, and quickly learned—along the side of the road—how God made a difference in ones life.  Paul committed himself to the Greatest Commission, trained himself and others how to live as a Christian in a predominantly non-Christian world.  He demonstrated grace in the most difficult of situations.

Despite all the media hype that has surrounded the 2014 Olympics, buried in and among the stories were examples of Olympians and their distinctive qualities of commitment, training, and grace.  Whether the story was about the challenges, the successes, or the outreach of these Olympians, they model the key traits Christians should model, too.

Paul, in Corinth and planning to journey west to Spain, heard of the new church in Rome.  He wanted to visit there but was unable to do so at that time, so he wrote this manual as encouragement to the Roman church.  He was committed to the growth of the Christian faith:

14 I have a duty both to Greeks and to non-Greeks. I have a duty both to wise people and to foolish people. 15 So I really want to preach the good news also to you who live in Rome.

 

16 I am not ashamed of the good news. It is God’s power. And it will save everyone who believes. It is meant first for the Jews. It is meant also for those who aren’t Jews.

 

17 The good news shows how God makes people right with himself. From beginning to end, becoming right with God depends on a person’s faith. It is written, “Those who are right with God will live by faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)  (the NIRV)

 

Today’s Olympian Christians share the same sense of duty or commitment.  The Good News must be shared so others can discover the grace of God.

Olympian coaches work places them in situations that may not be the most glamorous positions and the media often overlooks them.  They are selfless, devoted to the athletes, yet demanding and encouraging all at the same time.  Paul coached from his own experience but also by seeing the talent in those newest Christians there in Rome.  As a coach, he was there to assure them of the New Law, to encourage them when they experienced a setback, and to guide them into the Christian lifestyle that would lead to the gold medal of eternal life.  Paul was an Olympic Christian.

To become an Olympian, one must discover the gifts God has given them and then commit to the rigors necessary to continue developing and improving those skills to handle all the challenges.  Training is never-ending.  Training comes in a variety of forms reading, studying, practicing, and competing.  The best coaches experience this regimen; demonstrate success, and then turn to share knowledge with others.

Paul’s story is an example of learning, too.  Being raised as a Jew, he knew the Old Law, and demonstrated how good he was at maintaining that law by seeking and persecuting the earliest Christians.  He knew the Old Law, but until he was struck blind on the road, he could not see a different way of believing in God.  He trained, he studied, and he practiced.  When he had a life-altering experience, he was awakened to ‘see’ a different way of living and became committed to teaching others whether Jewish or Gentile.  His knowledge trained the first Olympian Christians around the ancient world.

As a coach, Paul’s letters guided the early church into the structure of durability that has allowed it to grow into a global community.  The durability of Christianity is evident in every mile around this globe.  Christians continue training regardless of the successes and the failures.  Olympic athletes continue that quality of training, too.

One of the most inspiring stories shared by the media is that of a paraplegic athlete.  This young man is a model of grace and determination.  Evan Strong was featured on the NBC Nightly News, Thursday, February 20.  This young man had his leg amputated, but he refused to let it stop him and he is now competing in the Paralympics coming up in two weeks.

Yet, it is not the story of his competing that captures the Olympic spirit, but what he does on a daily basis.  The report does not reveal whether he is a Christian or not, but he is a living example of an Olympian Christian.  He grants grace to others and lives his life exemplifying the vary traits Jesus asks of us.  Strong never allows the amputation to stop him and now works to assure other amputees from toddler to adult that an amputation does not limit them.

Paul, whether he was walking along the dusty paths of the Mediterranean region or sitting in a jail cell, never waivered in his devotion to God.  Olympian Christians read Romans and learn how to live the principles, how to handle life challenges, and how to share God’s grace with others:

Romans 12:  Don’t live any longer the way this world lives. Let your way of thinking be completely changed. Then you will be able to test what God wants for you. And you will agree that what he wants is right. His plan is good and pleasing and perfect.

 

3…Don’t think of yourself more highly than you should. Be reasonable when you think about yourself. Keep in mind the amount of faith God has given you.

 

We all have gifts. They differ in keeping with the grace that God has given each of us. Do you have the gift of prophecy? Then use it in keeping with the faith you have. Is it your gift to serve? Then serve. Is it teaching? Then teach. Is it telling others how they should live? Then tell them. Is it giving to those who are in need? Then give freely. Is it being a leader? Then work hard at it. Is it showing mercy? Then do it cheerfully.  (the NIRV)

 

If the Olympians return home recognizing that the commitment and training they practice throughout their athletic careers can sustain them in their entire life journey, then they are living out the same expectations God asks of us.  Evan Strong may not recognize how he exhibits Christian love, but we can see it in his actions.  He demonstrates grace and love for others.  He does not see a handicap; he sees the potential.  Paul’s manual Romans 12, defines God’s love that we are to demonstrate:

 

Love must be honest and true. Hate what is evil. Hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other deeply. Honor others more than yourselves. 11 Never let the fire in your heart go out. Keep it alive. Serve the Lord.

12 When you hope, be joyful. When you suffer, be patient. When you pray, be faithful. 13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Welcome others into your homes.

 

14 Bless those who hurt you. Bless them, and do not call down curses on them. 15 Be joyful with those who are joyful. Be sad with those who are sad. 16 Agree with each other. Don’t be proud. Be willing to be a friend of people who aren’t considered important. Don’t think that you are better than others.

 

17 Don’t pay back evil with evil. Be careful to do what everyone thinks is right. 18 If possible, live in peace with everyone. Do that as much as you can.

 

19 My friends, don’t try to get even. Leave room for God to show his anger. It is written, “I am the One who judges people. I will pay them back,” (Deuteronomy 32:35) says the Lord. 20 Do just the opposite.

 

Scripture says,

“If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
By doing those things, you will pile up burning coals on their heads.” (Proverbs 25:21,22)

 

21 Don’t let evil overcome you. Overcome evil by doing good.  (the NIRV)

 

Olympian Christians are committed, they train by reading and practicing, and they show grace and love to others.  They see the potential in others, not the limits.  They grant grace to others regardless of circumstances, and they do whatever they can for all that they can whenever they can.  Olympian Christians know what Paul meant when he wrote in Chapter 8:

31 What should we say then? Since God is on our side, who can be against us? 32 God did not spare his own Son. He gave him up for us all. Then won’t he also freely give us everything else?  . . .

 

37 No! In all these things we will do even more than win! We owe it all to Christ, who has loved us.

 

38 . . . Nothing at all can ever separate us from God’s love because of what Christ Jesus our Lord has done.  (the NIRV)

 

For the last two weeks, the Olympic spirit has modeled the lifestyle Christians must use to become medal winners, too.  We are to be committed, to train, and to demonstrate God’s grace to one another.   Turn to the coaches in your life, whether in the Bible or among your Christian family, and check yourself.  Do you need more commitment, more instruction, or more practice?  Maybe you need to compete, get out in the world’s arena and live it.  Give 200% and see what a difference it can make in your life while making a difference in others’ lives.  Go for the gold, God’s gold of life eternal.

Closing prayer:

Dear Father and Coach,

Thank you for the hundreds of Olympian athletes

who demonstrate commitment, training, and grace.

Thank you for the gifts you give each of us

to use as ways of sharing the Good News of Jesus.

Thank you for the coaches in our lives

who teach us your law and train us in ways to live.

Thank you for the opportunities provided each of us

to practice loving one another.

Thank you for your unending grace

even when we fall, tire, or injure our self or another.

May we commit ourselves today and everyday,

to continue training and practicing

in order to share your grace with the world.  –Amen

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Why the healing? Why the miracles?

given on Sunday, October 20, 2013

         Jesus began his ministry reaching out to the people walking right beside him along the road.  The Sermon on the Mount set the foundation for his teaching, preaching, and healing.  Certainly Jesus had to teach his followers how to shift from living under the Old Covenant to living under the New Covenant.  He had to teach them what the New Covenant was, and he had to prepare them for the journey ahead.

The Sermon on the Mount is the first formal account of the teaching process, and it shifted to preaching as the crowd beyond his Apostles grew on the mountainside.  The curious, the Jews, the Gentiles, the wealthy, the poor, the craftsmen, the sick, the possessed, even the Pharisees were all crowded around listening.

Why did Jesus need to heal the sick, the possessed, and even the dead?  Why did Jesus perform miracles?  He already had this huge following and it was growing daily.  Why the healing and the miracles?

Beginning this study of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 4:23 introduces the story:

Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness.

 

That verse lists the three different methods Jesus used—teaching, preaching, and healing.  The study notes from the Life Application Bible spelled out the purposes of each one:

Teaching shows Jesus’ concern for understanding, preaching shows his concern for commitment; and healing shows his concern for wholeness.  His miracles of healing authenticated his teaching and preaching, proving that he truly was from God.  (p.1651)

 

The healing had two purposes.  First he wanted to make sure that each one was whole—mentally and physically.  The healing made sure that those who believed were capable of living full lives demonstrating the Christian lifestyle that God wanted for his children.

The second purpose is to provide the new followers evidence of God’s power.  The people needed to see the work that Jesus could do in order to believe he was God.  The healings were instant, they were miracles that man alone could not perform.

The miracles begin with Matthew 8 as Jesus heals a leper:

8 Large crowds followed Jesus as he came down the mountainside. Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. “Lord,” the man said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. Then Jesus said to him, “Don’t tell anyone about this. Instead, go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy. This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed.”

 

Leprosy was a disease that ostracized the person from the community being forced to live with other lepers in a separate community.  There was no hope, no return to one’s family or community.  The lepers were left alone to die alone.

The fact that Jesus reached out and touched the leper was completely unexpected.  The scripture tell us that the healing occurred immediately.  The leper was told to go to the priest so he could see that he was cured or clean of leprosy, which was required by the Law of Moses, aka the Old Covenant.

The miracle cure of leprosy was clearly an example of how faith cured the man, but more importantly the healing bridged the gap between the people and the priests as well as between the priests and Jesus.  The healing made the man whole and it provided evidence that Jesus was God.

The list of Jesus’ healings and miracles is sprinkled throughout the New Testament.  The four gospels include the stories, but even the earliest disciples performed healings and/or miracles:

  • Acts 2:22, 43—Peter explains the miracles:
    • 22 “People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene[a] by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know.
    • 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.

 

  • Acts 19:11-12—Paul is accredited to have performed miracles, too:
    • 11 God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. 12 When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled.

 

  • Acts 19:13-14–goes on to explain that the Jews who had been driving out evil spirits couldn’t:

 

  • 13 A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. 15 But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” 16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.

 

  • Romans 15:17-19—Paul is ministering to the Gentiles of Rome
    • 17 So I have reason to be enthusiastic about all Christ Jesus has done through me in my service to God. 18 Yet I dare not boast about anything except what Christ has done through me, bringing the Gentiles to God by my message and by the way I worked among them. 19 They were convinced by the power of miraculous signs and wonders and by the power of God’s Spirit.[a] In this way, I have fully presented the Good News of Christ from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum.

 

Paul’s letters to the Corinthians adds more understanding to why miracles were performed:

  • I Corinthians 1:22—who needed to see miracles
    • 18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. 19 As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”[a]  20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. 21 Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. 22 It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom.

 

  • I Corinthians 12:10—spiritual gifts include miracles
    • A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice[a]; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge.[b] The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. 10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages,[c] while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. 11 It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.

 

  • II Corinthians 12:12—Paul explains what apostles can do
    • 12 When I was with you, I certainly gave you proof that I am an apostle. For I patiently did many signs and wonders and miracles among you.

 

As Paul’s ministry continues, his letters to the new churches continue to explain the power of God and how Jesus was sent to teach, preach and heal those who determine to live the Christian life.  He explains how the Holy Spirit is the power of God within each of us.  The Holy Spirit fuels the spiritual gifts within us.

  • Galatians 3:5—the Holy Spirit works through us to perform miracles:
    • I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ.
    • 14 Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised[a] Holy Spirit through faith.

The fact that the New Testament has references to healing and miracles in various situations, the closing discussion of why did Jesus perform healings and miracles must center on each one of us individually.  The cynics of 2013 continue to discount the stories of God’s miracles.  The years that have separated Jesus and his disciples and us have caused us to waiver in our belief.  We doubt miracles.  We become suspicious of healings that seem to have no explanation.  Paul was prepared for this and sent out a warning about this in Hebrews.

  • Hebrew 2:1-4—gifts of the Holy Spirit
    • 2 So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it. For the message God delivered through angels has always stood firm, and every violation of the law and every act of disobedience was punished. So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose.

 

Why did Jesus heal?  Why did Jesus perform miracles?  Healing was to assure that people were healthy or whole.  If a follower was not whole, how could he focus on Jesus’ teachings?  How could he stay God-centered or be able to live a faithful, productive life?  The miracles, the instant healings, the water turned into wine, Lazarus brought back to life all provided authenticity to Jesus claim to be God on earth.  Only God could do that, Jesus was man and God.

In our world right now, do we need proof that God is real?  Jesus knew we needed evidence that God is in control.  Jesus demonstrated God’s love right on earth in front of others, and the word of his work and his compassion spread.  Are we able to spread the word with confidence?  Are we able to see how God works through the spiritual gifts of each and every one of his children?  Can we accept our own gifts and work for the glory of God?

Remember the words of the hymn, “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy,” may it be our closing prayer:

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,

weak and wounded, sick and sore;

Jesus ready stands to save you,

full of pity, love, and power.

 

Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,

God’s free bounty glorify;

true belief and true repentance,

every grace that brings you nigh.

 

Come ye weary, heavy laden,

lost and ruined by the fall;

if you tarry till you’re better,

you will never come at all.

 

Let not conscience make you linger,

nor of fitness fondly dream;

all the fitness he requireth

is to feel your need of him.

Refrain

I will arise and go to Jesus;

he will embrace me with his arms;

in the arms of my dear Savior,

O there are ten thousand charms. (or miracles)

 

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