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Psalm 119:161-168 // ש Shin // Peace in His Word

“161 Princes have persecuted me without cause,
but my heart fears only Your word.
162 I rejoice over Your promise
like one who finds vast treasure.
163 I hate and abhor falsehood,
but I love Your instruction.
164 I praise You seven times a day
for Your righteous judgments.
165 Abundant peace belongs to those
who love Your instruction;
nothing makes them stumble.
166 Lord, I hope for Your salvation
and carry out Your commands.
167 I obey Your decrees
and love them greatly.
168 I obey Your precepts and decrees,
for all my ways are before You.”

Psalm 119:161-168
==

Read this passage from Psalm 119 again. Listen to the confidence David has because of God’s presence in His Word.

Read it a third time, remembering how God’s Word has brought you peace.

Read it a fourth time, slowly, resting in the promise of peace that God offers to those who are faithful to Him, those who walk according to His Word and who have found their peace in Christ. Let this be a prayer of contented thanksgiving & praise. 

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Romans 2:25-29 // Circumcision of the Heart

“25 For circumcision benefits you if you observe the law, but if you are a lawbreaker, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 Therefore if an uncircumcised man keeps the laws requirements, will his uncircumcision not be counted as circumcision? 27 A man who is physically uncircumcised, but who fulfills the law, will judge you who are a lawbreaker in spite of having the letter of the law and circumcision. 28 For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. 29 On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart — by the Spirit, not the letter. That man’s praise is not from men but from God.”

Romans 2:25-29

==

This theme will continue to be echoed throughout the letter, the heart is what matters. This life we live in Christ isn’t a walking through a series of religious rites or ceremonies. It isn’t a simple matter of doing things, as if our actions purchase the favor of God. His concern is for our heart. It has always been about giving Him our heart. The heart is the seat of emotion, the heart speaks of the true motivation of an individual. We can walk through any activity repeatedly and never engage with it. You can do most anything without a true concern or a modicum of passion. So, God is looking for the full engagement of our heart, not just our time or resources. Legalism doesn’t indicate that we have given our heart over to God. Doing all the ‘right’ things isn’t a sign of humility or submission to His Lordship. 

God’s call for our heart has been echoed all throughout His Word, the heart that follows Him moves beyond the basic appearance of religion and into a life of true devotion. This is where a daily, intentional engagement with God helps us to maintain the direction of our heart in a way that honors Him. Moving beyond ritual into the practice of the presence of Christ involves our heart in constant conversation with the Father. Paul’s later call to pray without ceasing points toward this internal positioning.

It’s hard to be cold and passive when you are engaged in conversation with someone. You could live in the same house with them, going about your daily tasks, and never really engage with them. But when you open up, taking time to talk, time to listen, things naturally move toward relationship and a deeper life. This circumcision of the heart that Paul is talking about is a condition of the heart that reveals a relationship far removed from ritual. It isn’t about what the individual can do, but about the interaction with God that creates space for Him to reign over them. It’s the difference between appearance and reality, an acquaintance and love. 
Paul was having to confront the long running attitude of his own people. He was combatting the life he used to live as a Pharisee. He was living evidence of the circumcision of the heart winning out over the controlled legalism of religion. God never intended for the Jews to go in the direction they did, but the human heart likes to rely on itself more so than on anyone else. But if we are going to be effective in answering the call to GoLove others, we must understand that lives will only be changed by the circumcision of the heart, not by entering into simple repetition of ritual. A circumcised heart is a heart that is engaged, intentional and that desires to be changed by the experience. The religious heart thinks it is in control of what goes on, and pride rules the day. 

The love of Christ moves so far beyond this shallow interaction and into the deeper enegament that we find when we walk in the daily rhythms of grace with Him in the Holy Spirit. 

Romans 2:17-24 // Why Consistency Matters

“17 Now if you call yourself a Jew, and rest in the law, boast in God, 18 know His will, and approve the things that are superior, being instructed from the law, 19 and if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light to those in darkness, 20 an instructor of the ignorant, a teacher of the immature, having the full expression of knowledge and truth in the law — 21 you then, who teach another, don’t you teach yourself? You who preach, ‘You must not steal’ — do you steal? 22 You who say, ‘You must not commit adultery’ — do you commit adultery? You who detest idols, do you rob their temples? 23 You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 For, as it is written: ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'”

Romans 2:17-24

==

We can get so hung up on how well we ‘do’ our walk with God. It can so easily become about keeping this rule or that rule, going to this event, participating in this ministry. And as long as we are doing what seems to be the right thing out in public, we cease to keep a tight rein on our minds & heart and lose ourselves to inconsistency, damaging our witness. If the change the Gospel calls for isn’t taking place in our hearts, if we cannot get past what -we- do in order to live as Christ intends from the inside out, then we need to be woken up, get a fresh look at ourselves and ask God to help us see where our inconsistency begins and ends. 

Self evaluation is rarely fun. A deep probing of our heart and life usually leaves us feeling rather inadequate, and it remains simpler to just look at our schedule rather than what our life is teaching. Think about it this way, if someone had to learn about Jesus, not from the Bible, but from your life, what would they conclude? What would they say Jesus is all about? What were His main priorities? His focus for ministry? Where does Jesus spend His time? How does He use His resources?  Who does He value most? How does He conduct Himself? How does Jesus live? 

And there are so many more questions to ask. But what would they conclude? Could they get an accurate picture of Him by looking at you? Could they see Jesus clearly by how you live your life? Would He look consistent or wishy-washy? Would He stand for anything, if so are they the ‘right things’ or the truth? 

Now, the good thing is that we who follow Christ operate under grace. We know that He knows that we are prone to stumble along the way, and that His grace is sufficient to cover our shortcomings. But as we walk with Him, focused on Him, those shortcomings should progressivly lessen. They won’t disappear until we are with Him in glory, but there should be a change. Our life should stand as an accurate testimony of who He is, how He moves. And so daily, we are sent to prayer, asking for strength for the day, mercy for our failings and accuracy in our actions as we serve the world as His ambassadors. If we are disciples of Christ, truly following Him, then we know it’s not about a show. We know its more than some step-by-step process to look like good, obedient children. It is a meeting of hearts, ours & His. It is a changing over of a life, from death to a new creation. It is a walking in peace, not in worry. It is a faith for provision, not a scramble to accumulate. It is a lifting up of others, not of self. It means looking more and more like Jesus, and less like who we used to be. We’re going to mess up along the way, but we don’t resign ourselves to sin. We are going to do things wrong from time to time, but we don’t let that stand as an excuse for inconsistency. 

As we GoLove others in His Name, we should revere Him enough to be an accurate depiction of Him to those we encounter as we walk in the daily rhythms of grace. Our lives are meant to be songs of praise, everything an act of worship, meant to glorify Him and draw the eyes of those around us toward His glorious face. Let our witness today stand as a confirmation of the solid change He creates in us, the authority He has over us and His grace at work both in and through us. 

Romans 2:12-16 // Law & Judgment

“12 All those who sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all those who sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For the hearers of the law are not righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be declared righteous. 14 So, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, instinctively do what the law demands, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts. Their consciences confirm this. Their competing thoughts will either accuse or excuse them 16 on the day when God judges what people have kept secret, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus.”

Romans 2:12-16
==

So, who is it then that does the Law that will then be declared righteous? It is good for us to desire to obey God. It is good for us to act in that obedience, walking according to His statutes. But in reality, none of us are capable of keeping the Law. We will break it, struggling against our own sin, even as we try our best to walk according to the will of God. 

Does that mean that we are without hope? No! Because of the grace of God given to us in Christ Jesus, He who does not allow for sin has made a way to continue to lift us up even when we do stumble. Through Jesus, He has made a way for us to be made holy even when we have been soiled with sin. Now, does that mean we kee on sinning, knowing that God will forgive us? As Paul will later say, “By no means!” we cannot continue in our sin, intentionally living in rebellion. We must make the consious effort to walk according to the will of God, choosing His ways over our own. The desire to do this comes from the movement of His Spirit within us, not from some sense of weighted obligation. It is based in love & thanksgiving, coming from that change of heart that He works in us through His grace. 

Being a doer of the Law is evidence of this, not what draws the Spirit to us. That would put the power in our hands, as if we had some authority over God. No, we work and move according to His will, under His authority & because of His grace. Every marker, every bit of evidence points toward Him, bringing Him glory & honor. It isn’t about us. It isn’t about putting ourselves up on a pedestal. It’s about humbly submitting to Him, letting His light shine. In showing that the Law of God is written on our hearts, we show that He has worked a miracle in us, changing our sinful inclinations into righteousness. It is by His power that we live & move. It should then be for His honor that we do whatever it is we set our minds to, whatever tasks are produced by our lives of faithfulness. 

God’s desire for man is plain. Even without the Law, people still know that murder, theft, lying & other such activities are wrong. There is no mystery to this. God has set a compass in the hearts of mankind that point us toward a sense of right & wrong, a desire to see justice done. So, as Paul says, the Spirit speaking through him, we are all without excuse. People will ask about the groups that never hear the Gospel, the people who were never taught the Law. Well, God’s answer to that series of questions is found here, too. Those who hear it are judged by it. Those who do not are judged differently, but they are still judged. God is fair & He is just. We must trust Him to do what is right & to weigh the hearts & lives of men. He will not act contrary to His own nature or statutes. He is unchanging. 

As we GoLove others, we must tell them about the expectations that God holds for us, every single one of us. We who know are responsible. We who have the truth are the ones who have been commissioned to share it with the world. We do not bear the weight of judging the souls of men, but we will be held accountable for bearing the message to them. We do this, partly, by walkingin the rhythms of His grace every day, walking according to His will. 

Romans 2:1-11 // Qualified to Judge You?

“1 Therefore, any one of you who judges is without excuse. For when you judge another, you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the same things. 2 We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is based on the truth. 3 Do you really think — anyone of you who judges those who do such things yet do the same — that you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hardness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed. 6 He will repay each one according to his works: 7 eternal life to those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality; 8 but wrath and indignation to those who are self-seeking and disobey the truth but are obeying unrighteousness; 9 affliction and distress for every human being who does evil, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek; 10 but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does what is good, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. 11 There is no favoritism with God.”

Romans 2:1-11

==

When you get into conversations about sin with people, whether in real life or online, and they decide that they want to throw a little scripture out there, they are often fond of quoting this passage from Jesus: “Do not judge, so that you wont be judged.” (Matthew 7:1.) It seems to be a favorite for use out of context and for those with little understanding. But they also ignore passages like these that show us where to use judgement:

John 7:24 – ‘Stop judging according to outward appearances; rather judge according to righteous judgment.”

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 – “9 I wrote to you in a letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. 10 I did not mean the immoral people of this world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters; otherwise you would have to leave the world. 11 But now I am writing you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer who is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. 12 For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Dont you judge those who are inside? 13 But God judges outsiders. ‘Put away the evil person from among yourselves.'”

In these passages we are told to judge, to discern, what is going on in the heart of another person, to evaluate their actions. If you didn’t or couldn’t, how would you know if someone was immoral? You’d have to hold them up to some kind of standard. What if you met someone who was an abusive drunk, but ignored this passage? When you saw them and confronted them, they’d say “Judge not, man.” and you’d be left to say “Oh well, sorry.” and walk away. And how ridiculous would that be? You have to be able to judge if something is right or wrong, good or bad, righteous or unrighteous. To claim that is impossible or “wrong” to do is insane, because then the person is judging your judging and judging that it is wrong (and against what standard?) 

Instead, we need to understand that the judgement referred to is the judgment of the human soul, we are referring to an eternal judgement. When people put themselves in God’s place and make judgment calls about another human being, that is where the problem lies. There is nothing wrong in pointing out a wrong, but we are to leave the eternal type of judgment to God and God alone. But we still are called to see justice done, to see people treated properly and children taken care of, and those actions all require some form of judgement (discernment) between right and wrong. It is in our conversations with people about Jesus and the hope that we have in Him that we must have the conversations about right and wrong, standards and expectations. We must lay out what is good and profitable and right in the life, mind, heart, soul & body of a Christian, according to what we find in the Word from God. 

To act like we cannot speak into behavior or attitudes, again, is crazy. Even the people who misquote “judge not” do this on a daily basis, and when they do it, they justify it. So, we see what the real issue at hand is: people do not want to be convicted of their sin. They don’t want a standard set in front of their heart just to see that they do not measure up. Instead, they want to be left to their own devices, to do as they please. And in that desire, they set up perceived protection around their actions so that they are not confronted with the ugliness that lies in their hearts. And so “judge not” becomes their rally cry. But judgment is coming, and it is coming from God Himself. And those of us who know His standards have been given a responisibility to lay them out for people to see and hear, and even in that way, we are to do it with gentleness and respect. Prophets were sent to speak to God’s people for thousands of years, to point out what is right and wrong and direct their hearts toward God. Today, God uses us, the church, to speak to the world at large and declare His righteous judgements. Those judgments do not come from us, but from His Word, and we must be able to share with people what is good & bad, right & wrong. The Holy Spirit is responsible for conviction of sin, but we are responsible for communicating the message. We don’t hold judgement over men’s souls, but we do weigh their actions, the fruit of their lives. In fact, the more we read the Word, the more familair we bacome with the heart of God, the more we see that this judgement is done out of love.

James 5:19-20 – “My brothers, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins.”

There must be a discerning so that we can GoLove people, warning them of the judgment that God will bring for every single one of us. There must be a line drawn between sin and faithfulness. It is irresponsible & illogical to think or live otherwise. If we are going to love people as God does, then we must do so in a way that reveals the truth about men’s actions and the motivations of the heart. 

Romans 1:26-32 // The Penalties of Sin & Rebellion

“26 This is why God delivered them over to degrading passions. For even their females exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 The males in the same way also left natural relations with females and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Males committed shameless acts with males and received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error.

28 And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a worthless mind to do what is morally wrong. 29 They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful. 32 Although they know full well God’s just sentence — that those who practice such things deserve to die — they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them.”

Romans 1:26-32

==

This is one of the most painful things that a parent might have to do. Releasing your child to their bad behavior and poor choices, watching them stumble and fall. As they slip deeper and deeper into the consequences of their sin, the heart of the parent struggles more and more for them. It is not an easy process to watch. The parent longs to see them return, but the choice still remains with the child to repent of their actions and obey as they should. We all must choose, daily, to follow and obey or to continue to chase our own passions. But consequences are still consequences. And as Paul shows us here those consequences, and the life that follows along with them, stand in direct conflict with God. 

What would have been natural behavior, honoring God, is exchanged for the life that sin produces. Sexual deviance, mislaid passions, moral degredation. And when you talk to them about their sin, telling them that their choices are not acceptable before God, they are offended. They have regressed to that place where this life of sin has become their new identity, and they see their actions with a strong sense of ownership, having no other foundation in their life but those sins. Where they should have stood on the foundation of righteousness that God would have provided, they stand instead in their disobedience. As Paul says, they know God’s sentence, but they remain in their obstinate rebellion. And in their rebellion, they seek to surround themselves with people who have fallen in the same way they have, seeking what sense of comfort they can find in numbers. 

People are quick to point out the sin of homosexuality listed first in this passage, but we must also pay attention to the other sins listed here: envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, God-haters, arrogance, pride, boasting, inventing evil, disobedience to parents, being undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful. This isn’t a life that anyone would seek intentionally for themselves, but it is the life that results from living in rebellion to God, and gossip is just as detrimental as homosexuality, it separates us from God. Sin is sin, and any purposeful chasing after it stands against God’s desire for us. People are quick to point out sins that are different than their own, and even faster to point out sins that come from the lives & choices of those who are supposed to be walking in righteousness. In order to feel secure in the choices they make, they will treat anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable with animosity. This malice, a deeper result of their sinful choices. 

God has a greater desire for all of us, a better purpose for us than our sin. As Christians, we know this and we understand where our hearts and loyalties must lie. We must also look at others in their sin, and see them the way that our Father saw us, as the One who waited for our return. We must desire a right walk for them, and do whatever God allows us to do in His great grace and mercy to help guide them back home. Jesus told the parable of the Prodigal Son for a reason. Even as we walk in rebellion, we have been afforded an opportunity, in our very next choice, to leave behind the unnatural behavior that we had favored. The Spirit brings the conviction, that seems painful at first, and conviction leads us toward right living in Christ. It is for God’s glory whenever a wayward child comes home, because it is Him who leads us back. 

Our role in seeking to GoLove others is to do whatever He desires to speak truth and show them His plan for humanity. Sin is sin, and is therefore painful & results in pain & often comes from pain. It won’t be an easy task, but if healing is to take place, then conviction must come, and conviction comes from the Spirit when the truth & word of God is presented faithfully. Tolerance just leaves people in their sin, dead, but the Gospel message brings light & life. Only the blood of Christ can cover over the sins that separate us from God. Only the promise of grace and help us move beyond our rebellion. 

Romans 1:18-25 // Why Feel Guilty?

“18 For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, 19 since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. 21 For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles.

24 Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.”

Romans 1:18-25

==

And so we enter the main thrust of Paul’s first point. When we are confronted with God, we find that there are two differemt reactions. The first is to honor and glorify Him, admitting our own shortcomings, or to be given over to our own pride, denying His righteousness and choosing to serve self instead. That may seem overly simplistic, but it is the truth. 

Every morning when I wake up, I am given a choice. Either I can live for God or I can live for myself, there is no in-bewteen. I can either look at the day and understand that God’s desire for me is best or I can seek to serve myself, following my own path. He has not presented us with an option that says that we can do both of those things, living according to His will and our own. Paul lays it out clearly, the Spirit speaking through him, that everyone is without excuse when we make this decision, as God has made Himself plainly known through creation itself. And when we choose to gratify our own desires, choosing self over service to Him, we have chosen depravity, idolatry and that our minds become darkened & foolish. 

And to an unbelieving world, that sounds harsh. But in reality, that’s what happens when we choose self, we exchange the truth for a lie. There isn’t some magical mid-point between truth & lies, no flex point or grey area. And that is where guilt comes in, and why we can see it as a blessing. If we didn’t feel guilty, if we weren’t convicted of our sin, we would never change. If God just patted us on the head and sent us off while silently shaling His own? That would be cruel & heartless. To see our sin, our shame and the mess we make of our life and to just quietly let us wander into the mire and quicksand of death? There couldn’t be love in His heart if He was to let that happen. And so Paul lets us see that God made Himself clear through creation, that He planted certain things in our hearts that draw us toward Him, even if we don’t know what to call Him or have access to His Word. Creation itself has His fingerprint all over it. And being allowed to experience this wandering, to be delivered over to our sinful cravings, we have the opportunity to experience guilt & conviction, the one thing that will point our hearts back to ward Him and away from self. 

Our hypersensitive society is repulsed by the idea of guilt and shame, thinking no one should ever feel bad for their choices. But in reality, that is the greatest cruelty they could offer their ‘fellow man.’ To refuse to say that something is wrong, is to willingly watch another person wander directly into death. To say ‘live and let live’ is to show an absolute lack of care or concern for the well being of another human life and the lives that are attached to it. It is a savage person who tells another person to let their sinful instincts have their way, to eat, drink and be merry, with no fear of consequence or repercussion. It isn’t love that perpetuates this attitude, it is disdain. It plainly says, “I don’t care about you, but I am going to tell myself I do so that I feel no guilt in what harms you.” In this way, ‘tolerance’ can be the greatest cruelty. 

Paul is warning the Roman Christians and everyone else who would read this letter about the dangers of sin. And why? Because he cared for them like God did. And when we care for people, we cannot let them continue to wander in their sin, or deny that their sin even exists. Love cannot turn a blind eye. Instead, it follows the command to GoLove others enough to let them see their sin, which is the example that Jesus set for us. He was lifted up, while offering Himself as the sacrifice for our sin, so that we might see just how serious the wandering of our heart is, and why we must turn our eyes toward God. To live in the rhythm of grace means to be plain and open about sin. Love doesn’t disguise sin, it reveals it for the poison that it is, and it speaks with the voice of the Father, a loving parent who disciplines thier child precisely because of His love for them. 

Proverbs 3:5-12
“5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding;
6 think about Him in all your ways,
and He will guide you on the right paths.
7 Dont consider yourself to be wise;
 fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
8 This will be healing for your body
and strengthening for your bones.
9 Honor the Lord with your possessions
and with the first produce of your entire harvest;
10 then your barns will be completely filled,
and your vats will overflow with new wine.
11 Do not despise the Lords instruction, my son,
and do not loathe His discipline;
12 for the Lord disciplines the one He loves,
just as a father, the son he delights in.”

Romans 1:1-7 // The Focus of a Disciple’s Heart

“1 Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and singled out for God’s good news — 2 which He promised long ago through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures — 3 concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was a descendant of David according to the flesh 4 and who has been declared to be the powerful Son of God by the resurrection from the dead according to the Spirit of holiness. 5 We have received grace and apostleship through Him to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations, on behalf of His name, 6 including yourselves who also belong to Jesus Christ by calling:

7 To all who are in Rome, loved by God, called as saints.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Romans 1:1-7

==

Paul’s primer on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ begins with a greeting that does everything he can to point the focus at Jesus Christ rather than at the reader. All in all, in just this way of saying ‘Hello, it’s me Paul,’ contains close to 20 references to God and only 6 to the reader. There is no doubt, from the first moment, that this letter has an agenda. That agenda is to direct believers, new and old, toward the undeniable truth that God is the center, Christ is the focus and the Spirit is the One who draws us there. 

There is such a relief, such a freedom, that comes from having the focus shifted off of us and onto Jesus Christ. The first steps of discipleship then echo that call to come and die to self, and to then, inturn, live to Christ. Even in saying hello, it is apparent that this new endeavor of the soul is going to create a rhythm that is based in Him, on Him and for Him. This life of being a disciple isn’t anything that might look like our old life, that might resemble whoever it was that we used to be. Instead, we begin in that first step to do what we will be doing in eternity, namely kneeling and confessing His Lordship over all. We begin by confessing Whose we are, as Paul does in the inaugural 6 words, “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.” and in being owned by Jesus, again, we find such freedom. The weight and responsibility of ownership shifts off of our insufficient shoulders and rests firmly on the shoulders of the One who carried the weight of humanity’s sins on His own shoulders. So, in our kneeling, He makes us able to stand. In confessing His Name, He gives us a new identity. In submitting to His Lordship, He makes us Hiis grace-covered ambassadors to the nations. 

All of this confirmed in a simple greeting by a man the readers haven’t even met yet. 

As we greet each new day, week, month, moment, opportunity or year, as Christians, we a compelled to remember our discipleship and where the focus of our life really rests. Each day is meant to be a practice of His presence and a rememberance of His grace-filled love. As disciples, we cannot look to self, but to our Master. This new life is a complete retooling of the entirety of our being. We are being reset, recast, into His image, His likeness. All of life then, has its lens adjusted, focused and dialed in to the heart of God by the blood of Christ and the direction of His Holy Spirit. We gain a new direction and in turn find contenment in Him. We give over the controls for the lens of our heart to Him, knowing that He knows better than we ever could what will bring richness, joy and purpose into our lives. 

Paul’s introduction echoes these senitments, and so much more. This is about Him, not about us. The rhythm of grace that compells us to GoLove others in His Name finds it foundation in the beating of His heart, not in the compulsions of our flesh. The struggle that ensues, between flesh and Spirit, will wind up being a major topic of conversation as this amazing letter progresses. But as for us, let us greet this day with the rememberance of Whose we are, and use these moments we have to draw the hearts of others around us to see what we have found when we come and die, finding life abundant in Jesus Christ. 

Acts 28:23-31 // Boldness & Authority

“23 After arranging a day with him, many came to him at his lodging. From dawn to dusk he expounded and witnessed about the kingdom of God. He tried to persuade them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets. 24 Some were persuaded by what he said, but others did not believe.

25 Disagreeing among themselves, they began to leave after Paul made one statement: ‘The Holy Spirit correctly spoke through the prophet Isaiah to your ancestors 26 when He said,

‘Go to these people and say:

You will listen and listen,

yet never understand;

and you will look and look,

yet never perceive.

27 For the hearts of these people

have grown callous,

their ears are hard of hearing,

and they have shut their eyes;

otherwise they might see with their eyes

and hear with their ears,

understand with their heart,

and be converted,

and I would heal them.’

28 Therefore, let it be known to you that this saving work of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen!’ [29 After he said these things, the Jews departed, while engaging in a prolonged debate among themselves.]

30 Then he stayed two whole years in his own rented house. And he welcomed all who visited him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with full boldness and without hindrance.”

Acts 28:23-31

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When it comes down to it, there is only one choice to make: follow God or follow yourself. 

Paul spoke with boldness, unhindered, because he had discovered the joy that comes from walking in the freedom of God. He spoke with authority, because God was the one with authority, & Paul understoof his role within God’s kingdom. As an emmisary for Christ, he had been sent with the authority of Christ, and so he spoke with it, minstered with it and laid things out there that others might be timid to say. But truth is truth, facts are facts, and Paul knew that the authority of God that went with him as he spoke was only meant for being used in this way. God’s authority does not hem and haw, riding a fence, walking a line bewteen two topics, trying to please everyone. It is authoritative. It is final. It is bold. 

Paul cared for his people, he wanted to honor the heart and promises of God, so he always went to them first, to give them first priority, the first opportunity to hear about what God had done. It was the right thing to do as he traveled from town to town. But he also knew that so many of his own people had traded God’s authority out for their own. They wanted their own way, to do things for their own human ‘rightousness’ rather than resting in the promises of God. They had become consumers instead of producers, honoring self over God.  

And so, out of love, and in the authority of God, he told them so openly. He was not being mean or cruel. Instead, he was offering correction and trying to open their eyes one last time. He was showing mercy by quoting the Prophet’s words one more time, because it was something they just might hear. And we see that it did resonate with them to a degree, because they left engaged in debate. 

But here’s the thing, Paul knew his people and he knew his mission. He knew this would likely be the outcome, but he still had to try. His mission was for the Gentiles (the rest of us) and so he pressed forward with the mission of God in the authority that God has given His messengers to deliver the good news of the Gospel, and so he was able to do it with all boldness. Unhindered preaching, open-hearted witnessing, comes from this boldness and it continues when we step aside and leth His Holy Spirit move us. This type of boldness comes from the efforts of the human heart that has surrendered and submitted to Jesus Christ, coming under His authority. Living in petty, human ‘power’ produces weak preaching, a timid witness and a limited reach. Boldness comes from getting out of the way and letting God do His thing through us, wherever we are…

To GoLove people effectively, we need to set out pride and desires aside and trade them in for the authority and power that comes with bearing witness for Jesus Christ in His Name. The book of Acts ends on a ‘high note’ that is only a high note for the Christian. He has been rejected by his people, he sits imprisoned thousands of miles away from home, but Paul is joyful about finally arriving in Rome, and he is ready to preach the Gospel through whatever doors God opens for him. 

Paul is not magical, mystical or some kind of   better-than-the-rest-of-us super human. He is simply a man who surrendered his life to Christ Jesus to be used by Him to GoLove the world in His Name. You Go and do likewise. Be bold. See what God will do.

Acts 28:17-22 // Seeking Receptive Hearts

“17 After three days he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had gathered he said to them: ‘Brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. 18 After they examined me, they wanted to release me, since I had not committed a capital offense. 19 Because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar; it was not as though I had any accusation against my nation. 20 For this reason I’ve asked to see you and speak to you. In fact, it is for the hope of Israel that I’m wearing this chain.’

21 Then they said to him, ‘We haven’t received any letters about you from Judea. None of the brothers has come and reported or spoken anything evil about you. 22 But we would like to hear from you what you think. For concerning this sect, we are aware that it is spoken against everywhere.'”

Acts 28:17-22

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There really isn’t anything new under the sun. From the beginning of the Church, people have been speaking against it. This last exchange by the Jews in Rome could have been said just today. So many people speak against the Church even today. When we stand firm in the truth, people are offended, uncomfortable and often respond with ugliness. Rumors and untrue stereotypes abound, and the world lashes out at us through their misguided understanding of what we believe. They want us on the defensive, they try their hardest to throw us off balance.

Paul seeks out those people who should know better, who should be at least -familiar- with the Scriptures. He always went to the synagogues first, even if that meant a difficult exchange was coming. And while the Jews in Rome hadn’t heard anything about what had been going on with Paul, they had heard about the Church and they had heard people speaking against it. But that will not deter Paul, he was always faithful to try speaking and sharing and witnessing to those who should have a base to help them understand the Gospel message, the people of Israel, the children of promise. 

As we GoLove people in Jesus’ Name, we will find individuals who already ahev some basic knowledge of the Sciptures, maybe they were raised in church and fell away, maybe they are the spiritually ‘curious’ person who has actually taken time to read portions of the Bible. These people are going to have a sensitivity to what we have to say, but just like Paul found, that also means that you will probabaly find yourself battling misconceptions and wrong ideas that have been painted to look like they belong. 

Paul’s strategy also included the opportunity to walk away from the Jews & those gathered in the synagogues after he had made a legitimate attempt to share Christ with them. After they had heard the Gospel, and after they had some time with him to ask questions and have some conversation with him, he would move on. Those who had accepted, accepted and those who would not were left behind.  Paul then moved on to the slightly more difficult task of sharing the gospel with the pseudo-religious or irreligious crowds & pagans. 

Sometimes the hardest thing we must do is step away from trying to share Jesus with someone that we want to see come to Christ, but has no desire to actually make a move toward Him. We must also remember that God simetimes uses one person to plant a seed, another person waters it and still another gets to take part in the harvest. When we step away from someone, it’s not giving up on them, it’s giving control of the situation over to God. You keep praying for them, but you also allow some time and space to see them come to Christ by the power of God and the witness of another person. 

Paul had to exhibit a lot of trust in the hand of God in these trying times, and we must learn to do likewise. We must also remember to be good stewards of our time and to make an effort to reach out to others that may have been off our radar. Don’t beat yourself up because someone won’t respond. It just might be that the best thing you can do is let someone else have a chance & give the situation over to God. Paul is going to find this out in the next few verses of this last chapter of Acts, pray and ask God to see when those occasions come up for you & when to move forward elsewhere. Pray to be sensitive to the leading of His Holy Spirit. 

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