Thursday, July 30, 2009

Romans 14

So let us try to do what makes peace and helps one another (v19)

I can imagine this verse, along with other content in this chapter, becoming fodder for someone who wants to align the Bible with moral relativism. Let’s not take things out of context. Paul is writing specifically about eating and holidays. These are rituals related to the old testament law. I think that the statement could reasonably be applied to church traditions and music, which are modern counterparts to the things he was dealing with in this time. It does not, in my opinion, extend to issues like divorce and abortion that seem to be considered “morally grey” these days. Verse 17 seems to support that the statement in 19 is limited in scope:

In the kingdom of God, eating and drinking are not important. The important things are living right with God, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Personally, I have felt the power of this whole concept in a way that crystallized verses 22-23 very well:

Your beliefs about these things should be kept secret between you and God. People are happy if they can do what they think is right without feeling guilty.23 But those who eat something without being sure it is right are wrong because they did not believe it was right. Anything that is done without believing it is right is a sin.

TMI Warning, but here we go. I struggle with knowing what God really wants for me in the area of family planning. At one point in my marriage, my husband and I both felt like God was speaking clearly that everything in our lives was ready for us to have children. The problem was that we didn’t feel ready. I don’t feel guilty about not trying to have a baby from the first night of my marriage. However, once God made it clear that He wanted something else from us, there was no end to the trouble we had with our consciences and even our relationship until we decided to comply. Once we understood that we were living out of line with God, our actions became sinful and we began paying the price in our spirits and lives. We never expected that God would follow up with a pregnancy within a month of that decision, but that was His plan.
I have since had a second child and find myself needing to make a decision about the future. I know what God has placed on my heart, but I remain afraid to act on it. Despite 20/20 hindsight of the messes I have made and miracles God has worked, I remain lured by the idea of staying in control. So remains the cry of my heart- Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Romans 13

You should be good. You should obey the law – both God’s and man’s where they do not conflict. I think that is clear and undeniable. I don’t quite know how this line works, though (v.3):
Those who do right do not have to fear the rulers; only those who do wrong fear them. Do you want to be unafraid of the rulers? Then do what is right, and they will praise you.

Obviously, people who obey the rulers are sometimes punished, and innocent people sometimes take great suffering at the hands of unjust rulers. I suppose I could make the argument that you don’t need to fear the rulers because no matter what they do to you, God will ultimately deliver you and reward you for your suffering (although maybe only in death.) I can’t get behind the “they will praise you,” part. NAS translates it this way:
For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same;

I’m still not sure how that works. Although this one is a little vague about who “authority” refers to, it still seems to me that they are talking about earthly rulers.
I also need to address verse 13:
Let us live in a right way, like people who belong to the day. We should not have wild parties or get drunk. There should be no sexual sins of any kind, no fighting or jealousy.

“Belong to the day” is continuing a metaphor of “Day” as the time of Christ’s rule on earth versus our present age, “night,” in which Satan has his own influence here.
Don’t have wild parties or get drunk, etc. This is really easy for me to check off as a married mother of pre-school aged children who is excited to get to bed by 9 p.m. I don’t think I would have found it so easy to swallow at another time in my life, though, so I have to question, “Am I ‘good’ because I have set my life up in ways that prevent ‘badness,’ or is there truly a desire to honor God this way in my heart?” Does it matter? If I am someone who loves God in a way that causes right behavior to flow naturally into my actions, am I better off than someone who loves God in a way that I seek to discipline my life to suit Him despite my contrary nature?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Romans 12

v. 9-16

Your love must be real. Hate what is evil, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like brothers and sisters. Give each other more honor than you want for yourselves. Do not be lazy but work hard, serving the Lord with all your heart. Be joyful because you have hope. Be patient when trouble comes, and pray at all times. Share with God's people who need help. Bring strangers in need into your homes.
Wish good for those who harm you; wish them well and do not curse them. Be happy with those who are happy, and be sad with those who are sad. Live in peace with each other. Do not be proud, but make friends with those who seem unimportant. Do not think how smart you are.

These were the verses that the best man read at my wedding. He read them in a different translation that I think conveys more exactly what we wanted to impart on our relationship, but I like the way they sound in NCV. If two people abide by just these simple lines – except maybe not the brothers and sisters part – how could a marriage go bad? If we love each other with a real love, keep God in the heart of it through prayer, and focus on what we can do for others, I think we could get through anything. This is all much easier said than done, of course, but clearly God knew what he was talking about when he made this plan.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Romans 10-11

This has been a rough month for me. I’m going through something that I have been through before and will probably face again down the road. Actually, there are two things going on in my life that fit that description. I am being vague not to be secretive, but rather because the details aren’t important. We all have our “somethings” that come up again and again in our lives and wear us down. When I reached a breaking point in prayer this week, God told me that He would be “mighty” in this struggle. I don’t know what that means, but I expect to find out.

I don’t have very much to say about these books in Romans. God chose the Jewish people to be His children – to be saved by His covenant with them. In the Old Testament, the Jews are that “something” that has come up again and again for God, rejecting His ways over and over despite his continual calling of them. Romans 11 says that we as Gentiles are now grafted into the tree whose root is Israel. We are now part of the blessing, but aren’t we also now part of the problem? Aren’t we just as much a “stiff-necked” people who turn away from God at the slightest temptation?

Taken together, these chapters are also about the Mightiness of God. Like the song, our God is Mighty to Save. Even now, he is orchestrating events to widespread for us to put together that will bring about His will for His people. All this grafting and cutting off is just an illustration of the millions of works He is doing in the world to bring us to Him.

Yes, God's riches are very great, and his wisdom and knowledge have no end! No one can explain the things God decides or understand his ways. 11:33

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Romans 9

Lately I am struggling with deflated-ness. That’s not a real word, but it’s so descriptive of this place where I find myself a little too empty on the inside and a little too soft to the touch on the outside. A balloon that is full will bounce back when you poke at it, but I’m more like that balloon that kind of sucks your finger in and gets a wrinkly little scar thing when you pull it out.
I am watching the lives of people around me fall apart. I am watching the hearts of people I love get broken. I am looking at my own life, my own mistakes and great failures. It all makes me feel incredibly humble, and somehow reluctant to place myself before God. I don’t really like what he is doing with my friends, and I think it is making me want to hide from Him. It makes me wonder when it will be my turn to walk through the fire again, and what my particular fire might be.

So what should we say about this? Is God unfair? In no way. Rom9:14

There are places where I can see that God is tearing down houses built on sand, forcing their owners to move on and seek a life with a solid foundation. There are places where I recognize that God is working for ultimate good to the great pain of the people He is working in. There are places where all I can see is destruction, things that seem to stand in opposition to God’s will despite the cries of his children to make them “right.”
Romans 9 is not about bad things happening to good people and good things happening to bad people. This is a story about the Jewish people and the Gentiles, and how God has used them to show the sovereignty and righteousness of His will. Ultimately, no matter what happens, our only hope is in God. He is the one thing He has promised us in this life.

As it is written in the Scripture:
"I will put in Jerusalem a stone that causes people to stumble, a rock that makes them fall. Anyone who trusts in him will never be disappointed." Rom. 9:33

This does not address the “why do bad things happen to good people question,” – it obliterates it. Jesus (via Isaiah via Paul, here) is making a promise that anyone whose ultimate trust is in God will never have that trust broken. He is not denying the pain and suffering of these things that leave us so empty inside. He is claiming that whatever happens, His Will remains and therefore the sum total of the universe is Good. Good does not equal “what I like,” even if I am the nicest, the most loving, and the most spiritual person on earth. He I promising that when we are empty, He will always be there to fill us up- as long as “Him” is what we really want to be filled with. I know what I need to find myself “re-flated.” I know that it is Good. Now I just need to want it. Here we find ourselves, once again – Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Romans 7-8

I spent the last 2 weeks or so reading and re-reading Romans 7, trying to latch on to something in there that I could relate to my life. There are some things I just don’t understand – all this business about being alive before the law and sin using the law but the law is still holy although it brought death? I just keep asking, why do we have the law if it brought only death and knowledge of sin? I do understand this verse (7:15):

I do not understand the things I do. I do not do what I want to do, and I do the things I hate

I didn’t exercise on Monday even though I am sick on my clothes not fitting and I sleep much better when I do work out. I didn’t take the time to call my husband and tell him how thankful I am that he cleaned out the garage to make room for my car, although I was so happy all the way to work that I did not have to scrape ice of my windshield this morning.

What I DID do this week was yell at my kids and eat chocolate chips out of the bag.

Since I took too so long on chapter 7 and didn’t really say anything, I thought I’d better throw in chapter 8. BONUS!!

I have worked in a ministry for people grieving the death of loved ones for about 5 years, and I think there is no verse more often given to and misunderstood by grieving people than Romans 8:28:

We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him. They are the people he called, because that was his plan

I know it sounds like it would bring great comfort to someone to tell them that God is working some good out of their loss, but most people don’t take it that way. They tend to think that you are telling them that the death of their loved one was “for the best” in some way, and it makes them either angry at you or at God.

In 2004, my husband’s best friend was killed in a random mugging. We were both devastated. In our moments of total honesty, the most difficult thing about it is that our faith cannot tell us that he is in heaven with God. I take Jesus at His word that “No one comes to the Father except through me.” I know that my friend was not a church-goer, not a Bible-reader, and not a professed Christian, but I still have a great hope that he is with God. I just can’t know, based on my faith. What I do know is that God is making something good out of something that is decidedly not good. I don't think God wanted my friend to die any more than I did, and that is where I can find comfort.

The Truth is that God didn’t want anyone to die, but this is the point in my winding thought trail (thanks for staying with me) where all that Romans 7 stuff started to make more sense. Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Isn’t the law the “fruit” of that knowledge? [I’m not trying to say that the Garden of Eden was allegorical.] God’s plan was for us to live forever, but once we knew good and evil for ourselves, everything was turned on its head and sin and death got control. The Law is holy; God created it to order the world, but it was not God’s plan for us to ever be under the Law. It was our free-will choice to take on the knowledge of good and evil, and through that knowledge sin took over the world. Yet even in that bad turn of events, God is/was/will be working for the good of those who love Him. (Rom 8:35-39)

Can anything separate us from the love Christ has for us? Can troubles or problems or sufferings or hunger or nakedness or danger or violent death? … But in all these things we are completely victorious through God who showed his love for us. Yes, I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor ruling spirits, nothing now, nothing in the future, no powers, nothing above us, nothing below us, nor anything else in the whole world will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing. Not even me?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Romans 6

Paul is addressing the inevitable question: “If all your sins are forgiven, why do you need to ‘be good?’”

His answer is, (in part and channeling a friend of mine who kindly fixed up my new computer last night,) “That would be like running Windows on your new iMac.” You could do it, but you would be undermining the greatness of the work of Christ and ultimately cheating yourself out of the gift He has given you.

Paul addresses Christ’s resurrection, the work which grants us eternal life, in verses 8-10 in order to draw a parallel between victory over death and victory over sin.
in verses 5-7, he makes this point:

Christ died, and we have been joined with him by dying too. So we will also be joined with him by rising from the dead as he did. We know that our old life died with Christ on the cross so that our sinful selves would have no power over us and we would not be slaves to sin. Anyone who has died is made free from sin’s control.

The gift is of Christ is not only freedom from death, but also freedom from sin. It is only in freedom from sin that we can be free from death, but I don’t want to overlook the magnitude of that second freedom in and of itself.

Looking at this from another direction, if someone is asking, “Why should I be good if I am forgiven for being bad?” what they are really fighting against is letting go of something they enjoy in life that is contrary to God’s will as they understand it. As a twenty-something (admittedly barely hanging on to that title,) the people in my life are usually talking about “partying” in some form. Whether that is alcohol, drugs, sex, or just plain irresponsibility doesn’t make any difference. Why would these people, or anyone, want “freedom” from the lifestyle they are enjoying so much? Paul’s answer is easy to refute and impossible to deny:

Surely you know that when you give yourselves like slaves to obey someone [or something], then you really are slaves of that person [or thing.]

The mouth says: I’m not a slave to drinking. I’m not a slave to smoking. The heart echoes the truth: Why is it that sometimes I just don’t feel right until I have that drink?Why did I spend more on cigarettes this month than I paid on my credit card debt, even though that debt is keeping me up at night?

The specifics of my own don’t matter, because the cycle is familiar to anyone who has wrestled their own demons. I felt bad- depressed, bored, insignificant, stressed- I turned to my self-help of choice, I felt “better.” The next day, I was about as glad to be done with the cure as with the sickness, and I was haunted with the knowledge that the next time I felt bad, I would most likely find myself going down the same path. The truth is that even as they brought pleasure, those dark little things brought pain because I knew in my heart I was enslaved. If I really faced the truth, I knew that without them, there would be a hole in my life that I couldn’t fill. It is torment to know that you are not complete without some ugly thing that must be bought, made, done, added- over and over again- that is not you but less than you.

It’s not like that with God. God fills that void with Himself - something not you but greater than you, something that is not made or bought or done, but given. That is what freedom from sin is all about. It’s about the power to overcome that which makes us less than what we desire to be, because ultimately, we desire to be beautiful, pure, and wonderful, and that is what God desires from us as well.