Notes from Paul

Romans 13 12

In Romans, Paul is describing the sorrow he feels that the Jews he has been trying to teach have not accepted the good news of Jesus Christ.  Even though he recognizes it is in God’s plan, he is mourning their stubbornness and their hardened hearts.

It is important to God why we follow Him…what motivates us.  He wants us to pursue Him because our faith compels us to do so, not as a result of our obligation to the law.

Paul begins to bring his message around again to the idea that Christ came for all people.  Paul continues to hope that the Israelites will listen and allow their hearts to be opened to God’s message of love and mercy. (Romans 11:11-16)

I believe Paul is saying to the early believers who are not of Jewish descent that they are the branches which come from the foundation of the Israelites.  If the root is holy, then so are the branches. As a result they need to continue to live and work together in the hope that the Jews’ eyes and hearts will be opened to a new understanding of God and Jesus Christ as Savior.  Paul points to this idea more clearly by instructing them in Romans 12:9-17…

 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[c] Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

As we do our best to live at peace with everyone, Paul gets into more controversial subjects next…it could be controversial yet today too.  In Chapter 13, Paul includes the authorities which govern the members of the early church in his statements about how to treat one another if we are followers of Christ.

Romans 13:6 & 7

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

I am guilty of not appreciating those who are in authority over me.  I speak out against the actions, decisions and judgements those in civil service make sometimes.  There are many times that I don’t agree and wish the government didn’t appear so corrupt and hypocritical, but rather than allowing my anger to rise and my resentment to grow, I should be praying for those in power.  I should be blessing them…tough pill to swallow Paul, tough pill to swallow…sometimes it is bitter too.  Nevertheless, if I am to be obedient to God’s call on my life, this is one area I can improve…I think Paul was speaking the early believers about this subject because he knew they could do better too.

The next part is a little easier to accept, though not necessarily easier to accomplish:

Romans 13:8-10

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”[a] and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Why do we do this? Why do we live this way?  Because the day is near…

Romans 13:11& 12

And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already comefor you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light

Let us also join that high calling, that of putting aside the deeds of darkness and putting on the armor of light…let us love one another in spirit and in truth, in action as well as in word…the day is near

Come, Lord Jesus, Come…

Joyanne Swanson

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Trust Conquers Uncertainty

Eccles 10 2

Ecclesiastes 9:13-11:6

“An example of wisdom that greatly impressed me.” Wisdom that greatly impressed the man that chose wisdom over all of the world’s riches? Okay, you have my attention. It was wisdom that impressed him and saved a city from a superior force. But fools neglect and forget the wise. In times of trouble the wise find themselves surrounded by the lost and afraid, looking for direction. But as soon as they feel safe again they cast off the wise and get back to their hollow lives.

Forget about the wise. Besides it only seems to take a little bit of foolishness to nullify all that the wise do. Whether it is a wise man doing himself harm from his own stupidity or being harmed from someone else, we have seen this and have likely experienced it firsthand. “One sinner destroys much good.” Foolishness is so common. It almost seems incomprehensible that people continue to act the way they do. But I guess that it is easier to believe the unbelievable, to follow the fools way that appears flat and smooth rather than to face the hard truth, to take the difficult path of wisdom and honor. Jesus said it best when he said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few will find it.” Matthew 7:13-14. The great value of wisdom is lost on the foolish.

Despite what many might think, verse 2 has nothing to do with our modern political party system or whether you are conservative or liberal. The people of Israel understood that the right hand of God is a place of authority and protection. The wise, who we have described as godly, would seem to naturally be inclined toward the right while fools go in the opposite direction. What’s more, the fool flaunts his stupidity. It says he “walks along the road” and “shows everyone how stupid he is.” If you doubt the truth in this I suggest you take an objective look at social media! “Preach it brother!”

Solomon spends a lot of time in these passages reminding us that life is not fair. We may work hard and not get the results that our works merit. Someone else may get all the benefits of what we do while not contributing to it themselves. And of course there are dangers all around us, accidents do happen after all. He urges us to see the dangers, to be aware of them. Preventing us from falling into a pit, literally and metaphorically. The fool though will walk himself right into a pit, into “wicked madness.”

I want to take a moment to address 10:19, specifically “money is the answer for everything.” This is how my NIV puts it and this is a great example of a red flag moment in Bible reading. I personally look at this and I am stunned by most of the commentaries I read concerning this verse. At best they say this is Solomon’s wry humor or his attempt at sarcasm. At worse it is a passage that feeds all the prosperity preachers out there. “You may be struggling to pay your bills right now but God will provide a great bounty, a time of plenty. God knows what you need.” Yes, God does know what you need! We need a relationship with Him, with His son Jesus, and with one another. We need to be like the flowers of the field and be content with what we have. So why does Solomon say this? The original Hebrew reads something more like the NEB version, “money is behind it all” or the NIrV, “people think money can buy everything.” I find it interesting that the young reader version of the NIV is so dramatically different from the standard version on this passage. Apparently kids can handle this truth better than adults can.

Solomon urges us to be diligent and trust in God else we find our heads in the clouds and daydreaming. We cannot get caught up playing with “what ifs” and “what could have been”. We can only affect what we can and trust God to handle the rest.

God has asked His people to trust Him from the very beginning. He has made promises and He has kept those promises. He has worked in and through various people and revealed Himself in many ways. And then the world went dark. For 400 years God was silent, still working but not revealing as He had been. That all changed when an angel of the LORD appeared before Zechariah letting him know that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son. That son, known as John the Baptist, would herald in the time of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus, the son of God, knew what he must ultimately do. He could only go to the cross with confidence if he fully trusted in God. After he ascended to the right hand of God the world once again seemingly went dark. …

Indeed it is dark for those who lack trust in God, who do not have a hope through His son Jesus. God calls for trust. Solomon wrote God’s words to teach us how to trust. Jesus’ sacrifice was a display of trust. We remember that sacrifice and know that his was the only death that actually has meaning, for Jesus’ death is the one that gives life.

-Jeff Ransom

What We Deserve

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Ecclesiastes 8:2-9:12

Solomon begins here with examples of improper decorum before a king. In his great authority he can do whatever he pleases, his word is law. So who in their right mind would say to him. “What are you doing?” We see this same idea applied to God in Job 9:12 and Isaiah 45:9. So Solomon says to obey the king, be loyal and not rebellious. Do not do something that is bad or wrong just because you do not like or agree with someone. Seems like common sense but we see it every day on the street level all the way up to those with the greatest wealth, power, and influence. There is even a saying that goes with it, “You cut off your nose to spite your face.”

So do not ask, “What are you doing?” but submit, for “whoever obeys will come to no harm.” This is the way of the wise. The wise person has a better chance of knowing the best course of action and when to act, knowing the proper time and procedure. And yet they still find misery as none knows what the future holds. Misery because we do know that there are consequences for our wickedness. And just as no one can control the wind or delay death, no one can escape the consequences for our wicked, sinful ways.

Life is not fair! … Solomon talks about the wicked being buried. In this context it implies that they receive undeserved respect. A proper burial given to an undeserving wretch. False believers who say the words and make a show of faith. So much so that they receive praise, but they are wicked none the less. They reach this status when justice is not dealt out in proper time. He may commit a hundred crimes and yet live a long life. Worse, he is adored by others who wallow in their own sin, rejoicing that this glorious example has been set for them to work towards. But there will be judgment! The righteous, God-fearing man will have life and the wicked … death!

Life is not fair! … Righteous men get what the wicked deserve and the wicked get what the righteous deserve. Circumstances and choices can lead to what might appear to be unrighteous judgment. Verse 13 tells us that justice will come … in time. Until then, verse 15 points to the wisdom of trusting God and enjoying the many ways in which we are blessed. See, we do not see the “big picture” that God does so we cannot fully understand why things happen when and in the ways that they do. It is better to accept what we are capable of and not stress ourselves with what we are not.

We are in God’s hands. He alone knows what awaits the righteous and the wise and all that they do. “All share a common destiny – the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.” … Death! Death is the destiny we share and the answer to the question, “What does the future hold, what awaits us?” Solomon refers to this as “the evil in everything.” It cuts down the young and old alike. Death does not care whether you are good or bad. Some believe that because death is so arbitrary that it is excusable to rush into sin, to relish in it all their days. It is where we get sayings like, “Live like there is no tomorrow, live life to the fullest” and of course the most popular one in recent years, “YOLO, you only live once.”

For the wicked I guess this is pretty much true. They have no hope for the eternal life promised by God through His son Jesus so this is all that they have. But the living, those who have life through Jesus, they have hope. But in death we will know nothing. No longer able to learn or grow and in time we will be forgotten. God will not forget you though. We can believe this, we can trust it. He did not forget Saul who became Paul. He did not forget Peter, who denied Jesus. He did not forget Ezra, Nehemiah, Joseph or Job. He will not forget you!

Life is not fair! … I hear this all the time from people of all ages. I used to say this myself in frustration, thinking of the ways that I have been hurt or wronged. I stopped saying it when I took Romans 6:23 to heart, “For the wages of sin is death.” If life was fair and was as immediate as our impatience would hope it was, we would be dead the moment we sinned for the first time. In other words, man-kind would be extinct! If we got what we deserved we would not exist! Instead we have received mercy and compassion that goes beyond our comprehension and that we do not deserve.

I for one am grateful, not for what I deserve but for what I do not.

-Jeff Ransom

Wisdom In…Wisdom

Eccles 7 2

Ecclesiastes 7:1-8:1

In Solomon’s time, perfume or oil was a symbol of joy and prosperity and often used as a metaphor for one’s reputation. Solomon combines these ideas with birth and death. He suggests that it is better to have a good name or reputation at the end of your life than to have a joyful and favorable beginning which, by one’s own actions could result in nothing. “The day of death is better”, in his second letter to Corinth and in his letter to Philippi, Paul reminds us of how true this is for those found in Christ. But Solomon’s point is valid for everyone as he explains that we generally learn less from the good times than the bad.

Solomon was pretty big on wisdom so he wrote about the wisdom of reflecting on the brevity of life, “Death is the destiny of every man.” He said that the “living should take this to heart.” or reflect on it. The heart was considered the seat of reflection and of moral decision and action. Seems like the opposite of what most people think today. Anyway, here he recommends that we not only reflect but do so soberly rather than delving into foolish pleasures. Through serious reflection we may achieve some level of moral and spiritual growth or maturity. Moses understood this as he said “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” These words, this message, is desperately needed in this day that emphasizes and encourages self-centeredness. It is common for us to laugh at troubles rather than face them, to joke about what we should take seriously. People are living life like it is an all-you-can-eat buffet that will never run out. This is the fool’s way but the wise live life in light of life’s brevity. Not cautiously or in excess but with purpose and meaning. There is also wisdom in listening to and taking to heart the warnings, corrections, and rebukes of the wise. It is in this that we learn and grow.

With that being said, let us heed the words of a wise man. Solomon warns against adversity and prosperity bringing temptations – temptations that draw us away from wisdom and God. Drawing us into foolishness. Adversity and prosperity alike may lead one to become impatient or be provoked to anger, or complain about where they are, longing for the “good old days.” Each of these is contrary to the trust we ought to have in God. But he was not condemning either of these. He had already made a case for how we can learn more from adversity than times of plenty and he was also in favor of prosperity. In both cases though, wisdom is present. The wise learn from adversity and enjoy the fruits of their prosperity.

It is the wise who would “consider what God has done.” Some try to find fault in God’s ways. The fool is blinded to the ways in which God works through the good and the bad. It is a matter of perspective and … ours is limited. Solomon warned against depending on our perceived righteousness while living wickedly. Those who become “holier-than-thou”, the “high and mighty”, are often the first to fall. Over righteousness occurs when we begin to think too highly of ourselves. We lose the humility that helps balance our relationships … with God, Jesus, and each other. He suggests that we try to strike a balance in life. “Did Solomon just tell us to be a little wicked?” not at all. He is just acknowledging that we are already wicked by our fallen nature. We cannot escape it but we can work to counteract it.

We are not righteous in and of ourselves. The great part about being on this side of the cross is that we know that we can be made righteous through the blood of Jesus. This knowledge brings wisdom. Wisdom makes one powerful but it does have limitations. In itself, wisdom is inadequate to provide us protection or offer salvation. Additionally, we are not able to gain full wisdom. Solomon, yes that Solomon, said that true wisdom was far beyond him.

What he did discover though is that true righteousness and true wisdom does not exist among men. In his searching he finds that there is only one upright man among a thousand it says and none among women. This speaks to the rarity of such a person but if Scripture and experience have taught us anything it is that such a person is all but nonexistent. In fact I question whether this statement was more prophetic than observational. Could Solomon’s one upright man have been speaking of the coming Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus the Christ? The reason for man’s universal depravity is his own doing, not God’s. “God made men upright.” He made us perfect and we screwed it up. We follow our own schemes thus we lack true uprightness, true righteousness, and true wisdom. And we fail to please God.

Solomon asks many questions in this book. Some that we find in this reading will be answered when Jesus returns. At his return we will have true righteousness, true wisdom. Then we will be changed and made new. Into the glorious creations that He intended us to be. In knowing God, pleasing Him, we gain wisdom but in growing closer to Him through His Son we gain life everlasting. Do you see the wisdom in this?

To be continued …

Jeff Ransom

A Legacy?

eccles 5 10

Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:12

Do not be surprised if you lose the fruits of your labor to a higher authority. Solomon lays out a hierarchy of power and thus was born the phrase, “there is always a bigger fish.” Well I doubt that phrase came from Solomon but you get the picture. Some actually use verses 8-9 of chapter five to say that Solomon did not write this book, that he would never paint his own rule in such a poor light. Have these people ever read the rest of the Bible? It is full of people acting stupid and not sugar coating it. They fully disclose the heights of their idiocy because they were compelled to write the truth. Solomon may have been generalizing but we see in 1 Kings 12 how the Israelites demand Rehoboam to reduce their oppression, to lighten their load. This suggests that Solomon’s governors made financial demands of the people in order to support Solomon’s extravagant lifestyle. So I am thinking that his government was not excluded from this ugly truth.

But what did his wealth gain him? What does it gain anyone? The covetous are characterized as never satisfied. The more they have, the more they want. They never have enough. It is like trying to fill the Grand Canyon with water using a teaspoon with a hole in it. Additionally, the more you have the more avenues by which you could lose it. When one suddenly comes into a large sum of money they instantly find themselves surrounded by relatives that they never knew existed. It is no wonder that Solomon says there is no sleep in the abundance of a rich man. Between striving for more and keeping an eye on what you have to protect, it sounds like a miserable life to me. Solomon argues that the only results for increased wealth for a covetous person are increased anxiety and increased vigilance, not increased enjoyment.

All of this striving is meaningless! You chase after it and you protect it yet it could be the very reason you lose your life. And if all of that did not suck enough, Solomon realized that you cannot take any of it with you when you die. We all enter the world with nothing and we all leave it with nothing. The realization of this can cause great “frustration, affliction, and anger.”

But Solomon realized that God gives us life and labor and the fruits that each produces. God also gives us something that we cannot find anywhere else, true joy! This is a gift from God: that He enables us to enjoy the fruits of our labors and to be happy in our work. He grants us contentment as nothing else on earth can. However, he warns us that God can provide the materials but not grant the ability to enjoy them. It is a blessing from God, a gift, not a right or guarantee.

Solomon pities the one who does not know joy from their work. He characterizes it as a life devoid of meaning. And yet there numbers are great. So many have appetites that are never satisfied. Constantly searching, impatiently looking for something new, something better or something that is not certain. In contrast “what the eyes sees” is at hand. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” never made sense to me until I read this. (Go ahead and get the “nothing makes sense to you” jokes out of the way now.) Ready to continue? Good. This continues Solomon’s theme that is woven throughout the book; that of being content with what God has blessed us with.

Solomon ends the chapter with a number of questions, all of these point to the One True God. He created the universe and every living creature. He has blessed us above all the rest of creation. Blessed us with an awareness of our Creator and knowledge of the promise of salvation for those who come to Him through His son Jesus. He knows what was, what is, and what will be. He alone is the Almighty, the All-powerful God Yahweh. None can stand against Him and none can hope to change His mind with many words. He knows what is good and He has revealed this to us through His word and the life, ministry, sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus.

All of this points to the gift from God who enables us to enjoy our works and that which we have produced. To be content with what we have and not striving after the hollow and decaying things of this world. This is the legacy that we have access to. To draw closer to God through His son and see every moment and circumstance of this life as a blessing. To enjoy life and labor with gladness in our hearts.

To be continued …

Jeff Ransom

What Rings Out from You?

1 Thess 1 8

I Thessalonians 1-3

Apprentice: Learning from the Master was the theme for Family Camp 2015.  Our son suggested the theme while coming home from Family Camp the previous year.   And it stuck.  “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” I Corinthians 11:1.  We have a responsibility to be following our Master Jesus (who was following God’s will and direction every step of the way) – not only for our benefit – but to lead and guide and instruct others how to also follow Christ and become more and more like Jesus.

I see Apprentice all over these first three chapters of I Thessalonians.   When Paul was blinded on the road to Damascus he entered training to be an Apprentice of the Lord Jesus Christ.  But he didn’t hide away with his new-found life – taking it out every Sunday to display at church.  It was his life and breath and joy and struggle – to be lived and fought for every day – to take people to Jesus that they might become apprentices as well – learning and teaching the craft of loving, serving, following, obeying Christ and His Father.  Listen again to some of these phrases:
“You became imitators of us and of our Lord: in spite of severe suffering” (1:6)
“And so you became a model to all the believers” (1:7)
“The Lord’s message rang out from you” (1:8)
“For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes?  Is it not you?  Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” (2:19,20)
“For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.” (3:8)

Do you want to be a better Apprentice?

First – check your walk – are you living what you’ve learned from Jesus the Master? Do you do the work that Jesus did?  How can you follow Jesus better?  More consistently?  Does the Lord’s message ring out from you?  Do you imitate the world or do you imitate Christ and Christian role-models?
How can you reach out to others as Jesus did?  And as Paul did?  Who do you pray earnestly for night and day – that their faith will be strong?
Who will be your hope, your joy or your crown in which you will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes?

“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.  May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”  (3:12-13).

Marcia Railton

Where is Zion?

rebecca5

There are 24 places in the world named Zion and 55 places in the world named Mount Zion. I have noticed a few of the road signs for these towns as I travel. One is located in Indiana. This Mount Zion is only about an hour away from the campus where FUEL Youth Camp is held each summer. But the Zion or Mount Zion that we want to focus our attention on is the Biblical Zion.

The word Zion appears 168 times throughout the scriptures.  The first reference to Zion is when David and his men marched to Jerusalem and captured the Jebusite fortress of Zion-which is the City of David. (2 Samuel 5:7) Later Zion was called the holy mountain. “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” (Psalm 2:6) In Isaiah 33:20 it states, “Look on Zion, the city of our festivals; your eyes will see Jerusalem.”

Zion is also used to refer to the Millennial Jerusalem in Israel where Jesus Christ will reign over the entire world. An amazing description is presented in Isaiah 2. It states, “In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” What an amazing time of righteousness, justice (Isa. 33:5) and peace that will be! Jesus, the precious cornerstone will rule from Zion (Isaiah 28:16). Imagine the joy that people will experience as they come to Zion. Isaiah chapter 35 describes it this way, “the redeemed will walk there, and those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” We are shown a glimpse of this beautiful scene to encourage us to “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come…He will come to save you. (v.4) What an amazing experience it will be to see the Lord Jesus Christ return, to enter Zion and experience every part of the Kingdom!

If you want to discover more about Zion, take a moment to read the 10 verses of Isaiah 35 and Isaiah chapter 63.

-Rebecca Dauksas