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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Paul’s Mess, God’s Message

acts 28 31 (1)
At the end of the book of Acts we are following Paul in his ministry as he shares his testimony and all he is learning from God with established groups of believers as well as with those who have not yet heard the good news of Jesus Christ. He is told through a prophet that he will be bound by the Jewish leaders and sent to the Gentiles to share his story.  He is accused by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, then arrested and imprisoned while the Roman authorities try to figure out which side of the story to believe.  Over the course of Paul’s imprisonment he is moved to various cities and meets with several governors as well as King Agrippa.  Then finally he is sent to Rome.  During each of these transitions, Paul has an opportunity to share the story of his conversion…who he was…who he is and who he will continue to be through God’s grace.  Every time he is questioned he says something like the following phrase from Acts 23:1 “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” 
Paul faced so much opposition during this period of time and yet he continued to stand firm in his belief that God had a purpose for him which would be fulfilled no matter what…arrest, false accusations, storms, shipwrecks, imprisonment, isolation, death threats, nothing was going to stop God’s message from being spread.
As the book of Acts closes we are given a chance to witness Paul as he teaches a group of Jewish leaders in Rome. 
Acts 28:23-30
They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers
to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening,
explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets
he tried to persuade them about Jesus. 24 Some were convinced by what he said,
but others would not believe. 25 They disagreed among themselves and
began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth
to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:
26
“‘Go to this people and say,
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”
27
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’[a]
28 “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles,
and they will listen!” [29] [b]
30 For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all
who came to see him. 31 He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord
Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!
Some of those who were listening, heard Paul’s message and their lives were changed.  Others found that they couldn’t believe what Paul was preaching and left.  They heard but didn’t understand, they saw but didn’t allow comprehension. Paul kept right on teaching, preaching and sharing his mess so that God’s message could get through.
Oh to have Paul’s boldness and eloquence!  There are many times that we are provided the opportunity to share our own stories of faith with others and we often let them pass us by.  Are we afraid?  Maybe we don’t think they would be interested, or that we’ll be bothering them if we share.  Or maybe we don’t want to offend anyone…but if we are learning from Paul’s example, we need to be sharing our stories of faith regardless of the personal costs.  God’s message will be heard, don’t you want to be a part of that exciting adventure? I promise it’ll be a good one!
-Joyanne Swanson

Our Life is a Letter

2 Corinthians 3 2 (1)

1Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

2 Corinthians 3:1-3

 

Have you ever had to write a letter of recommendation for someone or had one written for you?

 

In this passage the Corinthians are requesting a letter of recommendation from higher up disciples to prove that Paul is doing the work of the Lord. Paul explains to the Corinthians that their life should be his recommendation letter, a confirmation of his teaching.

Imagine if your life was a letter, open to anyone to read, and when they read it they would know exactly who you are, what you stand for, your convictions, your beliefs, your faith or the lack of. Paul is saying our life is a letter written on our hearts through the Holy Spirit. How we live confirms the message of the gospel. It’s a way for others to see and understand why we dedicate our time, money, and energy into church, ministry, mission work, church camps and much more. When we face the king on judgment day we will not be getting a letter of recommendation from our pastors or parents saying why we should be in the kingdom. Instead Jesus will read the letter of our hearts and our life.

If our life is a letter open to the world to read what do you want people to read? What kind of letter are you going to allow the spirit to write upon your hearts? And will you choose to follow it?

 

-Elleigh

Acts – His Witnesses at Work

Acts 1 8 b.png

The book of Acts is one of the most exciting reads you will ever come across: action adventure, good guys, bad guys, left for dead, miracles, jail breaks, courtroom drama, angry mob, shipwreck, dramatic monologues, and some of the most fascinating characters of the early church.  The author, Luke, was the same Gentile doctor who wrote what is now the 3rd gospel – an account of Jesus’ life and ministry.  Here, in the book of Acts, his story continues with the Acts of the Apostles – the story of the early Christian church age.

 

Luke opens his account in Acts with the crucified and resurrected Jesus appearing to his disciples for 40 days, speaking about the kingdom of God (1:3) – obviously a topic near and dear to Jesus – so it should likewise be a topic we are passionate about.  Then, Jesus told his disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (1:8). And as he ascends into the clouds, two men in white reassure the disciples that Jesus will return the same way that he rose.  And, throughout the rest of Acts, we see what happens when Jesus’ witnesses are faithful.

 

The promised Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and they were able to do many miracles and wonders, even speaking in languages that men from all parts of the world would understand the good news of Jesus and the Kingdom of God.  Most of the first half of Acts follows the disciples, particularly Peter, as they teach and preach and grow the early church.  Even amongst strong opposition the church grows, with many new believers being baptized and committing their lives, homes, finances, and families to following Jesus.  Some, like Stephen, even gave their life – as he was stoned to death for speaking the truth about Jesus, the Son of God.

 

Most of the second half of Acts tells the incredible – and true – stories of Paul.  It starts with the conversion of Saul who was persecuting Christians.  BUT – he changed and became the great apostle who went on 3 missionary journeys and wrote much of what would become the New Testament (but more on that tomorrow when we cover the 3rd Division of the NT – Paul’s Letters).

 

There are so many great passages in the book of Acts you just have to read it for yourself!  Not only are there amazing action stories, but you also get some wonderful sermon snippets and see what is most important to the early church.  You see their teachings, courage and priorities.

 

We are still waiting for that day when the clouds will part and our Lord and Savior will come down to greet his followers.  What a day that will be!  If you have read the gospels to see Jesus in action – then you are his witness.  If you have felt Jesus’ peace in the storm – then you are his witness.  May we be faithful witnesses ready for his return.

 

-Marcia Railton

The Perfect Team

Acts 18 26

ACTS 18

 

Shoes and socks, salt and pepper, peanut butter and jelly.   Some things just go together, complement one another and make the perfect team.

 

Priscilla and Aquila are just such a pair.  They are spoken of at least three times in this chapter by Luke, and then Paul will speak highly of them in three of his letters – and each time they will be mentioned together – a team.  They were a team in marriage and a team in ministry.

 

They endured storms together – banished from their home in Italy when Emperor Claudius removed all Jews from Rome. Together they opened their home to others.  Paul would stay in their home, and later they would host a house church.  Together they risked their lives for the sake of Paul (Romans 16:3-4). They learned together and taught together. They traveled together. They mentored together. Together – they served God.

 

If you are married already – consider how you can work on your teamwork skills today (and all your tomorrows, too).  Neither you nor your spouse is perfect – that is true, of everybody else’s spouse too  – but together you CAN be a perfect team – complimenting each other’s skills and working together for God’s glory. What acts of service to God and others can you work on together?

 

If you are not married now – but might be in the market to be married at some point…consider wisely. Rather than seeking out the hottest athlete or the cutest nerd (or whatever characteristics are already on your to-find list), be intent upon finding one who will be a great mate to serve the Lord with you.

 

-Marcia Railton

Don’t Look Back

Acts 13 38

Acts 13 

Isn’t that what this is all about? The best gift – freedom and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. People had been waiting for him for years and now they were finally preaching about it, sharing the good news. Could you imagine being alive back then and reading the stories from the prophets and then finally hearing about Jesus? People had been talking, speculating, doubting, waiting, and anticipating him for YEARS. It is such a confirmation to our faith, it would be impossible not to talk about it!

In Acts 13, Saul, who is now called Paul, is on a mission to proclaim the gospel and he is not looking back. It’s crazy to think about the person he was just a few chapters ago. He is a great example of how we should approach our own missions. We die to ourselves, find our identity in Christ, and don’t look back. We have a lot to proclaim and not a lot of time, so worrying about who we once were will only hinder us!

-Grace Rodgers

Life in Light of Resurrection

1 Corinthians 15 33

In I Corinthians 15.29-34, Paul addresses some behaviors among the people in the Corinthian church that are not acceptable in light of the coming resurrection. Starting in verse 29, he speaks of some behavior that involved individuals being baptised possibly on behalf of those who have died? The behavior and practice described in this verse is unclear and shrouded in mystery and scholars are not entirely sure what to make of it. However, the principle is clear, whatever this practice was, was not acceptable in light of the resurrection. Verses 30-32 speak about the hardships and difficulties Paul has faced and that reality that if there is no resurrection then all of his labor and striving is in vain, a point he made earlier in this chapter (15.14). Then in verse 33 and 34 he exhorts them to correct their behavior. He warned them not to be deceived, that bad company corrupts good morals. The interesting point about this saying is that Paul is quoting a contemporary poet of his day and using it in his argument. In other words, watch who you hang around with because your behavior will be altered by those who are not a good influence. In this context, it could possibly be don’t be around people who deny the resurrection. Then he exhorts them to stop sinning and become sober minded. For some in the Corinthian church the reality of resurrection was being lost and it affected how they lived.

This passage does a great job of showing that what you believe about the future affects how you live today. My question to you is, in light of the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of the saints, are you living a life that is in step with that resurrection reality? Are you involved in activities that line up with someone awaiting resurrection? Are you involved in activities or with people that pull you away from a life of serving God? The awaiting resurrection serves as a reminder and something to set our eyes on to help aid us in pursuing a life that is pleasing to God.

-Jacob Rohrer