The Road: From Romans to the Gospel

Part 4

Every December, I am given a gift… and it’s probably not what you think.

It’s the Starbucks tumbler.

So, here’s the deal. If you purchase the tumbler for $40 (okay, take a moment and regather yourself), then all during the month of January you get “free” coffee in the tumbler.  You see? Totally worth it.

This is the 3rd year that I’ve been blessed by my wife to get the tumbler… and let’s just say, I’ve learned some things along the way.

In year one, I saw the tumbler as my opportunity to stick it to the man.  That’s right.  Like a high school football player at a Chinese buffet, my job was to get my money’s worth (and then some).  So, I was getting up to three giant tumblers of Starbucks dark roast a day… and it was glorious.

Or so I thought.

About a week in, I started having difficulty sleeping (hmmm, go figure).  I started getting heart palpitations.  I wonder why this is happening? I asked myself. And it was in that feeling of caffeine-induced sickness that I made an important discovery:

You can easily misuse a good thing.  You can misuse it so much that it makes you sick.This is exactly how the Apostle Paul sees the Old Testament use of The Law.

Basically, God gave the Israelites The Law so that they wouldn’t die (that was nice). Let me explain:

#1 If a Holy God was going to live in the midst of the people, they had to be holy too.  The Law was meant to show them what holiness for humans looks like.

#2 Then, knowing humans couldn’t do it perfectly because of sin, God gave them a sacrificial system.  Since death is the penalty for sin, God made a way for animals to die on behalf of the people (and thus setting up how to understand what Christ would accomplish).

#3 Why did God do all of this? Because God wanted them to live.  He wanted a relationship with them.  The Law wasn’t an end in itself – the relationship was.

Paul believes that the big problem with the Jewish people is that they’ve been misusing a good thing.  And it’s making them sick.

Romans 9:30-32: What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal.  Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.

This might be a good time to ask a question: if it’s by faith that we are saved, how exactly do you put your faith in Jesus?

Paul says…

Romans 10:9: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Remember, God’s end game is relationship.  In any relationship, you not only have to believe that you love someone, but you have to say it too.  For example, I can believe that I love my kids… or my wife… but if I never say it, they may not know.

So, if you believe it and say it, you are saved by grace through faith.

This is meant to give us peace.  I hear from people all the time (many of whom are long time Christians), who ask: How do I know that I’m saved?  Well, this is how you know.

Salvation is a process.  It’s a lifelong journey that leads to believing and declaring.  But it’s also a moment.  A moment where we say yes to Jesus with our own lips.  In church today I think we often assume everyone’s had their moment.  Have you?

Just in case, here’s a prayer that you can pray to make sure:

Jesus, I believe you died and rose again for my sin. I believe you are Lord of all.  I put my faith, my trust, my hope, my whole life, in you.  Amen.

Now that will give you heart palpitations… in a good way.

So, let’s add that marker to our journey on the road:

Marker #4: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

Marker #3: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Marker #2: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Marker #1 on the Roman Road: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

What does this mean for your relationship with God this week?

Pray to God about your relationship.  Are you living in the freedom of grace?  What would your life look like if you believed, heart and soul, that Jesus loves you, has forgiven you, and wants you to truly live?

If you want to hear more on this, you can listen to Part 4 of the sermon series.

Can God Really Use Me?

How to stop your past from derailing your future

(Okay, sing with me) Glory days… oh they pass you by, glory days…

Tightly cuffed jeans… hairspray… Members-Only jackets… Converse All-Stars… What memories flood your mind when you think of high school?  Maybe an awkward high school yearbook photo that may, or may not, show off your meticulously groomed mullet? (Clears throat).

Maybe you grew up in the 50’s and 60’s and rocked a beehive (how glorious) or a ducktail you combed with 10W-40…

What about your family? Maybe images of trips in a station wagon to the Grand Canyon… or that Thanksgiving where grandpa nearly burned the house down while deep-frying a turkey…

These are the pictures that fill your photo albums.  These are the images on display when your friends come to visit. They are always good for a laugh.  These are the fun and nostalgic pictures that leave you shaking your head at how different life used to be.

But there are other pictures, too.

These are the pictures you don’t share.  Pictures of hurt and shame.  Pictures of the mistakes and regrets you still carry years later.  When you talk about your past, the pictures you share are carefully curated.  You may even hide those hurtful pictures from yourself because they are too hard to look at.

Or maybe you think these mistakes are so awful that God has already disqualified you to lead, serve, or make a difference.  Or maybe you think other people will disqualify you if they find out about those pictures.

If you have ever felt this way (or are feeling it now) ask yourself this: Do you think this is what God wants for you? Do you think God wants you to be a slave of your past so it continually prevents you from moving forward?

Let’s take a look at one of the clearest examples from the Bible that demonstrates how God deals with our past: The story of Paul (the man formerly known as Saul).

Saul the Pharisee

We are first introduced to Saul in Acts 7:58, when Stephen (an apostle) is dragged out of the city of Jerusalem to be stoned to death for declaring that Jesus is God.  The crowd “laid there coats at the feet” of Saul – indicating he was a man of importance.  Then when Stephen is killed, Acts 8:1 simply says, “And Saul approved of their killing him.”

Saul was a rising star as a persecutor of Jesus-followers.  He was an expert in the Law.  Think of him as a hot-shot lawyer who believed all these Jesus-followers were distorting God’s commands.  He was ruthless, smart, and persistent.

Paul, reflecting on his past in Galatians 1:13-14 puts it this way: “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.  I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”

Saul meets Jesus

Saul, on his way to arrest Christians in Damascus, is literally knocked off his horse and blinded by light.  He then hears Jesus say, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”  (You can read the whole story in Acts 9).

Saul has a change of heart (and name).

At some point Saul starts going by Paul, probably (at least in part) to disassociate himself from his former identity.  He also starts using his super-lawyer skills for Jesus.  “Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.  At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God… {he} grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 9:19ff)

Paul is confronted with his bad pictures

“When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was really a disciple” (Acts 9:26).  Yes, just when Paul is starting to lead this new life (and experience great ministry success) he is confronted with the mistakes and regrets of his past.

What if Paul let his past stop him from moving forward?  Well, we wouldn’t have two-thirds of the New Testament, for starters.  He was the instrument God used to bring the Gospel to the non-Jewish world, so there’s a good chance we wouldn’t be talking about this right now.

Can God use even me?

Listen, no offense, but I don’t think your mistakes are worse than Paul’s.  He persecuted and killed followers of Jesus.  Can God use you?  Absolutely.  In fact, it’s often the bad pictures God wants to use in order to help and encourage others.

When you’re tempted to shrink back because of your past, just remember:

#1 Your past has shaped you, but it doesn’t have to define you.

#2 God wants to use who you are – just the version of you that is for Him.

 #3 Like Paul, God wants to get a new picture in your head.

Yes, you have a past.  And so does everyone else.  But God wants you to see what He sees.  Redeemed, glorious, gifted – you.  This is the picture that he wants in your photo album.  This is the image on display for the world to see.  This is the image that will leave you shaking your head at how different life used to be.

Want to hear more?  Check out my sermon on this topic here.

 

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3 Reasons Why You Might Be Discontent

and how to finally find peace

You’re just not feeling it.  It seems like no matter what you do, you can only capture it for a moment… and then it’s gone. Sometimes you think you can go on vacation and capture it… but it never seems to last.  Sometimes you try and buy it… but it still eludes you.  What am I talking about?

Peace.

If you’re like me, you thought that once you figured out how to manage your schedule better or achieve greater work/life balance or get that promotion or spend more time with your kids that you would finally be at peace.

But it didn’t happen.

You may even consider yourself to be happy most of the time, but there’s that gnawing suspicion that there’s something missing deep in your soul… a discontent that plays like background music in your everyday life.

Why is it there?  Why does it keep playing despite the success and love and accomplishment you’ve experienced?

Here are 3 reasons why you might be struggling to find peace:

#1 If you depend on external behaviors you won’t find inner peace.

That’s because external behaviors only have temporary effects.  Vacations are great to feel peaceful, but they don’t address the real issue–what’s happening on the inside.

In an oxford.com article, “The Psychology of Shopping,” Naomi Canton writes that during an economic downturn (when people are feeling lost or discontent) there is: “an increase in the sale of fast food, alcohol and confectionary, too. They all thrive. In spring 2009 Americans were using these products to pick up their mood. They couldn’t afford a fancy restaurant, but they could afford McDonald’s or a Cadbury’s chocolate.”  

But the mood never lasts, does it?  External behaviors, at best, produce temporary peace. They are like self-medications that don’t address the root of the problem.

What if I told you there is a better way?  What if I told you that you could experience a deep, abiding, inner peace no matter what is going on externally your life?

It would be a game-changer, right?

#2 Your discontent could be a spiritual symptom

Lost people are not content.  Now, before you get offended, let me explain.  I’m not using “lost” as a pejorative term, I’m just using it to describe anyone who cannot answer the two big questions in life: Who am I? Why am I here?  (Which can apply to anyone, at any time, including followers of Jesus).

It’s like the Bourne Identity (2002).  Jason Bourne wakes up on a boat in the middle of the ocean, not sure who he is or why he’s there. He is confused, angry, and discontent… because he’s lost.  (Okay, he’s full of bullet-holes too, but just work with me here).

But, there is a remedy

In Jesus’ day, the concept of peace was based on the Jewish notion of Shalom.  While we might think of Shalom as a synonym for peace, it actually means much more.  It’s about wholeness… wellness… contentment and satisfaction with every area of life.  They understood it as something quasi-physical, something that God rests upon you.

Jesus is often called, The Prince of Peace.  The Prince of Shalom.  And here’s what he says about the peace he offers: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

I do not give to you as the world gives.  In other words, my peace, is not found in external behaviors, but inner rest–the remedy to a troubled heart.

When you put your faith in Jesus, God brings peace to your innermost being.  And the reason is simple: you experience a restored relationship with God instead of a broken relationship with God.  This, in my experience, is the difference between peace and discontent.  It’s something that God does to me on the inside.

But…

#3 Maybe you still haven’t decided to take the antidote

Knowing about faith in Jesus, or hearing about faith in Jesus for many church Sundays is not the same as having faith.  It is when we trust Jesus with our everyday lives that we experience peace.  And this peace will replace that background music of discontent.  So, no matter what is going on in your life–even if it’s hard or confusing or painful–your soul will still feel peace.

What if you could have peace no matter what was going on externally? How would that change your life?

Let’s decide to quit living like Jason Bourne.  It may be fun to watch, but it’s an exhausting way to live.

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