A Living Sacrifice…

Picking up where we left off yesterday, Paul has made his appeal to the Roman church (and to us) based on the mercies of God. I would add here that he uses “mercies” rather than “mercy” because the mercy God shows is multi-faceted and ever-flowing. And based on the mercies God has shown to us, Paul lays out our reasonable response…

Present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” When Paul uses the term “bodies,” it would seem that he is not just talking about our physical bodies but would include the totality of who we are. It is, however, with our physical bodies that we interact with the world around us. Our understanding of God mercies and our salvation experience because of His mercy saves our souls, but it also influences our actions and interactions in the physical realm.

There was also a belief taught by philosophers and embraced by many that body and spirit were totally separate. Indulging in sinful behaviors with your body, they believed, would have no affect on your spirit whatsoever. Paul’s words argue against such a dichotomy. We are not simply to present our souls to God but every part of ourselves. When we bring our bodies to Him, we are, as the Hokey Pokey song would say, putting our wholeself in. The trick is not to then take our wholeself out!

So what is a “living sacrifice“? Remember that animal sacrifice was common, but in each case the animal was killed. That was the sacrifice. The idea of a living sacrifice would have struck the readers as very strange. The answer, however, may be far simpler than it appears.

The words of Jesus found in Luke’s gospel shed some like on the idea of a living sacrifice. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Just as a sacrifice was a one-time event, so too was a crucifixion! Yet Jesus calls us to take up our cross DAILY. We are daily dying to ourselves so as to live for Christ – or better yet, to allow Christ to live in and through us!

Paul then adds two terms that describe the living sacrifice – “holy” and “acceptable to God.” The standards God placed upon acceptable offerings were high. A Jew was to carefully consider what He would bring to the Lord as an offering. It was not random or haphazard in any way. He was to bring the first fruits, the best of his flock or herd. He was not to bring blind or lame animals, that which would be less costly to dispose of.

When we come to the Lord as living sacrifices, we are not to bring our least or the leftovers of our lives. We are to give to God the very best of ourselves. This is not simply in regard to money we might place in an offering basket. Paul is talking about giving our very selves!

And he adds – “which is your spiritual worship.” We offer our BODIES as SPIRITUAL worship. There is no divide here. We don’t separate our spirit and our physical form. True worship, as Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, is in spirit and in truth. When we offer our spiritual worship, it is giving ourselves to God inside and out and without reservation or holding back. And it is the only reasonable and logical thing to do based on the mercy He has shown to us.

In times of prosperity and times of lack, in times of triumph and in life’s defeats, in our best times and our worst times, God covers us with His mercy and calls us to live in such a way to bring glory to Him and bring people to Jesus.

By the Mercies of God…

Today, we’re going to begin walking through Romans 12. The plan (and we all know how plans can change) is to do this daily in the hopes that it might encourage the body of Christ and challenge those who do not believe so that they might embrace Jesus as Savior! So, let’s get started…

In all that he has written before this, Paul has already presented the church in Rome (and us) with a truckload of profound and life-changing truth about God and His eternal plans. Here, Paul appeals to the Roman believers. “Appeal” is a word meaning to urge or exhort. It is composed to two parts. The first part means “from close beside” and the other “to call.” Even though Paul was a great distance away, it is as if he were standing beside them making his plea to the Romans.

In his urging, is “by the mercies of God.” If you took the time to read through Romans 1-11, it richly expounds on the great mercy of God toward sinful humanity. It was a mercy that took Jesus to the cross.

The word “mercy” means to have deep compassion on someone in great difficulty. It is translated elsewhere as “pity,” but we see pity as looking down on a person or just feeling sorry for them. Mercy is far more active! It not only feels badly about a person’s situation, it acts on behalf of that person. So, for us, mercy reveals not only the heart of God toward us but His power in acting to bring us out of our dire state.

Lamentations 3:22 reminds us that the mercies of God never end. Ephesians 2:4 informs us that God is rich in mercy. God pocket’s are bulging with mercy. His bank vault cannot close because of the magnitude of His mercy. His mercy overflows the halls of heaven and spills out on each of us as God holds back His wrath and is lovingly patient with us.

God’s mercy and grace are bound up together. As Ray Pritchard writes, “Mercy is what gets us out of trouble. Grace gives us what we don’t deserve” (citation). They are both expressions of His love.

Today, let us marvel in the mercy of God. Let His mercy toward us motivate us to reflect that mercy to a hurting world. Jesus said, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

Who You Are…

Who YOU are…

– It’s important to know that the “you” in this verse is plural, not singular. We too often think of our Christian faith as only a journey we travel with Jesus, but it is more, far more. It is also a journey we travel with Jesus’ people. The New Testament knows nothing of a Lone Ranger kind of Christian. We were born again into a born again community!

A CHOSEN RACE – “Chosen” is a term often used for Israel. They were a people God chose and a people He chose to bless (Deuteronomy 7:6). And in Ephesians 1:4, Paul says of believers that “He chose us in Him [that is in Christ] before the creation of the world.” This was not due to our worthiness but was by God’s grace alone. No matter how we feel, no matter what others think of us, no matter how maligned or even despised the church of Jesus may become, the truth is that we are chosen by God Himself.

A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD – In the Old Testament, the monarchy and the priesthood were divided. Kings were to be descended from the line of David, the tribe of Benjamin. Priests were to be descended from the line of Aaron, the tribe of Levi. Each one had its unique roles in the life of God’s people. (See 1 Samuel 13:8-14 and 2 Chronicles 26:16-21)

In Jesus, all this was surpassed. Jesus is the great high priest after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:17) and the promised King to sit on David’s throne (Luke 1:32, Revelation 19:11-16). We are a royal priesthood in the sense that we are co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). 

A HOLY NATION – This, too, is terminology used in reference to Israel. They were not holy in the sense that they never erred and always responded perfectly to God’s desires for them. That notion would be dispelled with even a cursory reading of the Old Testament! In what sense, then, were they holy? 

The term ‘holy’ means ‘set apart,’ and this is precisely who there were. God chose them and set them apart from the other nations. Many of the laws He gave to them were to distinguish them from the nations around them. And God has set us apart. As believers in His Son, we were chosen, called, and set apart by God Himself. Jesus calls us to follow Him, and in doing so our attitudes and lifestyles will be markedly different from the world around us – or at least they should be.

A PEOPLE FOR HIS OWN POSSESSION – In Deuteronomy 7:6, it refers to the people of God as God’s “treasured possession.” What a beautiful expression! We are God’s, and God delights in that. We bring joy to the heart of God, not because we are always good or perfect, but because we are His. Do we disappoint Him? Yes. But the fact remains that He loves us. He delights in us. 

What YOU are called to do – 

– We could have stopped with has just been said and go on feeling good about ourselves for the rest of the day. But God never intended us to be the fine china on display behind glass doors in the cabinet collecting dust – to be taken out and used only once a year. Instead, He chose us and calls us for a purpose – a glorious purpose.

TO PROCLAIM THE EXCELLENCIES OF GOD – The one who “called you out of darkness into his marvelous light,” is worthy of our praise – now and forever. We are to declare His praises in our worship, but we are also to proclaim His glory to the world in our witness.

Everyone is a creation of God, but not all are children of God. The Bible is clear that there is but one way into the holy presence of God, and that way is through faith in Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth, the Life, and the only Way to the Father (John 14:6). Jesus said, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14). 

But God’s Word also tells us that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13). Have you trusted in Jesus? If not, today could be your day of salvation. Email me, and we’ll talk. pastor@gracefellowship.ws

More Than Conquerors…

Romans 8:37-39 —

No – This “no” is an answer in response to questions asked before it. Can tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus? Paul’s answer is a resounding “NO!” Then he begins to expand on it…

MORE THAN CONQUERORS – This is who we are. Or more exactly, it is who we are IN JESUS. It is because of God’s great love shown supremely in His sending His Son to pay the full price for our sins, that we share in an eternal inheritance. Jesus won the victory, and extends that victory to us. It is only in Him that we are more than conquerors.

FROM THE LOVE OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS IN OUR LORD – If you are a follower of Jesus, no matter what challenges and even heartaches may come, nothing can separate us from God’s love. Nothing! No way! No how!

God loves you. Nothing can change that. He will not love you more on your best days or less on your bad days. Count on it.

No Condemnation…

In a time when many are anxious and some scared, Christians have a confident assurance that sustains us and gives us hope. Let’s look more closely at this verse – Romans 8:1

NOW – Believers in Jesus are forgiven now!!! It’s who we are. It’s our identity and should affect how we live, how we feel, and how we respond to crises.

NO CONDEMNATION – The price has been paid for ALL our sin by the blood of Jesus! He has secured our pardon. He has set us free. Let’s love and love as forgiven people.

IN CHRIST JESUS – This is key! Who are those who are now forgiven and free? Who are those who are no longer condemned? The answer is right here – those who are in Christ Jesus! Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6

Would you like to know how you can be forgiven? Go to this website to get more information – https://www.godlife.com/en/gospel/something-better-bench-2… – then send me an email. I’d love to share with you about a new life in Jesus. [Email]

Praying in Light of the Coronavirus (COVID-19)…

I am not one given to panic, and now is not the time to go down that path. In fact, God calls us to faith and not fear, to trust and not panic. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

It is in this faith and confidence that we come to God in prayer. We are called not to be anxious about anything but to pray about everything (Philippians 4:6). So… I am asking you to pray. In fact, I am calling you to prayer.

Below are two prayers – one longer and one shorter. How (or if) you choose to use them is entirely up to you. I might suggest you use the longer prayer as part of your daily devotion time and the shorter one at moments throughout the day. It may be that the shorter prayer is one that you can use with your children or grandchildren. Remember, most of them aren’t totally clueless about the coronavirus, and some may be fearful of it. To acknowledge the problem with them while professing your confidence in God can be a comfort – and a teachable moment.

While I offer these prayers to you, there is not magical or mystical about them. Feel free to prayer as you are led by the Holy Spirit. I only ask that you join me in the throne room of our King to lay our petitions before Him.

A Daily Prayer — 
Loving Father,

We come today acknowledging that you are God and we are not. Our understanding and power and limited. You are all-knowing and have power without limits. We confess that too often we rely only upon what we can do or what others can do for us. Too often we draw from a well that is too shallow and insufficient for our needs, but you are an ever flowing spring, a river of living water, a source inexhaustible and renewing.

Our nation and world are awash in confusion and riddled by fear. This coronavirus fills our news casts and often fills our minds. While you give us the sense to plan for the worst, you never call us to live in fear. You call us, instead, to walk by faith, to be strong and courageous, to trust in You with all our hearts, and to be loving and compassionate to those who are hurting.

Today, we renounce our fear and choose to walk by faith. We join our hearts to pray for the stop of the spread of this virus. We join our hearts to pray for wisdom for our local, national, and world leaders who are making decisions that affect the lives of so many. We join our hearts to pray for the recovery of those who are infected by this virus and for those who grieve the loss of those who have died because of it. We pray for the church, the people of God, here in the United States and around the world, that we will respond to this in a way that expresses our absolute faith in You, shows our unswerving commitment to serve those in need, and displays our ultimate hope in the resurrection through Jesus Christ.

Loving Father, You are our peace and our hope. You are the Rock upon which we stand, the Fortress where we find protection, and our Refuge in times of trouble. We offer this prayer in faith in the name of our Savior Jesus. Amen.

A Shorter Version that could be prayed throughout the day — 
Loving Father,

We walk by faith and not by sight. We will fear no evil, for You are with us. We join with our brothers and sisters in Christ to humbly ask that You – 

– stop the spread of this Coronavirus
– heal those infected by this virus
– bring peace to those who have lost loved ones because of it
– give wisdom to our leaders to make good decisions in this time
– give boldness to Your people to show mercy and compassion in so great a time of need.

May our faith in You and our hope for our resurrection through faith in Jesus cause us to live in such a way that people give glory to You. In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Forgiveness Is Hard…

Forgiveness is hard! For some, that may be the world record of understatements. The pain of betrayal, abuse, or unfaithfulness can leave wounds that never seem to fully heal. Because the hurtful memories cannot be forgotten, some don’t want to forgive. They finger their pain like worry beads as they rehash events over and over again, creating an ever-deepening pool of bitterness.

When we forgive, we are not excusing the behavior of another person. Some behaviors are both abhorrent and inexcusable. Some behaviors demand justice, and, sadly, some bad behaviors never receive that justice. Does this mean we are justified to withhold forgiveness? We may feel that way, but when we withhold forgiveness, there is a price pay.

Louis B. Smedes wrote, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” There is wisdom in those words. By refusing to forgive, we have the mistaken notion that we are hurting our abuser; in reality, we are hurting ourselves. Having been made a victim by the actions of others, we lock ourselves into that role adding chains of our own design.

There are no easy answers here. In fact, it’s hard, really hard. You can’t wish the pain away. You can’t wash away the memories. But there is a price to holding on to the bitterness that comes with unforgiveness – a heavy price. So how do you begin to lay aside the burden?

Admit to having unforgiveness in your heart
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)

Realize that you’re in a spiritual battle
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Meditate on how great a salvation you have received
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace… (Ephesians 1:7)

Ask God to enable you to do what may now seem impossible.
“What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Jesus, Luke 18:27)
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

Are you holding on to unforgiveness? Perhaps today you could take the first step to freeing yourself from that heavy load.

Photo by Miltiadis Fragkidis on Unsplash