Deep Desire

Romans 10:1
“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.”

We use the word heart to refer to the seat of our deepest desires. It is not uncommon to hear someone say, “I love you with all my heart.” The same was true in Paul’s day. He declares, with this expression, one of the things that kept him going in the face of difficulty, opposition, and persecution, was his desire to see his friends come to Christ.

As the chapter continues, he speaks of two actions born out of this desire. First, Paul informs us, his desire led him to pray. Prayer is the greatest weapon in the arsenal of the Christian. With it, we are able to pull down the strongholds that Satan has in a person’s life. In this case, Paul explained, the Jews were held captive by thinking they were righteous enough because of their actions. They thought keeping the Sabbath, observing the feasts, and eating Kosher, were enough to grant them access to heaven. Paul’s response was to explain they completely misunderstood how righteous God actually is. Sin and holiness are contrary terms. Holiness speaks of purity, while sin refers to uncleanness. Since God is perfectly holy, no sin can withstand His presence. Those who think God will ignore their sin because of their good deeds, misunderstand the holiness of God, and are in for a rude awakening when they stand before Him. Paul knew arguing was not the secret to rescuing His friends from this deceit. So he resorted to a much stronger force. He prayed for their salvation. Prayer will soften the heart of the hearer and provide an open door to share the Gospel. Having said that, prayer is not the only weapon in our battle to rescue our friends into eternal life. Paul went on to say,

“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” Romans 10:15

For a person to have their sins forgiven and be made right with God, they must believe they are a sinner, and Christ died to remove their sin. This is not intuitive knowledge, nor is it something revealed in nature. A person can look up at the stars, around at the environment, or down into the seas, and realize there is a God. However, in order to know the Son of God became man, died on the cross, rose again, and that belief in Him results in eternal life, the Gospel must be preached. Paul’s deep desire drove him to bring the Gospel to his friends, even if it meant opposition from the very ones he was seeking to save.

What is your hearts desire? To answer that simply, look at your actions. What do you pray for? What do you spend your time, talents and treasures upon? What do you risk your life for? Perhaps it is time that we develop a greater love for God, expressed in a greater desire to see others come to Christ.

What will you do for the kingdom today?

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
Ezra 7- Adjectives
Ezra 8- Desperation

Sorrow

Romans 9:2-3
“That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:”

We have all had experiences that have saddened us. Sometimes the word ‘sad’ is too shallow to describe what we are feeling, we might say we are sorrowful or even consumed with grief. When a relationship comes to an end or someone we love dies, the sadness is often so deep it becomes difficult to manage.

I find it challenging as I read what saddened Paul so deeply. He does not describe himself as sorrowful when he writes of the great difficulties he faced while following Jesus. It was not shipwrecks, beatings, prison or hunger that broke his heart. Instead, it was the spiritual condition of his family and friends. When he writes of his countrymen, he is referring to the Jewish people. They were the ones he grew up with, went to school with, worked with and hung around, before coming to Christ. As he looks at the accomplishments of his years of serving Christ, he is still saddened by the fact that many, so close to him, have yet to come to Christ. The sadness is so deep, he states that were it possible (which of course it is not), he would trade places with them, taking the punishment of separation from God that they might be saved.

As he continues to pour out his heart for his friends, he gives us insight into the reason for their condition. He speaks of how years before they were born, God had planned for their salvation, yet they refused to believe in Christ and receive the pardon for sin.

Their unbelief was caused by a number of things. First, the message of the cross was a stumbling block to them, because Jesus was not the Messiah they were expecting. Their expectation had them looking for a powerful military leader who would overthrow the Roman oppression and restore the nation to the glory days. Instead, a humble Messiah arrived on a donkey and died on a cross. It is very common today for some to respond to Christ only to reject Him later, because their expectations are not being met. They assumed, following Jesus would mean their troubles would be behind them, their marriages fixed, or their financial burdens removed. When that did not happen, they turned from Christ, returning to the old life. Second, many rejected Christ because of popular opinion.

In the grand scheme of things, only a few of the Jewish people were responding to Christ. Most rejected Him, causing others to reject Him as well. This is still happening today. In a world where Jesus is looked down upon, and belief in the Bible is ridiculed, many refuse Christ because they want to be accepted by others. Third, another reason for refusing to believe in Christ was pride. Pride will always keep a person from Christ. We must humble ourselves and freely receive the gift of Christ to be saved.

Let’s pray we develop a heart like Paul’s, that would break at the thought of people rejecting Christ, and would compel us to share the love of Christ with a dying world.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
Ezra 5- Back To Work

It’s All Good

Romans 8:28-29
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”

The bible is filled with great and precious promises. Of these, the one recorded here may be the pinnacle. For the past two thousand years countless saints, facing a vast array of difficulties, have clung to this promise and found God to be ever faithful to His word. The promise itself is both simple and all encompassing. We are told, God is able to create good out of all things that life throws at us.

I don’t think it is difficult to understand what Paul meant by the word ‘all’. The English word means, “every member or part of, and the whole number or sum of.” The Greek word “Pas” speaks individually of each and every part of a whole, and collectively, it refers to the sum of all the parts that make a whole. Essentially, Paul is saying that every situation in life, no matter how random, unforeseen, difficult, painful or repeated, is like a tool in the hand of God that will be used to produce good in our lives.

Perhaps the most important word in this promise is the word good. If Paul is suggesting everything we face will ultimately be worked out for good, it is essential that we have a proper understanding of his terms. The word good is defined in the next verse where Paul writes, we are being conformed into the image of Christ. Every thing we face in this life is designed to bring us to Christ, and make us more like Him. My busy schedule, broken leg, fender bender, marriage, difficult boss, or trouble with the kids, are all tools that the Spirit of God will use to conform me into the image of Jesus. He will often do this by exposing things in me that need to be changed, then He will begin the process of removing them. The key is that we learn, in every situation, to cling to Christ as He performs a new work in us.

If you are struggling to see the good in what you are currently facing, remember that the good will come out as you cling to Christ, and allow Him to conform you to His image.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
Ezra 3- The Verdict
Ezra 4- Guilty As Charged

Life In Christ

Romans 7:4 “Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.”

Much of what the Bible says is revolutionary. There are statements, not just shocking to us, but to every generation that ever lived. Jesus spoke to his disciples saying, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24

Perhaps the strongest drive within the human body is the drive for survival. Yet we hear Jesus say, if we try to save our lives we will lose them. Life, according to Jesus, is found in death. On another occasion He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” ( John 12:24) The death Jesus is speaking of is the death that takes place when we come to Christ. Elsewhere, Paul speaks of us being crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). The old life, lived for self and sinful pleasure, is laid down when we come to Christ and we begin to live with a new-found desire to please God. I spent 18 years of my life without Christ, during that time I never once considered if my behavior was pleasing to the Lord. Since the time of meeting Christ, pleasing Him has been my first priority. My old life died the day I met Christ. The benefits of that death are what Paul is speaking of here. He declares,

Romans 7:6 “But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.”

Three amazing things happen when we die to the self life and live to please the Lord. First, we are released from the power sin holds over us. We were held captive by it because we saw sin as a means to a happy and full life. When we came to Christ, we realized the destructive nature of sin. When this happened, we began to be repulsed by the very things we once lived for. Solomon wrote, ” . . . the fear of the Lord is to hate evil . . .” (Proverbs 8:13), meaning, when we seek to please God, we will begin to despise sin. Second, death to the self-life will result in bearing fruit to God. The height of life is described by Paul as the fruit of the Spirit. This fruit is born when we leave behind the desire to put ourselves first, and we seek to live for the glory of God. Finally, Paul speaks of our serving in the Spirit. The one who leaves the ‘me first,’ sinful life behind, replacing it with seeking to live well pleasing to Jesus, will find a an enabling from the Lord to serve Him.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
Ezra 1- Is That Possible?
Ezra 2- Incoming Call

Freedom In Christ

Romans 6:1
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?”

Paul boldly declares, because of the manifold grace of God, it is unreasonable for a Christian to continue living in sin. He explains why we should put our old lives behind us, and also gives practical steps on how that is to be accomplished. Notice, he explains what happened to us when we received Jesus Christ. Declaring, we were buried with Him through baptism into death.

We have seen, over and over, as we journey through the Bible, the result of receiving Christ is life. We become the partakers of eternal life as we follow Christ; we begin to experience abundant life. Here, Paul speaks of another truth. In addition to being made alive, he explains that coming to Christ also involves dying. The life lived for self, in pursuit of sin, and driven by fleshly desires, is crucified when we receive Christ. Paul declares, since we died to sin, it is unreasonable for us to live in sin. After laying down the doctrinal aspect of this truth, Paul gives some practical insights in how to lay sin aside, and live a righteous life.

He writes, “Reckon yourself dead Indeed to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:11) The word reckon is a thinking word, meaning to consider. Since you are dead to sin, consider yourself dead to sin. Treat sin the way a dead man treats food. It is no long driving him. Dieting is difficult, it seems the moment we decide not to eat something, it is the moment we find ourselves surrounded by it. Our senses step into hyper mode, and we can smell sweets from a mile away. The battle rages within us, like a soldier fighting off an enemy invasion. We battle against the sights, smells, and memories of the delicacies we are trying to avoid. But truth be told, the moment we die, that battle will be over. Dead men don’t diet, they don’t need to, because the cravings of the flesh are gone. In the same way, if we consider that we are dead to sin, it is something of the past life, then we have taken the first step toward overcoming it’s hold on our lives.

Next Paul writes, “don’t let sin reign in your life.” Reign means to rule. Sin has a way of getting a hold of us and forcing us to do its bidding. When we first begin to toy with sin, we think we are the master, and it serves our desire. But it does not take long before the roles are reversed, and we realize we are under the control of sin. Paul is warning of that danger, but also instructing us on how to overcome sin’s hold on us.

He goes on to say, “do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but as instruments of righteousness (Romans 6:13).” Our members are our body parts. Before coming to Christ, we used them to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin. We used our minds to think of clever ways to sin and avoid getting in trouble for it. We used our eyes to look at sin, our ears to listen to it, our feet to lead us into it, and our hands to accomplish it. Now that we have come to Christ, we should use our members as instruments for righteousness. How have you been using yours? In what way have you used your mind, eyes, ears, feet and hands for the Kingdom of God?

Practically speaking, there is only so much time in the day. If we are giving ourselves over to the service of the Lord, we are going to have less time to give to sinful folly. In addition, we will find, the grip sin’s hold on us begins to weaken, and we, like Paul, will be able to speak of many of our struggles as victories.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
2 Chronicles 35- Grabbing A Dog
2 Chronicles 36- Compassion

Benefits

Romans 5:1
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”

images.jpegA few years back, a good friend of mine was applying for a new job. When he returned from his interview he was very excited. Naturally, I asked him how it went. He replied, “It is such a good job! Because of the company’s connections, I will get deals on hotels, flights, cruises, and be able to travel for a fraction of normal rates.” After describing, in much greater detail, many of the peripheral benefits of his new job, I did not have the heart to ask him what he would be doing everyday; or to remind him he would only have one week of vacation to enjoy all these benefits. Sometimes, a reminder of the benefits is all we need to keep us pressing on through the difficult times.

The Roman believers, to whom Paul is writing, are facing their share of difficult times. He speaks of the tribulations they are facing. There are many words that can be used to describe difficulties, but it is hard to think of one with deeper meaning than ‘tribulations’. In order to encourage them in the struggles they are encountering, Paul reminds them of the benefits of following Christ. Allow me to draw your attention to four of them.

First, we are reminded that through faith in Christ, we have peace with God. No longer are we living as the enemies of God, warring against Him, and living opposed to His Word; now we are the friends of God. As a result, all the resources of God are available to give us victory in the battles of life. In Romans 8:31 we are told, “If God is for us who can be against us.”

Second, we have access to God. The cross is the doorway to the throne of God. His throne is described as a place of grace and mercy where, from the giving nature of God, everything the child of God needs is poured out. If we need mercy, peace, encouragement, forgiveness, comfort, healing, power, provision, or any other thing, we will find it there.

Third, we have hope in God. This hope is expressed in two ways. One, we have the hope of glory, the hope of heaven, the hope of one day standing in the presence of God; having shed these earthly tents, that are wearing down, and being dawned in glorious bodies designed for eternity. As we stand in glory, we will be face to face with Jesus. No more will we be looking at God as “through a glass dimly”, but we will see Him as He really is. Oh, for that day! When all questions are answered and all sin removed, when we stand glorified in glory! Two, this hope also has benefits today. Because of Christ, the difficulties we face are not just obstacles or struggles, they are means for God to produce His character within us. Only God can take a trial and use it positively in our lives, to make us more like Christ.

Finally, Paul declares, “much more then… we shall be saved from wrath through Him.”(Romans 5:9) The greatest of all benefits is the fact that, as a result of receiving Christ, we will not face eternal judgment, but instead, receive eternal life. Sometimes, in the midst of the struggles of life, and the temptation to turn from Christ, we need to be reminded that Christ alone can save us from the wrath of God, and the judgment we all deserve. Take some time to look at your life through the prism of the benefits of following Christ.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
2 Chronicles 33- Turn Around
2 Chronicles 34- Set That Aside

Believing God

Romans 4:3
“For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’”

A right standing before God is not received by the good works that we do, but by faith in the finished work of the Cross. This is illustrated in the life of both Abraham and David. These are two of the three greatest heroes of the Jewish people, the third being Moses.

Abraham was justified, not by the good works he accomplished, but by trusting in the promises of God. In fact, when he was first chosen he was an uncircumcised idol worshipper.

Likewise, David was not justified by his works. The Psalm referred to was written after David had sinned with Bathsheba and attempted to hide his rebellion from God. The great release from the burden of sin was found when, in faith he confessed it to the Lord, and forgiveness and righteousness was imputed to him (Psalm 32:1-2).

The same is true for us today. Our standing before God is never based upon our good works. We were loved and chosen before the foundation of the earth. We were separated, called from the womb, pursued and prayed for before we ever responded to Christ. We are made right with God when we trust in the finished work of Christ on the Cross. We have access to Him every day, not because of how good we have been the day before, but because of the efficacy of the Cross. If you are avoiding the Throne of Grace, thinking you are not worthy because of something you looked at, said, thought, or did, you need to understand trusting in Christ results in your sins being placed on Him, and His righteousness imputed to you.

In Romans 3 Paul asked, “Where is the boasting then?” Clearly, the answer is in Christ. I do not stand before men and brag of my great accomplishments, self-righteousness, or unwavering faith. I bow before God, rejoicing in His marvelous grace. I stand before men, declaring that all who come to God through Christ, can have their sins forgiven and His righteousness imputed to them. I am reminded of the words of the Psalmist who declared,

“Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand” Psalm 149:6

Instead of justifying our sin, or allowing failure to keep us from God, let’s join David in praising God, and Abraham in continuing to pursue the promises of God.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
2 Chronicles 31- Daily News
2 Chronicles 32- Underdog