ROMANS 16

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Foolish or Wise?

Remember the story of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’? It’s a tale we delight in because honest simplicity rules the day. It is the story of an emperor duped by swindlers who deceive him into thinking they are making clothes of the finest magical fabric. “To fools the fabric will appear transparent,” say the would-be tailors, “while to the wise the richly brocaded fabric will attract veneration.” Not wanting to appear a fool and feeling flattered by the praise of the tailors, the emperor pretends to see the imaginary fabric. He orders a new suit to be made of the remarkable cloth, paying a high price for it. Parading himself through the town in his ‘new clothes’, the emperor comes to believe he is wearing a unique and handsome suit. None of the townsfolk dare to argue with him.

Finally, a small child with innocent wisdom pipes up, “But the emperor is wearing no clothes!” The deception is unveiled, the swindling tailors make good their escape, and the emperor is revealed (pun intended) for the fool he is.

As we come to the conclusion of the letter to the Romans, we find a final description of the crossroads the letter has mapped out for those who care to take notice. The previous fifteen chapters have described the two divergent paths of life: One path is marked by broken promises, faithless and fruitless endeavors, stumbling blocks and smokescreens, Paradise lost and deathly outcomes; the other path comprises a guaranteed promise, faithfulness and fruitfulness, a solid Cornerstone, truth, Paradise restored and the gift of eternal life.

In the final chapter the Apostle Paul presents us with a grand finale of path-diverging descriptions.

“Watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way…” says Paul, “for such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people.” It sounds like a replay of the false tailors deceiving the emperor into parading his foolishness for all to see. There is no small amount of that sort of thing happening in our culture these days. Smooth talk and flattery promote selfish agendas. Unethical policies serve godless appetites at the expense of their foolish followers; fine-sounding arguments deceive naïve minds. But honest confrontation is overruled, overrun, and overwhelmed by the rising tide of deceived public opinion. The simple voice is not often heard.

“I want you,” contrasts Paul, “to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” Why? Because the ‘clothes’ of deception are flimsy substitutes for the real thing.

Listen to the other path’s description: “The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you…”speaks Paul in benediction over those who choose this path. “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past but now revealed and made known … so that all nations might believe and obey him – to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.”

Here, rather than naked foolishness being exposed, a mystery is revealed – the mystery that God loves and invites all people to humble themselves and accept with simple honesty that Jesus alone makes life worth living. The parade of fools cannot prevent even the smallest child from stepping into the way of wisdom. Those who choose this path will find God faithful in ensuring they are firmly established in His ways. No more duping deceptions; no more manipulated naïveté. We become wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.

That’s the news of the crossroads. The essence of every choice we make moves us into either one path or the other. As C.S. Lewis describes it, “[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.”

We either serve our own appetites or we serve Jesus Christ. Those are the only two choices and that’s the message of the two thousand year old letter called ‘Romans’. Remember, it is good news. That is what the word ‘gospel’ means, and that is what we will experience when we choose the path of the wise over the path of fools.

(Image Credit:[File:Page 44 illustration in fairy tales of Andersen (Stratton).png|thumb|Page 44 illustration in fairy tales of Andersen (Stratton)])

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ROMANS 15

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Insults vs. Blessing:

Floggings received: Five times the forty-lashes-minus-one the culture of the day allowed. Beatings: three with rods; stoned: once. Shipwrecks experienced: one, including a day and night in the open sea. Dangers faced: rivers, bandits, countrymen, foreigners, urban settings, rural settings, false friends, sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, lack of shelter and lack of clothing. The list goes on. These are the difficulties described by a follower of Christ who wrote extensively to other followers in the early years of the fledgling church. And it is the same person who writes of the crossroads of insult versus blessing.

Is the emphasis on all the insults believers can expect to suffer for following Jesus as Lord of their lives? There have been plenty of insults. There will be more. Many will lose their livelihoods, their liberties and their lives for the sake of Christ. But instead, the chapter is chalk full of expressions of blessing.

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus,” Paul blesses, “so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

God gives. He gives endurance and encouragement through difficult times. He does not leave us lost and alone as we face the challenges that come our way in life through following Him.

He gives a spirit of unity among His people so that we have a family of supportive brothers and sisters, unified in purpose and devoted to love and acceptance of one another.

And He gives us the ability to live in a way that glorifies Him – He empowers us to rise above the hopelessness and failings of our lives that characterized us before we met Him.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,” the Apostle Paul continues, “so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

God gives joy; as we choose to follow His principles of selfless obedience to Him we find the strivings of our old ways empty and hollow shadows in comparison with His joy.

God gives peace; we still experience challenges in this life, but there is a difference now. We have the overwhelming sense of God working all things out for the good for those who love Him. We know the difficulties in life are being used by God to make us more like Jesus. Our lives are not in danger of being wasted, but in the process of being recreated.

And God gives hope, overflowing hope welling up within us by the presence of His Spirit and pouring out to those around us.

“The God of peace be with you all,” he finishes.

God gives Himself. He promises to never leave nor forsake those who turn their lives over to Him. He is ever-present, closer than a brother, deeper than our hearts or minds can imagine, and fuller than we can contain. He is with us.

While God is busy giving into our lives, we are not merely passive bystanders. Look back at both verses of blessing. God blesses as we do something. What is it?

“…as you follow Christ” and “…as you trust in him.”

Those who long to be borne on the path of blessing must recognize that there is a crossroads of decision to be made. We must decide to follow Christ. We must choose to trust in Him every step of the way. There will still be difficulties in life – in fact, we may become the brunt of insults heaped upon us by a world that hates Jesus Christ. But as we follow Him and entrust ourselves to His infinite care, we will be blessed by enough endurance, encouragement, unity, joy, peace, and hope to carry the day. His presence with us ensures that.

That’s the path of blessing. Are you on it?

ROMANS 14

Redningssvoemmere

Island Mentality vs. Continental Outlook:

Google ‘examples of heroism’ and prepare yourself to be enthralled. Story after story of human kindness describe a nobility of human character we often fail to see on a daily basis. It is heartwarming to hear them.

Where does heroism come from? What makes people step out of their own small worlds and risk life and limb for another? Merriam-Webster says heroism is, “heroic conduct especially as exhibited in fulfilling a high purpose or attaining a noble end.” Another source says it is, “great bravery”. We all know it as a selfless act that puts the welfare of another being above one’s own interests. It is an involvement in the life of humankind that exceeds the common self-interested mentality of our usual daily lives.

Seventeenth century English poet John Donne wrote of the source of it in his “Meditation 17, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions”. You may recognize more than one idiom in the text:

No man is an island, entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were:

Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind,

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.

The Apostle Paul goes even further. In the fourteenth chapter of Romans, Paul describes a crossroads that divides ‘island mentality’ from a ‘continental outlook’ not only in societal terms (between people) but also in spiritual terms (between people and God).

“For none of us lives to himself alone,” explains Paul. “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” That’s extreme. That kind of thinking could change the entire ebb and flow of a person’s life. We are not an island; we are not beings left adrift to sort life out on our own or to grasp at in self-absorbed obsession; nor are we even capable of wisely using this amazing gift of living. God is imminent; He desires to be intimately involved in our lives, empowering us to fulfill the high purpose and noble end He sees far better than we. And how would that look in everyday life?

“Let us therefore, “ Paul directs, “make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” He’s talking about how we extend our connectedness with God into our connectedness with others, primarily with other believers but also with all of humankind. We are not to live as islands. We are not to see ourselves as separate entities, each on our own earth-fixed heaven-bound path. And we are not to pass judgment on one another regarding issues that are not core to our beliefs. The church has had enough bad press regarding historical issues of divisiveness. Jesus Christ, our Head, modeled heroism by coming like a knight in shining armour to our rescue, bearing the brunt and full weight of our predicament. Making a way for us to come back home to the God and Father of our souls was an act of heroic proportions on Jesus’ part. He calls us to allow His outlook on life to flood through our being. Living and belonging to God means turning away from island mentality. It means drawing from the strength of the Rock of Ages and making every possible effort to build up others, bringing them to participate in the great Continent of God’s love. That’s heroism on a daily, even minute-by-minute basis. That’s the crossroads Jesus calls us to walk through.

(Photo Credit: “Redningssvoemmere” by heb@Wikimedia Commons (mail) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Redningssvoemmere.jpg#/media/File:Redningssvoemmere.jpg)