ROMANS, CHAPTER ONE–FROM THE GREEK

I’ve been working on Paul’s letter to the Romans from the Greek New Testament.  Here is chapter one.  I’ll add more chapters as I get there.  My goal is to finish the letter before July 4.  We’ll see.  Translating a few lines every morning is slow going.  Before you start, three translation notes and a warning.  Note one:  Paul uses the word “For” a lot to start verses, but I omitted many of them because they are clunky.  Note two:  I tried and tried and tried to polish up the first five verses, but take heart, they are just as cumbersome in Greek as they are in English.  Its just the way he wrote it.  Note three:  I am opting for the Hebrew word Messiah instead of the Greek word Christ, because that is the eventual end translation, as Christ is a Greek word that means Messiah.  It is not always capitalized because it is not always a title.

WARNING:  This chapter ends with some strong material.  Rather than sanitize it, I tried to make it clear.  Some readers might find it offensive, but if you want to get offended, get offended at Paul.  He is the one who wrote it.

Romans–Chapter One
1. Paul, a slave of Messiah Jesus, a called apostle, who has been set apart for the good news of God
2. who promised before through his prophets in holy scripture
3. about his son, who was by flesh born into the family of David,
4. but he is by the Spirit of holiness designated as the son of God in power by resurrection from the dead, Jesus the messiah, our Lord.
5. By whom we received grace and apostleship in the obedience of faith among all the nations, for the sake of his name.
6. Among whom you are also called by Messiah Jesus.
7. To all those in Rome, loved of God, called to be holy, grace and peace to you from God our father and the Lord Jesus Messiah.
8. First, I give thanks to my God through Messiah Jesus for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in the whole world.
9. For God, whom I serve in the spirit of the good news, is my witness that I mention you without ceasing
10. in my prayers, always begging that somehow, sometime, I might finally succeed in the will of God to come to you.
11. For I long to see you, so that I might give a spiritual gift to you, to strengthen you.
12. What I mean is, to be encouraged by one another together, among the faithful, both you and me.
13. I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I often intended to come to you so that I might produce some fruit among you just as I have among other people, but I was prevented up until now.
14. I am a debtor to Greeks, barbarians, wise, and those who are unlearned.
15. As for me, I am eager to preach the good news to those of you in Rome.
16. I am not ashamed of the good news, for it is the power of God bringing salvation to all those believing, to the Jew first, then to the gentiles.
17. For the righteousness of God is uncovered in him by faith and in faith , just as it is written, “The righteous will live by faith.”
18. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven upon all ungodly and unrighteous acts of men, those who obstruct the truth.
19. For it is known that God is evident, for he is God, and that has been made evident to them.
20. As created beings, they understood and perceived the invisible, eternal things of the creation of the world such as the power and deity. So therefore, they are without excuse.
21. Yet they knew God but they did not glorify or thank him as God, but they were vain in their logic, darkened, without understanding in their hearts.
22. Alleging themselves to be wise, they actually became fools.
23. They changed the glory of the immortal God into a likeness, an image of mortal men, birds, animals, and reptiles.
24. Therefore, God left them to the desires of their filthy hearts as they degraded their own bodies among themselves.
25. As such, they exchanged the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.
26. Because of this, God left them to their disgraceful passions. Women exchanged natural coitus for something against nature.
27. Likewise, the men abandoned natural coitus with women in their burning desire for one another, men in men, committing indecency. They received the necessary reward of their error.
28. Since in the same way they did not acknowledge God, God left them in their failed minds, to do that which is not proper,
29. being filled with every kind of unrighteousness evil—selfish greed, bad character, full of envy, murder, strife, guile, malice, gossip,
30. slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, boastful, innovative criminals, disobedient to parents,
31. without discernment, without honor, without feelings, without mercy.
32. They are the kind of people who know the decree of God, that those practicing these things are worthy of death, but they do them anyway, and give their approval to others who practice it as well.

WHEN LIFE FEELS OUT OF CONTROL

What do you do when you feel like you’ve lost control of your life?

Sometimes life feels like jumbled wires
Sometimes life feels like jumbled wires

Everybody feels that way at one point or another, and most of us will feel that way periodically throughout our lifetime.  The feeling is so nebulous that it is almost impossible to define, but you know it when it happens.  Things that once seemed certain no longer seem as certain, relationships that were rock solid are suddenly muddy or fragile, things that used to make sense don’t any more, and we feel helpless to do anything about it.  Please note, I am not talking about clinical depression, mood disorders, or other medically treatable mental illnesses.  I am referring to the normal feelings we all have sometimes–that feeling that things are spiraling out of our grasp.

Although there is no magical elixir, my experiences have taught me there are some things to help us get through the muddle, and I offer them here as suggestions.

1.  It is important that when we feel this type of identity crisis or confusion, that we do not make big decisions.  Don’t quit your job because it feels hopeless, or divorce your spouse because you think you don’t love her/him anymore, or move just because you think a change of venue will help.  These big decisions might feel right for a little while, but they are long term solutions for short term problems.  Its a bit like going to Costco when all you really need is just one new toothbrush.

2.  Getting back to your roots, whatever your roots may be, is often helpful.  Visit your family, make a phone call to a loved one, or reread a familiar book.  For me, my roots are my wife and two daughters.  Mrs. Greenbean and the sprouts are such an important part of me that spending time with them often puts me back in balance.

3.  Sometimes that out-of-control feeling we have is a spiritual warning sign.  That is why one way to help is by engaging in spiritual activities.  For me, as a Christ-follower, this means reading the scriptures–long passages of scripture like the Psalms or all the gospels and prayer.  Although I don’t use one, many people are helped by a prayer journal.  God made us as spiritual beings as well as physical, and a feeling of lack of control can be an indicator that our spirit is out of whack.

4.  It might be that our feelings of anxiety or confusion are because we’re not thriving, but we can’t see how to fix it.  This is when it is often helpful to talk to someone smarter, more mature (not necessarily older, just more mature) and trustworthy.  Although talking to your spouse or a healthcare professional like a counselor might help, that is not what who I’m talking about here.  I mean a mentor, a guide, someone you look up to.

5.  Focus sometimes is the solution.  Earlier this year I was feeling mildly out-of-place in my writing schedule.  There were four different things that I was working on all at once.  The result was I felt lost and behind schedule in all four of them.  What I needed to do was focus on one with my primary energy, and let the others wait their turn.  This turned out to be a tremendously helpful decision.

6.  But sometimes, the solution is not to focus, but to unfocus.  Instead of buckling down on one project, what we need is some distance.  Withdrawing for a little while, like a weekend, or a week, will often re-energize the soul.  I know this is hard to do, especially if you have young children and/or work full-time but it might be worth it in the long term to take some leave, find a friend to watch the kids, and get away to a cabin, a tent, or a  luxury resort for four or five days.  Time alone can give us insight into who we are, which then gives us inner strength to carry on with the things that matter.

I am certain there are other things that can help us in these times when life is flapping around us like newspaper in a tornado, but these are some strategies I have found helpful.

images from dreamstime.com

THOUGHTS ON COMMUNION–WARNING–THEOLOGY AHEAD

I thought I had been sucked into a deep black hole that transported me magically away into a previous time.  What year had I been whisked away to?  Was it 1920?  Maybe 1950?  Perhaps it was 1979, for that might be the year that sealed this moment.

Our Church’s Communion Table
We Observe Monthly

My temporary time travel was brought about by a denominational printing called SBC Life.  It is produced by the Executive Committee of my denomination–The Southern Baptist Convention, or as we now are now known, Great Commission Baptists.  This particular edition spent most of its glossy and stylized pages on the upcoming convention meeting in New Orleans.  That is not what time warped me.  What got me was the “Doctrinal” article on the Lord’s Supper.

The argument of the article was for “closed” or as one of the viewpoints urged, “close” communion.  Closed communion is a particularly rigid church practice that had its height during the Landmark movement in the early part of the last century.  A church that practices closed communion prohibits anyone who is not a member of that particular church from observing the Lord’s Supper.  In extreme cases, people are asked to leave if they are not members.  The enforcement of this doctrinal stance can lead to uncomfortable confrontations with people who don’t understand why they are being confronted.  Close communion is an addendum to closed communion that allows people from “like faith and orders” to partake.  “Like faith and order” is code word for “other Southern Baptists.”

The opposite stance of closed communion is “open” communion which is what our church practices and what I personally believe is right.  In open communion anyone who is a Christ-follower, regardless of church membership or baptism status is invited to partake.  More to the point, no one is challenged if they decide to observe the meal.  Open communion does not mean that we believe anyone–believer or non-believer–can or should take it.  Almost all (almost?) Christ-followers believe that only Christ-followers should take it.  Churches that practice open communion leave that up to the individual and do not fret about such things as when, where, and how a person’s baptism took place.

Before I go any deeper into the issue, let me affirm I believe any church has the right to set its own faith and practices.  I affirm autonomy and believe that a local congregation has the right to be wrong if they desire.  What I am bothered by is that no voice was given in the doctrinal article for open communion.  None.  I actually enjoyed the article and the different perspectives, and especially the shout out to m friend Cecil Sims (may he rest in peace) but there was no balance.

I perceive the reason for no balance is that the leadership of my denomination is still pushing a fundamentalists style agenda that consistently leaves me wanting.  So, I will provide my own balance.  There are many reasons to practice open communion, but some of the ones that are important to me are:

1.  Hospitality is a very important concept in the New Testament.  The most inhospitable thing in the world is to exclude someone from what is gong on.

2.  The Lord’s Supper is an act of proclamation of the gospel, and partaking of it is a way people can affirm their belief in it.

3.  Unity matters to the Lord and refusing to eat with other Christ-followers is divisive and arrogant.

4.  I never want to reject someone whom Christ accepts.

One of the reasons often given for practicing closed communion is the admonition in the Scriptures for a person to examine himself or herself before eating.  This admonition is coupled by Paul with a warning that if the meal is taken lightly, the person drinks and eats condemnation.  People argue that by allowing a non-Christ follower to partake then they are unworthy and therefore heaping condemnation upon themselves.  There are two problems with this argument.  The first is hermeneutics.  That often cited admonition is from 1 Corinthians 11:27-34 and it is indeed a sober admonition.  The problem is it is written to believers who know exactly what the Lord’s Supper means and therefore should reverence it.  The context is about believers who had taken a low view of the meal, not outsiders who had partaken of it and not known what was going on.  The second problem is logical.  If I believe that a non-Christ follower is already in a situation that apart from Christ they are in eternal jeopardy, then what more jeopardy could come to them?

The Lord’s Supper is not the Ark of the Covenant wherein if the wrong people touch it they die.  The arguments for closed communion are based more upon belief in magic–the right thing said by the right people at the right time in the right conditions–than belief in Christ.

MORE RETRO SONGS MAKE GREAT SERMON TITLES

One of the most popular, blogs I have ever posted was titled Retro Songs Make Great Sermon Titles.  I thought I would share a few more retro-songs and the way I might, hypothetically, employ them in preaching.  The catch is never the actual song itself, but the title as a cultural touchstone, or hook, to launch into a way to look at life from a biblical worldview.  It is a fun exercise.

1.  I Heard it Through the Grapevine—This Motown classic could be used in so many different ways.  The most obvious is to discuss gossip and how gossip is dangerous to meaningful relationships.  But it could also be used to speak of the ongoing work of telling people about the Lord—and the one who is doing the singing (and hearing) is the Devil . . . “not much longer would you be mine.”  The song could likewise provide a launching point for discussing how to nurture relationships, or alternately, the right way to end one.

2.  Margaritaville—I love this song, so I might be pressing a bit to include I here.  I already have a sermon in which Margaritaville is prominent.  That sermon is about Nabal being a fool and Abigail being suddenly available.  If I preached it as retro-song series I think I would emphasize regret and lost opportunities.  Note, however, do not confuse Jimmy Buffet with Warren Buffet.

3.  I Wish It Would Rain Down—This one is for my wife.  Mrs. Greenbean is a huge Phil Collins fan.  Any person who is best known as having a group called “Genesis” ought to be in serious consideration for a retro-song sermon title.  This sermon could focus upon the desire every human being has for cleansing—but also for the fresh start that the rain represents.  Alternate take might be to pair with the traditional Christian hymn “Showers of Blessing” and speak about the heavenly rainfall of the Holy Spirit.

4.  Break on Through (to the Other Side)—Jim Morrison was demon possessed, I freely admit that.  However, this song title and subsequent lyrical beat call to mind the deep ontological angst of life and death.  The other side in Morrison’s twisted lyric is a drug tainted death or the afterlife.  The sermon could move from the myopic fatalism of the song to the hope of the gospel in Jesus Christ!

5.  All Along the Watchtower—This Bob Dylan song has been covered by just about everyone.  Recently, and to my delight, it was highlighted, in all places, in the remake of Battlestar Galactica.  Awesome.  While no one, including Dylan, really knows what it means I think the title could be used to emphasize the “watchmen” concept in the Old Testament or the “watch and pray” motif.  Needless to say the songs apocalyptic and medieval tone would also set up a nice “end-of-the-world” sermon.  But hey, save that for the next one.

6.  It’s the End of the World as We Know it (And I feel Fine)—R.E.M. is similar to U2 in that a great many of their songs have religious undertones and would be useful, such as Happy Shiny People.  However, I choose this one because it might be useful in an apocalyptic tone (see #5 above) or it could be helpful in speaking about how, when we come to faith in Christ our old way of living is gone—our old world and way of life ends, but there is a new world on the horizon that is better than the old.  2 Corinthians 5:17 comes to mind.

Okay, that is enough for now.  I resisted the urge to get more Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, or The Eagles in there.  Someday, though, I will preach these.