The Grand Sweep

As a church we are reading through the entire Bible in 2018 using "The Grand Sweep" by J. Ellsworth Kalas as our daily reading guide.  ("The Grand Sweep" can be purchased from online bookstores.)  In addition, CUMC staff will be posting thoughts regarding some of the day's readings.  See below for the last five posts.  Follow CUMC on Facebook to access older posts or see new ones immediately as they are posted.

Scripture Reading: I Corinthians 8-10

These chapters all speak of the same message, which is a pretty simple do we live out our faith in front of others? Do we use our liberty and freedom, and perhaps our more mature understanding of the Word and our walk with Jesus, for our own advantage...or do we put others first? Paul deals with is primarily in these three chapters. In Corinthian society, we know that idolatry and pagan worship was commonplace, and food was often associated with this pagan worship. Some Christians felt that it made no difference if you ate meat sacrificed to pagan god, because they knew there is only one god and that food doesn't make us more or less holy. But other Christians felt it was huge deal...and their walk was in jeopardy when they would see others using their liberty for themselves. Paul is clear...he would rather put others first, even to never eat meat again, if it caused someone to fall away from Christ(8:13). Many Christians would be wise to do the same with things like alcohol, since there are weaker Christians and even people going through recovery programs who need to see consistency and surrender in those around them, rather than a fixation only on one's own needs. Paul also addresses how he is treated differently than the other apostles for some reason. Peter and others were often seen traveling and preaching in places with their wives accompanying them, and they were supported by other churches in their travel. For some reason, Paul has run into Christians who think he should not be afforded either privilege. No matter, Paul says. He would rather make tents and provide for himself, and not insist on his personal preferences, than hinder someone from receiving Christ. Paul so often put himself totally on the bottom of the list, becoming whatever he needed for others, so that he might win as many to Christ as possible(9:19). It is hard to imagine that kind of love for others and sacrifice in the modern church, where so often we insist on our own way and demand others allow for our needs first. Maybe this is why we don't grow and attract others to Him? Paul would agree...when we put ourselves first, Christ is not first in our lives, because He was always the servant of all and modeled such a life for His disciples.  

We are free in Christ to do many marry, to make a living, to eat foods from many sources and kinds...the list goes on and on. But the issue isn't JUST about our is about how we use it. If we use it for Christ's glory and allow our freedom to help others to find greater freedom in Him from sin and childish ways, we are living as Christ would do. But if all we think of is ourselves and what we want from our relationship with Christ, we will often find ourselves being more of a stumbling block to others rather than a stepping stone. Paul illustrates this point so clearly in the last two verses of chapter 10: So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. May this be the spirit in all of us too. AMEN!

Scripture Reading: Romans 15- 16

The more we know and remember about what God has done in the past, the greater the confidence we will have about what he will do in the future. As we reflect on all the ways God has proven faithful to us in the past, it is so much easier to trust God in the future that his will is best for us. 

Stop and think about all that God has brought you through and the ways he has answered your prayers. Are you praising him in the hard times? When your heart is filled with gratitude, there is little room to worry and complain.

Father, God, thank you for all your amazing power and work in our lives, thank you for your goodness, and for your blessings over us. Thank you for your great love & care. Thank you for your sacrifice so that we might have freedom and life. Forgive us for when we don't thank you enough, for who you are, for all that you do, for all that you have given. Help us to set our eyes & hearts on you afresh, Renew our spirits, fill us with your peace as we trust in you, so that we may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit today and everyday.
In your precious and Holy name we pray.

Scripture Reading: Romans Chapter 12-14

The book of Romans has so many great insights for Christian living, it’s hard to pick just one or two but I’ve always appreciated the imagery of the body of Christ having many parts but all belonging to the same body (v 4-5). Like an onion that has many layers, this concept can apply on many levels. Think about within our own church, is the music director more important than the youth director? Are the greeters more important than the ushers? Is the pastor more important than the lay leaders who teach Sunday school every week with little to no recognition? No, we are all important because we are all needed together to do our part to make up the church. As you all know, the church is not the building it’s the people. The same concept applies toward our ministries. Is mission work more important than evangelism? Jail ministry more important than hospitality? No, all of the ministries the church undertakes are important because they target a specific need. They are many different parts belonging to the one body of Jesus Christ. I might ruffle a few feathers here, but I’d even go as far as saying that different denominations are equally important as they target a specific audience that might not come to know Christ otherwise, yet we are all part of the one body of Jesus Christ. 

One other thing that stood out to me in the wake of very intense elections (and recounts, etc) is that Paul reminds us, “there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Ch. 13:1) Regardless of who you voted for or which party you affiliate with, Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords. God is in charge and has a reason and a purpose for all things and He can use all things together for the good, according to His purposes. All that’s left for us to do is pray for those who are in authority (whether you voted for them or not) and let God accomplish His purposes.

Scripture Reading: Romans 4-6

These chapters, like so many of Paul's writing in the New Testament, follow some very important themes for us as Christians in defining our theology and our personal faith in Jesus Christ. One of the themes we see in chapter 4 is FAITH. Abraham is truly the father of faith, for he left his country on faith, inherited a new land from God through faith, believed God for a son while he was 100 years old on faith, and basically lived every moment of everyday, trusting in and leaning into God's promises for his life through FAITH...constantly believing God for what he couldn't see until he could see it. AMEN! We, like Abraham, will be "credited as righteous", like he was, through our faith, for "us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead."(4:24). 

Another theme we see is PEACE and JOY. Why do we have peace and joy? Because we have been justified through FAITH. When we believed in Jesus and were born again, it was "just-as-if-I-never-sinned". Jesus died for us while we were still enemies of God, powerless to help ourselves yet so much in need of the power of grace. How did we get into such a powerless place? Through ADAM. Adam ate of the fruit that Eve gave him, and somehow the effects of his disobedience and failure to follow God's commands infected us all, much like a child with chicken pox in a public school class can get the whole classroom sick! But, Paul says, a miracle happened. Just as Adam's one act of disobedience ruined us all, so has Jesus' one act of obedience and righteousness justified us all. There is a difference, though. We cannot escape what Adam gives to us on our is a unwanted gift but one we must receive without choice in the matter. But we can escape what Jesus gives to us, and that is the wonder of grace. It is the one thing we need the most, yet it is also the one thing we can freely refuse the most. Knowing many would reject the justification of our sins, Jesus died anyway, which shows you the profound depth of His unconditional love for people.

What does this justification by faith do in our lives? Here is another theme...FREEDOM! Now, we no longer are slaves to sin, but we are slaves to righteousness. I remember hearing a preacher one time say, "I smoke all the marijuana I want, drink all I want, and run around with as many women as I want!" He of course, meant, that through his faith in Jesus, he didn't want to do those things anymore...instead, he wanted to do those things God views as righteous...preaching the gospel, loving people, helping the poor, and serving the lost. Sin pays nothing but death in wages, but God gives eternal life to those who belief...heaven by and by, but freedom, joy, peace, hope, faith and so many other blessings through our trust in Jesus our Lord. Amen!

Scripture Reading: Acts 19-21

These chapters open and finish with a bang...meaning, an uproar in two different cities over the ministry of Christ through the Apostle Paul. Paul encountered people of every sort in his evangelistic ministry...he encountered in Ephesus those who had been baptized by John the Baptist, preparing them for the coming of Christ, but they had never been baptized as Christians or been filled with the Holy Spirit. Once they believed, they were filled. The conversion of these 12 men was such a powerful moment, Paul hangs around Ephesus for nearly 3 years after this, and sees many more miracles and signs happening around his ministry. Paul's ministry was a supernatural one in every way; he flowed not only in the healing ministry but also in the deliverance ministry of casting out demons from people who were possessed or oppressed by them. People were so convicted of their sins and wanted to walk in purity that many sorcerers came and burned their scrolls and parchments. While this might not sound important to us, the value of the scrolls was worth more that 2 million dollars today. Imagine someone you know burning 2 million dollars in a fire just so they would follow Jesus!!

However, as always, the people of Ephesus are swayed by their former evil lives of pagan worship, as they were an epicenter for the worship of Diana, or Artemis, a goddess in the pantheon of Greek gods. Artisans were losing money because people were being converted to Christianity and not buying small sliver shrines that were part of the pilgrimage trade. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10) and these artisans were putting money and their greed for more above the kingdom of God and the spreading of the gospel. Paul appears to barely escape Ephesus with his life.

Paul goes on to places like Macedonia and Greece (Acts 20) from Ephesus, where he encounters more persecution but also many helpers and supporters like Timothy, Trophimus and more. A funny moment in this chapter is a youth falls asleep during Paul's long (and evidently boring) teaching while he is in Troas. It isn't funny that the youth, Eutychus, falls out of window, asleep, and dies on impact. It is glorious, though, the Paul lays hands on him and he is brought back to life, as Dorcas, Lazarus and Aeneas all were resurrected by the power of Jesus Christ.

Paul knows that his time is growing short as a missionary, for there is so much persecution around him that he is fully prepared to give His life in the service of the gospel (20:24). He knows he will never see Ephesus again, so he bids them farewell with a prayer and many encouragements to live for Christ.  

Chapter 21 troubles us in our reading to some degree because Paul is urged by the Holy Spirit not to go to Jerusalem by the believers in Tyre. The Holy Spirit may have simply been preparing Paul for the reception he would receive, as well as the terrible beating and mob he would have to deal with. Paul seems to be completely focused on reaching his people for Jesus, even if it costs him his life. Despite taking on a Jewish vow and sacrificing his time and offerings for this, the people of Jerusalem still try to kill Paul, accusing him of bringing Gentiles into the temple, something he was not guilty of doing.

Roman soldiers do rescue Paul, though and he is once again spared to not only testify in Jerusalem, but as we will see, he is being prepared to go and testify in Rome, the seat of power at that time in the entire world.  

As you read these chapters, you come to realize just how important Paul was to the spreading of the gospel of Jesus in the 1st century. There was no challenge too huge, to danger too life threatening, no people that Paul would not reason with until they either believed or refused to believe. When you read these chapters, you find yourself truly humbled and asking yourself, "Am I as committed to spread the gospel to all who need to hear as much as Paul?" Sadly, that answer is no for so many of us. But can that change? YES. We just need to hear the call and GO to those that God has put in our lives, and share Jesus!