July 13, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Romans 12-16)

Submitted by Yang W. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 12:1-2

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12 marks the transition point where Apostle Paul shifted from theology to Christian living, and he chose to summarize Romans 1-11 in one phrase, God’s mercy. That was what stood out to Paul. God is merciful. We are not to offer our bodies as living sacrifices just because he is God and that is what he want us to do. But we need to remember who we are, and how God has offered his mercy to us. That is something that I ought to keep in my mind as I carry out my Christian walk. It is difficult to not conform to the pattern of the world, as it is so deeply ingrained in my mind. Even though I have been Christian for many years, and even now serving for years as staff to lead college students, when I look inside myself, I still see the person who wants comfort and security, the person who seek other people’s praises, feeling the need to defend my own ego. My mind needs to be renewed on a daily basis. As I set out to face the world each day, to have the value of the world thrown at me, that much more I need to be spoken to by God’s Word first. I need the Word of God to remind me of who I am, who God is, and my need for his great mercy. I need to be reminded on a daily basis that he is my creator, what he has in store is the best for me. His will for me is that good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 13:9

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.

The “debt” to love one another–do I see my love for other people as a debt that I owe them? Debt implies an obligation, not a choice. When I think through the people that are in my life (my family, leaders, peers, students, etc.), do I have that strong sense that I owe it to these people to love them? Maybe I feel this way toward those I am ministering to per se, but I don’t think that is that case for everyone. Often, I have a sense of entitlement that it is their debt to love me. They are the ones who should have been more understanding, more caring, more loving. Thus, my life is filled with more complaint than gratitude, as I am more aware of how I wasn’t being taken care of rather than trying to take care of others. This kind of attitude is the opposite of love; it is purely self-seeking. I think one way of establishing that “debt” of love in my heart to commit to pray for the people in my life other than the people that I am directly responsible for in my ministry, to pray regularly for my family, my leaders and my peers–to pray about their needs and concerns, so that I can be the one to meet it.

Romans 14:13

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.

This is another layer of self-limitation. God calls us not only to refrain from doing something because of God’s law, but also refrain to avoid stumbling someone. That is, even if something is “permissible,” we ought to not do it out of love for someone else. One thing that I thought about myself is often my lack of thoughtfulness in making my decisions. As I grow older in my area of ministry, I have to understand that my influence on people is greater and greater, which also means that there are more and more people that can be stumbled by the decisions I make. The things I say, the way that I carry myself, the things that I choose to buy, the way I choose to arrange my schedule—they all have the potential to stumble people in my life. One thing that I know is that I cannot remain thoughtless. I have to carefully weigh and consider my decisions. Sometimes it means limiting myself from the things that I have clear conscience about. Just because I can, does not mean that I should. Also, I need a lot of wisdom in myself, because there are a lot of areas of blindness that I simply don’t see. I need to ask questions, and really invite feedback from others.

Romans 15:20-22

It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written:

“Those who were not told about him will see,

    and those who have not heard will understand.”

This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.

Paul ended the book of Romans by expressing his passion and ambition for the sake of Christ. That is something that is deeply challenging to me. He did not want to settle down, in fact, he didn’t even want to build on someone else’s foundation. He kept on venturing out, desiring to go to places that people had never gone before. He was driven by those who did not hear the gospel, and he was captured by the vision that those people will see and hear and understand. From the text, we can see the deep concern and attachment Paul felt toward people in Rome (just as he expressed toward many of the other churches), but he was hindered from seeing them, not for any of his own agenda, but because of his drive to spread the gospel. It reminds me a lot of what we are trying to do through our various church plants, where people leave places they are familiar with, friends they have grown close to, so that the gospel can be brought to those who have not heard. I think about Andy and Amy, who are serving in Taiwan, half way across the globe, serving the students there and building up the church. I am very thankful for these examples in my life, as these examples really challenge me, challenge my deeply ingrained desire for comfort, desire to settle down. I want to follow the example of Paul, examples of those who have came before me, to live out Christian life, and preach the gospel where Christ is not known.

Submitted by Kenton W. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 12:2 “then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  

I am again first struck by the description of God’s will–it’s good, pleasing and perfect.  Intellectually, I can assent that God’s will is good and perfect, but that word “pleasing” challenges my view of God’s will.  At times I see God’s will as overwhelming, laborious, dreadful, scary, and often going to require sacrifice on my part.  However, the context in this passage is that only after NOT conforming to the patterns of this world and renewing my mind, am I able to test and approve God’s will.  However, if I never reach that point, if I’m still conforming to worldly patterns, then I will never be able to truly be convicted and convinced that it is good, pleasing, and perfect.  I’ll never know the joy there is in sacrificial love for another person so long as I see sacrifice as unwanted in my life. Yet I can testify that I was able to test and approve of God’s will when I went on Cambodia Mission Trip a few years back and lived completely for the Gospel during that short duration of the trip.  But as I examine those initial response of hesitancy when God calls me to love people, whether it is confronting someone about sin in his life, casting a vision for those under me, or staying up a little late to prepare for my ministry responsibilities, it’s so clear I’ve been living to the world’s pattern that my comfort comes first.  My emotional, mental and physical comfort is the most important matter.  It’s the ugly cycle that if I view comfort as my top priority, then I’ll see God’s will as uncomfortable and unpalatable and will never find any pleasure in it.  But as I respond again to the fact that I have been set apart for the Gospel and called an apostle, my response needs to be the same as it was in Cambodia–to deny myself and my fleshly desires, to deny the patterns of this world.  It may be difficult and even overwhelming at the outset, but God’s promise is that if I persevere I will be able to experience joy and pleasure in serving God.

Romans 13:7 “Give everyone what you owe him” 

Going over this verse again I can testify to the power in this verse to renew one’s mind even in these past few days. It turned out to be a paradigm shift for me.  It was eye-opening the other day as I saw the different ways I felt I was owed in my list of relationships from my leaders down to my students.  Apostle Paul said in Romans 1:14 that he was obligated to both Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish–effectively, everyone! They weren’t obligated to him, but he to them. He owed them himself and the Gospel. In the same way, I am obligated to molding and shaping the staff under me, I am obligated to spiritually leading the students under me, I am obligated to reaching the lost, I am obligated to love and encourage my co-laborers.  Christ is indeed my example referencing Philippians 2 that Christ made himself obedient to death on the cross for humanity.  The reality is that much of what I have to do doesn’t change–the conversations I need to have, the ministry activities I need to plan and prep for, and other responsibilities that I need to take care of.  Yet what changes is that now I can respond to the people and needs around me without that feeling of tension regarding my time and resources with love and find joy in serving.

Romans 15:1-2 “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

This verse is a continuation of the theme throughout chapter 14 about limiting one’s self, one’s freedom for the sake of another brother in Christ who is struggling.  This idea applies to me that as leader I need to 1) identify the struggles my sheep are going through and 2) I need to find a way to bear with them in their struggles.  In what ways do I need to limit myself so that my sheep know that I am there with them in their struggle so that they can be encouraged and built up?  I can think of many right now. Yet more than think and know, to be a spiritual leader, I need to act on them. I know personally the strength and encouragement I received when my leaders joined me in my struggles–I saw them take concrete steps to limit themselves. This strength is a strength drawn from solidarity and I knew from then on that I was not alone in my spiritual battles.  I am now in the position to provide strength and solidarity to my sheep and I need to respond because this is the body of Christ in action.

Romans 15:30 “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.”  

This verse stood out to me because in view of the recent retreat where all the church plant members were together with us.  God again reminded me of the need to continue to labor in prayer for all of them.  Paul foresees the challenges that await him as he returns to Jerusalem and he asks the Roman church to pray for him.  But praying isn’t wishful thinking or empty words with a swell heart, but praying allows one to “join in [the] struggle” of the other person.  So it’s not necessarily a matter of physical proximity that I can struggle along with someone.  But God has given us this avenue of prayer to strengthen and encourage one another.  To pray for the different church plant needs is more than saying the words on a prayer list, but to “struggle” with them is try to put myself in their place: to think through the challenges and obstacles they are facing, the emotions they must be feeling and what needs to happen for the prayer request to be met.  Through prayer, God has given us an avenue to stay connected as we plant more churches and send more people out, that by engaging our minds and hearts through prayer, we can struggle alongside our brothers and sisters who are hundreds of miles away.

Romans 16
There really isn’t a key verse for me here, but I was struck at how Apostle Paul defined most of his relationships as he greeted the many people in Rome.  “A servant of the church,” “fellow workers in Christ Jesus,” “first convert to Christ,” “outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was,” “whom I love in the Lord,” “tested and approved in Christ” and so on.  Apostle Paul qualifies these people by their service to the Lord, by their relationship to God.  These are the words through which Apostle Paul sees each person.  He sees them through their common commitment to serving God, to doing kingdom work.  That is the bond that brings them together–the bond that endears them to Apostle Paul’s heart.  For me, I am again reminded of what truly deserves to be the defining quality of my relationships–commitment to kingdom work.  When I take a second to look around at the rich relationships I have at this church, truly I wouldn’t have any of them outside of the gospel.  The staff I served with, we often laughed that we would never have become friends with each other had we not both become Christian.  I think about my peers in Riverside and Austin, although we don’t get to talk to each other or see each other often, but I continue to be close with because I know we are both laboring for God’s kingdom at our respective places.  God has indeed given the church the loftiest and deepest criterion to which to connect ourselves-our commitment to the Gospel work.  I’m thankful that I get to experience that type of connection and bond.

Submitted by Jeremiah L. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 12:1–2

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. 

One thing that stood out to me about this passage this time was the link between being “transformed by the renewing of your mind” and being “able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” In other words, if one’s mind is renewed to be more like God’s mind, then that person will have better discernment of God’s will. I, like many people, have probably spent a lot of time and effort trying to discern God’s will for my life. And, I’ve probably spent a lot of that time and effort fighting God’s will for my life as well. When I look at my life, there have been many times where I’ve stated with my mouth that I wanted God’s will to be done in my life and that I was trying to seek God’s will, but to be honest, what I really wanted was God’s will to conform to my own preferred will. As a control-oriented person, often, I want things to turn out exactly the way that I want, but little has gone exactly according to plan despite my best efforts and best judgments even, and I’ve spent a lot of energy wasted on questioning God’s will, or kicking against it like a spoiled child.

This is foolish. Isaiah 55:8 tells me that God’s ways are not my ways, and his thoughts are not my thoughts. Colossians 1:21 says, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your mind because of your evil behavior.” In my mind, I’ve been at war against God. Knowing that this is true of me — that naturally, my evil, self-pleasing desires reign over even my mind –  I should expect that there will be many-a-time where God’s will is going to be completely opposite from my own preferred will. It’s prideful of me to think that I can dictate to God what his will for me should be. I should be humble in recognizing that my mind has a long way to go in being transformed and renewed so that it conforms more and more to God’s values. Out of trust and obedience, I ought to submit to this and trust that God’s will indeed is “good, pleasing, and perfect.” Part of maturing is recognizing that God’s will over my life thus far has indeed been for my good, even if at the time, I did a lot of rebelling and fighting against God’s ways.

Romans 13:11-12 

And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.

There are categories of truths. There are truths that are true but that do not, and should not, have much bearing on one’s life. And then there are big, immutable truths like the truth here–”the night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” Both in the personal sense and in the global sense, salvation is “nearer now than when [I] first believed.” Every day I move closer to the end of my life, and every day, we move closer to the end of the arc of all history. “Understanding the present time” means knowing that my time is short and that in the end, my deeds are going to be revealed for what they are–whether they are deeds of darkness or deeds of light. This is why we are called to engage in the “continuing debt to love one another” (v. 8). Just like with any other debt, there is going to be a time when I am called to account for the debt of love that I owe others –have I loved my friends, younger brothers, leaders, family? Have I loved the church, have I loved those entrusted to me in ministry, and have I loved those who do not know the gospel? Has the love that was so lavishly given to me stopped at me? What would it look like to “slumber,” like verse 11 says? Verse 13 depicts some pretty drastic sins, but when it comes down to it, these sins are just versions of the same selfishness and self-pleasing ways that I engage in without regard to others and their need for love and care. This is what slumber looks like. Slumber is being oblivious to the clear needs of those around me, all of whom need my love — not because of any inherent love that I have, but by virtue of the abundant love and grace I’ve received from God and from others in my life. This love must not stop at me, but pass through to many others. There are only so many opportunities to love because my time is finite, and so is others’ time on this earth.

Romans 15:19-21

So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”  That is why I have often been hindered in coming to you.

Paul had more reason than anybody to feel like he had done enough. He could have used his years of hard, faithful labor — plus all the persecution and suffering that came with it — to justify slowing down, resting. Perhaps many would have supported that decision given all that he had done. But Paul didn’t slow down; he continued to dream and hope of the opportunity to continue to “preach the gospel where Christ was not known.” Paul’s drivenness is very challenging and inspiring. Throughout history, there have been many people who shared the same conviction that Paul had — to preach the gospel were Christ was not known — and I have been a recipient of these ambitions of those who have gone before. The gospel spread throughout the world and throughout history because of people like Paul and finally it’s come to me. This did not have to be. I’ve received the gospel because there were people who were not content to let the gospel sit in them — they saw it as the good news that had to be shared. I think of the early missionaries, who left country and home to spread the gospel, when doing so in those times meant a high likelihood that they’d never see home and country again. Through the chain of history, I am a recipient of those efforts. My standard for zeal in the gospel has to be like Apostle Paul and those like him. My standard for zeal for the gospel must be the clear example we have in the Bible of true. all-consuming zeal. Paul was able to say confidently, “I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ,” and for everything we know about his life through the Bible, he wasn’t puffing himself up. If Paul never thought it was appropriate for him to slow down or never thought that he had done enough, how can I think that could be appropriate for me? I’ve professed to receive the same gospel that Paul did, and so, that same gospel must be proclaimed through me to all those who do know Christ.

July 12, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Romans 16)

Submitted by Cynthia P. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 16:1-16

  • What can be surmised about the life of the early Christian community from the fact that though Apostle Paul had never been to the church at Rome, he had so many people there whom he could greet with such personal references?

From the fact that Apostle Paul had never been to the church at Rome, he had so many people there whom he could greet with such personal references show me that the life of the early Christian community was really warm and relational and well-connected.  The letters of the apostles must have been circulated all over and there must have been this mutual desire to find out about one another and see how others are doing at different churches through the different people that traveled from church to church.  It didn’t seem like the early church was just focused on their own local church but they were all well-connected, through the people that they sent back and forth, like how Priscilla and Aquila went from the church in Rome, to Corinth, to Ephesus, to Rome and back to Ephesus.  So the people that Paul lists here he might have never met but just heard about through Priscilla and Aquila and others or he might have just met them in passing, for short pockets of time before he moved on in his missionary travels.

This also tells me that deep, affectionate Christian relationships don’t have to depend on actual amount of time spent or being physically together all the time.  There is something about mutually striving to serve God and seeing others working hard and risking their lives for God that really encourages you and draws you close to one another.

I remember when I was out in Taiwan serving, how even though I was physically far from most of our church members, I felt this camaraderie with everybody because we were all trying to serve God.  I felt closer to my leaders because I got a taste of what it must be like in their shoes because of the added responsibilities and burdens that I had to take on.  I remember on one of the visits back to the US, we had a time of Bible teaching training and I got to hear different people share about how they felt like David before Goliath often in their ministry.  It was one of the most encouraging moments for me hearing their Bible studies because it encouraged me to know that I am not alone and that we were all trying to serve God and felt beyond our capacities, and it was a sweet place to be.

Even in something short like a short-term mission trip, because we mutually serve and work hard for the 2 weeks or so, there is such fondness and affection.  Each time I see someone that I was on a mission trip with or that had gone to Taiwan for a mission trip while I was there, I still feel that kind of fondness and affection toward them, recalling the ways in which we had experienced God together.  And definitely this is how I feel toward our church plant members the few times that we get to see them through the year.  There is mutual encouragement knowing that they are serving God hard out in their respective campuses.

  • As Apostle Paul comes to the end of his dense and packed epistle, he lists people he loves—those who had been “a great help … to me,” a couple who “risked their lives for me,” three he calls “dear friend,” many who “worked hard,” those who “have been in prison with me,” and a woman who “has been a mother to me.”  Think about how he must have felt as he recollected each of these brothers and sisters, and the shared experiences and stories of serving God together surrounding each of them.  Reflect on the richness of Apostle Paul’s life.  Do I recognize such a life as the best and highest life?  Who might be the ones who remember me with this kind of fondness, and whom can I recollect with a similar fondness in Christ?  If I have none, or only a few such people in my life, what is the reason, and how can this change?

As I read this chapter, there is a part of me that wishes I knew the full story of each of them.  I want to hear how Rufus’ mom was a mother to Paul, I want to hear about how she always told him to put on a jacket when he went on his travels so that he doesn’t get sick.  I am curious if Rufus really is Simon of Cyrene’s son and the stories he would be able to tell about how his father was converted after carrying Jesus’ cross.   If Andronicus and Junias were Paul’s relatives who “were in Christ before [Paul] was,” maybe they’d have stories of how they really prayed for Paul before he was converted and the joy they experienced when they heard about Paul after that Road to Damascus experience.  I can imagine the kind of encouragement Epenetus must have been to Paul being “the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.”  This chapter was a succinct greeting to all of these people but there must have been so many stories behind the scenes that we don’t know about and it shows me a glimpse of the richness of Apostle Paul’s life.  I look forward to asking Apostle Paul and each of these people when I see them in heaven so that I can find out.

As I think about this life, I do see that this is the best and highest life.  I’ve tasted it for the last 17 years and I can testify that this life has brought me joy and richness like I had never known.  And yet, it is a sobering question to ask myself who will remember me with this kind of fondness.  I would like to think that many can do so, those that I co-labor with—my leaders, my fellow staff members, our church plant members, our staff and students in Taiwan, etc.  These are some of the people that I feel fondness toward and so as I strive to serve God hard in my current assignment here in Berkeley, it is my prayer that there is this kind of mutual fondness.  But I know that I can and need to add to the number of people I can feel this toward.  One reason for the limit in number is my own sense of my limitations and just my selfishness.  There are many times when I feel like I have enough burdens already with the people entrusted to me and so I find my heart not wanting to make more room for other people.  I think this can change through prayer and if I take the burdens that I feel and bring them before the cross and lay it at Jesus’ feet and also share it with other co-laborers so that we can strengthen one another in prayer so that it’s not me trying to carry these ministry burdens alone.  When I do that, then I think I can make more room for people in my own heart and add to the number of people I can feel fondness toward.


Submitted by Albert L. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 16:1-16

  • List the characteristics of the people Apostle Paul greets here.  What picture of Christian discipleship and relationships do these qualities paint?

The people Apostle Paul greets are listed as servants, a great help to Apostle Paul and others, fellow workers, hard workers, outstanding among the apostles, people who risked their lives for Paul, dear friends, tested and approved in Christ, and people like mothers, brothers, and sisters to Paul.  These qualities paint a picture of deep commitment to God to work hard and serve others out of love that goes beyond family lines and worldly values.  The depth of relationship among all of these people is also amazing as they genuinely care for the wellbeing of others, they sacrifice for each other, and they serve God side by side in good times and bad.  Christian discipleship isn’t just about training up one person to be a preacher, but it involves working with others in close connection, supporting and supported by the church as one body.

  • What were the conditions that created the depth of relationships pictured here?  What should be the basis of relationships in the church?

The conditions that created this depth of relationships were: a lot of hard work for Paul and other missionaries to do, the threat of persecution by the Roman government leading to prison or death, and the meeting and fellowship of believers in people’s homes.  This shared mission and work, the common dangers they faced, and the enjoyment of unselfish closeness and love were what cemented the early Church together and should continue to be the basis of relationships within the church.  Our relationships should not be based on things like how much money we earn, what hobbies we have on the weekends, which neighborhood we live in, and how emotional a preacher can make us feel on Sundays but Christian discipleship is a full-life commitment to Godly living every day that needs to be done in a community of like-minded believers.  As we explore our purpose as ambassadors of Christ and God’s servants in every way, we will grow to be more like Apostle Paul as he did his missionary work, growing closer to those with shared purpose and dangers who were closer than family to him.

  • What can be surmised about the life of the early Christian community from the fact that though Apostle Paul had never been to the church at Rome, he had so many people there whom he could greet with such personal references?

The early Christian community was closely interconnected and it wasn’t just because they were few in the world, but because they made the effort to work closely together and have close fellowship in God.  They gave generously to those who they had not met or visited before, they wrote letters like Apostle Paul to distant churches to encourage and teach each other, there were traveling ministers and apostles who raised up other disciples to plant churches that they were all personally concerned for, and when they did meet there weren’t the give-and-take relationships of the world, but the pure and deep relationships of brothers and sisters and spiritual mothers and fathers in Christ.

  • Note the many names of women that appear in this list (e.g., Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary, Junias, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’ mother, Julia, Nereus’ sister.)  What does the fact that Apostle Paul referred to so many women with deep personal appreciation, respect, and high commendation show about gender roles in the early church?

In the early Church, women held important roles as well as men, counted equally as important in the mission work that they did rather than being judged by their gender.  Apostle Paul was appreciative of those who worked hard and served, probably in both important and humble positions as well as leading other men and women and their husbands and families to Christ.  There was no discrimination over gender because the early Church wasn’t into personal advancement over others and women are just as capable of helping in ministry by being strong spiritual mothers and godly sisters to men like Apostle Paul.

  • As Apostle Paul comes to the end of his dense and packed epistle, he lists people he loves—those who had been “a great help … to me,” a couple who “risked their lives for me,” three he calls “dear friend,” many who “worked hard,” those who “have been in prison with me,” and a woman who “has been a mother to me.”  Think about how he must have felt as he recollected each of these brothers and sisters, and the shared experiences and stories of serving God together surrounding each of them.  Reflect on the richness of Apostle Paul’s life.  Do I recognize such a life as the best and highest life?  Who might be the ones who remember me with this kind of fondness, and whom can I recollect with a similar fondness in Christ?  If I have none, or only a few such people in my life, what is the reason, and how can this change?

Apostle Paul’s life was rich with people, not with money or material things.  Even though he had considerable influence throughout the early Church, this is not what is important to him as he greets his friends and coworkers for the Gospel warmly and with genuine love and concern.  Such a life of shared experiences, working together for a higher purpose, genuine fellowship, purity of motives, generosity, and loyalty between Apostle Paul and his friends is truly the richest life that a person can have.  This is a full life although certainly not the most comfortable or easiest, but this is what God designed us for and this is the best thing that we can invest in, people with whom we will have eternal relationship with rather than things that we cannot take with us when we die.  I think of the people who I can call my dearest friends, those who I would drop everything to help, those who I labor alongside in my daily life as a minister, those who have suffered and grown in character and spiritual life with me, and those who could say the same of me, and they are largely my leaders, peers, and co-ministers.  I see that it is through the love and patience and guidance of many leaders who have acted as my spiritual parents in big commitments as well as small everyday decisions that have shaped me into the Christian that I am today, and I remember each of them fondly along with the life that they modeled for me and the concern they’ve expressed for me.  It is my peers who have challenged me at times and encouraged me at others, as we have fought against our sins together, shared years of experiences together, lived together in close proximity, prayed together, laughed together, and served together in a variety of ministry settings and mission trips.  As many of my peers have gone to join different church plants, I think back on how precious those times of working together and sharing in life together were, and as we continue to strive to do ministry in different cities, we can still be connected and close thanks to our common mission and putting in the effort to continue communicating and building up our relationships.  These are the people who will be with me in heaven, and it is an ever-expanding circle that stretches to include our whole church and other Christians on other campuses as we strive to live out the vision of the Acts 2 church in every college town together.  Sometimes though, I feel like I’ve got enough on my plate and on my mind and don’t want to add any more people to my sphere of concern and closeness, so that I don’t have to worry or think about them.  But it would be tragic to go through life trying to protect myself from opening up to others and keeping my sphere of concern small just because I don’t want to be bothered in whatever other ambitions I’m trying to pursue or get uncomfortable at being vulnerable when people know too much about me.  By learning to serve God with the humble and hardworking heart that we see in Apostle Paul and his friends as well as the desire to accomplish great things together for God, I can grow closer to the people around me who are doing the same and the shared stories and experiences we will have through the years and the depth of relationship that we share will be much richer no matter how much time we’ve spent together or how far away we are.

Romans 16:17-20

  • How does Apostle Paul exhort the church to deal with those who cause divisions in the church?

Apostle Paul exhorts the church to watch out for and keep away from those who cause divisions in the church.  They are not serving God but themselves and in this way deceive and corrupt others for their own gain and are not in obedience to God.  Those who cause divisions in the church employ smooth talk and flattery in order to advance their own social position or their own selfish agendas.

  • What can I learn about the nature of divisiveness within the church from Apostle Paul’s directive?

Divisiveness is subtle and can come from within the church because of human sinfulness.  It needs to be watched out for because it can come from those with authority in the church or those who are more vocal who can appear to be spiritually rooted but still cause conflicts in their disagreements with others or think that their way of doing things is best without working from the Bible or in agreement with other leaders.  Divisiveness is also a threat from within that distorts what we’ve been taught and this kind of compromising between the word of God and the personal agendas of people must not be allowed if the church is to survive and carry on its greater mission of bringing salvation to the world.  I have to be careful about which voices I listen to: Are they spiritually grounded in godly living and character?  Is what they are exhorting Biblical and good for advancing God’s work?  I also have to make sure that when I disagree with something that has been said or done in the church, I should ask proper questions and try to reason out whether the decision was Biblical or not.  A lot of times this can clear up simple misunderstandings instead of blowing things out of proportion and creating rifts between members of the same church.

  • Why is divisiveness within the church such a serious issue?

Divisiveness within the church is such a serious issue because this is not just a human institution, but this is the body of God that cannot be divided in mind or heart or mission as it is written in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12.  The harm and personal hurt that church splits in modern day America and other churches in the past are apparent for those who have experienced it and studied it, and it repels people from coming to the church to find answers to their spiritual hunger and godly living.  When the leaders or members of a church are squabbling over petty and worldly issues, looking down on each other, and disagreeing over personal agendas they want to promote rather than the wellbeing of their congregation, then they are not doing their duty and the body of Christ is crippled in its ability to attract and reach out to those who need to hear the Gospel and experience God’s unconditional love through Christians.

July 11, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Romans 15)

Submitted by Lois B. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 15:1-3

  • Reflect on the fact that Christ “did not please himself.”  To what extent is “pleasing myself” the criterion by which I choose between options, and the motivating goal of my life? 

Christ “did not please himself” when he entered into a world of sin and went to the cross for others.  Christ, the blameless Son of God, willingly died a death He did not deserve for others’ sake, so that we could be counted righteous and live. He wasn’t forced to do this. He did this by his own will.  He shared in the Father’s heart for people who did not know God, and out of love and compassion for them, made Himself nothing and gave Himself up for them.  Although holy, sinless, the Son of the Almighty God, Jesus chose to descend into the mess of weak, sinful creatures like us, so that we could be saved.

How different this is from how the world operates.  When Apostle Paul says, “we who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves,” he knew that bearing with the failings of the weak went against the desire to please ourselves.  If we fully followed our desire to please ourselves, we would probably stay far away from limiting ourselves to help the weak, since our desire is to feel strong, in control, and secure.

I remember a time in college when I lived completely to please myself.  I wanted to feel strong, in control, and secure, and so I made many decisions based on whether I would ultimately be pleased.  I tried my best to shut out anything and anyone that made me feel weak or insecure.  This included authority figures in my life, those who cared enough to speak the truth to me, or friends I felt intimidated or threatened by.  At almost any cost, I would avoid feeling diminished.  By the end of that semester of pleasing no one but me, though, it was very clear my life had become so small.  I had the independence I had wanted, but along with that came loneliness, lostness, lack of joy and love.  I knew then that a life of pleasing myself wouldn’t satisfy as I had hoped, and I needed another answer.

What about now, as someone who has received the Gospel and is called to live it out?  While pleasing myself is not something I would say is my deliberate goal in life, there are still ways that this attitude can easily creep into my decisions. For example, I am pleasing myself when I decide to be more efficient than more loving.  I tend to get lost in trying to get something done, even for ministry, and miss an opportunity to connect with someone or find out someone’s needs.  At that moment, it would really please me to cross off something on my list of to-dos, so that I can just move on to the next thing to do and finish the whole thing faster.  But if I kept on doing things like this in order to please myself, there would be no room in my mind and heart for the people God has placed in my life to love.  There would be no way I could grow in Christ-like character if I kept up this selfish pattern.  Maybe in the future I would get really good at getting things done efficiently, but what would really be the point of that if I forgot about the Gospel that should have compelled me to love those around me?  I would have missed so many opportunities where the Gospel could have come more alive in our community.  What if other people at our church followed the same pattern of making decisions to just please themselves?  Soon enough, it would be hard to find the Gospel embodied here.  It would be hard to see the difference between God’s church and the rest of the world.

  • What can I do to “please [my] neighbor for his good to build him up”?

I can think of the ways that others in the past have thought of my good to build me up, and I can actively look for opportunities to serve them in similar ways.  Even if it means limiting myself, and that I might feel a little weaker at that time by taking on more, I can count that a privilege to follow Christ’s example, and the examples of those who have gone before me.

  • Keep in touch with friends, encourage them, and pray for them as they serve God elsewhere under more difficult circumstances.
  • Speak the truth in love with people entrusted to me instead of shying away from uncomfortable conversations.
  • Ask how some friends have been doing after suffering a recent loss.
  • Cheerfully offer my time and help to older leaders who have families, children to take care of, and more responsibilities in ministry.
  • Take the time to pray for the various needs of people and ministries at our church and elsewhere.

Submitted by Richard T. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 15:1-3

·       Reflect on the fact that Christ “did not please himself.”  To what extent is “pleasing myself” the criterion by which I choose between options, and the motivating goal of my life? 

·       What can I do to “please [my] neighbor for his good to build him up”?

Apostle Paul’s exhortation is to be thoroughly other-centered as Christ was. Christ did not insist on his rights or even fair treatment under law and due process, but gave himself starting with his descending from heaven. In his ministry, he gave to those who had need and moved toward those who were harassed and helpless, the sick who needed a doctor and became a refuge for the persecuted and attacked. Christ is my Lord and the example for me to follow. To the extent that I make decisions based on my selfish desires or a false sense of entitlement, or I make decisions that are self-preserving, I am living to please myself, and following the world’s example of what life is to be like. The world’s notion of a proper life is to look out for oneself and to maximize ones’ options and entitlements. Yet this is contrary to the Bible’s description of a good life. I need to see through the lies of the world and refute notions that I deserve to live a certain kind of life–a comfortable life inwardly focused on my nuclear family, selfish pursuits to further my career or some hobby, and entitlement to leisure and material things. These are expected from a worldly perspective, yet to give my life to those things would be to forsake the Bible’s call for me to be a minister and to love others as God does. Another way that I can live just to please myself is to limit the sphere of my concern. As we’ve been hearing about in Moses’ life, God appeals to people and asks them to take up his concern for others. God hears the cries of the oppressed and invites me to participate in building the church to build a refuge for people battered and bruised by sin’s oppression in people’s lives. The challenge for me is to not steel my heart against the cries and needs of his people, but to open my heart to these needs and to bring my energy and character to bear on these needs. When I take on the needs and burdens of building the church in greater measure, I am able to subjugate my priorities for the sake of others and live in obedience to God’s call for my life. There are many needs that I encounter on a weekly basis–prayer requests, ministry needs, people issues, logistical issues–and I need to have an open and eager heart to meet those challenges. As I think more about the two options, that of pleasing myself and pleasing God, I am reminded that the former leads to a small, narrow life. Although a life full of others’ burdens seems oppressive from a worldly perspective, it’s really a blessing because it leads to a glorious life of love. By opening my heart, relinquishing my entitlements and refusing the temptation to live to please myself, I can live the best life that God has for me through taking on the burdens of others and building God’s church as a refuge from sin’s oppression in my life and for others.

Romans 15:4-11

·       What is the final goal that the Roman Christians could achieve if they (Gentile and Jew; the “strong” and the “weak”) learned to restrain their rights, and “accept one another”? 

They would create a remarkable counter-cultural community that would glorify God to the world.

·       In what way does a deep desire to, “with one heart and mouth…glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 6), push out the attitude of wanting to assert the rightness of my opinions, or engage in disputes over nonessential matters?

·       Is there some issue I am holding onto which has prevented me from joining with others “with one heart and mouth” to glorify God together in a unified voice?

Such a deep desire to create the remarkable counter-cultural community that would glorify God shifts one’s perspective away from self-justification or promoting oneself to the proper perspective of wanting to glorify God. Through this shift I am reminded of the bigger picture, that in the end, it’s not about petty differences but about the common mission of every Christian, which is to glorify God. I think about what it means to build a church and how I’ve experienced this in small measure amongst my peers. Among us, there is a diversity of interests, personalities and backgrounds, but as we grew and matured and replaced our desire for selfish things with desires for Christ and his kingdom, the differences between us became petty and insignificant. Although many of these guys would ordinarily have nothing to do with me, because of the gospel, my closest friends and I are together because of our shared purpose of living out the gospel and sharing the vision of building an Acts 2 church in every college town. Working with people and ministering to others, there are times that I think that differences in personality and character are too difficult to overcome, but I realize that the common purpose we have needs to push out the desire to be proven right in nonessential matters.

Submitted by Lawrence W. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 15:1-3

  • Reflect on the fact that Christ “did not please himself.”  To what extent is “pleasing myself” the criterion by which I choose between options, and the motivating goal of my life? 

It is rather clear that Christ did not please himself. Rather, “the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” He laid down his life for the sake of others as he obediently went to the cross. Christ didn’t stand to gain much except a flogging, ridicule and a horrible death on a crucifix. The interesting thing though is in living not as a people-pleaser but as someone that lived to please others and not himself God was able to use him as His instrument of righteousness. For me, the way I choose to do things often is to please myself. Instinctively I choose do things that I think are comfortable and make me feel good about myself. For example when volunteering for different ministry tasks I tend to volunteer for things that I am capable at, giving me a higher chance of success versus volunteering wherever the need is and being okay if I fail or make mistakes in the process.

  • What can I do to “please [my] neighbor for his good to build him up”?

One thing I can do is to have that willingness to serve others no matter if I stand to gain. Now if there is a win-win situation and I do gain from helping others then that’s great. But in most situations I won’t. That can’t deter me from serving others though. Some examples of situations where I do not stand to gain much are maintaining contact with our Hsinchu church whether it was students I ministered to, staff I served alongside with or new staff that arrived. I remember when I was serving as a missionary out there how encouraging it was to receive words of encouragement from people in the states telling me that they were praying for me. Now that I am on the other side I can please my neighbor for his good to build him up by taking the time out to pen these words of encouragement letting these precious brothers know that they are not alone in this struggle. Honestly no one is going to know if I do this or not. But our unseen Heavenly Father sees what we do in secret.

Romans 15:14-21

  • What was Apostle Paul’s attitude towards his “priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God?”

Paul took his priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel very seriously. Why? He knew the consequences of what would happen if he didn’t fulfill his priestly duties. The consequences were grave. The goal of preaching the gospel after all is so that the “Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:16) In other words Apostle Paul had this understanding that God wanted to use him as an instrument to reach the Gentiles, to share the full gospel with them, lead some through the steps of repentance and ultimately to Christ. Knowing how high the stakes were, eternal life and death, motivated Paul to not only take this role seriously but caused him to renounce his old Pharisaical life and fully devote his life to the cause of Christ.

  • What was Apostle Paul’s ambition?

Apostle Paul’s ambition was to “preach the gospel where Christ was not known.” Paul’s ambition wasn’t greatness, fame or financial gain. His ambition was to help those that haven’t heard about Jesus and to share with them the message that could change their lives forever. Paul wanted to fulfill that need and bring the good news to these people.

  • “From Jerusalem to Illyricum” is a vast territory covering Palestine all the way to Greece.  Reflect on the fact that in his lifetime Apostle Paul, either by direct personal evangelism, or through those who were converted through him, had caused “[t]he whole of that country [to be] more or less leavened with the savour of the gospel, churches being planted in the most considerable towns […]” so that there was “no more place for [him] to work.”  Further, Apostle Paul planned on going to Spain, the westernmost edge of the then known world.  Think about the impact of one person wholly obedient to God’s call.  In what ways can I share in Apostle Paul’s spirit?

Apostle Paul’s impact on the world was no doubt vast. The Gentiles, myself included, can count ourselves lucky that Paul decided to reach out to this group. It is rather shocking how powerfully God can work through one person’s obedience. This flies in the face of my expectation before I became Christian that God would just save people on his own. He didn’t need people. But as I see the gospel being transmitted through an unbroken chain of believers throughout history, it is clear that God longs to work through obedient people. God wants the believers of today to entrust the gospel to “reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Tim 2:2) Paul made this the chief aim of his life. Paul never got into a point in his life where he said, “I have given enough.” He knew the gospel was too important and there were still too many people that have yet to hear the gospel. For me as someone coming back from serving abroad in Taiwan for a year and a half, there is this temptation to pat myself on the back, celebrate what God did the year and a half I was there and be content and settle down into a comfortable life. But that’s just giving Satan the victory. Sharing in Apostle Paul’s spirit would mean keeping my eyes open to where the need is. As we’re planning on planting more Acts 2 churches, to share in Apostle Paul’s spirit, I need to have that willingness to go. Despite what I’ve sacrificed to God already in Taiwan, that willingness is so important. It’s not like I can honestly say to God I have given enough. Besides that, Taiwan is a place where 97% of the population do not know Christ. To share in Apostle Paul’s spirit I have to be willing to pick up again and go back there to serve if God calls me.

July 10, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Romans 14)

Submitted by Johnny Y. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 14:13-18

  • What lesson is here about a life of voluntary self-limitation as a basic duty of Christian love?

In this highly individualistic culture, the world tells us that if we believe something to be right, something to be okay to do, then there is no one who should be able to tell us otherwise. But as Christians, we are called to a higher standard–we are called to live a life of love. It is not only about what our conscience allow us to do, but verse 13 states that we need to live our lives to “make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.” We need to recognize that we do not live alone–there are many brothers and sisters who could be negatively impacted by our actions.  In light of that, our insistence in doing something because of clear conscience is selfishness.

I have witnessed my spiritual leaders exercise this love of self-limitation. A couple years ago, one of my leaders told to me that he drew clear boundaries in where he would go with his family for family vacations. For example, some of his family members were well off, and would often invite his family to go on luxurious cruises. He made it clear that a cruise is not something he would take his family to. It was strange to me–why would he insist on this small thing? He explained that as an older leader in our ministry he strives to not stumble anyone, to potentially hinder anyone from coming closer to God. He asked me what would the students think, if after all he preached against materialism, they later found out that he would go on those fancy cruises. Would they be able to understand that he was just going along with the rest of his family? For this reason, my leader was willing to limit himself, even if it could be inconvenient. He did not live his life only considering about himself, but he “made up his mind” to be blameless for other people’s sake.

  • What are some permissible things which, given the call to be mindful of other believers, I need to personally limit or eliminate?

Earlier in my Christian walk, I lived my life based on what was “permissible” to me. I would do anything I want to do, even if something appeared questionable to other people. I would justify my actions by saying that it is between God and me, and as long as I feel okay with it then I do not have to answer to anyone else. After all, if God is my ultimate Judge, then no one else should be able to dictate what I do or do not do. It was not until later on that I understood the damage it could cause by living in such a way. Consumption of alcohol is an example that came to mind.

It is true that the Bible never explicitly said we cannot drink alcohol.  I often hear arguments such as “Jesus drank wine,” and “wasn’t Jesus’ first miracle turning water into wine?” Yes, the Bible did say that getting drunk is wrong, but nothing about drinking. What is wrong with taking a few glasses at family gatherings? What is wrong with taking a drink and saying “cheers” to the newlywed during weddings? What is wrong with going to parties if I do not drink there? Why would I need to abstain from alcohol all together?

I tried to hold on to that “what’s wrong with it” view before and tried to push that boundary. I remember taking some shots here and there in college, going to some parties to hang out with friends. I had no sense of problem with that, because I thought they were all permissible, I failed to see how it may affect the people around me, how it would cause people to view God and Christianity. Although I did not have a problem with addiction, I failed to consider those brothers around me, who might have once been addicted to alcohol and was trying so hard to quit. I failed to see all the negative things associated with alcohol—addiction, violence, poisoning, ruined lives, sexual assaults, etc.  What does it mean for others to see, that I as a Christian, would have no problem drinking here and there.  Can I really track everyone down and tell them that it is in moderation, that I do not get drunk, that I have no problem with addiction, that my conscience is free?

While I insisted on doing what was permissible to me, I was stumbling other people. It was not okay to do something just because I am okay with it. I shudder thinking about the people I was an obstacle to, people I could have pushed away from God.

Thus, for me, I choose to abstain from alcohol, understanding the heart behind it, having other people in mind, younger brothers and sisters, non-Christians I need to witness to by taking a stance. The same concept applies to many other areas of my life: what kind of car I would drive, how much I would spend on meals, what music I listen to, what entertainment I would choose to consume….

As a minister, what I say and what I do carry a lot of impact. Ultimately, what I have to answer to is not a list of reason of why something is justifiable or not, but I have to answer to if I am living a life of love. It is no longer a question of “what is wrong with it” but rather “what is so right about it” or “am I loving somebody by doing it?” Those are ultimately the question that we need to ask ourselves in anything that we do.

Submitted by Eugene P. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 14:1-12

  • The Christians in Rome passed judgment upon one another over “disputable matters” such as the eating of meat.  Name some “disputable matters” of our day that have caused Christians to be un-accepting and judgmental of one another.
  • Methodology of teaching the Bible
  • Who gets to teach bible studies; role of woman leaders
  • Political issues
  • Praise and the kind of musical instruments used for praise
  • Ability to perform certain church-related functions or outreach
  • Church activity attendance
  • Attire
  • What are some “disputable matters” in my life that have caused me to fight wrong battles with other Christians?

In the same way that members of the church in Rome seemed to be critical of each other, from time to time I find myself unable to be gracious towards others over disputable matters, particularly in the area of competency.  I find myself thinking of others in terms of “How can you be like this after so many years of being a Christian?” or “How can so-and-so still not understand certain Biblical values?”  The irony is that I am even less gracious towards those who I am supposed to be close to.  Over time, I realize that I tend to be conveniently critical of others in areas that I am good at and I start treating myself as the norm by which I evaluate others in those areas.  What I have failed to see is that there are many other areas in which I am weak and I have received much grace from others.  Some incidents in my life have made it abundantly clear to me that others have put up with me despite how difficult of a person I am to work with.  As such, I am not in any position to be boastful or prideful; rather, I should be humble and grateful for the grace that I have received.

Certainly it is more than just mutual showing of grace among church members.  Apostle Paul makes it clear that such “disputable matters” are so minor, for “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking” (v.17).  In other words, who cares?  In the grand scheme of things, our fellow brothers and sisters are the ones that have crossed the line of faith and are our fellow soldiers in the cosmic battle.  I should be thankful that they have received their salvation!  I should be thankful that I have co-laborers in Christ! In view of the larger battle that we are in, the minor differences are absolutely irrelevant.  So what if one is more competent in one area?  Then one should take on more to help those who are weak.  There are areas in which I am weak and I too need to rely on others to help me remain in the battle.

The final outcome is not to let other Christians have the license to do whatever they want to do, but the goal is that we do not “put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way” (v.13) and that we do things that would “lead to mutual edification” (v.19).   There is room for encouragement and exhortation, but judgment belongs to God.  More and more, I have come to acknowledge that I do not know what I do not know, and I am not in the position to pass the final judgment.  We each have our particular stories that cause us to be strong in some areas and weak in other areas, and I do not know everyone’s story or, for that matter, the struggles that others have gone through.  For that reason, my duty as a Christian brother to other believers is to help build them up as members of the body and be gracious to others in their weaknesses.

This is a continuation of Apostle Paul’s thought on the summation of the law from the previous chapter – that is, when it comes down to it, the law can be summarized as “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  In areas of such disputable matters, it is an opportunity to love other believers as a fulfillment of the law and recognize how much love/grace we have received from others.

Submitted by Ilju W. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 14:5,12

  • ·      Reflect on the words: “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (v. 5), and “each of us will give an account of himself to God” (v. 12).  Think about the degree to which God calls me to take ownership over my own convictions and decisions, and assess the degree to which I do things out of being “fully convinced in [my] own mind.” 

Being in ministry for a while, I know the importance of being fully convinced in my own mind.  With growing responsibilities as a minister, I can be easily carried away by just doing things out of duty.  This is what happened to me during the earlier years of serving in college ministry.  I wanted to be a “good trooper” so I just did what I thought was expected of me.  I did not really take the time or the work to see if I know why I was doing what I was doing.  I did not think it was all that important since I was busy trying to do what staff were suppose to do.  But this “good trooper” act only lasted for so long.  By the third year of ministry, I grew tired of what I was doing and I grew insecure as I tried to keep up an image that I was okay.  I did not know what brought joy into my life or what made me feel alive, because I have been just doing things for the sake of doing it.  I had forgotten the power of the gospel or the freedom I had in Christ’s forgiveness and love.  Instead, I was driven by my own insecurities and I was growing bitter at God as I did not know why I had to work so hard.  Because I never took the time or the work to build my own conviction, I quickly fell when doubts started to rise and when serving God became difficult.  I had to struggle during that time and really ask why I was doing what I was doing, why I would rather spend my evening after work taking care of people then just going home and resting.  After this period of struggle, I knew how important it is for me to have my own conviction about everything that I do.  Even though it takes more mental work and effort to take ownership over my own heart, I know that I have to do it again and again to protect my own heart and my relationship with God.  With the increase in responsibilities both in ministry and life, like having a newborn child, it has become more difficult to do this, but it is that much more important for me to take time to make sure that all the little and big things I do are out of love, out of my commitment to God and desire to obey Him.

July 9, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Romans 13)

Submitted by Cynthia P. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 13:7-8

  • What do I owe the various people to whom I am connected? 

My leaders – love, respect, honor, submission, ownership and a share in the burdens that they carry so that I can help lighten their load

My husband – love, respect, honor, submission, nice tone

My students and staff under my care – prayers, taking my own spiritual life seriously and being rooted in God’s word so that I can properly lead them by the Spirit, time, vision for each of them so that I can properly lead them

My peers – loyalty, love/concern, prayers

My family – prayers, respect

Our entire church – servitude to do whatever it takes to build it up, financial support, prayers

Non-Christians – zeal and passion for the gospel, best efforts to reach them through winsomeness and creativity and solid commitment to the gospel

  • How would a person’s relationships change if he went from thinking about what people in his life owe him, to what he owes to the people around him?

A person’s relationships would change if he went from thinking about what people in his life owe him, to what he owes to the people around him in the sense that there would be no room for complaining about people at all.  Instead of having a “what’s wrong with them” mentality, or being demanding that people cater to his needs or even respond the way he wants, he would have a “what can I do to love them” attitude.  Concretely, he would be a much happier person to be around, always eager to serve and love others, instead of demanding and grumpy.

  • Which of these two attitudes typically characterize me?  How can I specifically begin to give people in my life what I owe them?

I think instinctively the attitude that typically characterizes me is that of thinking that people around me owe me things.  I think this comes out most specifically around my spouse, wanting him to treat me a particular way, to serve me, be nice to me, say nice things to me.  How often I think more about how he’s not being the kind of husband I want and how he should change instead of thinking about ways I can be a better wife, how I can serve him, respect him more.  Just the sheer amount of thoughts that go into the former as compared to the latter show me that I am still operating with the mentality of what others owe me instead of what I owe others.

I can specifically begin to give people in my life what I owe them by carrying out the list of things that I mentioned in the first question – praying for people, thinking about their needs, serving them.  For one, since my spouse is currently sick at home, part of giving him what I owe him is to make him soup and help nurture him back to full health.  Owing my leaders greater ownership and share in their burdens include being all there for meetings, to engage my mind and be alert and think about our ministry and how best to meet the needs.  And the command to pray for people in my life is something that I can very concretely do every morning at North Loop since I have the luxury of not working, to take the time out every morning after my DT to go through the list of people and pray for them by name and through their specific issues and needs.

Romans 13:8-10

  • Reflect on the truth that love is the fulfillment of the law.  Why is this so amazing? How does this change the way I view people in my life?

The fact that love is the fulfillment of the law is so amazing because there are so many things written in the laws that one can easily get overwhelmed by all of it if we treat it like a list of dos and donts.  But it’s amazing that with the command to love, it’ll sum it all up and if I genuinely love, it’ll take care of fulfilling all of the laws.  This changes the way I view people in my life because I can see them as a way out of my own sinfulness.  People are not nuisances or additional burdens to me but they can free me from my own sinfulness.  I NEED people.  I need people to save me from myself.

  • Reflect on the truth that all of the commandments are summed up in the command to love my neighbor, and the truth that, when I sin, I am doing “harm to [my] neighbor.”  How does this motivate me to become a person of greater love and greater obedience to God’s commandments?

This motivates me to become a person of greater love and greater obedience to God’s commandments because I don’t want to do “harm to [my] neighbor.”  I don’t live in a vacuum but what I do really affects others.  Especially being someone in my position and age in our ministry, I know that what I do really affects others and affects the next generation.  If I sin, it affects those directly in my life because then I can’t properly teach them and raise them up and I can end up hurting them and watering down the gospel and discouraging them or teaching them wrong things.  But in addition to that, I can also affect everybody at our church who look to me as an older example or who would be greatly discouraged to see me living in sin.  And so it’s something that I need to approach with much fear and trembling.  Of course, it’s not to say that I won’t sin or need to try and keep up some kind of holy image, but that fear of stumbling others does motivate me to become a person of greater love and obedience to God’s commandments.

Submitted by Chris P. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 13:1-5

  • What is the state of my relationship with those who have authority in my life?

My relationship with those who have authority in my life has changed a lot over the years. Back in high school and in college I had fearful relationships with those who have authority in my life. I used to feel really diminished and afraid. Every time I was talking with a leader at church or to a professor or a teacher at school, I felt scared and intimidated. I would fumble over words and just generally felt scared about how they saw me. I also had a lot of suspicion towards authority figures. I would question their motives and merits for no good reason. I think a lot of that came from a combination of insecurity and lack of confidence on my part and a certain kind of rebellious attitude toward authority figures I picked up from media and my teenage years.  It’s always so easy to be critical and pick apart at all the weaknesses of someone in authority. It’s so easy to point out all the flaws and all the reasons why I wouldn’t respect that person in authority; seeing their insecurity, their inconsistency, their habits…. Because nobody is perfect and everyone has weaknesses, I think I held on to an attitude of I’ll respect someone if he is truly worthy of respect, but I had such an elevated view of myself that I didn’t truly respect people of authority. I would be critical of their ways even though face to face I would feel intimidated and afraid of them.

When I read this text, it is so contrary to what my attitude had been and what a lot of guys feel today. “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities” (v1). Nobody wants to submit to anyone or anything else nowadays. Everyone wants to be his own authority. What really started to change this kind of attitude in me over the years has been my increasing sense of awareness of who I am. As I started to look at myself with sober judgment and started to look at my own capacity and my own abilities, more and more I saw how I wasn’t the awesome person that I thought I was. It’s so easy to be critical of someone in authority, but when I am put in that same position and I now need to be the one handling the decisions or handling the responsibilities, all of a sudden I realize how difficult it is and how all the ways in which I was critical before was unfair. I think as my view of myself changed from arrogance to starting to see a little bit clearer picture of myself, more and more I began to see people in authority much more differently. I started to see how difficult position of authority is, and I began to see how compared to what I would do, they were actually doing a much better job. As I saw myself with more and more sober judgment my critical attitude no longer seemed to make sense. When I see people who have authority, I really value their hard work and their tough assignment of making judgment calls and thinking of broader consequences. Government, authority at school, or my church leaders…the older I get the more I see how complex such leadership is with all the difficulties of unforeseen problems. I appreciate them a lot more.

Romans 13:7-8

  • What do I owe the various people to whom I am connected? 

To my leaders I owe them respect and love. I owe them gratitude for their works of service and sacrifice. I owe them gratitude for sticking with me despite all my sins and all my inconsistencies. I owe them honor for the sacrifice that they have made in their lives, the things that they said “no” to in order to build a church that kept the Word of God alive so that I would experience it and come to know God.

To my peers I owe them my love and loyalty. When they are in trouble or when they need help I owe them my body to be by their side. I owe them my prayers and my concerns. I owe them my love and gratitude for all the ways in which they have helped me to stick to seeking God and eventually come to know him.

To people that I lead, I owe them my works of service. I owe them my prayers. I owe them my thoughts and concerns. I owe them a good witness of the gospel that I have received. I owe them my sacrifice as I have received.

To my parents, I owe them gratitude and honor for loving me so much and taking care of me all these years. I owe them my love.

To my wife, I owe her my devotion and love. I owe her faithfulness as I have promised and I owe her care.

  • How would a person’s relationships change if he went from thinking about what people in his life owe him, to what he owes to the people around him?

I think the person’s relationship would change from one of victim mentality and insecurity to one of life giving love. When a person is thinking about what people in his life owe him, he is bound to feel like a victim of neglect. He’ll always complain and think about all the ways in which other people failed to give to him. He would look at his parents with complaint, would look at his leaders with blame, would look at his peers with frustration and would look at his wife with a lot of hurt. Constantly thinking of what others failed to do, there would be NO LOVE flowing out of such a person. He would also be really insecure and would constantly question other’s love for him. He would be insecure and feel like he needs to somehow get the attention of others to come to him.

A person who focuses on what he owes to the people around him would be very different. There are so many people to love. There are so many people to whom we owe love. When we look at life this way we can look around and have an endless supply of people to give to. There is an endless supply of people to serve, cherish and love. That person’s relationships would thrive. It would take off as love would flow out of such a person.

  • Which of these two attitudes typically characterize me?  How can I specifically begin to give people in my life what I owe them?

I complain a lot. I think people who don’t see me that much would not think this of me, but if anyone spent more than a day with me, they’d know that I’m a complainer and a whiner. I’m somewhat tactful about it, but in my head I know that I complain a lot and I calculate. I look at people who I feel like should respect me and feel insecure and rejected when I don’t receive respect from them. I look at people whom I feel should be affectionate towards me and if they aren’t then I feel rejected. The person who thinks about what others owe me typically characterizes me.

I can specifically begin to give people in my life what I owe them by first thinking about what I owe to others. One concrete way to do that is to stop complaining. Even if it is just stopping complaining verbally I think this alone will just get my attention off of “what others owe me.” I think that is the first step. I need to stop complaining about not getting enough sleep, about why people aren’t responding to me, about why I need to do more set up. If I just stop complaining verbally about it, then it’ll help me to keep my mind from dwelling on it. Instead of this what I need to do is to think about what I owe others. And one concrete way to do that is to just thank people more often. When there is a special occasion to show gratitude, I need to stop being lazy or awkward and write expressions of gratitude and show my appreciation for the people in my life who have given me so much.

Submitted by Jackie H. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 13:1-5

  • What is the state of my relationship with those who have authority in my life?

Focusing on my relationship with my spiritual leaders, my natural response to them used to be and sometimes still is rebelliousness. I just want to strike out on my own, making my own decisions, being my own “authority,” thinking that I know what’s best and “I am my own person.”  And this nature of rebellion has created tension/conflicts with those who had authorities in my life, especially my spiritual leaders, and has made guiding and shaping me difficult and has stunted my growth as a disciple of Christ. After some intentional efforts of denying my rebellious nature and submitting to my spiritual leaders, I have benefited time and again from their gems of wisdom and guidance in life and in spiritual matters. I have come to “test and approve” God’s will of placing spiritual leaders in my life not to harm me but to help me through the different junctures and challenging times of my life. So I have been growing in willingness and desire to deny my rebellious nature, to learn to be humble and open to receive and submit to the authority of my spiritual leaders.

Another aspect of the state of my relationship with my spiritual leader is an element of fear and desire for approval. Occasionally I get self-conscious of the things I do and fearful of what my leaders think of me. When I am image-conscious and performance-oriented, I am no longer a free person that can openly relate with my spiritual leaders. And there’s a barrier between us; my relationship with my leaders is affected because I can’t be myself and be free from anxiety and thoughts of looking good before them. And during those moments of self-conscious approval seeking, I need to remind myself of the role of my spiritual leaders which is to shape me to be a person of greater maturity and integrity, correct my twisted thinking and worldly values, and re-direct me onto the right path. And the reality is that unless I open up to them, be honest and let myself be known, they cannot help me and shape me. And remembering what my leaders had done for me in the past, which is to help me with God’s wisdom and love, I am assured again that trusting them, opening up to them and depending on them is God’s will for me and is the best option. Therefore, when I feel the anxiety of earning my leaders’ approval, I commit to trusting their love and heart for me and actually take initiative in approaching them instead of trying to hide but to focus on pleasing God and having integrity instead of doing the “right things” to earn approval. And that way, I may relate with my leaders with freedom and sincerity, not putting them on a pedestal but let them see me as who I am.

Romans 13:7-8

  • What do I owe the various people to whom I am connected? 

My staff—love and care, initiative and effort to connect, a cheerful heart, cooperative attitude, servanthood and hard work, volunteerism, generosity, encouragement and spurring on

My leaders—trust, love and care, honesty, submission, respect, prayers, timely and open communication

My parents – love, respect, being responsible of my details of my personal life and finances, witness of blameless Christian disciple

My coworkers – cheerful and cooperative attitude, witness of love and upright character, good work done at work, the gospel

My roommates- loving care, time spent connecting and deepening relationships, servanthood, ownership over our house, diligence in doing chores, cooking/getting meds and food for them when they are sick, a cheerful and encouraging presence at home.

My peers – prayers, ownership over them, love, honesty, friendship, encouragement and spurring on, initiative to connect, servanthood

People I minister to — prayers, good example of as a disciple of Christ (faithfulness, character, maturity, love for God, zeal for the gospel, servanthood, etc), genuine love/heart/care for them, word of God, speaking truth, vision for them and path leading them to grow, encouragement

  • How would a person’s relationships change if he went from thinking about what people in his life owe him, to what he owes to the people around him?

A person’s relationships would become filled with richness, fullness and freedom to love if he went from thinking about what people owe him to what he owes to others. A person who is constantly thinking about how others have mistreated/shorted him and are indebted to him, he will keep a record of what is owed to him and grow disgruntled and frustrated with people around him. A person who is full of sense of entitlement and the “I am owed” attitude will not be happy because he is so focused on being paid back and served by others. This person is frustrated and frustrating to others; his relational world would be full of conflicts and tension and only be shrinking ever smaller. However, when the person changed to the mindset of “I owe,” his eyes are open to the many blessings and goodness from people in his life, and he is filled with a sense of indebtedness and gratitude to God and others. And it opens the person up to more people around him and leads him to appreciate people around him and desire to serve others instead of being served.

  • Which of these two attitudes typically characterize me?  How can I specifically begin to give people in my life what I owe them?

The attitude of “people owe me” characterizes me more. To begin to give people in my life what I owe them, I need to first get out of the self-focused mindset that I am always the one giving, such as “I am sacrificial” “I have done so much,” but really to begin noticing, paying attention, and naming specifically the ways that I have been blessed and served by others, and all that I have received undeservedly. I need to begin cultivating a habit of noticing what I have been given and cultivate a heart of gratitude for specific people in my life, such as God, my roommates, my parents, my peers, my leaders, my staff, my students, etc. and out of that grateful heart, I would learn to be more other-centered and get to the point of projecting out “what’s on the receiving end of myself”, and begin the process of giving to others what I owe them.

Romans 13:8-10

  • Reflect on the truth that love is the fulfillment of the law.  Why is this so amazing? How does this change the way I view people in my life?

Love indeed is the fulfillment of the law. When we love someone, we place ourselves in their shoes, we see and think from their perspective, and we empathize with their circumstances and feel for their hurt. Therefore, our love, which begins with other-centeredness, will soften our heart toward others, fill us with empathy and compassion, and curb our desires to seek personal satisfactions and selfish gain at the cost of others. Out of love, we cannot distance ourselves from the any consequences and hurts our actions could possibly cause in those we love. Therefore, as we focus on loving someone, it becomes more natural for us to think of his/her best interest instead of our own and all the “dos and donts” in the law will be fulfilled.

This changes the way I view people from competitors or people who make me feel bad about myself to people through whom I am given the opportunity to learn how to love and therefore through loving, fulfilling the requirements of God’s standards. In addition, instead of avoiding breaking the law by trying hard to curb my sinful nature with my own determination and willpower in different areas, i.e. the list of “donts,” I can just focus my mind and energy on just one simple thing, which is relating to people out of love, thinking of them, serving them, ministering to them out of love, which leads to fulfillment of the law.

  • Reflect on the truth that all of the commandments are summed up in the command to love my neighbor, and the truth that, when I sin, I am doing “harm to [my] neighbor.”  How does this motivate me to become a person of greater love and greater obedience to God’s commandments?

Sin is relationally defined and obedience is also in the context of relationships with others. Therefore, I cannot simply strive to fulfill God’s commandments and please God by trying to be a nice and virtuous person on my own. When I sin, I am placing myself in the center and above others and acting out with my best interest in mind; I am not a person of love and therefore am disobedient to God’s commandments. My sin does not affect just me, trapping me in this life wrapped up in myself, but my sin has rippling effects that harm others. Therefore, I need to acknowledge and project the consequences of my sin and strive to be other-centered, to place others above myself, and to empathize with others (those who would be on the receiving end of my sin) so that I could be rescued from my own self-centered, self-focused small life of death and experience freedom through obeying God’s calling to love others.

Devotion Time July 2nd – 6th, 2012

Here is the DT Packet for July 2nd – 6th, 2012:

1. DT_Romans9-12_Jul2-Jul6_2012

July 6, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Romans 12)

Submitted by Yumi K. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

REFLECTION Questions

Romans 12:4-8

Reflect on the phrases “do not all have the same function,” “each member belongs to all the others,” and “have different gifts.”  Have I accepted these truths, or is there some degree of resistance to the way these truths work out in my life?

Over the years, I have learned to accept these truths a lot more, that we are all different members with different functions and gifts who belong to one another.  I have experienced a lot of joy and freedom in having a shift in my perspective of focusing on myself to understanding my identity as belonging to the greater body of Christ.  I think about my freshmen year in college, and there has been such a huge shift in my perspective and view towards my peers.  I saw each peer as a competitor, and while trying to put on a smile, was jealous of my friends for the different gifts/talents that they had which seemed so much better than me, and was constantly engaged in comparison.  I swung between feeling really jealous and insecure and self-conscious when I would feel that I wasn’t as disciplined as one peer, not as loud and fun another peer, not as deep and smart-sounding as so and so, etc. to then feeling proud and confident and arrogant if I felt that I was better in some other area.  My moods also swung according to how much approval and attention I got from my leaders in comparison to others.  But over the years, my entire view has shifted as I started to understand this truth that my peers and friends are not my competitors, we are not individual rolling stones, but rather, we are the body of Christ, all meant to fit together to build the church, all belonging to one another and complimenting each other’s strengths.  I think about my peers now, and they are each such a joy and blessing to me, such a source of strength and encouragement, and I feel a deep sense of need for them, needing to lean on them for their strengths and rejoicing in their strengths rather than feeling threatened by it because I understand now that we are all being used for God’s church.  Especially this past week, I had a chance to take pause and really take stock of all that God has done and be filled with a sense of awe and gratitude with all of our church plant friends coming to Berkeley for our one day all team retreat.  I am so grateful for one particular peer, and her responsiveness and surrender to God’s will – she was our first peer to go on a church plant, going to Taiwan as a missionary.  I felt strengthened by my other peer who has the gift of being relational and creating warmth and friendliness and lowering barriers, my other peer, who has the gift of hospitality and also really bringing brightness and a fun atmosphere.  I felt strengthened seeing my peer from Minneapolis church plant, who has the gift of encouragement, by another peer who works hard and serves through her ability to cook up a storm.  Each of these peers were on different church plants, serving faithfully through different up’s and down’s, and I felt so strengthened to see them again and to send one of them off to church plant at Austin.  They are each my precious, precious friends, and each members of one body with me, and rather than being threatened now, I feel an acute need for them, and rejoice in their strengths and how God is using them, and I feel very much spurred on by them when I feel down or weak because of my own sins or some struggles that I face in my own life and in the lives of those I minister to.

As much as I have experienced accepting these truths in my life, however, I still have a lot more to grow in understanding this truth.  I think the most clear way in which I still resist these truths about the body of Christ is that I get insecure and feel anxious about my weaknesses still.  I always want to still be a contributing member, want to contribute in some way and not be a burden in ministry – I want to be a source of strength and not discouragement and heartache for my leaders, and get stuck in self-pity and self-loathing when I see my sins and weaknesses come out in ministry and affect others.  To the extent that I have a hard time just accepting, admitting my weaknesses and sins and do not ask for forgiveness, I still have not accepted the truth that I am fully a part of God’s body with all my sins, weaknesses, warts and all. 

Romans 12:9-21

Read this passage several times and meditate on the life that I am called to live.   Imagine a church community seriously carrying out these commands. Pray for our church to become this kind of community and for my part in making that a reality.  Is there a truth that God is particularly convicting me of based on this passage? 

Dear Heavenly Father:

I pray for our church, that we together could become this kind of a precious community where we can love one another out of sincerity, serve one another in brotherly, sisterly love that is very real and concrete.  I pray that we can become a community where we do not just pay lip service to one another, and never become a place where our rhetoric outpaces our real, concrete actions.  Please be with us, guard us and help us to continue the pattern of teaching and life that has been preserved in our church.  Concretely, I pray that we can always be a church where every member puts forward others’ needs before their own, where we learn to be servants, serving by cleaning, cooking, giving to those in need, noticing needs and meeting them.  Personally, I pray for myself that rather than just doing things and good works out of my own guilt and anxiety, that I could learn to genuinely love out of sincerity, crying out in prayer, being faithful in prayer, and finding small ways to love those around me and meet their needs and not using the busy-ness of ministry as an excuse for not doing so.

I pray that we could be a church that is never lacking in zeal, but that we could keep our spiritual fervor in serving the Lord.  I pray for the next generation of leaders, I pray that as we come in as the second generation, having reaped the benefits of those who have gone before us, we would refuse to just start settling down, becoming scattered because of our desire for comfort and because we start listening to the practical, worldly-wise voices of the world.  Please help each one of us to be vigilant, alert and desperate to guard this precious church that you have given us, where our leaders refused to slow down, kept growing in zeal and built this church up by their zeal and sacrifice.  I want to just really repent for Lord, so often I get caught up in doing things and do not cultivate this kind of spiritual fervor, and then pretty soon, I let things become a lot of tasks.  I want to grow in zeal, Lord, along with my brothers and sisters for this precious Gospel, and follow my leaders’ pattern of teaching, their lives that never slowed down but kept growing in zeal.

Lord, may we also become a community where there is this kind of sharing of life – sharing with those in need, practicing hospitality, sharing in other’s rejoicing and mourning, living in harmony with one another, and not being proud or conceited.  I pray that your love would continue to manifest in these concrete ways, of sharing our resources, time, lives, where generosity is lived out through concrete acts, and where every person’s ups and down’s are shared together.

And I pray also that we can become a church where we become a blessing to even our enemies, where each member could learn to bless those who persecute them, where we do not repay anyone evil for evil, but live blameless lives where we can do right in the eyes of everybody, to be able to feed, give water to our enemies, and where we can ultimately overcome evil with good.  I pray that we can learn to model the very love of Christ, love for enemies, that we have received to our own “enemies,” to those who criticize and persecute us, and that we can become that kind of a witness to the world around us.

In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.

Based on this passage, I am convicted by the truth that I must never lack zeal, that I have a personal responsibility to keep my spiritual fervor.  Before I can minister to others, before I can be a leader to others, I need to first prioritize my relationship with God, to cultivate a heart of zeal and spiritual fervor, and not slow down, and not allow the lull of life and desire to settle down to dull my alertness in my heart.  As I get older, as I am about to have a second child, and life just gets busier and new challenges come during this season of life, I cannot slow down, but I need to increase in zeal, increase in my spiritual fervor.  I need to have that spiritual zeal and personal sense of clear calling before my God, and only then could I lead others.

What would it mean to become “overcome by evil”?  What practical approach is suggested by the exhortation to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good?”  Is there some area of life in which I can put this into practice?

To become overcome by evil would mean to respond to evil done to us with evil – to hate them, to judge them, to bad mouth them, to try and get back at them for doing wrong to us.  When we decide to respond to those who hurt us by hurting them back in this way, we are allowing ourselves to be overcome by evil because we are doing the same evil back, and allowing evil to reign.

The practical approach that is suggested by this exhortation to not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good is to respond to our enemies, those who hurt and persecute us with love – instead of lashing out and taking revenge, to instead feed them, give them something to drink, and love them, have pity on them and have compassion.  Then when love is shown, when this kind of mercy is shown, that evil can be overcome by friendship or even an impression about Christians as good, as something better, more.

I can’t say that I really have enemies in my life.  However, I do experience small hurts if I can call it that in ministry – when I try to love someone, but they twist my words that I was trying to speak truth through and accuse me of false things, when my well-intentioned actions are misconstrued or misunderstood by those who I am ministering to because I need to try and speak truth to them and love them.  When these ministry “hurts” and discouragements happen, this passage tells me that rather than retaliating in anger, or steeling my heart away and trying not to be hurt, I need to respond with good, with crying out for them and loving them in prayer, with continuing to have vision for them, and trying to minister to them and loving them in this way.

Submitted by Joe H. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 12:4-8
·       Reflect on the phrases “do not all have the same function,” “each member belongs to all the others,” and “have different gifts.”  Have I accepted these truths, or is there some degree of resistance to the way these truths work out in my life?

When I think about these phrases in the abstract, I agree and it makes a lot of sense. We all have different gifts in the body of Christ. We do not have the same function. But somehow, I am not satisfied by this when it comes down into the specifics; when it comes down to the gifts that I have or don’t have, or the gifts that my friends have or don’t have.

God has given me everything, including all the gifts that I have. But there are also many gifts that my friends have that I do not have. Some of them can cook very well, and do so quite frequently. Some of them are very personable and amiable and can easily relate with other people. Some of them are great storytellers, and can keep a crowd engaged for long periods of time. Some of them are great at logistics. Some are very patient, and some are very encouraging. Some have great technical skill, or a great aesthetic sense. And so forth. My gifting is not really in these things. But I have been envious of all of those gifting in my friends. So while I can know in my head that we all have different gifts, when I see that actually being played out, I somehow feel diminished.

But why is that the case? It is because I am very selfish and egotistical. I want these gifts for my own benefit: to receive public adulation, and be known as someone who is very good at whatever-gift-it-is.  Even though I want to use these gifts for God’s kingdom, I also want to use them to puff up my own-self image. Perhaps this is why Paul says right before this passage to not think more highly of myself than I ought, but rather to think of myself with sober judgment.

By doing this, I am violating that second phrase in the list: “each member belongs to all the others.” When I am envious of others, I am separating myself from the other members of the body of Christ. I am drawing a line between us, saying that my gifts benefit me, and your gifts benefit you. But God calls me to a completely different understanding of my place in the world. I am not alone. This is the world’s philosophy–that I just need to look out for number one. That ultimately, I can only trust myself. But Paul says not to conform any longer to the pattern of this world, and to be transformed in the renewing of my mind. God’s description of the church is that we are all members of one another. So my gifts are for the body and for everyone else; others’ gifts are for the body and for me too. In this way, being envious of another’s gifts doesn’t make any sense at all. These gifts are not about me at all. In fact, God calls me to offer my body (and my gifts) as a living sacrifice!

And of course, I have experienced this one-ness in the body. As I engage more and more in ministry, my friends become less of my competitor, and more of my teammate, my co-laborer. On a team, it doesn’t matter how the individual components and contributions work out – it’s more important that the team completes its objective. When my focus shifts away from myself and towards the body of Christ, and trying to engage in this incredible call of loving other people with the love of Christ, then I really begin to understand that “each member belongs to all the others.”

So then, when I feel the ugly head of jealousy rising up, or when I am disgruntled because I may not have all the gifts that I want – I have to take a step back and think, what am I really trying to do here? Am I trying to exalt myself so that I can think highly of myself? I know the emptiness and hollowness that leads to. Rather, I am trying to do God’s will. I am trying to love people as much as possible and build his kingdom. And with this as the primary goal, the details of the individual gifts or contributions fade away. What matters most is that we do this together as a church.

Romans 12:9-21
·       Read this passage several times and meditate on the life that I am called to live.   Imagine a church community seriously carrying out these commands. Pray for our church to become this kind of community and for my part in making that a reality.  Is there a truth that God is particularly convicting me of based on this passage?

Wow, this is such an incredible list. If our church fully became this kind of community, we would be such an incredible witness for Christ. People inside our church would experience the transformative power of the Gospel and the love of God. People outside of our church would marvel at how different our community is and would yearn for it. When I read this description, it’s so clear how wonderful this is, but this is not how the world operates. In secular communities, people are not devoted to each other – they are devoted to themselves. They honor themselves above others. They hoard resources for themselves. This is our natural state, when we are slaves to the sinful nature.

But when we are slaves of righteousness, this is the kind of community that is born. And while our community is not fully there yet, I have experienced this love and devotion many times in the past 10 years. It’s one of the biggest reasons I wanted to stay here after graduating. I saw people devoted to God and devoted to one another.

Yet I also recognize that there is a lot of room for me to grow as a member of this community. One exhortation that stood out to me is: Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. This made me think back to this past Sunday when one of my friends needed help moving. Initially, I was weary of his request. It was a pretty packed weekend, and I just wanted some rest and downtime on Sunday night. But I thought about our community and our friendship and thought about what kind of community God called us to be. If all of us always gave in to our own insular tendencies, what kind of community would I be a part of? We would not be able to do setup every Sunday morning. We would not be able to rally and put on evangelistic presentations like new student welcome night, GLIVE or Joyland Christmas Celebration. Parents would not be able to partake in ministry because of child care needs. I would be part of a community that meets every Sunday and Friday for worship, but does its own thing on the other days of the week. That’s not the way that God wants me to live! As I went over to help my friend move, it was actually a strengthening experience to just live life together, and to have all of our peers gather and just be there for each other. Sure, maybe I didn’t get the time to get some of my own errands done, but the gift of a community devoted to one another is so much more precious than that. It was a reminder to me not give in to my selfish tendencies.

·       What would it mean to become “overcome by evil”?  What practical approach is suggested by the exhortation to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good?”  Is there some area of life in which I can put this into practice?

I think to be overcome by evil in this context would be to give in to our natural states of desiring revenge for maybe some wrong that I have experienced. And maybe I won’t even repay evil with evil, but will just remain at an icy distance towards someone. This passage even warns against that when it says to live at peace with everyone as far as it depends on me. Because if I don’t initiate, then maybe nothing will happen! In general, I don’t think I would go far enough to repay someone with evil. But I definitely know the feeling of wanted to just remain distant towards someone and not taking that step to restore the peace. That’s the easiest thing to do. I reason with myself: if that person is the one who did the wrong, then he should be the person to bring it up and apologize. But doing so would be to become overcome by evil. Rather, I should overcome that evil with good. I should try to make peace. I have to be active in loving others, being devoted to others, living in harmony with others, not being conceited, etc.

Submitted by Steven C. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 12:4-8

·       Reflect on the phrases “do not all have the same function,” “each member belongs to all the others,” and “have different gifts.”  Have I accepted these truths, or is there some degree of resistance to the way these truths work out in my life?

“…Each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function…”  This is a true statement, and the human body is a very good example.  There are arms, there are legs, there are different ligaments, tendons, muscles and a variety of other types of tissues in the human body, and each part, each member of the body has its own designed function in the body.  How absurd would it be, if the body was made up of only eyes and no feet!   Only hands, but no shoulders!  That’s a pretty useless and helpless body.  Instead, the body is comprised of numerous parts and members, that each have their own set of actions and functions, and when in combination and synchrony with other parts of the body, there is meaningful movement, and complex, coupled action.  Even walking itself, is a combined, complex interaction of so many moving components of the limbs themselves, with communication between the brain and nervous system to the peripheral nerves that innervate the muscles, which then produce complex physiological reactions to contract, and finally produce movement.  In the same, way, this is how the body of Christ functions. The church is comprised of a collection of believers, who “do not all have the same function” and who also “have different gifts”.  Each person has his and her own strengths and weaknesses, gifting and talents, skills and what not, but we are not all the same.  And fortunately, we are not all the same!  How plain and boring and not effective would the church be if everyone was the same.  Instead, each member and each person in the church is uniquely different and “each belongs to all the others.”  The church has been given a mission and a grand calling to share God’s love and the gospel, and collectively we are to rely on one another in the church to do so.  Instead, of envying and comparing our talents and gifts with others in the church, instead of striving to out do and out perform one another, we, in the church are to support one another and work together to do God’s work.  As I think about my own life, I can affirm this truth and know the goal and role of the church, but at the same time, I recognize my own envies and comparisons, noting how I recognize other people’s gifts and skills, and that causes me to somehow feel diminished or lessened.  Or worse yet, I think about some of my own strengths and gifting, and use them to boast or boost my self-confidence and ego.  Instead, the right and proper way to see myself, as one member of God’s larger church and body.  I am situated in the church to further God’s mission, and I am to use my gifts and my all towards that end.  Not for any personal gain or vain recognition, but all for God’s glory.

Romans 12:9-21

·       Read this passage several times and meditate on the life that I am called to live.   Imagine a church community seriously carrying out these commands. Pray for our church to become this kind of community and for my part in making that a reality.  Is there a truth that God is particularly convicting me of based on this passage?

-Cling to what is good

-Be devoted to one another

-Honor one another

-Keep your spiritual fervor

-Be joyful in hope

-Faithful in prayer

-Share with God’s people

-Practice hospitality

-Bless those who persecute you

-Rejoice with those who rejoice

-Live in harmony with one another

-Willing to associate with people of low position

-Do what is right in the eyes of everybody

-Live at peace with everyone

This list is the positive directives from v. 9-21, and what an amazing picture the church would be if the community chose to seriously carry out these commands.  Such a place would be a refuge from the selfish and competitive nature of the world.  This picture of the church is awe-inspiring and captivating, but the chilling notion, is that this can be the reality in our church.  This was God’s plan and vision for His church, but our sinfulness and selfishness corrupted God’s plan.  As I think about this vision of the church, and this text I was struck by v.11 “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor,serving the Lord.”  When all God’s people are focused on serving the Lord and doing his work, there is no room and space for competitiveness, pride and selfishness.  A collection of people, sold out for the gospel, naturally converges towards a picture of the church as described in verses 9-21, and matches the description in Acts 2.  These visions push me to serve the Lord that much more, in hopes that the Romans 12 church and the Acts 2 church can be realized in college towns throughout the land.

·       What would it mean to become “overcome by evil”?  What practical approach is suggested by the exhortation to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good?”  Is there some area of life in which I can put this into practice?

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The world’s mentality and philosophy leads people to expect retaliation when they have wronged another person.  But, to respond instead with kindness, forgiveness and goodness, to show love when it seems uncalled for, can melt the even the hardest heart.  Why not rather be wronged, but so often it is man’s ego that cries out in outrage when wronged, and refuses to forgive and be wronged.  Even as I think about my own heart, I can think of times when I retorted with sharp comebacks, biting words, frustration and impatience when I was slightly wronged or treated improperly.  These words were directed to some of the closest people in my life, my friends, fellow staff and even my wife.  I recognize this aspect about myself, where I grow so frustrated and impatient, when things don’t seemingly go my way, when mistakes are made or breakdown in communication happens.  What happens next is I look for the person to blame and I try to point out how they were wrong, until they see clearly the mistake and the certain consequences.  This fault-finding, hyper-critical way of viewing situations and people is so evil and wrong, especially because I am just as prone to make mistakes and incorrectly communicate.  Instead, when these situations happen in life, and undoubtedly they happen all the time, I need to know how to quickly forgive.  I can’t brood and ramp up over such silly offenses, but learn to quickly forgive and air out any grievances.  This impatience that I see and recognize in my own character, needs to be overcome with gentleness, kindness and forgiveness towards all.  In this way, the evil in me, the poor character in me, is overcome by the goodness of God.

July 5, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Romans 12)

Submitted by Annie K. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

  • Why is “in view of God’s mercy” the basis for offering up our bodies as living sacrifices?

God showed me mercy when he sent his son Jesus to die on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins and take on the punishment that I rightly deserved. Thus in view of God’s mercy, the only way I can and should respond is to offer up my body as a living sacrifice. Knowing full well what God has done for me, there’s no way that I can still try to cling onto my own life. I offer up myself to him out of gratitude for his mercy and because I now want to live a life that is holy and pleasing to him as an act of worship.

  • What can I learn from the fact that the command to “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world” primarily involves the “renewing of [the] mind” and thinking of myself with “sober judgment?”

The bible doesn’t simply command me to no longer conform to the pattern of this world as if it was that easy, but gives me two concrete ways to help me do so. I know from personal experience that it’s very difficult to turn away from the world just because I want to. I find myself giving into sin again and again because my will power just wasn’t strong enough. I will be able to resist the pattern of this world by renewing my mind. That means I need to think differently. I can’t simply go along with what the rest of the world says or does. I need to think about and understand why the patterns of this world are sinful and unbiblical so that I won’t succumb to them. I have to be able to pinpoint things that are strong sources of temptation so that I can take concrete steps to protect myself so that I won’t give in to the pattern of this world in moments of weakness. Though it’s difficult, I also need to strive to think of myself with sober judgment by being humble and very honest about my thoughts, desires and actions. I also need to make myself open to receiving truth from people in my life about things that I’m blind to.

  • What is the “pattern of this world” to which I should no longer conform?

The pattern of this world that I should no longer conform to is the one that says that the key to a happy life is living to gratify your every desire, financial security, and human approval. I’m especially convicted of this as I look at the lives of some people I interact with. On the outside their lives looked pretty good. I remember I had to really struggle once I started working there because their lives seemed pretty attractive to me at the time. They were clearly the cool group, the most fashionable, and would often go out to bars and clubs on the weekends together. They would talk about how much free time they had to do whatever they wanted and travel on a whim. As a first year ministry intern, I realized that I didn’t have very much free time to myself because I was involved ministering to others. I would think of my co-workers with envy who got to sleep in on Saturdays and sleep way before midnight during the week. They also spend a lot of their time, money and energy on keeping up with the latest fashion, celebrity gossip and having lots of fun. As I turned to God’s word I realized how unbiblical it is to live a life like them and saw just how empty their lives really are. They can afford to spend ridiculous amounts of money on clothes and makeup because they really have nothing or nobody else to spend their money on. Often they sleep early because they’re bored and don’t have anything better to do. I feel so blessed as I look at my life that’s full of meaning, purpose and a wealth of relationships.

  • What would it mean for me to daily offer up my body as a “living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God”?

To daily offer up my body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to god would mean denying my body and putting others before my own desire for physical and emotional comfort, personal space or agenda. It would mean making myself available to people when they need someone to talk to even when it’s late at night and I’m tired after a long day at work. It would mean putting a lot of thought and care in my ministry to others rather than just doing the bare minimum and saying that I’ve done my job. It means driving into Berkeley after a long day at work rather than turning around to go home. It would mean being all there when I’m at bible studies, Sunday services, DT times and prayer. It essentially means learning to die to my own desires in order to put others before myself to live an others-centered life.

Submitted by John C. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 12:1-3

Our refusal to conform to this world’s values… must go even deeper than the level of behavior and customs—it must be firmly planted in our minds—‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ It is possible to avoid most worldly customs and still be proud, covetous, selfish, stubborn, and arrogant. Only when the Holy Spirit renews, reeducates, and redirects our minds are we truly transformed.” [Life Application Study Bible, NIV Edition. (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. & Zondervan, 1984). p.2050.]

  • Why is “in view of God’s mercy” the basis for offering up our bodies as living sacrifices?

It’s a response out of a deep sense of gratitude towards what has been done for me. According to the commentary provided below, “in view of God’s mercy” can be translated as, “as a recipient of many mercies, I urge you”. This highlights the fact that the act of offering myself and surrendering my body as a living sacrifice is the proper response given what’s been done for me already. I turned 28 not too long ago and I had a chance to reflect and take stock of all the blessings that I have in my life and the moment by moment mercies that I’ve received starting even before the day of my birth. It’s a miracle that I was even born as there were many complications before I was born. Even before I can begin my life, I almost did not have one. Speaking of birthday, there was also another incident on my birthday party when I turned 8, I almost drowned in the swimming pool as my friends were joking around and not allowing me to come up for air. There were many instances where I barely escaped getting into a major car accident while I was my rollerblades or on my bike on the street. But not only have I continued to be rescued from such near death experiences, furthermore God granted my life with so many blessings in which I cannot help but to think “it didn’t have to be this way”. I have a job, a good education, loving parents, loving wife, like-minded friends with the same purpose and goal, I am part of a loving vibrant community sold for the gospel, am a spiritual leader of college students, have faithful spiritual leaders whose life I can exemplify. What do all the mercies and blessings I listed above have in common? None of them I deserved. None of them came from my own works. There were a web of people, circumstances, events that took place that led me to receive all those blessings. Ultimately, it was God who provided and graciously granted them to me. But far greater and more important than all the mercies that I have listed above, the greatest mercy that I received which really is the main basis for which I offer my life to God is the mercy of salvation from my sins. As Apostle Paul has written in Romans 7, “I would not have known what sin was except through the law” and when I saw my life and how I’ve been living measured against this law, God’s perfect law, I fall very short. What other law is there that matters other than the one that comes from God, the creator of the Heavens and the earth, the one who brought me into this world, the rightful owner of my life. I have fallen short—day in and day out, consciously and subconsciously—and lived a life that has been unpleasing to God. I have lived as a slave to my sinful nature, the desires of my lustful heart, the pride in me that desires misfortunes on others if it brings fortunes to me, my covetousness and greed that strives to grasp what I want even if it is at the cost of compromising my moral values or hurting other people. Inevitably this kind of life I was living was down a pathway of destruction. Such life of being enslaved to my sins was the life that I was living until out of God’s mercy and grace, God sent his one and only Son to take upon the punishment that is due for my sins and die for me. That death was a death to my sins, to my old life of following my sinful desires, and through the resurrection I, too, have been given a new life, a life of righteousness, being in the right relationship with God. For such great mercy, what else can I say, what else can I do. As written in Romans 8, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” What is the only proper response to this? It is to offer every aspect of myself, despite how small it may be, despite how small it is compared to what God deserves, to give myself as a living sacrifice to God.

  • What can I learn from the fact that the command to “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world” primarily involves the “renewing of [the] mind” and thinking of myself with “sober judgment?”

In fully embracing my new identity being a servant of God and slave to righteousness, my old ways of conforming to the ways of this world, succumbing to the superficial values of this world will not just go away. As Apostle Paul says in verse 2 and 3, it is done through the renewing of my mind and thinking of myself with “sober judgment”. To renew my mind, this will require work and to think of myself with “sober judgment” this will require humility. In the first step of renewing my mind, it is to first stop feeding my mind with the false values that this world throws at me. The world that says a person’s value is by their appearance or performance, it says that there is nothing more important to life to maximize my own pleasures, it says that money is the key to happiness, it says that I should follow my heart no matter what…these values and voices enter my mind through internet, music, movies, magazines, coworkers, professors, parents, etc. As written in 1 Corinthians 6:12, “Everything is permissible for me—but not everything is beneficial” I am free to listen to whatever voices the world may throw at me, but it’s definitely not beneficial. When I think about the past 20+ years of my life time, all I have been doing was listening to the voices of this world and following its values. One of the values that was really deeply ingrained in me was this idea that I need to always save myself, even if it means to wear masks. All my life, I wore masks and for me to save myself was to be accepted by people. In high school I would hang out with multiple different groups of friends. I was friends with the nerds, the jocks, the fobby group, the church group, the orchestra group, the vandalizing group. After I became a Christian in college, this value that I need to save myself and be accepted by people permeated into my spiritual life. I would wear masks to be accepted by my leaders thinking that I would need to appear like I am spiritual, trying to share in group settings what’s not actually in my heart but more what I think would make me sound more spiritual, go to prayer meetings when I was a sophomore not because I was spiritually interested but because I wanted to appear like I am spiritual even as a sophomore…in such ways, this value was deeply ingrained in me. It wasn’t until my leaders spoke truth into my life of who I really am inside in which I was finally able to see myself with “sober judgment” with humility of who I am, that I was able to continue to struggle against this worldly value of mine. When I finally saw this worldly value that I was still clinging onto, it was then when I was able to clearly see what it was that I need to renew in my mind. I renewed my mind day by day through God’s word, that it is the truth that will set me free, the truth that while I was still a sinner, Christ died for me and I am loved even when I don’t wear my mask. In fact, to wear it, is to deny what has been done on the cross for me.

July 4, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Romans 11)

Submitted by Daniel C.  from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 11:11-24

“It is good for those that have found mercy with God to be often thinking what they were in time past, and how they obtained that mercy. This would help to soften our censures of those that still continue in unbelief, and quicken our prayers for them.”  [Matthew Henry, Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible – Romans 11]

• Given that the background of this letter to the Romans is the tension between Jewish and Gentile believers, what lesson is here about how to pursue Christian unity and fellowship?

Christian unity and fellowship must be rooted in the knowledge that we’re all sinners saved by God’s grace. That we are all exactly alike in that were sinners who could do nothing to secure our own salvation and had to depend on God’s mercy and God’s power to save us. Paul emphasized that the Jews weren’t special. Even given their privileged position as God’s people, they transgressed and rejected God as their God. They went on to bow down to all sorts of idols. And so God brought the message of salvation to the Gentiles. But the Gentiles weren’t anything special either. They were outsiders to God’s original promises made to the Jews, and so the Gentiles had nothing to boast about either. God didn’t somehow favor them over the Jews and it would be laughable for the Gentiles to reach that kind of interpretation.

By default, we are constantly trying to distinguish ourselves and find things about ourselves we can boast about. We are always trying to find some reason we are better than others. That’s why Christian unity and fellowship can only happen when we genuinely believe and understand that we are nothing but sinners. That the fact we are sinners before a holy God is more significant than any other abilities or characteristics we’d normally use to feel like we’re better than others.

I thought about the team retreat we had this past weekend. We definitely experienced unity and fellowship. Why? Because of our shared history and long relationships, of course. But also because person after person testified that he or she is nothing but a sinner. That they were just broken vessels, full of sins and issues and problems, through whom God was able to do His incredible work. And for the most part, that is what we’ve each come to know about ourselves. I could relate to each testimony that was shared because through the past 11 years of ministry, I have only gotten an increasingly deeper sense of my sinfulness and the fact that I have nothing to be proud or arrogant about. I could see myself exactly in their situations, being on a church plant and experiencing the difficulty of relating to the same people 24/7, struggling through my character issues as they really got exposed in that close environment, making many mistakes and experiencing their consequences, receiving persecution from others who didn’t understand what we were doing, having my faith and convictions tested, etc. I didn’t feel one bit like I could’ve done things any better than anyone else. I was just grateful for my salvation and the fact that God could actually use sinners like us like He has demonstrated He can all over our churches. That is the key to the kind of fellowship that we experience when we are together. Compared to how I’ve related to people before—either feeling superior or inferior to them and trying to prove myself in some way—I wouldn’t want to have any other basis for relating to others. That common understanding that we are all wretched sinners, and that were it not for God’s grace we’d all be living hopeless and self-destructive lives, is what enables me to enjoy the kinds of relationships I do today in our church. Growing up as someone deeply insecure, always comparing myself to others and trying to find some small niche by which I could stand out, I became immensely isolated and alienated from people. And so I could’ve never imagined that I could feel such unity and fellowship today with others based on the fact that we all know we are just sinners. Rather than make me more fearful or insecure, the knowledge that I’ve been rescued from sin only by God’s grace has instead brought me closer to others than I’ve ever been. Continued unity and fellowship can only happen as I continue to discipline myself daily to acknowledge my sins truthfully, to revisit my testimony and the details of how God saved me, and to relate to others simply as fellow broken sinners.

[1]  Matthew Henry, Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible – Romans 11

July 3, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Romans 10)

Submitted by Wilson F. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 10:1-3

  • Think about the tragedy of zeal without knowledge. 

Zeal without knowledge is misguided passion, sending you in the wrong direction and at a furious speed!  In talking about the Jewish people, Apostle Paul describes them as being “zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge” (v. 2).  Indeed, the Israelites knew a lot, having “been entrusted with the very words of God” (3:2).  They enjoyed a long history with God, they possessed the Ten Commandments, and they recognized God’s holy judgment over their lives.  Their zeal for God, however, translated into fastidious observance of the laws, a practice in which the Pharisees excelled.  In so doing, they revealed their lack of knowledge – knowledge of God’s love, of God’s heart for relationship according to his terms, of God’s “righteousness” that covers sin and comes by faith.  Their approach to God was to do enough righteous acts, so that in the great accounting, on God’s cosmic ledger, there would be more good on the left column than evil on the right column; to do enough righteous acts to satisfy God so that at the end of the day, they could do whatever they wanted.  So while they were zealous in doing “their little religious thing” and thereby exemplifying such high morality that they distinguished themselves from the neighboring pagan cultures, they “did not submit” to God’s righteousness and thus remained in sin, failing to relate properly to God.

On the flipside, knowledge without zeal is not any better – we need both!  Apostle Paul himself exhorts, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (12:11).  I have received the gospel, I know Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.  In view of God’s mercy, in view of the grace he has afforded me through the cross, therefore, I ought to live a life of increasing intensity and zeal, to be used by God as an instrument of righteousness.  God’s power is all-surpassing, as it says in 2 Corinthians 4:7, and I want it to be unleashed in my life and through my life by first fully submitting myself to God and making myself totally available to him – so that those who do not believe can hear the gospel, so that I can be a bridge to God’s salvation for many to cross.

  • Reflect on the words used to describe the Israelites—“sought to establish their own” and “did not submit.”  What is the relationship between willpower-driven efforts to establish my own righteousness and a refusal to submit to God’s way of grace?  How can I guard myself against this?

When I try to establish my own righteousness through willpower-driven efforts and inner resolve, not only do I engage in a futile endeavor, but I also am refusing to submit to God’s way of grace.  It seems like a simple lesson that I need to learn again and again.  It is the warning of the parable of the prodigal son, where the younger son, after his return, can quickly become like the older son – self-reliant and independent, refusing to become like the father.

My decision to receive Christ and become Christian came after a period of struggle, in which I had tried to establish my own righteousness.  By the strength of my own will, I wanted to prove to God and to myself that I could change on my own, that I could be a good person through my own effort.  At the time, God was convicting me of my deceitfulness, and my commitment was to tell the truth in all situations.  But I fell flat on my face, as again and again, I found myself sharing half-truths, or omitting key details, or embellishing stories to highlight my positive features, or at times, lying just to preserve my reputation.  I identified with Paul’s sentiment in Romans 7:18, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”  My pride finally broke, and I confessed my utter depravity and helpless state as a sinner through and through.

Even still, twelve years later, I find myself repeatedly heading down the same path, trying to establish my own righteousness.  It is the same indomitable pride that keeps rearing its ugly head, that keeps insisting on promoting my ego and deriving a sense of significance based on what I can accomplish (for God).  It is the same prideful insecurity that wants to be able to tell others, “Hey, look at me – I’m a good Christian!”  It is also motivated by a nagging sense of shame and guilt over my sins and failures of the past, and I think that by achieving enough righteousness, I can somehow “make up” for what I had done.  But the only way to submit to God’s way of grace is through humility – through the ego-devastating admission that I cannot do it on my own, and through placing God as the Master over my life once again.

I can guard myself against this by coming back to my testimony and reaffirming the truth that I was an enemy of God, hopeless, powerless, worthy of condemnation and wrath – and that it did not depend on my desire or effort, but depended purely on God’s mercy that I was saved (9:16).  I can return to this clarity regarding the gospel-centered life of discipleship – where it is not about my “righteousness” or unrighteousness, or success or failure, or doing a good job or a bad job, but all about trusting in the inseparable love of God and obeying him as best as I can, one day at a time, going to anyone anywhere at any time so that a person may here the message of good news and be granted a chance to believe and be saved.

Romans 10:4-15

“Through Christ’s being brought down to earth (i.e., his incarnation, Rom. 10:6) and his being brought up from the dead (10:7), God has made righteousness readily available (10:8).  One does not have to ascend into heaven or plumb the depths of the sea to discover it.  All one needs to do to attain righteousness is to respond in faith to the gospel as it is preached.  Verses 9-10 draw conclusions from what Paul has said about the ‘righteousness that is by faith’ in verses 6-8.  With the mouth one confesses ‘Jesus is Lord.’  The confession that Jesus is Lord is one of the most basic distinguishing marks of being a Christian.” [Douglas J. Moo, The NIV Application Commentary – Romans (Zondervan, 2000) p. 332]

  • According to this passage, what does it take for a person to be saved?

To be saved, a person needs to confess with his mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” accepting all the implications and repercussions of such a profession of faith, and to believe in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead.

  • According to this passage, what needs to happen first in order for a person to believe the message, to call on Christ and be saved?

For a person to believe the message and call on Christ and be saved, he first needs to hear the message, and that is only possible if someone preaches the gospel to him.

  • In light of this, how seriously have I taken my role as one who must “bring good news” to those who “have not heard?”

When I think about my identity, I recognize that I have been entrusted with the precious gospel that is able to deliver a soul to heaven from hell, that I have been personally called and sent by God, and that I bear the privilege and the responsibility of preaching God’s Word to those who do not believe.  This remains to be my paramount identity and my most important role in this world.  I am a bi-vocational minister, and from 8am to 4:30pm, I work as a nurse practitioner practicing medicine.  But what I do in my office cannot compare with the life-saving, life-giving, life-changing ministry I do as a minister of reconciliation, an identity I hold 24/7.  Every Christian is an evangelist because every Christian is a “little Christ,” an ambassador of Christ, a member of the royal priesthood, a redeemed child of God with a personal testimony, an example to the watching world of God’s patience and mercy.  In my own ministry, as I lead a group of recently-converted college seniors, part of my role is to impart this sense of calling and commission to each one of them – in a season of their life when they are thinking about their future, the trajectory of their lives, the offerings of this world, and the alluring call of career and materialism.  My prayer and vision for them is that they would join me in the urgency of suffering for the gospel, of laboring hard to see other prodigals find their way back to the Father’s home, of leading lost sinners just like us across the line of faith.

  • Reflect on the words, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”  List the people (known and unknown) God used to bring the gospel to me.  Who are the people to whom God is asking me to go? 

There are so many people to whom I am indebted for bringing the gospel to me: my mother who first dragged me to church when I was ten years old, my aunt who first brought my mother to church when she was a young girl back in Hong Kong, as well as my spiritual leaders Pastor Ed and Kelly, Pastor Daniel and Sarah, and others who not only preached the gospel in a relevant and compelling way but also lived out the gospel.  God also used the original founders of our church, who took a bold step of faith in establishing a ministry on the Berkeley campus that emphasized solid biblical teaching, life-on-life discipleship, strong stance against sin, and close family-like community – as it was at our church where I received a lot of prayers as well as a lot of painful truth that was hard to swallow, but it was because I was taken seriously that I understood God’s love and grace and was able to be saved.

God is calling me to reach the college students.  College is the institution of higher learning, but spiritually speaking, it is the bastion of post-modern thought and the naturalistic worldview as well as the place that promotes the rampant hook-up culture, partying and drinking.  And the tragic consequences are broken hearts and broken lives – the statistics are staggering, but nobody wants to talk about it.  Yes, they are people that need to hear the gospel and believe, but it is in the context of the spiritual battle, where they are hearing and believing so many other false and degrading things that will lead them either to a meaningless existence or to self-destruction.  Just as Paul was obligated to both Greeks and non-Greeks (1:14), so I am obligated to these college students and eager to preach the gospel to them.

Submitted by Jin K. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 10:1-3

  • Think about the tragedy of zeal without knowledge.

On one level, zeal without knowledge is a lot of wasted energy. It’s doing a lot of work and exerting a lot of effort that in the end, turns out to be futile. But the greatest tragedy is that it’s so burdensome. In this context, zeal without knowledge is applied towards God. Paul talks about a people that have a lot of zeal for God but without knowledge. For the people Paul was referring to, their knowledge lacked the grace of God. So this led to a very ritualistic and fear-driven life. There were a lot of do’s and do-not’s without the personal understanding of God being more into a relationship rather than work-product. The result is lack of joy in obeying God and seeing God as more of a task-master rather than a loving heavenly father who sympathizes with our weakness, who came to let us know that we don’t have to put on a charade of being righteous. But zeal without knowledge can also be reflected on the other spectrum. One can be very zealous about God’s grace and forgiveness but lack the aspect of his lordship. The tragedy of this is that one remains enslaved to his sins. Of course, the struggle with sin will always be there and along with that, falling into sin. But there is also something to be said about God coming to institute change in our lives right now and to have us experience liberation from sin and becoming more Christ-like. According to the bible, this will require tremendous effort on our end as the bible uses words like “labor” and “struggle” to describe our walk with God (1 Corinthians 15:58; Ephesians 6:10-18). And I’ve seen over the years why God wants to bring change in me right now. He wants to cleanse me of the cycle of shame and guilt that discolors my experience of life whenever I do fall into sin. He also wants me to be more available for his work and to chip away at my character issues that prevent the full extent of his work being carried out in me. And he has also used the process of struggle I’ve had to go through, times in which I thought there was no use, as a source of encouragement to others who are going through the same things. To have zeal without knowledge, in whatever aspect of God and of spiritual life, is tragic because in the end, one misses out on so much of the greater spiritual blessings God wants to bring to a person.

  • Reflect on the words used to describe the Israelites—“sought to establish their own” and “did not submit.”  What is the relationship between willpower-driven efforts to establish my own righteousness and a refusal to submit to God’s way of grace?  How can I guard myself against this?

The Israelites’ example is not just confined to them but to many other people today. People today seek to establish their own righteousness and terms of salvation. And as a result, they refuse to submit to God’s righteousness. For people who are success-oriented and used to achievements, after becoming saved, Christian living is yet another arena to continue this method of living. And this shows its ugly head in a lot of ways. One way is being very defensive when confronted about character flaws or sins. People may believe in their heads that they are sinners but when it comes to admitting this in the nitty gritty details of their lives, are loathe to admit this. There are always a lot of exceptions, mitigating circumstances, different weighing of details, etc. Of course, people can be wrong and one should not always be blindly believing in input from others.

But in terms of basic posture of humility, wanting to listen so that truth can be asserted rather than one’s justifications–this is lacking for those who seek to establish their own righteousness. The reason is that the motivation behind this is to look good in front of others and a lot of effort is exerted to maintain a certain image. But to truly submit to God’s way of grace often includes the involvement of the church and its people. The way of grace often includes confrontation, confession, and/or receiving prayer. And in my experience, the experience of God’s grace has been the strongest when it involves other people because I cannot hide in my sins and remain under the illusion that I’m ok. God made me into a social being and uses the leverage of the social presence of others to drill into me some spiritual truths. One way I can guard myself against the underlying motivation of seeking to establish my own righteousness, that is, using my spiritual activity to look good in front of others, is to confess and be authentic before others. Another way is to not isolate myself. By being available and readily in front of others’ views, I am giving more material and opportunity for input for others to help develop my character and make me into a more pleasing vessel for God. And I can also be more intentional that when being confronted by others, I will be mindful to not have my defensive barriers go up so quickly but really listen with an attitude of what God is trying to reveal about me in that instance rather than what details I can cling onto to prove that I am right or justified for doing/saying what I did. Recently, I had to have a conversation with a dear brother in Christ who I’ve known for many years. It was regarding what I did to him and revealed several of my character flaws: my inability to listen and how I can come across to others that is not others-centered. It was a good time of talking through misunderstandings we had from a prior conversation. But it was also a time when I had to be confronted of my sinfulness and how it affects others- namely this brother. It was not a pleasant experience as I had to hear input about myself that deep inside, I knew I couldn’t protest but had to accept. But it did make it very clear to me that I had no other option but to submit to God’s grace. And in this process, I was able to cherish this dear brother more and experience deeper fellowship with him as well because this conflict authenticated and escalated the genuine level of our friendship. I’d have missed out on this opportunity if I kept myself hidden and isolated from others, if I was more into trying to justify myself. But in this small instance of dying to myself, by not seeking to establish my own righteousness in front of him and Him, I was able to experience the sweetness of submitting to God’s grace and gained so much more otherwise.

Romans 10:4-15

“Through Christ’s being brought down to earth (i.e., his incarnation, Rom. 10:6) and his being brought up from the dead (10:7), God has made righteousness readily available (10:8).  One does not have to ascend into heaven or plumb the depths of the sea to discover it.  All one needs to do to attain righteousness is to respond in faith to the gospel as it is preached.  Verses 9-10 draw conclusions from what Paul has said about the ‘righteousness that is by faith’ in verses 6-8.  With the mouth one confesses ‘Jesus is Lord.’  The confession that Jesus is Lord is one of the most basic distinguishing marks of being a Christian.”  [Douglas J. Moo, The NIV Application Commentary – Romans (Zondervan, 2000) p. 332.]

  • According to this passage, what does it take for a person to be saved?

According to this passage, there are a lot of things that takes a person to be saved. Towards the end of this passage, there need to be people to bring the gospel to others. There needs to be people who are sent out to preach the gospel. Deeply entrenched in God’s salvation plan is the involvement of people. What is also required is the proper posture before God. One cannot be so action-oriented to earn their salvation because that would degrade the gift of salvation provided by Christ (v.6). But one also cannot be so fixated on sin and have that be the only dominant reality because that would render Christ’s death, which washes away people’s sin, as futile (v.7). In this context, verse 9 comes which provides the proper posture. There needs to be the proper acknowledgment that Jesus is Lord. There needs to be the proper recognition that God raised him from the dead. In other words, Romans 4:25 is echoed in that we are considered righteous because Jesus was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. It is the proper recognition that we have salvation as a free gift and understanding that though we cannot do anything to merit our salvation, sin is also not our dominant reality that we need to be so focused on. By receiving God’s grace, we strive to make God more of our lord and obey him with greater zeal rather than by receiving grace, simply doing whatever we want. We confess Jesus is lord over our lives and do what he says even though at times it is so difficult and does not make sense. But as we do so, we wouldn’t have our lives be any other way. These days, life has been busy. Have a kid, greater entrustment in ministry, got recently sick, work is busy, and there are a lot of things to plan for. Yet one thing I cannot get over is God’s mercy on me and the privilege I have in being able to minister to people. He has mercy on me with my perennial sins, he has mercy on me with my lack of competence when it comes to loving people, he has mercy on me in so many ways. And this generosity from God makes me want to love him more, to give more of myself. There are times when I don’t want to give myself. I’d rather check out mentally or simply not deal with people. But as I’ve taken steps of faith to make Christ lord over more areas of my life, such as when I make myself available to talk to this person, things will happen in that conversation, I’ll be given insight that I didn’t plan on having, and before my very eyes, God is working through me even though initially, I thought I didn’t have the mental and physical capacity to carry it out. This is but one example of how by taking small steps of faith in making Christ lord over my life, God helps me. And with this repeated pattern, my life resembles more of someone who is indeed saved. But it all begins with this basic understanding that Jesus is lord, honoring this with my life, and being thankful for God’s free gift of salvation.

Submitted by Hannah C. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 10:1-3

  • Think about the tragedy of zeal without knowledge.

o   The Israelites thought they were being zealous for God, but their zeal was not based on proper knowledge of God, but it was based on what made sense to them, which was to establish righteousness on their own. Their zeal consisted of following rules, rituals and traditions to please God. It is tragic as they were completely deluded about themselves and about where they stood before God. They thought God was pleased by their actions while God wanted a right relationship with them through faith in Jesus Christ. As Hosea 6:6 says, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings,” it is tragic that they missed God’s heart completely and continually being zealous in the wrong things.

  • Reflect on the words used to describe the Israelites—“sought to establish their own” and “did not submit.”  What is the relationship between willpower-driven efforts to establish my own righteousness and a refusal to submit to God’s way of grace?  How can I guard myself against this?

o   The relationship between willpower-driven efforts to establish my own righteousness and a refusal to submit to God’s way of grace is that their willpower-driven efforts blinded them from even seeing the righteousness that comes from God and therefore they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Their world only consisted of establishing their own righteousness through meticulous rule-keeping, and they could not understand or appreciate God’s grace.

o   I can guard myself against my desire to establish my own righteousness through honest reflection of myself. It is easy for me to feel good about myself when I am working hard for the Lord as a minister. But when I honestly examine my heart and search what is in my heart, I have to acknowledge that I am a sinner through and through because even the best of my intentions to serve God is tinged with a sense of pride. And knowing that nothing is concealed from God’s sight, I cannot pretend as though I am righteous.

Romans 10:4-15

“Through Christ’s being brought down to earth (i.e., his incarnation, Rom. 10:6) and his being brought up from the dead (10:7), God has made righteousness readily available (10:8).  One does not have to ascend into heaven or plumb the depths of the sea to discover it.  All one needs to do to attain righteousness is to respond in faith to the gospel as it is preached.  Verses 9-10 draw conclusions from what Paul has said about the ‘righteousness that is by faith’ in verses 6-8.  With the mouth one confesses ‘Jesus is Lord.’  The confession that Jesus is Lord is one of the most basic distinguishing marks of being a Christian.”  [Douglas J. Moo, The NIV Application Commentary – Romans (Zondervan, 2000) p. 332.]

  • According to this passage, what does it take for a person to be saved?
  • According to this passage, what needs to happen first in order for a person to believe the message, to call on Christ and be saved?
  • In light of this, how seriously have I taken my role as one who must “bring good news” to those who “have not heard?”
  • Reflect on the words, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”  List the people (known and unknown) God used to bring the gospel to me.  Who are the people to whom God is asking me to go?
  • For a person to be saved, she needs to confess with her mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in her heart that God raised Jesus from the dead.
  • In order for a person to believe the message, they first need to hear the message. In order for them to hear the message, someone needs to preach to them. Otherwise, they can never call on the one they have not even heard.
  • Although I try to “bring good news” to those who “have not heard,” I sometimes don’t have this kind of sense of urgency to bring good news to people around me. I often rationalize that they are not interested or give up after a few tries of trying to tell them about the gospel. But this passage reminds me of my important call is to tell people about good news of the gospel that I have found. I might be the only person who knows the good news in my friends’ and students’ lives, and in order for them to believe in God, they first need to hear the message.
  • When I look back on my life, I cannot deny that God used many people to bring the gospel to me. First, it was my family who brought the gospel to me since I was born. Starting with my grandparents who faithfully served during their lifetime and prayed for me daily, my family taught me the gospel and devotion to the Lord. Then there were my youth teachers at this church who demonstrated genuine Christian living during the tumultuous time of my teenage years. Although I was not interested in Christianity despite having grown up in the church and only cared about the world, I could not deny that there was something so different and attractive about them. It is not surprising that I would turn to my teachers whenever I faced difficulties because I knew that they genuinely cared about me. So when my mom had a stroke suddenly, my youth teachers were the first people I contacted to pray for my mom. But almost everyone from the church came to the hospital immediately to pray for her and to be with my brother and me, and I was amazed by their love for my mom, the person they did not even know. During that scary night with full of uncertainties, they brought me good news of the gospel where I finally recognized my sinfulness, frailty of life and acknowledged Jesus as my Savior and Lord of my life. If it weren’t for my youth teachers who persistently loved me when I was the most obnoxious and most unlovable person, I do not know where I would be today. I would still be leading a life of delusion and hopelessness.
  • The people that God is asking me to go are the college students who were just as lost as I was during my teenage years. He wants me to go to them and teach them good news of the gospel so that their lives will be forever changed as mine was.