July 20, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (1 Corinthians 2)

Submitted by Bryan S. from Gracepoint Austin Church

1 Corinthians 2:1-5

• What can I learn about evangelism and Christian life from this passage?

As Apostle Paul describes the way in which he proclaimed the Gospel to the Corinthians, he says very clearly that it was not with lofty speech or wisdom (v. 1) but instead it was proclaimed to them with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power (v. 4).  This shows me that evangelism is not something that is generated by one’s own power and wisdom necessarily.  It’s not so much about crafting the perfect words to say, coming up with and executing a perfect ministry strategy.  But rather, it’s about the power of God working in the hearts of people, convicting them, and bringing them to knowledge of Him.  Apostle Paul states very honestly that during his time with the Corinthians, he felt weakness, fear, and much trembling.  In the midst of this, Apostle Paul continued to minister to the Corinthians.  Christian life is not a bed of roses, but it can be a life filled with vulnerable moments, periods of fear and weakness.  How would ministry happen in such fragile conditions?  This is the mystery of how God works, as it brings glory unto his name.  Like Paul, when Christians proclaim the Gospel in the midst of his weaknesses and fear, God’s power is demonstrated through it all, His name is glorified

• Reflect upon v. 2 and what it says about the exclusive centrality of Christ and the cross for Apostle Paul.  What would be the result of a life so intensely focused on the truths proclaimed by Jesus and His crucifixion?  To what extent do I share this resolve to make Christ and “him crucified” the central theme of my worldview and my understanding of the gospel?

A life intensely focused on the truths proclaimed by Jesus and His crucifixion would be an attractive life, a powerful life that has the potential to have a profound effect upon many people.  Such a person would take every word of God seriously, take it to heart and live it out to the very best of their ability.  Their lives would not be filled with trivialities of this world, but there would be an all consuming, over-arching focus on obeying the word of God.

It is my sincere desire that God would mold me to become like this, so completely focused on the truths of the Gospel.  I am clearly not there yet but my hope lies in the patient, persevering love of the Father, who is leading my life.  Jesus Christ and him crucified is the goal I seek to live by ultimately.  This life is one of complete surrender unto my heavenly father, a life of total entrustment.  Just as Jesus surrendered his life to the Heavenly Father to the point of death upon the cross, I desire to become like him, surrendered in my desires, my hopes, my feelings and wants.  I want for it all to be rooted out from the mundane, base desires for comfort and success in the world, from the natural impulse to feed my pride and ego.  That is not the way of Christ crucified.  But as I go about living and relating with my spouse, kids, my students, leaders, fellow staff, and others, I must continue to work out my faith such that Christ and his crucified life becomes the pattern in which I relate with people.  This means not trying to prove myself right, not trying to get the last word, not trying to establish what farce sense of superiority I want to entertain to others, and not trying to make myself appear more than I actually am.

1 Corinthians 2:10-14
• How do I feel about the fact that I have been given the Spirit of God, who searches all things, even the deep things of God, and that through the Spirit I “may understand what God has freely given us?”

The fact that I have been given the Spirit of God is a weighty fact that causes me to see myself a lot more seriously.  It’s somewhat unsettling that God would endow me with HIS spirit.  Why would he?  The Bible lays it out so clearly.  He wants to have a personal relationship with me and He wants me to share this truth with others.  None of this would be possible without His Spirit. That God would give me His spirit, which has the power and ability to understand Him and His heart, makes me realize first of all how much God wants me to know Him, to draw closer to Him, to understand the grace that has been freely been given me upon the cross. His love and sacrifice demonstrated upon the cross for me is really incomprehensible.  It doesn’t really make sense that God would die for me, his enemy.  And yet He gives me His Spirit to understand and receive this truth.

• How have I personally experienced the work of the Spirit of God in my life?

One of the ways that I have come to personally experience the work of the Spirit of God in my life is through a deeper understanding of my sinfulness.  Recently I had an opportunity to think about the past four years in Austin, and what has become abundantly clear is that He brought me out to here to deal with me and my issues, humble me, learn that it’s not about me or anything I can do.  What I can confidently conclude is that the Spirit of God has worked much more personally in my heart through all I’ve experienced out in Austin.  He has shown me my weaknesses, shortcomings, and flaws.  Through it all, He is molding me, so that I might become that kind of person who is more like the crucified Christ.

Submitted by Joyce L. from Gracepoint Austin Church

1 Corinthians 2:1-5
·       What can I learn about evangelism and Christian life from this passage?

Evangelism and Christian life is not about how well I can perform in these arenas or how successful I can be.  It is not about my own competence, eloquence, and not even about how much wisdom I have.  It is about living a life knowing nothing but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

·       Reflect upon v. 2 and what it says about the exclusive centrality of Christ and the cross for Apostle Paul.  What would be the result of a life so intensely focused on the truths proclaimed by Jesus and His crucifixion?  To what extent do I share this resolve to make Christ and “him crucified” the central theme of my worldview and my understanding of the gospel?

The result of a life so intensely focused on the truths proclaimed by Jesus and His crucifixion would be a selfless life, life focused on loving others, sacrificing and denying self for the sake of others.  That was the life of Jesus.  It was lived out in full surrender to God, not living for Himself, but completely for others, giving and sacrificing His time, energy, His very life to love others, so that others may have eternal life.

The cross is the central thing about the gospel.  The gospel is all about dying so that others may live–the kernel of seed falling to the ground, and bearing fruit.  However, though the gospel message is so clear, there are times I find myself straying from this central theme of the gospel, and instead, focusing on trying to attain for myself worldly competence, worldly criteria in terms of speaking well, having wisdom, knowledge, strength, ability.  This is not the way the gospel came to me.  I wasn’t impressed or drawn towards the gospel because of people’s knowledge, because of their competence and eloquence.  I was drawn to the gospel because of people’s lives that I saw, the way that they gave up their time, resources, energy, in order to minister to and love people like me, the way that they considered other people’s needs higher than their own, the way that they sacrificed time with their own families in order to meet with and counsel others, the way that people opened up their own homes to me as if I were part of their family, the way that people used their money freely and generously for others.  The different ways that people died to themselves, their needs, and their own agenda were the ways that the gospel came to me.

This is the theme of the gospel that I need to embody in my life–the theme of sacrificing, denying myself, dying so that others can live.  As I face this upcoming year of ministry, there are fears, anxieties, and uncertainties.  However, what I want to resolve is not to try to attain for myself some kind of worldly competence, or success, but rather, I want to make Jesus and Him crucified as the central theme of my life. I want to embody the gospel message in my life through looking for ways to die to myself so that others can gain life, so that others can be blessed.  Looking for small ways that I can die to myself daily, whether it be pushing through my tiredness from work, refusing to give into desire for rest, and instead opening up my home to bless others, not clutching onto my finances, but spending it for the needs of God’s ministry, dying to my own pride as I relate with others and refusing to mentally shut down, but rather using those times to engage in prayer for others.  Through these daily choices, I want to make the theme of the cross the central message of the gospel that I embody, and through this, I want to be able to experience God’s resurrection power at work in my life and in the lives of those around me.

1 Corinthians 2:15-16
·       Reflect upon the fact that I have “the mind of Christ,” and that the “spiritual man makes judgments about all things.”  To what extent has my judgment and discernment grown as a result of my Christian life?

My judgment and discernment used to be based upon just my feelings and emotions.  I used to make decisions based upon what I felt was good, as the world says: be true to your heart.  If something felt good to me, then I would think that is the direction that I should go–regardless of morals, how other people would be affected by it.  My judgments were very self focused, deciding things based upon what was good for me without consideration for others. I used to consider fulfillment of my immediate desires and wants the thing that I needed to pursue after.  I made some bad choices in the past because of this, and it resulted in others getting hurt because of me, scars that I left on myself and others, and also in delayed maturity and inability to love or care for others besides myself.

Through God and His words, I’ve been given so much wisdom and discernment in terms of the best way to live out my life, what I need to value.  He has given me wisdom to know what truth is, to know what really matters in this life, how I need to live out my life.  He has given me the wisdom to know and understand that this life is temporary, that I am not meant to invest in this present life, in immediate pleasures and fulfillment, in making myself comfortable in this world, but I have an eternity waiting for me.  That is my home.  This life that I have now is temporary, it is fragile, it is short.  This one truth alone gives me so much wisdom and discernment in terms of my daily decisions, what decision would be the best, and even in terms of how to advise and minister to people.  Through God’s words, I have been given wisdom in terms of how to relate with others, how to build relationships of trust and love (e.g. God’s way of sacrifice versus world’s way of putting self first, humility versus pride), and this has given me lot of wisdom in my relationships with others, with my friends, husband, family, spiritual leaders, peers, and others.  God’s wisdom has allowed me to develop deeper and meaningful relationships with others, to have affection for one another, and to mend broken relationships.

There are many ways that God gives me wisdom in all arenas of my life, and the fact and reminder that I have the mind of Christ through His words, gives me much encouragement as I look forward to the next year.  There are still many ways that I personally need to grow in wisdom, discernment, but I know that as I turn to God, His words, He will continue to increase my wisdom, and teach me more spiritual wisdom and truths.

Submitted by Jessica C. from Gracepoint Austin Church

1 Corinthians 2:1-5

  • What can I learn about evangelism and Christian life from this passage?

One thing I can learn about evangelism and Christian life from this passage is that it’s not an issue about having some particular skill in speech.  Apostle Paul says that he didn’t come with “lofty speech” or “wisdom,” but instead he came “in weakness and in fear and much trembling.”  In other words, he didn’t wow the Corinthians through some awesome oratory performance, and that was how they became Christian and were saved.  Rather, he plainly spoke the truths of the gospel, and it was the message itself that contained God’s spirit and power that stirred their hearts to repent and give their lives to Christ.

This is something that I need to be reminded of again regarding evangelism, because I find myself having thoughts like, “I don’t talk very well,” “I don’t know what to say to this person,” or “So-and-so is a much better conversationalist than me.”  Or it doesn’t even have to be in the context of outright evangelism.  Even having thoughts like “I have a hard time articulating clearly” when we’re just sharing in a small group setting, reveal to me the extent to which I still overly place “lofty speech” as a big factor to being a good Christian evangelist and minister.  Being a good speaker, and saying a lot of good, awesome-sounding words, may help to lower barriers and make inroads to a person’s heart, but it’s never been the main criteria through which their hearts become changed.

Even as I think about my own life, it was not through some “lofty speech” of my leaders that I heard, received and responded to the gospel.  Sure, I still vividly remember certain messages I heard and certain talks I had with my leaders, where I remember some key phrases or wisdom that deeply moved me.  But they weren’t etched into my mind just because it sounded nice.  They were memorable because through their words, I experienced the Spirit moving in my heart—whether it was to help me to personally experience the word of God coming alive and grabbing a hold of my heart, or being able to take a glimpse into my leader’s heart and see their love for me even though I was so difficult to love.  Maybe at the time, my leaders walked away from one of these conversations with me, wishing that they had said this in another way, or brought in a much better illustration than the one they used—these are certainly thoughts that have oftentimes gone through my mind after talks I’ve had with people.  However, I see how God still used their plain speech to impact my life, because more than the actual words spoken, it was the gospel message itself and the heart of God’s messengers that turned this selfish, stubborn, proud, and rebellious life around.

Thus, I am reminded that the quality I need to develop as an evangelist and minister is being more deeply connected with God and crying out in prayer for the Spirit to move through me.  Though I just moved to Austin, I realized that I can either respond to the anxiety I feel in a new place by relying more greatly on myself and my abilities to try to draw people into our group, or I can respond by turning to God and asking for His Spirit and power to fill me.  The latter will require for me to be weak, to be in fear and tremble, but that is in fact where I need to be in order for His power to be unleashed.

·       Reflect upon v. 2 and what it says about the exclusive centrality of Christ and the cross for Apostle Paul.  What would be the result of a life so intensely focused on the truths proclaimed by Jesus and His crucifixion?  To what extent do I share this resolve to make Christ and “him crucified” the central theme of my worldview and my understanding of the gospel?

The result of such a life is that the message of Christ and his crucifixion would permeate through all areas of life—in speech, action, life choices, what values to live by.  The basic posture of such a life would be one of humility, self-denial, other-centeredness–qualities necessary in order to really understand the nature of love.  Such a person would not have an entitlement mentality, but rather, would seek to honor Christ’s crucifixion for him through committing to live a cross-bearing life.  There would be a clear focus, consistency in his/her choices and actions, a total embracing of their identity.  From such a life, what would emanate would be true freedom, confidence and boldness.

I look at this picture of a life that is totally committed to the truths proclaimed by Jesus and His crucifixion and I see how Jesus Christ and him crucified is still not the central theme of my worldview and understanding of the gospel.  Although I have committed to walking this pathway towards the cross and embracing a cross-shaped life of surrender and death to myself, my resolve to do so runs pretty thin as I go about my day.  I can recount instances where I would rebel against a crucified life—times when I would have to deny my body and push myself against fatigue, times when I felt misunderstood or misjudged by someone, times when I felt like I was giving and giving in order to love someone and not getting anything back in return, times when I would fiercely hold onto my pride and want to have the last say.  These instances show me how I do not echo Apostle Paul’s statement and resolve to “know nothing…except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  However, I now come with a fresh commitment to really embrace and live a cross-bearing life, and really make it central to my life.  Just even dealing with the humidity and the heat in Texas is a chance for me to die to my flesh and emotions and push myself to weather through the stickiness, put on a smile and be all there to get to know the staff and students.  Having our home made open, is another way in which I can learn how to embrace a life of surrender and an openness of heart as I open up my home for ministry usage.  These along with being in a new ministry places me in a situation of weakness and need, which is the very place I need to be in order to help me experience v.2 in a lot more personal, deeper way, and I’m really looking forward to how God will mature me in this coming year.

July 19, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (1 Corinthians 1)

Submitted by Debbie F. from Gracepoint Austin Church

1 Corinthians 1:22-24

Why would the message of “Christ crucified,” be a “stumbling block” (i.e., “offense” or “scandal,”) to the Jews and “folly” to the Greeks?  How do the revealed truths of Christ Jesus transform our notions of power and wisdom?

The world’s understanding of majesty, power, glory, honor, strength, and God, is one of dazzling displays of might.  We think of huge armies, towering fortresses, ivory towers of academia, bursting bank accounts, impressive displays of verbal prowess (or any prowess), sparkling possessions. So when God comes to us crucified amongst criminals, it goes against everything that we’re taught to believe, it seems offensive to our worldly senses.

But when delving into the gospels, and coming to know Jesus, the fact that God weakened himself to die on the cross, an act that seems so foolish as to be a stumbling block for many, is precisely what blew Satan’s power out of the universe. This really is the secret of the universe–the impossibility of sinful man being in the presence of our holy God could actually be overcome by Jesus bearing the cross on our behalf, suffering the separation from God that should be ours, and then being exalted in resurrection.  What we receive from it is redemption, righteousness, and the hope of sanctification.

These truths and ways of God, then, are what I’m invited to also embrace.  I need to dispense of the worldly understanding of power and wisdom, which is usually what I see as accompanied by recognition, respect, admiration, and acceptance.  God’s not interested in all our displays of strength and might, because they don’t accomplish what He’s looking for, which are saved souls.  His ways are the way of dying, of the cross, of sacrifice and humility and love.  This is so hard to completely embrace, as I still struggle with comfort, which in itself is a worldly position of “power.” No one in the world seems to understand why someone would suffer a loss of comfort for others unless they understand love, which is God’s vocabulary.  When it comes to loving others, when it comes to fighting for someone’s salvation and sanctification, the way of the cross is the only way.  I want to embrace the way of dying all the more, because I’ve seen and experienced the joy of redemption and sanctification, for myself as well as for others.

1 Corinthians 1:29-31

What is behind boasting?

Boasting is basically “work hard and earn the right to boast, to set yourself above others and feel empowered.”  What’s behind boasting is unrestrained pride and self-satisfaction about one’s achievements, possessions or abilities.  Boasting is wickedly inappropriate because it really is blind to the reality of our interdependence, our neediness of so much help and resources that have been given us, from all around us.

What is it about the gospel that cuts out all grounds for boasting?

The gospel cuts out all grounds for boasting because of the basic fact that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, that there is no one who is righteous, not even one.  We’re all on equal ground, as broken sinners before God, with no merit other than being experts at sinning, and we all have a loving Father in heaven who demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

This week, I just shared a sweet time of fellowship with some of the students recently. Aside from all the joking and jabs throughout the evening, there was a point where they were each sharing how thankful they were for their relationships, and how the gospel is what made so many of these current friendships possible, having all come from very different backgrounds and personalities. And looking around the room, that was so true, as it is true with my own peer relationships.  The gospel is what showed us that all of our worldly strivings would have left us further and further from loving one another, because the world strives after reasons to boast, which distances us.  But the gospel humbles us, reminding us that at the core, we’re all sinners, broken, with each of our own sins and strongholds, but we’re all loved dearly for who we are, warts and all, and God has a hope and future for each and every one of us.  And that’s what brought these sisters together: the gospel of truth. The world finds it foolish to confess your sins and faults, and the world says to prop up any boast, any worthy attribute.  But these ways rob us of love relationships, which is what God desires with us and for us.  Love can only happen before the truth of the cross that tells us the truth of who we are.

Looking at my life, the most miserable times were when I tried to hold onto any reason I could find in me to boast, the self-preservation, the competitiveness, the envy, the evasion of confessing truth about my sins.  And on the flip side, the times when I experienced the most freedom was when I accepted the fact that I’m a sinner who sins, and therefore was able to confess my faults, and experience God’s forgiveness, and the amazing fact of His grace, that He wanted to keep working with me.

What does it mean to boast in the Lord?

This is why I will boast in the Lord.  I will boast in the fact that, yes, I’m a sinner, I fail many times, BUT I have a God who calls those who are not as though they were (Rom 4), a God who looks at me and says, “I love you, sinner. Be forgiven, be free from your sin, and now prepare to see how I want to and will use you.”  I can look back on my own history, and proclaim that I have a God who actually changed, in many ways, this sinner, turning her from someone who was a stubborn, immature, selfish rebel into someone who can actually love other people, and He’s still working on me, He hasn’t given up.  This gospel and this God of salvation, redemption and sanctification are my only hope and joy, and in this and in Him I will boast.

July 18, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (1 Corinthians 1)

Submitted by Manny K. from Gracepoint Austin Church

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

  • How is the message of the cross the answer to the Corinthians’ lack of unity?

The message of the cross is the answer to the Corinthians lack of unity because through the cross God flattened the humanly devised hierarchy based on superficial systems of worth and made the essential component of our commonality our need for forgiveness.   It is the cross that emphatically demonstrated that we are all stricken with this disease called sin, and it is a harrowing, eternity altering disease that separates us from an eternal relationship with our creator.   I don’t need to look too far from my own experience to know and appreciate that we are all broken in essentially the same way.  Whenever I listen to or give a bible study, whenever I mediate over my daily devotion, I am struck just how much I relate to almost every character in the Bible.   These ancient stories are not too far from me precisely because I am broken in the same way.  I know the ‘I’ll show you” spirit of Zaccheus, I understand the internal conflict of the Rich Young Ruler, or the foolish bravado of the Rich fool.  I have experienced being in the far country of the prodigal son, the envy turned to burning rage of Cain, and the deception and shame of Adam.  I also know that I possess the Pharaoh-like pride.   One glance at almost any story in the Bible reveals how I am just like them, because I am a sinner and the cross reminds me that it is my sin that deserved the punishment being done to Jesus.   So whether I am successful in the eyes of the world or a failure, this does little to mitigate that fact that all of humanity, including me, need to be saved.   We are all essentially in the same boat.   The Corinthians needed that reminder.  They forgot.  They had gotten boastful and arrogant.   They quickly forgot who they had been–people who were immoral, not of noble birth, not powerful, and not wise according to worldly standards, yet how God called them to be a sanctified people by His grace.  This is why they started to engage in these kind of petty delineations amongst themselves making sharp camps based upon their loyalty to Paul, Peter, even Jesus Christ.   They needed this reminder that amidst such superficial contrasts, that the thing that binds them was more essential and significant, which is that they were huge sinners who were all forgiven by the grace and mercy of God, people who all needed that redemption and hope for eternal life.

·         What is the wisdom of the world that finds the message of the cross to be foolish?

The wisdom of the world has to do with what it thinks is the method of salvation.   For the Jews, this method had to do with a powerful messiah who would come and rain power down on its enemies much in the way Moses demonstrated through the plagues.   For the Greeks, the means to salvation was through knowledge, through the power of one’s ability to acquire knowledge.    They were in fact enamored by their ability to think and articulate their positions with rhetorical flair.   Either way, they thought they knew and had the answers to the human plight.   Today, the notion of competence, which earns you a good education, which then earns you a high salary job and prestigious position, which then allows you to have buying power.   The similarities are there.   We as a society have longed sought for the pursuit of some salvation through power, money, or pleasure.  When I was growing up, I thought I was so wise.  I thought that living selfishly was the way to save myself.   I would delight when I found a way to outwit others so that I would be spared some time, some money for myself.  I thought I was having the last laugh when I used someone toward my advantage such as extracting from someone help for studies, or even something like laughing at another person’s expense.  As long as I minimized the list of negatives done to me, and maximized the list of positives, I thought I was cheating the system, I thought I was being so smart.   In that way, I had fully bought into the system of the world’s values.   I was to serve myself and that was the pathway to salvation.  Well, as I think about those from whom I learned and then adopted that philosophy, I see that their lives have resulted in utter failure and devoid of any relationships or true meaning.   They serve as a perpetual reminder to me that their philosophy of selfishness, which I then subsequently adopted, was proven to be foolish.   They are now isolated, devoid of any true meaning.   And it is really, really sad.   The message of the cross is contrary to the world’s fascination with power, beauty, grabbing things for yourself because the cross is the direct antithesis of all that the world values.  Jesus in Philippians 2 demonstrates a completely opposite view of salvation.  He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, instead making himself nothing and becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross, where in ancient times it symbolized the worst curse upon a person’s life.   God showed another pathway to salvation and it was so brilliant, so outside the box of human thinking that it made foolish all the wisdom of the world.   I feel so thankful that I received this message by His grace that I can know the pathway toward true salvation.

·         Are there values within me that make it hard for the message of the cross to become “the power of God and the wisdom of God” in my life?

I find myself having to carefully monitor my heart because I know that for most of my years I lived it deeply entrenched in the values of the world.   At bottom, I see this resilient pride in me that still finds it hard when ugly truth comes to light.   I find it slightly embarrassing still when truth shows that I was petty, or that I was not caring, or I had overlooked someone’s need.   I find in me a desire to power up and show that I was in control of the situation.  I need to stay vigilant lest I allow myself to get caught up in myself, in taking matters into my own hands.   I need to extricate myself from all such leanings and to constantly mediate on the punishment I deserve, and the mercy I was shown through the cross of Jesus.

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

·         Think about my own journey.  What state was I in when the Gospel came to me?

I have recently thought about what would have been the cost of NOT following Jesus.   The costs would have been too many to count.   Before the gospel, I was a person with very little vision and what little vision I had for my life, it was mired in conflicting emotions of worldly success as well as some spiritual heart.   But I was neither disciplined, and a person of too poor of a character to fulfill those visions.  I used to be so self-conscious that I found approaching people other than close friends or family a dreaded experience.   I was content thinking I can just get by on doing bare minimum in life, fooling myself that in the end, I would still get all that I had wished for, which was a comfortable life, prestigious position somewhere, and going to church, of course.  I was selfish to the core and immature.  I know that I had no virtue that I could point to when it comes to the fruits of the spirit–Galatians 5:22-23,  […] love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  I don’t think I can confidently say I possessed much of any of those and if I did, it was fleeting and not really indicative of my own nature.  In short, I would have made no difference in any person’s life and would have remained perpetually immature being given over to endless trivialities.

·         How do I feel when I think back to the state I was in when I was called? 

I find myself so ashamed at the person I was.   I was truly in a wretched state.   I was deluded and arrogant.  It is interesting how being a father truly is something I think God gives me to humble me.   I look at my kids and I see my sins at times in them.  And when I see that, it is a sobering moment for me.  I was like that and so no matter what I have been through, what so called successes I have experienced, I know that God had mercy on me and I only need to look as far as my own kids to know how far God has brought me.

·         Do I agree with Paul that there is no reason to boast, except to “boast in the Lord?”

So in that light, I know that like Paul, I have no reason to boast.  Were it not for the cross, this church, ministry, marriage, and my friendships, as well as the leaders who shaped me, I would be a wretch and wreck of a person.   I know I didn’t get here due to my own efforts.  If my path were to have continued, I would have been left truly lost to myself, and following an utterly inconsequential life.  The fact that I get a chance to experience the fruits of how much God has been at work in the people around me, I know that I have no reason to boast except in God who allowed me the privilege to witness such things, and for allowing me to experience His life giving work through ministry and through being a part of this church.   Truly praise the Lrod!

·         Recall stories of God choosing the “lowly things” of the world to shame the wise and the “despised things” to nullify the things that are. 

  • If God chose the “foolish” and “lowly” to powerfully advance His kingdom during the early church period, what does that tell me about the legitimacy of human valuations during that time or in today’s culture? 

It is true, from the early church, using lowly fishermen to powerfully defy the powers that be, the Jewish Sanhedrin, and then advancing to the next century, thinking about the early Christian martyrs among who were lowly people like Perpetua, and then thinking about the Irish monks who went “wherever their sails took them,” to the missionaries to China like Gladys Aylward, a lowly housemaid and inn keeper. They were subversive to the powers that be, and though they were not noticeable in the eyes of the world, their impact has been felt throughout the generations. This demonstrates without a doubt that human valuations as culture sees it is not only off but wrong. There is such a premium placed on external, superficial, fleeing notions of success. I need to continue to guard my heart that I don’t get unnecessarily impressed when I see these types of imprints in others or even in myself. I need to be vigilant to guard against such toxic values within the church.  God’s way are best, and I need to keep mediating on the cross to remind myself of the kind of community I need to help build out here.

Submitted by Judge H. from Gracepoint Austin Church

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

  • How is the message of the cross the answer to the Corinthians’ lack of unity?

The Corinthians were divided into factions, breaking apart the church into various groups under the pretense of following one of the disciples or Christ Himself. But Apostle Paul uses the image of the cross to remind them of the unity they are to have in the Body of Christ. The message of the cross is seen as foolishness by the world, this idea that God, in His might, sovereignty and power would willingly give Himself over to death to save humanity. Yet this is the message that Paul preaches and what embodies the Gospel, and it’s in this message that all people are to find unity. For it’s the cross, on which Christ died for all men, that reminds all of us that we are equally sinner before God. No social status, no education, no wealth, no occupation changes who each of us is before God. This message was foolish to an unrepentant world, but Paul knew that it was in this message alone that such a divided people could find unity.

  • What is the wisdom of the world that finds the message of the cross to be foolish?

The wisdom of the world essentially comes down to the mantra of save yourself, just like what the priests shouted at Jesus when He was on the cross. The world we live in preaches the same message, saying that only by saving yourself can you truly live. Get a nice house, nice car, build up your bank account, find romantic happiness, these are the ways the world says to save yourself, and by doing so it promises peace and fulfillment and true life. In Mark 8, Jesus made it clear that anyone who tries to save his life lose it, and yet the message of the world is this very idea. It looks at the cross, a symbol of sacrifice and suffering for the good of another person, and sees it as foolish. Yet, as a Christian, I can look on the cross as the source of my salvation, and this changes how I view the cross in my own life. I no longer view such a life as foolish, because I’ve seen how a cross-bearing life become a life-producing life as well, and its the kind of life I strive to live, even through times of difficulty and struggle.

  • Are there values within me that make it hard for the message of the cross to become “the power of God and the wisdom of God” in my life?

One of the biggest struggles against worldly values that I’ve seen in my heart recently has been seeking a comfortable life. I’m out of school now, and for the first time in my life I have a little bit of money. I know that I’m susceptible to this kind of temptation, and part of the rationale comes from the fact that growing up I could never afford nice things. I know that these temptations present values that can block my heart from experiencing the power of the cross. The cross calls me to die to myself, to lay down my life, so that I can become a source of blessing to others. I know the weakness and susceptibility of my heart to these values, and so I have to constantly recommit to living out a cross bearing life. It means taking on interruptions, welcoming change and increased responsibility, and seeking out things that might be difficult or stressful. But I am confidant that God can use a life that follows the message of the cross to be a life that brings life to others, and its the life I want to pursue.

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

  • Think about my own journey. What state was I in when the Gospel came to me? How do I feel when I think back to the state I was in when I was called? Do I agree with Paul that there is no reason to boast, except to “boast in the Lord?”

When I think back to my life before Christ, I am reminded of Ezekiel 16, where God describes how He passed by and saw the people of Jerusalem lying it its blood and kicking around, on the verge of death. I was headed down the path of death, consumed by my sins and addictions and living recklessly with no regard for people or the consequences of my actions. And yet, even in the midst of a life so far from God and so trapped in my sin, God called me and saved me. He has revived my life and given me a new calling, set me down a new path. Before, I lived only for myself, for pleasure and fulfilling my desires. I used people and discarded them, and had no care for anything but myself. Now, He has given me a new life, a life where I have the privilege of bringing the Gospel to people and helping to lead them to God. I know that I am no good on my own, and there is nothing in me to boast. I only have to remember back to where I was, and I see that I have no good thing but Christ. I can boast only in what He has done, and I want to live my life proclaiming that message.

July 17, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (1 Corinthians 1)

Submitted by David L. from Gracepoint Austin Church

1 Corinthians 1:4-9

  • On what basis is Apostle Paul able to be thankful and confident about a church full of divisions and problems (as will be revealed later in the letter)?  What does this demonstrate about his understanding of “the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus?”

Paul is thankful and confident about the Corinthian church despite its divisions and problems based on “the grace of God that was given [you] in Christ Jesus.”  Paul’s thankfulness for the Corinthians demonstrates his understanding of true discipleship, which is not based on good work or merit, but on God’s grace alone.  Given Paul’s background as a Pharisee who persecuted and killed Christians, he was fully aware of his sinfulness and the judgment from God that he deserved.  However, having been saved by God’s mercy and grace, Paul’s life was redeemed and used for the sake of the gospel, and as he obligated himself to the people God brought into his ministry, namely the Corinthian church, and he seems them through the lens of God’s mercy.  Even though they were full of sin and problems, Paul clung to the hope and faithfulness of God that would eventually bring them to a point of truth, repentance, and sanctification, just as it did for him.

  • How does this apply to me?

Paul’s thankfulness for the Corinthians applies to me in the sense that before moving to Austin, I had a lot of lofty notions of what it would be like to build up this church from the ground up, mainly self-centered notions of how to glorify God through our labors and efforts.  Four years later, I stand in awe of the many salvation decisions that have been made, but one of the things that has struck me and fills me with gratitude is the “grace He has given me in Christ Jesus.”  Throughout these past four years He has zealously been at work in my life, convicting me of my sins and uncovering idols in my heart so that I can come to a point of repentance, and realize that being engaged in God’s work of salvation is a privilege only made possible by the mercy and grace I have received. God dealt with the deep-seeded sin of envy, my desire for emotional, mental, and physical comfort. In retrospect, I see that God wanted to first deal with my heart so that His light could shine through this broken vessel and make it undeniable to everyone that it was HE who did the work of salvation.  I’ve had to come back to the point of desperation regarding my sins so that I could be in wonder of how amazing God’s grace truly is, and be full of thanks for allowing a broken sinner like me to be involved in His Kingdom work.  As I have been called to love the people God has entrusted to me, there have been moments when I felt it difficult to be thankful, especially when hearing discouraging news of people’s struggles with sin.  However, Paul’s example encourages me to not lose heart in ministering to people, but to be thankful in all circumstances and find confidence in the hope that His grace will be upon them.

1 Corinthians 1:11-17

  • Think about the role of “Chloe’s people” in bringing about this needed correction from Apostle Paul.  Are there ways in which I need to be like Chloe’s people to bring needed correction to wayward brothers/sisters?  Reflect on Hebrews 3:12-13 in this light.

Hebrews 3:12–13 (ESV)

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

  • Reflect on the tragic picture of division being painted in this passage.  
  • Do I contribute to unity or division within my church?  

Chloe’s people raised the issue of quarreling among them to Paul, because they valued the relationships with their brothers and sisters and the community as a whole.  Personally, the way in which I need to be like Chloe’s people is by waging war against my passivity and my desire for emotional comfort because these are community killers that promote inaction in the midst of relational tension.  I need to be committed to truth in my relationships because only then will I have the courage to speak up no matter how uncomfortable or painful it may be to start the process of mending a broken relationship.

Specifically for me, because of my passivity and inaction in moments of relational tension, I tend to contribute to the division within the body of Christ, more than unification of it.  One concrete commitment I can make today is to overcome the male pride and ego within that tends to make me wait on others to make the first move toward reconciliation because I don’t want to appear as any less of a man.  I also need to overcome the desire to appear tough and self-sufficient by not wanting to ask for help from others lest I come across as being petty or weak.  I recognize the folly in this type of thinking as I should carefully guard the precious relationships God has blessed me with, by questioning my own biased opinions and take swift action to seek the wisdom and guidance of my leaders who can help correct my wayward thoughts and also provide clarity and objective truth in my disagreements with others.  As Romans 12:4-5 states, “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” I cannot allow myself to have a “little ole me” complex where I think my issues and conflicts are too insignificant to bring up because I am integrated within the body and the strength of my relationships directly correlates to well-being of the rest of the body of Christ.

Submitted by Sarah S. from Gracepoint Austin Church

1 Corinthians 1:4-9

  • On what basis is Apostle Paul able to be thankful and confident about a church full of divisions and problems (as will be revealed later in the letter)?  What does this demonstrate about his understanding of “the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus?”

Apostle Paul is able to be thankful and confident about a church full of divisions and problems based upon the grace of God given to them through Jesus Christ.  It’s based upon the salvation they have received and the promise that they will stand guiltless in the day of Jesus. This demonstrates that his understanding of “the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” was very real and deep so that even in this situation where so many problems seem to be coming up within the church, it allowed him to still experience gratitude and not despair about the state of the Corinthian believers.  The grace of God found in Jesus was the fundamental and most important lens through which he saw this current situation and church, and ultimately it allowed him to zoom out and recognize that in the midst of these problems and conflicts within the church God is the One in control, He is faithful and will sustain them to the end in this process of molding and perfecting them.

  • How does this apply to me?

It’s hard to zoom out and see this overarching reality and truth of God’s grace and how that means He is at work in perfecting me and others especially when I hear disheartening news that someone is struggling and having a hard time persevering in Christian life, when I see people who once had spiritual fervor now spiritually dry and uninterested in seeking God, or when I am confronted with my own sin issues that seem so resilient and unrelenting.  It’s easy to allow these problems and the current situation to make me start feeling hopeless.  I can imagine how hard it must’ve been for Apostle Paul to hear all of the negative news about the Corinthian church and how there were so many conflicts and issues, and yet it was his understanding of God’s grace in Christ Jesus and that God is the one “who will sustain [them] to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” that allowed him to not become anxious about ministry, cynical or despairing.  It actually allowed him to zoom out and remember the fundamental fact that the Corinthian believers had received salvation through Jesus and could even feel grateful for them.  I, too, need to let my view of ministry and people be based upon God’s grace through Christ and zoom out especially when it feels like the situation is filled with “bad news.” Then I can keep having hope and trust that God is in control and to hold onto the promise that God is at work in each person and in my own life to perfect us rather than fall into the temptation of feeling hopeless or overwhelmed.

1 Corinthians 1:11-17

  • Think about the role of “Chloe’s people” in bringing about this needed correction from Apostle Paul.  Are there ways in which I need to be like Chloe’s people to bring needed correction to wayward brothers/sisters?  Reflect on Hebrews 3:12-13 in this light.

  Hebrews 3:12–13 (ESV)

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

If it weren’t for Chloe’s household, Apostle Paul may not have known what was going on in the Corinthian church or may not have been able to address the issues in a timely manner.  Then, the problems might have grown and festered longer, and in the end bigger problems would have resulted and perhaps impacted the church in more harmful ways.

In light of Hebrews 3, I’m reminded that I am responsible for the other brothers and sisters around me and to keep them from falling into the deceitfulness of sin.  There’s always that fear of rocking the boat or not wanting to face relational discomfort or fear of misunderstandings by bringing up things, but that’s the responsibility I have because the stakes involved are high.  The Hebrews writer says to exhort one another every day–this implies that sin is at work everyday to try to lead people away from God.  I need to lay aside my fears and discomforts because Satan is never at rest at deceiving people, hardening their hearts towards God and causing them to fall away.

July 16, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (1 Corinthians 1-4)

Submitted by Dominic M. from Gracepoint Austin Church

1 Corinthians 1-4

Identify several truths that show the absurdity of being divided according to party-divisions as believers.

Association with people who mastered the rhetorical flourishes of the age was a popular way to elevate oneself above the crowd in the times of the Corinthian church.  Rhetoric and the ability to handle it well was the social currency and the pop culture of that time.  The Corinthians were importing pop culture right into the ranks of its own church leaders–defining their association to the leaders based on how eloquently they could preach.  Apostle Paul cuts right through this by reminding them of the basic gospel message in 1:13–that Christ is not divided, that it is He alone who was crucified, and in his name were they baptized.  By bringing in the latest social fads and turning the church into an arena for entertainment, the Corinthians had quickly moved beyond the simple gospel that Paul preached.  They were no longer concerned about the many other aspects of Paul’s life–-his testimony, his sufferings, his burden for people, his focus on pleasing God.  Instead they had moved on–-moved on to what amounts to self-centered way of elevating oneself through association with what they considered competent people.  In short, the gospel no longer carried any weight for them–it was just another platform for some rhetorician to expound upon to show off their skills.

Looking at how the Corinthians imported the values and currency of the culture around them into the church, I also need to examine my heart to see if I have been doing the same thing.  In what ways do I take the values and cues from the culture around me and bring them into church?  How do I try to distinguish myself from others through some culturally-defined criteria?  I think one big area for me is the need to appear competent in the eyes of people.  While we all admit that we’re sinners, this desire to save face and to appear a certain way is really resilient.  It’s like saying, “I follow Competence,” while others might follow whatever skill or talent or niche that sets them apart from everyone else.  What is absurd is that this is not the gospel.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the social politics and currency of the group dynamic and image management and forget the very basic fundamental confession that we are sinners.  That is what we confessed and what we believe, yet many times I find this natural impulse to hide it and to cover it up and to appear like I have it all together.  Yet when I do this, I “empty the cross of Christ of its power” because competence is asserting that I have what it takes to earn my righteousness before men.  Apostle Paul consistently makes reference to ways in which he is not competent—1:17 “not with words of eloquent wisdom,” 1:27  “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong,” and 2:1 “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.”  My identity before Christ and my relationship with Him should be the dominant way in which I see myself.  But oftentimes I subtly allow the voice of competence to have a say in how I value myself, and that is when I need to quickly go back to the basic gospel message.  Paul sums it up in 2:1, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  This is the gospel message that I need to be reminded of again and again.  I know the miseries of living with people-consciousness at the forefront, always adjusting my masks to minimize the rejection of others.  This is a miserable way to live.  When Christ and Him crucified is the bedrock of my identity, there is no one to fear because I know that I am loved as I am.  Christ died to set me free from seeking the approval of man, free from playing these performance and competence games, free from jumping through hurdles and doing backflips to prove my worth among men.  Christ died to free me from myself so that I could give my life to serve Him, focusing my energies outward instead of inward.  It is when I am serving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength that I am truly living and experiencing the freedom of love and being loved.

Considering the eternal stakes involved in the gospel, it makes the Corinthian’s obsession over party divisions that much more absurd.  Arguing over Paul or Cephas or Apollos while people around them were in need of someone to preach the gospel to them shows how far they had fallen from the core of the gospel message.  This is a stark reminder for me to not get caught up in whatever performance or competence focus that blinds my heart to the needs of people around me.  This world is already lacking in genuine servants of God–it would be sad if I allowed Satan to divert my attention from loving the people God placed around me to instead be focused on irrelevant self-focused endeavor of image management.

Lord, thank you for this timely reminder to be focused on the spiritual battle at hand and not be distracted and neutralized by worldly values and endeavors.  Help me to abandon this relentless focus on needing to appear a certain way before others and to return to the basic confession and testimony that I am a sinner in need of your forgiveness, and that my identity is secure in You because of the cross.  Help me to stop wasting time focused on positioning myself, but rather to re-channel those energies to love the people you have placed around me, anticipating their needs and being proactive about meeting them.  Help me Lord to daily die to my pride and ego so that I can be available to do the work you have called me to do.

Submitted by James C. from Gracepoint Austin Church

1 Corinthians 1-4

Identify several truths that show the absurdity of being divided according to party-divisions as believers.

In this passage, Paul gives several reasons to the Corinthians to show them that division among Christians is without basis. One of the biggest reasons he gives is that all of us are saved through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. We are all recipients of the same undeserved gift of God’s forgiveness through what Christ has done, and so, there should be the sense of bond and unity among people who know they’ve received a precious gift. It’s kind of like how people who go through similar life-changing experiences can quickly feel a strong sense of connection, and there’s a sense that they understand one another because of their similar experience. For Christians, our deepest problem is our sinfulness, and the Gospel message is so precious to us. Hence, that should give us a strong sense of unity and connection to one another. Although God used different people in our lives, in the end we are saved by the same sacrifice of Christ and received the same gift of salvation through the cross.

There is also another important point of commonality, which is that all of believers are actually serving the same Lord–each being merely servants. Using the analogy of gardening, Apostle Paul says, “neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who gives the growth.” The purpose and motivation for their service is to give glory to God, and so to focus overly on following specific human leaders is denigrate the biggest focus we should have about following and serving Christ. He should be our focus and the one we are trying to please and imitate, and the human leaders are just servants of God who are there to help us to do that. The focus needs to be on Christ.

Paul also points out that before the cross, upon which the greatest being suffered the lowest death, there is really no place for human boasting. So much of human division is due to people’s pride, in which one person or one group thinks they are better than others in this way or that, and that therefore they are of a different kind. Paul explains how God often uses the weak and lowly things to do his work, and this gives us nothing to boast about. And that is true of the Gospel message, where God used Christ’s death–this seeming victory of his enemies–to bring about the deliverance of mankind. We could not overcome sin with our own will power or strength.  God was able to do through Christ’s sacrifice. In contrast, what little differences there are between the next person and us is really so irrelevant when it comes to the grand scheme of things, and there is no room for us to boast about these.

When I consider these various reasons Paul gives to the basis of Christian unity, I see that they are all based on the Gospel. If I were to feel like there’s no way I can relate to another believer because of our differences or to feel like my group or my church is so superior to another, it would be to totally misunderstand the Gospel. In the Gospel I find that my identify as a sinner and being forgiven and given an opportunity to serve God is just like how Christ has worked in others’ lives. As I understand and appreciate the Gospel more, my sense of bond with others will also deepen. Amazingly, the Gospel is not only how my relationship with God is restored but also how I can feel connected to others who have also received this Gospel.

The Corinthians have forgotten where they have come from. They are acting as if they had the wisdom and spiritual insight to find God on their own. But they have forgotten that they received the gospel, that they were so lost, so down and out, that Paul had to come and give them the gospel. They were and still are all in the same boat. How could they try to differentiate themselves from those next to them? They all received the gift together. How absurd it is to differentiate oneself after a few years have gone by!

Devotion Time July 9th -13th, 2012

Here is the DT Packet for July 9th -13th, 2012:

1. DT_Romans13-16_Jul9-Jul13_2012

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.