#194 – Spirits in the Material World


Romans 8:1-30


But you are not controlled by your sinful nature [Greek: flesh]. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. – Rom. 8:7


Perhaps you’ve heard the old Police song “Spirits in the Material World” (I remember when it was first being played on the radio, I’m so old). Curiously religious for a mainstream rock/punk band. The song essentially says (over and over) that… well… “we are spirits in the material world.” (Yeah… not DEEP theology.) To be fair, the verses do recount various ways that human endeavors fail us (politics, etc.), but only a hard-core Police fan would even be able to quote a snippet or two of the verses. It’s one of those songs that people just know the chorus. Spirits. Material world. (Or as Yoda would say, “Luminous beings are we. Not this crude material.”)

That’s what Paul spends most of the time in today’s reading talking about.


#195 – Statistically Zero


Romans 8:31-9:29


“If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?… overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Rom. 8:31b-32; 37b-39


50% of all marriages in end in divorce. Have you heard that? Or Christians are just as likely to divorce as non-Christians? Perhaps you’ve even heard that atheists are less likely to divorce than born-again Christians (one I discovered as I browsed the web looking for current trends in marriage.) To all this I will caution you on one thing – you can make statistics mean anything you want. (How? By poorly defining what a “born-again Christian” is or not asking, “what percent of atheists actually get married in the first place.”) If you start hearing conclusions that seem odd, it is perfectly fine to ask hard questions about the process; just because it involves math, it doesn’t mean it’s without fault.

Why am I even talking about this? Paul wasn’t talking about divorce in today’s reading? True. What he does say, unequivocally, is that nothing can separate you from God’s love. And when I hear that, I almost reflexively contemplate what separates people from other people, and the list is long.


#193 – Wretch Like Me


Romans 7:1-25


“I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” – Rom. 7:21-24


A friend of mine says she hates the hymn “Amazing Grace.” Can you imagine? “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me?” Well… to be honest, she likes the first half of the sentence, just not the last three words – “wretch like me.” And I don’t think she’s alone. There are plenty of people who walk through doors to Christian churches each week who love to think about God’s amazing grace, but reject the idea that they are a wretch.

And this touches on our New Living Translation again and why I like the translation of the first part of verse 24 that is found in most other English translations (who probably leave it in part because of that great old hymn) – “what a wretched man I am!” That simple word, wretched, carries a wealth of negative information that the word miserable just doesn’t quite encapsulate.   The Greek word that both of these are being translated from seems to connote a person who was beaten down to the point of being covered in callouses. Now we’re getting somewhere! Callouses – those hard coatings covering an area of our skin that has been abused – is a perfect image of a heart that has been hardened by sinning.

So back to my friend and her difficulty in being called a wretch.


#192 – Pay Day and Parties


Romans 5:12-6:23


For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. – Rom. 6:23


My first job was washing school buses. (My dad and grandparents owned a bus company.) So during the summer, all the buses got a thorough top-to-bottom cleaning. I got paid $20 to wash the inside of the bus and $10 to wash the outside of the bus. On a good day I could get through about 3 buses. It was a hot and dirty job. I worked HARD for that money and when I got paid I knew that I got what I deserved.

When you have a job, you earn wages. You get hired to DO something, and for that something you DO, you get money. If you don’t do the job, you don’t get the money. You might get paid an hourly wage or you might get paid a steady salary. Simple, right? But it’s important to know that you DESERVE your paycheck.


#191 – Faith Comes First


Romans 4:1-5:11


“For the Scriptures tell us, ‘Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.’ Romans 4:3, quoting Genesis 15:6

“But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” – Romans 5:8


Once again, Paul’s letter to the Romans proves to be rich and complex and chock full of meaning, so let’s dive right in.

We do need to revisit the Old Testament again to see what Paul is getting on about. Genesis 15:1-6 recounts how God promised Abraham a great reward (in part for what Abraham did in Genesis 14, but we’ll talk about that when we read Hebrews). Well… Abraham says, (I paraphrase) “what good will the reward do me? I’m an old man with no kids!” Then God promises Abraham (who is 100 years old, as well as married to a woman who can no longer have kids) that he will have as many descendants are there are stars in the sky (seen before light pollution ruined our view of the heavens). Which leads to our quote above – Abraham (despite all the physical evidence to the contrary and against all human wisdom) believed God and because of that faith God counted Abraham as not guilty. Romans 4:20 points out that what Abraham had faith in was GOD’S PROMISE; THAT was his demonstration of faith and the reason God declared Him “righteous.” (And it is AFTER this – a fair while after this – that Abraham is circumcised, which is part of the whole argument Paul is making – that circumcision doesn’t matter.)


#190 – Making It Right


Romans 3:9-31


“We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins… So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.” – Rom. 3:22-24, 28


Can you think of a time when you needed to be “made right” with someone? A friend? A parent? Actually, let’s back up as step. If you need to be “made right” with someone, what had to have happened first? Someone must have wronged someone else, correct?   I was about to say it’s harder when a person did something on purpose to wrong you (or you did something on purpose), but I’m not 100% sure that’s true. I think if someone wrongs you without really being seeing why you took offense, that can almost be harder to deal with in some ways. But in any situation, how is the offender “made right” with the offended? Is it enough to say, “I’m sorry”?

Now, what if the offense is that a person broke the law? How is someone who has been caught breaking the law “made right” with society? Depends on the severity of the law, right? Speeding might simply mean you need to pay a fine. If you’re caught stealing something, but it’s your first offense, you may be let off with a warning or probation (a period of time where if you do anything wrong again, you face a stiff penalty, but if not, you do not receive the regular punishment for your crime). If you do something a lot more serious, or repeatedly, then we’re talking about time in jail and/or high fines, right? There is a price to be paid to society to demonstrate your sorrow and to allow you to be “made right” – where you can assume a normal place in society.


#189 – Ritual vs. Reality


Romans 2:1-3:8


“The Jewish ceremony of circumcision has value only if you obey God’s law. But if you don’t obey God’s law, you are no better off than an uncircumcised Gentile. And if the Gentiles obey God’s law, won’t God declare them to be his own people? In fact, uncircumcised Gentiles who keep God’s law will condemn you Jews who are circumcised and possess God’s law but don’t obey it.” – Romans 2:25-27


Today’s reading (IMHO) answers the question, “what about the person who’s never heard of Jesus? Will they be saved?”   Paul says, “Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it.” (Rom. 2:14) So at the time when the Jews would say that a man must be circumcised in order to be saved, Paul is saying that it doesn’t matter. WHAT!? Paul says it is between the person and God; that it is a matter of the HEART. How can that be? Doesn’t the ceremony matter at all? Well, let’s think about this way – in terms of a ritual act vs. daily life.


#188 – Eating a Whole Pizza


Romans 1:1-32


For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” – Rom. 1:16-17


Have you ever tried to eat a large pizza all by yourself in one sitting? That is about what we are trying to do by covering a WHOLE PAGE of Romans in one sitting. As we begin Paul’s Magnum Opus (Great Work), we really should slow down to about 3 sentences a day; this book is SO rich and chock-full of teaching! But this is an overview of the New Testament, I remind myself, and so I will simply tell you that you can come back to Romans again and again and it will continue to yield life-giving power.


#187 – Of Mice and Men (and Women)


2 Corinthians 12:11-13:14


I am afraid that I will find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorderly behavior. – 2 Cor. 12:20

Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. – 2 Cor. 13:11b


When the cat’s away, the mice will play.

What does that mean? Literally it means that when mice have no predators, they will have no fear and do whatever they want. For us it means that when there is no authority to keep us in check, we will act out in foolish ways, because we only behave out of fear of that authority.

Paul was the cat and the Corinthians were (it seems) like a bunch of mice.


#186 – The Greatest Showman – Not on Earth


2 Corinthians 11:1-12:10


“These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve.”
– 2 Cor. 11:13-15


“For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – Paul, in 2 Cor. 12:10b


For about 13 years I lived a stone’s throw away from Baraboo, WI, the town where the Ringling Brothers had started their circus and I’ve visited the Ringling Brothers’ Circus Museum there a couple times. It’s a wonderful exploration of days gone by. But probably the person known as the single greatest representative of the circus is P. T. Barnum. Infamously associated with the phrases, “there’s a sucker born every minute” (though apparently there is no proof he ever actually coined or used the phrase), and “people want to be humbugged (deceived).” Barnum’s first actual circus was titled, “P.T. Barnum’s Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome.”   Barnum’s success, it seems, was due in part to roughly equal measures of personal ambition, exploitation (if not outright abuse) of people (in particular people of color), creative advertisements and out-an-out lies. He would eventually dub his circus, “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Barnum never lacked for superlatives.

Paul is nearing the end of his letter to the Corinthians and he goes off on a little rant, because it seems that he is facing being compared with a series of religious P. T. Barnums.


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