We form one body

For 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, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Romans 12:4-5

Last summer I visited Los Angeles.  Whilst I was there I saw what I thought was a rather incredible artwork in Pershing Square.  From a distance, the piece clearly showed the face of Michael Jackson.  The tag next to the work stated that it was called ‘King of Pop’.  Closer inspection of the artwork revealed that it was made up of hundreds of fizzy drinks tins, or cans of soda pop as the Americans might refer to them.  I was staggered; there was no denying that this was clearly Michael Jackson’s face, yet it was a mosaic of old tin cans.  Truly remarkable.

Perhaps this kind of mosaic is another way at looking at today’s verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Each of the cans in the picture had their own individual identity, be it as a Sprite, Coke or Tango can, yet together they take on another distinct appearance, the face of Michael Jackson.  A Coke can may have merit in its own right – it is, after all, a world famous design classic – but there is no denying that when it comes together with the other 1,679 cans that make up the ‘King of Pop‘ it becomes something far greater.

Within the church there are many thousands of people, each with our own unique identity, but together we take on another identity – the body of Christ on earth.  We all have our own individual merits, but it’s when we come together as the Church that we have the potential to become something far greater than we could ever become as an individual.  If we find our identity in Christ rather than in ourselves, we have the potential to change the world by serving God in partnership with millions of others.  Within that, we each have our own unique part to play.  More on that tomorrow, however!

Reflect today on whether you play your part in the bigger picture of the worldwide Church, the body of Christ.  Do you find your identity in Christ, as part of something bigger than just yourself?  Or do you identity solely as yourself, an individual?  Perhaps its time we all made more effort to come together as the worldwide Church!

King of Pop

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind

Do not conform 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 12:2

There doesn’t seem to be much good news around at the moment, does there? I suppose there’s nothing unusual about that, but the economic news in particular at the moment seems to be rather distressing. The global economy seems to be in tatters, Europe is poised, once again, on the brink of recession, and there are fears the Euro could fail. The story is not much better in America, with rising unemployment, a weakening of the credit rating, and uncertainty about what the future might hold. Years of spending too much and saving too little have taken their toll. It’s not just governments that have been doing this. Many ordinary people find themselves crippled by debt, sometimes because they find their circumstances have changed for the worse in these dark times, but sometimes because they have simply been living beyond their means. The desire to buy a bigger house, a newer car, and more extravagant holidays has proven to be too strong. Many blame this desire to have newer and better ‘stuff’ for the looting that afflicted British cities a couple of weeks ago.

Today’s verse, therefore, has enormous relevance for us. Paul writes to the Romans, and to us, telling us not to succumb to this earthly way of living, which is destined to end in disaster. Instead, he tells us to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds.” Focus not on greed, but on God, Paul tells us. Don’t set your eyes on a bigger, better house, but set your eyes on the House of God, for heaven. Don’t long for the latest, newest gadget, but long for the certainty and security of the unchanging Lord. Rather than following the foolishness of the world, follow the wisdom of Christ. Set yourselves apart from the world, Paul says, and dedicate yourself to following Christ.

If we “renew our minds,” our perception of the world will change. Once we align our thinking with God’s by studying his word and praying to him, and seek to live out God’s pattern of living rather than that of the world’s, we will begin to understand what God’s will is, both for us as individuals, for our community, the church, and for the world we live in. We will see that God’s will is good, pleasing and perfect, not evil, corrupt and weak like the world that we live in.

This verse, and the one that preceded it, are without doubt difficult, both to understand and to action. Paul tells us that God demands we hand over our lives to him completely and utterly. Standing out from the world, living differently to those around us, is very hard indeed. But if we did, it wouldn’t just be us that would be transformed, but the whole world.

Let’s pray this verse today:

Father, we pray that you will help us to not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We ask that we will be able to test and approve what your will is—your good, pleasing and perfect will.

Amen.

True and proper worship

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

Romans 12:1

If you’re a regular reader of Read, Mark Learn, you’ll probably know by now that I’m easily irritated by trivialities. One triviality that winds me up is the nonsensical way that sports stars, particularly football players, speak. They all seem to fall into cliché mode as soon as they open their mouths. Their talk of football being “a game of two halves” sets my blood boiling, as does their frequent statement that “at the end of the day, the best team won.” As for the claim that “when all is said and done, I gave 110 per cent, and I couldn’t give any more than that,” well, that has me shouting at my television. How can you give 110 per cent? It’s absurd!

Well, in today’s verse, Paul is telling us, members of the church of Christ, to give everything we have to serving Jesus. We can’t give 110 per cent, but we can give 100, and that’s what Paul urges us to do.

God has shown us an extraordinary amount of mercy. He loves us so much that he gave his only son to us. Jesus loves us so much that he died in our place, so that we could be reunited with God, cleansed of our sin, and made right with our heavenly father. At the most basic level, Jesus died for us. That is incredible, and surely demands a response.

The response that Paul encourages us to give is to “offer our bodies as a living sacrifice” to God. In the days of the old covenant in the Old Testament, to sacrifice something to God was to renounce your claim to the object, and to give it wholly over to God. That’s what Paul tells us to do with our bodies.

In recognition of all that God has done for us, we should renounce our claim to our own bodies. We should no longer seek self-gratification, but rather should give our whole being, body, mind and soul, to serving God. That is quite a demand to make, but if we love God, giving our lives to him will not be a hardship, but a pleasure and a joy. Serving God at times can be hard, particularly when we find ourselves facing opposition, but the knowledge that we are living for Christ, sharing the gospel, striving to love others and, above all else, loving God, far outweighs any negative aspects of living for God.

As we begin a new week, why not rededicate your life to Christ? Why not pray to God, “yes, Lord, I’m here, take my body, I offer it to your service”? As Paul says, this is your true and proper worship!

Who Can Be Against Us?

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things.

Romans 8:31-32

It is often difficult being a Christian. There are many who ridicule our beliefs and hold us in contempt for basing our lives on what they consider to be a fairy tale. In the western world we’ve seen a rise in militant secularism in recent years with prominent figures condemning Christians for holding to the Gospel. Elsewhere in the world it is even harder; Christians face physical persecution and even death for choosing to follow Jesus.

For all those who face these realities, today’s verses bring real reassurance.

If God is for us, who can be against us?

If we choose to follow Jesus, God is on our side and there is no enemy that is stronger than him. There is nothing that anyone on earth can do to separate us from God and the salvation that he holds out to us all. No matter how much people laugh at us, ridicule us, torment us or persecute us, we can stand firm knowing that nothing can prevent us from gaining salvation. Not even the devil can stop us from getting to heaven. God is stronger than any enemy that we face.

God gave up his son to secure us our salvation. If he was willing to do that then he will stop at nothing to ensure that his followers are saved. He will give us all things that we need to follow him, to live our lives for him. Nothing can separate us from God. No one can condemn us to hell. We are safe, we’re going to heaven, and there’s nothing that anyone can do to prevent that.

Give thanks today that God is all-powerful, and that there’s nothing and no one that can separate us from him. Praise God for giving his son for us so that we can be saved. Give thanks that God will equip us and provide for all our needs as we seek to live according to the plan that he has for us!

God Works In All Things

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

Sometimes life can be tough. Few, if any of us, will escape some kind of difficulty during the course of our lives. It might be illness, physical or mental. It could be unemployment or financial difficulties. Maybe we’ll experience difficulties in our relationships, perhaps with a partner, a parent, a sibling or a friend. These turbulent periods of our lives are the consequence of living in a fallen world. The world we live in is not as God intended; sin has a hold on creation, and impacts us all, directly and indirectly.

This is a rather bleak picture, but through it all there is hope. Today’s verse states that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” This certainly doesn’t mean that all the bad things that happen to us are willed by God. Indeed, God grieves for his creation (see Genesis 6:6). What it does mean is that God uses all the bad things that happen to us for our own good. How often have you heard that people have come out of negative experiences stronger? How often have you heard people say of negative experiences that in the end, it was the best thing that ever happened to them? Bad things hurt, sometimes unbearably so, but if we’re Christians we can take comfort from the fact that God is working through our difficulties.

What does Paul mean, though, when he says God works “for the good of those who love him”?

God, of course, takes an eternal perspective, whilst we tend to see everything from a more short-term view. For God, what is in our interests is often different to what we might think. God wants us to grow closer to him, to become more like Christ, to be more loving, less selfish. In other words, he wants us to become better Christians who strive to live for the glory of his kingdom. He will use the difficulties and hardships we experience in the present age to shape us into the people that he wants us to be.

Perhaps you’ve experienced this yourself. Perhaps you can look back at a time of trouble in your life and see how you grew closer to God as a consequence. I know I can.

Let’s give thanks to God that he works in this way. Let’s thank God for working through our lives in the good times and the bad times, helping us to come to know him better. And let’s pray today that we would know God’s transforming love in our lives when things are going well, and when they’re not going so well.