Sunday, December 24, 2017

This week's lesson (December 23-29): Christian Living

It’s easy to see why some things are important.
Back in 1961, for instance, the Air Force was looking for two H-bombs: two thermonuclear devices it’s lost somewhere in North Carolina. You see, one of its bombers had broken-up in mid-air – broken-up and killed three of its crew. And when it broke-up, that B-52 bomber dropped the two bombs it was carrying – yes, it dropped two, Mark 39 thermonuclear devices, each with a yield of four megatons, right there on North Carolina. Now they didn’t go off – and trust me, you would have heard about it if they had gone off . . . but as you can imagine, the Air Force wanted to find those two bombs – to find those two bombs and get them back!
So you can see why they’re feeling the pressure; you cans see why they’re feeling the heat – yes, you can see why they feel the way Paul does, here in Romans 15:25ff (pages 1125f).
And no, nothing’s going to blow up if things go wrong for Paul – but as we read Romans 15:25ff, we need to remember that Paul writes these words at a very important time in his life. Yes, Paul writes at a time when he’s getting ready to move – to move from east to west, from Greece to Spain, from someplace familiar to someplace that’s totally new to him. But Paul can’t make that move just yet – no, Paul can’t move until he’s done with this big, important project that’s been in the works for years.
Just like the Air Force, in other words, Paul’s got something important – something big that needs to get done . . . but in Romans 15:25ff, we’ll notice that big, important jobs aren’t the only things that need to get done. No, sometimes God calls us to do something small – and to see what I mean, take a look at Paul’s plans here in Romans 15:25ff. Verse 25:
15:25Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem, in the service of the saints there. 26For Macedonia and Achaia [or in our language, we’d say, “northern and southern Greece”] were pleased to make a contribution to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. 28So after I have completed this task and have made sure they have received this fruit, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. 29I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.
Now as we read this text, we’ll remember that Paul’s taking an offering – he’s taking money from churches in Greece to the church in Jerusalem; in fact, we can read more about Paul’s plans for that offering in his first and second letters to the church in Corinth. And you can read those texts later if you want . . . but for now, it’s enough to know this offering is important to Paul – important for three reasons:
Number one: those believers there in Jerusalem need this money; yes, they are poor – so poor that all those other people in Jerusalem don’t call them “Christians.” They don’t call them, “the followers of Jesus.” No, everyone just calls them, “the Ebionites” – that means, “the poor people.” In short, they’re not just poor; no, they’re famous for being poor!
Then too, those believers in Jerusalem aren’t just poor; no, they’re also Jewish – Jewish believers who are just a little suspicious of Gentiles . . . and Paul’s hoping that a nice, big, generous offering from those Gentile believers in Greece might just be what it takes to sweeten up those Jewish believers in Jerusalem.
Finally, we need to remember just how much work Paul’s put in to this offering – in fact, some people say he’s been working on it for five years . . . and if that seems hard to believe, then remember there’s no debit cards in those days; there’s no checks or paper money. No, needs to move silver and gold to Jerusalem – silver and gold from places like Berea, Caesarea, Corinth, Cyprus, Derbe, Ephesus, Lystra, Philippi, Ptolemais, Thessalonica, and Troas!
I mean, I can’t even remember the places where Paul’s gets this offering – but Paul needs to visit them all!
So put it all together – I mean, take the need of those people in Jerusalem . . . then add Paul’s desire to bring Jews and Gentiles together . . . and then finish with the sheer, physical size of the job that needs to be done . . . again, put it all together, and you can see why that offering to Jerusalem is so important right now!
Yes, it’s a big, important job – the kind of job that gets your picture in the papers and looks good on your resumé . . .
And no,  there’s nothing wrong with jobs like that; nothing wrong with getting your picture in the paper . . . it’s just that, sometimes, we don’t get asked to do those kind of jobs. No, sometimes we get asked to do . . . something else.
Read what happens next, in fact, and it reminds me of what was always happening to one of our Surgeon Generals: Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.Now as you might guess from his title, the Surgeon General had a very important job; yes, as head of the Public Health Service, he held the rank of a three-star admiral. What’s more, the Surgeon General got to wear a fancy uniform – a fancy uniform with gold stripes on his sleeves . . . and gold shoulder boards . . .  and all that fancy, gold trim on his hat they call “scrambled eggs.”
All you had to do was just look at him, in other words, and you could tell that Surgeon General Koop was somebody special!
Likewise, Romans 16:1-2 tells us about a believer named Phoebe – and just like Koop, you can tell she’s somebody special. Verse one:
16:1I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea [which is the seaport roughly seven-miles east of where Paul’s writing this letter, there in Corinth]. 2I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.
Now as we read, you’ll notice she’s traveling alone – traveling alone from Greece to Rome . . . and right away, this tells you she is one, tough woman. (In fact, she’s probably a widow; widows were the only women who traveled alone like this – but even for them, it wasn’t easy!)
Then too, you’ll notice that Paul says “she’s been a great help,” he literally says she’s a “patron.” That means she pays the bills for her church; what’s more, it probably meets in her house.
That said you can see why Paul calls Phoebe a leader in her church; in fact, he literally calls her a “deacon” – a diakonon: the same as we find in Titus or I Timothy.
Put it all together, in other words, and it’s clear that Phoebe is a VIP – a Very Important Person . . . but even VIPs don’t always get treated that way.
When Koop wore his uniform, for instance, people didn’t treat him like a three-star admiral – like somebody who was important. No, they asked for him for help with their luggage; that’s because they saw his uniform . . . and they thought he was a flight attendant!
Likewise, it’s clear that Phoebe is strong, tough, capable woman – a woman who could handle anything Paul needs her to do . . . but right then, all he needs her to do is to carry a letter – to carry this letter that Paul’s just written to the believers in Rome.
And yes, somebody needs to do it . . .
But it’s not a glamorous job.
It’s not the kind of job that gets your picture in the paper.
No, it’s like asking the Surgeon General to carry your bags; it’s not something that an important person should be asked to.
But Phoebe did it anyway – and for what it’s worth, the Surgeon General would help you with your bags if you asked him to do it. That’s because they both knew some jobs need to be done.
Likewise today: there are times God asks us to do something big and important – something like that offering for Jerusalem. And when God asks us to do something big and important, then we can be sure that God will help us get it done.
But there will be times when God asks us to do something that won’t get our picture in the local paper – no, there are times when God will ask us to do something “small,” something that doesn’t get noticed . . . something like taking a letter to Rome. 
But just because something is “small” and doesn’t get noticed . . . that doesn’t mean it’s not important.
You think of the time we dropped those bombs on North Carolina, for instance – those two, thermonuclear devices that would have caused all kinds of trouble if they’d managed to trip just four little switches on each bomb.
Four little switches – that’s all it would have took.
Now on one of those bombs, they’d tripped two of those switches.
But on the other, they’d tripped three.
And I don’t know who designed the fourth switch on that bomb – no, I don’t know who came up with the one switch that kept that bomb from going off in North Carolina . . .
But whoever they were, I’m glad they did it.
Yes, they may not be famous – but they made a real big difference.
In much the same way, Phoebe doesn’t get much attention – but when she carried Paul’s letter to Rome, then she made a difference.
And when God gives you that kind of job – the kind of job that He gave Phoebe . . . then it may not seem like much; no, it may seem all that important.
But sometimes, God asks us to do something small.
And sometimes, we need to do something small for God.

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