I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert R. Seyda

EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS

CHAPTER FIFTEEN (Lesson I)

15:1 (14:24): Nowwe who are more sure owe it to those who are less sure by helping them deal with errors arise from their uncertainties, and do it in a way that does not benefit us, but benefits them.

This opening verse in chapter fifteen begins with the conjunction “now,” which certainly ties it to something said before. Apparently, in 1551 when Robert Estienne (Robert Stephanus in Latin), a French printer in Paris, decided to give numbers to chapters and verses for the first published version of the Bible. Since it is most likely that he used the Latin version and took the opening line “We who are strong...” to be the beginning of a new chapter. He may have been misled by the fact that critical conjunction “then” was missing from the text, which should have read, “We then who…”

So with the conjunction, what does this advice from the Apostle Paul relate to in the preceding verses of chapter 14? All we need to do is go back to 14:22-23 and we will see what Paul is offering as a solution to the problems he mentions there. He tells the Romans to keep that which is fine with them, between themselves and God. Anyone is happy if they know they’re doing what’s right. But if someone has doubts about what foods they should eat, God says they are making sinners of themselves if they go ahead and eat it. It is because they are eating without being assured that it is the right thing to do. It’s important to know, that anything that is not done with certainly is a big error. Then, the next verse (15:1) says, “Now, we who are more sure owe it to those who are less sure…”

So we can see that after the Apostle Paul has taken the Roman congregation outside the walls of the church – in chapter 13, to instruct them on how to get along with their secular neighbors and government, he takes them back inside the sanctuary – in chapters 14:1-15:6 to continue his advice on how to get along with each other. In this case, he exhorts them on how believers should help one another as believers. Let’s think about this for a moment: When we go to the altar to pray, before we pray for ourselves, we ought to pray for the person or persons we know who need more help than we do. When we know someone who has difficulty assimilating into the church fellowship, don’t be the first one to chide them for not adapting quicker. If we know someone who is having trouble with an addiction, let them know it’s the addiction that is the culprit that needs to be confronted. Paul is explaining that when we do this, someday, we may have to depend on their prayers and comfort for problems we are experiencing. Because we helped them, they will be able to help and strengthen us. Failing them now means that somewhere down the road when we need them most, they may fail us just like we failed them.

Paul had some strong words for people like this when he wrote the Corinthians. He told them: “We are fools for Christ, but you think you are so wise in Christ. We are weak, but you think you are so strong. People give you honor, but they don’t honor us.1 I’ve never heard someone say what I’m about to say. However, I must believe that at some point-in-time someone said it before I did: That is: The dumbest people in the world are those who think they have nothing more to learn. And this can be no truer than of Christians who believe they know all they need to know about God, His Word, and how to please Him.

In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul made this confession: “I am glad to have weaknesses if they are for Christ’s sake. I am glad to be insulted and have hard times. I am glad when I am persecuted and have problems because it is when I am weak that I am really strong.”2 And what Paul meant by being strong he explained to Timothy: “Be strong in the grace that we have because we belong to Christ Jesus.3 In other words, we are not strong because we think we can do everything on our own, but because we know that with Christ’s help we can do all things needed to live victoriously for Him to the glory and honor of God our Heavenly Father.4

Then, and only then, are we prepared to help those who need our assistance. Paul said it this way: “To those who are weak, I became weak so that I could help save them. I have become all things to all people. I did this so that I could save people in any way possible.5 Paul certainly didn’t mean that he himself became weak in order to help those who needed help, but only that he was willing to do all that it took to help them get over the obstacle in their way, by walking through it with them. Another way to put this is that when we see a fellow believer struggling with some sinful tendency, do not simply show them sympathy, but empathy. Get to know what it is that may be tormenting them. It has a lot to do with attitude. Instead of standing behind them yelling for them to get going, or standing in front of them urging them to catch up, stand with them by offering a helping hand.

Paul also pointed out that oft times we overlook how important the weaker members of the body of Christ are to the whole. He said: “Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are actually very important. And the parts that we think are not worth very much are the parts we give the most care to.”6 In fact, Paul told the Thessalonians: “Encourage those who are afraid. Help those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.7 Always keep this maxim in mind, expressed over 230 years ago that goes like this: “In every chain of reasoning, the evidence of the last conclusion can be no greater than that of the weakest link of the chain, whatever may be the strength of the rest.8

Early church scholar Origen has an interesting point to make. For him, our first effort should be to please God first, then we should please our neighbor. But, of course, some will say that Paul is contradicting himself here because elsewhere he said that if we attempt to please mankind then we are not servants of Christ.9 However, this can be explained by pointing out that there is a big difference between trying to please others just to get their approval, and quite another to treat them with kindness so that we show how willing we are to put their needs before our own. That way, we will not be accused of being selfish. When they see this in our attitude and deeds, it will also help them grow in faith by what they see and hear. In so doing, we are, in effect, putting God first because this is what He desires of us. He knows we are not trying to please others by doing things which are against our faith, honor, and righteous living. Note that Paul himself says this, when he adds, that in pleasing our neighbor the purpose is to build them up in the faith. 10

Then Pelagius proposes that we ought to be commended by our neighbors rather than by ourselves. This is the example Paul tried: “Just as I try to please all men in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage but that of many that they may be saved.11 For how can we hope to increase another person’s faith if they don’t see it in our own attitude and actions? It’s those who only look out for themselves so that they will be the beneficiaries of any good that comes from what they do. That’s why Paul indicates how and why we should please both God and others, so that we do not do it for worthless self-aggrandizement.12 It’s one thing to let others know how many hours you spend on your knees each day in prayer, but it’s quite another when someone comes to you and tells you they have increased their prayer life because of what you helped them learn about prayer.

Reformer Martin Luther reminds his readers of all that Paul said earlier in this letter concerning disputes between the Jews and Gentiles over which foods to eat and which to abstain from. Luther notes that from dealing with the special case of kosher foods, Paul now constructs a lesson for everyone. He takes what he taught on how to deal with others on the matter of what to eat and what not to eat, and uses this principle of stronger believers being sensitive to weaker believers and applies it to all areas of disagreement. This can be used in discussions on everything from can we use wine for communion, to, should women wear hats in church. The main precepts we use in resolving other issues involve the weak believers not criticizing the strong believers because of their liberal views and the strong believers not despising the weak believers because of their conservative views. Remember, Christ died for all sinners, not just the most moral and righteous, but for the most immoral and sinful. He treats them equally13.14

Then Luther goes on to make the point that those people who only think of themselves and take advantage of others are willing to accept everything they can get from them except their burdens. Luther believes this happens because they don’t want to be responsible for other believer’s mistakes. They are good as vilifying, judging, defaming, accusing, and despising others but make no effort to help. We see a similar case with the Pharisee and the publican in Luke 18:10ff. The Pharisee criticized, reprimanded, accused, and condemned the publican while rejoiced in his own self-righteousness. Luther notes that scorning others is a particular trait of those who are out to please themselves. They rejoice less because they are righteous, and more because others are unrighteous. In fact, if those they criticize would become as righteous as they are, they would still not rejoice. To tell the truth, that would upset them because instead of being one of a few, they would be one of many and, therefore, no longer unique in their eyes.15

1 1 Corinthians 4:10

2 2 Corinthians 12:10

3 2 Timothy 2:1

4 Philippians 4:13

5 1 Corinthians 9:22

6 Ibid. 12:22-23

7 1 Thessalonians 5:14

8 Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man: by Thomas Reid, Vol. II, Dublin, 1786, p. 377. It should be noted that Reid based his work on what was said by Job in the Old Testament: “Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts?” (Job 38:36)

9 Galatians 1:10

10 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

11 1 Corinthians 10:33

12 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

13 See Galatians 6:1-2

14 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 207

15 Luther: ibid., p. 208

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POINTS TO PONDER

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Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832), German writer, statesman, and botanist, once made this statement: The senses do not deceive us, but the judgment does.1 Today, we might put it this way: We know how we feel, but we don’t know what’s best for us.

Teacher and approved professional mentor Gwen Morgan suggests several ways that we can keep from making bad decisions. One of those ways is to get all the information we can about what we’re wanting to do. Our decision-making is often influenced by information we get from external sources, including so-called experts. To make better decisions, we need to become confident enough to challenge, question, and interrogate to ensure that the information is actually valid, says Noreena Hertz, author of Eyes Wide Open: How to Make Smart Decisions in a Confusing World. Embrace your inner skeptic and never just assume that what you’re being told is always true.

Another thing to do is don’t think you are the exception when it comes doing what others have done only to fail. Spencer Greenberg, founder of New York City-based ClearerThinking, which develops decision-making training tools, says there are some common areas where many of us consistently make bad decisions. One of them is basing our decisions on an assumption of best-case scenarios and then guessing. Another is what might not be going right, and trying to fix it like putting a band-aid on it.

If there are chronic issues that plague our decision-making, such as not having enough time or information, we should pay particular attention to those areas. Getting caught up in the “what worked before” mindset or being too impressed with our own success are common pitfalls. When J.K. Rowling sent the first Harry Potter book to U.S. and U.K. publishers, they all turned it down because they just knew it wouldn’t work: What didn’t work was a book of that size. What didn’t work was a book for boys. What didn’t work was fantasy. But what it took for the book to become enormously successful was that it fell into the hands of a new director who wasn’t tied to doing things the old way.

Another thing that Spencer Greenberg suggests: look at our personal history. Unfortunately, some people often don’t learn from previous mistakes because it’s emotionally difficult to face up to them in the first place. But if you have areas in your life where you find a batch of mistakes or problems, you may need to shine some light on the issues and mend how you’re approaching your decision-making on those same things this time.

While Noreena Hertz, who is mentioned above, was researching her book Eyes Wide Open, says she found that our emotions and environment can have an impact on our decision-making. For example, when investors were given the same information on a red background versus a green background, they were more favorable to what was written on the red background. When judges were hungry, they tended to dole out harsher punishments. Her research also showed that just being aware of the environment and your feelings are enough to put you into a more objective state of mind. We know quite well that people who have just gone through a hurtful divorce often make rash decisions in finding a new partner in life.

Another thing may seem quite basic and logical, but that doesn’t mean we always do what we are supposed to be doing in preparing ourselves for decision making. For instance Getting enough sleep is a big factor in decision-making. When you’re tired or don’t feel well, you’re not likely to make the best decisions. This also goes for not watching what we eat, the things we do to entertain ourselves, and the people we hang around with.

Making a rash decision because something is on sale, or something is available for a limited time, or because want to be first to get in line are huge temptations. But to keep from making a bad decision we must take time to think. Noreena Hertz says the distraction deluge to which we’re subjected every day can undermine good decision-making. You can’t process information and think clearly while you’re answering texts, emails, and tweets. She recommends carving out at least 30 minutes a day to just think.

And finally, just because we don’t get the outcome we wanted doesn’t necessarily mean the decision we made was bad. Greenberg says that there are many times when even the best choice we have may lead to failure. The key is to learn from it and apply that lesson to the decision we make next time. Sometimes when we stand in front of long lines and shelves and shelves of boxed cereals, we may be looking for the cheapest kind or the one for which we have a coupon that will save us 50 cents. Based on that criteria we may end up making a bad choice. Think it over! What the best cereal for your health concerns.

What does the Bible say about decision making? A wise preacher a long ago time ago, put it this way, “There is a right time and a right way to do everything, but we know so little!1 And in another place he says that if we’re afraid to plant seeds because of the wind, and if we’re afraid it will rain, will never have a harvest.2 King Solomon made this suggestion: Watch where you are going and you’ll be sure to get there.3

The Apostle James was clear in his understanding, if you know the right thing to do and fail to do it, that’s a big mistake.4 And the Apostle Paul warns us not to deceive ourselves, whatever we decide to do, we will get the expected result. That’s the way God designed things.5 In other words, you know you want to pass the test but if you cheat to do it you will suffer the consequences. If you know it’s against the law but decide to do it anyway, don’t be upset when you get caught and punished. By trying to force something that doesn’t fit into position anyhow, don’t be surprised if you break the whole thing. You’ll discover you made the wrong decision after it’s too late. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

1 Ecclesiastes 8:6 – Good News Translation

2 Ibid. 11:4

3 Proverbs 4:26

4 James 4:27

5 Galatians 6:7

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SERENDIPITY FOR SATURDAY

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WAS YOUR NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION A GOOD DECISION OR ARE YOU STILL DECIDING?

Perhaps you are still maintaining your New Year’s resolution. I would hope so. Here is an article I read in Relevant Magazine1 that may help you see if your resolution was a good one or not.

Whether or not you make resolutions this time of year, you can probably see the appeal. Dreaming of dropping one jean size, or picking up a guitar or speaking French. It’s tempting to use this time of year to finally make that Big Change. Some of us do decide to try. And that’s where things start getting depressing.

We could probably guess the stats. About 40 percent of us will make New Year’s resolutions. Out of that number, 30 percent will fail after two weeks; 40 percent will fail after one month and 60 percent will fail after six months.

The problem most likely is not the resolutions themselves. Our resolutions are usually good. I would even go as far as to say that New Year’s Day is as good a time as any to start some new habits and make some commitments. After all, it is a time of new beginnings.

But it is very apparent that many of us fail when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. Despite our most valiant efforts, our well-intended resolutions lose their luster and our motivation wanes as time progresses. Does this mean New Year’s resolutions are not worth making? Hardly. Usually, when we formulate and then implement our resolutions, we go wrong in several areas:

When we feel inspired, we often make radical decisions and think that burst of inspiration will be enough to fuel any effort we make. This is simply not realistic. We need more than just inspiration, we need daily discipline. We must re-make the resolution every day and continue in it even when we don’t feel like doing so. This is not easy; which is why we must recognize our weakness. This brings me to my next point.

Some resolutions such as wanting to “eat less junk food” may seem petty at first, but they can carry deep meaning that is extremely relevant to the individual. They are not trivial at all. In fact, they can reveal and describe many deep, important issues.

This is crucial for us to confront because we need to understand the roots and true nature of these resolutions. In these times of confrontation, we need to understand the fickleness of our willpower and ask God to do the work of restoration in our hearts. Only then will it affect our external lifestyle.

Our resolutions are purely individualistic most of the time. They should be finding a corporate context for commitment, joint effort, and accountability. As is true of most of what we do, we try to walk them alone. We create a self-improvement plan that allows little room for outside input or mutual benefit. We resolve to tackle our internal foes without the aid of anything or anyone outside our control. So we fail.

When did it become so commonplace to think we could accomplish all these things on our own? Not only that, but if we are going to invest our time and energy into a “cause,” should we not find resolutions to make that go outside of our own personal bubble? And aren’t there problems in our world bigger than our own?

Now, you don’t have to forsake your own desires of living a better life, but lets at least look for ways to involve and strengthen others, remain accountable and engage with issues that are larger than our own.

The fact of the matter is that, even if we succeed, what is God thinking about the resolutions we are making? What is His opinion of the “better” person we are becoming? Are these things pushing us on to love and righteousness? Are they drawing us closer in our relationship with God?

In all things, we have one goal: to give God glory. Before we make any resolutions, first ask “God, in what ways may I bring you more glory with my life?” I believe that if we make every decision keeping in mind this question, then we will find greater joy and purpose in our resolutions.

NOTE: The reason this article struck me with such harmony is that it highlighted my own resolution for 2019. That was: To give God more of my time during the day, not just attending more church functions. I pledged to think about Him more often, talk to Him more frequently, and stop and listen every time I feel Him wanting to talk to me. And finally, to find more ways to love my wife. Every time I do something for her and she says, “You’re spoiling me,” I tell her she isn’t spoiled enough. That I’m thinking up ways to spoil her more. Now the big question, do I have the resolve and will-power to keep this resolution for the rest of the year? We’ll see! – Dr. Robert R Seyda

1 Since 2002, RELEVANT has been the leading platform reaching Christian twenty- and thirty-somethings. Covering faith, culture and intentional living, the stories we tell are at the intersection of where a Christ-centered life is really lived. The magazine is not about “being relevant – it’s that God is relevant to every aspect of our lives. The magazine reaches about 2,300,000 twenty- and thirty-something Christians a month through all their platforms, publishing every other month in print and iPad, as well as daily online by podcast.

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I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

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TO ALL MY FAMILY, FRIENDS, AND STUDENTS

I hope all of you had a happy Christmas and joyful New Year. Now our holiday break is over and we want to move on learning more about God, by discovering more about what His Son Jesus had to say while here on earth.  What Paul and the other Apostles preached was based on what Jesus taught. So they are helping us know more about the Son, and that helps us then to know more about His Father.

I’ll begin here by sharing the first paragraph of my New Testament Contextual Commentary on Romans, that should give you an idea of what kind of fruit and grain we will be gathering to sustain our spiritual strength as we move through its pages. The latter part of Chapter 14, and Chapter 15 are some of the least read and used for teaching and preaching.  Let me tell you, there are some real nuggets of spiritual wisdom contained in this portion of Romans.

Let me begin here with an introduction by sharing what I wrote at the beginning of 15:1: As we can see, this opening verse in chapter fifteen begins with the Greek conjunction de (meaning “now”), certainly ties it to something said before. Apparently, in 1551 when Robert Estienne (Robert Stephanus in Latin), French printer in Paris, decided to give numbers to chapters and verses to the first published version of the Bible. Since it is most likely that he used the Latin version, took the opening line “We who are strong…” to be the beginning of a new chapter, may have been misled by the fact that critical conjunction “then” was missing from the text, which should have read, “We then…”

So with the conjunction, what does this advice from the Apostle Paul relate to in the preceding verses of chapter 14? All we need to do is go back to 14:22-23 and we will see what Paul is offering as a solution to the problems he mentions there. He tells the Romans to keep that which is fine with them between themselves and God. Anyone is happy if they know they’re doing what’s right. But if someone has doubts about what foods they should eat, God says they are just making sinners of themselves if they go ahead and eat it. It is because they are eating without being assured that it is the right thing to do. It’s important to know, that anything that is not done with certainly, is a big error. Then the next verse (15:1) says, “Now, we who are more sure owe it to those who are less sure…”

So I’m excited to continue our journey through the Book of Romans, starting this coming Monday, January 7, 2019. There a lot of exciting things yet to discover. You’ve come this far by faith and your love for God’s Word. Don’t give up now. Remember, those who endure unto the end shall be blessed by God and happy with themselves. So we’ll see you on Monday! – Dr. Robert R Seyda

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POINTS TO PONDER

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Inventor Thomas Edison (1847-1931) created such great innovations as the practical incandescent electric light bulb and the phonograph. A savvy businessman, he held more than 1,000 patents for his inventions. He was once quoted as saying, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

As we are about to begin a new year, we can start it with disappointment or discouragement over what didn’t happen or we didn’t get done last year, or we can take Edison’s advice and thank God that He has given us a new year to either try again or switch to something new that might be a lot better. But that’s our choice.

I like what Iranian immigrant Patrick Bet-David, U.S. military veteran, and successful startup entrepreneur said about not giving up. Here are ten reasons he gave:

It’s easy to find a reason to quit.

No matter how good or bad your life is going, you can always find an excuse to give up. But it works the other way too. If you look for a reason to keep going, you can find that too. It all depends on which one you want most desperately.

When you quit, you send the message that you never thought you could do it in the first place.
Actions speak louder than words. In the end, no matter what they hear you say, people will watch what you do.

Believe it or not, some people will be glad that you quit.

They may not say so, but unfortunately many people you know will hope for you to give up. This is for the simple reason that your dedication to your goal will remind them of their own unrealized potential. Rather than proving your doubters right, let your dedication inspire.

You’ll never know what would have happened if you stuck it out.

You know what happens if you give up — you end up right where you started. The hard part is having the vision to see the reward that lies at the end of the race.

The consequences of quitting are a lot higher than sticking it out.

No matter how high a price you’ll pay to keep going, the price of abandoning your dreams carries a greater cost.

When you quit, you set a mental precedent to quit again.

Think about a person who has tried to diet and failed several times. Their belief in their ability to lose weight is actually diminished by each abandoned attempt. Quitting and perseverance are both habit forming. Which habit do you want to develop?

Anything worthwhile takes time, sacrifice, and effort.

The more difficult the challenge, the more rewarding the victory. The most meaningful accomplishments in life are those that don’t come quickly or easily.

You’re a lot closer than you think you are.

Sadly, many people give up not realizing that success is right around the corner. There are not always clear markers in achieving a difficult goal. The finish line could be just around the next bend.

The process shapes you before success rewards you.

Setting difficult goals will stretch you, teach you perseverance and ultimately build your belief in yourself. It is the process that develops you. Greatness doesn’t come overnight, but it is forged by every inch of progress we fight for in pursuit of a worthwhile goal.

Life is a lot more fun when you’re in the hunt for something.

We only get one life to live. When you’re fighting for a cause, a dream, or something greater than yourself you will find the enthusiasm, passion, and joy that makes life a great adventure. The key is identifying your cause.

Not only are these things true in everyday life, but they are especially true in one’s spiritual life. When Joshua, Moses’ successor, was about to lead the Israelites into the land where Abraham and Lot once lived but was now controlled by the descendants of Noah’s grandson, Canaan, they were no doubt scared. They had never invaded a country with the intent of conquering it simply because God had promised Abraham it would always be his. That’s why it was called the “Promised Land.”

So Joshua stood before them and told them to be strong in heart and mind. They were not to begin doubting God’s promise. They were not being sent in without leadership. But most of all, the God who promised the land was going in with them.1 So it is good for all of us to remember that whenever we face anything that might bring defeat, with help from God and others you can turn possible defeat into probable victory.

After the Israelites had turned the land of Canaan into the nation of Israel, and even when future king David was being pursued by a jealous King Saul and having to hide in caves for protection, he reminded his band of followers that they should remain strong in mind and heart and not lose faith and hope in the promise that God gave David that one day he would be king over all Israel. In the same manner, we should never get distracted or discouraged by the problems we face in life, but look with hope on all that God’s Word promises us if we remain true to the One who redeemed us and never give up or give in.

David’s son, King Solomon, must have learned a lot by his father’s example of remaining resolute during those times despair. That’s why he advised everyone to not let their pride and ego get the best of them. When looking out only to protect one’s reputation in case of failure, stop and think things over. Seek advice and see what options there are in going forward. Remember, there is far more shame in not being successful because you didn’t try than there is in trying your best and not being successful.

Then came the time when Merodach, the son of Baladan, King of Babylon, sent letters and gifts to King Hezekiah of Judah. Merodach heard that he had been sick but had recovered nicely. So Hezekiah invited them to come visit him and was pleased to show them all his store-houses of riches. He showed them the silver, the gold, the spices, the most expensive oil of that day, and all his weapons of war. He showed them everything that was in his store-houses. There was nothing in his palace or under his rule that Hezekiah did not show them.

After they left, that’s when the prophet Isaiah showed up at King Hezekiah’s door and asked him, “What did these men say? Where did they come from?” And Hezekiah said, “They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.” Isaiah said, “What have they seen in your palace?” Hezekiah answered, “They have seen everything in my palace. There is nothing among my riches that I have not shown them.”

That’s when Isaiah gave King Hezekiah the bad news he had received from ADONAI the Leader of Heaven’s Army. He told Isaiah that the day was coming when everything in Hezekiah’s palace and everything his forefathers had stored away would be carried off to Babylon. “Nothing will be left,” Isaiah told Hezekiah. Not only that, but some of your own sons will be taken off into exile. Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “At least the Word of the Lord which you just gave me will be good for me. For until then, there will be peace and honesty during my days.

The prophesied invasion by the King of Babylon at some future date may have given King Hezekiah comfort, knowing he would be dead and gone by that time. But for Hezekiah’s sons and the rest of Judah, it was frightening news. So the Lord had to give Isaiah another message for the people. Even though Hezekiah may be gone, the Lord was still with them and that they were not to be afraid and give up, God would give them strength and help them resist the Babylonians. In fact, even when they grew weary, God said He would hold them up with His left hand while fighting the Babylonians with His right hand.2

So what are we to learn from this? Hezekiah faced a problem he didn’t know how to solve. Even after he found out that the Babylonians had played him for a fool, he did not respond with resoluteness by informing them he and his army would be ready for them if they came. So often when we feel low and discouraged because things are not going as we planned them, you may have those who come and tell you to relax and things will take care of themselves. But before you take their advice, find those who will be truthful with you. It may be that you were going at it the wrong way and they promised to help you make the necessary changes so you can get to where you want to go in your spiritual life. So, no matter what predictions that those who don’t think you will make it may give you if you believe that this is God’s purpose for your life, stick with God because God will stick with you. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

1 Joshua 1:9

2 Isaiah 39:1-41:10

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SERENDIPITY FOR SATURDAY

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WHEN DOES THE NEW YEAR REALLY BEGIN?

Have you ever wondered why the first day of January is always referred to as New Years Day? What is so new about it? If you could view the earth turning from outer space and saw the North and South American continents moving to the right on December 31st when they reappeared twelve hours later coming back into view from the left, would you expect there to be anything new? Apparently, over time so much emphasis has been placed on beginning a new year with resolutions that it has almost become a magical moment when the crystal ball drops in New York City’s Times Square, the people all over set off fireworks in celebration.

But on the morning of New Year’s Day, what has really changed? What could you look at that wasn’t there before because it came with the new year? In reality, all that’s new is the number you must now write indicating what year this new year is. But how could this earth that scientists say has been around for billions of years, only have experienced 2019 New Years? Certainly, if we look at world history, we’ll find that there were hundreds of years that came and went before we started numbering them on our calender’s. For our Jewish neighbors, it will be the year 5780. So what happened to get us so far behind?

I’m sure most of you know that Julius Caesar introduced a calendar in 46 B.C. It became known as the Julian Calendar. So if we were following that calendar we would be celebrating the year 2065. But in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced his Gregorian calendar because he wanted to change the date that the church celebrated Easter. Since the Julian Calendar miscalculated the length of the solar year by 11 minutes, the calendar had since fallen out of sync with the seasons. This concerned Gregory because it meant that Easter, traditionally observed on March 21, fell further away from the spring equinox with each passing year. But because the Gregorian calendar is still off by 26 seconds, and even with a leap year every four years, it will have to be readjusted again in the year 4909 when another day must be added to February to get it back in sync.

So, what was the starting point for the Gregorian calendar? Before the Gregorian calendar was adopted in England, they celebrated New Year’s day on March 25th, even though the Julian calendar started the year on January 1st. Pope Gregory appointed a man named Dionysius to arrange his new calendar for the sake of keeping Easter on the right date relative to when the sun stood directly above the equator on its way back to the north. So, according to the Gospel of Luke (3:1 & 3:23), Jesus was “about thirty years old” shortly after “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar.” Tiberius became emperor in 14 AD. If you combine these numbers you reach a birth year for Jesus that is strikingly close to the beginning of our year reckoning. This may have been the basis for Dionysius’ calculations.

So you can see that it was all calculated to the year of Jesus’ birth. That gives us an excellent thought as it relates to our New Year. If you were to calculate from the year that Jesus was born in your heart making it possible for you to become a child of God, then each year since then would have been a new year for you. I doubt if all of you reading this were born again on January 1st. But there is no reason for us to tie our spiritual new year to the calendar.

So when you start thinking about what New Year’s resolutions you might be making this coming year, think of what you can do for Jesus, not what you can do for yourself. Let Him take care of your needs. Think about what He has been wanting to see in your life. Maybe He wants you to read the Bible more; witness about His saving grace to more people this coming year; start paying you tithes; get more involved in your church ministries, etc. But there is one resolution that all of us should make, and that is to give greater emphasis to what Jesus expects of us: And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.1  This is what I tell you to do: Love each other just as I have loved you.2 – Dr. Robert R Seyda

1 John 13:34

2 Ibid. 15:12

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POINTS TO PONDER

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This past Sunday at our home Saddleback Church where Dr. Rick Warren, author of “Purpose Driven Life” and “Purpose Driven Church” is Senior Pastor, associate pastor Buddy Owens shared what he later called his wishing us a “Very Mary Christmas!” No, I didn’t spell “Merry” the wrong way. His point was that we all have something in common with Mary, the mother of Jesus.

When the angel came to announce that she would become the mother of the Son of God, he greeted her by saying that she was “highly favored.”1 This is the first time that this word is used in the New Testament. The only other time it is employed is where the Apostle Paul tells the Ephesians that because we have been adopted as sons and daughters of God through Jesus Christ the son that Mary gave birth to, we too are “highly favored.” While this does not appear in many English translations, in the original Greek the verb charitoō is used on both places. One of its meanings is “to pursue with grace.”

But that’s not all, when Mary asked how such a thing was possible since she was still an unmarried virgin, the anger told her that the “Holy Spirit would come upon her.2 So not only was Mary chosen by God’s grace, but the miracle of Christ being conceived in her would be by way of the power of the Holy Spirit. Now, we too, just like the Apostles, were pursued by God’s grace, and they also were told that with Christ indwelling them, that the Holy Spirit would come upon them so they could be His witnesses to the world.3

Because of what God did for Mary by His grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary sang one of the most beautiful songs in the Scriptures.4 Here is the way her song might be sung today:

I’m bursting with God-news;
I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before Him.
He bared his arm and showed His strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced His chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what He promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.5

Perhaps at this Christmas season, Mary’s song can become our song as well. So along with Pastor Buddy Owens, we wish you a very “Mary Christmas.” – Dr. Robert R Seyda

1 Luke 1:28 – New King James Version

2 Ibid. 1:35

3 Acts of the Apostles 1:8

4 Luke 1:46-55

5 Luke 1:46-55 – The Message

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