Olean's Children Make Dolls for Children's Hospital

God’s Story for My Life, September 21, 2014

The Love Debt

Read Romans 13:8-14

Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.

This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living.
(Romans 13:8-12)

Reflect

Why is love for others called a debt? We are permanently in debt to Christ for the lavish love he has poured out on us. The only way we can even begin to repay this debt is by loving others in turn. Because Christ’s love will always be infinitely greater than ours, we will always have the obligation to love our neighbors.

In Romans 13:9-10, Paul explains what he means by self-love. Even if you have low self-esteem, you probably don’t willingly let yourself go hungry. You clothe yourself reasonably well. You make sure there’s a roof over your head if you can. You try not to let yourself be cheated or injured. And you get angry if someone tries to ruin your marriage. This is the kind of love we need to have for our neighbors. Interestingly, people who focus on others rather than on themselves rarely suffer from low self-esteem.

Christians must obey the law of love, which supersedes both religious and civil laws. How easy it is to excuse our indifference to others merely because we have no legal obligation to help them and even to justify harming them if our actions are technically legal! But Jesus does not leave loopholes in the law of love. Whenever love demands it, we are to go beyond human legal requirements and imitate the God of love. See James 2:8-94:11 and 1 Peter 2:16-17 for more about this law of love.

Respond

Loving others as ourselves means to be actively working to see that their needs are met. How can you be proactive about clothing or housing people or other matters of social justice?

© 1995-2014, The Zondervan Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

St. Paul Lutheran Church Olean

Church website update – Events page added

An Events tab has been added to the website menu. When you click on the Events tab, you’ll see a calendar. Highlighted days are those that have something scheduled.  Simply hold your mouse over the highlighted day and you’ll see a schedule of events.  Please be patient as we load events and try to get everything on the calendar.  We’re a busy bunch of Lutherans!!!

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Streams in the Desert for Kids…of all ages

I Know for Sure

Hebrews 11:1

Mark was a young boy whose grandmother told him he could ask for one thing for his birthday from a catalogue. Mark spent the next few days pouring over the catalogue, looking at all the different things he could ask for. Should he ask for a new ski coat or new running shoes? Should he ask for a new book or a DVD? Should he ask for new swimming gear for the summer or a video game?

It took a long time, but Mark finally decided. He wrote a letter to his grandmother telling her that he wanted a brand new swim suit that he could use at her cottage on the lake that summer. He went to the mailbox to mail his letter, but instead of letting it go he held onto the end of it. He stood there for quite a while, thinking, Did I really ask for what I wanted most? Should I think some more about what to ask for? Maybe I want a red swim suit instead of the green one. Did my grandmother really mean it when she told me to ask for a present?

Finally, Mark pulled the letter out of the box and put it in his pocket and went home to worry about it some more. Guess what? He didn’t get a gift from his grandmother until he finally made up his mind to let the letter go. Then soon there was a package from her with his gift inside.

Having faith in God is something like that. If we trust God completely, we tell him what we need then we let it go. We go on about our business and see what he will do for us. That is what it means to be certain about what we do not see.

Dear Lord, I’m going to ask for something I really need. Then I’m going to let go and wait to see what you will do. Amen.

St. Paul Lutheran Church Olean

God’s Story for My Life, September 20, 2014

Church and State

Read Romans 13:1-7

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. . . .

So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.

Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority.
(Romans 13:1-25-7)

Reflect

All Christians agree that we are to live at peace with the state as long as the state allows us to live by our religious convictions. For hundreds of years, however, there have been at least three interpretations of how we are to do this.

(1) Some Christians believe that the state is so corrupt that Christians should have as little to do with it as possible. Although they should be good citizens as long as they can do so without compromising their beliefs, they should not work for the government, vote in elections, or serve in the military.

(2) Others believe that God has given the state authority in certain areas and the church authority in others. Christians can be loyal to both and can work for either. They should not, however, confuse the two. In this view, church and state are concerned with two totally different spheres—the spiritual and the physical—and thus complement each other but do not work together.

(3) Still others believe that Christians have a responsibility to make the state better. They can do this politically, by electing Christian or other high-principled leaders. They can also do this morally, by serving as an influence for good in society. In this view, church and state ideally work together for the good of all.

None of these views advocate rebelling against or refusing to obey the government’s laws or regulations unless those laws clearly require you to violate the moral standards revealed by God. Wherever we find ourselves, we must be responsible citizens, as well as responsible Christians.

Respond

What is your definition of being a responsible citizen? How has this definition affected your priorities or values?

© 1995-2014, The Zondervan Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Sunrise from St. Paul Olean

God’s Story for My Life, September 19, 2014

God’s Heart for Israel

Read Romans 11:25-36

I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say, “The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem, and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness. And this is my covenant with them, that I will take away their sins.”

Many of the people of Israel are now enemies of the Good News, and this benefits you Gentiles. Yet they are still the people he loves because he chose their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn.
(Romans 11:25-29)

Reflect

Earlier in this chapter, Paul warned Gentile believers not to feel superior because some Jews were rejected. Abraham’s faith is like the root of a productive tree, and the Jewish people are the tree’s natural branches. Because of faithlessness, some of the Jews have been broken off, and Gentile believers, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. Jews and Gentiles share the tree’s nourishment based on faith in God; neither can rest on heritage or culture for salvation.

Some say the phrase “And so all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26) means that the majority of Jews in the final generation before Christ’s return will turn to Christ for salvation. Others say that Paul is using the term Israel for the “spiritual” nation of Israel made up of everyone—Jews and Gentiles—who has received salvation through faith in Christ. Thus all Israel (or all believers) will receive God’s promised gift of salvation. Still others say that “all Israel” means Israel as a whole will have a role in Christ’s Kingdom. Their identity as a people won’t be discarded.

God chose the nation of Israel, and he has never rejected it. He also chose the church, through Jesus Christ, and he will never reject it either. This does not mean, of course, that all Jews or all church members will be saved. It is possible to belong to a nation or to an organization without ever responding in faith. But just because some people have rejected Christ does not mean that God stops working with either Israel or the church. He continues to offer salvation freely to all.

Respond

How would you describe for someone your status as one chosen by God? What does God’s provision of grace mean to you?

© 1995-2014, The Zondervan Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

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God’s Story for My Life, September 18, 2014

A Vision of Unity

Read Romans 11:1-24

Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it.

I am saying all this especially for you Gentiles. God has appointed me as the apostle to the Gentiles. I stress this, for I want somehow to make the people of Israel jealous of what you Gentiles have, so I might save some of them. For since their rejection meant that God offered salvation to the rest of the world, their acceptance will be even more wonderful. It will be life for those who were dead! And since Abraham and the other patriarchs were holy, their descendants will also be holy—just as the entire batch of dough is holy because the portion given as an offering is holy. For if the roots of the tree are holy, the branches will be, too.
(Romans 11:11-16)

Reflect

Paul had a vision of a church where all Jews and Gentiles would be united in their love of God and in obedience to Christ. While respecting God’s law, this ideal church would look to Christ alone for salvation. A person’s ethnic background and social status would be irrelevant (see Galatians 3:28)—what mattered would be his or her faith in Christ.

But Paul’s vision has not yet been realized. Many Jewish people rejected the gospel. They depended on their heritage for salvation, and they did not have the heart of obedience that was so important to the Old Testament prophets and to Paul. Once Gentiles became dominant in many of the Christian churches, they began rejecting Jews and even persecuting them. Unfortunately, this practice has recurred through the centuries.

Gentiles and Jews have done so much to damage the cause of the God they claim to serve that Paul’s vision often seems impossible to fulfill. Yet God chose the Jews, just as he chose the Gentiles, and he is still working to unite Jew and Gentile in a new Israel, a new Jerusalem, ruled by his Son (see Ephesians 2:11-22).

Respond

How do you work toward unity in your neighborhood or church? How could you work with Jewish believers toward unity with Christians?

© 1995-2014, The Zondervan Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

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God’s Story for My Life, September 17, 2014

Tell the Good News

Read Romans 10:5-21

In fact, it says, “The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.”

And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”
(Romans 10:8-15)

Reflect

Have you ever been asked, “How do I become a Christian?” These verses give you the beautiful answer—salvation is as close as your own mouth and heart. People think it must be a complicated process, but it is not. If we believe in our hearts and say with our mouths that Christ is the risen Lord, we will be saved.

In telling others about Christ, an effective witness must include more than being a good example. Eventually, we will have to explain the content—the what and the how of the gospel. Modeling the Christian life is important, but we will need to connect the mind of the unbeliever and the message of the gospel. There should never be a debate between those who favor lifestyle evangelism (one’s living proclaims the gospel) and confrontational evangelism (declaring the message). Both should be used together in promoting the gospel.

Respond

Is God calling you to take a part in making his message known in your community? Think of one person who needs to hear about God’s compassion and the blessings of faith, and something you can do to help him or her hear it. Then take that step as soon as possible.

© 1995-2014, The Zondervan Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

God’s Story for My Life, September 16, 2014

Never Separated

Read Romans 8:31-39

Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, 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.
(Romans 8:34-39)

Reflect

This passage in Romans contains one of the most comforting promises in all Scripture. Believers have always had to face hardships in many forms: persecution, illness, imprisonment, even death. These situations could cause them to fear that they have been abandoned by Christ. But Paul exclaims that it is impossible to be separated from Christ. His death for us is proof of his unconquerable love. Nothing can stop Christ’s constant presence with us. God tells us how great his love is so that we will feel totally secure in him. If we believe these overwhelming assurances, we will not be afraid. As the apostle John, another firm believer in the love of God, states, “Perfect love expels all fear” (1 John 4:18).

Respond

What, if anything, has convinced you that you are separated from God’s love? Past sin? Present choices or hardships? Doubt? Fear? If Christ gave his life for you, he isn’t going to turn around and condemn you! He will not withhold anything you need to live for him. No matter what happens, you can never be separated from his love. Ask God to help you accept this truth. Allow his love to heal you.

© 1995-2014, The Zondervan Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

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God’s Story for My Life, September 15, 2014

Conformed to His Likeness

Read Romans 8:18-30

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
(Romans 8:26-29)

Reflect

God works in “everything”—not just isolated incidents—for our good. This does not mean that all that happens to us is good. Evil is prevalent in our fallen world, but God is able to turn every circumstance around for our long-range good. Note that God is not working to make us happy, but to fulfill his purpose. Note also that this promise is not for everybody. It can be claimed only by those who love God and are called according to his purpose. Those who are “called” are those the Holy Spirit convinces and enables to receive Christ. Such people have a new perspective, a new mind-set on life. They trust in God, not life’s treasures; they look for their security in heaven, not on earth; they learn to accept, not resent, pain and persecution because God is with them.

God’s ultimate goal for us is to make us like Christ (1 John 3:2). As we become more and more like him, we discover our true selves, the persons we were created to be. How can we be conformed to Christ’s likeness? By reading and heeding the Word, by studying his life on earth through the Gospels, by being filled with his Spirit, and by doing his work in the world.

Respond

As a believer, you are not left to your own resources to cope with problems. Even when you don’t know the right words to pray, the Holy Spirit prays with and for you, and God answers. With God helping you pray, you don’t need to be afraid to come before him. Ask the Holy Spirit to intercede for you “in harmony with God’s own will” (Romans 8:27). Then, when you bring your requests to God, trust that he will always do what is best.

© 1995-2014, The Zondervan Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

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God’s Story for My Life, September 14, 2014

Child of God

Read Romans 8:1-17

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.
(Romans 8:15-17)

Reflect

Paul uses adoption or “sonship” to illustrate the believer’s new relationship with God. In Roman culture, the adopted person lost all rights in his old family and gained all the rights of a legitimate child in his new family. He became a full heir to his new father’s estate. Likewise, when a person becomes a Christian, he or she gains all the privileges and responsibilities of a child in God’s family. One of these outstanding privileges is being led by the Spirit (see Galatians 4:5-6).

We are no longer cringing and fearful slaves; instead, we are the Master’s children. What a privilege! Because we are God’s children, we share in great treasures as co-heirs. God has already given us his best gifts: his Son, forgiveness, and eternal life; and he encourages us to ask him for whatever we need.

There is a price for being identified with Jesus, however. Along with the great treasures, Paul mentions the suffering that Christians must face. What kinds of suffering are we to endure? For first-century believers, there was economic and social persecution, and some even faced death. We too must pay a price for following Jesus. In many parts of today’s world, Christians face pressures just as severe as those faced by Christ’s first followers. Even in countries where Christianity is tolerated or encouraged, Christians must not become complacent. To live as Jesus did—serving others, giving up one’s own rights, resisting pressures to conform to the world—always exacts a price. Nothing we suffer, however, can compare to the great price that Jesus paid to save us.

Respond

You are God’s own child—chosen by him. Perhaps you may not always feel as though you belong to God, but the Holy Spirit is your witness. His inward presence reminds you of who you are and encourages you with God’s love (Romans 5:5). Meditate on this great truth.

© 1995-2014, The Zondervan Corporation. All Rights Reserved.