Saturday, May 30, 2020

053120 The Grace to Live a Godly Life

Romans 12:1 begins this chapter with an appeal, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Paul has just completed a comprehensive presentation teaching the truth about salvation and the result in the church and in the world. The focus is on love so complete and radical that the world will never understand it. Once we have presented our bodies as a living sacrifice we are enabled to live out the work of the gospel in our life. We are called upon to be sincere. We are to hate evil and cling to good. We are to have genuine affection for one another. We are to honor others above ourselves. And we are to do these things with a passionate zeal! All of this reflects the love we have for the church.
Now we turn to how to live a life of love in the world. How are we to manifest love when the world hates us? Remember, the words of our Lord Jesus If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19). We have seen how love is acted out in the church we now need to see how love is acted out in the world.
Romans 12:14-21, Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
These must have been difficult words for Paul to write. After all, the world he lived in had not been good to him. We see his description of what life was like for Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians. Look at what he wrote in chapter 11:23-28! Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
Imagine you are a  member of a pastor search committee. In the course of the committee’s work resumes come to them from pastors — or want to be pastors. Imagine a resume like this.

Education: Jewish Bible school under Gamaliel.
Address: Currently in jail for preaching.
(I have wondered if my preaching is clear enough to get me arrested.)

1) Better than the average Servant of Christ.
2) Imprisoned several times. In fact, I always check out the local jail because I possibly will spend more time there than in the pulpit.
3) More than once I have been almost beaten to death in the public square.
4) I usually support myself rather than expect the church to do so.
5) Once I had to leave town in a basket because the rulers were going to kill me.
6) I don’t usually stay very long but I do help the church find a pastor.
7) Unmarried, and I don’t encourage others to marry
8) Was an active persecutor of the Church.
9) I was formerly a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent
10) In fact I stood and approved of the death of Stephen the first Christian Martyr.
11) If you do call me as pastor, I will still be concerned about other churches.

Today, the American church thinks of persecution as the zoning Board of appeals not allowing us to change a residential property into a church property. Or perhaps we might be prevented from going door-to-door to hand out invitations to an event. The truth is, the world around us is not sufficiently impressed with us. For most churches, perhaps ours included the worst persecution we will face is being ignored by the world around us.
The world Paul lived in was filled with resistance to the gospel. Look at the list! Paul worked harder than the average apostle. He was in prison more often than the average pastor. He could not remember how many times he had been beaten for preaching the gospel! The list goes on! Jesus had promised just such a life.
The story is found in Luke’s second book that is usually called Acts. Or The Acts of the Apostles! I believe it should have been called “The Acts of the Holy Spirit”!
Do you recall Paul’s salvation on the Damascus Road? Paul had been struck down by a light from heaven and a voice that asked him why he was persecuting Jesus. He was blinded by the light and had to be led by the hand into the city of Damascus. There, a servant of the Lord Jesus named Ananias was told to go to Paul and lay hands on him for healing. Now Ananias knew who Paul was. (He was known by his given name Saul) Ananias understood that Saul had come to take his life. The Lord told Ananias “Go” I have work for Saul to do. And he concluded his instructions to Ananias with these words, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Acts 9:16.
From that time forward Saul of Tarsus became Paul the apostle. He planted churches all over the Roman world and so far as we know was still planning a mission trip to Spain when he was executed in Rome. Possibly, he wrote the book of Romans to prepare them for his arrival. Some believe he actually went there, made the trip to Spain, and was later returned to Rome for execution. Since it is not stated in Scripture that this trip happened I don’t present as true.
Let’s get back to Romans 12. The man who was shown how much he must suffer for Jesus’ sake wrote these words. When they persecute you bless them! Never curse them no matter what they do. Don’t resist, instead pray without ceasing.
We are challenged to bless and not curse. We are to join in rejoicing and take time for those who weep. Remember, we are to do all these things Paul has listed with genuine love. No hypocrisy! What does “blessing and not cursing” look like in practice? We are to offer empathy to those who want to persecute us. Empathy is the ability to feel what another person does, in this case how the persecutor, is feeling or thinking! It is another way of honoring others over ourselves even when the “others” seem to despise us.
In verse 16 Paul shifts from empathy to being of the same mind. We are to not only feel what others feel we must also learn to think the way they think. By no means does this require us to agree with wrong thinking we are just to understand it! He deals with the concept in greater detail in Philippians 2:1-4, So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Harmony, not haughtiness, should mark our lives. Being like-minded rises out of the same love Christ has put in the hearts and minds of all those who love him. When the Philippians lived out the Christian life, by being of the same mind, Paul is caused to rejoice! Comparing that statement to Romans 12:16 we can see that the cure for a haughty attitude is associating with the lowly. I don’t mean associating with some kind of underclass of poor people. Associating with the lowly is to redirect our primary interest away from ourselves and toward others. Paul’s remedy is a new perspective that is the basis for blessing rather than cursing, for the empathy to rejoice, or wait on others, and the ability to be like-minded in our thinking.
Too often, local church leaders see themselves, and expect others to see themselves as better than the average person. When I look at the Apostle Paul’s resume I am impressed with his willingness to take the lower position.
Paul’s position is not to be wise in our own eyes! Verse 16 carries on into 17-20. We are to avoid hypocrisy! Never, ever be the one that caused the problem. And as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, always, always be the peacemaker! As far as the ability is given to us to do so we are to be at peace with everyone in the world. We are not to take revenge into our own hands we are to leave it to God. This is easy to do when everything is calm and there is no crisis at hand. It’s a lot harder when anger drives us to take matters into our own hands. When someone does us wrong our natural reaction is to get even. We might think that it will be satisfying to do so. Instead, it just perpetuates the problem. We are to live at peace by remembering, God said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” When we choose to carry out vengeance, we are saying that our wisdom is equal to, or better than, God’s! Then, acting the way we are we are willing to take responsibility out of God’s hands and into ours. Romans 12:20 rests comfortably in the words found in Deuteronomy 32:35. Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.’
Feed your enemies and help meet their needs — they will never understand why you would do that!  It’s not just “vengeance is mine”, it is more than that! Recompense is in God’s hands also. Whatever they owe, those people who hurt you, God will repay.
This truth is taught in Proverbs 25:21-22. If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.
Repayment is not just the Lord collecting from the one who hurt you but God will take care of any cost you suffered as a result of another person’s wrongdoing. You can change the world you live in by simply obeying the word of God! You can be a tsunami of good that washes away the trash of evil. When we resist the urge to handle things ourselves and leave them to God we will have peace that passes all understanding. Praise God!

In John chapter 3, Jesus told Nicodemus “You must be born again.” Our first birth made us sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. Meaning we were born separated from the loving Father. Our Father sent his Son, and our Saviour, to take our sins into his body and allow the Romans to nail that body to the cross. He took our sin to the grave. Jesus left it there so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. Have you believed? This can be your day.

Now, more than ever, we need to obey the words found in 2 Chronicles 7:14.
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
God willing, Stamford Baptist Church will see you next week. Or rather you will see us if you tune in!
All scripture quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

052420 The Grace to be Real

As we come to the end of Paul’s doctrinal instructions in chapters 1 through 11 we are called out to yield our lives, our very being, fully to God. Wasting no time, Paul begins his practical instruction in Rom. 12:1. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
I have always considered Galatians to be “Romans lite” so I would naturally look for there to be some kind of parallel in Galatians. I think we find it in Gal. 2:20.  I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
In order to carry out this practical ministry we must depend fully on God for the power to live the Christian life Rom. 8:13-14 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
And in Gal 3:2–3 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
It is essential that we obey the Lord’s commands with our lives. It is important that all our ministry be done in the power of the Holy Spirit. To do that we must consciously dwell in an atmosphere created by the Holy Spirit! This atmosphere is expressed as the fruit of the Spirit. In Galatians 5:22-24 we see what the Holy Spirit releases in us: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” The Holy Spirit surrounds us with a sense of God’s manifested presence.
We must remember that God created mankind with a special purpose in mind. That purpose is recorded in the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
There, the first question is asked, “What is the chief end of man?” The question is answered: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.” I like what John Piper has done with this. “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.” He adds, “God is most glorified in us when we are the most satisfied in him.” If we’re going to glorify God we do it best by resting in or being satisfied in him. After all the primary purpose God had in creating mankind, and all else he created, is that he be glorified. So, when the Holy Spirit does his work in us we are led to please God who saves us! God is not dependent on us for his glorification — it’s the other way around — we are dependent on him to be glorified.
This fruit list is similar to the steps of preparation mentioned in the discussion of common spiritual gifts teaching. In any case, to this fruit should certainly be added a prayer that the Holy Spirit would fill us in accordance with the will of God, as expressed in Eph. 5:18-21, And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
There can be no objection to teaching Christians to pray daily that we may be filled with the Spirit in accordance with these principles. Based on the first 11 chapters in Romans, and the gifts of grace listed in 12:3-8, we are able to fulfill the 13 exhortations listed in Romans 12:9 – 13. Jesus had promised the Holy Spirit would come to glorify him. Now, the Holy Spirit in the life of the church distributes gifts according to our need and for his glory.
First, and foundationally, let love be genuine. Just as 1st Corinthians chapter 12 and 14 have chapter 13 between them to maintain balance. It is easy to get caught up in a listing of the gifts of the Spirit as in 1 Corinthians 12, it is also very importantthat we not forget the more important things. Verse 12:31 “But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.”
That way is this: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Following that monumental chapter Paul exhorts the Corinthian church in chapter 14 concerning the place of spiritual gifts.
Next, we are to abhor what is evil. As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians we are to test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22. The culture we live in today is one that is saturated with evil. I’m so glad that the television has a remote control that allows muting, changing channels, and especially that it has an “off” button! With the arrival of the Internet homes all over the world have been invaded by potential evil.
The Internet does hold the potential of great good. But it has no conscience! You have to provide that yourself. While we avoid evil we are to hold fast to what is good. Philippians 4:8 tells us, Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
We are to love one another with brotherly affection. Remember, Jesus said that all men will know that we are his disciples if we have love for one another. (John 13:34-35) I am so happy that one of the most common references to our congregation is the evidence that we love one another. A number of times I’ve had people say that they immediately felt love when they came into the building. I remember one of our ladies who came into the building, looked at the people around her, and said, “I know that I am loved here”.
We are to honor one another. In fact we are to outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, instead be fervent in spirit, so that you can serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope, and you can be patient in tribulation.
Be constant in prayer. As the Lord Jesus taught us, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36).
A prayerful attitude will be characterized by being alert so that we can escape all the terrible things coming on the world. I have friends that seem to know exactly when the Lord Jesus is coming back. I can confess honestly, “I do not know”! I do know this — He is coming again! And as we approach the day we need to be prepared! In the last days of his earthly life Jesus said, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13).
Of course, Jesus was talking about his second coming. At another point he said that only the Father knew the day or the hour of his return. Don’t get sucked into the speculation about the season. A search of the New Testament will turn up repeated statements that he is coming again but they never tell us when.
So we can rejoice in hope! We can be patient in trouble! For the past three months the patience of the entire world has been challenged by a virus so small it could not be seen without a microscope. Really? So small yet at the same time the lives of 100,000 or more have been sacrificed to it. This certainly is trouble and there is no joy in it. Humanly speaking our only encouragement is that without the extreme efforts in healthcare there may well have been millions of deaths. In the next year there may be millions of people who lose their lives to the virus. The patience we have learned will serve us well.
We are to contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. The writer of Hebrews connected brotherly love to hospitality. In chapter 13 we are told not to neglect opportunities to be hospitable to strangers. We need to remember that some have entertained angels without realizing who they were.
One of the things that has grown out of this viral attack on mankind is the generosity of people around the world. I went to the Internet to see what I can find in the way of stories about the generosity and commitment of people. What I found was dozens and dozens of articles focused on politics! Even in the so-called “church” sites very little was printed that was a real help. The brightest moment that I saw was a Jewish lady in Mississippi who tuned into the First Baptist Church Gulfport live streaming. As result of the Easter Sunday night service she called the pastor and insisted that he tell her about Jesus so she could be saved. Then she arranged to go to Gulfport and be baptized. I am sure there are many more examples but in a short time I could not find them. I did see a few stories that I wanted to check on but the pop-up ads kept blocking what I wanted to read.

Next week, God willing, we will look into Romans 12:14 and the verses following. There we are challenged to bless and not curse, join in rejoicing and take time for the weeping.
Harmony not haughtiness should mark our lives. Avoid hypocrisy! Never, never be the one that caused the problem.
Always, always be the peacemaker!
Remember, God said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.”
Feed your enemies and help meet their needs — they will never understand why you would do that!
You can be a tsunami of good that washes away the trash of evil.
In John chapter 3, Jesus told Nicodemus “You must be born again.” Our first birth made us sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. Meaning we were born separated from the loving Father. Our Father sent his Son, and our Saviour, to take our sins into his body and allow the Romans to nail that body to the cross. He took that sin to the grave. Jesus left it there so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. Have you believed? This can be your day.

Again, God willing, see you next week.

All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.