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Romans | Pastor's Blog | Gardendale Nazarene


Radical Togetherness

As Christians, we are summoned and authorized to move outside ourselves and into the shared reality of Christian community. The community of faith to which the New Testament bears witness is characterized by the practice of a radical togetherness.

Last Sunday, I preached about the importance of the 'one another' passages in the New Testament. Here is the list I shared (and it is far from exhaustive):

  • “live in harmony with one another” (Rom.12:16)
  • “welcome one another” (Rom. 15:7)
  • “are servants of one another” (Gal.5:13)
  • “comfort one another” (I Thess. 5:11)
  • “bear with one another lovingly (I Thess.5:11)
  • “do good to one another” (I Thess. 5:15)
  • “are subject to one another” (Eph.5:21)
  • “confess our sins to one another” (James 5:16)
  • “forgive one another” (Cor.2:13)
  • “love one another from the heart” (I Pet.1:22)
  • “meet one another with humility” (I Pet.5:5)
  • “pray for one another” (James 5:16)
  • “have fellowship with one another” (I John 1:7)

In this list Paul, Peter, James, and John gives us practical examples of living out Jesus' command in John 13, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

This week has been a rough week. Many of our families are dealing with deep grief from the loss of loved ones. In these moments, we need more than ever to love one another. Take a moment, send a note and tell someone you love them.

May we pray for one another.
May we love one another from the heart.
May we comfort one another.

Paul's Calling, Your Calling

Last Sunday morning, we began our series on Romans. We will be in Romans until the middle of July. Due to its depth and complexity, we know that it is nearly impossible to cover all that Romans has to offer.

I'd like to take a moment to jump back to the opening of Romans. At the opening of the letter, Paul makes three statements that we will miss if we are not careful.

"Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God..."

Let's break these down statements down.
  • Servant- We translate the Greek word, doulos, as servant. This is one of my favorite Greek words and I can hardly pass it up without mentioning it. The word is technically translated as 'slave'. A doulos is someone who has submitted to someone else's will. The will of the master has replaced the will of the servant.
  • Apostle- Apostle translates easily from the Greek, apostolos. An apostle is a delegate who is sent with orders. They are no longer on their own mission. Rather, they are one someone else's mission.
  • Set apart- The Greek here is aforidzo. Paul is pulling from his Jewish roots in this statement. One is not set apart just to be cut off from others. One is set apart for a purpose. Paul explains his purpose- 'for the gospel of God'.

Each of these words illuminates a different part of Paul's understanding of his calling. But, there is also an underlining statement that we often miss.

Look back at the verse.

Paul is a servant of whom? Jesus
Paul is called by whom? The Holy Spirit
Paul is set apart for the gospel of whom? God

Now, read the next few verses.

"which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,"

In verse 1, Paul is laying out his vocation (his calling). In the next 5 verses, he is telling us something. His calling is also your calling! Paul reminds us 'we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith' for the world. This calling comes through the life of the Trinity!

I know that this calling is a bit daunting. Remember, the same Spirit that was with Paul is with you. You are not called to do this alone!

May we rejoice in the calling that is upon us all!

Who shall seperate us?

Romans 8:31- 37 reads:

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

In this passage, there is one central question, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" At the heart of this question is Paul's statements on the security of the believer. We are secure in the love of Christ and Paul presents five statements that prove that there could be no separation between the believer and the Lord:

  1. God is for us (vs. 31). When I think of this point, I think of the power as a child of knowing your parents believed in you. I can remember the tough situations I dealt with as a child and the knowledge that my parents were behind me brought a great deal of confidence to my struggles. If I can receive hope from my parents being in my corner, how much more would I receive from my heavenly Father?
  2. Christ died for us (v. 32). If God loved us enough to give His own Son, do we not know that He will give us more. Again, I look at this statement from the eyes of a parent. Just because my child wants something, it might not be the best for them. What I do for my children grows out of my love for them.
  3. God has justified us (v. 33). God has declared us righteous in Christ. As the world changes around us, we can stand in the hope that God's work in Christ is complete and that work is taking place in His people as well.
  4. Christ intercedes for us (vs. 34). On Sunday I mentioned the divine conversation between the Spirit and the Father (vs. 26). This conversation includes Jesus as well. Not only is the Spirit helping us pray in our weakness, Christ is praying for us as well.
  5. Christ loves us (vv. 35-39). This passage is a reminder for us when we go through trials. God assures us that the difficulties in life are working for us and not against us. The trials we face in life can feel isolating, but Paul reminds us that God does not leave us. In fact, there is nothing that can separate us from Christ's love.

Each of these statements are statements of hope and life. I hope you will take a great deal of peace in these words of Paul.

"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (vv. 38-39). Amen!

The Power of God

This summer, we find ourselves working our way through Romans. On the first Sunday of this series, I gave an account of three times in history that a study of Romans was influential in changing the church.

Romans was a significant catalyst for Martin Luther in the Protestant Reformation. It was in a reading of Luther's preface to Romans that John Wesley finally heard the voice of God and found 'his heart strangely warmed'. It was in war-torn Europe that a pastor of a little church in Switzerland had his eyes opened to the beauty of Scripture through reading Romans. Karl Barth went on to be an instrumental leader in the Confessing Church in Germany, which actively opposed Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime.

I remind you of these points to remind you of another point I made that Sunday. Romans is a powerful book. Romans is a life-changing book that God has used for centuries to change the hearts of believers, to change the world, and to change His Church.

Due to the life-changing power of Romans, I believe that there are spiritual forces actively working against us studying this epistle.

I need to be reminded many times of the power of God over any these powers of evil. To do this, I turn back to the beginning of the epistle:

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

The gospel is the power of God and this power is that same power that delivers us from the sin and darkness that once ruled our lives.

Theologian John Stott writes in his commentary, "How then did Paul (and how shall we) overcome the temptation to be ashamed of the gospel? He tells us. It is by remembering that the very same message, which some people despise for its weakness, is, in fact, the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. How do we know this? In the long run, only because we have experienced its saving power in our own lives. Has God reconciled us to himself through Christ, forgiven our sins, made us his children, put his Spirit within us, begun to transform us, and introduced us into his new community? Then how can we possibly be ashamed of the gospel?"

Romans is a powerful book and I pray that you prepare your hearts for what God wants to do your life through this book.

May we open our lives to 'the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.'

Pastor John

The wages of...

Do you remember your first paycheck? My first job was at an Elvis/Nascar souvenir shop at Opryland theme park (I know that's a weird combination). I can remember getting that first check in the mail and realizing that this was an actual paycheck. This wasn't the six dollars I received for mowing my Aunt Evie's yard. I was actually earning money.

I worked that job for the summer and spent many hot summer nights in that little shop.

One of the many things I learned that summer was the value of work. I worked and at the end of every two weeks, I would receive a check in the mail. I worked and I was paid for the work.

This week, I would like to pick up where we left off last week. Romans 4:4-5 reads, "When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned. But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners" (NLT).

There is a temptation of approaching our faith like we approach work. We live a certain way and then our 'paycheck' is our salvation.

Here, Paul is driving home his point from the passage last week.

Our salvation is not an earned wage. It is a gift. What do we do when we receive a gift? We give thanks.

This is where the water can get a little murky. How do we give thanks? We obey the commands of God. We love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. We love our neighbors– for they are God's creation and He is seeking to redeem them as well.

Obeying God's commands, loving Him completely, and loving our neighbors does not save us– they are a response in love to the saving grace of God.

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35)

May we give thanks to the One who saves us!

Pastor John

New Identity

Yesterday, our denomination wrapped up General Assembly. General Assembly happens every four years. It is a great time of celebration, but it is also an opportunity to handle polity issues. These issues range from the way the church is run to theological issues.

What amazes me as I watched online this year, was the importance of identity.

Through all of the issues addressed, the issue at the heart of most theological issues was the importance of who we are as Nazarenes in 2017 (and the next four-years). We are a global church dealing with global issues. This does result in some headaches, but the sense of purpose and identity shined through the debates.

Identity was a central issue for Paul in Romans 6-8. Last Sunday, we looked at how Paul draws his thought from the Exodus. Paul is reminding the people of God, that God delivered His people from the slavery of Egypt to create a new people in Him. In the same way, God has delivered us from the slavery of sin to create a new people.

The beauty of this argument comes in a subtle shift of language from chapters 3-5 to chapters 6-8. Let's look at two verses as an example of this shift:
  • 5:6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
  • 6:8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

Look at the first example. In this passage, Christ died for the ungodly (read- you and me!). He died for our sins.

Now, look at the second verse. Who died? We did! When He died, you died. When He arose, you arose.

What is Paul saying here? We identify with Christ and now my identity is found in Him.

You now have a new identity. You are no longer living for yourself, but for Christ!

We can see how this new identity changes our lives as Paul writes in Colossians 3:1-3, "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God."

What do we do with this new identity?

We seek the things that are above.
We set our minds on things that are above.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Pastor John

Be Transformed, Not Conformed

Last Sunday evening, District Assembly began with a celebration service at Huntsville First. It was a powerful service. Dr. Gustavo Crocker, our presiding General Superintendent, preached from Romans 12:2.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2 ESV).

In this text, you will see that I bolded two words- conformed and transformed. Dr. Crocker challenged us to think about these words. Let’s take a moment to focus on these two words.

Paul is telling us ‘not to be conformed to this world.’ I hope we can all see that each one of us is conformed to something. We live lives in the context of internal and external influences.

The challenge for each of us is be centered upon being conformed not to this world, but to the good news of Jesus Christ. It is this good news that has the power to transform our lives.

Thus far, I think we all would agree with these statements– Paul is urging us to be transformed by the gospel, not conformed to the message of the world.

The issue isn’t this message. The issue is the question rolling around in your mind, “How am I transformed to the way of Christ?” This is where Dr. Crocker’s message hit home.

Dr. Crocker narrowed his focus upon these words, “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” What does it mean to have your mind renewed? Amazingly, if one does this, Paul tells us that we will be able to “discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Renewing your mind, Dr. Crocker argued, involved a couple things.

First, it involves a decluttering of your mind. We fill our minds with all kinds of things- some of these things are good, some bad. Many of us find ourselves focused on the negative of the world. Our minds are cluttered by the 24-hour news cycle, by the internal dialogue to people who have hurt us, by the destructive shards of glass the devil places in our minds to sow unhappiness and resentment.

Paul is calling us to do a little spring-cleaning in our minds. Throw out the things that separate us from the love, grace, and hope of Christ.

Second, we must replace our bad habits with good habits. These are the habits that show the love, grace, and hope of Christ. These habits open up our minds to hearing the voice of God.

This decluttering and new habits open the door for the life Paul is pointing to in Colossians 4:2-6, “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. Pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to speak about his mysterious plan concerning Christ. That is why I am here in chains. Pray that I will proclaim this message as clearly as I should. Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone (NLT).”

May our conversations be gracious and attractive as we are transformed.

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