J. Gordon Duncan

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Full of Goodness Part 2 from Romans 15

Part One of this post appear here.

Folks, here is the crazy thing.  Paul told the Romans, “I’m convinced you are full of goodness.”  Paul said that he was convinced that the Romans had a propensity for obedience both inwardly of the heart and outwardly in action and deed and thought.  Paul said, “You have in some way the goodness of God.  It isn’t a shield your eyes or be destroyed goodness, but it is goodness as God calls it our weak flesh.  You may think, “Well I don’t now those guys did it, but I don’t come anywhere close to a goodness so great that other people have to hide in the cleft of the rock so they aren’t destroyed.  And you would be right.  Everyone’s word and thought and deed in this world is still tainted with sin in some way, but by God’s grace, by the fact that He changed you, made you alive again in Christ, you can obey and demonstrate goodness.

That you should make each one of do several things.  You should always be humble because there is no goodness coming from this dead man’s suit of flesh.  If you or I are good in anyway, it is gifted by God.  We should also be patient with others as our tiny measure of goodness doesn’t equal the hide in the rock of goodness of God so we have no place to boast or look down on others.  You get that and, it will change your life.  So how do we grow in this being full of goodness?  Well Paul tells us:  by being filled with knowledge.

Quite simply, by studying the scriptures and trusting the Holy Spirit to make them alive in our hearts, you will grow in goodness.   You can’t have one without the others.  It looks like this.

  • Psalm 119:9 How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
  • Psalm 119:11I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
  • Psalm 119:17 Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word.
  • Psalm 119:25 My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!
  • Psalm 119:28  My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!
  • Psalm 119:42  then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your word.

In just these few simple examples out of which there are several dozen more, we see that we will neither grasp, wrestle, or grow in Godliness or goodness without pursing God’s word.  You know, I would guess at least 3-4 times in the last 2 weeks, I have had the same conversation with several different folks.  In those conversations, we’ve talked about some day to day struggles that folks have – I mean big stuff, like how do I get through this day or how do I live this life kind of stuff.  You know what I’m talking about?  It is a lonely, “Life is way more hard than I ever imagined” kind of conversation.  In those moments, quick overly simple answers don’t help.  It doesn’t do me any good to just try to encourage folks with a “do this” or “go do better” kind of advice.  But this is what I have said, and this is what I say to my own heart and what I say to each of you right now.  In the middle of the stresses of our lives, in the middle of your days of work, home, church, whatever, why would you think that you are going to be able to handle those days in any sort of confident, Godly kind of way without preparing your heart first in the study of scripture?  Why do we make a mess of things and then sit confused and angry when we know that we have not prepared our hearts day in and day out in the study of the word.  Why do we get surprised by the fights we get in or lack of patience that we have or the judgmental nature of our heart, when we don’t take time to prepare our hearts in the scriptures.

  • The word of God is your light so you can walk.
  • The word of God helps you live.
  • The word of God strengthens you.
  • The word of God protects your heart from sin.
  • Why would any of you not spend time studying?

We will not be full of goodness in our interactions with one another unless we are also filled with the knowledge of God in His scriptures.  I will say this as well.  If you are not regularly in the scriptures, you will definitively live a solitary and lonely existence because by are choosing not to study the words of life, you are purposefully alienating yourself from your God.  God promises to meet you in His word.  And here is the thing – God has also designed us that if all we do is spend time in the world but don’t actually reach out in relationships with others, we will also be lonely then as well.  As one of your elder candidates has said, “A sponge that isn’t squeezed out gets moldy.”

But if we bathe in the scriptures and hear God’s call within to live out our faith in community, if we do that, we are going to be able to be like the Romans and gently and lovingly instruct one another.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this, “When Christians live together the time must inevitably come when in some crisis one person will have to declare God’s word and will to another.  It is inconceivable that the things that are of utmost importance to each individual should not be spoken by one to another.”

It is inconceivable that any one here would be in crisis alone.  The intention of the design of the body of Christ as seen in I Corinthians 11 is that if you hurt, I hurt.  If you hurt, we all hurt.  And where we grow with this goodness and knowledge is to form a community that lovingly encourages one another with the very words of life that feed our own souls.

My buddy Greg Norfleet up in Chapel Hill says that there are 6 Truths that can be applied to every single church.

  • Truth Number One:  Someone had a problem, maybe even a crisis in the church this week.  Even here at SK.
  • Truth Number Two:  The church has everything needed in the gospel to help that person or help that person find help.  2 Peter 1.3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence
  • Truth Number Three:  People seek help first from friends, family, or pastors before professional counselors.  I’m all for seeking help from professional counselors, but most of the time, folks ask for help from the people around them first.
  • Truth Number Four:  That person with a problem either got no help, bad help, or biblical gospel-centered help
  • Truth Number Five:  If they don’t get meaningful help, they will either go elsewhere or give up.
  • Truth Number Six:  If they get Biblical-gospel help, they will eventually use it to help others as that is the nature of the Gospel.

Now, how does SK weave itself into those truths?  Well, there are a host of ways.  Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up.  We are going to soon start some form of Sunday school classes for both adults and children. Our kids are going to need good and Godly teachers who are committed to teaching them wisdom from the scriptures and modeling what Godly relationships look like.  As members of SK, each of you has taken a vow before God to build up and encourage one another.  Every time we have a baptism, the members of the church stand up and take a vow to help parents encourage and build up their kids.  This is where your life of goodness and knowledge can find ample place to be demonstrated.  Our children and the hopefully the children of this community, need your commitment to teaching goodness and wisdom from the scriptures.

We have another group within our church who desperately need someone to take the wheel in leadership.  Our youth are good Godly kids but they are the most at risk right now, and they are in need leaders.  If you don’t believe me when I say our kids are at risk, here are some startling facts.  Nine out of 10 children aged between eight and 16 have viewed pornography on the Internet.  Did you know the average 16 year old has already seen more pornography than the previous generation saw in their entire lifetime?  And that doesn’t even touch drugs, gangs, sexual promiscuity, violence, self-mutilation, mentoring, and a million other needs that youth have.

We need to demonstrate that God has forgiven us, filled us with goodness and gifted us with the ability to instruct one another by mentoring our youth.  There is a community full of youth we could care for and if we could get this together, the Police, EMS, and Hayes Place would fill this or our next building with youth.  You can demonstrate your goodness and knowledge by loving and instructing them.  Fight Club and Project Runway are significant places where men and women come together to be honest, to be challenged, and to lift one another up.

CE Groups are sometimes hard to get to in the midst of busy weeks, but if you are opting out of one because inconvenience or insecurity, you are missing out on the primary way in which this church lives out this verse.  Like I mentioned earlier, people have problems; they either get no help, bad help, or biblical help.  How you choose to be involved in the life of this church will determine both the help you get and the help you give.  You might think, well I’m in no place to help folks.

“You can tell from Paul says here that being full of goodness does not mean perfection. Because if it did, then there would be no need for you to admonish or instruct each other.  (Perfection needs no instruction)  What fullness means is that God has given you abundant goodness and abundant knowledge to the point where you can overflow with admonitions and exhortations and instructions and warnings and encouragements to each other, so that where one is lacking the other can provide.  So we make progress together toward complete holiness and obedience. And all this with a fullness that God himself provides (see verse 13).”  John Piper http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/2006/1769_A_Pastors_Offering_to_God_of_Holy_People/

God does not intend for any of you His children to live lives of solitary, desperate loneliness.

  • He intends for you to be intimately connected.
  • He intends for you to be growing in goodness.
  • He intends for you to be growing in the knowledge of the scriptures.
  • He intends for you lovingly encouraged others
  • And He intends for you to be lovingly encouraged by others.

That might mean you have to head back out of your house after a hard day.  It might mean that you have to get up earlier to spend time in the scripture.  It might mean that you have to take off your mask and be honest with people and ask for help.  But what all that means is that you and I and we will be living in the community in which God has designed us and commanded us to live.

March 30, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Full of Goodness Part 1 from Romans 15

I’m not a huge fan of the philosophical or theological positions of Henry David Thoreau, but I think he was correct when he wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.  What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” Thoreau was emphasizing that many people work hard, give up, are lazy, or play not because they are driven or distracted.   The motives of many come from a place of desperate loneliness.   He said that ultimately, people will chose seclusion once they find true intimacy and real connection either improbable or impossible.

Now you would think that a true Gospel believing, Christ proclaiming, forgiveness embracing church would not have quietly desperate or lonely folks.  Oh, people might show up that way, but after hearing the sweet words of pardon declared from the scriptures and embraced in the Lord ’s Supper and celebrated in the singing and discussed in the community, you would assume no one is lonely or desperate any more.  But I’m afraid that’s just not true.  Lots of folks in churches are still desperately alone; even folks in this church.  The question is, “What can we do about it?”

To bridge the gap between desperation and joy, and despair and hope requires faith.  I’m not talking about an aimless wish that someone would actively pursue you kind of hope.  I’m talking about believing the promises of God as they concern the beautiful body of Christ His church.

Paul at the end of Romans wants to make sure that every believer seeks the peace and purity of every believer especially in places in which they disagree.  In doing so, Paul says that we will accept one another just as Christ accepted us which means that within the context of the local church, one can find relationships, acceptance, and genuine friendships.   In fact it means, that if we live these verses out, we will be the most unique of communities on the face of the planet.  And here is the thing.  Lean in so you don’t miss.  This week, Paul is going to tell us just how to do just that.  So with that in mind, let’s ask this Big Picture Question.

Big Picture Question:  How do the individuals members of the church work to make the larger church the community God wants it to be?

15:14 I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.

What a tremendous compliment Paul gives the Romans in verse 14.  He says 3 things about them.  Paul is satisfied that they are:  full of goodness, filled with knowledge, and able to instruct one another.  Well I guess we have our answer to our big picture question but let’s take some time to understand it and apply it.  Being full of goodness, filled with knowledge, and able to instruct one another is the simplest way to describe a radical Godliness that is rarely seen these days.  It is not what often passes for godliness.

This is not an outward godliness that flaunts itself in judgment over everyone and anything in which a person feels superior.  It’s not the inward voice that says, “Uhh, look at those people.”  Being full of goodness, filled with knowledge, and able to instruct one another means that sin is met with the truth, patience, and compassion.

This is not a silent godliness that thinks that God is okay with obeying privately while always being too cowardly to actually speak the name of Jesus to someone who needs to hear it.  If you have claim to know Jesus Christ and His incredible forgiveness yet easily remain silent about the beauties of your Savior, then you might wonder whether you know Jesus or not.  A relationship with Jesus as He describes is one of life to death, a new creation, being born brand new.

This type of godliness is also not the blogging theologian or the closet theologian who doesn’t actually know anybody or doesn’t actually have a real friendship outside his own home.  All their relationships are guarded by a 17 inch laptop screen.    I’m glad if you can defend your theological positions against Trinitarian error and heresy, but God never intended for you or anyone else to polish off all those arguments without actually having to look someone in the face.  A lonely theologian glorifies self, not God.  Those things fall short of true, radical Godliness.

So what does this radical, full of goodness, filled with knowledge and able to instruct one another Godliness look like?  Well, scripture defines goodness as not just the mere outward doing of good and the resisting of evil.  In God’s economy, you can’t have one without the other.  Jesus made it very clear that in His sermon on the mount that you can resist having an affair all day long but if you lust after another man or woman in your heart then you have committed adultery.  You can resist smashing your co-workers face in when he or she makes you angry but if you are inwardly angry, it is the same as killing  him.  So an essential element of being full of goodness is living out the life of obedience both inwardly and outwardly within a biblical understanding.  If you notice both of the examples above, this radical Godliness also has to be lived out in community.  Each one of those examples is about interactions with other people.

Practically, we will not know what being full of goodness is unless we pursue understanding God’s goodness.  One of the clear places that we get a picture of God’s goodness is in Exodus 33 when Moses asked God for an assurance of God’s presence as Moses led the people.  Now I think many of you can understand Moses here.  Haven’t you ever begun some task and wondered, “God, are you going to help me?  Will you be with me if I do this?”  You know before a test, before getting married, before having a really difficult conversation, before trying to get out of debt, before mustering up the strength to leave your house…in those times, we wonder, God will you be with me?  Moses asked and this was how God responded.

Exodus 33:17 And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”

Notice God’s intimacy here with Moses.  It’s like God is saying, “Don’t worry.  There is no need for you to be lonely.  I love you.  I’m for you.  I know your name Moses.  You are an individual to me.  Out of all the people on this earth, I know you intimately, and you have found favor with me.  Now, folks, some of us right now could really use a dose of that kind of encouragement from God.  Drink it in.  So Moses responds in verse 18.

18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”

I love Moses’ bold faith.  It’s like, “Oh, okay then.  Let me see your glory.”  It’s like when a child softens a parent with a simple request and when the parent says yes, They go big.  It’s like a child saying, “Hey mom and dad, are we going to have fun during Spring break?”  The parent says, “Of course we will.”  So the child says, “Great, can we go to the Great Wolf Lodge for a week?”  Moses asking to see God’s glory is like that.  Knowing that God is with him, he goes big.  God responds in verse 19.

19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.

Now, not a single person understands exactly what Moses was going to see or did see here.  But in some way, God’s person of goodness, His presence of goodness is going to pass before Moses.  Think about that.  In this world there are acts and words and thoughts that God calls good.  On our best days by faith, you might say or do something good.  But God’s goodness is a pure untainted radiating…..goodness.  That’s the only way to say it:  God’s goodness is goodness.

I have to say God’s goodness is His goodness because we have yet to bathe in that presence yet.  We will ultimately before God one day but not yet.  We know the goodness of God through Jesus but we don’t yet experience it free from a sinful world in God’s presence.  And notice what is at the root of God’s goodness – His sovereign right to demonstrate grace and mercy to whomever He chooses.  His goodness fuels His mercy and grace to some like Moses and His judgment on others.  His goodness fuels His righteous character making Him God, Lord, and judge.

Folks, I’m so desperate for this picture of goodness right now.  I grow so tired of the sin in this world and I grow even more tired of the remaining sin in my heart and mind.   Do you have weariness for sin and desire for the goodness of God?  Has your own sin finally brought you to the point where you just want God’s goodness?  Has compassion brought you to the point where you leave petty judgment and you just want others to bathe in God’s goodness?  I hope we all get there.

Well, God’s goodness is always inseparably connected with His Holiness.  Holiness is this righteous set apartness and goodness is the expression of the Holiness.  God holy because He is good, and He is good because He is holy.  So, God says to Moses

20 “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

God’s goodness and His holiness are so great, that all Moses could see was in some way the back of God and even that was so powerful that Moses had to be hidden in the cleft of a rock with God’s hand covering Moses.  If God did not do this, then Moses would have been destroyed.  Side note – how do we ever get self-righteous?  I mean my goodness has never made anyone shield their eyes and yours ain’t never got to the point either.  Self-righteousness is so ridiculous.

Part 2 will post tomorrow.

March 29, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment

A Hope That Is Real

This is the time of year when people are waiting to get their tax refunds in the mail.  As you can imagine, there are certain businesses that really benefit from the refunds.   friend of mine in Garner who works at Lowe’s said that this is the time of year where people choose to do home improvements so they buy appliances and start projects like painting a room or putting in hardwood floors.  That makes sense.  Believe it or not, this is also the time of year according to one friend of mine in the area where people choose to trick out their cars and buy things like 28 inch spinner rims for the ’78 Buick Regal.

Whether or not you have home or hooptie improvements on your agenda, most people really look forward to receiving their tax check in their mail.  Oh, there is a little bit of grumbling about the government keeping your money, but I’ve never heard anyone complain so loudly that they returned the check in protest.

Right or wrong, the tax refund for some folks is a real source of hope.  Maybe the Christmas bills got out of hand, and the tax check is how you plan on paying off the credit card.  Maybe this month, you just don’t have the money to pay the bills at all, and you are desperately waiting for the check to arrive in the mail.  Maybe your microwave always burns the popcorn, I don’t know, but for lots of folks, the tax check is a source of hope.  Now, waiting on a check from the government is always going to be a temporary solution and a quickly fleeting hope.

But then again, most of the things that we put our hope in are temporary and fleeting.  Dr. John Townsend in his great book “Where is God?” defines hope this way:  the anticipation of a future good that we do not now experience.  He goes on to say, “With hope, we endure the now in anticipation of a better future.”  Essentially, hope enables us to press on.  But I know this is true, whatever it is that you are hoping for or hoping in, it better deliver because having hope in something that doesn’t deliver leads people to disillusionment, anger, and bitterness.

So, the question, right now is, what is it you are either hoping for or hoping in?  If it’s the lotto, you don’t have a lot to hope for.  If it is a better job, I’m still not quite sure have a lot of hope for.  If it is better health or more money or whatever, you are not actually hoping…you might just be dreaming.  Wouldn’t it be nice to hope for something that didn’t disappoint?  Well, that’s a great place to start with our sermon this week, so why don’t we ask Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  Aren’t you tired of looking for hope in places that disappoint you?

8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

Last week, we briefly mentioned how Jesus’ becoming a servant enables you to serve others and accept them just as Jesus accepted them.  This is because of two truths.

  • Christ sympathizes with you in your weaknesses.  Hebrews 2:14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things.
  • Jesus didn’t despise His children in their weakness but loved them, died for them, and rose again even while they were God’s enemies.  Romans 5:6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us

But Christ’s becoming a servant has a much broader application than just your salvation.  We have a tendency to forget that sometimes.  We take a promise of God and minimalize it to such a point that we think that the only purpose of that promise is to satisfy us.  The promises of God are for you but Christ saved a church plural not just a person individual.  Whenever we focus solely on the personal blessings of Jesus’ work on our lives several things happen.

  • We lose compassion for those in need.
  • We judge those who have less than we do.
  • We are envious of those who have more.

Since Paul has spent the last chapter or so speaking about how you as a believer are to interact with other individual believers, it would make since then that he would draw our view back to give us a larger picture of Jesus’ redemptive work.  Yes, Jesus took on the form of a servant for your individual salvation, but he also did it in order to save a people.  Jesus’ service was specific to make a church out of two peoples.

Jesus became a servant to the Jewish people here described as the circumcised.  This was a common way of speaking of Israelites as circumcision was the entry point into the physical people of Israel underneath the Abrahamic covenant.  Jesus did this because God had promised to bring a Savior the descendants of Abraham and those who exercised faith in Jesus were evidence of God’s truthfulness and faithfulness to His promises.

How did Jesus become a servant to the circumcised?   His most obvious work was by being circumcised and placing Himself under the weight and expectation of the law.  By doing this, Jesus most assuredly obey the commands of God in place of His rebellious obstinate people.  Jesus served the Jewish people in taking on the form of a servant in the weakness of human flesh, overcoming the temptations of the flesh, living obedient, and of course dying on the cross.  Yet, Jesus also became a servant to the Gentiles.  He did this so the non-Jewish Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy.

This is something that deserves extra attention from us as we don’t live in the tension filled era of Jew vs. Gentile.  Imagine for a moment living in a culture where one group of people feel as if they and only they were the only race who will be heard from by God.  Imagine living in a culture where one group of people constantly made you feel like that you were less than human, calling you a dog.  Imagine living in a culture where the idea of mercy from God was not only alien but there was also a constant sense that God was actively hostile to you just because you weren’t born Jewish.

Why are these things important?  Well, studying things like this is really what we need to avoid a myopic faith:  a larger perspective of what is doing.  Remember last week when we talked about how we sometimes ask God “why” questions like”

  • Why does the microwave break the same week the car insurance is due?
  • Why is my husband sick on the night that we want to get out on a date?

Sometime those questions become more directed to God’s motive, like

  • Are you punishing me for my impure thought life?
  • Are you punishing my children because of all the problems that my spouse and I are having?
  • Are you not answering my prayer because of some sin that I haven’t confessed or some sin that I am unwilling to stop doing?

Again, all of these are good questions as we process our lives before God as long as we process them in light of God’s grace and our repentance.  But sometimes the circumstances of our lives are brought about by the hand of God as part of His larger plan of the kingdom because God grants each and every believer the privilege of playing a part in the advancing of His Kingdom and His will.  Basically, God does as He wills because He wills because of His will for one main purpose:  His glory.  Yes He loves you and promises to be gracious to you, but God has one commitment higher that supersedes but is also consistent with His promises to love and be gracious to you and this is the pursuit of His own glory.

So there will be circumstances that seem not to make sense that we quite often arbitrarily apply meaning to that very well may be brought about because God wants to bring glory to Himself.  Typically our thinking goes like this:  Oh something good happened.  I must have been really good so God gave me good things.  Or Oh something bad happened.  I wonder what I did to make God angry?  This type of thinking reduces God to dog trainer who gives treats for good behavior and returns a newspaper to the nose for bad behavior.  But look at this passages’ emphasis.  God took the proclamation of the gospel beyond the Jewish people and extended it to the Gentiles.

We know this caused immense confusion when Jesus did it.  In John 10, He tells the Jewish people that He has sheep outside the fold of Israel and that His job is to take His ministry to them by laying down His life for them.  Jesus says the Father loves Him for this as He and the Father are one.  What did the Jewish people want to do?  Stone him.

Look what happened to Stephen when he preached in Acts 7.  He said that God had dwelled with the congregation in the wilderness.  Only a small amount of effort will show you that the word for congregation there is ecclesia which is church.  Stephen called the children of Israel wandering in the desert the church thus making them and the incoming Gentiles together one family.  So the people stoned Stephen.

The people wanted to stone Jesus and did stone Stephen because they could not see that God worked in ways beyond just their own vision and experience.  If you always view the circumstances of your world through the lens of God’s singular interaction with you, you will be helpless.  It is necessary to see that God is doing more things in this world than attending to you and your needs.  God is gracious to hear and meet your needs but Jesus became a servant to Jew and Gentile demonstrating to us that God works mightily in ways that we quite often cannot imagine.  If you live with this big picture view of God always working through you, in you, yet also through and among others, then you will gradually see your life transformed from despair to hope.  Now what we are going to see as we roll into these next few verses are 4 similarly themed quotations from some interesting places in the OT.  That results in the second half of verse 9

As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”

Now this quotation comes from 2 Samuel and Psalm 18.  Do you know what is going on 2 Samuel?  2 Samuel is about the people of God making the transition from being led by God in a theocracy to being led by a king in a monarchy.  David sings this .  So much of that time was about the people focusing on what it meant to be the people of God in the promised land yet God was making promises at that point and time to bring in the Gentiles, to bring in the nations.

Now again, place yourself in David’s shoes.  He has just been coronated the King of God’s People.  He has survived multiple death attempts from King Saul, and in a human sense, he has everything that any person would ever want.  Israel has everything it could ever want.  It would seem that they are enjoying the fulfillment of every thing God ever promised the Israelites,  They are in the land, they are secure, they have a Godly king.

So what does David do?  He thanks God.  He celebrates.  He worships.  And then David starts prophesying about God’s name being proclaimed not only in Israel but to the pagan gentiles.  It seems that Israel is not going to keep everything to themselves.  It seems that there is more going on than just things for them.  God is showing them that their hope has got to be beyond just their own interests.

God begins by telling us to do the same thing in verse 10.

10 And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”

This is a quote from Deuteronomy 32 and it was proclaimed around the time of the people’s succession from Moses to Joshua.  Again, the people have everything they have ever wanted.  They have been wandering around the wilderness for a generation because of their idolatry and Moses has led them up to the Promised Land.  Moses is proclaiming the glory of God to them as they enter into the promises of God.  And then Moses drops “Hey all you pagans.  Rejoice with the people of Israel.”

I’m sure there were a few folks that were scratching their heads.  I’m sure they were wondering what in the world the Gentiles had to do with the Promised Land.  The answer?  Don’t put your hope in the things of this earth.  Place your hope in God who has a much larger plan for your life than your singular blessings.  There are singular blessings no doubt, but God is always at work for higher and more grander purposes than we can ever conceive.

11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.”

This comes from Psalm 117:1.  This verse constitutes half of the entire chapter of 2 verses.  It was a Psalm written to the Jewish people but it highlighted the taking of the glory of God to the nations.  Again, God is saying, “There is more going on than just God’s work with the Jewish people.  And finally, verse 12…

12 And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.”

This is one of the more famous verses pertaining to the birth of Jesus.  Isaiah prophesizes that the Savior will be a descendant of Jesse and when He arrives, He will not only be a Savior to the Jewish but also to the Gentiles.  In fact, the Gentiles will have the same hope in Him that the Israelites have.  Take that in for a moment.  Every Jewish person was raised with the hope that one day a Savior would come.    He would bring in every hope and promise given to Abraham.  Restoration of the Kingdom  The overcoming of sin and death.  In addition, many Israelites felt that the coming Savior would mean the overturning of the enemies of God .  In the mind of most, that meant that God would cast out the Gentiles and forevermore protect the Israelites from the pagans.

Yet, the promise of Isaiah was that the Savior would come just as God promised way back at the onset of sin in the Garden of Eden.  Jesus was going to restore the Kingdom of God – partially here on earth and ultimately in Heaven.  Jesus was going to overcome sin and death and He did by His birth, life, death, and resurrection.  Jesus was going to overturn the enemies of God.  Jesus did that overcoming the twin enemies of Satan and death.  But destroying other races was not part of the Savior’s plan.  In fact, the Savior’s plan was much bigger than any one could have conceived when Isaiah made this prophecy, and God’s plan was much bigger than any one could have expected when Jesus began His ministry.

And I cannot emphasize this enough to you:  God’s plan is much bigger than what you can and I can conceive at any moment and time.  We may not understand it.  We may not even like it.  But God promises to be at work in the lives of His children.

Right now, each and every one of you has a circumstance in your life that puzzles you, confuses you, or you just flat out wish would go away:  your health, your job, your marriage, your friendships, your kids.  Within each and every one of those and among a host of other issues I didn’t mention, there are things going on that don’t make sense to you or are flat out unbearable.

In addition, each and every one of you has a circumstance, hopefully more than one, that brings you great joy.  It could be the same list.  You might take great joy in:  your health, your job, your marriage, your friendships, your kids.  Here is the thing.  Our sovereign God has place both good and bad, joyful and challenging circumstances in your life for various reasons but there is one higher over-arching reason that we often forget.  God has placed both good and bad circumstances in your life so that He might receive glory.  God may have other purposes but none higher than the purpose of bringing glory to Himself.  The challenge for you in your circumstances, whether they be perceived as good or bad, is to do several things.

  • First, give thanks during all types of circumstances because God will ultimately receive glory in what you are going through.  You may not see it, and you may think it will never come about, but God will receive glory for your circumstance and our proper response is to give God thanks for being used as an instrument of His glory.
  • Then, pray and ask God how your particular circumstance can be used for greater purposes than just your own comfort and ease.  Ask God to use whatever it is, found money, new job, loss of job, good marriage, bad marriage, successful kids, struggling kids, whatever, ask God what kingdom purposes those things might have and then sit back in faith and watch God do amazing things.

Then, if that is your goal, purpose and aim, you will find real joy and hope the likes of which you have never experienced before.  It will not be necessary for life to be all cheery and roses for you be happy.  Taking that in, understanding that God is at work in larger purposes than we often are aware of, Paul prays verse 13 for the Romans and for you.

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

The God of hope fills those who believe, those who have saving faith in Jesus Christ, with all joy and peace so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you can live and about in hope.  You see, each and ever blessing here, joy, peace, belief, power, and hope come from God Himself.  He does ordain difficult, challenging, and even hurtful circumstances in your life.  They are always for your good despite the fact that you can’t always see that.  But God is not cruel and torturous.  He also ordains joy, peace, faith, power and hope for you in the midst of each and everyone of your circumstances.  Keep that in mind today and this week as you enjoy both the sun and the rain, the pleasant and the sad, the healthy and the sick.  Keep in mind that God always has higher purposes than we can see.  Keep in mind that as you have faith in Jesus Christ, you are being used as an instrument of the Kingdom of God and any thing you might need to live in joy or sadness, God has provided for you.

March 23, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments

God Helps You Part 1

I don’t know about you, but there have been times when I have read the commands of scripture and they have seemed absolutely impossible to obey.   Even after following Christ for most of my life, there are some commands that just seem flat out impossible – even with all the promises of God.   Consider some of the daunting commands that we have seen recently in the book of Romans.  Paul commanded the Romans (and us) to bear the failings of the weak and not live lives for the pursuit of self.  Instead, he commanded us to live to serve our neighbors and build them up.

Essentially, Paul says we have no right to complain about the person who annoys us or the person who is incompetent or the person who demands so much of you.  Instead of being annoyed or being indignant or self-righteous, we are to imitate our Savior, serve them, and build them up – deny the pursuit of self, and trust God will take care of us.  Fortunately, Paul reminds us of the Gospel that Jesus has met our primary need of the forgiveness of sin and the removal of guilt, and the closer we walk in and embrace that truth, the more we will be able to deny self and serve others.

Yet, the commands of God still seem daunting in the day to day.  At times, they almost appear alien.  When your husband or wife or co-worker or boss is yelling at you, isn’t it pretty hard to consider their needs before yours or to consider them better than yourself?  Isn’t it at that point and time you want to yell, “Hey what about me?”

Just this week, I spoke with someone who has heard the truths of scripture over and over again.  They have been a believer in Christ a good bit of their life.  But right now, the worries of work and home seem so large that the promises of Jesus along with all the commands, seem like something far, far away.  Well this week at Sovereign King, we are going to learn just how God makes these impossible commands possible.  We’ve always said before at SK that God equips us to that which He calls us.  Well this week we will find out just how He does that.   So with that in mind, let’s answer this Big Picture Question.

Big Question:  How does God equip you to do the things that He commands?

Romans 15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Remember, verse 4 comes right after the promise that Jesus has taken all of our reproach and guilt and sin upon Himself so that we don’t live in the pursuit of selfish pleasures but in the reflection of Jesus’ love in serving others.  The promise that Jesus has taken our reproach comes from Psalm 69:9 which reads, “9 For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.”  Paul reminds us that the promise of Psalm 69, as well as all the promises of the OT, were written for your encouragement and instruction.

Paul is encouraging each and every one of you to not neglect the encouragement that comes from what has been written in the scriptures.  You know, the Bible was written to tell us about the character of God and to teach about salvation and curb evil in the world, but sometimes we just forget that the scriptures were also written so that we might endure, have encouragement, and find hope.

Practically, how often do you think that way?  Do you think, “What a terrible day, I think I’m going to sit and read my Bible for a few minutes,” or, “Wow, my wife and I just had a terrible fight, let me read a few Psalms.”  Honestly, Gang.  One of the primary means in which God intends to encourage you is through your personal reading of the scriptures, yet so many of use never pursue them at all much less in a disciplined fashion.

You know, growing up a preacher’s kid and then later going to seminary later in life, I’ve been around some folks who really knew their scriptures.   People who could quote chapter and verse all day long.  Now, when working through theology and teaching, the preachers that can effortlessly quote scripture can really make a big impact.  But for me, the folks who have always been most impressive, and subsequently the most Godly in my opinion, have been those folks who live and breathe by the scriptures – the people who live in constant dependence of the scriptures and find their encouragement there.

I spent 4 of my summers working up at a youth camp at Lake Gaston.  There was a quiet humble guy named Kevin who was the camp’s assistant director.  He was about my height maybe smaller believe it or not, but he knew how do everything single thing at that camp.  He could water ski, mountain climb, hunt, fish, and ever make all the crafts.  But the thing that stood out about Kevin was that when you were exhausted or worried about a camper or stressed out about how you were going to pay your tuition in the Fall, he knew a scripture.  Not part of a scripture or “Jesus once said in Luke” – He knew the chapter, the verse, who said it and who they said it to and even better, it was the right word at the right time.

Essentially, when we struggle as to why it is that we can’t live our lives with joy, or why we can’t persevere through difficult times or why we struggle with hope, it is quite often that we neglect our scriptures.  Folks, streams of living water await you.  I know not everyone enjoys reading and I know it may not be everyone’s learning style, so try out books on CD or take the scriptures 5 verses at a time…whatever.  Get in the scriptures so you can get the scriptures into you.  Fortunately though, Paul prays for us, and this is where we begin to see the Big Picture Question really come to life.

5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Knowing that we are quite often too weak to even do the things that are good for us, Paul prays this prayer.   First of all, look who Paul is praying to:  the God of endurance and encouragement who is also the source of all endurance and encouragement.  Have any you ever wondered or prayed to God to ask Him why you were going through a certain situation?  You know those prayers, there are the ones that go like this:

God why in the world did the dish washer have to die this month?  You know we don’t have any money.  God why in the world have you allowed my wife to be sick so long?  Why can’t you just make her better?  God why in the world did I get fired or laid off or not get the promotion I wanted?  God, why can’t I feel good just once?

There are a thousand variations to this prayer, but you get the drift.  You know those prayers, right?  There is nothing wrong with praying those prayers.  In fact, there are many prayers along those lines including Psalm 69 that we looked at last week that had King David saying that his throat was sore from crying out to God for so long.  But just as David did in Psalm 69, we need to remind ourselves to whom we pray:  He and we pray to the God of all endurance and encouragement.  Do you think of God in that way when you need the ability to endure or you need to be encouraged?  Do you think of God in that way when trying to overcome sin?

Well, here Paul wants you to think of God as the God of all encouragement so that you can endure financial problems, marital problems, and school problems but the focus here is Paul’s desire for you to think of the God of all encouragement as the source for your ability to live in harmony with one another within the church.  Now, we are called to live in peace with the world, but Paul is specifically commanding believers here to live in harmony with each other.

How we do that should be “in accord with Christ Jesus.”  We should live with one another in harmony in accord with Christ Jesus.  So, what does that mean?   Generally, the idea of living in accord with Jesus encompasses the idea of Jesus’ commanded will to us and as well as the pattern and example of Jesus.  Essentially, believers are to obey the commands of Jesus as seen in John 17, “Father make them one as you and I are one” and we are to follow the example of Jesus.  We can live in harmony with one another because we are one in Christ.  This is not just a theoretical unity but an actual unity, so we need to explore the idea a bit.

Let me do my best to explain how this works.  Believers are united to with each other because they are united to Christ.  C. H. Spurgeon is the September 1865 Sword and Trowel explains it in this way.

1. Believers are joined to Christ by an everlasting love. Before Jesus was born in a manger and took on the flesh of men or before you became aware of His love for you, Jesus’ heart was set upon each believer and He delighted in you individually and you as the church.  Ephesians 1:3 –  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  Every believer shares the pre-eternal love of Jesus Christ by His choosing of us.

2. Believers are also joined by a union of purpose as well as of love.   Not only are we united in the love of Jesus but we are united in Jesus together for the purpose of reflecting that love.  Ephesians 1:4 “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”  Each believer is united in our purpose to love Jesus and reflect Him in holiness.

3. Believers are also one with Jesus and with each other federally. Let me explain that.  With Adam, every human is united in their sinful nature.  But in Christ, each believer is united in Christ.  1 Corinthians 15:22 – For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.    Adam is the federal head of human race.  Jesus is the federal head of the church.

4. And finally, for the accomplishment of the great works of atonement and perfect obedience, it was needful that the Lord Jesus should take upon him “the likeness of sinful flesh.” Thus, he became one with us in our weakness, for in Holy Scripture, all partakers of flesh and blood are regarded as of one family.  Hebrews 2:14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,

Every benefit you have in Christ you also have with other believer in your union with Him.  When we walk in that truth, we realize that “It is not necessary that Christians think exactly alike on every subject.  But it is necessary that in the lives of all God’s children the love of Christ Jesus be reflected and his will be done.  Thus all will become truly united into one holy and powerful fellowship, one body.”  Hendricksen.

Doing that gives Christians one voice and that one voice glories God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul tells us our next step.

Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

March 15, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment

SK Service Preview for 031410 – Impossible to Possible

I don’t know about you, but there have been times when I have read the commands of scripture and they have seemed absolutely impossible to obey.   Even after following Christ for most of my life, there are some commands that just seem impossible – even with all the promises of God.  Consider some of the daunting commands that we have seen recently in the book of Romans.  Paul commanded the Romans and us to bear the failings of the weak and not live lives for the pursuit of self.  Instead, he commanded us to live to serve our neighbors and build them up.

Essentially, Paul says we have no right to complain about the person who annoys us or the person who is incompetent or the person who demands so much of you.  Instead of being annoyed or being indignant or self-righteous, we are to imitate our Savior, serve them, and build them up – deny the pursuit of self trusting God will take care of us.

Fortunately, Paul reminds us of the Gospel that Jesus has met our primary need of the forgiveness of sin and the removal of guilt, and the closer we walk in and embrace that truth, the more we will be able to deny self and serve others.  Yet, the commands of God still seem daunting in the day to day. At times, they almost appear alien.  When your husband or wife or co-worker or boss is yelling at you, isn’t pretty hard to consider their needs before yours or to consider them better than yourself?  Isn’t it at that point and time you want to yell, “Hey what about me?”

Well this week at Sovereign King, we are going to learn just how God makes these impossible commands possible.  We’ve always said before at SK that God equips us to that which He calls us.  Well this week we will find out just how He does that.   So with that in mind, let’s answer this Big Picture Question.

Big Question:  How does God equip you to do the things that He commands?

If you would like to join us for worship at SK, we meet each Sunday at 1030am, and you can find directions to our space at http://www.sovereignkingpca.net/1.2.html

March 12, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Living For Others Part 3 – Christ Lives For Us

Part One of this series can be found here, and Part Two can be found here.

Psalm 69 gives us insight in how we live this life.  It is a Psalm of David.

69:1 Save me, O God!  For the waters have come up to my neck. 2 I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.

Any of you felt this way this week?  I bet many of you do.  Do you feel like the waters are up to your neck?  Do you feel like you are sinking and there is nothing to hold onto?

3 I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched.  My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.

Do you feel like you are crying out to God so much that your throat is sore and parched?  Do you feel like God is not listening to you?  And as is all that wasn’t enough, listen to verse 4.

4 More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; mighty are those who would destroy me, those who attack me with lies.
What I did not steal must I now restore?

Do you feel like people hold you accountable for things in which you should not be accountable?  Are people asking too much of you.  Do people outright accuse you of things that are not your fault?

Now before we go on, hear this person’s problems.  They are overwhelmed with the worries of life.  They don’t feel like God is hearing their cries or answering their prayers.  Other people are accusing them or attacking or asking too much of David.  Unfortunately, these are not the Psalmists or your only problems.  Look at verse 5.

5 O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.  6 Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me,
O God of Israel.

David knows that He is a very sinful person.  No sin of word, deed, thought, or speech is hidden from God.  We might have amnesia about our sin, but God does not.  In addition, David fears that his sin is so corrosive that others who trust God will be put to shame because of his sin.  This is like when you worry that you are such a pitiful, lustful, selfish person that you are sure that your spouse and kids are going to be absolutely messed up because of you.  So then we find the hope of Jesus Christ and the Gospel.

7 For it is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that dishonor has covered my face. 8 I have become a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my mother’s sons.  9 For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.

Jesus has borne your reproach and sin and guilt.  Jesus took your dishonor.  Jesus became alienated so that you would not be alienated.  Jesus had a zeal for God and His people when you didn’t.  Jesus took your guilt and sin for you.  So if you feel guilty or shameful of your sin, that feeling is not from God as all your guilt and shame were put on Christ.  If you feel alienated, that feeling is not from God as all your alienation was placed on Christ.  If you lack zeal for God, Jesus is your zeal for you.  So when you feel lost in loving and serving others.  When you feel that God is silent to your cries.   Cry out verse 13.

13 But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.  At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness.

Folks when we are bearing the failings of the week, serving others and taking on their burdens, it is easy to become fatigued and hopeless.  Our energy and our hope will not come in good health, rest, wealth, or the easing of our burdens.  God might do those things and they are graces no doubt but that is not where our hope will come.  Your hope will come from the continual reminder that Jesus has borne your sin and reproach and your great need of forgiveness and the removal of guilt has been met in Jesus Christ.

March 10, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Living For Others Part 2 – Building Up Your Neighbor

Part 1 of this series can be found here.

2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

Again, we have a command and the reason for the command.  First the command:  We are not to live to please ourselves but are to live to please our neighbor and build them up.  Let me read that again.  “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good to build him up.”

What a command.  Live to please your neighbor for his good to build them up.  Any time we hear the word neighbor, we need to apply it to anyone outside of our normal obligation of caring.  I don’t think I have to tell you that you are covenantally obligated to care for your parents and your spouse and your children.  Honor your mother and father.  Men, lay down your lives for wives.  Women, serve your husbands as you serve Christ.  Train up a child in the way he shall go and when he is old he will not depart from it.  Despite the fact that there are a million deadbeat dads or emotionally absent mothers, the heart is built with the impression of God that we are to take care of our family.

So, anytime we hear neighbor, it does not just include the people who live near you but anyone beyond your general obligation of care.  One time there was a lawyer who wanted to justify himself before Jesus so the lawyer asked what he had to do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus answered, “Love the Lord God with all your heart soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”  Well the lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”  Now the only reason you would ask “Who is my neighbor” is because you want to exclude some people.  You want to make sure you don’t have to care for everybody.  And what was Jesus’ response? Jesus’ told the story of the good Samaritan.  After being passed over by a Priest and a Levite, a half-breed pagan Samaritan cares for a man who had been beaten, robbed and left for dead on the side of the road.  So who is your neighbor?  Basically anyone that God providentially places in front of you who is in need.

Paul says, “Reflect the love of God given to you by not living to please yourself but living to serve your neighbor and build him up.  We are called to give our lives away as a reflection of Jesus giving His life away.  Have you ever wondered if the reason you struggle so much with sadness, anger, depression, and discontentment is not because you don’t have what you want or even what you need?  It might be because you’re serving yourself and not because you are serving God and others.

Let’s say you’ve been working hard for several days in a row.  The kids are crazy and demanding a lot.  Whoever helps you, be it husband or wife, is not really helping you.  In fact, they are demanding of you.  You have other things placing demands on you as well (pta, CE group, project for work).  You feel like you are already serving everyone and you are miserable.

Folks, it’s in these moments that Jesus, the Gospel, and serving others seems to be the furthest from our minds.  But it is here that the gospel is the most applicable.  The Gospel is found in verse 3.

3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”

The basis of your forgiveness and peace.  The reason you have any hope for joy or love or change or transformation or anything you else you hope for is because Christ did not live or die for His own pleasures.  Why do we fall in the trap of thinking that we will be happy and joyful living in any other way than emulating our Savior.  Did someone tell you that joy came some other way?  Did someone promise you something different when you first asked Jesus for forgiveness of sin?  Did some pastor in a 7 button, purple suit promise you that your beautiful Savior lived, bled, and died so that the end goal of Christianity was that His followers could live fat happy lives?

We’ll we’re called to joy and happiness but it is a joy and happiness that this world knows nothing about.   Cars, clothes, money, vacations, health, guitars, boats, jobs, even rest.  They do not bring joy.  One thing will bring joy to your heart and if you embrace it, you will live a live emulating your Savior joyfully.  That joy is that Jesus took every reproach that you deserved and caused them to fall on Himself.

You see we fool ourselves into thinking that our important needs are our primary needs.  For sure there are needs that each of us have that are important (rest, food, health), but there are times we treat them as our primary need.  When we do that, we walk in despair, hopelessness, or some temporary delusion that thinks that pursuing those needs first will make us happy.  But your primary need and my primary need, our primary need is the absolution of guilt and reproach.  We spend more time dealing with that than anything else in our lives.

Without the removal of guilt and understanding that Jesus took it for us, it is impossible to live a live poured out to others joyfully.  You might be able to love others and serve them but do it begrudgingly.  At some point time, that poison is going to come out though.  You will feel unloved and under appreciated.

The joy found in verse 2, the reason that you can live for others and love your neighbors is that Jesus has taken your reproach.  Verse 3 is a direct quote of Psalm 69:9 – 9 For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.  In great zeal and love for God and His people, Jesus lived in a manner in which none of us have been able to live.  He took the social scorn and reproach that all of our secret sins deserve.  He willfully obeyed by taking the punishment each of us is due for our sins on the cross.  And he joyfully rose again to new life so that no one who has faith in Him will ever be subject to guilt or shame ever again.  There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

This is your greatest need met yet perhaps the most difficult to live and walk in.  When you run out of gas caring for your family, the reminder that you have no need unmet through the work of Jesus encourages you to go on.  When you see a co-worker, fellow student, person in the coffee shop or person in your neighborhood in need, if you are walking in the truths that all of your needs are met in Christ, you can either help meet others needs or help coordinate the meeting of their needs.  You don’t have to do it all yourself.

March 9, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments