J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Why Does the Music Start Before the Sermon Ends…and Other Thoughts

confetti bombMorning Friends,

As of late, I have tried to expand my listening habits to take in pastors who I have typically neglected.  This list includes pastors of some of the megas who don’t usually show up on my “theologically sound” list but do show up on the, “Let’s grow big list.”  My motivation hasn’t been to try to jump into the megachurch arena but merely to know more about what is happening in our church cultures.

I don’t include their names here as I am not trying to take folks down but only learn.  My goals have not been to throw stones or even to disparage.  It appears that God is doing great things in churches that don’t run their sermons through a theological or confessional grid.  There are pastors gifted with incredible speaking skills.  There are pastors who have much to teach all of us.

And there are some who almost none of that matters.  To my ears, their sermons scream, “Run away.”

So, please allow me to run through some personal pros and cons that I have gathered lately.  I offer them as lessons that I have learned, and in the reading, you have the choice to throw out either the baby or the bath water.

Pros:

Every congregation needs hope.  No matter the text, no matter the passage, and no matter the church venue.  Hope is significant to the scriptures and significant to the human heart.  The pastors of the churches I have heard do a great job of offering hope.

Every congregation needs to be engaged.  These pastors do a great job at engaging their folks.  Preaching is different than teaching.  Lectures are not preaching.  If folks feel like they are listening to the pastoral equivalent of someone reading a dictionary (ala a list of facts to be assimilated), they will checkout mentally.  Their growth may very well be limited to the Biblical equivalent of a Fantasy Football League team.  You know a lot, but to what purpose?

Cons:

A sermon that preaches change without addressing sin and repentance is just empty motivation speaking.  If the primary point of the pastor’s message is about your missing out on God’s blessing and your living at a higher level, but all the talk skips the issue of sin, be wary.  Believe me, I’ve been to the dour faced, “All we talk about is sin,” depressing churches.  That is not what I’m talking about.  Repentance is walking in one direction and then turning and walking in another.  That is how the scriptures define change, and offering grace in the face of sin to motivate and sustain is true change.  Not doing that is rah rah pep talk.  It only motivates for a season.

A Christian sermon must ultimately be about and point to Christ to be Christian.  Casual references to Christ are only casually Christian.  If Christ is unnecessary for a sermon, then anyone from any religion could preach it.

If the music starts in the background 5-10 minutes before the sermon ends and then rises to when the pastor gets to the frenetic, high energy climax of his sermon, you should feel emotionally manipulated.  That is just classic, emotional, crowd manipulation.  The Stones, Zep, Kiss, etc perfected that technique years earlier.  It might work in terms of crowd reaction, but be prepared for the drive home/post sermon emotional crash.

And so, I’ll listen to a few more sermons in the next few weeks.  As a disclaimer, I am not saying that only the pastors of the megas are guilty of these cons.  Many pastors are.  For example, I know the music starts early in tons of churches.  I just don’t trust why they do.  This was simply an exercise and a collection of observations of my own in the past few weeks.

Thanks,

Gordon

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August 31, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

Why Another Book about Men, Elders, and Leadership – AKA The Genesis of “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?”

Good ManThe genesis of “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?” came about in 2009 as I was preaching a series of sermons about the qualifications of an officer.  SK Church was preparing to nominate, and I was preparing to train men from among the congregation to become elders in the church.

By the end of 2010, elders were installed, and throughout 2011 – 2013, I transitioned from being a solo church planter to leading a session of elders.  In every way, I moved from the theoretical to the practical.

All along the way, I discovered deficiencies in my own leadership, gaps in my convictions, and perceived desires of doing it differently the next time.  God’s grace shown through, the church continued to grow, and my thoughts progressed.

By the end of 2012, I was transitioning from SK to plant Evident Grace Fellowship in Fredericksburg, VA.  My thoughts covered everything from building up the men in my future church, sharing mission and vision with families, and starting the process of training officers again.

I realized that the hopes within the Biblical qualifications for officers in the Bible were actually the hopes that should be instilled and developed within every man in the church.   So, my mind returned to the series in 2010.  By December of 2012, I had developed those sermons into a draft, and in the past three months, they have been edited again into “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?”.

My hopes in publishing this book is that God will use it to encourage families, develops men’s programs, and enable pastors to train and install Godly officers.  High hopes indeed, but they are no less than what God promises in the scriptures.  In all humility, I pray that God brings those hopes to fruition.

You can find “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?” in several different formats.

Paperback
Kindle
Nook
PDF
SmartPhone App

July 8, 2013 Posted by | church, church planting, gospel, men, mission, missional, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God’s Pedicure – Sermon Notes from Romans 10:14-21

Sermon audio can be found at http://www.sermoncloud.com/sovereign-king-church/ later this week.

Every since I’ve begun training for the marathon, I’ve had to pay attention to something in which I’ve never even given much of a thought:  my feet.  You just can’t throw on any old shoes and go running.  That might work in the short term, but in the long run (sorry for the pun), you’re feet are going to kill you in you are wearing the wrong shoes.  When I started my training a few months ago, I just put on an old pair of running shoes, and I quickly realized that I was going to have some serious injuries if I didn’t get some new kick.  The new shoes worked but the first week was like running on razor blades.  I took them off from a run, and I had two pretty wicked blisters.  Then I realized that certain socks prevented blisters, so I had to change my socks.  All of a sudden, my feet, to which I barely had given a thought most of my life, were taking up a lot of my attention.

Now forgive me for taking up so much time discussing feet.  For some folks, feet are pretty disgusting, and I must admit, when I those toenail fungus commercials are on TV, I get a little queasy.  I cannot even begin to imagine how dirty and disgusting feet were back in Jesus’ day.  They clearly wore shoes back in Rome, and they even called them an early version of the word “sock” but they really were just loose fitting sandals.  We don’t get socks as we know until the late 1800’s and Nike didn’t produce shoes until 1964, so feet in Jesus’ day were pretty sore, filthy, and probably petty disgusting.  Yet, in this week’s passage, God is going to call those feet, that were dirty and bruised and who knew what their toenails looked like without clippers, beautiful.

They are not beautiful because of any outward appearance, which is always the case in scripture.  Beauty in scripture always comes from within as something lives out the purpose for which it was created.  No, feet are beautiful because of the wonderful and grand mission in which they fulfill.  In fact, they fulfill the mission that God gives to the His people, the church.  So this week, as we continue in our series in Romans, let’s ask this Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  What grand and beautiful mission does God give the church?

Romans 10:14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent?

There is a reverse engineering nature to this verse and it details both how people have faith in Jesus and how the church is to help them have faith in Jesus.  First of how, how do people have faith in Jesus?  A person calls out to Jesus because they believe in Jesus because they heard about Jesus because someone preached about Jesus because that person who preached Jesus was sent by someone.  You see the progression?  People can’t call out Jesus unless they believe in Him.  They can’t believe in Him unless they have heard about Him.  They can’t hear about Him unless someone preaches Jesus to them.  And no one can preach to them unless someone, namely the church, sends them.

Secondly, how does the church help people have faith in Jesus? The church sends someone out with the mission of preaching Jesus.  That person goes out to preach.  Someone hears about Jesus.  That person then believes in Jesus.  Then that changed renewed person calls out to Jesus.

Now amazingly, these are lines upon a continuum.  They are not two separate straight lines, but instead, they are actually a circle.  Let me explain.  You see the church sends out ministers to preach just like Redeemer Church sent me to Garner to preach and start SK.  But the church also sends out its members to proclaim the Gospel.  Any church that is not a sending church is not a church at all.  A church that does not send its people out or does not equip them to send is more of a club than a church.  Churches send their folks.  Here, we prepare and send folks into Garner and the surrounding areas to serve and proclaim and Jesus and hopefully one day, we will send out a church planter to start another church.

So now, I preach and the people of SK proclaim Jesus Christ as the hope for this world’s sin and sorrow.  Someone, somewhere hears that message proclaimed whether it be the coffee shop, the school, the work place, wherever you are.  That person hears the hope of Jesus, the Gospel, and find faith in Him.  Then they call out Jesus to save them.  Guess what happens next?  They become part of God’s people, the church and then they are cared for, trained, and the sent out by the church.  It is continual circle and cycle of the Gospel going forward.  It is consistent with Jesus making and training the 12 disciples and then commanding them at the end of the book of Matthew for them to go out and make out disciples themselves.

That is how we see the mission of the church worldwide as well as SK encapsulated in these verses.  We create community in CE Groups, Fight Club, Project Runway, so we can engage community caring for the EMS, the police, and at the Watering Hole and Sweet Monday, so folks will be brought into create community and start the whole process over again.  This mission must always be protected as the foot soldiers if you will go out on the mission.  And hear is where God calls them and their feet beautiful.  Look at verse 15.

As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Paul’s choosing of image of both the feet of the Gospel and the preaching of the Gospel is not random.  The task of preaching the good news is about going.  It is about putting feet to the message of the Gospel.  You can stand all day in your pantry and yell to the walls that people need to have faith in Jesus but God’s design is that someone has to hear the scriptures for them to believe it.  You can foolishly assume that you live such a virtuous life that people want to ask how you became so Godly, but that rarely happens.  And yes, you can stand on the street corner and yell at people to repent and maybe people are going to respond to the Gospel.  However, putting on the feet of the Gospel is proclaiming the truths of Jesus in word and deed.

It is becoming part of people’s lives, loving with the agenda with grace and change, so that they not hear the preaching of the good news, but the see it.  You have to purposefully place yourself in the lives of people so that you have an audience for the preached word.  Now if you have ever purposefully set out to either tell people about Jesus or to serve them with the hope of telling them about Jesus, you know that just because you do that, that doesn’t mean people are necessarily going to believe.  Because of this, many people give up or never even try to actively proclaim Jesus Christ.  If that has been discouraging to you, you are in good company.

In verse 16, Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah who asked, “Has anyone ever believed from our preaching?”  Isaiah was looking around at the many Jews who didn’t truly have faith in God and wondered if his preaching of repentance was useless.  That might be the feeling some of you have or have had after tirelessly serving Garner these past few years.  You might look around and think, “3 years of hard work and there are maybe 60 people here?  Is this worth even trying?”  I can relate.  There have been days when I wondered if I was just wasting my time.  I’ve wondered if any one has ever believed because I’ve preached.  Isaiah wondered the very same thing.

And God’s response?  17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.  God’s response is, “People come to faith when they hear the preached word of Christ.”  The job of the believer is to proclaim Jesus and the bringing of people to Jesus is the responsibility of God who declares, “I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion and I will have mercy on whom I have mercy.”  Look at verse 18.

18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”

This is the context of the beautiful feet that go with the gospel.  The gospel is proclaimed, Jesus’ name is lifted up and the voice of hope goes out to the ends of the earth.  That’s what we do here.  We proclaim Jesus by serving this community and we will keep on doing it until Garner and the surrounding areas until everyone has heard the Gospel.  Think of it practically.  If this room decided right now that there was nothing that would keep you rrom serving your neighbors and proclaiming Jesus in humility and truth, then if you each did that every day, then the community of Garner would know and hear about Jesus in less than one year.  Would everyone believe?  Nope.  But our job is to reflect the love of Christ in the proclaiming of Jesus to the ends of the earth.  Let’s start with Garner and the surrounding areas.

Paul reminds us of the difficult task at hand in verses 19-21.

19 But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”

20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”  21 But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”

Paul tells us a little story by speaking of Israel’s rejection of God and God’s subsequent bringing in of Gentiles.  Israel did not believe or respond to the prophets calls of repentance.  God then too His grace and truth and gave it to…us…not Jewish folks.  Israel got mad.  They thought that God was their property by birthright.  Through Isaiah, God told them in response, “Um I’m hanging with some different folks now.  Folks that don’t take the grace of God for granted.

You want to know why the Gentiles, and again remember that is us, why we shouldn’t take God for granted?  Look at verse 20.  We didn’t ask God to show Himself to us when we didn’t believe.  God showed Himself to us by His own will.  God controls the revealing of Himself and He chooses to do that through the preached word like Isaiah’s and yours.  Now that is the beautiful message of the Gospel.  The fact that God would use you and me to proclaim Jesus to the world makes you beautiful as well.  The feet of those who bring good news are beautiful.  Now, folks struggle with this.  I know many of you struggle to think that anything about yourself is beautiful.  But here is what makes you and the message of the Gospel beautiful.  Let me read from John 13.

13:1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him,

3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you?

13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 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. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This article also appears at the Raleigh Examiner.  Read the article there and help me earn a penny.

November 22, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Feet – Sovereign King Preview for 11/22/09

Every since I’ve begun training for the marathon, I’ve had to pay attention to something in which I’ve never even given much of a thought:  my feet.  You just can’t throw on any old shoes and go running.  That might work in the short term, but in the long run (sorry for the pun), you’re feet are going to kill you in you are wearing the wrong shoes.

When I started my training a few months ago, I just put on an old pair of running shoes, and I quickly realized that I was going to have some serious injuries if I didn’t get some new kick.  The new shoes worked but the first week was like running on razor blades.  I took them off from a run, and I had two pretty wicked blisters.  Then I realized that certain socks prevented blisters, so I had to change my socks.  All of a sudden, my feet, to which I barely had given a thought most of my life, were taking up a lot of my attention.

Now forgive me for taking up so much time discussing feet.  For some folks, feet are pretty disgusting, and I must admit, when I those toenail fungus commercials are on TV, I get a little queasy.  I cannot even begin to imagine how dirty and disgusting feet were back in Jesus’ day.  They clearly wore shoes back in Rome, and they even called them an early version of the word “sock” but they really were just loose fitting sandals.  We don’t get socks as we know until the late 1800’s and Nike didn’t produce shoes until 1964, so feet in Jesus’ day were pretty sore, filthy, and probably petty disgusting.  Yet, in this week’s passage, God is going to call those feet, that were dirty and bruised and who knew what their toenails looked like without clippers, beautiful.

They are not beautiful because of any outward appearance, which is always the case in scripture.  Beauty in scripture always comes from within as something lives out the purpose for which it was created.  No, feet are beautiful because of the wonderful and grand mission in which they fulfill.  In fact, they fulfill the mission that God gives to the His people, the church.  So this week, as we continue in our series in Romans, let’s ask this Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  What grand and beautiful mission does God give the church?

If you would like to join Sovereign King for worship, we meet each Sunday at 10:30am, and you can find directions to our space at http://bit.ly/1byggC

November 20, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Good Man is Hard to Find: Qualifications of an Elder from I Timothy 3

a-good-man-is-hard-to-find1Sermon audio can be found online at http://www.sermoncloud.com/sovereign-king-church/

The ability to give good gifts is a gift in and unto itself.  Don’t get me wrong.  If a guy buys his wife flowers, he is probably ahead of the curve.  But buying the right gift and giving it at the right time is a rare commodity.  The truest and most sincere gift is one that given specifically for the joy and care of the recipient.  It is selfless and not self-serving.

Now, I don’t necessarily fashion myself a great gift giver.  I’m not ignorant of the need, and I’ve probably given a couple really awesome gifts in my life, but for the most part, I’m probably average.  However, I have received some awesome gifts.  One in particular stands out.

It was in 2005, and I was about to graduate from seminary.  I had never been more broke in my entire life.  I had to defend my thesis, graduate, go through the ordination process, raise money for the launch of the church, sell a house…you get the picture.  I was stressed out.  So being without any extra money, I was spending my free time, if I had any, playing guitar.  That was at least free.  I was also spending my time looking for electric guitars online because I hadn’t owned one in years.  The model I wanted was aptly named the Paul Stanley Silvertone Sovereign Pro.  But my looking was really only wishing as like I said, I had no money.

But then one day, as I was walking up to the front door of my house, I noticed a box from the mailman propped against the door.  When I opened it up, it was my guitar.  The exact model I wanted.  To this day, I still don’t know who bought me that guitar, but it is one that I will keep for the rest of my life.  Every time I look at it, I am reminded of someone’s generosity to me.

Now, God is a fantastic gift giver, and He demonstrates this by giving gifts to the church.  As always, they are like the gifts we give but somewhat different.  God’s gifts are always gracious without evil intent.  Unfortunately, human nature can give a gift and then try to make someone feel guilty about it.  Any of you who have received a gift like this would almost rather have not have it if you have to feel guilty about it for the rest of your life.    God’s gift are always to His glory and rightfully so.  Ours can never be for our glory, and any gift that might be, is not really a gift.  But this one thing we know:  God’s gifts are always good.

Now scripture details a host of gifts that God gives His children.  Some churches emphasize some gifts more than others, but here is a very brief list.

  • Gift of the Holy Spirit –  Acts 10:45
  • Gift of Faith – Ephesians 2:8
  • Spiritual gifts – I Corinthians 12
  • Gift of Jesus Christ – John 4:10

No matter what gift God gives though, scripture commands each believer that their gift should be used in service.  It is not to be kept, guarded, or hidden.  The gifts God gives are always to be poured out in service.  We see this in the Parable of the Talents as well as commanded in I Peter 4:9-11

1 Peter 4:9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Now one gift from God that gets looked over quite often is the gift of church leadership.  1 Timothy 4:14 describes Timothy’s leadership of the church as a gift that was displayed and affirmed by the laying on of hand by the elders.  These leaders are gifted so that the people of God will be led in holiness and wisdom.  Scripture is full of these examples like Moses, David, and Peter.  Of course, as soon as I mention these guys, their faults come to mind, but still, God gifts the church with Godly leadership so that the people of God will not be left to wander alone.

Despite church leadership always being imperfect, every believer is called to submit to these leaders as is seen in Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. By this command, any believer who is presently not in a community, whether that community meets in a building, by a lake, or in a home, where they are actively submitting to church leadership is in sin.  It is the equivalent of telling God, “No thanks,” to the good gifts He has given.

In light of that, let’s answer this Big Picture Question this week:

Big Picture Question:  How is the leadership of the church God’s gift to His people?

1Timothy 3:1-7 – The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Now the context of this letter is Paul writing to Timothy to prepare him for ministry once Paul is gone.  Paul is interested in encouraging Timothy in his personal discipleship as well as encouraging Timothy to continue to disciple and train church elders and deacons.  Paul says that if someone wants to be an elder or overseer, the office itself is a noble calling.  It is noble office because as we saw in Hebrews 13:7, God entrusts the oversight of the souls of His people to the leaders of the church.

The language most often associated with this kind of relationship in the scriptures is the language of headship.  This is when a person or persons leads and represents others before God.  And how things go for them is how things go for everyone else.  The life and health of the people they represent and care for are intrinsically tied to the Godliness of the head.  Adam is the head of the human race in Romans 5.  That didn’t work out too well did it?  The husband is the head of the wife in Ephesians 5.  The husband bears the spiritual responsibility of leading His family in Godliness and I’m sure we’ve seen good and bad examples of that.  Jesus is the head of the church in Ephesians 5.  He by His work has led His people in all Godliness.

And the elders of the church have the noble task of overseeing the souls of God’s people.    Godly and wise church leadership guides the church in Godliness and wisdom.  Ungodly and unwise church leadership leads the people towards sin and foolishness.  I’m afraid we’ve seen both of those in our days and maybe more of the latter than the former.

But if someone desires to fulfill that calling they need to meet several requirements, and these requirements fall into basically 3 categories:

  • Holiness in Personal Life vss 2-3
  • Godly management of one’s household vss 4-5,
  • Spiritual maturity vss 6-7

Now before I go any further, let me make this point.  In fact, what I want to do is dispel a commonly held myth – one in which many of you might hold.  As we look at those 3 categories of requirements, we need to understand this:  elders and overseers, pastors, and deacons are not held to higher standard than anyone else in Christianity.  They are held to the very same standard to which every believer is held.  Let me explain.

There is no such thing as a higher or lower standard or higher or lesser righteousness Biblically.  God has commanded us how to live in the scriptures in accord with His character.  So, there can be no higher obedience than what God has commanded.  If there was a higher standard, then that would be what God commanded.  Let me use the most common example to illustrate how people think about this…drinking alcohol.

Scripturally there is no evidence whatsoever that a drink of alcohol is sinful.  In fact it is commanded by Paul to Timothy, exemplified by Jesus, and even commended in Proverbs 31.  Now some folks will say, “Well drunkenness is a sin, so I’m never going to drink alcohol.”   That is a perfectly fine application and I support it wholeheartedly.  Rock on.  But it is not higher righteousness.  If not drinking at all was the level of righteousness that Jesus wanted, He would have commanded us to not drink at all.  People have this impression of officers though.  They think they should be held to some fictional higher level obedience.  Folks, obeying what God has commanded is hard enough.  Obeying any extra rules is impossible and even counterproductive.

No, the elder, deacon, pastor, and overseer are judged presently for their character whereas most people in the church are not judged at all for their character unless their actions rise to the level of church discipline.  The officer though lives their Christian life for the world to see and evaluate.  In essence, the occupation of the church officer is the occupation of being a believer.  The job of an officer is to be a Christian.

So, a gifted overseer or elder in the church will have a holiness in his personal life.  The phrase above reproach is a summary description of the following 10 Godly characteristics.

  • The husband of one wife
  • Sober-minded
  • Self-controlled
  • Respectable
  • Hospitable
  • Able to teach
  • Not a drunkard
  • Not violent but gentle
  • Not quarrelsome
  • Not a lover of money

Let’s start with the first one:  the husband of one wife.  Well, let’s ask a couple of things first.  Why would this characteristic, whatever it means, matter?  The answer is that an elder, an overseer must be committed and dedicated not given to quitting or impetuousness.   Being an officer of the church requires perseverance in the midst of the most difficult situations.   But believe it or not, this is a very contested characteristic.  Appears simple, but here are some of the questions that arise with this quality.

  • Does this verse mean that you have to be married to be an elder?
  • Does the husband of one wife mean you can’t be divorced?
  • Does this mean that you can’t be a woman and be an elder?

So, let’s eliminate a few things first.  Fist, you cannot be married to more than one woman at a time and be an elder.  That’s clear from the verse, so you can’t be a polygamist which was still pretty prevalent in that day.  Second, you don’t have to be married to be an elder because if being married was a requirement then Jesus himself wouldn’t qualify to be an elder.  Jesus wasn’t physically married, and if Jesus doesn’t qualify to be an elder, I sure as hell don’t want to be part of a church that wouldn’t allow Jesus to be their elder.

So, onto our next question:  can you be divorced and be an elder?  Well, being divorced is not a sin if a person divorces for biblical reasons.  So, since as we mentioned, officers are not held to some false higher standard, and being divorced is not a sin, you can be divorced and be an officer.

So what about women elders?  To eliminate the confusion, Biblically, there is no support for female elders, but I don’t think this conviction comes solely from this verse.  That conviction has to be seen in the larger Biblical context.  Now, as we jump into the issue of male/female elders in the church I would like to recommend 2 books on the subject that have informed me well on this subject.  “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” by John Piper and Wayne Grudem and “Vintage Church” by Driscoll and Breshears.

The qualification of being the husband of one wife does lend some weight to this church’s stance on that issue if it is seen in the larger context. Again, being an elder is about headship and just as the husband is the head of the family, so are elders heads of the church.  Think of it in this way.  God created men and women in the image of God which means that we are equal but last time I checked incredibly different.  It takes the distinctions of both male and female to understand the image of God.  The differences are not merely physical appearance.  I don’t any men who have had babies lately, so obviously the idea of different roles with equality is something that God is okay with.

So men uniquely reflect God’s being a Father with leadership and guidance of His people by being the heads of their families.  Women uniquely reflect God’s creation and compassion by being mothers.  It takes both the headship of the male and the creation of the female to gain a full and accurate picture of the image of God.  Those roles begin to become clear as we walk through the Bible.

Despite the presence of many Godly women in the OT, the senior spiritual leadership of Israel was the male priests.  Jesus taught and trained many Godly men and women but His 12 disciples were male and He appointed them to be the apostles and leaders over the church.  Now, just because the priests were male and that Jesus trained 12 men that doesn’t mean that He doesn’t want well trained females.  God intends for the entire church to be incredibly qualified theologians but He has commanded men to be the elder and teachers.

1 Timothy 3 commands that women should learn quietly in all submissiveness while forbidding them to teach or exercise authority over a man.  Now obviously the verse has been misapplied in many churches where women walk in looking like they are afraid to speak, keep their heads down, and avoid all eye contact.  But by commanding that women learn quietly, Paul was actually revolutionizing the approach towards women for the day.  Paul was saying, “Hey, this is the church.  The women of the church should be as stout as theologians as the men are.  They should learn and no one should prevent them from learning, so men, get over your backward ways, and women, get over your fear.

However, the women are to learn in all quietness.  Now the Greek word for “learning quietly” does not mean total silence as it has been translated and applied quiet often.  “Learning quietly” means learning in a peaceable demeanor.  It means learning in such a way as to be humble and respectful.  Women are to learn these things in submissiveness to authority without taking on teaching roles over the other men.  Now this of course does not mean that women are not incredibly gifted teachers or gifted in shepherding.  Of course they are.  If that’s the case though, why would God say that women should not teach or have authority over men when they can completely function in those roles if they had to?

The answer is that God has appointed the leadership and headship of the church to men.

  • Romans 5:12:  Adam was the head of Eve and the human race and took responsibility for her sin.
  • Ephesians 5:23:  Husbands are the heads of their wives and heads of their families and thus responsible for the spiritual health and teaching of the home.
  • Ephesians 5:23 – Christ is head of His bride the church.
  • In a few verses where we are told that an elder must lead his household well.  Can’t do that you can’t lead the household of God.
  • There are no Biblical examples of headship given to any female.

I know some folks want to say that the commands for an elder are written in such a way because of the male-biased slant of Paul’s day.  I would caution such a view for this reason.  God has written what He wants written in His scriptures.  If the Biblical writers could prophesy and then we see those things fulfilled, why wouldn’t God just command in such a way as to fit our “supposed enlightened” gender views.  God didn’t inspire scripture and then sit around waiting for our egotistical enlightened views of how those things were really supposed to be lived out.  God commanded what He wanted here.

Biblical wisdom finds its highest fruition if it is lived out in the context of God’s command.  Our women here have incredible, Godly skills and talents which include teaching and shepherding.  Deployed as God commands, those skills will find their highest fruition.  Deployed as we think best, they will not and churches who have gone against these commands have suffered for it as witnessed from the denomination that the PCA pulled out from 35 years ago.

Having said those things, let’s walk a little further in understanding holiness in personal life.  Let’s examine what those who will function in the headship of the church should look like.  Let’s look at 2 that are very similar:  Sober-minded and Self-controlled

Being sober-minded doesn’t mean that God is looking for men who never laugh or men who sit in stuffy rooms wearing big hats making decisions with furrowed brows.  Sober-minded really means big picture type guys.  Sober minded is the ability to assess how everything from the direction of the church all the way down to the questions that you have are part of the work of the Kingdom, the work of SK, the work of Christ in people’s lives, and how all of those things are reflective of the truths of scripture.  To be that leader, one must be self-controlled.  Now as I love to do, let me dispel another myth.  Self-control is the ability to say no to bad things like drunkenness, pornography, and anger.  But it is much more than that as well.  Self-control is more about saying yes than saying no.  Self-control is about being disciplined in all areas of life.

This is one thing that the men at Fight Club have tried to grow in.  Godly leaders to exercise self-control in every discipline of life.  They need to be disciplined in praying, studying their scriptures, disciplined in physical exercise and showing moderation in eating and drinking.  No one can expect to show discipline in saying no to temptation if they haven’t already said yes to the disciplines of Godliness.

The next two characteristics that demonstrate holiness in one’s personal life:  Respectable and Hospitable.  These two go hand in hand.  Now, no one can be respected by every single person, but across the board, this will be someone that you look around and say, “Huh, I don’t too many that would not resonate with that person.  They are respectful to me, respectful to others, and respected by most.  If you peak ahead to verse 7, Paul says that an elder has to be so respectable that even those outside the church, non-believers respect them.  Essentially, if the world doesn’t respect you, then the church won’t either.

  • The key to being a respectable Godly person is being hospitable.  Every Christian is commanded to be hospitable because in doing Matthew 25 says that we are serving Jesus Christ Himself.  People can disagree with your theological convictions all day, but if you serve them, they will respect you and that service in and of itself with provide for you a platform to proclaim the Gospel.  These two qualities, respectable and hospitable, are where you should look for people within SK who embody the mission of this church (creating and engaging).  If they aren’t doing those things, they cannot lead you well.

Another and a very important qualification for an elder:  Able to teach.  This is one of the distinctions between being an elder and deacon.  For the most part, the qualifications are the exact same, yet your shepherd, your elders should be able to teach.   Now the ability to teach is not something a person can proclaim about themselves unless it has been affirmed by others and here specifically affirmed by the leadership of the church.  Teaching is not exemplified by the ability to explain but exemplified by others ability to learn underneath a person’s teaching.  Teaching is tied to other qualities.  If you aren’t honorable in your home, or if you aren’t sober-minded or self-controlled, if you aren’t respectable and hospitable, it doesn’t matter how smart you are, you will not be a good teacher because most will not want to learn from a person who is not those things.

Let’s try just a few more before we wrap up for this week.  You cannot be an elder and be a drunkard.  This goes back to the issue of self-control.  God wants disciplined believers and disciplined church leadership.  You cannot be an alcoholic and be an elder.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t have been one and have recovered to sobriety, but it does mean that you cannot be an alcoholic.  If you are one who is controlled by either your access or lack of access to alcohol, then you cannot lead God’s people because you are driven by something other than your desire for God.

Two more:  Not violent but gentle and Not quarrelsome.  Are you a gentle person?  Do people walk in fear of either your fist or your tongue or do people find themselves resting in your presence.  Do you love arguing everything from theology to politics to sports?  I don’t mean debating the BCS vs a playoff system or a flat-tax vs. income tax.  I mean do you love arguing?  Do you value being proven right more than value relationship?  God does not want quarrelsome men leading His church.  This is a tough one because many Christians fashion themselves excellent debaters when what they really are discontent quarrelsome men.  How do you know the difference?  Well, are you violent?  Do you regularly hurt people either with your tongue or with your fists?  Do you enjoy putting people down with your speech?  If you don’t know if you are or not, ask your children or your spouse if they think you are gentle.  If they struggle to answer or are scared to answer that you are those things, you are probably disqualified to be an elder.

And finally for today, an elder cannot be a lover of money.  This is tough one for the American church because we are so rich.  In America, if you qualify for welfare, you are in the top 10% of wealthiest people in the world, so American’s have a lot of money.  The question is, “Do you love money?”  You know, for as much greed as I see, even with the church, and as much as church’s struggle too meet budget, I’ve met very few Christians who will admit that they love money.  So how can you tell?  I’ll make it as clear as possible.   Do the works of your hands whether they may be at a job, the spending of your income or the debts you choose to take on, do they serve the work of the kingdom as a faithful servant or do they seek your own pleasure and enjoyment?  If those things serve your comfort and enjoyment first, you love money.  If they serve the kingdom first, you don’t.

Folks, this list should make each and every one of humble.  They are guidelines by which all of us should examine ourselves and Godly characteristics to which we should all aspire.  Even given to teach.  We all should know our scriptures well enough to speak to them in an instructional fashion.  As it comes to nominating Godly men, you are looking among this congregation and asking yourself, “Are there any men that are either these characteristics or men who are radically being transformed in their direction?  No one apart from Jesus will embody these things perfectly.  You have to see who is most set apart in becoming these qualities.

Continued next week.

This article also appears at the Raleigh Examiner.

October 18, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

SK Video Sermon Preview for 101809

Silvertone_Paul_Stanley_Sovereign_ProTomorrow (10/18/09) is the kick off of Sovereign King’s “Lead, Follow, and Getting Out of the Way” series on church leadership.  A good friend recommended that 90 seconds to 2 minutes was about as much as most folks would watch for a video clip, so this week I tried to edit myself a bit better.

Below the clip are the 3 related articles to this series.  Look for the sermon notes on Sunday evening.  Thanks.

Related articles:

The Gift of Giving Good Gifts

Lead, Follow, and Getting Out of the Way

There is No Higher Standard

October 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Gift of Giving Good Gifts

boyfriendpillowThe ability to give good gifts is a gift in and unto itself.  Don’t get me wrong.  If a guy buys his wife flowers, he is probably ahead of the curve.  But buying the right gift and giving it at the right time is a rare commodity.  The truest and most sincere gift is one that given specifically for the joy and care of the recipient.  It is selfless and not self-serving.

Now, I don’t necessarily fashion myself a great gift giver.  I’m not ignorant of the need, and I’ve probably given a couple really awesome gifts in my life, but for the most part, I’m probably average.  However, I have received some awesome gifts.  One in particular stands out.

It was in 2005, and I was about to graduate from seminary.  I had never been more broke in my entire life.  I had to defend my thesis, graduate, go through the ordination process, raise money for the launch of the church, sell a house…you get the picture.  I was stressed out.  So being without any extra money, I was spending my free time, if I had any, playing guitar.  That was at least free.  I was also spending my time looking for electric guitars online because I hadn’t owned one in years.  The model I wanted was aptly named the Paul Stanley Silvertone Sovereign Pro.  But my looking was really only wishing as like I said, I had no money.

But then one day, as I was walking up to the front door of my house, I noticed a box from the mailman propped against the door.  When I opened it up, it was my guitar.  The exact model I wanted.  To this day, I still don’t know who bought me that guitar, but it is one that I will keep for the rest of my life.  Every time I look at it, I am reminded of someone’s generosity to me.

Now, God is a fantastic gift giver, and He demonstrates this by giving gifts to the church.  As always, they are like the gifts we give but somewhat different.  God’s gifts are always gracious without evil intent.  Unfortunately, human nature can give a gift and then try to make someone feel guilty about it.  Any of you who have received a gift like this would almost rather have not have it if you have to feel guilty about it for the rest of your life.    God’s gift are always to His glory and rightfully so.  Ours can never be for our glory, and any gift that might be, is not really a gift.  But this one thing we know:  God’s gifts are always good.

Now scripture details a host of gifts that God gives His children.  Some churches emphasize some gifts more than others, but here is a very brief list.

  • Gift of the Holy Spirit –  Acts 10:45
  • Gift of Faith – Ephesians 2:8
  • Spiritual gifts – I Corinthians 12
  • Gift of Jesus Christ – John 4:10

No matter what gift God gives though, scripture commands each believer that their gift should be used in service.  It is not to be kept, guarded, or hidden.  The gifts God gives are always to be poured out in service.  We see this in the Parable of the Talents as well as commanded in I Peter 4:9-11

1 Peter 4:9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Now one gift from God that gets looked over quite often is the gift of church leadership.  1 Timothy 4:14 describes Timothy’s leadership of the church as a gift that was displayed and affirmed by the laying on of hand by the elders.  These leaders are gifted so that the people of God will be led in holiness and wisdom.  Scripture is full of these examples like Moses, David, and Peter.  Of course, as soon as I mention these guys, their faults come to mind, but still, God gifts the church with Godly leadership so that the people of God will not be left to wander alone.

Despite church leadership always being imperfect, every believer is called to submit to these leaders as is seen in Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. By this command, any believer who is presently not in a community, whether that community meets in a building, by a lake, or in a home, where they are actively submitting to church leadership is in sin.  It is the equivalent of telling God, “No thanks,” to the good gifts He has given.

In light of that, let’s answer this Big Picture Question this week:

Big Picture Question:  How is the leadership of the church God’s gift to His people?

Related Articles:

Lead, Follow, and Getting Out of the Way

There is No Higher Standard

October 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lead, Follow, and Getting Out of the Way

helpTypically, we don’t just wake up one day as adults after spending our entire lives as children.  Instead, we experience moment by moment opportunities to mature and become “grown up” if you will.  However, along the way, there are larger moments, rites of passage if you will, that create leaps of growth towards adulthood:  puberty, learning to drive, graduations, marriages, etc.

These same truths apply to a church.  No matter how mature or Godly the people are within a congregation, maturing as a Body takes time.  Along the way though, there are moments where maturity leaps forward.  Sovereign King Church is about to embark on one of those moments, and we invite you to join us.

1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 detail what Godly leadership looks like within the church.  Obviously, church leadership is not perfect and still sinful, so immediately, the process of finding, training, and installing leadership is a grace filled one.  As much guidance as possible is needed.

Towards that end, over the next 2 Sundays (October 18th and 25th), SK is going to take a small break from the book of Romans to pursue an understanding of the Biblical descriptions of Godly church leadership.  In a mini series entitled, “Lead, Follow, & Getting Out of the Way,” we are going to do 3 things.  We will study the Biblical requirements of being an Elder and Deacon.  We will discuss the process of nominating, training, examining, and electing church officers, and we will seek God’s glory as He builds His church.

We invite all of you to join us for this series.  The process of initially electing church leadership is rarely seen because so many churches are older and established.  They already have their officers.  Even new churches often start with all their leaders in place.  SK is making the transition from being a young, church plant to a maturing growing church.  Part of that process involves seeking, training, and installing Godly leadership.

So, whether you are a part of SK or not, learning what scripture requires in these areas is beneficial.   Perhaps you have been curious about SK.  Aside from the vision of the church, there is probably no more beneficial thing to know than understanding what our leadership is going to look like.  We invite you to find out.

Let’s be honest.  We know that disillusionment abounds when it comes to church leadership.  Sadly, their failures are more widespread than their successes.  We are seeking to change both the perception and the reality of church leadership by seeking what God wants in the governing of His church (novel concept).

Come check Sovereign King out October 18th and 25th for this series.  We look forward to the next step in our maturation, and we would love for any and all of you to join us.

sk-Church-Logo-dotcom-mono-

October 14, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys – Sermon Preview for 101109

staubachI, like many other kids, tried to emulate my heroes in most everything they did.  At any point in time, I would play a game of football and act like I was Roger Staubach.  I would play baseball and pretend that I was Dale Murphy.  I would play basketball and dream of being Dr. J.  I played guitar and walked around my room like I was Ace Frehley.  In the smallest of ways, I was like my heroes.  I could throw football, hit a baseball, make a layup, and strum a guitar.  But the difference between me and my heroes was much greater than any similarities.

In the strangest of ways, that is how we relate to God.  We have some characteristics (communicable attributes) that we share with God.  He loves, and we can love.  He is wise, and we can be wise.  He is knowable, and we can be known.  God is merciful, and on our best day, we can be merciful as well.  But in all of those things, we are only like God in the smallest of ways.  God loves perfectly; we love incredibly imperfectly.  God is wise, and we are only wise as we reflect God’s wisdom.  We are merciful but only to the extent that we know God’s mercy.

There are some qualities of God that we do no share with Him in any way.  These are called incommunicable attributes.  For example, God is eternal, and we a have clear and definite beginning.  God is omnipresent, and according to your calendar or day timer, you definitely are not.  God is immutable (unchanging), and we are the worst at changing as the wind blows.

So we can imitate and be like God in some ways, but even our imitation is a pale likeness of God.  He is the truest representation of love, holiness, knowledge, wisdom, and pretty much every other description of Him.  So as we approach knowing God through scripture, we have to be careful.  Often words will be used to describe what God is doing (love, hate, patience, mercy) and we apply human definitions of those qualities to what God has done which severely limits our understanding of God’s actions and declarations.  Instead of reading how God is described and applying what we know of a certain to quality to Him, we should read what God does and understand that quality in its truest context and definition.

As you begin to understand those qualities, you can grow in your worship of God.  This week in Romans 9, Paul is going to emphasize 3 specific characteristics of God:  His mercy, compassion, and power.  In light of that, let’s ask this Big Picture Question.

Big Picture Question:  How should God’s mercy, compassion, and power transform your worship?

If you would like to join Sovereign King Church for worship, we meet at 10:30am each Sunday, and you can find directions to our worship space at http://www.sovereignkingpca.net/1.2.html.

October 9, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stick to the Plan – Sermon Notes: Romans 8:36-9:13

the planAudio for this sermon can be found at http://www.sermoncloud.com/sovereign-king-church/

I’m no mathematician nor am I the son of a mathematician.  In fact, in college, the classes I enjoyed the least were my math’s especially the two statistics classes I had to take.  I have jokingly referred to myself as a “math atheist” on more than one occasion.  How surprised was I when I found myself managing an eye doctor’s office, keeping the books and trying to make the place more profitable.  All of sudden, numbers, projected profits, and balance sheets were my way of life.  Then for a couple of years, I made my living working the numbers as optometric consultant.

The good thing about math is once you get the formulas, they are tried and true.  2 + 2 + 4 will be the same tomorrow as it is today.  You can even do the formula in reverse and it works because 4 – 2 = 2.  When doing financial analysis and you’re looking at what a company grossed, their average day is always going to be total gross divided by the number of business days.  It work the other way around.  The number of business days times the average is going to equal the total grossed.

But here is the problem.  It is generally deduced that addition is easier than subtraction.  Development behaviorists determine this by studying children and observing that children deduce differences by their knowledge of sums.  So it takes learning to add and building a knowledge base in order to do subtraction properly.  The math works both ways adding and subtracting but subtracting is apparently a little harder for many.

Well the truths of God work the same way.  They are true forwards and backwards but if we start with ourselves and have to subtract to get to God, it is always going to be a bit harder.  Starting with God and His promises is always the best route.  Let me give you an example.  A few weeks ago, we looked at how God has made absolutely sure that His children will be secure.  He chooses them.  He calls them.  He justifies them.  He glorifies them.  Because of that, those that have faith in Jesus can live fearless, faith-filled lives of obedience because God has guaranteed not only that His children will grow in being like Christ, He has promised that they have nothing to fear.  Nothing can stand against them:  no job, no lack of job, no broken relationship, no nothing.  When God plans, enacts and secures a work in the life of His children they have nothing to fear.

That truth gets tricky though if we start with ourselves and work backwards to God.  If we start by saying, “Oh I would really like to live securely and fearlessly,” there are a host of challenges that can get in the way.  We look at our weaknesses; we look at our circumstances and get discouraged.  We hear the promises of God, but wonder if they are still possible in light of all the problems in our lives.   You can find your way back to God and His promises will still be true but it might tough going to get there.

Instead, we need to start with who God is, what God has done, and what God has promised to do and then see our lives in light of that.  Addition is easer.  God did His work.  Mankind does His work because God did His work.

If you were here two weeks ago, you are going to find some similar themes as Paul is always apt repeat Himself, but that’s okay.  Paul starts with God and moves to us, so it will be refreshing to hear what He has to say.  In light of that, let’s ask this Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  How do the promises of God make life secure?

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.

Now, why in the world would Paul make these kinds of declaration?  Declarations about believers being killed, being sheep for slaughter, and consequently being a conqueror?   Well 2 weeks ago, we heard these promises from God.  Paul said in verse 31, If God is for you, who can be against you?   The answer would be…no one.  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for you, how will God not also with Jesus graciously give you all things?  Who will bring any charge against God’s elect?  No one because God is the one that chose His children so no one can bring a charge against them.  It is God who justifies so who could condemn you?   No one.  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.

It is important for you to understand these truths before tackling the last part of chapter 8.  God wants to assure you of His love for you.  Nothing in all creation can separate your from His love.  No one can effectively be against you.  No one can bring a charge against you.  No one can condemn you.

This of course does not mean that people won’t attempt to separate you from God’s love or be against you or bring a charge against you or attempt to condemn you.  The word most often associated with someone condemning you or bringing charges against you because you are a believer in Jesus is persecution.  In America, we know very little of persecution.  We assume because somebody is offended by the topics of abortion, homosexuality, or some other hot-button issue that that is persecution.  Most of the time, folks are reacting to our arrogance and our smugness and not to the offense that Jesus presents.  If people can react to your stand in the same manner that they can react to a similar stand of a political party, that’s not persecution.  That’s politics.

Having someone condemn you or bring a charge against you happens when you present such a clear and beautiful picture of our meek Savior that they are undone and offended by Jesus and the Gospel – not offended by you.  We know very little of this because we either get in the way and offend and start telling people how they are going to burn in hell or we just don’t know Jesus very well so we couldn’t present a honest picture of him to the world if we had to.

No, the voice of condemnation most heard in your ears is your own voice.  This happens when you either don’t know the truths of scripture and the Gospel well or you begin to measure your standing before God by your efforts.  Then the voice of condemnation comes in your head and tells you things like…God does not love you.  You are worthless.  Your family, friends, and loved ones would be better off without you.  Your physical appearance determines your self-worth.

But God in His grace wants you to know that Nothing in all creation can separate your from His love.  No one can effectively be against you.  No one can bring a charge against you.  No one can condemn you.  If you have faith in Jesus, you are a conqueror because your victorious Savior is the conqueror.

38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.

In Jesus Christ, your place before God is so secure, no one, not even you, has the power to remove you from the security of His love.  The world considers you a sheep worthless only worthy of slaughter, but no, in Jesus you are a conqueror.  Yes, your body, your health, and who knows what might be taken in this world, but through Jesus, you are a conqueror because Christ, through His life, death, and resurrection, has conquered sin, the power of sin, death, alienation, doubt, fear, Hell, Satan and all him minions.

What a sweet truth.  We would all do well to comfort our hearts as we lay awake at night with these verses.  Neither height, nor depth, nor anything in all creation is able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus,  Amen.  And as a reminder to those that think they can lose their salvation, you are a “thing in creation” so that means that no even you can cause you to lose your salvation.  You know, most everyone fears losing their relationship with God.  But this verse intends not only to assure you of your relationship with God, but also assure you of His love.

Is there anything that can separate you from the love of God?  The answer is no.  Look at that list.  If you die, it can’t separate you from the love of God.  Nothing in this life can separate you from the love of God.  No angel or heavenly being has the power to separate you from the love of God.  There is nothing that can happen today and nothing that can happen in the future that can separate you from the love of God.  There is no power, none above in the heavens or below in the depths nor anything in all of God’s creation that can separate you from the love of God.

Folks, if you have faith in Jesus and you trust Him for your salvation asking Him for repentance and forgiveness, this verse is worth a lifetime of counseling.  It is God’s declaration of how undying and unchanging His love and affection is for you.  Please memorize it.  Please practice it when you are scared.  Men, proclaim this truth to your wives when they are worried.  Women, proclaim this truth to your husbands when they doubt.  Parents, proclaim this truth to your children when they are stressed.  Kids, proclaim this truth to your siblings and friends to let them know how much Jesus loves them.

Now, at this point, Paul is going to take an interesting detour.  Well, what it really is in an extended illustration of these truths.  What makes God’s love inseparable from you is that its basis and root is found in God’s choosing you, calling you, justifying you, and glorifying you.  Paul is going to illustrate what that looks like by discussing the election of the nation of Israel.  What I mean by the Nation of Israel is the physical descendants of Abraham.  Again, keep in mind, this Paul’s illustration of how secure God’s love is to you and to your election.

9:1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

Paul starts off here by reminding us that what he is not lying when he says these things – in fact he says that the Spirit of God has testified to his that what he is saying is true.  And the story he is about to tell causes him great anguish.  In fact, the only reason I can believe that what he says he is true is because it is inspired by the Holy Spirit so he cannot be lying.

Paul uses the story of the nation of Israel to demonstrate God’s faithfulness and warn against presumption.  Paul’s anguish comes because so many of them do not believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin.  This pains Paul so much that he wishes that he were accursed or essentially he wishes that he himself could die and go to hell if it meant that his brothers in the nation of Israel would believe.  On a small note here, I pray that I could have that kind of compassion for those that don’t believe in Jesus.  Sadly, the church is often rightly criticized for our lack of compassion.  We are so quick to tell  people that they going to burn in hell where Paul here says, “If I could burn in hell so that you wouldn’t have to, I would.”  This is a great verse to pursue your own motivations or lack thereof around those that do not believe and then walk in repentance and newness of life.  But in verse 4, Paul shows why it is such a tragedy that his fellow Israelites do not believe.

4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

The nation of Israel was promised to be God’s people to Abraham when God said in Genesis “I will be your God and you will be my people.”  They fell into slavery under Pharaoh and God saved them through Moses walking them on dry land across the Red Sea.  At Mount Sinai, God established a covenant with His people.  To help them understand the expectations of being in covenant with God, God gave the law to them.  This was not just a simple list do’s and don’ts; it was an expression of God’s character detailing to them exactly how they should show thankfulness to God and how they should approach God in worship.

God gave them incredible men to lead them, the Patriarchs.  Men like Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, and others.  Though each one of these men was far from perfect, they were Godly men.  Abraham proclaimed faith in God.  Moses led the people in the worship of God.  David helped constitute the people as a nation.  Solomon taught them the deep truths of God.  From them, and many Godly women as well, came the line of ancestors that eventually led to Jesus Christ.  Now, that is an incredible legacy.

Paul was in anguish because after all of those blessings, very few Israelites believed in Jesus.  Looking around, it makes sense to wonder and ask:  What about the promises of God?  What about election?  In Paul’s day, Israel wasn’t even in control of their own land anymore.  They were under the judgment of God.  What happened?

Now before we answer the question, Paul is asking that question in light of the fact that it looks like God has promised a bunch of stuff and it didn’t happened.  Right or wrong, some of you are asking the same types of questions.  You are wondering why things aren’t better.  You thinking, “Hey, shouldn’t God have my back here?  Shouldn’t He bail me out?”  You might even begin to wonder if the promises of scripture are true or not.  You might even begin to wonder if the whole Christian life is a big waste to time.  Yeah, God’s love is secure but so what?  I’m hurting now.  Paul uses the Nation of Israel to answer those questions.

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring

No, the Word of God has not, cannot, and will not fail.  You might wonder by looking at your circumstances if God has failed because things are not turning out the way you thought they should.  You might ask yourself questions like:  Wait a minute, why am I struggling financially?  Why am I in a passionless marriage?  Why is my health so bad?  Why are my kids having so many problems?  Why am I unemployed?  Shouldn’t things be better?  Aren’t those things my right?

Well, you definitely might consider that the word of God failed if you looked at Israel.  Hardly any of them believe in Jesus, so how could the Word of God not failed?  Well, the problem is not the Word of God.  The problem is where you are looking for evidence of the promises of God.  Paul explains His illustration in this way.  He says, Not all of Israel belong to Israel which means just because you are physically part of the nation of Israel, hat doesn’t mean you are part of Israel.  Just because a person is a physical descendent of Abraham, that doesn’t make them a child of Abraham.

Now let’s stop here for a moment.  The presumption became and still is to this day that if you are physically descended from Abraham, if you are born a Jew, then God is going to automatically save you.  But nowhere in scripture do we see that promises of God working with those kinds of assumptions.  God called a people to Himself but never promised universal salvation and never does God promise salvation based upon a mere descendant of someone.  If that was the case, there would be no need or desire or impetus for Jesus.

Paul wants to kill any idea that you, me, or anyone else would ever had that God owes us anything.  He is already gracious.  He has already given us His son.  Why would think that He is going to run around be impressed with us?  Why would you think at any point and time, “Hey God you are not being fair.”  God is sovereign.  He has poured His grace out through Jesus.  We are finite.  We have no right to demand that God already be more gracious.  Fortunately, He is.

Listen, I understand real need.  I promise you I do.  But we yell and scream to God about material things when He gave us His Son.  He gave us His son.  To illustrate that, Paul gives another picture of God’s promises.

7 “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Let me tell you what’s going on here.  God made a promise to create a people from Abraham.  Abraham had a child named Isaac.  Isaac had two sons:  Jacob and Esau.  In fact they were twins.  Esau was the older and Jacob was the younger.  Jacob was a quiet guy, probably listened to Dave Matthews or Coldpay.  Esau was rough and tumble kind of guy.  He probably listened to Ted Nugent or maybe Metallica.  Esau was a pretty good guy.  Jacob was a shmuck.  Let me give you an example.

It came time for Isaac to give his blessing to his sons.  Isaac and his mom tricked their dad and stole the blessing that was supposed to be given to Esau.  Like I said…a shmuck.  Strangely enough, God created the people of Israel from…Jacob.  In fact, he even changed Jacob’s name to Israel.  But look what Paul says.  God’s blessings don’t come through natural descendants.  The blessings don’t come from where you think they will come from.  They come from God.  They come from the promise.  God decided what was going to happen to Jacob and Esau long before either one of them did anything good or anything bad.  God elected by His own desire and purpose and plan that He would bless Jacob and not Esau.

In a worldy sense, it doesn’t mane any sense:  Jacob was the shmuck and Esau was the good guy.  But God’s purposes and plans will not be thwarted.  Begin with God, hear His promises, work from there to here and things make sense.  Begin with us and work backwards, it’s a little harder.  You see, back in Genesis 25:23, God promised that Isaac would have these two sons and the older would serve the younger.  The promise came about through sinful means but God’s promises cannot be thwarted.  God uses sin sinlessly.

You see God’s purpose of election is always sure.  He chooses.  He calls.  He justifies.  He glorifies.  God had a plan.  He loved Jacob.  He hated Esau.  Some want that passage to say, “Jacob I have loved; Esau I have loved less,” but that is not what the Hebrew says.  Folks let me frame this this way as we move to a conclusion:  God does hate.  He hates sin and apparently He hated Esau.  We are told to hate our sin, but rarely do we come close to hating it.  We hate the consequences of our sin and at times we fight, but I have yet to meet the man or woman who hates sin the same way God hates sin.  But we do know what it looks like to hate by looking at God the same way we learn to love by looking at God.

Now this passage has caused so much anguish, and I would say that most of it comes from trying to make it say something it doesn’t say.  But this passage emphasizes that God’s purpose and election is sure.   He chooses.  He elects.  He loves.  He hates and He does all these things without explanation or justification.  As my old mentor Terry Traylor use to say, “God is as sovereign as your worst nightmare.”

But all of life’s questions become clearer if we start with God and move towards us.  If we pursue God’s character and His promises and as much as scripture allows understand His promises, our lives begin to fit into His plan and we can find peace.  But all of life’s questions become more difficult to understand if we start with us and move towards God – it can happen but it isn’t easy.  Folks, God is gracious.  He has poured out a never-separated love on you.  But His purposes are His own and in every circumstance, He has one primary purpose:  to bring Himself glory.  He does that by loving Jacob, hating Esau, saving you, ordaining sickness, calamity, prosperity, feast and famine.  And when you re-orient yourself so that your one purpose, whether feast or famine, is to glorify God, you can ask God to do whatever He wants in your life and you will be happy as long as He is glorified.

October 4, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment