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Gentiles, Jews, Israelites, and Hebrews

Lord willing, the next two Sundays will deal with prophecy as it relates to current events.  What is God doing now?  A primary text for these sermons will be Romans 9 – 11.  This passage speaks repeatedly of Israel and Gentiles.  This morning I received a great list of questions seeking clarification on the terms Jew (Israelite) and Gentile.  Given the topics for the next couple of weeks here is some simple information that may help.
Q:  What is the difference between Jews and Gentiles?
A:  Technically the Bible only distinguishes two ethnic races, Jews and Gentiles.  Jews are descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob.  Everyone else, regardless of nationality, skin color, or modern ethnicity is Gentile. 
Q:  What is the origination of the name “Israel?”
A:  Jacob’s name was changed to Israel in Genesis 35:10
Q:  What is the difference in the terms Jew, Israelite, and Hebrew? 
A:  The answer is yes and no.  Most commonly, people do not make a distinction.  Yet, strictly speaking there is a difference which would explain the existence of the three.  From an Old Testament sense the term Hebrew refers to the ethnic race of people (Jews) that were involved in the Exodus from Egypt.  It is the most proper sense of referring to the ethnic nation of Israel.  Because of the divided kingdom the tribes in the Southern nation (Judah) were known as Jews, while the tribes of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) became known as Israelites.  Yet there are many texts in which the term Israel (ie. Rom 9-11) is used to refer to the entire ethnic nation.
Q:  What are the tribes of Israel?
A:  The tribes of Israel are derived from the lineage of every Hebrew (Jewish) person as it is traced through the 12 sons of Jacob (Gen. 29:31ff).  Each tribe carries the name of a brother.  However, there is no tribe of Joseph.  In Genesis 48 Jacob (Israel) passed on the family blessing to Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh. 
Q:  Can one be “Jewish” without being born “a Jew?”
A:  Yes and no.  Some people mistake ethnic “Jewishness” with the religion known as Judaism.  Judaism is a religion that worships the Creator God (the same God referred to in what Christians call the Old Testament).  This God chose and redeemed the nation of Israel.  The Christian Old Testament is derived from the Hebrew Scriptures which are commonly called “Torah” but are technically known by Jews as the “Torah – Law”, “Prophets”, and “Writings.”  Many ethnically born Jews do not subscribe to Judaism.  Some people who are not ethnically born Jews convert to Judaism and become in a sense “Jewish.” 
Q:  Do Jews go to church?
A:  It can be very offensive to a worshipping Jew to refer to their attendance of “church.”  The term “church” is most commonly used to refer to Christians who gather to worship Jesus.  Religious Jews (Judaism) do not worship Jesus. Those who hold to Judaism gather together for worship in synagogues.  However, some ethnically Jewish people do recognize Jesus as Messiah. They believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of The Law, Prophets, and Writings.  In this sense, Christianity is technically an expression of Judaism. 
Because of the deep roots of the New Testament Christianity in Judaism and the nation of Israel, it is sinful for people who claim to follow Christ to despise or discriminate against Jews.  The gospel would forbid this of any people, but especially the Jews.  Romans 9-11 condemns Gentile Christians who would despise Jews.  Romans 9 – 11 would encourage Gentile Christians to marvel at how God relates to Israel and respond to these truths with humility toward the Jew and worship of the sovereign God through Jesus Christ.      
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Smoke in Wind (Reading Romans 16)

The Book of Romans ends in the most unexpected way, with a list of names. The Bible is famous for this, compiling mountainous, monotonous lists of names. We read through them as if they are a bore. But are they meaningful?

If we were to eliminate the list of names we would emasculate the Scriptures of one of its greatest truths; that God has chosen to reveal Himself in human theaters. Paul could have shared with us thirty more profound truths about justification, or he could do as he has, share with us thirty people who have made the journey from Romans 1, people who participate in the wrath of God, to Romans 16, people who participate in the glory of God. God could have revealed Himself to us in code, or theological treatise, or religious formula. But He has not. God has revealed Himself to us in a list of names, in a monotonous mountain of humanity. If we were to erase Romans 16 we should also erase the names of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, Esther, Jeremiah, Daniel, Luke, Matthew, Timothy, Peter, John. . . God uses people to manifest His glory.

The interaction of an invisible God with humanity is like the dance of smoke in wind. The smoke is at the mercy of the wind but it is the smoke that makes the wind visible. So it is with God and man. God has chosen to use humanity to make the abstract concepts like forgiveness, love, mercy, and grace tangible truths with textures, tastes, smells, and colors. No man would have ever known God is love unless God had chosen a man with a name to receive it; smoke in wind.

If we are to experience God we cannot separate ourselves from community. God has revealed Himself to people with names. If you want to see God, you must be around people. In Romans 16 Paul reminds us that being around people can be as ideal (vv. 1-16) as it is dangerous (vv. 17-20). People with names can bless you. People with names can hurt you. As odd as it seems the Almighty has chosen to make Himself known to people with names. It is smoke in wind, the invisible God and His sovereignty intertwined and visible in a multitude of people with names.
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Who are You? Part 2, The Benefactors (Reading Romans 16)

Paul mentions four groups in Romans 16. He mentions those whom the church should greet (1-16), those of whom the church should beware (17-20), those whom bring greetings to the church (21-24), and he finally acknowledges the glory of God in His Son at work in the church (25-27). Who are you?

From verses 21-24 Paul mentions a series of men who bring greetings to the church. Some of these names you may quickly recognize like pastor Timothy to whom two epistles are written and Jason whose story is told in Acts 17. The other names may be more obscure. At the very least we can discern that these are men with Paul as they are not greeted by the church, but instead they send their greetings to the church.

The church needs men and women who work inside the church, servants, workers, teachers, etc. But the church also needs men and women of means who are able to use their time and talents to move the church. These are people who use their frequent flier miles to transport a missionary. It is the retiree who volunteers his time to drive an evangelist late at night so that he may return to his family. It is the man who has five weeks of vacation and he uses three or maybe even all of them to dig water wells in the desert. I have always been blessed by the stories of men and women who volunteer vast amounts of time and resources to the church that the gospel may be spread around the earth.

God calls some people to teach, he calls others to drive. Paul had a group of men from many walks of life that were with him.

Who are you? to be continued . . .
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Who Are You? Part 2, The Dangerous (Reading Romans 16)


Paul mentions four groups in Romans 16. He mentions those whom the church should greet (1-16), those of whom the church should beware (17-20), those whom bring greetings to the church (21-24), and he finally acknowledges the glory of God in His Son at work in the church (25-27). Who are you?

From verses 17-20 Paul tells the church family to watch out for those who would cause divisions and obstacles contrary to the doctrine that has been taught. For those outside the church this statement is surprising. To those who have been hurt by the church, it is not. For those new to the faith and naive this is surprising. To the seasoned and embattled warrior of truth, it is not.

What is surprising, is the form the dangerous take. They do not plainly declare their presence nor their intentions. They have a gift of smooth talk and flattery. The enemies of the gospel can make you feel most important. Yet their motives are single, their own appetites. Whether it be the destruction of a leader, the deception of a flock, the division of a congregation, or the derailment of the mission, the battle will not end until the dangerous are satisfied.

Paul speaks of their source, Satan. The good news is that Satan is mentioned only one time in Romans. The best news is that the only time Satan is mentioned in Romans we are informed that he is doomed. The message is clear. If you participate in the division and creation of obstacles that would deceive people from the path of faith, you are a loser!

Who are you? To be continued . . .
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Who Are You? Part 1 (Reading Romans 16)

In Romans 16 Paul speaks of four groups. The first group is those whom the church should greet (vv. 1 – 16). They are people critical to the life and health of the church. These people are servants, hard workers, new converts, and heroes of the faith like Prisca and Aquila (v. 4). These are people the church should cherish and never take for granted.

In order for a church to be healthy there must be people who give themselves to people, servants (vv. 1-2). The servants of the church are the most inconspicuous. They are what they are without a vote, without invitation, and too often without recognition. Paul recognizes Phoebe. He commends her to the church which means that they should immediately accept her and stand beside her. Paul goes on to say that the church needs to help her in whatever she may need. Phoebe, the servant, needed to be served. It was time to return the blessing. In order for a church to be healthy there are times it must serve its servants.

In the first church I pastored the Phoebe to my family was Sherry Ray. My wife Shannon was ever involved in the music ministry of the church, and the nursery, and with directing weddings, and teaching from time to time, and on and on we go. During the last two years of our ministry at Lantana Road Baptist Church Shannon was even more involved in the church, AND, Shannon was a new mother. Sherry did not sing in the choir, but Sherry would come to choir practice for one express purpose, to hold our daughter Morgan. Sherry gave herself to people, she was a servant.

There must be people who give energy to the church, workers. If people give only money to the church it will not survive. The equity of the church is most often measured in sweat. The church must have men and women who carry a Bible in one hand and a hammer in the other. The church must have people who worship on Sunday and work on Monday. The church needs people who teach lessons and others who use blow torches. The church should sweat.

There must be people who inspire the church, like Andronicus and Junia who were well known to the apostles (v. 7), or like the aforementioned Prisca and Aquila who were well known to the Gentiles (v. 4). Congregations have pastors who inspire their faith, but congregations also need men and women of great courage who walk amongst the people and provide a living testimony of what God can do.

In order for the church to be healthy there must be new converts. Epaenetus may not have been a new convert to the Romans, but his name was forever synonymous to God saving souls in Asia (v. 5). Nothing so inspires the church more than people coming to Christ. One of the things I loved about serving as pastor of Latana Road is that the church was filled with walking stories of God saving souls. The pews were filled with trophies to God’s saving grace.

When you read this list, who are you? Where does your name fit?

There are also dangerous people in the church . . .(to be continued).
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The People You Need (Reading Romans 16)

Romans 16 appears to be just another list of awkward Bible names; the kind of list you read at scan speed. Yet take a moment, slow the pace, if it helps drop the names and list the roles.

Servant of the church
Protector of many
Fellow workers in Christ Jesus who risked their necks for my life
One who has worked hard for you
My kinsmen and fellow prisoners
My beloved in the Lord
Our fellow worker in Christ
Workers in the Lord
One who has worked hard in the Lord
One who has been a mother to me
One who is host to me and to the whole church

In order to be effective we are in desperate need of people. We need a broad range of people. We need those who serve in general and we need those who become like mothers to us. We need those who enter the journey during the lowest moments of our life and we need those who will fight for our lives. We need hard workers and we need hosts.

It is not good for man to be alone. You and I need people. You and I need to be people for other people.
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What is Your Christ History? (Reading Romans 15)

Romans 15 and 16 are Paul’s Christ history. These chapters teach us that there are many things about Paul that were solely defined by Christ. So many things Paul writes ring with a “because of Christ, I . . .” sort of rhythm. He creates this list to share his heart and inspire our walk.

Because of Jesus Christ Paul says we can bear with the failings of other people and not please ourselves (v. 1). People are difficult, especially people who seem to infringe on our faith. Paul describes them as weak. Yet, because of Jesus, you can deal with it. Why? “For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me (v. 3).”

Because of Jesus you can be full of hope. The very essence of Jesus’ mission was to bring the knowledge of the name of God to the Gentiles and to confirm the promises of God to the Jews. “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 (v. 13).”

Because of Jesus you can instruct others. It was the grace of God working in Paul’s life that filled him with knowledge and thus the ability to write an incredible letter of instruction to the Romans (v. 14). The work of Christ in Paul’s life gave his words weight.

Because of Jesus you can witness to others who have never heard His name. Paul says that it is his ongoing dynamic relationship to Jesus as well as his understanding of the plan of God to spread the gospel to the nations that compels him to go to the most difficult and unsuitable environments to share the message. “And thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named (v. 20a).”

Throughout his epistles Paul creates a list of things he has done and will do for the sake of Jesus Christ. He has suffered shipwreck and he is willing to go to prison, why, because Christ has so inspired Paul to do so. In Jesus Christ Paul saw the ultimate example of willingness, humility, obedience, love, and inspiration. There was nothing that could challenge Paul that he could not overcome because of the example of Christ. Paul could deal with his enemies because Jesus did. Paul could go to great lengths to reach the lost because Jesus did. Paul could control his own ambitions and desires because Jesus did. There is not much about the life of Paul that he could not trace back to simply, “I do, because Jesus did.”

So what is your Christ history? When it comes to self control do you draw inspiration from the life of Christ? What examples can you cite of going to great lengths to reach someone with the gospel simply because Jesus did? How many times have you been able to constructively deal with a brother who has infringed on your faith because “Christ did not please himself?”

What is your Christ history? If you were writing Romans 15, what would it say?
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He is Your Brother (Reading Romans 14)

“Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, as I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” Romans 10:10-11

Romans 14 is about dealing with scruples. Scruples are things that people cannot bring themselves to do because they defy their conscience. Scruples may be things other people are totally free to do, but for some reason you just can’t go there. Being afraid to bungee jump is not a scruple. Believing that bungee jumping is behavior unbecoming to a Christian is a scruple. Sort of. But you get the point.

Within the Christian church there are things that people believe differently and strongly. The casual reader of church history can see that while Christians are united that Jesus is the Son of God, some of us just can’t bring ourselves to wear pants or use something other than the KJV. Sadly, it is all of the other things besides Jesus that we believe strongly, are ironically, the things that divide us. I do not make that statement happily!

Paul instructs us on how to handle our scruples. Rule of thumb, remember that in Christ we are brothers and sisters.

If you believe the KJV is the only Word of God, please understand the man carrying the neon, plastic coated NLT is your brother.

If you believe women who do not wear pants are strange, just remember, she is your sister in Christ. "Do not quarrel over opinions (v.1)." Paul tells us to literally SKIRT the issue! Pun intended.

If you are tired of your friend in the Church of Christ telling you that your Baptist body is fit only for Hell, just remember, in Christ, he is your brother.

If you read this blog and think I am a heretic, just remember, I love you, and Paul says that in Christ, I am your brother. Please do not despise me.
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Weak People Believe Certain Things Strongly (Reading Romans 14)

Romans 14 is an odd passage that it admonishes the strong in the Christian community to be able to constructively deal with the weak. The immediate audience is comprised of people who had strong beliefs about diet and the observance of special days. The odd aspect of the passage is that Paul is labeling those with strong convictions as those who are weak.

There are essential points of belief that define the Christian community. The identity of Jesus as the Son of God and the meaning of His death, burial and resurrection are non-negotiable. That a person must repent of sin and receive Jesus as Savior and Lord is a foundational tenant of our faith. Yet there are many other things in the Christian community that people believe strongly. Paul says that people believe in certain things so strongly, like diet and days, that they are matters of conscience (v. 5). As such we should not cause a brother to stumble over them (v. 13). Yet how could Paul call someone who believes something strongly, weak?

The common perception is that people who have strong convictions, and hold to them, are greater versions of Christianity. The most popular example I could point to is the Duggar family whose life is documented on TLC’s “17 and Counting.” I will admit I watch the show only when I am exercising agape love for my wife and sacrifice control of the remote control. Outside of wife love, I have no interest in watching the show. It stresses me out; as does “John and Kate Plus 8.” Although with John and Kate it is not the number of kids that stresses me out as much as it is Kate’s constant nagging. I digress, back to the Duggars. The Duggars exhibit strong Christian beliefs in modesty that lead them to dress their daughters in long skirts, plain shirts, and it seems a certain style for hair. Many would say their consistent practice of modesty makes them appear to be “strong” Christians. But what if they believed parents who did not require their daughters to wear skirts were something less than Christian? What if they refused to fellowship with anyone who names the name of Christ in pants? At this point strong belief becomes divisive and as such it is a point of weakness.

Paul’s teaching is ironic in that the strong seem to be people who believe things weakly and the weak seem to be people who believe things strongly. Where is the balance? The balance is that brothers and sisters in Christ should seek to major on the majors and not allow the non-definitive aspects of our faith divide our fellowship. “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God (14:20).” Yet it must be said that the burden for dealing with the weak who believe certain things strongly, is upon the strong who believe certain things weakly. The strong should be able to exhibit a faith that is accepting and not prone to quarreling, with those who believe strongly in skirts, or days, or diets, or Bible versions, or abstinence from alcohol, or absence from movie theaters. . . Christian fellowship is something we should believe in strongly.
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The Second Coming of Christ (Reading Romans 13:8-14)

On Sunday I will be preaching a sermon entitled “Getting Dressed in the Dark.” The sermon text will be Romans 13:8-14. In this passage Paul refers to the final act of salvation when he says, "For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed." This final act of salvation will be fulfilled in the second coming of Christ. Paul says this truth should motivate us toward holy living. Below is a link to a handout sheet I will use on the Second Coming of Christ taken from the New Topical Text Book. At the very least this should give you some verses to study on an incredibly interesting topic.

PDF of verses on the Second Coming of Christ
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Early Risers (Reading Romans 13:8-14)

In the agrarian society of Paul’s day rising at first light was the norm. Without the ability to significantly lengthen the day with artificial lighting, time was measured with sunlight. The day began and ended with the sun. A person who remained in bed well past first light was considered slothful and lazy. Such laziness could most often be attributed to one’s activity the previous night. If a person was given to drunkenness, parties, and chasing sensuality under the cover of darkness he would be apt to be ill prepared for first light.

“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Romans 13:11-14

Based on our activities in the cover of darkness, many of us may not be ready for first light. We do not “know the time.” The dawning of a new day of righteousness is at hand. The return of Jesus is nearer than it was yesterday, or the day we first believed, or even more so than the day Paul penned Romans 13. Sadly, many people who call themselves Christians are living in promiscuity instead of purity. Sinful behavior is not congruent with the Christian life.

The Christian life is like a man rising just before the dawn, prepared for light. He passes over the debaucheries of darkness so that he may be well prepared to greet the morning. He is dressed and ready. He expects first light. He rises early. He knows the time.

How do you prepare for the return of Jesus Christ?

Realize purity is not a natural desire of the body. It is an ideal, but not a desire. Everyone wants to be pure; that is why we justify our actions. Saying no isn’t easy. Discipline is essential to dealing with the desire for gratification. “Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

Realize the danger of being fully awake in the darkness. Those who are active all night will sleep past dawn. Sin takes the reality of the return of Christ off of our radar. When we are living in sin we are ashamed of His coming, afraid of His coming, and unaware of the immanent nature of his coming. Live for day, not darkness. “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.”

Realize salvation is near. What is a lifetime compared to an eternity? Is your secret sin valuable? Is total darkness worth missing total day? “The day is at hand.”

Be an early riser. Refuse to live for what is now so that you may not miss what is next. When Paul says “salvation is nearer to us now” he is speaking of the world as God intends for it to be; right. Salvation means we will exist absent of sorrow and loss, sickness and pain, fully healed, fully righteous. Jesus died for us . . .for this. He died so we could exist in the enjoyment of God. Prepare for dawn. Get dressed. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
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I Can Drive 55 (Reading Romans 13:8-14)

In Romans 13:10 Paul says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” In his commentary on Romans John Stott explains this verse by saying, “Love and law need each other. Love needs law for its direction, while law needs love for its inspiration.”[i]

So how are you doing with the speed limit? Nothing seems to bring out our innate desire for rebellion like the speed limit. Little women in large SUV’s are speedy rebels. There is a stretch near our church where a school intersection and two church driveways collide. The local municipality recently inserted a red light and lowered the speed limit in that area from 55 to 30. There is much rebellion going on down Deerfoot Parkway these days. I am not sure if it is my own expression of rebellion, but when I reach that section of road I abruptly lower my speed from 55 to 30 within an inch of the sign. I brake so hard that I can see nothing but pavement for a split second; then I creep along daring anyone to hit me. On that note, I want to thank all of the women who almost ran over me this morning for dropping off your babies at Baptist daycare before you went NASCAR on the rest of the world. That was me, the turtle, you almost killed today.

It is human to hate speed limits. It is a sin to break them. Yet nothing pulls us back in line like the sight of the state patrol sitting inconspicuously behind a tree. When we see smokey we all do that nose dive, pavement seeing, braking thing. We fear the law.

As a pastor, and a person, I have noticed that most of us fear being caught for doing wrong than we love doing right. What if we loved doing right? The law needs love. What if we learned to love 55? If you loved 55, 56 or 90 would be no issue. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

In the end it comes down to the question of whether or not you love Jesus, or do you simply fear Him? Are your “right” moments with Lord and neighbor motivated more by the fear of being caught or the love of doing right? I John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” Sad to say, but the southern fried version of Christianity is most often motivated by guilt. We relate to Jesus like He is a policeman on a hill with radar. We run fast and furious toward our most sinful habits until we realize we may be caught, we brake, nose dive, and stare at the pavement. Once you exit smokey’s sight, it is foot to the pedal again.

Just between us, that form of Christianity isn’t working for you is it? I know. I’ve been there and have the membership card to prove it. Frankly, I hate the club, and hated that version of guilt ridden faith.

In His rescue of the soul God has given us His Holy Spirit so that doing the right thing becomes a satisfying pleasure. In Christ the law is fulfilled in love, and we can drive 55. If I drive 30 in a 30, guess what, I am not concerned about law enforcement with radar. Yet, I must confess there is a sinister side of me that does wish he would catch a NASCAR angel or two as they blow by me out of Baptist daycare. Holiness is a struggle.

___________________________
[i] Romans, God’s Good News for the World, John Stott (Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1994), 350.
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Abuse of Authority (Reading Romans 13:1-7)

The Bible makes it clear that God has a hand in government. No government exists without the permission of almighty God:

And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. (Daniel 2:21)

While being questioned by Pilate, Jesus indicated that Pilate would have no authority to crucify him if God did not permit it.

Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin. (John 19:11)”

The Bible teaches that in the apocalypse God will use government to bring about the end. He will allow an unrighteous government to rise with the antichrist at the helm. Paul reiterates this idea of God’s hand in government in Romans 13 by teaching that:

1. There is no authority except that which God establishes (1b)
2. The authorities that exist have been established by God (1c)
3. If one rebels against authority he is in essence rebelling against God since God establishes authority (2a)

This idea of God establishing authority gives rise to some difficult theological and ethical questions. Is God to blame for oppressive governments that violate human rights? Is Hitler God’s fault? How do we reconcile a holy God with horrible and ungodly government?

God has established authority, the ability for men to rule over the lives of other men. God has not abused authority, nor does He condone those who do so. God has established the idea of authority. Man has abused it. We could say the same for love, sex, marriage, parenting, food, stewardship over creation, etc. God has established that man has a role to play in these things and allows man to exercise some semblance of control over them. God has loaned man the idea and ability, man in sin has distorted, perverted, and abused it.

For instance, what could be said about Hitler? Hitler ruled because God has given men the ability to have authority. Hitler abused his God given authority. Hitler’s behavior was not condoned by God, nor was it fit for submission in any context. Authority on loan from God can go horribly wrong as it trickles through the hands of sinful men.

Paul’s teaching in Romans 13 does not imply that man should submit to anyone with authority carte blanche. Romans 13 does not give governments the right to establish just “any sort” of authority over mankind. In other words, Paul’s teaching does not give a governor the right to enslave his people. At the same time, Romans 13 teaches that believers should seek to submit to government as a general principal of life. Christians do not have the right to claim God as their only authority and rebel against government. Just because Jesus is Lord does not exempt one from taxes or the speed limit.

If believers do not submit to government in the name of God, it is an abuse of authority.
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Respecting Government (Reading Romans 13:1-7)

There are many “but what if” debates surrounding Paul’s instruction in Romans 13:1-7. What if the ruling government is an oppressive, blood thirsty, tyranny? Should people submit to deadly government? What if the ruling government restricts one’s right to share the gospel? What if, what if, what if? In this week’s posts, we will entertain plenty of the, “what if?”

In interpreting a passage of this nature, one must determine whether the application is a general rule to be applied to the normal course of events, or is it an absolute rule that applies in all situations? The Book of Proverbs is a good example. Most people would believe Proverbs to be a list of absolute rules and promises, “if” one does this, “then” this will necessarily follow. Yet it does not take long in the course of life to experience a broken proverb. There are times when a person can do everything right and things go horribly wrong. A person can be wise with his money and lose it all. This being the case we should understand that merely by the experience of life the Proverbs are not absolute, but rather general applications to the ebb and flow of the majority of life. Most of the time proverbs work. There will be exceptions. Not only does the experience of life teach us this, but if one does a little bit of background study he would find that that original intent of the Proverbs was not to be applied in absolute but in general. With all of that said, in any circumstance, it is always wise to live the proverbs, even if you lose all of your money. There is no excuse for stupidity. Seek wisdom.

Romans 13 is a passage that applies to the way things should work in general. In general, the government should reward good deeds and punish evil ones. In general, government should be respectable having the good of the people at heart. Paul is not naïve to the fact that government was involved in the crucifixion of Jesus or to the fact that in the apocalypse government will become an evil beast. As a Jew, Paul was well acquainted with bad government. In writing Romans 13 Paul is not pretending that all the world is utopia. At the time of Paul’s writing he was aware the looming dangers of Nero.

So how should the people of God respond, in general, to government? As a general rule, the people of God should submit to government. The people of God should not be the source of evil, they should not be “evil doers.” The people of God should give the government no reason to incur judgment against them for unrighteous action. Christians should pay taxes. I hate them, but I pay them. When they go up, I pay more, which is the law. God’s people should respect government as an institution of God. There is no opportunity for respectable government to exist without people who respect the authority of government.
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The Right to End It (Reading Romans 12:14-21)

Does a church congregation have a right to end its relationship with certain people? In Romans 12:18 Paul says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Paul implies that certain situations and people may simply be impossible. Yet before the point of “impossibility” is reached, Paul calls the follower of Christ to go to extreme ends to reach peace. Reconciliation is always the first goal of the believer in conflict.

I could spend a great deal of time writing on this principle alone, but I want rather to write on the ignored element of the equation. Many people presume upon the grace of the church. Because they know the church should and will go to extreme ends to reconcile conflict they assume they can say almost anything, behave in almost any manner, and it is the responsibility of the church to accommodate them. This is not true. The church congregation has a right to end its relationship with divisive people. Here are several passages that demonstrate not only the extreme grace of the church but also the right to end it at some point.

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:15-20)

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. (2 Thess. 3:6)

As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (2 Thess. 3:15-16)

As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:10-11)

The church is not a public institution. The church is a private entity. The church is not required to accept anyone under any circumstance. It is true that the church can abuse its power to end a relationship too quickly, but I would contend in our modern setting this is far from the problem. The only abuse of the church’s power in our era is that the church does not exercise it. For the sake of popularity the church has sacrificed its purity.

Because the church abuses its power by forsaking its right to end it, church membership means little to nothing. I believe this is due in large part to the lack of accountability and cooperation between churches. Churches will accept anyone’s membership without question and without any sort of conversation between church leadership. We simply want to grow, whether or not it be at the expense of a sister church down the street. When it comes to church membership, especially in the transfer of the church letter, there should be some sort of baggage check. There should be some sort of dialogue, interview, and conversation; not only between church leaders and members, but also from church to church. It should also be noted that a membership class is not a baggage check. Just because someone sat in your seminar does not mean we have dealt with the issues.

I believe the church cannot “save” anyone. Yet church membership and participation should be an elementary expression of salvation. After the day of Pentecost those who were spirit filled believers congregated. This being true one can only imagine what it would mean to a person’s salvation and their spiritual development if the church disassociated with them? What sort of disciples would we make if the church took seriously Paul’s admonition to “abhor what is evil (12:9)? The church should exercise its right to end it simply because it takes sin seriously. This would be a wake up call to many living under false pretenses that they are practicing salvation all the while they dance uncontrollably with sin.

The church congregation has a right to end it.

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Below is a story on our local news concerning this topic that aired about 4 to 5 years ago. I am not sure why they interviewed me for the story, but it gave me the chance to voice my concern in this area of church discipline. I apologize for the low quality of the video and audio.

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Church Terrorism (Reading Romans 12:14-21)

I am writing this week with the utmost care (I hope), exercising grace as I trample through thorns. Conflict in the church is a sore subject. Yet, it must be dealt with for two reasons. One, conflict in the church exists. Two, the Bible gives us instruction on how to deal with it. My next post will ask the question of whether the church congregation has the right to end its relationship with certain people. Does the church ever have the right to ask anyone to leave?

Today I want to trudge towards that topic by dealing with the matter of impossible people. Paul says in Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” The positive principle of this passage is that we should pursue reconciliation at all costs. The negative principle we can draw from this passage is that some people and some situations are simply impossible. Certain situations simply cross the line.

Church terrorism is an “across the line” sort of issue. What is church terrorism? In my experience as a pastor for almost 13 years I have been held at gunpoint by an array of statements that go sort of like this:

“Since I do not agree, I will withhold my tithe.”
“If the youth group isn’t doing thus and so, my kids will not be a part of it.”
“This may be what the church has voted to do, but my family will not participate.”

Yada, yada, yada. You get the point. I call such statements and threats “church terrorism.” The idea is that if someone withholds or withdraws the church must enter into negotiations or change their course in order to regain favor with the offended party. Early in my ministry I so feared these situations that I immediately entered into negotiations, thinking that avoiding such conflict was the Biblical thing to do. It was not long before I realized you can’t negotiate with terrorists. The negotiation may result in some immediate semblance of harmony, the tithe comes back, the family shows up, or the kids go to camp. Yet, in every situation I have found that the price of the next negotiation is more costly. Take it from me, if you negotiate once, it will not long until you are back at the table. Some people and situations are just impossible.

I have learned an odd lesson in all of this. Sometimes the best way to exercise grace and “live peaceably” is to walk away from church terrorists. If someone uses their kids as the youth group bargaining chip I often tell them how unfortunate this is, how I wish it were not so, and how much we will miss them. If someone threatens to withhold their tithe (mind you most people offer this information to me only through a series of third hand channels), my reply is that this matter is between them and the Lord. I am not sure who does and does not tithe in the first place. Had the person not sent word they were going to stop, I would have never known they ever started. On this note, it is amazing to me how private a matter tithing is to people until they stop doing it. For years they have been careful to keep the matter private. Once offended they are careful to make the matter public.

The point in all of this is that you can’t negotiate with threats. As a pastor I spend time dealing with people who may be unhappy about certain aspects of ministry. My experience has always been that when people are willing to talk without threats the outcome is usually edifying. Most people want peace. Over the last several years I have noticed that there is a lot I can learn from God’s people who disagree with me. I have also learned that in most situations of disagreement my mind is prone to jump to conclusions. I would call it my gut fear. It is my inner pessimist. My inner pessimist is without grace. Yet, in most situations things are not as bad as I would believe them to be. Because of the measure of faith given to God’s people most matters of conflict can be resolved in a manner that is edifying to the Body of Christ (v. 3). Church terrorism is the exception, not the rule. So Paul says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (12:18).”
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How to Have a Proper Church Fight (Reading Romans 12:14-21)

In previous posts I have already established that the church is not an ideal community. The church has an ideal purpose, an ideal goal, but it is comprised of less than ideal people. Let’s all sing together, “I am one of them, and so are you. . .so let’s just praise the Lord!”

Because of the less than ideal nature of the church, conflict cannot be avoided. Most people would say that within the church conflict should be avoided at all costs. I am not sure if you have ever thought about that sort of statement, but if you are avoiding conflict, doesn’t that mean there is conflict? Just because you avoid something doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I rest my case. Conflict cannot be avoided.

So how do you have a proper church fight? Paul says to counter punch. Instead of taking a defensive posture, take an offensive one. Be a blessing in the conflict. Punch back for the sake of reconciliation instead of retaliation. Huh? It’s true. If someone insults you, counter punch with honor. Paul’s positive counter-punch strategy is contrary to human nature, but here are some selected verses to demonstrate his teaching:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. (12:14)

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. (12:17)

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (12:19)

To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (12:20)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.(12:21)

THERE IS NOT A PERSON ON THE PLANET TO WHOM THIS WILL COME NATURALLY! This being the case we must remember Paul’s context. The only way to relate to other people is to:

1) Surrender the self to God (12:1-2).
2) Police the self (12:3).
3) Exercise every measure of grace God has given you (12:3).

Those three principles drive this passage. So does this mean a positive church fight looks like two people standing toe to toe arguing about who loves the other one more? I wish. The overriding principle of the passage is that the only person you can control is YOU. You cannot control how others react or respond to right. Even when you do right, others may not respond well. No matter how they respond, you must seek what is right.

So how do you have a proper church fight? Do the right thing. Police the self. Punch back for the sake of reconciliation instead of retaliation.
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The Bible Is Like an Accordion (Reading Romans 12:3-21)

The Bible is like an accordion. The text is full of folds. Within each fold there is a massive amount of information. The more you pull on it, which in the Biblical sense is known as exegesis, the larger the meaning of the passage becomes. The fact that the Bible has so much information can also be confusing. When many people read the Bible they are confronted with so many ideas so quickly they fail to see how it all holds together. As a result, when people read the Bible, they hear static instead of music.

A helpful way to deal with the accordion of the Bible is to outline. Writers have a message they want to convey. In conveying the message they may reveal truths, present arguments, or illustrations to support or prove the central message. The points are not the message, but merely a part of the message. The Bible is written communication. It conveys a message. It is not a hodgepodge of ideas but a story, a letter, a teaching, that conveys a central idea. Because the Bible has so many folds most people read it in bits and pieces, point by point. In so doing one fails to see the central message. So how do we remedy this problem? In previous posts I have endorsed reading the Bible in chunks and within its context. So read the Bible in chunks, but you may also want to eat the chunk, piece by piece, with an outline.

In reading Romans we have already encountered that Romans 12:1-2 represents a transition. It is not another idea of the book, but simply another expression of it. The first 11 chapters of Romans focused on doctrinal concerns and now we shift to the application of those doctrines to daily concerns. I have said that Romans 12 begins a section on how to live difficult doctrine in an even more difficult world. The main idea of Romans is how God saves the human soul, but we see that Paul speaks of that idea in two expressions. Now you have an outline!

In simple terms:

Romans 1 – 11 (the way God saves the human soul)
Romans 12-16 (the way saved human souls live)

Romans 1 – 11 (The doctrine of salvation)
Romans 12-16 (The practice of salvation)

The book is about salvation! The book is not about salvation and something else.

But what if you want to break things down even more – like an accordion – expand the outline. You can outline entire books of the Bible chapter by chapter. You can then go to each chapter and expand the outline of each chapter. So what about Romans 12? If you read Romans 12 without thinking of a central argument you will hear static! There is so much there it almost seems random. It appears that Paul is emptying his pockets of things to say at this point, as if he is throwing everything he has left out on the table. But what if you see Romans 12 like this:

In order to live the Christian life we must relate to:
1. God (vv. 1 – 2)
2. Self (vv. 3-8)
3. Others (vv. 9-21)

What about the static of verses 9 – 13? Try simply writing the text bullet by bullet:
· Let love be genuine
· Abhor what is evil;
· Hold fast to what is good;
· Love one another with brotherly affection . . .

If you simply break down the phrases of a passage it helps clarify the message. Then start to think through its application. You can find a variety of applications. What are the qualities of a great church (a group of Christians that relate well to one another)?

They truly love one another
They are active to avoid evil
It is like family
It almost seems like they compete to honor one another
They are not lazy, but highly committed

You get the idea. Take a passage and pull it apart. The Bible is like an accordion. The more you pull on it the bigger it gets. If you pull at it the right way you will get rid of the noise and start making music!

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People Are Impossible (Reading Romans 12:3-21)

With God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). Yet the truth remains, some people are simply impossible. I am not sure how to reconcile the two, impossible people to an all possible God, but somehow the two coexist within the known realm of reality.

Paul says, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Romans 12:18)." Last night I was privileged to hear a lecture by Dale Huff on church conflict. Dale Huff is the director of the office of Leader Care and Church Administration for the Alabama State Board of Missions. His title is short for "lion tamer." Dale Huff spends more than half of his time traveling around the state of Alabama as a mediator for church conflict. I cannot imagine having this man's job. I can list at least 99 things I had rather do than walk in Dale Huff's shoes. Here are only five of my least favorite things that rank right above Brian Branam doing Dale Huff's job. I would rather:
1) lick a razor blade
2) be bitten by a dog with the mange
3) eat grits for breakfast thirty days in a row
4) sleep with a running chain saw
5) eat grits with a razor blade in the bed with a mangy dog holding a chainsaw;
than to have Dale Huff's job. I believe the man has a much needed and miraculous gift of God to see and hear the worst of the church day in and day out and keep any sort of spiritual equilibrium. Yet, it is his involvement in this arena and his servant's heart to enter it that made his lecture so enthralling. I do not envy the man's job, but I am certainly thankful and envious of the quality of man.

In the opening statements of his lecture Dr. Huff pointed to Romans 12:18 and Paul's qualification "if possible." Dr. Huff rightly pointed out, some situations are simply impossible. Some people simply will not allow resolution. Dr. Huff went on to say that Paul then shifts the burden to "you." "As much as depends on you, live peaceably with all people." Some people will not allow resolution, yet that should not keep "you" from doing the right thing. Even when doing the right thing some people simply will not respond well. Dr. Huff said on this matter, "No matter how people respond to you, you must realize the only control you have is you."

In any situation the most dangerous thing of which one can lose control is to lose control of self. Maybe Paul too worked in the lion's mouth better known as the Office of Leader Care for the Alabama State Board of Missions. In any case I think Paul and Dr. Huff are spot on. The heart of the teaching is there is no hope for any situation to change without the self being fully involved, fully controlled, and fully in tune with the grace of God. You cannot control other people. People are impossible. "So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Romans 12:18b)."
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The Unity of Diversity (Reading Romans 12:3-8)

The Western Church lives in paradox. On one end of the compendium there is a feeling that we must take it upon ourselves to unify the church. In doing so there is a feeling that somehow we must deal with diversity while at the same time creating it. Such ideas have literally caused the church to stand on its head.

In Romans 12 Paul teaches that the reality of the church is that it IS a diverse unity. No one needs to create unity, or diversity, and so on and so on. God has created the church as is. God has not given us the ideal of unity and made it our duty to hasten toward it. God has created unity. Unity is not the ideal of the church it is the reality of the church. Learning to deal with the church “as is” will cause us to return the body of Christ from standing on its head to standing on its feet. If we apply the principle of Paul here in Romans 12, that the church is a paradox, a “diverse unity”, it may cause us to see things quite differently.

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: (Romans 12:4-5).”

So how is the church to respond to the unity of diversity?

1. Think soberly of “me.” As I inferred in my last post the only way to deal with the selfish self is to deal with the self. Most people want to deal with selfishness by imploring the selfish to think of others. How can you get someone to think of others who is not first thinking properly about themselves? In this regard, Paul is brilliant. Since most of us cannot see past our nose, a good place to begin is to think soberly about the self is with the self. One’s opinion about the place of others will not change unless one is able to first deal with the proper place of self. Paul implores the believer to think of self against the standard of Christ and according to the measure of faith given to Him by God. Perhaps I will speak more on the topic later this week, or perhaps on Sunday, but the gospel is not only a confrontation with God, but it is a reformation of the self. The gospel has an amazing way of continually introducing “self” to the new you.

2. Instead of trying to reconcile, recognize. If we think soberly of the self we will soon realize the reality of life is that not everyone agrees. Furthermore, not everyone has to agree, especially with you. If Paul is teaching that the reality of the church is that it exists in a diverse unity, perhaps the goal of the church is not to reconcile, but to recognize. When our goal is to reconcile, and when I say reconcile I mean to bring ideas together, it creates chaos. Reconcile most often means to be able to reconcile things to one’s own mind. Each faction appreciates diversity, because diversity is cool. Yet each faction wants to appreciate and define diversity on their own terms. It is kosher to be different as long as in the end we agree with me. Thus Paul dodges disaster by calling us in Romans 12 not to reconcile the diversity of the church but rather to recognize it. We are not the same by divine design. What a sobering thought for the self!

3. Stop focusing on unity and diversity. I know this is a most unexpected answer being that most people in the American church feel that we too must embrace the politico climate and create diversity and unity, but if the church is trying to create diversity and unity it needs to wake up and realize it has missed the boat. The church is already diverse and unified. Paul is teaching that because of the gifts and graces of God diversity within the church is a reality, not an ideal. The church is a diverse unity. Can any of us create a body? God is the creator; the body simply is. The focus of the church needs to be on the unity that already exists in diversity.

I may kindle fire with this one, but perhaps at the very least I will bring more readership and response to this blog. How does Romans 12 apply to the array of evangelical denominations? Many people cannot reconcile in their minds the massive amount of denominations, expressions, and etc. within the Christian faith. They believe this to be an expression of divisiveness. Most believe denominations to be destructive to the point that it undermines the ideal of the church in Christ. But what if denominations are actually an expression of the church’s unity in diversity? There are many ecumenical movements afoot that strive to unify the church across denominational boundaries. Yet according to Paul we are not responsible for the creation of unity within the body of Christ. Unity is not an ideal, it is a reality. I am not sure it is anyone’s responsibility to figure out how Baptists fit with Pentecostals or Arminians with Calvinists. What if instead of working from the presupposition of we must find a way to bring them to agreement we worked from the presupposition that they are in agreement? What if the divine desire is for Methodists to be very methodic and for Charismatics to be very charismatic? What if even the deepest theological differences were a part of the same? Radical, I know. Yet we cut pies into pieces everyday! Yum.

The teaching of Paul here is not that we must take the diverse expressions of the church and make them something other than they are, Paul is saying is that we need to let them be what God has made them to be (this is within the constraints of Scriptural reason of course). The reality is that there also exists within the church those that wish to lead others astray? That is a topic for another day. Yet within the body of Christ we may not agree? But what if even our disagreements are by design? Hmm? And the toe said to the left index finger, “Amen!” Let’s be a body because we have more than proven we are unable to create one!

4. Undefine unity. Unity does not mean “same.” The focus of Paul’s teaching is on what must be done. There are lots of different people to reach with the gospel. In order to reach lots of different kinds of people God has elected to use lots of different kinds of people. For some reason when God reaches lots of different kinds of people through lots of different kinds of people we believe the next task is to “unify” them. What we really mean is that our next task is to “same” them. Unity does not mean “same.” Reaching lots of different kinds of people naturally creates a church full of lots of different kinds of people. Again, Paul’s focus in Romans 12 is on what God has already done to express the unity of the church through diversity. The church should focus on what God has already created and allow Him to define unity in His own terms. It is not our task to create unity. The unity of the church already exists – created, defined, and sustained by an all powerful God.
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