“Easter in July” by Pastor Andy Braams

This week’s post is a little different due to the nature of our worship service this week.

It was that time of year when life generally begins to show itself again. Trees started to bud and flowers began to bloom. People typically began to perk up at the lengthening days and the warmer temperatures. But something about that particular year was different. An unknown and frightening disturbance had recently been exposed. People who had been out celebrating just days before were now locked in their homes wondering if they would die because of recently having been associated with others. The joy of confidence of just a few days prior had now turned into a sense of despair and dread.

But then, after what seemed to be a break from the concern, all evidence points to the fact that people disappeared back into private dwellings not wanting to expose themselves to the risks (even the possibility of death) that being out in public might bring.

You may think I am talking about these last few months. But I am not. I am talking about those first few hours and days between the death of Jesus and His resurrection. And then, the time between His ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Without the resurrection, we would not have the church. We could not be the church. (Take a moment to read Acts 2.1-4 and 42-47.)

We are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus together today because we were not able to meet together on April 12. As was said by many at the time, the church building may have been empty that day, but we did not need to despair because the tomb was still empty as well.

So, we celebrate today – Easter in July. Christmas in July may be a familiar term, but you might not know the origins for that phrase. Of course, most Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus on the date of December 25. December 25 is in the beginning of winter in the northern hemisphere. That means that summer has just begun in the southern hemisphere. Thus, in order to make Christmas a winter holiday in the southern hemisphere, many will commemorate Christmas in the month of July. (Of course, we do not know the actual date of Jesus birth, but it was likely not December 25, nor in July, but that is another matter.)

So, if Christmas can be celebrated in July, why not Easter? But as most of you know, I prefer to call the day Resurrection Sunday. My main purpose is not because of what many people consider that Sunday to be, but because of what the day means to me. When I say Resurrection Sunday, I leave no doubt of what the day means to me…it is about the resurrection of my Lord…the resurrection of our Lord…the resurrection of THE LORD.

Now, many may not believe that the resurrection took place, but any Christian, at least, can tell you what the resurrection is. But, like the phrase, Christmas in July, most would likely not be able to define the term.

So, what does the word resurrection mean?

Really, the term is Latin and carries the idea of “resurr-exit.” The “exit” part should make sense to us because Jesus exited the grave. But what about the first part of that word – “resurr?” Well, that word is from the Latin “resurgo” which means “to rise” or “to stand.” And the word is where we get the English word “resurgence.”

And that is what the resurrection of Jesus did. He was raised. He exited. And because of that a resurgence began, not only of His life, but in the work of God. Without the resurrection, we would not have the church. Without the resurrection, we could not be the church.

But now, the resurgence is up to us. The question is, after the pandemic, will we raise up? Will we exit? Will a resurgence of our faith lead us to raise up and exit this place and make the kind of impact that the early church made when they realized the truth and the power that Jesus was no longer dead?

That is the question before us today. That is the challenge that God has placed before His Church in the summer of 2020. And not just for His Church, but for this church. Will we stand? Will we live? Will we commit to following the lead of our risen Savior? If so, I am going to invite you to do something in just a moment to serve as a symbol of rising from the depths and despair that so many have faced (are facing) during this tumultuous year many would choose to forget.

It is not about forgetting. It is about learning and moving forward. That is what the early disciples had to do. That is what today’s disciples have to do as well. The early church rose up to make a profound impact in a world that had seemingly forgotten God. Today’s church can now rise up to make that same kind of profound impact in our world that also has seemingly put God aside.

As we know the church is the people. And another statement made just a few months ago was that we the church might not be able to gather, but that does not prevent us from being the church. In fact, some said that it was our time to truly show that it is not about going to church, it was about being the church. That is, the church was unleashed. But were we? Did we act the part?

Well, as we gather today in the church, let us accept that challenge to be the church! If you will rise up to be a part of the church Jesus is building, I invite you to stand up – right where you are. But before you do, realize that you are putting a mark on yourself. You are saying that I want to stand up with Jesus and I want to stand up for Jesus, come what may. Don’t stand up because the person next to you or in front of you does so, stand up because you are ready for a resurgence (a resurrexit) to take place – in your life, in this church, in this community, and around the world. If you are ready to commit to that, I invite you to rise up right where you are and say to Jesus…I am ready!

To mark this moment, let us sing with heart and with voice – Stand Up for Jesus.

After the song, the rest of the service included people sharing about what God has done to, for, and through them during these past 16 weeks since we last met.

Next week, we will return to our series on Romans.

“Every Color, Every Race” by Pastor Andy Braams

I don’t need to tell you what is happening in the world today. But this week, both today, and in my daily videos this week, I want to share a different perspective than what is reported through most media outlets. COVID has dominated most of the news for the past three months, but race relations are heated – and America’s issues are mild compared to India and China or North and South Korea. We are on the brink of a nuclear war due to different ideologies among different types of people.

But what is closest to home are the demonstrations and riots that have affected many areas of our country. First, let me say that I do not believe the pulpit is to be a place for politics. But I do not believe the pulpit can ignore political happenings. The pulpit is a place to proclaim the Word of the Lord. But God’s Word is sufficient to deal with all of life’s moral issues, and those moral issues largely define our political landscape today. So, this is not a political message, although some may hear it that way. This is a message of reconciliation, which is, and has been, God’s central aim for mankind since He asked Adam, “Where are you?” in Genesis 3.

I want to also make clear the I do not believe in a social gospel. I do not believe that the gospel is to primarily focus on the social needs of others. But the gospel certainly is to address the needs of others, and those needs do include social needs and issues. The gospel is all encompassing. It must be – it is the Good News.

And ultimately that Good News boils down to God making a way for us to be reconciled with Him. Ultimately, the reconciliation that so many desire is not possible on this earth because people reject Jesus. To be fully reconciled with one another means we must be reconciled with God through Jesus. But even with that being the case, for those who claim to know Christ, an attempt at reconciliation must be evident in our lives with others whether they are Christian or not.

So, how can we make a path towards reconciliation possible?

Well, the answers are complex. But one truth is certain, without God it will be impossible. And even with God, both sides will have to listen to each other.

Take a moment to read Ephesians 2.11-22.

This passage states that two groups of people were the recipients of the letter. One group was the chosen group (the preferred group) – that is, the Jews. The others were called the “uncircumcision.” That is, they were the unclean. Paul also states that the second group were outsiders as they were considered to be separated from Christ, having no part in the promise of God, and indeed, having no hope or even an opportunity to know God (v. 12).

In other words, one side was very racist. You were a Jew or you were nothing. That belief was not Paul’s when he wrote Ephesians, but it certainly would have been a part of his belief at one time as a prominent Pharisee. So, Paul is proof, people can change.

Paul’s writing reveals that Jesus’ death made the two one. Jew and Gentile together. The dividing wall of hostility was obliterated – not by man’s doing, but by God’s doing through the sacrifice of Jesus (v. 14). Paul goes on to say that the result is one new man – again Jew and Gentile as one instead of two (v. 15), reconciling both together, thus killing the hostility (v. 16). That is, instead of killing each other (literally or figuratively with words), those who chose Christ were now bound together with Jesus, who is the foundation (vv. 20-22) supporting it all.

Thus, to be racist is to be against Christ. We can either be one in Christ, or we are not a part of Christ. Those are not my words; those words are the implications of what Paul has written.

Like the people of Ephesus, Philippi, and Rome, etc., we face similar issues and hostilities today. The difference is that we see it on the news day after day. But Paul knew something that we need to keep in mind as well: making a statement is one thing; making it a reality is another.

Thus, Paul writes to the churches. And the dominant theme of his message is this – love. He tells church after church to get along, and make love the centerpiece (see, for instance, Colossians 3.14) because God has loved us. So, let me quickly give a few ideas about love in the context of the racial tensions we face today.

Love Requires Us to Listen to One Another

Black lives matter. Yes, white (and all) lives matter as well, but white lives have not generally been in question, and it does not help the conversation at this moment. That said, I do not endorse the organization Black Lives Matter. It has many beliefs I cannot support. But I fully believe that black lives matter. But to prove that we must listen. I must listen. And I must learn. Wrongs are being committed in the present, but wrongs have been committed in the past. As Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” You and I are not directly responsible for the actions of the past, but we must listen to the concern in this moment. However, as Lamentations 5.7 says “Our fathers sinned, and are no more; and we bear their inequities.” So, until we listen, we will likely not be heard. In the minds of many, whites are the only ones who have ever been heard. And the legacy of this country is that many whites have suppressed blacks (e.g. slavery and restricted rights), and reds (e.g. Trail of Tears), and yellows (internment camps), etc. So, we must start by listening and acknowledging one another.

And let’s face it, the Bible has been used as a defense. Slave owners have long used the Bible to justify slavery. But somehow the Golden Rule was overlooked – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Note for our sakes today, it does not say, do unto others as they have done to you! So, yes, slavery was mentioned in the Bible. But so is love – and love is mentioned far more!

Love Requires Us to Empathize With One Another

Why should we listen? Because of the pain. I can tell you the names of someone (or of many) who have sat in nearly every room in this church and shared their pain with me. The pain of teenagers, the pain of grieving families, the pain of a person or of couples trying to salvage their marriage, the pain of struggling with various types of addictions and sin, and the pain of those who have berated (and spread rumors about me) because of some pain that was gnawing at them. I have also sat in some living rooms and kitchens and on porches and listened to your pain. We all have experienced pain and we need somewhere to turn.

And I have even heard the pain of two black men here. One shared it in this room. Another shared it after he left this room. One was Linus, who shared about the pain he had for the lost people in his native Kenya. But the other, which happened a few years prior to that, was Ayo, from Nigeria, who shared the pain he felt the last time he preached here. Many of you remember that day. For those who do not, please watch this week’s Friday Preview on the church’s YouTube channel (search Fairfax MO Baptist Church).

When Ayo told me his story, we were just getting onto 59 Hwy for me to take him back to KC, I laughed. I mean, that wouldn’t happen here would it? Could it?

But it wasn’t funny. In that moment Ayo did not know what to expect. It was not funny to him. It was serious – literally, his life, or at least his ambitions, and seeing his family again all hung in the balance.

Ayo was still a bit rattled when he told me what had happened some 15-20 minutes after we left the church. And what did I do, I laughed. Not loudly. It was more like a chuckle, and knowing me, when I laugh like that, it is barely audible. But the situation was serious to Ayo. I had heard his words, but I had not truly listened. That is not empathy. Empathy requires a level of understanding, and I did not show any understanding because I had not truly listened. And that is a big part of the problems in our world today – no one wants to listen. We must listen to understand. And we must begin to understand in order to show empathy.

But love requires us to do more than acknowledge others and have empathy; love requires us to act.

Love Requires Us to Act For One Another

Stories of pain and stories of fear require us to listen. Sometimes that is all we can do in the moment. But listening is the place to start when there is pain. We listen. We learn. We empathize as best we can. But if that is all we do, then we have likely done too little. We may be filled with good intentions, but as you have repeatedly heard me say this year, good intentions mean nothing. Too many graves are filled with people who had good intentions, but the intentions were buried with them, and therefore, so was the goodness. We must move from having good intentions to being intentional.

Sure, sometimes we may be able to do little in the moment. I cannot bring back a loved one. I cannot make the physical pain of abuse disappear. I cannot make the emotional pain of so many disappear. But listening, really listening can help.

However, most of the time, something else can be done – at least, eventually. We may act too quickly and do the wrong thing, so that is why it is important to listen, but we must do more than listen when action must be taken.

One action that may not be enough, but is always a good place to start is to say, “I’m sorry.” That is what I did to Ayo that day. I laughed because I did not understand. Effectively, I dismissed his feelings – I dismissed his fear. The first step towards making that right was to apologize. It was a simple act, but he knew it was authentic. We talked more about the issue, and why it was so troubling for him, for several miles. See, the issue was that officers in full dress enter churches in Nigeria. And fully-armed soldiers in northern Nigeria enter churches to kill the people who are meeting. That was Ayo’s context. It did not make sense to me, but that is because I had not fully acknowledged him by listening to him. Therefore, I had not yet been able to show empathy. But after I began to truly listen, my understanding began to change.

Incidentally, a friend of mine and I were supposed to go to Nigeria last summer (I was supposed to fly to Nigeria from Kenya). I was supposed to go this summer before a few issues came up (and then COVID really shot any plans down). But the reason I did not go last year was because of turmoil in the area and Ayo said, “You are from America, and you are white. That will make you a target. They will take you as a hostage if we go to the villages. So, you will go from the airport to our church and stay there until you are ready to go back to the airport to leave.” But then it got worse, and he said not to come. That is why I didn’t go last year. Even knowing that gives me a slightly better understanding of what African Americans in this country might face. Certainly, I cannot relate overall, but it moves the meter a few inches towards understanding and empathy, which eventually will reflect in love.

Ayo trusted me when I brought him to Fairfax. I must trust him if I am able to go to Nigeria. That trust requires us to act in the best interest of the other. That action is the evidence of love.

CONCLUSION

So, where do we go from here?

Well, let’s start with one step: get rid of all of the labels. As I mentioned when preaching on the Parable of the Good Samaritan last year, “We cannot love the people we label. We will not label the people we love.”

Labels bring judgment. And judgment brings oppression. I am not suggesting that you or I (or anyone) is to accept everything that happens. But when we label people, it is not healthy. Church, that cannot be us. We must listen. We must love. We must act.

If the church does not get this right, then how can we expect the rest of society to do so?

Right now, we are seeing many labels put on people all over this country, and all over the world. We see people who are not listening. We see people in pain. And the only answer to that pain is Jesus.

Jesus’ death did more than save you from your sin. It tore down the dividing wall of hostility. That wall, as Paul wrote, was between the Jew and the Gentile. But for us, it is between all believers of every color and every race. Even the church had a racial divide then, and it still has one today.

Many of you will remember the little children’s song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” The words have been changed because it was considered offensive to use colors to speak of peoples’ skin. What was once sang as, “Red and yellow, black and white; all are precious in His sight,” became “every color, every race; all are covered by His grace.”

But while those are the words that come out of many mouths, the words that are in some of those same hearts are:

“If the color is not mine, I don’t think that they are Thine.”

Church, we must set the pace on this. Yes, we live in an area with very little racial diversity. That is just a fact. But that does not mean that we cannot listen and learn and love. That does not mean that we do not need to check our hearts. That does not mean that we do not have hatred or bigotry – in fact it may be a way to mask it easier.

Yes, there are riots and protests. But again, Martin Luther King said, “Riots are the language of the unheard.” All people deserve to be heard. We may not always agree with the thoughts and demands of others. Listening is not about giving others everything they want. But before we can give people what they need, we must listen in order to understand.

If we want others to listen to us, we must first choose to listen to others. If we want others to empathize with us, we must empathize with others. If we want others to act for us, we need to act for others.

The dividing wall of hostility has already been torn down by Jesus. So why are we acting like it is still there?

Remember, the Golden Rule. Do to others what you would want them to do for you!

“(Un)-Manifest Destiny” by Pastor Andy Braams

In the early 19th Century, America had a vast new track of land to explore. After the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, the area known as the United States doubled in size. Lewis and Clark famously explored the region, and soon thereafter, the people began migrating west. But the idea of “Manifest Destiny” was not just about extending the ideas of America westward, it was about creating a better society throughout all of the Americas – that is North and South America. As one historian wrote, the idea “generated by the potentialities of a new earth for building a new heaven.” (1)

That is, many, but not all, wanted the United States to expand her “Christian” influence throughout the western hemisphere.

On a far lesser scale, the truth is that as individuals, we all want something similar. We may not be the ones to take a message or belief beyond a particular area or group of people, but if we believe enough in something, we hope that the idea will spread elsewhere. This is certainly true of Christianity, but it is also true about a good recipe, a book, television program, a sports team, etc. We think that what we like should be liked and desired by others.

But we do not all subscribe to the same ideas. And some of the ideas that are made manifest can be harmful. We are witnessing that truth right now in our country today. Ideas that were made manifest are being challenged, and literally overthrown. Some of that may be healthy. Some of it is not. But the key is from where do the ideologies originate?

In Romans 1.18-32, Paul speaks to a culture whose influence covered much of the known world at the time. But particularly in Rome, what was made manifest was in direct defiance of God, the one who made Himself manifest for the good of man.

We see that God’s wrath was made manifest as well. But His wrath is not like our wrath. God’s righteousness and wrath are perfectly intertwined as are His love and justice. And thus, our series, And Justice for All, is not only a true statement of God, but a necessary one as well.

If we are not careful, we think of God’s justice and wrath as necessary for some (particularly others) and not for ourselves. That truth is evident in our passage today as we shall see.

So, what does Paul say about this wrath? When will God make it known? And what are we to do in the meantime? Well, this passage will provides plenty of answers to those questions and more.

Righteousness vs Wrath?

As we begin to look at this passage, we cannot overlook the word “for” in verse 18. In fact, this verse is the third consecutive verse that begins with the word “for.” Is that significant? Yes, Paul is making a very logical argument which we will fail to see if we do not track backwards.

In verse 16, Paul says that he is not ashamed of the gospel, which he said he was eager to preach in verse 15. In verse 17, Paul wrote that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God, or we might say makes God’s righteousness manifest (there’s that word), and allows us to live by faith. Then in verse 18, Paul ties that idea together with the wrath of God being revealed (made manifest).

Some may argue that moving from God’s righteousness in verse 17 to God’s wrath in verse 18 would be better served with the word “but” to help show the contrast between righteousness and wrath. However, for God, no contrast exists. We may “lose our temper” and want “our wrath” to be felt, but anything we do pales in an analogy to God. And although it is easiest to understand God in human terms, we must not limit God to our human understandings.

But regardless of what we may be able to fully understand or not, God has revealed Himself. That is, God has shown Himself, and He wants us to make Him, and particularly His glory, manifest in all of the world.

But this passage shows that people will reject Him, and thus they will reject us, even as they rejected Paul. But our responsibility is to make God manifest, which begins with not being ashamed of His gospel, and His power, and His salvation, which leads to righteousness in us or wrath against us. And thus, we have the word “for” tying these verses together so strongly.

Without Excuse

Verse 18 mentions that God’s wrath is revealed against all unrighteousness. God is not ok with some types of evil and sin; He opposes all of it equally. All evil, and all sin, deserve His wrath. That is why this series is called “And Justice for All.” We will all receive justice based upon our merits. And our merits all require God’s wrath to be fully experienced by each one of us individually. However, because of God’s mercy, Jesus has taken that wrath upon Himself for those who believe. Thus, although we ALL merit God’s wrath, the salvation made possible by the power of God and made manifest by the gospel, delivers those who are found righteous to God, because of Jesus, and live their lives by faith, accordingly.

But for those who do not respond to God’s gift of salvation, God’s wrath is what is manifest. In fact, what does salvation mean? It means something exists from which we must be saved. That something is the wrath of God. And God, in His righteousness must respond to the depravity of mankind. And so, He has, by His love. He responded with the offer through the cross, and He responds with the reality of His wrath for those who reject that offer.

But you might ask, “what about people who have not heard?” Verses 19 and 20 make it evident that God has made Himself known. Again, He has made Himself manifest to everyone. You cannot look at the mountains or walk through a forest or sail on the ocean or look across the fields and miss that something or someone made that true. (Philosophers back to at least Plato agreed on this.) That is what Paul is saying here. Paul is NOT saying that this basic knowledge is enough for salvation. Salvation requires faith in Jesus, as Paul will make clearly much later in his argument. But some basic knowledge of God is possible for everyone. As verse 20 says, everyone is without excuse.

The Tables Are Turned

The problem is that people may know, but they do not recognize. As verse 25 intimates, people possess the truth of God, but they would rather believe a lie. People know of God, but do not want to know Him. People do not give glory to God, and so their sins compound. That is the truth for all of us. The truth is that many people do not want to acknowledge God – we might say that want Him to “unreveal” (or un-manifest Himself) and control their own destiny. We can find ourselves thanking God, and praise Him, or we will find ourselves drifting further from Him. Inevitably, we must make a choice – righteousness over wrath or wrath over righteousness. Paul shows this clearly beginning in verse 21.

Notice the wording and the progression in verses 21-27.

In verses 21-23, what they knew, they rejected and thus became futile in their thinking. They believe they know best, but instead they become fools. They had the opportunity to “honor” and “give thanks” to God (v. 21), but instead “exchanged” that opportunity to “honor” man, birds, animals, and creeping things. I believe Paul is intentional in this order. People will not worship God, so they worship the prize creation (man), and/or if they can’t or won’t worship man, they will worship birds (which at least can fly), then animals (a step below man), and then the lowest of creatures (those that crawl on the ground). What an exchange is made! Yes, they consider themselves wise, but have shown themselves to be fools.

In verse 25, Paul summarizes these thoughts by saying rather than worship the Creator, they have chosen to worship the creature. Paul is so appalled by this, he has to stop for a moment of praise in the midst of writing about this to praise God. He then concludes with an affirmative “Amen.”

Then, in verses 26-27, Paul writes a third exchange takes place – they exchange natural relations for unnatural relations. This part entailed some very disturbing research for me this week. I will not share much here, but homosexuality was very prevalent in ancient Rome. In fact, 14 of the first 15 emperors practiced homosexuality. We might better state that they were bisexual – engaging in sexual activity with both males and females, but nonetheless, the practice of homosexuality was very pervasive.

Many will argue today that the word natural means, “against the norm,” and put that meaning into the context of the society. Thus, they argue, that since our society is beginning to be open to different understandings of relationships and even gender-identity, that these types of relationships should no longer be considered unnatural. But Paul was addressing a society that was (likely) more engaged in this type of behavior (and worse) than we are. And he called it unnatural. It is not unnatural because of what man thinks, it is unnatural because of God’s design. We can even see this in the anatomical features of a male and female.

Now, before I turn to the last couple of verses, I need to answer a question I posed earlier. When does God’s wrath take place? Well, according to Paul, it already was taking place, and therefore it still is. The wording about God’s wrath says “is revealed” which means it is in the present tense. But you might be thinking: “Andy, I don’t see it. I see people getting away with it” (with it being false worship, sexual immorality, etc.).

And my answer is, “Yes.” But notice a phrase Paul uses in verse 24, 26, and 28. The phrase is “God gave them up.” Certainly, the full wrath of God will come at a later point in time – the end of time as we know it. But the text says, “God gave them up” so He is active in the decision to do so. That does not mean that God forces others to do take part in sinning. It does mean that He is allowing sin to have its full influence – a destiny manifested apart from God in the present, and fully realize in the future. God has simply given them over to the “lusts of their hearts” (v. 24). In other words, God is allowing people to find their pleasure in their sin. But that pleasure is perceived pleasure. Sin has, and always brings, consequences. So, for now, God has given them over the natural consequences of these various sins, but one day, the fullness of the consequences will be realized.

The Tables Are Turned, Part 2

In the previous section, the tables were turned on the sinners. They exchanged God for some other idol – an image, a lie, or unnatural sex. So, God turned the table on the guilty by handing them over to their sins.

And as you sit here, the likelihood is that you may think that God’s wrath is deserved on all of the people who are guilty of such heinous acts of sin. But Paul is not done, and he shows that you and I are deserving of that wrath as well. See, as we read the text through verse 27, we may do so as a proud Jew would have done so. Jews were not to worship idols. They were not to tell lies, so why should they believe one. And homosexuality was a forbidden practice among the Jews. Thus, it was the Greeks (the Gentiles) who were guilty of such sin. In reading the first set of verses, the proud Jew would have looked with contempt on the Gentile who was making a mockery of God by committing such sins. Similarly, in the present, Christians look with disdain on how others can be so vile in their actions towards God.

But the passage is not done. The same wrath mentioned in verse 18 is also proper for those who commit the sins in verse 29-31. Paul breaks these sins into three different groups and some ideas within each group overlap a lot. But let me just point out a few. Do you envy others? Do you cause strife? Are you ever deceitful? Do you gossip? Are you boastful or full of pride (haughty)? (Before you answer that last one, remember what I just said about how Christians often look down on others!) Surely, many others are listed, and we might think of some of these as more sinful than others. But what is interesting is this list of 21 sins are social in nature – they are not sexual, and most are not against God. That is, these 21 sins are against other people. But Paul equates them all as vices which are sinful and thus, our relationship with God is broken – and we therefore deserve God’s wrath! Let me get specific. Do you show contempt to the actions around our country right now? Do you believe that you are better than “they” (whomever “they” are)? Well, you have at least backed up to the line, if not crossed that line of selfish pride. Remember, Jesus said to love others as you love yourself. How can you love the others – the “they” – that you currently think of with contempt? If you can’t love them, regardless of the sin, then according to this passage you are deserving of the same wrath God has made manifest.

CONCLUSION

Verse 28 has a word play within it. First, God gave them up to a debased mind. In other words, the people guilty of such sins tested the worth of God and rejected Him, so God gives them other to a mind that has failed the test.

Effectively, we can look back to verse 17 and see that if we choose to live by faith, then we please God. That is, we pass the test. But if we choose another path, we are foolish and faithless, which often leads to being heartless and ruthless (verse 31), and God will simply give us over to indulge ourselves with sin for now.

Ultimately, this entire passage is about two things – do we honor God and thank Him (v. 21)?

      • Those who do, will long to live by faith and experience the righteousness of God.
      • Those who do not will seek to honor something or someone else and experience the wrath of God.

Either way, God will be made manifest. He has already made Himself known. But will we choose to truly know Him? Because we cannot overlook that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.23). And that is why we need a savior. And that is why,…

JOURNEY:

Our JOURNEY letter for today is JJESUS.

In Chapter 1, Paul shows his desires and his longing. He thanks God (v. 8) and desires to go to Rome (v. 10) because he longs to share the gospel there (v. 15). In other words, because of Jesus, Paul thanks God and wants to honor Him (v. 21). He desires to live a life of faith (v. 17) because the power of God – the gospel – has saved him (v. 16).

How do you respond? What are your desires? You may be thankful that you are not like some of the people described in today’s passage. But are you thankful you are not like them or are you thankful that God rescued you from becoming like them? If your thanksgivings are only because you are different, then you are still guilty of the pride and arrogance and slander and gossip, etc. found at the end of Chapter 1. But if you are thankful to God, then what are you doing to honor Him because He has lifted you out of the depths of sin through the blood of Jesus?

NEXT STEP(S):

LOVE.  Show God you love Him. Share His message with others. Yes, verses 24, 26, and 28, say that God gave them up, but it does not mean that He is not ready to redeem them. Perhaps, all that needs to happen is for you to share your faith, your story, your hope. Maybe, just maybe, that is all that is needed to help them turn from experiencing wrath to living in righteousness.

1)  Merk, Frederick (1963). Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History. Harvard University Press. ISBN978-0-674-54805-3.

“The Key” by Pastor Andy Braams

Have you ever audited a course? I did. My first seminary course was to audit a theology course at MBTS. People may audit for different reasons, but for me, I felt like I might be called to go to seminary (this was actually before I received my call to ministry), but I needed to make sure. So, I decided to audit a course that was made available at the church where we attended. If it wasn’t for me, then all I was out was a little bit of time, and about 1/3 the money it would have cost me to actually take the class. The problem is that eventually I had to retake the course. I had to invest more time and more money to do much of what I had already done.

Perhaps, you have used that approach with some decision in your life. You dipped your toes in the water so to speak, and then made the decision. Really, the approach is not a bad one, and it is certainly prevalent in our society today.

The problem is that many people treat the Christian life this way. Let me audit it. If it works, then I will stay with it. If not, well, I haven’t lost much. I can just walk away. But, in reality, Christianity is all or nothing. We are either born again, or we are not. We are either a child of God or we are not. And, if we are a child of God, then we must realize the issue is not a game…it is serious.

In today’s passage, Paul makes this truth evident – both about himself and about those who claim to have a faith in God.

And as we consider our theme for this series – And Justice for All – we must realize that true justice only comes from God, and auditing will not accomplish what we might hope can happen.  God has designed this life for full credit or no credit. An audit option does not exist.

The truth of the gospel is that the credit has already been earned, it is just up to us to claim it. God has already done the work. He has made full credit available, as only He could do. But we have a choice in how we respond to the credit he offers.

What does Paul believe about this gospel? Can we do more than simply audit the Christian faith? Should we do more? Let’s look at this week’s passage to find out.

Today’s text contains two verses from Romans 1 which are quite well known. Most scholars believe that these two verses are the theme for Romans. That is, these two verses represent the key to understanding Romans. And what does a key do? It unlocks something. In fact, one commentator attempts to show this by revealing how these two verses outline the rest of the letter.

      • The Gospel being the power to save is first for the Jew can be found in chapters 9-11.
      • The need to live by faith is found in chapters 12-15.
      • And the ability to live a righteous life, and indeed to find the salvation to do so, is the essence of chapters 1-11.

Thus, the only chapter not included in this simple outline is chapter 16 in which Paul address the members of the church – both Jew and Gentile – to encourage them in their faith, which is the essence of the letter (see 1.11-12).

But even as these verses are the key, that does not mean they are completely straightforward. On the surface, they appear to be, but verse 17, in particular, is quite interesting, and has perplexed theologians for centuries. I will cover verse 16 and 17 briefly today and elaborate on the challenges of verse 17 in my videos this coming week.

For today, I want to focus on the bigger picture of these two verses.

Not Ashamed of the Gospel

First, Paul says, he is not ashamed of the gospel. In the previous sentence, he has indicated that one of the reasons he longs to come to Rome is to preach the gospel (see last week’s message). In one sense this notion should be evident because Paul had been imprisoned for preaching the gospel in Philippi, he had stood up to a riot because of it in Ephesus, he was chased from Thessalonica to Athens because of it, etc.

But people are ashamed of the gospel. Jesus says as much in Mark 8, when he said that He, Jesus, would be ashamed of them if they were ashamed of Him (see vv. 34-38). Paul also writes about not being ashamed to Timothy (2 Timothy 1.8,12). In both senses, the idea is that the shame comes from the fear of suffering and persecution.

Last week in India, a 7th grade boy, Samaru Madkami, was killed by a group of Hindu radicals. The report is that his throat was cut, his head was crushed with a rock, and then they cut his body into pieces. Why? He and his father, Unga, became Christians about three years ago. Since that time, young Samaru desired to be a pastor and was always sharing the Bible with children in the village. (1)

In other words, the boy was brutally murdered because of the gospel. Why would he risk his life? Why would Paul risk his life? Why should we risk such hostility for the sake of the gospel? Paul gives us the answer…

The Gospel Is the Power of God

It (the gospel) is the power of God for salvation. DL Moody once compared the gospel to a lion. All the preacher has to do is open the cage and get out of the way. To understand the gospel is to unleash the power of God in our lives.

That is the key for us. I will discuss salvation further in my Monday video this week, but before we are saved, everything is locked. The gospel is the key that unlocks all that God has for us. Now, God is still powerful whether or not we are saved. And God is still saving others by that power whether we choose to believe or not.

But the power of God that is mentioned here is the same power that has delivered salvation since the dawn of man. (Rick will cover some of that in his video this week.) It is not the power of the Roman empire that saves, it is the power of God. It was the power of God that fueled Jesus’ ministry. It was the power of God that brought Jesus back from the dead. It was the power of God that saved people in Paul’s day. It is the same power of God that makes salvation possible today.

Yes, the power of God is the key that unlocks the door to every other key. And knowing God’s power, Paul says with pride, “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” So, how are we living? Are we living in boldness because of that power or are we living in fear? If we believe in the one true God, we have that same power residing within us in the person of the Holy Spirit. As Paul wrote to Timothy from a Roman prison at the end of his life, “fan into flame the gift of God…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1.6-7).

The Righteousness of God

With the power of God unlocked by the receipt of the gospel, we receive another key – the righteousness of God. This righteousness, amazingly, is for the Jew and the Gentile. It was made manifest first to the Jews (we see that throughout the OT), but it was always meant for the Gentile too (as we will see in Romans 15).

Notice the word revealed. The righteousness of God is revealed. How? By the gospel which saves due to the power of God. So, once we have the key (i.e. the gospel), then we can have salvation, which, in turn, reveals the righteousness of God. (2)

Personally, I believe Paul means that God’s righteousness becomes evident to us and becomes evident within us. Both forms of this evidence are due to God. We cannot become righteous on our own and, in fact, we would not even know what true righteousness is without the gospel being made known to us. I will speak more to this issue in Tuesday’s video.

A Matter of Faith

Finally, through the power of God the mystery of His righteousness is revealed which then allows God to begin to transform our lives as well. (3) As we are transformed (Rom 8.29), we learn to live according to the righteousness that He is instilling within us. We learn to live by faith that this world, and even our own insignificant self, is not all that there is. As someone has said, apart from one very minor exception, everything that exists is not you.

And yet, God sent His Son to die for each one of those minute exceptions. And, once we take the key that unlocks that truth, all of the rest of the locks begin to open as well – including the ability to live by faith within the righteousness of God.

CONCLUSION

In John 14.6, Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me. In other words, Jesus is the key. We cannot pick the lock, break the lock, cut the lock, blast the lock, etc. Only one key exists – and that key is the gospel of Jesus – that Jesus died, was buried, and was raised on the third day – for you and me.

How do you live your life? Are you ignoring what God has made possible? Are you attempting to audit a for-credit life? Or have you committed to living for the One who offers full credit based upon what He has already done?

JOURNEY:

Our JOURNEY letter for today is OOBEY.

The righteous shall live by faith. So let us, in faith, live right – in obedience to the God that made our salvation possible by His power, and His love.

NEXT STEP(S):

LIVE.  Unashamed – in God’s power, with God’s righteousness, the life of faith He has called you to live.

As a congregation, we took time to celebrate the Lord’s Supper as a reminder of the power, the righteousness, and the faith that is evident in the life of Jesus.

(1) https://www.christianpost.com/news/christian-teen-cut-into-pieces-by-radicals-in-india-3-years-after-conversion.html (Accessed June 11, 2020, 5:00 pm).

(2) Paul’s use of this phrase has puzzled theologians for years. I will explain some of the debate in a video on the church’s page this week. Search for Fairfax Baptist Church Missouri on YouTube.

(3) Again, Paul’s terminology “from faith for faith” and the way he quotes from Habakkuk 2.4 have caused a great deal of interpretative debate. I will explain some of this debate in a video this week as well.

“For God Is My Witness” by Pastor Andy Braams

What would you like to see happen more than anything else in the world? Some people might call this idea a wish, or a dream. But whatever you might call it, what would it be? In other words, what do you long for? (Pardon the grammar.)

So, what are you doing to make it a reality?

If you are like most people, the answer is: “Nothing.” That is why it is just a wish. You wish someone else would make it happen. And we (all) make excuses when it doesn’t or can’t happen. That is what humanity does. We learned to make excuses or blame others from the first two humans (who did it in Genesis 3), and we have not stopped yet. Well, if only this would happen? Or, if only that could take place, then…

Sure, it is true that sometimes a person (or group) is willing, but other factors are necessary to make it happen. For instance, as scientists try to better understand this coronavirus, and much of the world waits for a vaccine, we realize that a certain knowledge is necessary to do the research and create the right chemical mix. That is simply a fact. So, even though many have a desire for a vaccine or for peace, other factors also need to be considered.

But we all have wants and desires and wishes. But do we have the courage to act? Yes, my desires may be different than yours. But, and I am speaking to the church here, if we are brothers and sisters in Christ, then we have one Father, and our desires should eventually conform to His. Thus, my desires and your desires eventually become our desires because they are His desires.

So, whether our desires are good or not, what should we do about them? How can we seek to be faithful to our own desires without turning away from the desires of God? Well, for that let us look at Romans 1.8-15.

I began by asking what you longed for (again, pardon the ending preposition). Paul longs to go to Rome for four specific reasons. In the order listed, he wants to:

      • Strengthen them with a spiritual gift (v. 11)
      • Encourage them in their faith and be encouraged by their faith (v. 12)
      • Reap a harvest (v. 13)
      • Preach the gospel (v. 15)

His longing to go to Rome is for these four reasons. But Paul has never been to Rome (v. 13), so he has not fulfilled any of these desires in Rome – yet. So, what does Paul do? He does two things which are the answer to the question above about fulfilling our desires while remaining faithful to the desires of God.

First, Paul prays to God. Second, he keeps doing what he is supposed to do where he is. That’s it.

Now, I must admit that an assumption is made here – that Paul’s desires line up with God’s desires. But as I just mentioned, if we are seeking God, eventually our desires will move in the direction of God’s desires. If we consider the four reasons Paul wants to go to Rome, I think we can clearly see these reasons are in alignment with God’s desires.

Does God want people spiritually strengthened?  Yes.

Does God want people to encourage one another in, and by, their faith?  Yes.

Does God want a harvest?  Yes.

Does God want the gospel preached?  Yes.

So, Paul’s reasons for visiting Rome are not about taking a vacation or taking a break from ministry. In fact, each of the reasons he mentions directly encompass ministry. But until this point in Paul’s life, he has been prevented from traveling to Rome. We are not given a clear answer as to why. We might speculate that God has prevented it. But that is speculation. The Bible does not say.

But whatever the reason, Paul has not made it there, despite his desire to do so (v. 13). It is a good desire. So, how do we reconcile the fact it had not happened with Psalm 37.4? That verse says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

Was Paul’s desire in line with God’s Word? Yes. Does all the evidence appear that Paul found his delight in the Lord? Yes. So, why would God not allow it?

Well, God did allow it – IN HIS TIME.

See, sometimes what we think we desire is just a passing fancy. I am not suggesting that was the case for Paul, but sometimes we have to prove ourselves – to ourselves and to God. Consider how many “desires” you have had, but soon afterward you forget that you even wanted it. Paul wanted to go to Rome. Based upon what Paul wanted to do there, I see no reason why God would not want him there. But for whatever reason, the timing wasn’t right.

So, Paul prayed. And he prayed. And he prayed. Verse 9 says he prayed without ceasing. Verse 10 says that he mentions the Romans “always” when he prays. Paul proved his desire was not some short-term fad. And eventually God honored Paul’s request because it was truly in line with God’s desire.

Let’s consider Paul’s prayer.

Paul prayed for the Romans. He prayed because of their faith.  He had obviously heard about them. Rome was the hub, and as people travelled to and from Rome they brought and took messages with them – even to the remote regions of the empire. A part of those messages was certainly about a group of people in Rome who chose not to bow before the emperor, and instead bowed at the name of Jesus. Paul knew that. Paul prayed for that. Paul prayed because of that.

Paul prayed for the Romans. He prayed that their faith would continue. He prayed that he might be able to come to them to strengthen them, to minister to them, to partner with them. He prayed for opportunity. But as he waited for an opportunity in Rome, he did not neglect his responsibilities elsewhere. And that fact deserves more attention.

See, Paul’s longing was not just for the Romans (although that is the focus here). It was for all people. He desired that everyone know Christ. He desired to impart wisdom to help everyone be strengthened in their faith which, in turn, encouraged Paul to continue the work. Paul wanted to proclaim the gospel because he wanted a harvest. He wanted to proclaim the gospel because God has a harvest waiting.

But for Paul it all began with prayer. What is interesting is that in verse 8, he says, “First, I thank my God.” In other words, his first action was prayer. What is strange is that Paul never mentions “Second.” It is not there. It begins with prayer, and effectively ends with prayer. Prayer engages God from the beginning through the end. But in the middle we have our own work to do and we are to do it wherever God has us in the moment.

What do we want to see?

Do we want people to have spiritual insight?  It begins with prayer.

Do we want people to be encouraged and to encourage others?  It begins with prayer.

Do we want to reap a harvest for God?  It begins with prayer.

Do we want to proclaim the Gospel so people live for God?  It begins with prayer.

Yes, it begins with prayer. But it doesn’t end with prayer until we have done our part too. Paul didn’t just pray for people to have spiritual insight, he took time to teach. Paul didn’t just want people to be encouraged, he encouraged (and challenged) them. Paul did not just want to reap a harvest for God, he went out “in the fields” and did the necessary work. Paul did not just want the Gospel proclaimed to people so they could know and live for God, he proclaimed it, despite the risks.

Yes, Paul longed to go to Rome. He desired to do these four things in Rome. But he didn’t just wait until he got to Rome. He did them where he was. He didn’t just pray and wait for his chance to minister in Rome, he ministered as he lived his life in Corinth, in Ephesus, in Thessalonica, and elsewhere – doing in each of those places what he also longed to do in Rome. In other words, Paul did not just pray for his desires, He lived them – each and every day. He prayed that God would do what only God can do, but Paul did all he could to make his desires come true as well. And because his desires were God’s desires, Paul got the opportunity – in God’s time, in God’s way.

CONCLUSION

Paul’s prayers showed his true desires. They show how much he longed for Rome. They showed how much he valued prayer. They show how much he trusted God. Many people listening to this message might say something similar is true for them. You long for your family, or your church, or your town, or your nation, or this world to be changed, and you pray for that.

But here is the greatest challenge I see in this set of verses. In Romans 1.9, Paul wrote, “For God is my witness….”

Would God testify as your witness that you prayed constantly about such things?

Would God testify as your witness that you serve Him faithfully?

Would God testify as you witness that you proclaim His Word continually?

I cannot answer for you, but I can for me. My answer is “No.” I may desire to be faithful in living, to better serve Him, to proclaim His Word more effectively, and to pray more often and more fervently, but I promise you, I would be lying if I wrote (or said) the words Paul wrote.

My guess is that the same would be true for most who listening to my voice (reading this post). And that is why we need Jesus. Jesus did do those things perfectly. And God did serve as a witness to the life of Jesus. It is that witness that raised Jesus from the dead. And it is that same power that can make it true for you and me – if only we will choose to long for the things of God, as He longs for them too. When we long to live our life for God, we can only have one response. We must engage.

JOURNEY:

Our JOURNEY letter for today is EENGAGE.

Desiring and longing are not enough. We need to engage. We need to put aside our comforts and complacency. We need to stop worrying about getting back to normal, and start getting busy for God. God is out in front of us. He is waiting to lead us into a better future. But we want to go back to a familiar past. The same was true for the Israelites after they left Egypt. I don’t want to go back to Egypt, I want to go forward with God.

NEXT STEP(S):

LIVE.  While we wait for God, let’s make sure He is not waiting for us!

So, let us pray. But let us act. Let us wait on God for His direction, but let us do what we know to do while waiting. We all have insights we can share. We all have encouragement (and exhortation) to give. We all know people who need Jesus. And we all have a message to proclaim. We need not wait to do those things. We must not wait to do those things. Let us act. Let us engage. Let us truly live. And then let us be willing to say, “For God is my witness,” because we lived our lives as He wanted us to live.

“An Introduction to (the) Romans” by Pastor Andy Braams

As we approach Summer 2020, we are experiencing growing hostilities between different groups of people. Battle lines are being drawn (or have been drawn) over social-distancing, wearing masks, reopening the economy, etc.

Churches and Christians are having their own battles related to whether or not to meet, how best to meet, and so on. You have likely had some sort of conversation with someone else about these very matters.

We would not discuss (argue) such matters if we did not care. But the problem for all of us is – our understanding is limited. We make our decision based upon what we know (or think we know), but our understanding is incomplete – always!

That is one reason why Paul wrote to the Romans. Two different groups of Christians were arguing with one another over their understanding of how to relate to God. Again, and this is critical to understand, both groups were Christian. But they each had a different idea of relating to God, and it was affecting their relationship with each other.

Today, we begin a lengthy look at Paul’s letter to the Romans. The series title is called And Justice for All. I recently sent a text to several people asking which of three titles they liked best. The result was a tie, so I asked my son-in-law to break the tie. The chosen title, and the second choice – Living Wrong, Made Right – will both be made clear in the weeks and months to come, but for now, just realize that we will all get justice – God’s perfect justice – which is based upon all of the facts, and is carried out equally for all people. As Romans 2.11 says, “For God shows no partiality.”

Ultimately, the solution to the issue facing the Romans is the same solution for Christians (and really all humans) today. We must realize that we are not in position to make perfect decision, to execute perfect judgement, to consider people (ourselves included) innocent or guilty. Only God can do that.

So, why should we study Romans? The painful answer is that none of us have perfect relationships. Our relationship with God is not perfect, nor is our relationship with people perfect. And thankfully, Paul’s letter to the Romans provides us not only with a better understanding of how to relate to God, but also how to relate to one another.

When beginning a new series, I often like to dive deep into the background. It is helpful to have the setting for the book or, in this case, letter. For instance, when I began Ephesians, that Ephesus was a city which had great buildings and thus we find many terms related to building and measuring. I would love to share more about Rome today, but with the abbreviated time we have, I am going to focus on the text. But the daily videos I do will focus on providing a great deal of context this week. Specifically, I will answer the Who, the What, the When, the Where, the Why, and the How of Romans. I will be doubling up on a couple of those each day, but I encourage you to watch so you can get a better feel. For instance, I will share some information about the Who (tomorrow) which might not be apparent at first.

But for today, lets look at these first seven verses.

These verses serve as Paul’s introduction to Rome. This is more important in this letter than his other letters because Paul has never been to Rome (see 1.13). But the introductory part of this letter is only partially about Paul – it is mainly about Jesus. And, of course, it is a little about the Roman church as well. (Rick will talk more about the specific nature of this introduction in this coming Thursday’s video. For those of you who remember the Teaching Moments we had in the past, the daily videos will essentially become like those teaching moments, with Thursdays being about the culture of the day, or potentially about Rome specifically).

Let’s quickly review what Paul says about each of these three parties in this introduction.

Paul’s Introduction

Paul

A Slave (Romans 1.1)

Paul introduces himself as a slave. The ESV uses servant, but the Greek word here is doulos, which means bondservant or slave. What a strange way to introduce yourself to someone you have never met – particularly, if you are trying to speak from a position of authority. But we must understand that not all slaves in the first century were what we may think of as slaves. A slave might be an accountant or be the manager of their owner’s business. They were still bound to the owner (for a variety of reasons), but some achieved a high status otherwise.

An Apostle (Romans 1.1, 5)

Paul immediately establishes his authority as one who was called to be an apostle (see also verse 5). The word apostle means one who is sent, and indeed, God called Paul to be sent (see Acts 13.1-4). Specifically, Paul’s purpose was to proclaim the gospel, and primarily in places it had not been proclaimed (Romans 15.20). We know that the church in Rome existed, but we do not know who started it, but most likely it was not another apostle (based upon 15.20), so Paul intended to help the church at Rome.

A Recipient of Grace (Romans 1.5)

Verse 5 says that Paul received grace (and became an apostle) in order to help all nations become obedient to faith in Christ. I believe this was Paul’s primary aim. He states something very similar in Colossians 1.28-29. He wants people to know about God, to live for God, and to then help others to do the same. As Colossians 1 says, He wants to present them “complete” to His Lord. That is the mark of a tremendous servant – to fully honor their master, and that is what Paul intended to do.

God – Father, Son, Spirit

Christ Jesus (Romans 1.1, 6, 7), Son (1.3, 4), Lord (1.4)

Paul is writing to a group who knows the meaning of authority. As citizens within Rome, they know full well the power of the emperor. Of course, Jesus is not the emperor, but He is the Christ (the Anointed One) and is the one in ultimate authority because of His heritage (Son of God, and descendent of David (a king, v 3). Thus, just as a king (or emperor) might pass down his authority to a son, God has done that for Jesus, and It is by the authority of resurrected Jesus (v4) that Paul is writing to this church. Paul wants the church to know that and he wants the church to know that he knows that is true as well.

God (Romans 1.1, 4, 7, and various pronouns such as he and his as in verses 2, 3)

Jesus was not an accident. God had long promised Jesus through the prophets (v2). It has always been God’s plan for His Son to be the source of Good News (the gospel, v1), and to call others to share that gospel with others. As I mentioned last week, the word gospel was a specific type of good news. It meant victory. When a battle had been won, the “good news” was sent to the leaders who would then tell the people that they were triumphant. The people of Rome would have understood this idea well. The Christians of Rome, however, would have had an even greater news – that Jesus had defeated the enemy of sin and death. That was better than any gospel of the emperor, it was the Gospel of God!

Spirit (Romans 1.4)

The Spirit of holiness (or Holy Spirit as we call Him) is how we know that Jesus is truly the Son of God. It is the Spirit of holiness that speaks to us about the resurrection of Jesus, that confirms it in our hearts (Romans 10.9-10), and allows us to have a glimpse of understanding of what Jesus truly did for us.

The Romans

Those in Rome/Loved By God/Saints (Romans 1.7 and the plural pronoun “you” in verses 6 and 7)

I will have more to say about the true recipients of the letter in tomorrow’s video. Suffice it to say that the church in Rome was the intended beneficiary, but Paul’s choice of words here make this interesting.

For today, let me just say that Paul ends his introduction with a very common greeting – “Grace and Peace to you.” It is because of God’s grace that we can have peace. But interestingly, Paul often used these terms because of the way certain people would have received the meanings. Jews wanted peace. Gentiles wanted grace. In the context of Romans, those are the two primary groups Paul is addressing – two groups of Christians who were at odds with one another even though they were a part of the same church.

CONCLUSION

Paul wants to establish his authority early in this letter. As we see at the end of the letter, he has many acquaintances (and perhaps some close friends) who are in Rome and can vouch for him. But this opening (which is all one sentence by the way!) established Paul as an authority not of his own doing, but as one who had been called, and was sent, by God. Again, in that culture, the people understood authority in a very particular way, so Paul was using their understanding to establish himself in order to have them listen to the letter, learn from it, and thus show their love for their neighbor as they proclaimed the love for God.

We will explore those aspects further in the months ahead, but that is one of the key themes – the unity of the church in Rome between two groups of believers that did not get along – at all. Thus,…

JOURNEY:

Our JOURNEY letter for today is UUNITE.

Other major themes exist – such as justification, divine election, the role of the Holy Spirit, etc., but unity in the church is certainly a major reason, if not the underlying reason, for this letter.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN

Daily Videos This Week – 5 Ws (M-W), Cultural History (Th), Sunday Preview (F)

As I mentioned earlier, the daily videos are now opportunities to expand on the teaching. This week, I will dive deeper into introducing Romans by covering the 5Ws – the Who, What, When, Where, and Why of Romans. I will cover these on Monday-Wednesday this week. Then on Thursday, Rick will share more about the typical introduction to a letter and why Paul used the approach he did. On Friday, I will provide a look ahead to next week’s message.

Overview of Romans Video – YouTube

Additionally, if you are interested in an overview of Romans, I had Susan repurpose a video I created for the pastors overseas. It was uploaded last Friday, and covers the whole book in about 78 minutes (which was tough!)

Wednesday Night Q&A on YouTube on Romans 1.1-7

On Wednesday, I am hopeful for questions related to this week’s message as we continue our study on Wednesday nights – 6:30 pm on YouTube Live. So, the next step this week, is all about opportunities to LEARN more about Romans so you will be ready to study this great letter more in depth.

“From Nothing to Abundance” by Pastor Andy Braams

Three months ago, we were carrying on in our lives with the usual cares and concerns. Two months ago, much of what we thought was important had changed. Within just a matter of days, it was impossible to find toilet paper, Lysol, sanitizer, bread, cereal, and other staples. But perhaps the biggest concern was the scarcity of masks for the medical personnel. As we move forward, many supplies are still not available. Other items have restrictions on the amount that can be purchased. Some of you have experienced this personally, and it has impacted you in various ways.

Ultimately, the issue is related to a mindset of scarcity – and specifically, its relation to abundance. For years, we were a people living in an economy that was experiencing unprecedented abundance. Now, much of that thinking has been changed. But worldwide, approximately 702 million people (or twice the population of the United States) live on less than $1.90 per day (that’s $694 per YEAR!!!).

That is why I say that scarcity is a mindset. Because I know some of those individuals who make less in a year than I do in a week. I am by no means wealthy in terms of money. But compared to many around the world, I am. But even those of us who have more than most, have a scarcity mindset at times – which is so evident when we consider hoarding. Because although hoarding may seem like someone has an abundance of something, the nature of hoarding actually comes from a mindset of scarcity. And scarcity comes from a mindset of not having enough trust – particularly in God.

I am not suggesting that we should not save for a rainy day. I am not suggesting that we should not make long-term plans with our resources. But I am saying that trusting God means we can share, we must share, of the resources that we have received. We will see this idea plainly in the passage today.

Why should we share? Because, as I have been saying for the last three weeks specifically, we are better together. Again, we are experiencing that in a very real way now that we are gathering together again, but beyond that, we must realize that learning, and living, and worshipping, and doing ministry, and sharing with others is all better when we do it together. We are better together.

And we are better when we include others. We see that time and time again – in the New Testament AND in the Old Testament.

And sometimes we find this truth in little known stories from unexpected sources, and unnamed individuals. Stick with me for the next few minutes and I will share with you such a story and why it matters for us today.

Before continuing, please read 2 Kings 6.24-32; 7.1-2.

At the end of 2 Kings 6, the king of Syria had overtaken Samaria (the northern kingdom of Israel). Verse 25 says that a great famine was taking place and a donkey’s head sold for eighty shekels of silver. Ok, we may not have much context for that. But notice that ¼ of a quart of dove dung sold for five shekels of silver. While we do not know what type of coin Judas got, it definitely could have been a shekel. If true, dove dung was worth about 1/6 the amount that Judas got for betraying Jesus! That is a sermon for another day!

But the price would not stay that way for long. Read 2 Kings 7.1-2.

Soon after, Elisha said that the going value for seven quarts of fine flour would be a shekel. And fourteen quarts of barley would be a shekel.

Thus, in a short span of time (Elisha said, “tomorrow”), people went from paying five shekels for ¼ quart of dung to one shekel for seven quarts of flour. In other words, scarcity turned to abundance overnight.

But the captain of the king did not believe it could happen, and so while he did see the prophecy come true, he did not get to experience it.

But why did the scarcity turn to abundance?

The answer lies in God doing what only God can do and four unlikely heroes doing what they knew they should do. And when I say unlikely, I mean unlikely. Because as verse 3 tells us, they were lepers.

The lepers were preparing to die. They would die if they stayed where they were. They would die if they went into the city. No food existed for them. So, they had an idea to go to the enemy to see about getting some help there. But the Syrians had abandoned their camp because God made the Syrian army hear the sound of a mighty army approaching. That is the part that only God can do.

Verse 7 tells us that the Syrians left behind everything including their horses and donkeys. Verse 8 mentions food and drink as well as gold and silver. They left everything and these four men were the recipients – and the only recipients!

What would you do? What if you and three of your close friends found a huge stash of money? Furthermore, what would you do if everyone else wanted nothing to do with you – that is, you were an outcast? You found the loot. No one likes you. What would you do?

Well, they did what most people would do. They started taking it and hid it for themselves (v. 8). But then they realized that wasn’t right. They had every opportunity to hoard. Perhaps, they had every reason to hoard. Remember, the price of dove dung was outrageous. Scarcity was not just a mentality; it was a reality.

But these four men realized a greater possibility. Despite their condition and despite their opportunity, they knew the right thing was to share the abundance with others. (Read 2 Kings 7.9-10.)

But notice the king had a scarcity mindset. (Read 2 Kings 7.12) A servant recommended sending a scout team to determine the facts. When they returned seeing that the Syrians had fled and left even more stuff as they ran away, the people went out and plundered everything. But let me read the rest of the chapter. (Read 2 Kings 7.17-20.)

The man who did not believe the prophecy of Elisha was trampled. He did live to see the abundance, but he did not get to partake – just as Elisha said.

CONCLUSION

What do we take from this story? I think we can find at least four specific principles.

      1. God will do what only God can do. And He will do it when His time is right.
      2. When God is doing His part, we must do ours.
      3. When we partner with God, He will be glorified and the multitudes will be blessed.
      4. Not everyone will experience all that God has for them to experience.

But I think the last two principles relate to the idea of our mindset.

Granted, the people benefited from the actions of four men. That will happen. But if those four men had been selfish, no one would have benefited except themselves. The land was in a famine, but they overcame a mindset of scarcity and shared from the abundance.

But the captain of the king did not believe. He could not believe. And thus, he did not benefit. His was a mindset of scarcity.

Ladies and gentleman, our culture has a mindset of scarcity right now. We are in a bit of a “great famine” in a sense. Sure, COVID-19 has played a part in that, but have we gone overboard. Is hoarding necessary? Is stockpiling every possible supply truly helpful? Again, I am not suggesting that we do not prepare for a rainy day. And right now, we are in a rainy season, if you will. But the clouds will lift someday and then what? I suppose all of the extra supplies can be donated, but still.

But, I want us to focus on the idea that these men knew what they should do – AND THEY DID IT. If you have been watching my daily videos, you will know that I have repeatedly discussed the difference between intentions and intentionality. In this story it is the difference between the men thinking “maybe we should tell others about the bounty we have found” but keeping it for themselves versus actually telling others about the bounty.

Ultimately the difference between intentions and intentionality in this story is the difference between paying way too much for bird dung to being able to provide families with substantive food. The four lepers simply did what they could do because they knew what they should do.

And that leads us to our 4 Ls. But first, let me share our JOURNEY letter for today.

JOURNEY

Our JOURNEY letter for today is EENGAGE.

The Engage part of our Strategy related to evangelism. The word evangelism simply means to tell others the good news. We are to tell the good news, and to do that we need to engage with others. That is what the men in this story did. They found a treasure of food, supplies, and money, and they told others. It was good news indeed. And because they told others, everyone received the blessing.

That is what happens when we share the good news of Jesus. We offer everyone who hears the good news – the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the opportunity to receive blessings.

NEXT STEPS:

LEARN.  In order to tell the good news, we must hear it. We must know it. In other words, we must LEARN it. The men in this story actually discovered the good news, but discovery is a part of learning.

LIVE.  After we LEARN what the good news is, we need to LIVE it. We need to apply what we know to our lives. Just like the men in this story, they knew what they should do, and they did it. We need to do the same.

LOVE.  As we LIVE according to the Good News, we begin to LOVE God and love others more. This love enables us to serve others even when it is difficult. Again, the men of this story were lepers. They were not likely shown much love. They likely were ridiculed. But they served others because it was the right thing to do.

LEAD.  Ultimately, our LOVE for others will require us to share our lives with others. In other words, our lives can be an influence on others. That is what leadership is. It is influence. The four men influenced others by their action of sharing. Imagine how much influence they had to LEAD after that!

We need to be people who continue to LEARN, to LIVE what we learn, to LOVE while we LIVE, and to LEAD others to do the same. If we do what we are to do, and let God do what only He can do, then like this story, all of us can experience the blessings of God in ways that we can otherwise not imagine.

We are living in a time when most people have a mindset of scarcity. Maybe the scarcity is related to food or household items, maybe it is related to health, or any number of other matters. But as this story shows, it just takes people willing to do something a little different to turn scarcity into abundance. I believe God acted because these four men were willing to act. And because God acted, and the people acted, the prospects of a nation changed – at least for a while.

So, if your mindset is focused on scarcity, ask God to help you see the abundance in your life. Move your mindset from one of scarcity to one of abundance. When we live with a mindset of abundance (not prosperity, but abundance), we can say with the psalmist – “I shall not want.” And that is only possible by living in the economy of God, by trusting God, and by being willing to do your part as God does His part too.

“Better Together” by Pastor Andy Braams

Just over a week ago, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson tweeted that Samaritan’s Purse must leave the city over its biblical views on homosexuality.

“It is time for Samaritan’s Purse to leave NYC. This group, led by the notoriously bigoted, hate-spewing Franklin Graham, came at a time when our city couldn’t in good conscience turn away any offer of help. That time has passed,” Johnson wrote on Twitter last Saturday. “Their continued presence here is an affront to our values of inclusion, and is painful for all New Yorkers who care deeply about the LGBTQ community.” (1)

The councilman used the word inclusion. I have a simple question. How inclusive is his statement?

Now, the reality is that we all have biases. We all have favorites. And we can all be discriminatory. For instance, if nothing else, most people would help their family members before helping a complete stranger.

We might be concerned about most people or even everybody. But, do we act? Most often not, because we tend to think about the world through our own eyes, rather than from a larger perspective.

But, if we all did act in our own way, all needs could be met. Unfortunately, most all of us know the good we can do – the good we should do – but we choose to ignore the impulse because it would be uncomfortable in some way. But we all have a part to play, and our part is really rather minimal if we will just do what is asked of us.

That is the purpose for this brief series – Better Together. And it is the title of today’s message as well. Because we are better together, but we must all do our part to make that happen.

Jesus could have chosen one person, but He chose twelve. Paul included other companions when he travelled. Peter and John wrote to churches to encourage them to share life with one another. Why? Because being together is better and we are better together.

But our question for today is how does this apply to our church in the 21st Century?

OUR MISSION – EEE – Exalt, Equip, Evangelize

Our church’s Mission is to Exalt the Savior, Equip the Saint, and Evangelize the Sinner. Our Strategy to make that happen is based upon the acronym JOURNEY. And then we have our STEPS – Learn, Live, Love, Lead. We will look at the Steps next week, but for now, I want to talk about our Mission and Strategy in the context of serving together.

In Romans 12, Paul transitions from his theological explanation to practical application. We will cover this chapter in detail next year when we get to it during our study of Romans, but for now, take a moment to read verses 4 and 5.

The purpose of Paul’s writing, as we will see in a couple of weeks when we start our in depth study of Romans, is to get Christians with different mindsets on the same page. Specifically, he is writing to Gentile and Jewish believers to stop being at odds with one another and uniting for a common purpose.

That purpose would be similar to ours – to exalt Jesus, to equip each other, and to share the message of Jesus with others. These are all aspects of living out our faith. And each one of us should be involved with each part of that. But we should not seek to only do these things alone – we should desire to do them together. That is, we should serve together.

For most of 2019, we discussed the various ways the metaphor of body of Christ related to a healthy human body. Paul uses the term body of Christ in Romans 12.5 and links the part to the whole (notice the phrase, “and individually members one of another”). That is, we all have a part to play and if we do not do our part, then we can not function as well as a church as we otherwise might.

It is as Mother Teresa once said, “I cannot do what you can do. You cannot do what I can do. Together we can do great things.”

We all have certain gifts and aptitudes and life experiences that make us unique from everyone else. If we were all the same, then God would have no need of creating each of us. But we are unique. And He did create us. Therefore, we must all choose to do something. We need to find our purpose (our “why”) and fulfill our calling for Jesus. (I encourage you to watch my Signposts videos from this last week – May 11-15 – on YouTube if you have not done so.)

So find your purpose – your mission, if you will – and then use what God has given to you in order to help the church, and specifically this church, to fulfill our mission to Exalt the Savior, Equip the Saint, and Evangelize the Sinner.

OUR STRATEGY – JOURNEY

It is one thing to have a mission, it is another to think about how to execute that mission. For us, we use the acronym JOURNEY. The first letter is for Jesus. The last letter is for You. The other letters are the parts of the path (journey) we must take to move from ourselves (You) to Jesus. Each letter represents one component of a church that is focused on God’s Kingdom.

O – Obey (Discipleship)

U – Unite (Fellowship)

R – Revere (Worship)

N – Nurture (Ministry)

E – Engage (Evangelism)

The idea is that we are each on a journey. Some of us may be further along than others, but we are all on a journey of some kind. But we are not meant to travel the journey alone. An old African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Frankly, sometimes I want to go fast. But if I get out too far ahead, then I end up waiting. Sometimes it is good to go fast, but oftentimes, it is more important to go far than it is to go fast. And perhaps, it is good to find a balanced approach between going far and fast. But either way, the goal should be to go together.

For instance, the reason we can go farther together is because we can support one another. Peter’s words relate to this type of support – not just for the benefit of one another, but ultimately that God might be glorified. Read 1 Peter 4.10-11.

Like Paul’s words to the Romans, Peter wants his readers to understand that we all have a place – and that place is alongside others in order to provide strength where it is needed. We all have something God has given us that makes it necessary to work together. I am thinking back to making the mats we took to Kenya. Everyone brought bags. Some cut them with scissors. Some tied bags together. Some did crochet. Some cleaned up. Some brought food. Some donated suitcases. Some gave money that was used to help pay the extra luggage fee. Some prayed. Etc. Sure, only a few of us went to Kenya. But it took many to make possible what happened. And it all started with one simple idea.

That’s what I want our church to consider as we move forward. What ideas do you have? What opportunities do we have to serve – one another, this community, this region, this world? We may be a from a small town, but we serve a big God. And He not only has a purpose for each one of us individually, He has a plan for us collectively as Fairfax Baptist Church. How do I know? Because God knows that we may be good enough to accomplish some things on our own, but He also knows that we can do much more if we work as a team. Why? Because we are better together!

CONCLUSION

Paul and Peter knew God wanted us to serve together. They exhorted us to use the gifts God has given to each of His followers to do so. But those are ancient words? Do they still resonate today? I say, “Yes!”

And I am not alone. Many of you know that I try to glean all I can from John Maxwell, one of the foremost leaders in our world today. Maxwell says it this way, “Nothing is more rewarding than a common mission being achieved by people with complimentary gifts working together in harmony.” (2)

I have experienced that truth time and time again. To make that a reality, each one of us needs to realize that God has made us for a reason. And then we encourage one another to not only find that reason, but to use what He has given us to fulfill our purpose. When we do those two things – and we do them together and do them for the Lord, we will find immense satisfaction. As Maxwell says, nothing is more rewarding. Nothing. Why? Because we will be doing what we are made to do and doing it together.

JOURNEY:

Our JOURNEY letter for today is NNURTURE.

Nurture is our word for serving within the church. We are to serve both within and without the church. But as we serve, we need to nurture one another. We must encourage and sometime exhort one another. We need to stand together in order to work together. We may choose to serve by ourselves at times, but we must realize that we are better when we are together. But it all begins with committing to serve. As we do, we will discover who we are, and who we were made to be, both individually and collectively. But to truly become be who we are meant to be (individually and collectively), we must serve. Why? Because God made us to serve (c.f. Gen 1.28; 2.15; Eph 2.10; Col 3.23; etc.)

NEXT STEP(S):

LIVE  To serve is to truly live. We may choose to live for ourselves and think life is ok. But when we give of ourselves to others, we find out what it truly means to live. So, find some way to serve someone this week.

One way would be to join us for the prayer walk tonight as we pray over each home and family within Fairfax.

(1) https://twitter.com/NYCSpeakerCoJo/status/1256349197407866880

(2) John Maxwell, Intentional Living: Choosing a Life That Matters. New York (Center Street, 2015), 195.

“Back to the Basics” by Pastor Andy Braams

For eight weeks we did not meet in our church’s building. Before today, March 15, 2020 was the last time most were in the church’s facility. Besides dropping off mail, watering a plant, and a few odds and ends, I have not been in the church much over the past eight weeks either. It has been weird.

Now today, we are back. But things are different. We only have a few people here at a time. And we have two services. And we don’t have Sunday School. And a lot of confusion persists about how to move forward as individuals…as a church…as a society.

But I once heard a young lady provide the few people around her with a great piece of advice. The advice was basically to start with the basics. It went something like this – “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. When you read you begin with A-B-C. When you sing, you begin with Do-Re-Mi.” (For those who are unaware, the reference is to Julie Andrews’s character in the movie The Sound of Music.)

Well, we are not learning to read or sing today, but we can go back to the basics of our faith as we look to adapt and move forward from this disruption known as COVID-19.

As I have mentioned many times on the videos I have been doing each weekday now for the last seven weeks, the disruption in our lives is paralleled by the disruption in the lives of Jesus’ disciples. (You can find the videos on by searching “Fairfax Baptist Church Missouri” on youtube.com.) The reasons for that disruption may be very different, but the more I think about it, the magnitude of the adjustment for them was every bit as big, and maybe moreso, than it has been, and is, for us.

So, for the next few weeks, I want to talk about what it means to be back together. Because not only is it better for us to be together, it is also true that we are better together.

And that is why God calls us. It is why we are commanded to love. And it is why we are commissioned to serve. All of which are meant to be done together.

But these aren’t my words or my plan. The ideas were God’s as spoken and carried out by Jesus. But do they still apply to us today? I believe so. Let’s find out how Jesus words still apply in a COVID-19 world.

Called to Follow (Matthew 4.19) – “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.”

Those ten words have changed the world for so many people. It was true of the disciples. It is still true today. Many people have misperceptions about these words. Let me briefly speak to two of those misunderstandings.

1) Being a Christian Is As Simple As Saying a Prayer and/or Getting Wet in the Water

First, we must understand that becoming and being are two different things. The steps to become a Christian and living as a Christian are quite different. Or are they? Jesus not only demonstrated baptism, He commanded it as well. And praying to God, even informally to repent of our sinfulness is critical. But saying a prayer and getting baptized are not boxes to be checked. They are a part of what it means to follow Jesus. Why? Again, Jesus was baptized so we follow His example and He said to be baptized so we follow His teachings.

But to be a Christian is to be a follower of Jesus. It is to make the decision with our head to follow, so He can change our hearts in order for us to live by faith with our hands and feet. That is what Jesus said to those whom He first called.

      • Follow Me – literally and figuratively.
      • I will make you – I will change you…from the inside out.
      • Fishers of men – you will do things differently for different purposes.

So, being a Christian may have some initial steps, but a true follower keeps following in Jesus’ footsteps for the rest of their lives.

2) God Only Calls Extra Spiritual People to Serve Him

Many people look at pastors and missionaries as people especially called and equipped by God. And yes, many pastors and missionaries do have specific training, but realize that God calls everyone to follow, to be changed, and to serve.

Some people are called to specifically fill a call to vocational ministry, but all are called to serve. I was a businessman before He called me. One of my good pastor friends was a marine. Another was a computer specialist. I know a man who is preparing to be a missionary who worked at HyVee before He was called to ministry.

Biblically, Peter and Andrew and James and John were fisherman. Matthew was a tax collector. Paul made tents. In the Old Testament, Moses and David were shepherds. Elisha was a farmer. Daniel was a teenager. And yes, all of them were especially called to do something great. But they were ordinary people by the day’s standards until they heeded God’s call.

But not everyone who follows becomes prominent. Other followers are Priscilla and Aquilla were simply faithful tent-makers who also shared their faith. Onesimus was a not-so-dutiful slave who became deeply connected to Paul and thus learned to serve God. The list goes on.

Here in our church, many of you have served in ways great and small. Just in the last couple of years we have had a farmer, and road-crew supervisor, and a police officer go to Kenya to serve on mission. But others have worked the local food pantry, taught Sunday School, purchased food and drink for the youth group or children’s church. Others have made phone calls or made visits or perhaps even made food for people who were hurting, or ill, or grieving.

My point is that God calls everyone to serve. But that serving begins with a call to follow.

Commanded to Love (Matthew 22.37-40)

Besides a call to follow. We have a command to love. When challenged about which command was greatest, Jesus responded that we are to “love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind.” He said, “this is the great and first commandment.” Well, that’s not easy. But then, he added, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Ok, now He’s meddling! Later Jesus gave His followers a new commandment to “love one another” (John 13.34).

Over the years, I have continually said that most of the NT commands are in the plural. Jesus words to the lawyer in verse 37 are in answer to a specific question to a specific individual. So, the “you” there is singular. However, if “you” are to love your neighbor and your neighbor is therefore to love you, then we get to a sense of togetherness in the idea of love. Furthermore, the verse in John 13 is obviously plural – love one another. So, our love is to be intentional and reciprocated. We love God because God loves us. We love others because God loved us (1 John 4.19). (John strongly links the love of God and the love of others in 1 John 4.7-21.)

The truth is that we are commanded to love even if the love is not returned. But for those who chose to follow Jesus, that love should be mutual. If we are following Him, we should not need a command – we should seek to love willingly and joyfully. Sure, people show love differently, and some have a much more difficult time expressing love as others might desire, but that doesn’t mean that the love is not there. But if it is not, it needs to be – not because I said so, but because Jesus did. Again, it is a part of our calling. It is what we are to do in response to His words “Follow Me.”

Commissioned to Serve (Matthew 28.18-20)

The final basic is what is commonly referred to as The Great Commission. Jesus commissioned His first followers to make disciples by going, by baptizing, and by teaching. That commission has been passed down for generations to us today. Why should we do it? Because it is one way to show that we love God. It is a way to show our love for others. It is a way to show that we are following Jesus.

Why don’t we do this? Because we get so busy with our own passions, our own desires, our own concerns. We would rather accomplish our mission than complete our Lord’s mission for us. We would rather tell others what to do rather than follow the orders of the one we otherwise refer to as Lord to do what He wants.

We are selfish. We are arrogant. We are sinful. Maybe not always, but mostly. It is who we are as humans unless we completely surrender to Jesus.

And that is why we need each other. That is why we are better together.

CONCLUSION:

See we are called for a purpose. We are commanded to love. And we are commission to serve. But left alone, it becomes more and more difficult to submit to another. It becomes more and more difficult to listen to others. It becomes more and more difficult to surrender. But if we are alone, who is there to pick up us when we fall? Who is there to lend an ear when we have troubles? Who is there to care for us when we need a friend? Who is there to point us in the right direction when we lose our way? Who is there to push us to go farther when we feel we have nothing left to give?

That is part of the reason why the writer of Hebrews tells us to not forsake meeting together (Hebrews 10.25). It is why God created an assembly of people to meet together. It is why Jesus is still building His Church.

Why? Because God knows we are better together. And having been separated from one another for the last eight weeks due to stay-at-home orders, many listening today realize that truth as well.

So, today we have looked at some basics of our faith – that we are called to follow, that we are commanded to love, that we are commission to serve. But the calling, the commandment, and the commission are not meant for one – they are meant for all. That is, we are called together. Because God knows we are better together.

And hopefully after this ordeal, we will know that truth better as well.

JOURNEY:

Our JOURNEY letter for today is UUNITE.

We may not be able to unite physically as we would like. We may be separated by six feet. We may be meeting at two distinct times. But we can still be united in heart, united in purpose, and united in love.

NEXT STEP(S):

LOVE:  Make a call to at least one person you do not see here this week to tell them that you are glad that you are looking forward to being together with them again.

“May It Be So” by Pastor Andy Braams

When I first conceived of this series last year, I had many topics I was planning to introduce. When we began this series in January, the same was true. These topics related to changes in our culture over the past several years – some good, some not. And many of those changes are still in play, and gaining steam while we focus on this pandemic. But obviously the major change which affected all of us, and seemingly that impact occurred in an instant, is best known as COVID-19.

This virus has come upon us quickly, has disrupted us beyond imagination, caused major illness and tens of thousands of deaths, wrecked our economy, closed businesses, cost millions of people their jobs, closed schools, and much, much more. In other words, to repeat what I said a moment ago, we have experienced major change.

We could not have conceived any of this six months ago. But none of this caught God off guard. The world has changed drastically, but God has not changed at all. The title of this series is Constant in a World of Change. That was true about God when I conceived of the series. It was true of God when the novel coronavirus began to impact the lives of millions. That fact remains true today. And God will still be the same tomorrow and for every tomorrow’s tomorrow.

Two verses make this truth known to us as plainly as can be. Malachi 3.6 says, “For I the Lord do not change.” And Hebrews 13.8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

Whether your primary concern right now is COVID-19 or some other matter, two things are certain – life constantly changes and God does not.

And that brings us to the Apostles’ Creed. As I have said from the first message, the Creed is not what we worship. The Creed is not what is most dear. God is to be the focus of our lives and our worship. The Creed is not even the most important writing about God – the Bible is. But the Creed is a way to capture the fundamental beliefs of our faith, particularly of the New Testament, in a short, and relatively simple approach.

The Apostles’ Creed is not the only creed. Many creeds and catechisms have been developed over the centuries. Others have developed articles of confession and statements of faith. But most every orthodox creed, catechism, confession, or statement has core elements in common. And those elements are found in the Apostles’ Creed.

The Apostles’ Creed is the most commonly confessed creed. It was named for the apostles because content can be traced back to what the apostles learned from Jesus and saw for themselves. The Reformers showed their respect for the Creed. Orthodox Christians down through the centuries have held these beliefs to be true, as do we today.

As I have mentioned before, the beliefs expressed in the Creed do not encapsulate everything a Christian believes. I also shared this quote from Albert Mohler’s book about the creed:

“All Christians believe more than is contained in the Apostles’ Creed, but none can believe less.” (1)

But it is one thing to express a belief. It is another to live by it. And that is what this series was meant to be. It was meant to help us understand how each phrase in the Creed applies to our lives today so that we can not only have faith in the truth of the statements, but so that we can act on those truths in living our lives day by day.

In other words, to understand the Apostles’ Creed correctly, is to acknowledge the insufficiency of our faith until we are ready to cry out like the father in Mark 9, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9.23-24).

So, let me conclude this series with the same basic thoughts I shared to introduce it. I will do that by reminding us of two answers to the question:

Why Do We Need A Creed?

Read Jude 3-4

A Creed Allows Us to Hold on to SOMETHING

We all cling to something. Just as a small child has a favorite stuffed animal or maybe a blanket, or even a pacifier, we all have something or perhaps someone. Having that something or someone close allows us to feel like our world is ok, even when we know it is not. That someone or something is stability. Security.

But most people find that security in items or even people that will soon be gone. The child outgrows the blanket and eventually the stuffed animal and toy as well. As adults, we discard what was once considered worthy – including sometimes our friends and family.

But we never forget. In fact, regardless of your age, you can probably remember an item or two from your childhood that brought you security. You probably remember your best friend whom you swore you would never lose touch. But most of us have and/or will. Why? Because we change. And what is considered valuable and helpful today does not always maintain that value over time.

In Jude 3, Jude implores his readers to contend for the faith. He is saying that they should not only hold onto what they have learned, they also need to fight for it. Others have come in disregard of the truth and perverted the message of hope God has given. What Jude is saying is that there is something worth holding tight. That something is the truth of Jesus. That something is the stories of God that have been passed down for ages. That is worthy of holding. We all will hold onto something, but we need to let the truth of God hold onto us as well.

We need to let God’s truth get deep within us. Sure, a creed is just a series of words. But words have meaning. Again, we cannot place any creed on par with the Bible because the Bible was fully inspired by God. But anything that helps us to know the core truths of the Bible without compromising those truths, is worth holding onto when we need that stability and security. The words do not replace the Bible, but they do point to it, and thus a creed can have great value to point us to the true stability and security we seek.

A Creed Allows US to Hold on to Something

It is one thing to have a belief; it is another to share it with others. Earlier this year, we saw the Chiefs win a Super Bowl. People of all walks of life bonded over watching a football team win a game. People who were young and old, rich or poor, black or white or any other color, professional or a tradesman, etc. rallied together to root for, then celebrate a championship. That shared hope of a championship created bonds for a short time.

In Jude 3, Jude wrote to a group of people about what has been delivered to the saints (which includes his audience). His appeal is not to one, but to many. He needed them to stand strong together, to fight together, to encourage one another in order that they could overcome the crowd trying to disrupt the true message of God. The group of deceivers was united to be disruptive, and Jude was exhorting his readers to be unified to refute the “certain people” as Jude calls this other group in verse 4.

Consider the strength of the bond that could happen if what we believe and what someone else believes about God is coincides. When we ask someone what they believe, we may be looking for a few key words, but we do not have them recite, or even read, the Bible to us. No, we focus on a few key facts to determine if we share the same beliefs. And that is what the Apostles’ Creed does for us. The Creed allows us to know people down the road, across the town, in another city, and around the world who share the same basic beliefs. The same is true of people throughout history. The fact that millions before us, and today believe the same should provide comfort and even assurance that we are not alone in our understanding. The Creed is not about what I believe or you believe. It is about what we believe. Yes, the words are, “I believe,” because a person’s faith is individual in one sense, but the essence of faith is to be understood and lived within community. Faith is about us. Our ability to be in direct community with one another has been challenged during this current pandemic, but holding a common belief in a constant God, has been what has helped many people through this challenging time.

CONCLUSION

As I turn work toward the conclusion of this message, and thus the series, I need to mention one more word in the Apostles’ Creed. The Creed does not just contain a series of belief statements (20 truths depending upon how you count them). It ends with a single word – amen.

Therefore, these statements could be considered more than pithy statements about biblical truths; rather, we could consider it a prayer.

If we think of it as a prayer, we must understand the word amen. The word means “let it be” or “may it be so.” With that thought in mind, consider what our reciting of the Creed means. We confess a series of beliefs and then conclude with Amen, which effectively is saying, “may it be so.” In other words, after stating the truths of the Creed, we are saying “let our confessions be truly representative of what we believe.”

This idea takes me back to the man, the father, in Mark 9 who wants his boy to be healed. When confronted by Jesus about belief, the man cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (See Mark 9.14-29 for the story, and particularly verse 24 for the statement.)

The Apostles’ Creed was not developed yet, but if it had been, we could equate this man’s statement to knowing the Creed in general, maybe even having it memorized. But being able to read or memorize words does not make it real. This man wanted his faith to be real.

You and I should want no less. It is not enough to know. We must believe. And belief is always – ALWAYS – followed by action. We can say a lot of things, but we do what we truly believe to be true and important.

For us, at this time, a part of acting on our belief is to take the words of Jude as a charge to pass on the truths of God to the next generation. We are now the ones who must contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. That faith is, in part, represented by the Apostles’ Creed. That faith has been passed down for centuries, and now it is our turn to pass it onward. People are currently trying to “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). So what will we do?

Well, whatever we do, it must include acting on the belief we have in a God who does not change…a God who is still in control…a God who gave us His Word…and whose message is summarized in what we know as the Apostles’ Creed.

THE APOSTLES’ CREED

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth,

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Was crucified, dead, and buried.

He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven

And sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,

Whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

The holy catholic Church,

The communion of saints,

The forgiveness of sins,

The resurrection of the body,

And the life everlasting.

Amen. (MAY IT BE SO)

 

(1)  Albert Mohler, The Apostles’ Creed: Discovering Authentic Christianity In An Age Of Counterfeits, Nashville: Nelson Books, 2019, xvi.