“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.