Sermon — 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 “Warfare for the Mind”

3 Jun

          The old cliché is true: “Whatever gets your mind gets you.” Paul knew this and that is why he consistently urges us to set our minds on things above and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This is also the reason that Paul in 2 Corinthians acknowledged that a big part of his ministry in the local church was to wage warfare for the minds of his hearers.

          Don’t be naïve, everyone else around us is battling for our minds. Advertisers are battling for your mind. Schools, whether public or private or home, are all waging warfare for the minds of children. Politicians want to sway our minds with persuasive words. Scholars attempt to shape culture by shaping thinking. Interestingly in our information age at the same time we have been bombarded by more and more people trying to shape our thinking, we have been counseled by our popular culture for the last 50 years to “turn off our minds, relax and float downstream.” We have been told, “Don’t worry, be happy.” We have been told to enjoy life and don’t waste time thinking. We have “amused ourselves to death.” So we live in a world where there is a double-edged sword of intense external efforts to shape our minds combined with an internal emphasis on feeling over thought which makes it easy to conform us to the latest thoughts and ideas. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 come like a clarion call to a Christianity that has become apathetic, ineffective and in many cases even immoral precisely because it has exchanged the principles of this passage for nostalgia, sentimentality and emotionalism. We have done precisely the opposite of what Paul urges in this passage. And the results have been devastating. Hear the Word of God in 2 Corinthians 10 and you will hear our marching orders as the people of God . . .

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

Now as we said last week, in 2 Corinthians Paul’s ministry is under fire, in part probably because he called out the church in Corinth for their toleration of open immorality and in part because he criticized them for their practices as a church, which tended toward disorder and favoritism rather than the kind of order that brings the widespread use of the gifts of the whole body which builds up, or edifies, the church. Paul had brought his critique from a heart of love, but we all know that critique is not easy to take and our first response is often to become defensive. It seems the church in Corinth had some of this defensiveness so some among them began to criticize the apostle Paul. They criticize his methods and his person. One of the criticisms they bring against him is that he is really bold in writing but in person he is weak and unimpressive.

Paul makes it clear in this passage that he does not intend to be weak or apathetic when it comes to this minds of his hearers. Instead he tells us that he is engaged in a war. And so he wages war in verse 3, takes up weapons of warfare in verse 4, tears down strongholds in verse 5, and prepares to punish rebels in verse 6. Many of us read this kind of passage and the book of Acts and conclude that Paul was a loud, brash, combative person. But the Corinthians do not seem to think this way about Paul. Nor do we catch this idea among the Ephesians, with whom Paul spent two years. On a personal level, Paul seems to have not been outwardly impressive. His ministry was not sustained by the power of his personality or charisma but by the power of God.

Paul acknowledges here that he “lives in the flesh.” By this he does not mean what his accusers meant, that he was living by his own wits and power, living sinfully, or that he was using manipulation or his own abilities to sway people. Instead, when Paul says he lives in the flesh, he is just acknowledging what he has already said, that he lives in a physical clay vessel that is subject to weakness. Later he will talk about the thorn in the flesh, some kind of physical trial that troubled him. But though Paul lives in a body that is subject to the effects of a fallen world, he does not war according to the flesh. Here Paul is saying that though he lives in a fallen world, he does not use the tools of a fallen world to wage his battles. He has already spoken of these things in chapter 4, when he says we don’t live in the dark, we don’t manipulate or use craftiness, we just openly tell the truth about Jesus and thus we have a clear conscience. Paul wants the victory of God to touch everyone but he won’t use methods to get people in the door that compromise the truth of the gospel. He is not interested in gathering a crowd so much as he is interested in making disciples. Paul has told us that his adequacy comes from God. Since Paul’s power is from God, he will fight according to God’s rules of engagement. The good news of this passage is that Paul has an arsenal of weapons through his union with Christ which are far more powerful and effective than anything he could come up with on his own. In today’s church circles we are on the lookout for the latest method or plan and we seem to think our plans are more important than God’s power to the blessing of a ministry.

Through the rest of the passage, Paul illustrates his calling to battle for the minds of his hearers through the imagery of ancient warfare. He says his ministry is one of destroying defensive strongholds, taking captives and punishing rebels when the city is secured. Paul in himself is weak and unimpressive. I am not sure if we were with him in a crowd if we could pick him out as being in any way distinctive. But in Christ Paul is mighty. And so should it be for us too.

Paul’s warfare imagery is distasteful to many in our day, especially in church. We think church should be nice and things should be peaceful. But shouldn’t we remember, on this Memorial Day weekend above all, that peace is so often only secured through resistance to the enemies of peace? And as it is physically, so it is spiritually. Paul’s aim is to wage warfare for the sake of his hearers.

Because Paul’s weapons are not fleshly but spiritual, Paul is confident that he can tear down the strongholds in the lives of his readers. The strongholds here are “speculations and lofty things” and these things are “set against the knowledge of God.” So the strongholds are ways of thinking that stand as a kind of resistance to the truth of God. Since Paul has made it clear throughout his writings that the focus of his preaching is Christ and Him crucified we can safely assume that Paul is saying here that strongholds are those thoughts and ideas and ways of thinking that are set in opposition to the good news of salvation in Jesus by grace through faith. Now Paul is not specific about what these stronghold ways of thinking are because these ways of thinking can be quite varied. Some people have strongholds that are thoroughly religious. They think that their religious activity or devotion makes them right with God. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who resist the truth about Jesus through atheism, the insistence that there is no God. Others trust in science. Others have strongholds of materialism or pleasure. Still others trust in the stronghold of activism or politics. In Paul’s day, people trusted in credentials and influence and impressive speaking ability. But as Paul said in Philippians 3:4-8, all these kinds of things were like rubbish to Paul in comparison to knowing Christ. Still, these strongholds, though they have no ultimate value, do have a very strong pull on us in the present time. That’s why they are strongholds. A stronghold physically speaking is a defensive protection. It is a fortress or a bulwark intended to provide protection from an attack. In this way, this is such a powerful picture for the way we live. Our false ways of thinking are like strongholds to us, they give us a sense of security and protection against the truth of the gospel. Why would people want a sense of protection against the gospel? Well, people are worldly, people are drawn to love the world and self and that’s why the Scriptures so often call us to reject worldliness. Non-believers certainly try to erect strongholds against the truth of the gospel but so do professing believers. We can fall very easily into worldly thinking, making the measure of our lives our bank accounts or our homes or our achievements and compromising basic Christian truth in order to keep an outward peace with the world around us that is really nothing more than simple cowardice on our part.

Paul says, “No! We must attack these strongholds.” Why? So that we can conquer people and build a kingdom for ourselves? No! The warfare we wage is for the glory of God and the good of those who are locked into strongholds of unbiblical thinking. Since our adequacy is in God we don’t come from a position of superiority to tell people how wrong they are but we do fight the good fight of the faith and we do face down false ways of thinking. This is not just work for Paul or for pastors it is for all the people of God. And the first step is to remove our own planks of stinking thinking about God and life and truth and to align ourselves with the truth of the Word of God.

Paul had effective weapons in this battle and so do we. Paul mentioned these weapons specifically in Ephesians 6 when he talks about the armor of God. The Word of God and prayer are the weapons with divine power to tear down strongholds. The world will not be impressed by these things. But just as David’s sling when he faced Goliath didn’t look impressive but was effective, we will find that when we wield the Word and prayer in dependence on God that God will make His mark against the strongholds that grip the lives of those we love.

Perhaps Paul had in mind Proverbs 21:22 when he wrote this text . . .

A wise man scales the city of the mighty

And brings down the stronghold in which they trust.

So spiritual warfare is a part of our calling as believers. We attack with the Word of God and prayer against all the ideological and philosophical and religious strongholds people hide in because in their hiding from the truth of God they only do harm to themselves. Any militancy on the part of a Christian must be grounded in love for Christ and love for people. The goal is not to get society to adopt a Christian perspective by force, it is to lovingly confront what is false and graciously proclaim what is true.

I think this passage, along with Ephesians 6, has a great deal to teach us about spiritual warfare. I think often we have been taught that spiritual warfare is our direct entry into power encounters with demons and through prayer we cast out this demon or oppose that demon and for most Christians it just sounds so strange and scary that we don’t approach such things. But notice in this passage that the strongholds are not demons. Spiritual warfare is not about chasing demons it is about opposing the doctrine of demons which trickles down into the ways of thinking of people all around us. John MacArthur says, “Our enemy has formed, from demon sources, ideologies and we assault those ideologies. Yes, ultimately they are doctrines of demons. Yes they come from seducing spirits through hypocritical liars who build these great edifices to human wisdom and demonic doctrine. But we assault the system, we don’t chase the spirits. Scripture indicates right here that our war is for the destruction of fortresses. They are not demons, they are human demonically inspired ideologies set up in defiance of God.”

“Listen, there’s only one way, there’s only one way to destroy error and that is with truth. Now you know what the weapons are. The only way you can take wrong thoughts and make them right is to replace error with truth. So when you look at Ephesians 6 and you see the soldier who is the Christian soldier, and you see him with all of his clothing and then it says he has one weapon, that weapon is a sword which is the Word of God…the Word of God. You don’t fight the spiritual warfare with a bunch of anti-demon formulas whispered at them or shouted at them. You don’t fight the spiritual warfare with some kind of magical incantations. The spiritual warfare that you fight is an ideological warfare that is fought at the level of the mind and when you find people ensconced and entrenched in the great fortresses of these ideologies, you assault them with the truth. That’s what we’re all about. That’s what we do.”

So taking up this pathway of spiritual warfare against the strongholds of people all around us inside and outside the church, we don’t just teardown the strongholds we take captives. The verb here where it says we are taking every thought captive means literally to take a prisoner with a spear. It means to take a prisoner with a spear. We smash the fortress to the ground, went in and put a spear in the back of the prisoners and marched them out. We see the miracle of God’s work here, the miracle all of us who are saved have experienced. We see God taking one who has all sorts of barriers set up against the knowledge of God brought to a place of obedience to Christ. We have here the picture of a person taken from a place of resistance to the knowledge of God to obedience to Christ. They didn’t even want to know God and now they are brought to a place where they desire to not just know but obey. That is a miracle of grace. Only God could do that. But let’s be clear. God has chosen in large part to carry out His work in the world through His redeemed people. Paul believes wholeheartedly in God’s sovereign power to save but he is also absolutely convinced that God has called him to proclaim the gospel and that a part of that proclamation is to speak in opposition to ways of thinking that are contrary to the gospel of grace.

There is an irony here. Paul speaks this language of conquest and capture but in doing so he is pointing the way to freedom. The only way to be free from the snares of the devil is to be conquered and captured by Christ. Everyone serves someone, either self or Satan or the Savior. I know which one of those three is the only One worth serving. I hope you do too and that you are ready to lay down and forsake any kind of foolish stronghold that has captured your imagination to walk with Jesus.

Now when we come to verse 6, after all this language of battle and victory, it just sounds mean. Why is Paul ready to punish disobedience and why is he waiting until their obedience is complete? Probably what Paul is doing here is an act of mercy. When the church in Corinth makes their stand on the Lordship of Christ rather than worldly wisdom then Paul will act to punish remaining disobedience, particularly from false teachers. In other words, Paul is trying to spare people from punishment if they will align their lives to the Lordship of Christ. But he will not spare from punishment those who will not turn away from the false fortresses set up against the knowledge of God.

What this passage makes clear to me is that there is a real battle for the mind and that we as Christians should be people of a renewed mind who are fighting for others to have a renewed mind. Christianity is not just another option for life among many. There are pieces of truth in all kinds of ways of living, but only one way is the embodiment of truth, rooted in a Savior who is the way, the truth and the life.

Paul was hated for the stand he took. And so it will be for us, even in the church. “Why be confrontational? Why draw lines in the sand over issues of biblical truth?” There is a way to be confrontational that is wrongheaded and arrogant and mean-spirited. We’re not interested in that. We’re not interested in proving ourselves right. We’re not against people. We are not trying to conquer people we are standing instead against the false and harmful ideas that people hold. We are interested instead in offering the gospel of Christ to a world that is hiding behind all sorts of false teaching. We are intent on showing in our actions and words that the way of obedience to Christ is the way of life and strength and peace.

All true Christian ministry involves a battle for the mind (which by the way is one of the reasons that teaching and preaching is so central in the life of a healthy church). It is necessary and essential to demolish false arguments so that the path to obedience to Christ might be opened to us. But these false arguments are not demolished by our ingenuity or our wisdom or our methods. Instead the Holy Spirit works through the Word and prayer to use us as God’s army of truth.

Warren Wiersbe says, “Simply because Paul did not use carnal methods and exert the power of a “strong personality,” the believers thought he was a weakling! His weapons were spiritual, not fleshly. Like all of us, Paul “walked in the flesh” (that is, had all the weaknesses of the body), but he did not war after the flesh by depending on fleshly wisdom, human abilities, or physical prowess.

There was disobedience in Corinth because Christians were believing lies instead of the truth of God’s Word. Paul warned them that he would smash their arguments and false doctrines and bring their hearts and minds to the place of obedience. Church problems are not solved simply by changing the constitution, revising the church program, or reorganizing a board, but by confronting people and problems with the Word of God.”

So in closing, what do we do with this passage, as individuals and as a church?  First, we must address our own hearts. Do I understand the gospel, what God has saved me from, what God has saved me for, how I am saved? Am I walking in light of the truth of the gospel? Are there any areas in which I am listening to false strongholds of human philosophy and worldly thinking? For example, am I good with following Scripture except when it comes to my sexual morality, in which case I listen to the world? Or am I good with God’s truth about honesty but not willing to submit to God’s truth about anger? So the first step this morning is to humble ourselves before God and evaluate whether there are strongholds of worldly thinking in our own hearts and to repent of any thinking that is out of step with God’s Word.

Second, what lies are we as a church listening to? Are we given to traditions or trends or to biblical truth? Are we willing to forsake ways that are false when their untruth is made clear? Are we willing to take a hard look at what is really biblical over what is just preference? What strongholds do we need to demolish within the walls of our church? Apathy, pride, worldliness, self-centeredness and lack of love?

Third, do we believe in the sufficiency of prayer and the Word through the power of the Holy Spirit to guide our life and ministry? It is not as if we have nothing to do but pray and read the Word. We make plans, we do things, but what is our compass? What is our guide?

Fourth, what is the place of demolishing strongholds in the work of evangelism? Are we willing to be bold and at the same time humble? Do we love people outside the walls enough to reach out to them with the truth of God and lovingly point out ways they may be building their lives on shaky foundations?

Finally, do we have the courage to live by the guidance of God’s Word in a world that more and more rejects the truth of God? Are we willing, like Jesus and the apostles, to bear the scorn of a world that despises God’s Word?

Each one of us must reckon with these questions in our hearts. And then we must come together to discuss these things. I would encourage you to talk about these questions with your spouse, with your friends, with your Sunday School class, with your pastors. Let’s not let any more time slip away where we are not giving serious attention to taking every thought captive. After all, “whatever gets your mind gets you.”

Sunday Morning Preview — April 29, 2018

28 Apr

Tomorrow morning’s worship service will begin with one of the highlights of any service: Baptism!

We baptize those who profess faith in Christ as a symbol of their new life in Christ and their desire to follow Him.

The Children’s Choir will follow the baptism with a Call to Worship. Some may wonder at whether it is wise to have the children sing in such a setting. What if they don’t understand what they are singing? What if they get a performance mindset? These are legitimate concerns. Parents should talk with their children about why they are singing and what they are singing about when they sing. At the same time, there can be great blessing through singing as children learn that they can share a message about Jesus with others. Children can learn by being in front of others to live with boldness rather than timidity. In addition, we as adults can often be humbled by the enthusiasm and energy of children for the things of God.

After a piano Offertory, we will say together our Church Verses for Meditation.

This week is the week we will try to say Romans 12:1-2 from memory. Just in case you need one more chance to review, here are the verses . . .

12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Following the recitation of these verses, we will sing a Congregational Hymn.

This week we will be singing the old spiritual, #156 Were You There? Once again we visit the themes of the gospel: the cross and the empty tomb.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Were you there when he rose up from the dead?
Were you there when he rose up from the dead?
Sometimes I feel like shouting ‘Glory, glory, glory!’*
Were you there when he rose up from the dead? 

*The Baptist Hymnal retains the line from the other verses, “Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”

There are two unique things about this hymn. First, it is a spiritual which found wide usage among African-Americans in the period of Reconstruction after the Civil War. So this was a song of an oppressed people identifying their suffering with the suffering of their Savior. As such, the original version of the hymn had no last verses about being laid in the tomb and about the resurrection. Instead there were two other verses. One was “Were you there when they pierced Him in the side.” The other was the final verse of the hymn originally, “Were you there when the sun refused to shine?” The original hymn left singers pondering the suffering of the Savior (even as they likely pondered their own suffering) but not His glory. This is not wrong. A song does not have to cover every aspect of Christ’s work to be a good song. Some can focus on the sufferings of Christ, others on the glory, some can tell the whole story. As churches sing widely through the hymnal and other sources a full theological picture emerges through congregational singing.

Following the Hymn, we move to a time of Prayer. We don’t want prayer to be a perfunctory part of the service at the beginning and end, we want prayer to be the lifeblood of our church’s worship. Thus we meet at 9am in the choir room to pray each week for the service. And we linger in prayer during the service, in the hopes that we will all learn to pray more deeply on a personal level and that we will be moved to join our hearts together that our hearts might be knit to the heart of God.

The Choral Offering will follow the Prayer. This week the choir is singing, Here I Am Lord. This is a pretty melody with meaningful words about drawing near to God loosely based on the prophet Isaiah’s encounter with God in Isaiah 6.

Following the Choral Offering will be this morning’s Sermon. We will be looking at 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 as a conclusion to our “Arise and Go” Evangelism Conference. Here is the text for tomorrow’s message . . .

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

After the sermon, we will sing the great Hymn #141 The Old Rugged Cross.

George Bennard, an American who lived in the Midwest in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, composed many hymns, but this is his most famous. That we would cherish and cling to the old rugged cross, this is our prayer as the service draws to a close.

Our Benediction tomorrow will be Galatians 6:14 “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. May we go out in that spirit into the coming week.

“Lord, bless our gathering tomorrow. Use it as an exclamation point to a week lived for you and for a launching pad into a new week of serving you. Let the service bring you glory in every way. We pray you would be central to every action and you would be at the center of every heart.  We can make plans but we ask you to direct our steps. Use your Word to bring change and comfort and strength to your people. Open the eyes of those who don’t know you and be honored in everything we pray, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”




“Arise and Go” Evangelism Conference: Night Two — Matthew 28:18-20, “What Are We to Do With the Gospel?” — Pastor Alan Carr

28 Apr

Last night we looked at what the gospel is and why we should be so thankful that God saves all who trust in His Son Jesus. Tonight we looked at how those who have trusted in Jesus should share the good news that saved them with a lost world.

Matthew 28:18-20 is the Great Commission. It is an authoritative command from the Lord Jesus. It is the Church’s Marching Orders.

The disciples of Jesus obeyed this command (they turned the world upside down with their preaching according to Acts 17) and people noted that these disciples had been with Jesus (see Acts 4).

But 2000 years later the state of evangelism in our day might often rightly be called “The Great Omission.” Most professing believers never share the gospel. We have a lack of motivation to follow the foundational command of the Church.

Jesus established a Church that was to enter into battle with the forces of evil for the sake of the gospel (Matthew 16:18). But we are happy to be comfortable in our churches and reluctant to enter into the spiritual battle of sharing Jesus with a lost world.

It is true that evangelism is becoming more difficult in America. But Jesus’ command to us has not changed and if we love Him we will keep His commandments.

SO why do we not fulfill the Great Commission?


God told us to “go” and we have said “no.”

We are to live and teach the gospel. Not just show it but say it.

Not all are called to be vocational ministers but every Christian is called to preach the gospel in this world.

God saved us to make us like Jesus.

God wants others to see the power of God in your life and hear the gospel in your words.

God gives us multiple opportunities to share the gospel every day. Ask Him to open your eyes to those opportunities.


Jesus is the only way.

Jesus paid it all.

It is not about church or preacher or denomination or dress or music or worship or baptism. All of these things have their place but the commission is to share the message of Jesus.

First invite people to Jesus, then invite them to church.

Everybody needs the gospel.

Sharing the gospel on one level is simple: Our sin, Jesus’ sacrifice, a call to believe, but when we live an unholy life or get away from this clear gospel message we will miss the mark.

We’ll never win the world by being like the world.


God may or may not lead you overseas.

But we are all called to be witnesses where we are.

We are called to reach out to everyone and make no exclusions because of race or background or lifestyle.


God has given us His presence and His power.

We need have an outgoing personality we just need to be faithful and trust God to work.

Rely on God He will empower, enliven and energize our witness.

There are plenty of people who need Jesus even in our own city. Thousands within a five mile radius of our local church are lost. Will we care enough to go to them? Nothing will change until we are gripped by the value of the gospel and broken by the lostness of those around us. Let’s be a people who obey the Great Commission for the glory of God.

“Arise and Go” Evangelism Conference Day One: What is the Gospel? (Romans 1:16-17) Pastor Alan Carr

27 Apr

We were blessed in our first night of the “Arise and Go” Evangelism Conference with a stirring message from Pastor Alan Carr of Calvary Baptist Church in Lenoir. Below are my notes on the sermon. Please join us tomorrow night at 6pm for the second night of the conference. You will be blessed.

Romans 1:16-17  What is the Gospel?


Our theme “Arise and Go” comes from Mark 16:15 “Go and preach the gospel to all creation.” This is a simple command but a daunting task.

If we are going to obey Mark 16:15 and preach the gospel we have to know what the gospel is and this is the purpose of tonight’s message, to make sure we are all clear on what the gospel is and what it is not. Romans 1:16-17 gives us a great starting point for understanding the gospel . . .

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

Now the question comes as we read this: why would anyone be ashamed of the gospel?

There were many reasons in Paul’s day for being ashamed. Paul’s Jewish background was looked down on by many he was trying to reach. Paul had been rejected and mistreated repeatedly in his ministry. Paul’s message of the death of a Jewish man bringing salvation was regarded as foolishness. To top it off his proclamation of this Jesus’ resurrection, ascension and return was ridiculous to his Gentile hearers (see 1 Cor. 1:18 and 1:22).  We face many of these same obstacles today in our world. But in spite of these obstacles, Paul was still willing and ready to share the gospel. The question is why? And the answer is found in Romans 1:16-17.

Paul was willing to preach the gospel because the gospel is POWERFUL.

God could have expressed His sovereignty in any number of ways but He chose to express it through the sacrifice of His Son for His people.

There are many false gospels: Religion, Materialism, Liberalism (I’m ok, you’re ok), Pleasure and the Social Gospel of good works but all of them are characterized by two things: the are all POWERLESS to save and NONE of them are good news.

The gospel on the other hand is the good news of God’s powerful working through His Son Jesus to bring about reconciliation of ourselves to God, transformation and abundant life. Paul knew the power of the gospel by firsthand experience through his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road (see Acts 9).

Paul was willing to preach the gospel because of the gospel’s good PURPOSE.

God sent Jesus to save (to deliver, rescue). Because the end of all sinners apart from Christ is eternal hell God sent Jesus.

“God gave Himself to Himself as a sacrifice to Himself to save us from Himself.”

Because of the depth of God’s self-giving love, we need not fear that if He saves us we will ever be lost (see John 10:28).

Paul was willing to preach the gospel because of the PLAN of the gospel.

To everyone that believes. Salvation is not through ritual or through good works but by grace through faith (see Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5; John 3:16; John 6:47).

Paul was willing to preach the gospel because of the PURPOSE of the gospel.

to everyone who believes (see John 1:12-13; John 6:37). No distinction. The gospel is for young and old, rich and poor, black and white, morally upright and morally suspect.

Paul was willing to preach the gospel because of the PRODUCT of the gospel.

In the gospel the righteousness of God is manifested (see Galatians 3:22 and Romans 3:10). We are not righteous. We are not good. We are destined for wrath and judgement. But God is so good that He sent Jesus to die in our place and to bear the wrath of God as our substitute. God counts the righteousness of Jesus to our account and then over the course of our lives He makes us righteous in our actual experience. Salvation makes us different people (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). Salvation is by faith from first to last and that life of faith produces a changed life.

So the question for all of us tonight is: what have we done with this gospel? Are we believing in God’s gift of His Son Jesus or have we rejected His gift? And if we have believed, do we have an unashamed passion like Paul to share the gospel with others? Tomorrow night, we’re going to talk about how to share this great gospel with others all around you.

Come back and join us tomorrow at 6pm. You will be blessed as we join together to “Arise and Go.”






Sermon: Romans — Gospel Power

15 Apr

Below is a lightly edited manuscript of a sermon which provides an overview of the book of Romans, delivered by Scott Frady at West Hickory Baptist Church on April 15, 2018.

We live in a sound bite culture. We digest information in small pieces. We pay attention to headlines, to bumper stickers, to tweets and texts. We are not so good at digesting more than this. Our attention span is weak. Most of us rarely read an article if it is more than a page or two. Most of us have trouble sitting through a movie unless it is action-packed. And for sure we have trouble sitting attentively through a sermon. We have trouble following a person’s argument for or against something if it goes on for very long. So I recognize that my aim today of preaching through the whole book of Romans in one sermon is counter to our culture. How does a pastor preach through the whole book of Romans in one sermon? We are about to find out. I think it is so important for us as Christians to get the big picture. First, we need to read through the whole Bible and get a big picture of how it all fits together. Then as we come to read individual books of the Bible, it is good for us to see how individual books of the Bible fit together as well.

As we read together through the Bible as a church and spend this quarter in the letters of the New Testament I thought it would be helpful to us this morning to lead us through an overview of the book of Romans. As you have been reading through Romans, you may have found many encouraging sound bites but you may not be grasping the overall message of the book. If you have felt this way as we have been studying through the book then I invite you to listen with special attention today.

On one level this will be a very simple message. We will be looking first at the Argument of the Book of Romans and then at the Applications that flow from that Argument. So it’s just a two point sermon today. But as we look at these two points, we will find one of the most treasured books in all the Bible and the greatest explanation of the gospel in the world.


Romans really is a masterpiece. Following the introduction, which brings out Paul’s heart for the nations and the Church and the fulfillment of God’s plan in Christ, Paul unfolds the theme of Romans in 1:16, 17 – 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” The powerful gospel reveals the righteousness of God and enables the righteousness of God to be active in the life of anyone who believes.

Romans 1:18-3:20 tells us we start not with God’s righteousness but with God’s wrath. 1For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. We need God’s righteousness because we are under God’s wrath. The focus of chapter one is on the fact that the Gentiles are under God’s wrath and the final words of the chapter sound like they were ripped from today’s newspaper 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Do we not live in a world that demands not only that we give people the freedom to do all sorts of things God says are wrong but also demands that we approve of people who are living in sin? The people of Romans 1 have suppressed what they knew of God from looking at the Creation. They ignored His power and majesty, pushed those things down. So God gave them over to their sin. But it is not only the Gentiles, who are under God’s wrath. The Jews, the nation God chose in the Old Testament, the nation through whom God would bring salvation, are also under wrath. In 2:1-3:8 Paul makes it clear that the moralist, even with religious privileges, fails the internal test. There are still inward desires and outward actions even among those with a religious background which bring the wrath of God. So the devastating crescendo of 3:9-20 comes crashing down What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Jew and Gentile are under sin and deserving of the wrath of God and His judgment.

After giving the bad news, Paul turns to the good news. 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. God has made a provision of His righteousness to take away His wrath. Righteousness apart from the law, because chapter 2 showed us the law is insufficient to save, has been revealed. Faith in Jesus Christ brings God’s righteousness for all who believe, Jew and Gentile alike, so that God gets the glory and we get the blessing.

Faith in God’s provision of righteousness through the shed blood of Christ is the key and this is illustrated by the father of the Jews, Abraham. In chapter 4 Paul explains that Abraham was not justified by works or ritual but by faith. In this way Abraham is not simply the father of the Jews but the father of all who believe. Paul uses Abraham in this way to take away any thought from the Jews that their heritage saved them. If Abraham their forefather according to the flesh, was saved by faith, how much more shall they be saved by faith.

With chapter five, Paul turns from talking about how we are saved and set free from wrath and counted righteous to a discussion of how that righteousness actually is at work in our lives. Chapter 5 opens with the wonderful truth that through our Lord Jesus Christ we have peace with God, joy in the hope of the glory of God, joy even in our sufferings because we know God uses them to develop perseverance, character and hope in us, and we have escape from the wrath of God.

Chapter 5:12-21 brings out the contrast between Adam and Jesus. In Adam, because of his sin, all are dead. In Christ, because of His death, all sinners who trust Him are made alive. This passage teaches us that Adam’s sin was counted against us and we follow in his steps by sinning ourselves. But the good news is that through faith in the dying and rising of Christ, the righteousness of Jesus Christ is counted for us and He gives us a new nature so that we can obey God and live a life of spiritual maturity. Our union with Christ doesn’t just forgive us, it changes us.

In chapter 6, Paul takes up the issue of change by addressing whether there is any need for it. Using an imaginary opponent, Paul asks many questions and gives strong answers. Since we’re forgiven, should we just keep on sinning? No way, because we are united with Christ. No way, because sinning leads to more sinning and we become enslaved to sin. No way, because sinning disregards the sacrifice of the cross. This is the argument of chapter six, answering this question of sin in light of the truths of justification and union with Christ.

Chapter 7 is difficult and there are differences among Bible-believing people about this passage. I think the big picture is helpful here before we get into the specifics. We have to take chapter 7 with chapter 8, they go together. Chapter 7 is the negative side of the argument; our flesh and the law cannot keep us from sinning. Chapter 8 is the positive side of the argument; our union with Christ and the Spirit can sanctify us and keep us and bless us. So we’ve got to keep chapter 8 in mind in order to understand chapter 7.

The big point to take away from chapter 7 is that anyone who tries to make progress in life with God through following external commands will fail. We don’t fight sin through supreme discipline and self-effort. We will fail every time. Just as we must have a deliverance from outside ourselves to be saved, so we must have an external power to be holy. And the truth of Romans is that the way to be saved and the way to be holy are found in the same place: the person and work of Jesus Christ. We fight sin because we have received God’s righteousness through faith in Christ and there and only there can we see real deliverance from this body of death.

The law is good, but the flesh is bad, so the law has no power to enable us to live obediently.

But thanks be to God, there is Romans 8. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! And those who are in union with Christ by faith are not only not condemned they are also enabled by the Holy Spirit to gain victory over sin and death and to be brought into the family of God and into an eternity of glory, which nothing can take away from us. In the meantime, as we groan through the sufferings of this life awaiting future glory, we can trust that God is working in all things for good and that He is carrying out His plan among us through the golden chain of salvation. Listen to the glorious plan of God in Romans 8 . . . 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Having dealt with God’s righteousness in salvation on an individual scale in chapters 6-8, Paul in chapters 9-11 turns His eyes to God’s plan of salvation in the world. How is it that God can be righteous and yet reject the people of Israel, whom He had so blessed with great covenant promises? Paul makes it clear in chapter 9 that God’s word has not failed but that not all Israel by birth are truly the people of God. Paul says in chapter 9 that God’s righteousness is bound up in His choice and what He chooses is right, because He is righteous. Paul shows that God has always been choosing, even within the family of Israel he chose Jacob and rejected Esau. Israel rejected Jesus, clinging to the law.

And so in chapter 10, Paul is heartbroken over the lost state of his kinsmen according to the flesh and longs for them to be saved. Yet the message of chapter 10 is that Israel is still unrepentant. So how will God be true to His Word with this people He had chosen who had so largely turned away from Him? This is the question Paul addresses in chapter 11.

Paul points out first that God has not rejected all of Israel for there is a remnant of Jews who have turned to Jesus as Messiah. And the rejection is not final. The Gentiles are being brought into the tree of salvation to arouse the jealousy of the Jews, that they might seek Christ. Paul points to a final turning of Jews back to God in 11:25-32. Then Paul concludes this section with the great doxology of chapter 11:33-36. This seems to function as a word of praise for the whole first eleven chapters.

So what is left to say? For Paul, his focus now turns to what this great salvation looks like on a daily basis, how is the righteousness of God lived out among the people of God? Chapter 12 points to personal commitment of our lives to the Lord, this is what our April memory verses are about, “offer yourselves as living sacrifices.” Paul then turns to how we live as the church, how we use the  gifts God has given us in the church body, and how to relate to one another. Chapter 13:1-14 tells us how the Christian should relate to earthly authorities and to the world around us. Chapter 14:1-15:13 moves us back into relationships in the local church. Whereas chapter 12 was telling us more the positive behaviors to affirm, chapter 14 is helping believers walk through the challenges of living righteously together. Paul says we are not under the law and we don’t have to keep food laws or other ceremonies, but he does not look down on those who do. He urges the believers in Rome not to judge each other over such things. Our freedom in Christ should open us to love, not cause conflict between each other.

Paul concludes by explaining his mission to Spain and his calling to take this message of the gospel of God’s righteousness to places that haven’t heard. Chapter 16 concludes with Paul’s greetings to those in the church in Rome, a warning about those who cause divisions in the church, greetings from Paul’s co-workers, and a beautiful doxology which brings together several key themes in the letter.

Let’s finish up this morning by looking at several APPLICATIONS OF THE BOOK OF ROMANS

What are the key truths we take away from our reading of the book of Romans?

Universal guilt. The book of Romans makes it clear that there is no one righteous. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and the wages of sin is death. We need to hear this message in our nation today in the way that Romans gives it to us. We are prone to diminish this idea in our world. We say things like, “Nobody’s perfect” or “everybody makes mistakes.” But God says, “All have sinned.” The wrong we have done is first and foremost an offense against our Creator God. And this sin means that we are under God’s wrath. We don’t just have a few faults or some problems we are utterly lost and under God’s judgement and destined for eternal hell. If the book of Romans stopped at chapter 3 verse 20, it would be the saddest book ever written. But universal guilt is not the end of the story. Because the book of Romans also speaks of . . .

Universal salvation (no distinction between Jew and Gentile). Now don’t misunderstand. I am not saying the book of Romans teaches that everyone will be saved. That is a heresy you won’t find in the Bible anywhere. Some will be judged. By what I mean by universal salvation is that through Christ salvation is available to all kinds of people. Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, young and old, all may come to God through Jesus Christ. We are freed from the wrath of God through faith in Christ.

Salvation is greater than we think. The early chapters of Romans speak to our being justified (set free from the penalty of sin and given peace with God). The middle chapters of Romans speak of our sanctification (being set free from the power of sin in this life and living a life of holiness by the power of the Spirit). And the middle chapters speak of glorification (our future with the Lord when we will be set free from the presence of sin). And it doesn’t stop there. Romans tells us that the whole creation has been corrupted by Adam’s sin but in its groaning it will one day be renewed. And the book of Romans tells us even as salvation is available to Jew and Gentile alike, God has not forgotten His people, whom He foreknew but has planned a great ingathering of the Jewish people in the last days. So how great is this salvation we enjoy? How great is the work of God in our midst? How great is the work Jesus has accomplished? The truth of the greatness of our salvation should cause us to see that there is nothing more significant than Jesus and His kingdom. The gospel changes everything!

The gospel is the power of God. As we said last week the gospel is powerful. But it is a directed power, a power directed toward salvation, toward a good end. It is not raw power that just destroys and conquers, it is directed power that restores and builds up. The gospel is the power of God.

We also learn from Romans that salvation changes all our relationships.  The first chapters of Romans definitely tell us salvation changes our relationship with God but chapters 12-16 also tell us that salvation changes our relationships with others as well. Because we have been so well-loved by Jesus, we are secure in our identity in Him and so we are free to surrender our hearts and lives first to God and then to live as a loving member of our new family: the church. We can even submit to outside authorities and live among those who do not know Jesus in a peaceable way. And when conflicts arise in the body of believers, we can look for solutions instead of running into our corners or building walls of division. A healthy local church is one of the greatest demonstrations of the power of the gospel in the world because in it you have the gathering of diverse people who are there united in love to worship and serve Jesus.

Another application we see in the book of Romans is that Doctrinal rigor is not the enemy of active ministry, it fuels active ministry. Sometimes people that are concerned with doctrine and theology are perceived as being all about the head and not about the heart or the hands and feet. In other words we have this idea that there are thinkers and then there are doers. But nothing could be further from the truth. Paul was the great missionary pioneer. He was buy with travel and occupied with ministry for years. And yet he took time to write the book of Romans and many other books of the Bible under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So the great missionary was also the great thinker. His meditations on the gospel fueled his passion for ministry and his passion for ministry fueled his thinking about the gospel. All that to say we would be making a deadly mistake as a church to set aside theology in an attempt to reach people. Because there comes a point when you have to ask: if you’re not reaching them with truth, what are you reaching them with? Everything else: programs, personalities, all the rest, will fade away. But the souls of people and the truth of God will remain. Woe to us if we turn away from knowing and loving and joyfully sharing the truth. Paul proves you can be deeply theological and deeply relational, just look at all the co-workers he lists in chapter 16.

We also see in our survey of Romans this: Since the gospel is for all who believe we should make every effort to take the gospel to those who have never heard. We need to recapture good and God-honoring ambition. Selfish ambition is always wrong, but an ambition for God to be glorified through us is a good thing. And God is glorified as His gospel goes out into the world. Paul’s ambition, expressed in Romans 15, was to preach Jesus where He had not been named. We too are called to that ministry. We can all be a part of Jesus’ plan to take the gospel to the nations. And it’s not an either/or thing. It’s not either local evangelism or global missions. It’s both. That’s why we are having an Evangelism Conference at the end of this month and then in November we are having a Missions Conference, because we believe both are important and both deserve our special attention.

Finally, we see in the book of Romans that God’s Glory and Our Joy Are Not at Odds. Some people seem so God-centered that they don’t care about people and others are so people-centered that they scarcely bring God into the conversation. Romans shows the uselessness of both approaches. God’s glory is demonstrated by His mercy to sinners. Our joy is found in His grace toward us. God’s glory therefore is most clearly seen in His saving work. As John Piper has said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

As we come to the end of this message I don’t think there is a much better way to end than to remember Paul’s words in Romans 11:33-36 . . .

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34   “For who has known the mind of the Lord,

or who has been his counselor?”

35   “Or who has given a gift to him

that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.


Sunday Morning Preview 4.15.18

14 Apr

As we prepare for our morning worship service tomorrow at 10:30am, I wanted to share with you our order of service and make a few comments on the various elements of the service. I hope you will come join us if you are in the Hickory, NC area and are not an active member of another local church (

Sunday Morning Worship — April 15, 2018

Prelude   — will be followed by a welcome and a few announcements from Pastor Dickerson.

Call to Worship #173 — Christ is Alive

Our service today will bring us back to Easter, since there is a sense in which every Sunday and every day is a Resurrection Sunday. Two of our three congregational hymns this morning will be oriented toward the resurrection with our final hymn turning our minds back to the cross.

Here are the lyrics to Christ is Alive

Christ is alive! Let Christians sing.
The cross stands empty to the sky.
Let streets and homes with praises ring.
Love, drowned in death, shall never die.

Christ is alive! No longer bound
to distant years in Palestine,
but saving, healing, here and now,
and touching every place and time.

In every insult, rift and war,
where color, scorn or wealth divide,
Christ suffers still, yet loves the more,
and lives, where even hope has died.

Women and men, in age and youth,
can feel the Spirit, hear the call,
and find the way, the life, the truth,
revealed in Jesus, freed for all.

Christ is alive, and comes to bring
good news to this and every age,
till earth and sky and ocean ring
with joy, with justice, love and praise.

(Lyrics by Brian Wren)

After a piano offertory, we will speak together our church memory verses for April – Romans 12:1-2

12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

We plan after speaking our memory verses together to sing a classic hymn #407, Because He Lives . . .

God sent His son, they called Him, Jesus;
He came to love, heal and forgive;
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives!

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

How sweet to hold a newborn baby,
And feel the pride and joy he gives;
But greater still the calm assurance:
This child can face uncertain days because He Lives


And then one day, I’ll cross the river,
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain;
And then, as death gives way to victory,
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives!

(Lyrics by Gloria and Bill Gaither)
After our hymn we will hear a word of testimony from Steve Workman of the Christian Community Outreach Ministry (CCOM). Steve is a godly man with a passion to share the gospel and care for our community. You will be blessed hearing from Steve and learning more about the work of CCOM.

Our choral offering is the song In the Presence of Jehovah. We don’t just affirm Jesus’ resurrection and cross, we also affirm that this dying and rising has brought us into the very presence of God, tearing down the wall of separation our sin had raised between us and God.

In and out of situations
that tug of war at me,
All day long I struggle
for the answers that I need.
But when I come into His presence
All my questions become clear,
And in that sacred moment
No doubts can interfere.

In the presence of Jehovah,
God Almighty, Prince of Peace,
Troubles vanish, hearts are mended,
In the presence of the King.

Through His love the Lord provided
A place for us to rest,
A place to find the answers,
In our hour of distress.
Now there’s never any reason
For you to give up in despair;
Just slip away and breathe His name,
You will surely find Him there.

Music and Lyrics by Becky Davis and Geron Davis

Our sermon from Pastor Frady tomorrow will cover the entire book of Romans as we look at the world-changing message of Jesus Christ in Paul’s great letter to the Romans. The message has two points . . .

I. The ARGUMENT of Romans.


Our closing song will be #144 When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. I once heard this was a favorite hymn of Martin Luther King, Jr. This great Isaac Watts hymn has more verses than what we find in our hymnal. I am going to share all the verses below, noting the verses not in our hymnal with an asterisk.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.*

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

To Christ, Who won for sinners grace
By bitter grief and anguish sore,
Be praise from all the ransomed race
Forever and forevermore.*

When it comes to the closing hymn, we invite anyone who would be helped by coming to the front to pray to do so. We also invite those in need of someone to pray with them to come pray with a pastor. In the end, we do not believe anyone is saved by walking an aisle but we also believe that any time the Word of God is preached it calls for response. That response may be in the heart right in the pew or by coming forward. Hopefully the greatest effect of the service is seen in our lives from Sunday to Sunday.

It is interesting to note that all the songs we are singing tomorrow are directed toward one another. Most songs we sing in church are either addressed to God or to one another. It is appropriate on a day when the sermon focuses on the gospel and we hear a testimony of community outreach that our songs are songs we sing to encourage one another about the work of Christ in the gospel. It is also interesting to note that the last two hymns we will sing are individual songs that we are singing in the congregation. So though we are singing the songs together, we are affirming individually the truths of each song.  “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow . . . ” and “When I survey the wondrous cross . . .”

Our benediction is a time to summarize the morning and briefly invite the church to other events of the week. Tomorrow’s benediction will be from 1 Corinthians 15:58 . . .

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

We are far from perfect. We know Christians have differing convictions about how worship should look when we gather together. This article is just intended to give you a little help in preparing your heart for worship.







Bible Reading Blog — Psalm 127

23 Mar

Today is the final entry in my Bible journal online. I have shared this with you this week just to give you a feel of what you might do to make your Bible reading more meaningful. Really thinking about biblical truth and prayerfully walking in light of that truth is an essential aspect of spiritual formation. If we are to be disciples of Jesus, taking in biblical truth and being transformed by it will be central to the task. Here is our last reading from Psalm 127 . . .

127 Unless the Lord builds the house,
    those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
    and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
    for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
    the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
    are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
    who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
    when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

Journal:  The imagery of verse one is powerful. There is real laboring and real watching on the part of people, but unless God is in an under all of it, empowering it, it is all in vain. How often do I fail to consider God’s work? How often to I fail to go to Him asking for strength to be faithful in the work? If anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask God (James).

Vanity in vv. 1&2 brings me back to Ecclesiastes (meaningless, meaningless).

It is not wrong to rise early of stay up late, Jesus did both. But it is wrong to do these things in anxious toil. When your work, your earning, becomes anxious toil, it is a bad sign for your soul. I have been having a hard time with this very thing lately because of the state of our church in a time of much suffering. In addition, several fine families have moved away recently. That is hard. I wonder about the future of the church. And lo and behold I have been experiencing something in the last few months I have never experienced . . . poor sleep. I have been waking up in the middle of the night. This verse hits me . . . “He gives his beloved sleep.” Not to say if a person has sleep problems they don’t trust God but for me it is important.

God is sovereign over my house, my work and my children. Good biblical picture of children as a gift. I am hesitant to endorse the idea of the “quiverfull” movement, that we should have as many children as we can. I can see a biblical argument against birth control but put it in the category of disputable matters from Romans 14. But the idea that I am not doing right if I don’t have as many children as possible is something I can’t see in Scripture. “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth” is a command to a healthy population rate but I do not believe it must be carried to an extreme by every family. On the other hand, many times in our culture we do not see the value of children or put economic stability and mobility over the value of children. There is a place for responsibility (be hesitant to have more children than you can care for) but there is also a time when we need to take a careful look at our priorities (are we chasing money and forgetting people?). These are issues Christian couples need to think through carefully and I believe they are also ideas with which we must be gracious with others.

Lord, you told me to come to you, learn of you and find rest for my soul. I am anxious about so many things but one thing is needful. Set me on the path of rest in my labor and building and in my family. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Bible Reading Blog — Psalms 112

22 Mar

Here is today’s journal on our daily Bible reading:

112 Praise the Lord!
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
    who greatly delights in his commandments!
His offspring will be mighty in the land;
    the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in his house,
    and his righteousness endures forever.
Light dawns in the darkness for the upright;
    he is gracious, merciful, and righteous.
It is well with the man who deals generously and lends;
    who conducts his affairs with justice.
For the righteous will never be moved;
    he will be remembered forever.
He is not afraid of bad news;
    his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is steady; he will not be afraid,
    until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.
He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor;
    his righteousness endures forever;
    his horn is exalted in honor.
10 The wicked man sees it and is angry;
    he gnashes his teeth and melts away;
    the desire of the wicked will perish!

This is a gracious psalm, after the other ones this week were kind of dark or dealt with the difficult subject of envying the prosperous.

Verse 1 is an interesting contrast (in my mind). I think of fear and delight as opposites, but here they are put together. If we really stand in awe of God we will be drawn to His commands.

This psalm is kind of a contrast to the earlier psalms too in that here the upright person does prosper (v. 3). The upright person doesn’t come to his wealth through oppression though. He is gracious, merciful and righteous. He is generous and just. So this psalm is an indicator, along with other Scriptures, that it is not wrong to have wealth. Still, wealth can be a trap, so we need to live wisely.

What appeals to me most in this psalm is the picture of stability here. Not afraid of bad news. Obsessive fear of bad circumstances is a bad sign for my soul. A firm heart, a steady heart is good. The fact that the man can be so generous here is a sign that he trusts in the Lord. He is not so attached to his stuff that he is unwilling to part with it.

What a contrast to the wicked man who wilts under tough circumstances.

Lord, work in my life in such a way that I am this man who fears you and finds great delight in your commands. Bring through this a stability that weathers the storms of life with a heart of faith. Amen.



Bible Reading Blog — Psalm 73

21 Mar

Today’s journal is from Psalm 73, a psalm of Asaph.

73 Truly God is good to Israel,
    to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
    my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For they have no pangs until death;
    their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
    they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness;
    their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
    loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
    and their tongue struts through the earth.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them,
    and find no fault in them.
11 And they say, “How can God know?
    Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
    always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
    and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
    and rebuked every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
    I would have betrayed the generation of your children.

16 But when I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
    then I discerned their end.

18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
    you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
    swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
    O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
21 When my soul was embittered,
    when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was brutish and ignorant;
    I was like a beast toward you.

23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
    you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
    I have made the Lord God my refuge,
    that I may tell of all your works.

I almost always think of purity in terms of sexuality, but here the purity is seen in not envying others. Purity of heart toward others means not comparing and living in jealousy. This is a thing that will make me stumble, in the sense of falling away from a life of trust in God. Sermon on Mount: pure in heart will see God. One tied up in envy and keeping up with the neighbors won’t be pure in heart, won’t be close to God. Purity of heart is a Psalm 86:11 thing (“unite my heart to fear your name”). James talks about the undivided heart. Mary and Martha (“you are busy with many things but one thing is needful”). A divided heart is the ultimate misery (“I wish you were either hot or cold”). Purity of heart links right up with Mt. 6:25-34. If God has my undivided attention and allegiance, I won’t be consumed with worry over my life’s circumstances.

Today’s psalm is by Asaph, yesterday’s was by the sons of Korah, the day before a psalm of David. Yet all concern to some degree this issue of envy of the prosperous wicked. This is a universal problem.

Asaph is deeply discouraged but he thinks his way through the discouragement by focusing on truth about God and drawing near to Him.

vv. 21-24 are such a grace note. God is so good to us.

25 and 26 are well-worn verses to many Christians, but the context of the psalm brings them fresh meaning. Where do I find life? In stuff, in prosperity, keeping up appearances or keeping up with others? NO. I find life by taking the long view, considering heaven and earth. The God I long to worship for eternity is to be my desire here. Otherwise, will I really want to be in heaven? If I didn’t want to worship God here how much will I want to worship God there?

My flesh and my heart may fail. My energy and emotion will not always be tuned in to God, especially when challenging circumstances come.

God is the strength of my heart (sustaining power for today)

and my portion forever (my future hope)

The old hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness: “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow”

Knowing God gives us what we most need (strength to get through today’s suffering and the hope of a better tomorrow).

This psalm ends with mission but the mission is built on a foundation of relationship with God. Kind of like the difference between being given a tour of a battleship by a tour guide vs. being given a tour by a person who was on the crew in the battle.

Lord, my heart and my flesh fail way too often. I already feel the creeping anxieties of this day. Please help me see with the eyes of this psalm. Help me see that you are enough for today and that in you I have eternal hope. Free me from thoughts of envy or comparison. Help me in times of discouragement to look to you. Thank you for holding my hand through my brutish and bitter days. Let my walk with you today overflow in love to others. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Bible Reading Blog — Psalms 49

20 Mar

Yesterday, I urged you to journal along with your Bible reading for our 2018 church Bible reading plan. Today, I want to share another entry from my own journaling. Again, I am not claiming to have all the answers here, just trying to get you thinking about what might be useful for you.

Today’s Psalm — Psalm 49

49 Hear this, all peoples!
    Give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
both low and high,
    rich and poor together!
My mouth shall speak wisdom;
    the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
I will incline my ear to a proverb;
    I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre.

Why should I fear in times of trouble,
    when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me,
those who trust in their wealth
    and boast of the abundance of their riches?
Truly no man can ransom another,
    or give to God the price of his life,
for the ransom of their life is costly
    and can never suffice,
that he should live on forever
    and never see the pit.

10 For he sees that even the wise die;
    the fool and the stupid alike must perish
    and leave their wealth to others.
11 Their graves are their homes forever,
    their dwelling places to all generations,
    though they called lands by their own names.
12 Man in his pomp will not remain;
    he is like the beasts that perish.

13 This is the path of those who have foolish confidence;
    yet after them people approve of their boasts.  Selah
14 Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol;
    death shall be their shepherd,
and the upright shall rule over them in the morning.
    Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell.
15 But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,
    for he will receive me. Selah

16 Be not afraid when a man becomes rich,
    when the glory of his house increases.
17 For when he dies he will carry nothing away;
    his glory will not go down after him.
18 For though, while he lives, he counts himself blessed
    —and though you get praise when you do well for yourself—
19 his soul will go to the generation of his fathers,
    who will never again see light.
20 Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.

This psalm kind of seems like the flip side of Psalm 23 (the Lord is my shepherd — green pastures, restoration, anointing, overflowing, love, goodness and mercy, a home with God) — Here in Psalm 49 it is death and judgment and emptiness and darkness. The diff. is a life of trust in the Lord vs. a self-dependent life. The person in Ps. 49 is all about me, trying to lay up treasures on earth and acting wickedly to do so.

This psalm is for everybody to remember (see vv. 1-2). Must mean this is a pretty common temptation for us (to envy those who have wealth).

“Man in his pomp” repeated in this psalm, is a good description of the person who rejects God.

Is there anyone I am jealous of right now? (Other pastors with more outwardly prosperous churches maybe)

Lord, keep me from self-centered living and from envying those who live in this way and prosper materially in this life. Give me enough vision to see beyond the temporary to the eternal. Open my eyes to any areas of envy that need to be confessed and work contentment into my heart. Amen.


One Final Note: I want to encourage you to stay away from commentaries and Study Bible notes when you are doing your daily Bible reading. I do not reference commentaries when I read in the morning. Commentaries have their place, but you should first try to wrestle with the meaning of the text yourself. If you come across something you don’t understand, write out what you don’t understand and then wait a day or two before you look it up in a commentary. Sometimes God will bring other Scriptures to your mind that will help you understand. In any event, be judicious in your use of commentaries and Study Bibles so that you don’t shortcircuit the process of prayerfully thinking through the text.



%d bloggers like this: