Hearing the Music

Personal Renewal Leading to Corporate Change

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We are off and running in our study of Romans. Last week we looked at the theological thread that runs through Romans which presents a clear picture of our need for the gospel and God’s provision mediated through Christ and applied by the Spirit (Romans 1:16,17; 3:23, 5:8; 6:23; 8:1; 12:1,2). As was mentioned, the book of Romans has been influential in the lives of many of the folks God has used mightily to promote the gospel. In August of 1513, a monk named Martin Luther was vexed over the concept of the righteousness of God. Luther was convinced the righteousness of God would keep him from fellowship with God. But as he meditated on Romans 1:17, which says, "...the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith'", he had an epiphany. In his words, "I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith. Therefore I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise...This passage of Paul became to me a gateway into heaven.” It was his understanding that sparked what we now know as the Reformation.

Not surprisingly, Luther wrote a commentary on Romans. Interestingly, in May of 1738, a failed minister and missionary named John Wesley, reluctantly attended a small Bible study where someone read aloud from Luther's commentary. He too went on to be transformed through the message of Romans. He says, “While he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for my salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken my sins away, even mine.”  And thus was sparked the Great Awakening.

Romans clearly lays forth the gospel. A true grasping of the gospel through the work of the Spirit is world-changing. It is said that personal renewal precedes corporate change. The lives of Luther and Wesley give testimony to that truth.  

The community of people assembled in the Roman church also bears testimony to this idea of personal renewal leading to corporate change. We will encounter these lovely folks this Sunday as we look at the context for this tremendous letter through the lens of chapter 16. It would be hard to overstate just how radical this community actually was, and is. The theological truths Paul expounds has gathered: Jew and Gentile, men and women, aristocracy and slave; and has united them into one. While it may be true that personal renewal precedes corporate change, it must also be emphasized that true personal renewal will challenge our status quo and demand that we walk in uncomfortable places, but, as always, equipped by the Spirit.

 

Photo by Jimmy Chang on Unsplash

Reaching the Heart of America

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What would Gospel Saturation look like in a region?  Here is one view “by the numbers”:  

  • One church for every 50,000 people would have “presence”.  
  • One church for very 5,000 people would mean “influence”.  
  • One church for every 500 people would achieve “saturation”.

This past week in St. Louis I had the opportunity to be part of a group of leaders from the Midwest praying and talking about gospel saturation in our region. Our region, as defined by our denomination, includes 13 states totaling over 71 million people. Applying current demographics to that number means that in our region over 60 million people are not significantly connected to a gospel-preaching church. In terms of our Midwest efforts, there is 1 PCA church for every 300,000 people, that number being over 6 times larger than the number needed for mere “presence”. (By comparison, in the PCA Northeast 1 church exists per 175,000, while in the PCA South there is 1 church per 74,000.)  While it is true that we don’t assume that the PCA is the only “gospel preaching” option available, the level of need for people to be connected to a gospel work is staggering.

Our theme for our time together was Philippians 1:27–28, "Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents." It was truly an encouragement to stand in one spirit with these sisters and brothers from our region, to pray for the faith of the gospel, and to strategize and imagine people drawing draughts of Living Water and finding the very thing that their souls are longing for. We recognize that though enemies and obstacles are real, we are not frightened because surely He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (I John 4:4).

So let us be earnest in prayer and energetic in work here in our little corner of the Midwest, Grand Rapids. We have such a great gift to offer in the face of such great need. You are so generous already with your time, your talents, your finances, your struggles and pain. May the Holy Spirit increase our ability to steward all things well. And, may we not be frightened by our enemies for we do know that our God does all things well. My prayer is that this Sunday we will be encouraged as we encounter with Asaph in Psalm 73 the overwhelming sufficiency and power of a life with God.  

 

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

Last Stop in Egypt

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This Sunday we make our last stop in our current Exodus series. We actually arrive at Mt. Sinai, the same place where Moses started his journey. God was true to his word and brought the Israelites out to worship him on this particular mountain (Ex. 3:12). But, as we will see Sunday, Sinai is no closer to the promised land than Egypt is, in fact, it is farther away! What is God up to? 

What God is up to with the Israelites is the same thing that he is up to with you and me. He is leading us, not to a physical destination, but rather he is leading us to himself. Exodus 19 is full of God. He is proactive, holy, majestic, and merciful. What a reminder that God himself is our destination, and that he invite us, he wants to meet us in worship.

It was quite something for the Israelites to meet YHWH at Sinai. And while God has not changed our picture of him has enlarged. The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way: 

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12: 18-24)

What a story! The Israelites met God in thunder, lighting and a thick cloud. When we come to worship Sunday we come to Jesus our Mediator and the way is open!

 

Photo by Dyaa Eldin Moustafa on Unsplash

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