To the Preacher

November 14, 2019

In my preaching journey I have made numerous mistakes, but I have also learned a few things though along the way. Call it growth or survival, but I have managed by God’s generous grace to make it so far. I would encourage anyone who has the giftedness and passion to pursue a life of ministry. The church needs to continue to develop and produce solid preachers.

If preaching is your call; if serving God and his people through ministry is your passion–God bless you! We can use you, but please give all diligence to make sure your life and approach to preaching is healthy. Some of the best advice I ever received was simple and biblical–just continue to read the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) and allow the Holy Spirit to guide and speak to you through these letters. They contain sound, divine instruction for the preacher of God.

In addition here are a few things I have discovered as essential for healthy ministry. I have at times failed in all of these. That is one reason why I share–maybe you can avoid my mistakes:

  • Preach Christ first and foremost. The Corinthian church had assorted and competing agendas at work within it. The apostle Paul’s solution was to focus primarily on the cross and simply “preach Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). We will never go wrong following that example. Lifting up Christ in our ministry and preaching will create the kind of atmosphere in which churches will be healthy, will grow, and will represent the kind of kingdom community God desires. Preachers should avoid the snares of other agendas–they can be divisive and counterproductive to the work of God and the church. We all need to make sure our preaching is anchored in Jesus as we speak truth in love.
  • Don’t Bash the Church. All too often I hear a negative focus when it concerns the church–even from among the ranks of preachers. Sure we have all been there–our church is not where we think it should be; we are frustrated by lack of passion, growth and involvement; maybe the church has even hurt us, but bashing the Bride of Christ accomplishes nothing constructive. Certainly we are to–as Scripture teaches–reprove, rebuke, exhort, but nowhere on this list is to tear down and harm. Just because our church is not exactly what we want it to be, there is no reason to attack it and those in it. God sees his church–even with all of our faults–as radiant. So should we. I get that we all need to vent–preaching is fascinatingly frustrating, but guard against the kind of bitterness which can lead to tearing down instead of building up. God detests that (see Proverbs 6:16-19).
  • Love the Brotherhood. This is a biblical mandate (1 Peter 2:17). It speaks of the broader love for God’s people everywhere–not just those in your church. Once I asked a brother preacher about another congregation in his city. He replied in what I considered to be a demeaning tone, “We are not like them.” I understood. His church had a more progressive outlook. He considered the other congregation too restrictive and old school, but aren’t we all saved by the grace of God? Shouldn’t we love the entire brotherhood of believers and lift up one another in Christ? Too often I sense a spirit of competition between churches and even between preachers. As Paul taught the Corinthians, we are all “of Christ” (See I Corinthians 3:23). We may not always agree on all things but in love we should do our best to accept each other in Jesus (Romans 15:7). This should be the kind of welcoming, healthy spirit we desire in our churches.
  • Do not disqualify yourself (I Corinthians 9:27). Paul spoke in this text about personal integrity–about living the lifestyle to back up the calling. While we do not claim perfection, own up to mistakes, and rejoice in the grace of God, we as preachers must be careful to “watch our life and doctrine closely” (1 Timothy 4:16). All kinds of minefields exist to undermine our credibility as ministers of the gospel. From sexual sins to being irresponsible with words, money and time–we must be on guard. Lazy preparation and preaching is never a good look. We must be alert to allowing some unhealthy agenda to overtake us. It is true that on occasion we may be unfairly held to a higher standard than the rest of the church, but to a degree it does come with the calling. Perhaps this is why Scripture says it is not for everyone (James 3:1).
  • Be Patient. One of the very most difficult challenges in ministry for me personally. I want it done yesterday, but the church simply does not operate like that–and usually for the best. Impatience in ministry can do damage to people and churches. So we have to learn how to operate in our church setting to implement ideas, build consensus, seek input and council, inform and share while bringing folks along with us. That takes work and time, of course, but it is well worth it. Typically the outcome is far better than imagined. Learn to be longsuffering and your ministry will be strengthened as a result.
  • Don’t Grow Stagnant. Just like in other professions–there are peaks and valleys in preaching. Our challenge is to never tarry too long in the valley. We must strive to stay fresh in our spirit; in our preparation; and in our outlook. Make sure to make time to read, to consider the scholarship of others; to find places of encouragement. We cannot preach from an empty well.
  • Be magnanimous (see Philippians 4:5)*. Ministry and conflict; ministry and disappointment; ministry and failure; ministry and hurt all do happen together. It is just a given that in ministry, you will take some lumps–sometimes fairly and sometimes not. All of us in ministry know preachers who have been unjustly treated and have a few stories of our own. However the natural way to react to these is not usually the best way. Rather we should learn to be magnanimous–to forgive and, at least from our perspective, do our best within those situations to be led by the spirit of Christ. It is always better to be generous with God’s grace than to be vindictive, return hurt for hurt or to allow bitterness to take root. Being magnanimous gives God the glory and defines our ministry as being led by him.

I love preaching and preachers! To us all I say–don’t lose heart while we do our best to “discharge all the duties” of our ministry.

I will conclude with a text from 1 Timothy that I referenced earlier. I think it is a fitting way to conclude:

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.  Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (4:15-16)

May God bless our ministry for him.

 

 

*Thanks to Cecil May III for helping me see this text in a better way.

 

 


Meet The Preacher

November 6, 2019

You may know us, but then again you may not. Preachers have a way of hiding behind the pulpit. We can easily be stereotyped. Through experience we often learn to become very guarded and protective of our hearts and homes. Paradoxically though we often feel obligated to give even more of ourselves into our ministry. We come in all shapes, sizes and giftedness–and you may be surprised to learn:

  • The church is our life. For better or worse it is difficult for this not to be true. We pour all of ourselves into our ministry in the church. Preaching is not simply a vocation–it is essentially our identity. As a result the church becomes our life. We become consumed with its health and growth. Remember that old joke about preachers only working four hours a week? We may force a smile as it is told, but trust me we are not laughing. Actually–honestly most of us would consider it condescending. This is also why we tend to take it personally when someone leaves our church. We process it as a rejection of us and our ministry efforts within the church. No, that is not a healthy approach or necessarily an accurate assessment, but one almost impossible to avoid. This also explains the tortured look on your preacher’s face when he hears that you decided to go to the lake/ball game/whatever rather than attend the big, special, highly promoted Sunday at church. He has spent weeks planning that Sunday. Hours spent in prayer. His hope is that Sunday will spark a spiritual renewal in someone. It is a huge deal to him and for it to be so easily dismissed by others is disappointing. I am not saying it is fair to hold everyone to our expectations–just explaining who we are. The best way I can describe how the church becomes our life is a quote attributed to Cecil May, Jr. (as told by his son Cecil III). Someone once commented to Cecil, Jr., “I wish I had a job that I never had to clock into.” Cecil, Jr. replied, “I wish I had a job I could clock out of.” I do not make this point as either complaint or as some outstanding virtue–only as informative. To understand your preacher, understand that the church is his life (his family certainly knows it).
  • We are an insecure bunch. This is a layered discussion. The first layer is within us. I think God calls some of the most naturally insecure folks to preach. It could be his way of demonstrating his strength within our weak vessels (see 2 Corinthians 12:10). Of course, we have a job in which it is difficult to quantify results. We work with volunteers with varying commitment levels–some of whom occasionally find it necessary to remind us of our insecurities. We wonder regularly if our preaching is connecting and effective. Then there is the church layer. Most churches encourage and support their preachers well, but some don’t. Almost every preacher I know has a horror story or three about mistreatment by good brothers and sisters. Financially, churches as-a-whole do better than previous generations. Yet the overwhelming majority of preachers continue to not have the benefits that those hiring them take for granted–health insurance, retirement, etc. All of this breeds insecurity. I was once told (by someone not a preacher) that this is the way it is supposed to be; that preachers are supposed to live off the gospel. While I do not disagree that we are to walk by faith, I am not sure how an atmosphere of insecurity is helpful or healthy for any preacher or any church.
  • We may resist close friendships. I mentioned that we are good at hiding behind pulpits, which can be challenging in making long-term, close connections. There are reasons behind this, of course. First we fight against stereotyping. Often people have fairly strong preconceptions about preachers–making various assumptions about us because we preach. Once at a church workday, a church member expressed surprise that I could use a hammer. Such stereotyping can prevent folks from ever getting beyond that in order to develop a deeper relationship outside of the church walls. Another factor here is betrayal–having trusted someone with intimate information or personal challenges only to have that information shared and even used against us. It does happen. Preachers can be extremely vulnerable within certain church settings. There is no such thing as tenure (part of the overall insecurities) and especially if a preacher has been burned, it can be a challenge to be open to close friendships within the congregation. This is not always the case, of course, but there is a reason that for many preachers–their best friends are other preachers. So if you have ever wondered why your preacher may resist developing a deeper friendship with you–it likely has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with some past unpleasant experience.
  • We can be our own worst enemies. I like to say that preachers are people too. We deal with the same temptations, tendencies, and trepidations as everyone else. We make mistakes–plenty of them. Ego can get in our way and we can lose perspective along with the ability to listen to sound advice. We can hurt and betray others. We can develop bitterness and cynicism. Our preaching can become imbalanced with agendas other than “Christ and him crucified” creeping in. All of this is on us and we have to be vigilant in protecting ourselves against such. Most of us understand this and strive to not disqualify ourselves (see 1 Corinthians 9:27) or our ministry through harmful behavior and lazy preaching. It is also a matter of maturity. Just like others in their professions, we learn as we grow with sometimes-painful lessons being the best schoolteacher. Looking back in my ministry I have been my own worst enemy on numerous occasions, which makes me even more overwhelmingly grateful for good churches and godly elders who were more than patient with me.

The Bible describes the feet of those who proclaim God’s message as “beautiful” (Isaiah 52:7; Romans 10:15). I am not sure how many of us who preach see ourselves that way. We get the thought, but we also live with ourselves and are more than acquainted with our failures and weaknesses. But we would not have it any other way. Preaching–well that is just who we are.


The Learning Curve

October 31, 2019

In the previous post I referred to the ministry learning curve as frustratingly fascinating. I think that description nails it. Fascination and frustration seem to partner up frequently in ministry.

I entered full-time ministry with a great deal of idealism (which I have never completely shaken). I possessed noble ideas about how as Christians we would all be united in passion and purpose; together in commitment and dedication; that the church would always be striving to be better, to grow, and mature; and if we simply followed Scripture that this would be the happy outcome. Couple that with the fact that I was also convinced that I possessed the answers on how to make this happen and as you can guess, my idealism quickly collided with realism. So began the learning curve.

And so I present some of the twists in the curve I have discovered:

  • I gotta be me. As a young preacher I had my preaching heroes. After hearing these brothers fire me up at workshops, meetings, and lectureships–I would return to my church with my best impersonations. Then I waited for the expected tremendous response–and usually got crickets. How I wanted to be those guys in those keynote moments enthusiastically charging up the masses! Except it just never happened quite like that. Eventually I learned to simply be me–to allow God to use my personality and giftedness–not me attempting to channel someone else. I think it has worked out okay so far. I have never keynoted the masses at a nation-wide event (once I was told that I needed to “specialize” in something other than local preaching–write a book–in order to catapult myself into well-known keynote status), but God has rewarded me richly with wonderful relationships with several churches–that accepted me for me.
  • Change happens slowly. This, for me, falls under the frustrating category–even now as I realize its merits (well usually anyway). I recall once storming out of a men’s meeting overwhelmed with impatience. The topic was building maintenance, no one was making a decision, and I had world-altering evangelistic plans to propose! As I dramatically exited I think I uttered something like, “You will have the best building in town, but no one in it!” (Talk about grace. Somehow I kept my job.) So while it will always be my personality to move quickly, most churches cannot and remain healthy. Rash, quick, forced change generally brings trouble and often explosive division–which is usually counterproductive to the kingdom. Healthy churches do change, but over time– an evolution rather than a revolution–all being led and guided by the Holy Spirit of God. Realizing this I have had to make sure that my agenda as the preacher is also shaped by God’s will and fits squarely into the personality and goals of the church I serve–while at the same time encouraging the church not to settle for status quo but rather to continue to mature and grow. Often it is not an easy balance, especially with my impatient personality, but typically it is for the best. The church is like a big ship. It does not turn on a dime, but it does turn. The challenge is to make sure the changes bring health and growth for the church and glory to God.
  • Everyone will not always be happy. Yea, I figured this one out fairly quickly. Folks have been unhappy with me for years! At one point my sermons were too targeted to youth; then before I knew it my sermons were not reaching the younger generation. I have been called “liberal;” was criticized for teaching too much on love; and was once told I was making things up–that what I preached was not in the Bible (even as I turned to the text in question). I have seen unhappiness with elders; with song selection for worship; with youth ministers; with how much time I spend (or do not spend) in the office; with the color of paint; with how to use the church budget; with Bible class topic selection; once even over the type of car I purchased; and with–well the list could literally be exhaustive. And unhappy people leave–feeling frustrated, betrayed, hurt, angry and letdown. (Note–almost all preachers take it personally when someone leaves the church. It is a reflexive reaction–even if it has been handled corectly and even if needed to happen for the sake of those leaving–it always stings. If you cannot understand that check out my next post in which I will try to open the window into what it is like being a preacher). Some of my worst and most personally painful ministry experiences have been people unhappy. With all of my heart I wish this could be different. My idealism kicks in still and I wonder why we can’t work through our unhappiness together as iron sharpening iron to emerge even better and stronger? I don’t like this twist in the learning curve, but it is there.
  • God blesses sincere effort. In my preaching ministry I have always tried to be sincere, if not smart. And looking back I realized God blessed that. It really is the only way to explain my journey. Usually calling an idea presented by an elder, “the stupidest thing I have ever heard,” would not go very well or engender good relationship, but God protected me through that due to his grace living within that eldership. Almost always living out the nightmare of a divorce would not be something a church would endure with their preacher, but the Skyway Hills church in Pearl, MS did–and saved my life in more ways then one. Then later another church, Gateway in Pensacola, FL, was the first to invite this divorced preacher in after another church rejected me, stating, “we cannot see a divorced man in this role.” And now God has blessed me to be a part of this wonderful family at Levy. The only way I can explain it is: I have just tried to do my best through it all–my own immaturity; frustrations; brashness; ignorance; sin; arrogance; insecurities; divorce; hurt; stubbornness; weakness; ego and pride–to sincerely share a message from the Lord. And I have been blessed beyond measure by God and his marvelous people.

After all these years I remain firmly on the learning curve–perhaps a bit further down it for sure. But it still can be frustratingly fascinating and I’ll be the first to admit that I have even more to learn. I am just thankful that God and his people have not given up on me yet!


What Healthy Church Leadership Looks Like

October 25, 2018

HCL

What healthy church leadership looks like. This is one way to consider Paul’s first letter to Timothy in the New Testament. Paul’s beloved church at Ephesus—the one he personally spent three years nurturing after its troubled beginning (Acts 19)—was in more trouble. Just as he had foreseen (Acts 20:29-31) “wolves” even from their “own number” had arisen to “distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.”

Unable to go himself, Paul sent young Timothy to counter these false teachers and restore the Ephesian church to health. It was a tough task. In the letter Paul continually urged Timothy to “fight the good fight;” to not “let anyone look down on you because you are young;” to “command, and teach;” and to “set an example” to the church. Paul knew Timothy needed such encouragement. To counter established and embedded leadership within in a church—especially if that leadership is unhealthy—took courage and persistence. Timothy struggled. The task even seemed to make him ill, but Paul prodded him to persevere.

Truth had been distorted by the unhealthy leaders in Ephesus. Their worship time was affected. Certain restrictions were being enforced that were unhealthy and unauthorized. Some women of the congregation had been negatively influenced, exploited and were acting out in unhealthy ways. Benevolence was being mishandled and taken advantage of. People in general were being mistreated. Leadership’s love for money was a driving force in the unhealthy spirit.

Timothy was to avoid all of this, speak soundness into it, while living out a contrasting healthy leadership style before the church. This was Timothy’s task—to teach about and to live out what healthy church leadership looks like.

The Character of Healthy Leadership

Since the church in Ephesus had such a distorted and unhealthy leadership structure, they needed clarification on the kind of character God values in his leaders. This is where Paul’s instructions in 3:1-12 are so important. Paul shares character sketches of the kind of people God is calling to lead his church both as shepherds and special servants. Leading God’s people is noble—highly needed and valued, but only for those who feel called and those who have the right heart and character.

Paul first speaks to elders. He outlines how those who desire to shepherd the flock must have a character beyond reproach. This character must be seen not just at church but also at home—in his commitment to his wife and family—and in the community. He must have the right temperament; the ability to discipline himself in all situations; know how to treat and welcome people and know how to teach. He should have healthy motivations; not given to addiction, extremes or flattery. He needs experience and sound judgment. These are the kind of men God needs—healthy and servant-minded—to shepherd God’s flock. Healthy leaders who will produce healthy churches—something not happening at Ephesus.

Next Paul offers a similar description of the healthy character of deacons (and either their wives or deaconesses). Those who serve the church in this way are also to be people who are worthy of respect; self-controlled, honest, clear minded and properly motivated, experienced in serving, trustworthy, not trouble makers—demonstrating their faith at home within their family.

All of this is what healthy church leadership looks like. It is the way leadership “ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth,” Paul remarks.

Again, contextually this is not what leadership looked like in Ephesus. Again, Timothy’s ministry there was to change that. To take Paul’s teaching, live it out, teach it, and bring about the changes needed within that church.

In our context we read and learn; we also are to live it out and teach it. Healthy church leadership is all too vital. As leadership goes, so goes the church. Ephesus is an example of what happens when it all goes bad. We do not ever want to be there. That is why Paul’s teaching remains ever crucial. It remains crucial when churches look to identify and add leadership. It remains crucial for those who are called to leadership. It remains crucial if churches are to be healthy.

Practical Applications

Lived out, this kind of healthy leadership also includes being:

  • Purposeful: Healthy leadership understands their purpose—to shepherd the flock—and intentionally lives that out. They are purposeful in protecting, nurturing, guiding, loving and caring for the sheep.
  • Progressive: In that, they have vision for the sheep and plan for ways to continue the growth of the sheep. They are forward thinking. They do not let the sheep remain in same pasture until there is no more food to sustain them.
  • Present: Shepherds stay with the sheep. The only reason they leave is to go find the one lamb that has wandered away. This is the only way the shepherd will know the sheep and they will recognize his voice.
  • Prayerful: This may be obvious, but it still needs stating. Healthy leaders spend much time in prayer for those they lead.

Healthy leadership like that Timothy was to teach and demonstrate (and what we continue to need in churches now) is to be:

…diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Preserve in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (4:15-16).

This is what healthy church leadership looks like.


Remember These Things

October 18, 2018

Everything

The story of the second epistle of Peter is quite fascinating. Likely written to the same collection of Christians and churches in some provinces of Asia Minor as his first letter, Peter sets out to correct some misunderstandings and expose some false teachers. There is urgency to his writing due to his impending death—foretold to him by Christ (1:14). So, he writes asking his readers to “make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things” (1:15).

God Empowers (1:3-11)

Before he addresses the heresy, character and accusations of the false teachers and their destructive work among these churches, he begins the correspondence by reminding them just how incredible is the power of God at work within them (and us). He does so, no doubt, to provide reminding fortification to these Christians that God empowered them to do his will; provided for them to do his will; and invited them to fully participate in his will. To this end they should get after it, adding the tools God provided for them to get it done—knowledge; self-control; perseverance; godliness, brotherly kindness; and love. These virtues would empower them to overcome evil while producing within them the divine nature. These virtues also stood in stark contrast with the character of the false teachers, who were “nearsighted and blind” having “forgotten that he has been cleansed of his past sin.”

These virtues would also enable these Christians to ensure their “calling and election” even as the false teachers attempted to undermine it. It would also ensure that they would not fall into their traps and snares. The end result would be a welcome—not to the kind of folly represented in the false teaching, but into the very eternal kingdom of God. In order for these churches to withstand the false teaching being pushed upon them and to be able to expose the false teachers for who they were, Peter knew they needed to know they could—that God empowered them with everything they needed, not just for that specific challenge, but for all challenges.

Peter’s Purpose (1:12-21)

Here Peter states why he is writing with urgency and begins to address some of the accusations of the false teachers hurting these churches. One of the methods they used to attempt to destroy Peter’s influence was to claim that he and the other apostles simply made up their teachings about Christ. So Peter reaffirms and restates his case as an eye and ear witness to everything he had shared about Jesus. He was there. His message was not some “cleverly invented stories” as the false teachers propagated. Further the prophets also give witness to Christ. They did not make the stories up either, but spoke from God as the Holy Spirit led them. Listen to them, not the false teachers. Peter’s word and the prophet’s word—a much better and reliable witness than these false teachers—whose character and intent Peter would expose and shred to pieces in the next section.

False Teachers Exposed (2:1-22)

As Peter exposes and takes down the false teachers—“springs without water and mists driven by a storm”—it becomes clear how they operated and what their aim was. Their goal was to destroy any and all of the healthy influence and teaching they had received from Peter and the other apostles and replace it with a self-serving, “freedom” based doctrine that allowed them to exploit these churches in order to achieve their goals—basically stated—money and sex.

These teachers operated smoothly, of course, using familiar terms while twisting them at the same time (it seems likely that one example of such would be the purposeful mishandling of some of Paul’s teaching—perhaps Romans 6 on grace and freedom—since Peter mentions Paul and how some of his teaching is “hard to understand”—3:15-16). The stories of the false teachers were the ones “made up”—not what Peter witnessed to them. He makes it clear that these teachers stand in shameful condemnation

But these teachers had found a standing in these churches through their secretive agendas and accusations. Another such accusation claimed that there really was no real reckoning coming. After all, nothing much had changed over the generations, so God really was not going to bring about any kind of judgment. This accusation coupled with a false understanding of freedom would open the way for the false teachers to justify their actions—a way to reframe their evil agendas in a way to actually put God’s stamp of approval on them. Peter was having none of this. He mentions three Old Testament examples of God’s reckoning (along with God’s rescue for the righteous) and affirms it is coming for the false teachers.

Next Peter exposes their ungodly character. He does not hold back in describing just how depraved they were–arrogant, blasphemers, carousers, blots, blemishes, adulterers, greedy, and accursed. He compares them to Balaam—something no one would ever welcome. Their teaching was useless and destructive—just a means to get what they really wanted—exploiting and deceiving the church to gain money and sexual favors. They boasted in freedom, but yet were truly slaves to their lusts. In a stark illustration, Peter describes them as pigs returning to the mud and dogs returning to their vomit. Once enlightened perhaps by the knowledge of Christ, these teachers now had returned to the vile filth of the world and were attempting to drag these churches down with them.

The Day of the Lord (3:1-18)

In this last section Peter deals with one more accusation, that is, that the return of Christ is not going to happen. This was the claim of the false teachers—the scoffers—who had infiltrated these churches. Not true is Peter’s response calling them to remember the days of Noah. Jesus will return Peter affirms, but is being held back by the Father, who is patient beyond our understanding and desires to give everyone in every generation the opportunity for salvation. God’s patience is not merely measured in days and years. He is not thusly limited, but even so “the day of the Lord” will come—most certainly and unexpectedly.

When he comes the heavens and earth will undergo a fiery transformation—elements laid bare; stripped clean; evil destroyed. What remains will be “a new heaven and new earth, the home of righteousness.” No place here for the false teachers and what they are peddling. So Peter asks in light of this information, “what kind of people ought you to be?” He answers his own question, “You ought to live holy and godly lives.” (Both the question and the answer still vitally pertinent and true today.) Don’t listen to the false teachers. Jesus is coming, but God is patient. Embrace his salvation and live it out in purity and peace. Don’t listen to the false teachers. Listen to the apostles—to Paul—not to the distortion of Paul offered by these “ignorant and unstable” teachers. They are out of control and headed for destruction—don’t follow them! Guard against them. This is what Peter wants them to remember.

 


Being a Kingdom Citizen

December 15, 2017

The Kingdom Revolution #12

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

The context from which the Apostle Paul’s instructions in Romans 13 originate is crucial in understanding the text. Overall, he continues with the practical application of his theological presentation in the first eleven chapters. That presentation demonstrated unequivocally God’s eternal will in giving the non-Jews the same access to his blessings the Jew enjoyed for generations. It was no longer about genealogy or racial pedigree. It was now about Jesus and in him all are saved. Therefore the infighting; the prejudice; the judging; should stop and each should learn to accept the other in Christ. He is the transforming agent. Learn to view yourself as “living sacrifices” to God through him. Embrace the transformation as kingdom revolutionaries. Forget about the old and embrace the newness Jesus offers. Live daily as citizens of the kingdom!

That concept—citizens of the kingdom—is definitely in play in the Romans 13 text. Beyond the overall context of this letter, there is another to consider that was a major contributor to the strained situation in the Roman churches. This was the civil disobedience evident among parts of the Jewish community in Rome. It had earlier created the banishment of the Jewish population of Rome under Emperor Claudius in 49 A.D. (in which Apulia and Priscilla were caught up- Acts 18:1-2.). Knowing this and the damage it caused the Jews, Paul realized that this type of rebellion against established government would be counterproductive to spreading the gospel and to the reputation of Christians within a community. He did not want the church to get caught up in such civil unrest. This was not the kind of revolution Paul envisioned or desired for Christ followers.

A Kingdom View of Government

So he lays out how the kingdom revolution looks lived out within the parameters of the Roman governmental system. At this point in history Rome was an Empire, not a republic. It was not a democracy. Citizens had some rights (such as Paul). Non-citizens did not. It was not a representative government. No elections (as we understand them) were held. Justice could be fair, but it also could be brutal. Quite often rebellions broke out to challenge the “Pax Romana” in oppressed areas within the Empire. Some groups like the Zealots thought it was their birthright to overthrow Roman rule. Paul’s presents quite a different (and revolutionary) alternative in Romans 13:1-7. It is primarily about being a citizen of the kingdom first. Nations come and go. Governments change. Being a citizen of God’s kingdom enables a different perspective about governments and empowers the revolutionary values of the kingdom to be lived out effectively within any type of governmental system. From the text we learn:

  • A positive picture of government. It is to be seen as established by God for the purposes of punishing wrongdoers and as such it serves God’s purposes.
  • Rebelling against the God-ordained government equals rebelling against God and brings about a judgment.
  • “Everyone” is to submit to the governmental powers and not be in rebellion against them. Considering their context this was wise advice because Rome could and did act swiftly to eradicate rebellious and subversive activity (think Jerusalem in 70 A.D.) The Christian’s responsibility within their governmental context is to “do what is right” – not just for fear of punishment but because it is the right thing to do (“conscience”- vs. 5)
  • Doing what is right includes paying the various taxes required by government and paying your debts.

This is all connected back to the previous verses about doing what is “right.” Couple this with other NT texts (Mathew 22:21; John 18:36; 1 Timothy 2:1-3: 1 Peter 2:13-17) and it is clear. Citizens of the kingdom do not take up arms and rebel against earthly governments (even if they can be unjust and cruel—like Rome). That is not the revolution to which we are called. Instead our revolution involves doing the unexpected in this situation—submitting; obeying the laws; living quiet lives, but in so doing upending the injustice and revolutionizing our communities anyway.

Love is What Fuels the Revolution

It is not through swords, spears, bullets or ballots that Christ’s revolution triumphs. It is through the “continuing debt to love one another” lived out within the citizens of the kingdom (Romans 13:11-14). It is our debt to our world. All of the commands are good—to be embraced and practiced, but it is love that truly demonstrates the presence of God in us. Living out God’s love is the power that fuels the revolution and it will (and did in Rome’s case) transform even nations. Nations know how to handle hostile rebellions, but they do not know what to do with cheeks turned and love returned for hate. Evil is not used to good in reply. The revolution of God is weaponized through love. The essence of that is Christ on the cross. If we can capture that kind of love—even in our small doses—we will revolutionize our worlds.

Paul understood this perfectly, so he urges immediate action. The hour had come for the Romans to wake up; stop all of the unproductive bickering; the sin that continued to hinder them and recognize the time for revolutionary action was at hand! Darkness needed light shining within it!

Revolutionary Clothing

He moves from one metaphor to another—and a fitting one to close our study. “Rather clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” This brings us full circle back to Galatians 3:26-28. It gets back to identity. Not Jew, not Gentile, not male, nor female, not slave, not free, not black, not white, not Republican, not Democrat, not even American—our primary identity is in Christ. We wear his clothes. We reflect his values. Our citizenship is first and foremost in his kingdom. We seek it first. As a result we are transformed into disciples who follow his unorthodox and revolutionary teachings—turn the other cheek, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, take the loss, be wronged, go the extra mile, etc. We understand how “blessed be” is this approach. We also understand how subversively revolutionary and incredibly powerful it is. It changed the world once and it will again and again as we live it out.

Perhaps we need to freshen up our kingdom wardrobe and do some waking up of our own. “Because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” Have no doubt about it. There is a revolution going on!


Whatever Happened to Wednesday Nights?

December 7, 2017

Wed nights

Remember the old joke. It is Judgment Day. A great roar sweeps through the crowd. Someone asks why. Another responds, “We just heard! They aren’t counting Wednesday nights!”

Wednesday night prayer meeting or Wednesday Bible study or however it is designated used to be more of a thing. It was a time when Christians would gather to study, pray, fellowship, encourage, visit, and bless one another. It was a highlight of the long week between Sunday worship. Something for which disciples of Christ could look forward.

It seems though to have fallen on leaner times. Other priorities have taken precedent. Lifestyles are busier. Wednesday nights down at the church house just aren’t the same anymore. Maybe Wednesday nights are a tradition past its prime?

It is a shame. Teachers still put in their time to prepare. The idea of gathering midweek to encourage one another in Christ is still valid and needed. Those who do attend receive a blessing.

So whatever happened to Wednesday nights? If it no longer is filling a need, what replaces it? What are we Christians doing to fill that void?

I still enjoy gathering with my church family on Wednesday nights. Call me “old school,” but it gives my faith a boost.

Maybe I will see you there!