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I hardly need to remind you of the devastating and destructive power of what we call nature or the material creation. In the past few months, we have witnessed Hurricane Ida, as well as ravaging fires throughout the western United States, accompanied by record-breaking high temperatures. As I recall, one day this summer it reached 130 degrees in Death Valley.

Yet another survey of professing Christians was recently conducted. And once again the results are terribly disappointing. The survey was conducted by the Cultural Research Center of Arizona Christian University in its recently released American Worldview Inventory, an annual survey that evaluates the worldview of the U.S. adult population. Conducted in February, the survey included a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults. What did the survey reveal? Some 62% of self-identified born-again Christians contend that the Holy Spirit is not a real, living being but is merely a symbol of God’s power, presence or purity.

I don’t know if you have noticed this, but in the past few years I seem to have introduced quite a few of my sermons with a long list of all the tragedies, trials, and devastating events in our world. I’ve talked about earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes and pandemics and racial division and economic hardships and recurring diseases and raging wildfires and military conflicts and political upheaval, and countless other issues we face each day.

Churches and denominations throughout history have often argued and divided over a number of issues, such as: (1) the role of women in ministry leadership, (2) the timing of the rapture, be it before, during, or after the so-called tribulation, (3) water baptism: is it for infants of believing parents or only for those who have come to personal faith in Jesus Christ, and (4) the question of miraculous gifts of the Spirit: did they cease with the death of the apostles in the first century, or do they continue into the present day?

I have a guaranteed answer to one of the most pressing questions you will ever ask. I have a remedy for what may well be the greatest fear in your heart. The question and the fear are the same: Will God’s love for me one day dissipate and disappear? Is there a limit to his love? Is it even remotely possible that one day he will simply grow tired of me and give up? The answer is a resounding, No!

I sometimes wish the Bible were like Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary. Although it would lose its literary flare and beauty, at least we would have precise definitions for all the doctrines of the faith. We could look up under “T” the Trinity and find an inspired definition. Or we could turn to “S” and discover the definition of salvation.

Today, unlike most Sundays, I’m going to forego any form of introduction to the sermon. The depth and complexities and challenges of our passage today requires as much time as possible. So let’s jump into the deep end of the theological pool right from the start.

E. D. Hirsch, Jr., was professor of English at the University of Virginia for many years. As far as I know, he is still alive at the age of 93. His most famous book was titled, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. Hirsch is convinced that there are certain facts and information that are foundational to literacy. He has in mind dates, events, people, and ideas with which you should be conversant if you hope to function properly in American culture.

The issue of race and the potential it has to divide and disrupt the life of our culture at large and the church in particular has, perhaps, never been so much in evidence as it is today. On numerous occasions in the past, I’ve explained how the division and racial hostility between Jew and Gentile threatened the very existence of the early church. You may also recall the strategy that Jesus gave the disciples for how the gospel of the kingdom would be spread, and simultaneously provided them and us with a remedy for racism. He said in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Today we are going to dig deeply into the subject of prayer, or should I say the “mystery” of prayer. All of us, without exception, struggle to pray. Some attribute their failure to pray to the busyness of life: “I just don’t have time,” so they say. Others don’t pray because it so often seems rather one-sided, as if I’m doing all the talking and I struggle to believe that anyone is listening. Then there are those who have become disillusioned when requests they have brought to God for years remain unanswered to this very day.

I’m sure you have come to expect a special message on the Sunday before Christmas, and this year will be no exception. But that doesn’t mean we won’t be in Romans. After considerable thought and prayer, I honestly couldn’t think of a passage of Scripture more suited to Christmas than Romans 10:5-13. Think about it. Christmas is the glorious good news that God has sent his Son to save his people. This is what the angel said to Joseph when he discovered that Mary was pregnant:

I’ve got a story to tell you. It concerns a young lady by the name of Jackie. From the age of eight she repeatedly heard in her heart the simple exhortation, “Go.” Jackie lived in England, together with her identical twin sister and parents. She graduated from the Royal College of Music in London with a specialization in playing the oboe. At the age of 22 she still couldn’t shake the voice that had beckoned her for so many years. With what appeared to be such a vague sense of calling, no missionary organization would sponsor her. She finally decided to follow the advice of a pastor named Richard Thomson, who told her, in so many words, to take a slow boat to China and pray that God would tell her when to get off.

I want to ask all of you a question today, but I don’t expect you to shout out your answer. Here it is. What single event in the last 75 years has had the greatest impact on the Christian church? The impact doesn’t have to be a good one. It may be, but it might also be damaging.

Last week I shared with you my opinion that the single most influential event in the last 75 years, as far as its impact on the Christian church is concerned, was the formal establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948. There are many today who would share my opinion, but they do so for different reasons. Some believe that Israel’s emergence as an independent nation is important because it is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, and may very well be a sign of the soon return of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you were to conduct a wide-ranging survey that asked, “What’s wrong with the Church in America?” I am quite certain that a variety of answers would be given. I have no intention of listing them all. Instead, I have one answer of my own. It may strike you as odd when you first hear it, but bear with me. The greatest problem in the contemporary church is that people are bored with God. They aren’t so much offended with him or confused by him. They are simply bored.

I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that at no other time in the experience of the church in the 21st century has there been such an urgent, vital need for Christian holiness as there is right now. It grieves me to say this, but hardly a day passes that I don’t either hear or read of another scandal, some scurrilous bit of news, be it financial or sexual or in some way related to spiritual abuse or bullying. And I’m not talking about what goes on in Hollywood or Las Vegas or on Wall Street. I’m talking about the professing Christian church. The effect of it all is to cast an ever-lengthening shadow over the integrity and purity of the evangelical body of Christ.

One would be hard-pressed to identify a more controversial subject in Scripture than that of spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. So, today we will closely examine Paul’s list of gifts here in vv. 3-8 and spend most of our time on defining what prophecy is and how it operates in the local church.

On the eve of his crucifixion, sometime during the observance of that last Passover meal with his disciples, our Lord said something of profound significance, something the implications of which not even his disciples fully understood at the time. “By this,” Jesus said, “all people will know that you are my disciples, if . . .” (John 13:35).

If a person didn’t know anything about human nature, he might look at all of us today and conclude that we have very little in common. We don’t all look alike, dress alike, walk or talk alike. Well, maybe in Oklahoma we all talk alike, but you get my point. Each of us has his or her own distinctive personality, unique likes and dislikes, all of which might lead someone to think that we are fundamentally different from one another.

In October of 2021, a survey of some 500 registered voters in Oklahoma revealed that 64% favor the death penalty, with 41% strongly in support of it and 23% somewhat in favor of it. 23% of those polled oppose the death penalty. 13% said they were undecided. We may soon find out if these percentages are accurate, as Democratic State Representative Mauree Turner has filed legislation for the 2022 session that would create a state question to be voted on to determine if the death penalty should be retained. Twenty-three states have already abolished the death penalty.

It’s been many years since this incident occurred, but I can still remember the story of Joan Andrews, a small, soft-spoken Roman Catholic. On March 26, 1986, she entered an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Florida, and attempted to damage a suction machine used to perform abortions. She was arrested, charged, and convicted of criminal mischief, burglary, and resisting arrest without violence. The prosecution asked for a one-year sentence, but the Judge gave her five years. She was taken to the Broward Correctional Institute, a tough maximum security women’s prison where she was placed in solitary confinement. She served 2 ½ years of her sentence.

This is one of those special paragraphs in God’s Word that is so rich and thick and abundantly overflowing with truth that it will take all my time to unpack it for you. So, I’m going to forego any formal introduction and jump immediately into the deep end of the pool. There are three primary areas of focus for us today. First, I want to address an issue that comes up in the light of Paul’s exhortation not to “owe” anyone “anything” (v. 8a). Second, I want to explore what it means to love one’s neighbor as oneself and how doing so is a fulfillment of the law of God. Third, we will look at the urgent exhortation of Paul in vv. 11-14 that we “put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires” (v. 14).

One of the foundational pillars on which Bridgeway Church is built is the divine inspiration and absolute authority of Holy Scripture. To put it bluntly: when the Bible speaks, we listen. But what should the Christian do when the Bible does not speak? Every issue on which the Bible does speak, it speaks infallibly. But the Bible does not speak on every issue. It is not an encyclopedia of ethics. What, then, are we to do when issues arise on which the Bible remains silent? How is a Christian to act on matters not directly addressed in Scripture, especially when they cause conflict and division in the church? That is what Romans 14 is all about.

Virtually every moment of every day every Christian is forced to make decisions or choices between alternative courses of action. Often these decisions are of little if any moral consequence: decisions such as what to wear to work, where to eat lunch, which of many differing cars one should purchase, and so on. Other decisions, however, are of great moral consequence. They are decisions that affect not only ourselves but also the people around us. These are the decisions we do not take lightly. As Christians, our first course of action is to turn to the Bible, for we know that in his written Word God has provided us with inspired, infallible, authoritative guidance to help us make the right choice in any given situation.

Today, I want us to start at the end of our passage, rather than at its beginning. We read in v. 7, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Here we are not only told what to do, but why. The end game, as it were, is made explicit. We are to strive in God’s grace to be a hospitable people, and the reason why is so that God may be glorified. Now, how did Paul get there? What led him to this conclusion, and how does it affect the way we approach life together here at Bridgeway Church?

There are numerous things that mattered greatly to Paul, a reflection of what matters greatly to God. It is God who placed these burdens on the apostle’s heart that he in turn might place them on ours. Now, what “burdens” do I have in mind? What one critically important “thing” weighs so heavily on Paul that he would repeatedly call on us to embrace?

Here in Romans 15:18-19 Paul mentions four important truths to account for the success of his evangelistic ministry. He refers to the primary instruments by which he successfully led pagan Gentiles to believe the gospel. First, Paul points to the “word” he proclaimed. He verbally declared the truth of who Jesus is and what he did. Second, his ministry was also characterized by “deeds.” This could conceivably include everything he did, be it acts of mercy or generosity or compassion or serving the poor. But the more likely reference is to the “signs and wonders” that he was enabled to perform, which is the third expression of his evangelistic ministry. Fourth, he accomplished all this, both word and deed, signs and wonders, “by the power of the Spirit of God.”

All of us will admit, I am sure, that Romans is the most complex biblical letter when it comes to deep theological truths. It stretches the mind and confronts and challenges our personal theological preferences more so than any other NT book.

I’ll be the first to admit that prayer is one of the more perplexing mysteries in the Christian life. Why does God repeatedly encourage us to pray? If God wants to accomplish some goal for his own glory, why doesn’t he just do it? Why does God tell us that if we hope to experience certain blessings, we must first ask for them? Does prayer really make a difference? Does prayer change things? Can we expect God to do for us apart from prayer what he tells us in Scripture he will do for us only through prayer? These are important and challenging questions, and there is hardly a more helpful and instructive passage in Scripture where answers can be found than right here in Romans 15:30-33.

Today, as we inch ever closer to the conclusion of our time in Romans, I want to address an issue that I’ve rarely mentioned on Sunday mornings. It seems only wise that before I step down as Lead Pastor that I articulate as best I can what we believe the Bible says about women in the life of the church, and more specifically, women in the life and ministry of Bridgeway. So, buckle your seat belts, and let’s see what Romans 16 and the rest of the NT have to say on this topic.