Those of you who attended Reynolda Presbyterian with us this morning know where the title came from. Pastor Alan Wright did an amazing job wrapping up a one year study of Romans.
Likely few conservative evangelicals would claim my current theological trajectory, but hopefully Pastor Alan having known me for a couple decades would excuse any error or misquoted thoughts in the following post, given his ministry of grace!
I had been looking for a way to cap off this series of blogs, which I hope to soon capture in a "devotional" for those most unlikely to ever pick up a devotional!
My audience is designed more for marketplace entrepreneurs, most of them less likely than I to attend any one church regularly, many next generation. If you are a Boomer, don't write them off, they are spiritually hungry but not as most of us older guys would typically define spirtual hunger!
This morning I could hardly sit through the message given the thrill of what I felt being spoken to me, affirming much of what I now believe, though I'll admit to feeling quite awkward of late in my transparency.
Yet, every morning I have felt compelled to share my thoughts as I trek through scripture; some of those thoughts deeply rattling my long held theological underpinnings.
Not that I don't understand what the Apostle Paul was saying in Romans, himself a Sanhedrin trained Jew, turned devout Jesus follower. He was surely crafting a "legal case" in a language which the most devoted of Judaism could understand. His objective was to encourage an openess to this transition from law into grace, which he had so dramatically experienced, compelling him to risk even death that others might share in his joy.
The law, as he wrote in another letter to the Galatians, was a necessary schoolmaster until grace was recieved. A mystery long hidden until the time was right.
Do I believe a person being drawn to God by the Spirit today has to jump through all the hoops we as "Bible based believers" often put them through in order to come to grace? I do not! For those in that day, steeped in legalistic Judaism, likely so.
What I loved about Pastor Alan's message (to hear, see link #1 below) was at least four fold.
First, his update on Mia, his and his wife, Anne's first grandchild, sharing a brief video of her excitement over her first Christmas lights, with repeated use of her favorite word, "Wow!" His titles, like his books seem providentially introduced by way of beautifully God-fashioned anecdotal events from throughout the week.
I love this guy, can you tell?
Second, Paul's free flowing, "run-on sentence" doxology of praise, as Alan described, captured in the last couple verses of Romans 16:25-27 NIV: "Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith— to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen."
The timing of this scripture per my recent professional ventures was amazing! I was both stunned and excited.
I have found relief in what has seemed for months now a sense of new revelation being released for those who, just as with Judaism in Paul's day, are either bound up in orthodoxy or frustrated by the institution. My months-long series of blogs have been my own attempt at transparency, frankly perplexing at times!
The institution has for so long held static a repent, be baptized, study scripture, attend and serve, with each campus claiming the only true understanding of the text. Though as I said in an earlier blog, now sadly divided into thousands of Christian denominations.
This is not hyperbole, as this quote confirms: "There are more than 45,000 denominations globally. Followers of Jesus span the globe. But the global body of more than 2 billion Christians is separated into thousands of denominations. Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, Apostolic, Methodist — the list goes on. (2022).
Meanwhile the demonstration of the power of the Gospel such as gave this great movement its once global appeal seems lost. As well, the absence of weekly Sabbath refreshings, sufficient to convince others of the hope and freedom of Gospel has left our communities despairing and our own kids seeking another way forward.
Thirdly, (don't hurry, as earlier I had mentioned a four-fold blessing), the joy of my own renewed "Wow," which certainly seemed to resurface in my life this morning!
I sang and wept with joy at one point, such that the young lady that sat in front of our pew turned after service, with tears in her eyes, hugging my neck and expressing the joy she felt by way of my own unrestrained worship.
Trust me, that has been a long time coming!
What I see emerging is a new or at least renewed revelation of grace, one untethered from the legalistic wrappings of the evangelical church in particular (how I was raised), now long resisting any new revelation beyond her own opinion of this inspired text, many also by way of community impact "denying the power thereof!"
Pastor Wright used the word, apocalyptic, given its rightful meaning to uncover, an unveiling...to all nations, access to God being the plan. That's so refreshing!
Could it be that we are at another mysterious flash point, when so many seem rather to write off future generations, preferring an end times approach rather than the joy of renewal?
If the Gospel as they needed to hear it in Paul's day was hidden, then later unveiled, perhaps we need at least a refresher or refining given how adrift our institutions and our nation!
Fourth and final, the word "able", a word used throughout scripture, as in Ephesians for instance:
"Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us..."
In Timothy: "I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me."
In Jude: "Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy."
Even as I write, now at age 75, I can feel the excitement of promises made to me earlier as I prayed over our city from my 24th floor perch for some four years. He is able!!
Those well-dated prayers this week have suddenly seemed so close to fruition that I have had to pinch myself to see if this is all real!
In the end, Pastor Alan told the story of the scores of young boys trapped in a flooded cave, such that seasoned divers chose anesthesia over scuba gear in order to carry them under water for the great distance needed for their rescue. Otherwise fearful that they might panic, shed the gear and drown themselves and their rescuers.(link #2 below).
What if the Gospel of grace was the long awaited anesthesia, necessary for their escape from Judaism and a God of wrath? In our case a long awaited renewal, this time an awakening in order to rescue us from the slumber of religion, inviting a new joy based on Agape love and capable of true justice for all.
As Pastor Alan closed, instead of the scriptures, Amen, his response was just, "Glory"!
Wow!! Just Wow!