Sunday, June 22, 2008

Morality Above the Law

It was Grandma’s Marathon weekend here in the Northland, and though a chill had come into the air this a.m. our hearts remained warm. Pastor Brad Shannon gave a heartfelt welcome, which was followed by several announcements. Brooke thanked the forty volunteers who made this week’s Vacation Bible School experience a success for so many children. And everyone was reminded that next week New Life Covenant will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary with an exceptional dinner prepared by Leonard Armstrong to be enjoyed 11:00 p.m. after the service.

The Call to Worship began with Chuck reading David’s prayer from I Chronicles 29:10-13 and the quartet singing Holy, Holy, Holy. After a time of worship and singing Brad presented the Children’s Challenge.

Today’s Scripture readings were:
Jeremiah 20:7-13
Roman 6:1-11
Matthew 10:24-39

This morning we had a guest pastor present this week’s message. Pastor Jim Swanson, husband of the eldest of the Armstrong girls, had preached here 35 years ago and said it was good to be back in our pulpit.

Morality Above the Law
There is a tendency in church history for truths to lose their weight or significance after two or three generations. The circumstances which motivated the founders of a movement to react are different three generations later.

The truths of Scripture transcend time, but different circumstances affect what is highlighted or has more relevance.

Pastor Swanson spoke from Paul’s Letter to the Romans this morning. Most of Paul’s letters dealt with specific situations within the various churches for whom he cared. But Romans has a different purpose. It is a book of written to condense the theological insights he gained from his three year study of the meaning of the Gospel and how we relate to God.

For the purposes of context it is occasionally good to be reminded of Paul’s story preceding the many letters he wrote which became Scripture. Formerly Saul of Tarsus, Paul was a persecutor of the early church. He stood by at the stoning of Steven, a deacon of the early church, and led an entourage that was serious about maintaining the current order of things.

While heading toward Damascus, with murderous intent, Paul had a life changing experience. A light suddenly flashed around him and he fell to the ground whereupon he heard God’s voice, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” According to the book of Acts:

7The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

But it was a disciple named Ananias who’s obedience was really tested. The Lord spoke to him in a vision saying to go see the Saul who was murdering Christians for their faith. Nevertheless, Ananias obeyed and went to see the man whom had done so much harm in Jerusalem. Paul indeed had had his heart prepared by his ordeal and not only received the Word from this man but had his eyesight restored.

Changing his name to Paul, he went into the desert for three years to study the Scriptures and make sense of this new way to encounter God.

Paul’s Book of Romans is essentially a compilation of condensed theological insights, summarizing his distilled thinking regarding the meaning of the Gospel. In chapter three he writes about justification by faith. Justification does not simply mean we have been declared Not Guilty. It contains a bigger idea than this. God fills us out to the dimensions God intends us to be.

In chapter six of the Romans, Paul writes about the implications of baptism for believers. Baptism in the early church often took place in caves with streams, Pastor Swanson said. The one being baptized would enter the stream on one side and emerge on the other side to be clothed in a white robe. What it meant was that our sinful self was destroyed and a new life was now ours.

Pastor Swanson, then shared the story of a woman named Cindy whose alcoholism nearly destroyed her marriage. After a stint at Hazeldon, a prestigious clinic that treats alcoholism and other addictions, he saw her again with a new glow in her face. “I don’t have to do that any more,” she said.

It was Christ who met her there. And for the first time she had hope.

In closing we were reminded that there is a possibility of a whole different kind of life when we have been crucified with Christ…. in order that we might live a new life together.

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