A beautiful Northland weekend, sunny blue skies, and warm hearts.... Welcome to New Life Covenant. Pastor Brad expressed his gratitude for our presence as we gathered for an informal July4 weekend worship service. Darlene's rendition of America the Beautiful certainly set the tone for a special time together.
We then sang a number of choruses, capping off the worship time with O Beautiful For Spacious Skies. After the offering a Scripture reading from Romans 7 and time of prayer, Brad commenced the sermon.
Yes, We Can
Brad began his sermon with the story of Handley Page, a pilot who at one point in his life delivered mail solo in the early days of aviation. On one occasion he was flying at 10,000 feet when he noticed a rat on board. Shortly thereafter he heard a gnawing sound. The rat was chewing a hydraulic line that operated his landing gear, not a good situation.
But the pastor chose to leave us hanging and said he would return to the outcome a bit later.
Today's message was drawn from the Paul's famous struggle with regard to the power of sin, Romans 7:15-25, which begins like this: I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
In this short section 10 verses in length, Paul uses the word "I" 21 times. This is his story, his struggle, before discovering the liberating power of grace. And it is a struggle so many understand, have shared.
The JB Phillips New Testament makes a statement elsewhere that "God gave us the straight edge of the law to show us how crooked we are." Here in Romans 7 Paul dives into that same idea. The more he tries to keep the law, to follow what he knows is right, the more aware he is of his failings, his crookedness.
The wonder if it all is despite the continuous failing, so many keep trying to do it on their own. Paul finally came to a different place, saying, "I can't do it any more. I just don't have the power. Who will rescue me?"
Then, we see Romans 8. "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..." No condemnation, and free from being controlled by sin.... all by grace.
If this is so, why do so many live as if it were not? Brad illustrated with a historical anecdote about the passage of the 13th amendment in 1865. Even though all slaves were declared free, in point of fact slavery did not end because many were not aware of this event. Some were kept in the dark deliberately, others were simply afraid to act on it. In other words, the law declared that men were free, but they continued to live as if they were not.
In moral law there is the same problem. The law tells us what to do and not do, but has no power to enable us to do it. Nor does law have any power to heal. Grace empowers and heals.
We do not "try to become children of God" by sheer will power. We ARE the children of God by virtue of God's redeeming work in Jesus. In the same way it is not by self-effort we find strength to do right. It's all grace.
A critical point was made in these remarks. It is exceedingly important to know who we are in Christ. We are called "saints" in Scripture. We are not addicts "trying" to live a good life.
The Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan was hailed as a star who could defy gravity. Brad said, "No, he did not defy gravity. When he leapt up, he always came down again."
Jesus, defied not only the law of gravity, He also defied the law of sin and death. An in Him we too defy the law of sin and death.
Satan's primary weapon against believers is the lie. Lies, lies and more lies. This is why Jesus said, "The truth will set you free." And this is why it is important for Christians to study the Scriptures, to know their Bibles, to be in God's word.
In spiritual warfare, as illustrated in Ephesians 6, the first piece of armor Paul draws our attention to is the belt of truth. Knowing the truth is the best way to recognize lies. So it is that FBI agents learn to recognize counterfeit money by studying the real and true versions of printed money.
Now, back to Handley Page. This was back in the days before autopilot and he was flying solo. Fortunately, he remembered something from his school days regarding rats. Supposedly they need more oxygen than people do, so Page decided to fly up high in the sky where the air thinned. As luck would have it, the trick worked and when he landed he found a dead rat in the back of the plane.
Moral: When rats are gnawing at your life, climb higher. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.