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My Hope Is in Our Youth

NOTE: This article was originally written as Chapter 18 in my book, “The Power of Spiritual Relationships.”

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

for gaining wisdom and instruction;

for understanding words of insight;

for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,

doing what is right and just and fair;

for giving prudence to those who are simple,

knowledge and discretion to the young—

let the wise listen and add to their learning,

and let the discerning get guidance. (Proverbs 1:1–5)

I am very thankful for the youth of our churches. My hope for the future of our churches is in them. While I appreciate all that God has been able to use me and others of the older generations to accomplish, my hope for what lies ahead is not in us. We have done our thing, and now the future is up to our younger generations. Many in my generation have a difficult time recognizing this and thus have a difficult time letting go of the reins. But God and time will see to it that we do, you can trust that! My own rapidly increasing attendance at memorial services makes the point, loudly! It would be far better if we were to recognize the need and have a planned generational transition much sooner than later. That is my prayer and my plea in this chapter.

A Lost Generation

Our family of churches, the ICOC, has been seriously affected in negative ways by losing a generation of leaders. In the early years of this millennium, we suffered as a movement a serious upheaval and a series of reactions. While we needed something to jar us into a realization of ineffective and wrongful spiritual building in our serious attempts to carry out the Great Commission, we experienced more damage than we realized at the time. A grave part of the damage was the loss of a generation of leaders (and members). As our overall membership declined, our available funds to support ministry staff declined. Young ministry staff leaders in their twenties were laid off because of these dwindling contributions and the decision to direct available funds toward ministry staff who were older and dependent on those funds for supporting themselves and their families in their career choice.

It took some years to start recovering and raising up younger leaders again in significant numbers, but by then we had another problem. Leadership roles were limited, and although we were adding young people to our ministry staffs, their opportunities for advancement into more influential roles were already filled by older staff members. The young ones could lead campus ministries or youth programs or in some cases, small churches. But the opportunities to lead in roles that carried with them a voice that was heard on a broader scale simply weren’t there. When we were growing fast in the 1980s and 1990s, leadership advancement was a natural part of our growth. When growth stopped, suddenly the whole picture was different, and natural progressions in leadership were stymied.

The result has been that older, established leaders have guided most of the directions we have taken as a whole. The same older crowd is leading in the same older ways, and those ways have ceased to produce the results they once did. Without younger leaders with younger thinking whose voices are not just heard, but allowed to shape our future directions, we will continue down the path of diminishing growth and relevance with the upcoming generations. As I put it bluntly from time to time, many (not all) of those who were once new wine breaking old wineskins have themselves become old wineskins—and don’t realize it. It pains me to say such things, but facts are facts, and I think these are indisputable and need to be recognized, admitted and acted upon.

Since our growth rate is diminishing, the natural progression of having more and more younger leaders entering the fray is not going to happen organically. We older leaders are going to have to find alternative roles for ourselves, like shepherding and teaching (teaching was my choice over a decade ago), and put younger leaders in roles that allow them to help us figure out how to turn the growth rate around. That might sound radical, but I hope it also sounds rational, because I believe it is the only rational choice available. The lost generation syndrome can be reversed, but only if we are willing to make radical choices that seem unnatural to us.

Youth and Radical Change

Christianity had its beginning with youth, for they are the ones open to entertaining new ideas and approaches. The apostles were likely quite young. If John the apostle wrote his five documents (his Gospel, his three letters and Revelation) when tradition says he did, he must have been a teenager when called to be an apostle. I suspect most of the other apostles were also young. History shows that radical things done in the spiritual realm are almost always initiated by youth. Youth and radical go together, not old and radical. It is the nature of aging to become tradition bound, and the recognition and rejection of traditions becomes more and more an elusive task. I wish it weren’t so, but it is, and that is why my hope is in the youth among us.

As that exciting first century church aged, it moved further and further away from the truth and replaced it with traditions. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit predicted this departure through Paul in no uncertain terms. Passages like 1 Timothy 4:1–3 and 2 Timothy 4:2–4 demonstrate that God didn’t want this turning aside to take later generations by surprise. They also serve as a warning about how easy it is to move from truth to traditions, an ever-present danger in every age. Further, the danger is not just limited to traditions that directly violate Scripture; the ones that are not unbiblical but become ineffective are in some ways more damaging, since they block the effective spreading of the gospel. That type represents our current challenge, for said simply, we as a movement are stuck.

As history unfolded, it was only a matter of time before some youthful radicals had enough of the Establishment’s traditions and drew a line in the sand. Well, in this case, it was actually a document nailed to a door. Martin Luther nailed his “Ninety-Five Theses” against Catholic teachings to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. He was in his early thirties when this momentous event took place, but he was much younger when his radicalness was taking shape. Another very important figure in the Protestant Reformation was John Calvin, who began his extensive writings when yet in his twenties. Once again, history connects the terms “youth,” “radical” and “change.”

Then we come to the Age of Reason, when the American Restoration Movement was born. Much about the Reformation was commendable; much about its effectiveness was not so commendable. By 1700, there were 150 divisions within Protestantism. In the early 1800s, leaders from various denominations started questioning the concept of reformation. Trying to reform something with so many divergences from the Bible was proving to be impossible in the quest for religious unity. Thus the idea of just going back to the New Testament as the pattern for Christianity and restoring it gained ground quickly. The two most influential leaders started their quest for restoration of the NT church when they were still young. Alexander Campbell was in his twenties and Barton W. Stone was just about thirty.

Fast forward to the origins of my current church association, now known as the International Churches of Christ. This group began as a spiritual renewal group within what I now call the Mainline Churches of Christ. It was at the outset a campus ministry movement in the 1970s. Its epicenter was in Gainesville, Florida at the Crossroads Church of Christ, and it was spearheaded by Chuck Lucas when he was about thirty and later pushed forward by Kip McKean when he was about twenty-five. That Crossroads Movement became the Discipling Movement and the Boston Movement and ultimately the ICOC as we now know it.

The Future – Scary and Exciting!

Is not the pattern of radical spiritual change fairly obvious? Doesn’t it always start with radical youth who burn with a desire to change the world? That is why I am so thankful for the youth among us. They must pick up the baton and do what we are currently failing to do—affect the whole world significantly with the rapid spread of the gospel. Christianity has never been about having a nice, comfortable church to make us feel warm inside once or twice a week. It was designed by its Designer to radically affect the world.

Our society is changing so fast that keeping up with how people think is almost impossible for us older folks. We don’t understand youth and they don’t understand us too well either. We use similar words but often are speaking a different language. But that is nothing new. It has always been that way. Generation gaps are real, and really important to at least recognize (not just decry). I highly recommend reading Chapter 21 in Michael Burns’ book All Things to All People. The title of that chapter is “World War Z,” and I can promise you that it is one of the most eye-opening, disturbing pieces we of the older generation could read. It is for those of all generations among us a must-read—so please read it!

Youth—Christ’s mission now depends on you! Grab hold of it and GO! People like me who have done their best want to see our work as only a foundation of what you can do as you build to the sky with the help of Almighty God. I am praying for you and already thanking God for what you are going to do. I am also praying for us older ones, that we will help you begin doing it—now. Let’s all please do our part, and may God lead us to do it soon!

Jerry Jones – A Man of Steel and Velvet

Jerry Jones departed this life on Wednesday, May 13, 2020. He and I were appointed as elders together in Phoenix, Arizona in September of 2004. We became co-laborers together in the church and close friends in all settings. In a short time, I think both of us would have said that we were the best of friends. We had many things in common, including a love for nature sports like fishing, and also golf, although neither of us were great golfers. We shared many happy times having fun together. We shared many happy times serving together in God’s kingdom. We also shared some of the most challenging times in the church that I have ever faced. In going through those times, I have stated repeatedly that I wouldn’t have made it through them without Jerry. I do believe that to be absolutely true.

When Jerry’s dearly loved wife of 57 years called to tell me that Jerry was approaching death, my heart became very heavy, but my mind became very active. I thought about our times together and how I would describe him to those who didn’t know him or know him well. I thought back to a book I read about Jesus decades ago entitled, “Man of Steel and Velvet.” I don’t remember much about the book, but the title encapsulates the nature of Jesus perfectly.

I think of his confrontations of the Pharisees and other religious leaders who were leading people astray from God’s will. Jesus was clearly a man of steel on those occasions. I think of him as a man of velvet in his dealings with women and children. His relationship encounters those of that day displayed both of these extremes and showed every needed response in between. He was the most beautiful demonstration of both strength and sensitivity possible.

Jerry reminded me of Jesus as a person of both steel and velvet. During our church challenges, he had a steely, unwavering character. He was an old navy career man, and it showed. Yet, that part of his nature had been sanctified by his conversion to Christ. He wasn’t at all harsh, but he was unyielding when it came to doing what was right and needed. In the middle of the storms, he was simply unflappable. I’ve known few like him. In spite of his deep love for people, he never caved in to sentimentality. He was just determined to do what was righteous in spite of possible responses and reactions.

He and Karen were retired when he was appointed an elder, and they chose to come to the ministry staff meetings as if they were on staff. What a blessing that was! Jerry could read people like a book. His level of emotional intelligence had perhaps begun as “street smarts,” but was molded by his Christian perspective. The spiritual battles we faced in the early part of this century were extremely challenging, but Jerry was always up to the challenge. He was my rock on many occasions and my greatest supporter in the leadership roles in which I served. I had no one else quite like him.

Jerry and Karen became Christians later in life in somewhat of a unique way. Their daughter was the first in their family to be converted and she then reached out to her brother. Jerry and Karen attended the baptism of their son and were deeply moved by all that they saw and heard. They had not been particularly religious prior to that, but the impact of what they were observing in their children and their friends was huge. Jerry and Karen studied the Bible and were baptized, full of their newfound faith and zeal. This led them to fast growth spiritually. They were all in with church activities and Bible study. In the latter area, Jerry made up for lost time and dug deeply into learning the Bible. He became an avid reader of spiritual books and I think read every one I have written.

When we moved to Phoenix at the end of 2003, the church didn’t have an eldership, but the members were very urgent about the need to appoint some elders. The staff and non-staff opinion leaders had formed a group to act as an advisory council during this challenging time. They were a part of the elder appointment process by discussing and recommending possible candidates. Jerry’s name came up, but his relatively short experience as a Christian was seen as a possible deterrent to being appointed in a short timeframe. In a context dealing with the qualification of elders, 1 Timothy 3:6 warns against appointing new converts, because pride might be a problem for them. However, as those of us on staff discussed it, Jerry’s obvious humility ruled out our concerns in this area. As a result, Jerry was appointed with four others of us as the first eldership in Phoenix was established. Thank God that he was!

Jerry’s velvet side was seen in a number of ways. Like Jesus, he was very sensitive to women and children, and to men who needed that sensitivity. He and Karen made two trips to the Philippines with us, serving in many ways. Both of them facilitated groups for a very large Dynamic Marriage training session that I was leading. The rigorous schedule just about did us all in, but the Jones did a great job and endeared themselves to the churches in the Philippines.

On one occasion, we visited a HOPE Worldwide complex that housed a large group of children who had been abused in every way possible. When we arrived at the site, we were carefully informed that due to the abuse the children had suffered, they would probably be hesitant to relate to us in a normal, relaxed manner. Of course, the explanation made all the sense in the world. However, Jerry’s spirit was perceived immediately by the children, and the young ones were crawling all over him from the beginning, just like he was Santa Claus. I have some heart-warming photos from that special day. But that was Jerry for you.

Jerry and Karen were the coordinators for regular trips to an orphanage in Agua Prieta, Mexico just over the border of Arizona. This was a labor of love for them for many years and watching how the kids there responded to Jerry was about the same as the kids in the Philippines. Jerry was the man of steel and velvet, a man among men, full of the Spirit of Jesus. This unique blend of strength and sensitivity made Jerry one of the most unique elders I have ever worked with and it made him one of my trusted allies and closest friends. His spirit was infectious and his heart for God and people was large. He was dearly loved by his devoted wife, his children and grandchildren, and by his spiritual family. Thank you, God, for blessing us all with such a man! Go with God, my brother!

Passing the Torch – Do We Have a Plan? By Daren Overstreet

This will be the last in my three-part series about passing the torch to the next generation of leaders. I have been tremendously encouraged by the feedback I’ve received from the two previous articles and have come to realize we find ourselves in a spot where we have to be intentional about the future of our brotherhood. Each church leader, each regional family, and each continental group needs to ask ourselves: Do we have a plan?  I’d like to humbly suggest some things that might just help all of us be more intentional.

Look Into the Future

I get it. There’s so much to do!  I lead a church here in Seattle of nearly 600 members. We have a young staff, some very effective programs, a pretty good-sized budget, and layers of influence. My weeks, just like yours, are very busy. It’s far too easy to put your head down and fail to look up. Before I was in the ministry, I was a young man trying to be an architect, which meant I spent a lot of time (sometimes all day) staring at very small, detailed blueprints. If I wasn’t looking closely at those, I was trying to learn this new thing called CAD on the computer. After a couple of years of this, I realized I was having problems with my eyes, it was hard to focus. I immediately went to the eye doctor, and after taking a couple of tests and learning what I did all day, he said, “you are becoming myopic, which is a fancy word for near-sighted.” I was staring so intently at the small details right in front of me, I was losing focus on things farther away.

The solution?  He advised me to stop every 15 minutes during the day and focus on something way down the hall from my office!  In other words, take the time to focus farther away. Honestly, it was a valuable lesson then, and has been something I’ve come back to now. For us called with building God’s church: regularly take the time to look up from the details of today and focus on something much farther away. Are you having discussions in your church about things like: Where are we headed?  How are we investing now for the future?  What do we want to see in 5/10 years?  Everyone has to engage these questions somehow, or we will build our ministries in a very short-sighted way.

Have a Financial Plan

This one gets tricky. Not everything we invest in costs us money, but without setting aside some money and resources, we will have a very hard time raising up the next generation of leaders. I’m not saying it’s easy, and has to be done with care, especially since so many of our full-time leaders are diligently thinking about their own livelihood and have good ambitions to retire in a healthy way someday. I could be wrong, but I think most church Board of Directors would welcome a conversation about creatively setting aside some money for the next generation, while still helping their current senior staff feel taken care of and achieve their goals. I’m not sure I would work for a church whose BOD cared passionately about one but not the other. Having said that, here are some courageous questions we should be asking:

  1. Are our senior staff members engaged in good financial planning? Do they have a clear way to replace themselves and their salaries someday?  Are they currently putting things away for retirement?  These are things their local church needs to be sensitively talking with them about. On the administrative side, let’s be sure to understand this is a sensitive topic for ministry staff. On the ministry staff side, let’s please not get into the ugly habit of hanging onto our jobs at all costs – especially if we have failed to maintain an inspiring vision. Let’s work together humbly and carefully.
  2. Would the congregation, if asked, be willing to give more for some young people? Have you asked?  I know a lot of churches in need of young people, but I also know too many ministers who haven’t asked people to give more. It’s easy to get afraid and assume there are too many “asks” already. There may be, but you also may find a lot of people inspired to dig even deeper if they see a clear plan for the future. Ask.
  3. Are we who set the budgets including enough for young people in regard to training, internships, travel to conferences, etc.? Let’s be sure we’re prioritizing the next generation in our budget.

Create a Culture that Empowers and Gives Away Influence

One of the many things I love about the ministry strategy we embrace here in Seattle is that we try our best to help people feel like they own the church. Decisions have to be made, but where possible we try to collaborate (yes, it takes more time) together with each demographic beforehand. None of us here love meetings (gotta have them every now and then though!), but we do love surveys, polls, and vibrant discussions. It keeps us on our toes and helps us intentionally think about what the church looks like through each group’s eyes.

Amazon is one of the fastest growing companies in the world right now and is headquartered here in Seattle. Their founder, Jeff Bezos, recently told all employees and shareholders that Amazon is a “Day One” company, meaning each day is to be treated like a start up!  He invites ideas from everywhere and is always looking for ways to avoid becoming stagnant. Is it any wonder why the next generation is flocking to companies like this?  Truth is, good, decisive leadership in a church is biblical, and if we aim to please everyone, we will violate the scriptures at some point. On the other hand, in areas where influence and decisions can be “given away,” are we letting go and trusting others to step up. This stuff doesn’t necessarily matter to everyone, but BOY it matters to the younger generation. As it relates to creativity and vision, let’s be sure the church they worship in doesn’t lag too far behind the companies they work at.

Provide Ample Training

Recently I asked Lynne Green how old she and Scott were when they planted the Hong Kong church. She reminded me they were 27!  I know they happened to be two of the most talented people we know, and I know it’s been done plenty of times, but that’s still pretty young to plant a church oversees. I began to think…. why don’t we see more of that?  I’m not just talking about letting young people lead mission team plantings, but actually letting young people step out and lead even though they’re young. One of the reasons?  Sometimes we’re not as intentional about training as we used to be. Lynne said they were given multiple venues for training the year before they left, with an eye toward them leading a church. We have to get creative about identifying the young people who can lead churches and feel good about putting them through some rigorous training, even letting them cut their teeth in our established churches. Also, let’s be careful not to needlessly “raise” the age of young people. I hate to break it to you, but 40 is not the new 27!

Develop and Maintain a Strong Biblical Ethic

Timothy was a young guy trying to do ministry in Ephesus without the presence of his trainer, Paul. But Paul sent him some instructions about persevering, and gave him some solid reminders:

“Command and teach these things. 12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:11-13).

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead,a and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Paul was very clear with Timothy: stay completely devoted to God and his word, no matter what’s going on around you!  We have to dispel the modern myth that says young people don’t want clear, strong, biblical teaching. It’s just not true. Yes, they are demanding we talk about it in a way they understand, and they sure do have a lot more layers of nuance than I remember having at that age but make no mistake – most of them are drawn to the boundaries God lays out.

A few years ago, another brother in Seattle and I were curious as to how a local church here in Seattle was attracting and retaining hundreds of millennials. I got online and watched a lot of sermons by the main preacher. I’m not sure what I expected (dumbed-down sermons and light entertainment maybe?), but what I heard was clear, strong directives to use the scriptures as a guide, not the world around you!  At the time, it seemed more hard-line than a lot of the stuff in our own church!  The lesson?  Talk about the Bible in language that speaks to young people and be sure to discuss the thing that matter to THEM (women’s roles versus the Dead Sea Scrolls, for example), but do not water down God’s truth for them. They simply aren’t demanding that. Let’s get creative but maintain a strong commitment to biblical truth in our churches.

Find Ways to Hear Their Voice

This last suggestion might be the most important: create and develop ways to find out what they are thinking about the church we are building. It’s not easy, and it won’t be accomplished just by telling them from the pulpit that you’re interested in what they think. They have to be convinced of your genuine interest and then pulled in. One thing we’ve recently started in Seattle is a “Next Generation Council.” It is an idea presented to me by a young professional brother in his 20’s, and it is based on a leadership program started at his job. Create a place where the young people (under 33) can talk about the culture in their church in a way that then interacts with church leadership. The goal here is to create a committee of invested, spiritual individuals (led by one of their own) and give them talking points that will help inform us of the culture we’re building in the church. My experience here so far is that they will be very responsible with this, and it will help me understand what they value as I help the church with current programs and future visions.

I hope these thoughts have blessed you in some way. They are just my ideas. I respect the work everyone is doing, and I trust we’re all thinking in some way about how to empower the next generation to step up and lead us into the future. The churches we are building are worth it, the people behind us care about it, and God’s mission demands it.

Passing the Torch: Let Them Dream! by Daren Overstreet

As a person who grew up in the evangelical world, I remember vividly one of the things that specifically inspired me about the ICOC. Men and women read the scriptures, internalized them, and allowed God’s truth to blossom into big dreams and goals!  It was the commitment to bold spiritual dreams that inspired me almost 23 years ago to quit my lucrative job as an architect and become a ministry intern, which was anything at the time but lucrative!

Dreaming big is a beautiful part of our heritage together. We have planted churches all over the world and raised up leaders who have been able to make an impact very quickly. I know we have a lot of work yet to do, but I look at the cohesiveness of our missions societies, and the way we can work together for common goals, and it speaks loudly of that same collective desire to make sure we don’t waste our short time here, but stay devoted to not just having an impact, but having a BIG impact. I am proud of the men and women in our movement who have labored and sacrificed for the mission. Their big dreams and goals have allowed God to move in amazing ways.

Times change, culture shifts and paradigms evolve – but there is one thing inside all of us, no matter the generation, that is timeless and transcendent: we are spiritual dreamers (Psalm 126). As people made in the image of our Creator, it’s embedded in our DNA. God still holds the record for having the largest, craziest dream of all: enact a grand plan (that the majority of the world still scoffs at), rooted in selflessness, suffering, and ultimately the sacrifice of his Son, all with a goal of reconciling people back to an eternal relationship with Him. Wow!

When dreams subside, we’re not being true to who we are created to be. I’m sure you feel the same way I do – when I stop dreaming and pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I struggle, and inspiration wanes. However, I find that my dreams may not be the ones to pave the way for another 30-40 years of big impact in the ICOC. Don’t get me wrong, I can still think big, but in some ways I’m a less important stakeholder in the future than I was 20 years ago. For our church to not only endure, but to thrive, the dreams have to belong to the generation behind us. They have to own them as theirs, and we have to let them have ownership.

A Necessary Part of the Process – Mistakes!

This idea brings up a tension I can feel as someone in senior leadership. The big goals and dreams that allowed us to be who we are today also came with some mistakes. It’s okay though, for it’s a part of growing and maturing. For instance, even though there were mistakes made, I will never lament the commitment to being a church that practices discipleship. Even though we may have planted some churches in haste, I will never regret acting on the desire to aggressively reach a lost world. The work for the next generation is to make sure they follow in our footsteps as spiritual dreamers and be willing to sacrifice all their worldly pursuits and potential for the sake of God’s dreams – yet too many of them are not. However, the work for me, and many of those in my generation, is to allow their dreams to exceed what I am currently comfortable with. For sure, I don’t want them to have to make some of the same mistakes we did, but I need to not be overly concerned about that, or too cautious in allowing them to lead boldly. It’s a tricky thing to navigate.

This hit home for me recently in Seattle, as I was sitting in on a class taught by two zealous, visionary young leaders. The first one talked about having big dreams and pushing yourself to think bigger and bigger about what God can do. I was inspired, but at the same time, I thought quietly to myself things like: “Just be sure to get your degree first young man, you need a backup plan; make sure that zeal is accompanied by balance and careful thought; just be sure to get a lot of advice before running off and doing something rash!”  The next young man got up and spoke about imitation – picking someone in the fellowship who inspires you, then learning all you can from them, soaking it in and doing what they do!  Again I was REALLY inspired, but also thought (quietly): “Be careful with that imitation thing, you can get hurt by being naïve; imitation seems cut and dry, but it’s loaded with nuance and layers; and again – just be careful with that.”

Look, all of these are good, necessary nuggets of wisdom, and I hope the next generation does avoid some of the mistakes we made. But what if they don’t?  What if they repeat a lot of them?  Is that really the worst thing that could happen?  If we’re not careful, we can overly advise them, based on our own experiences, which can block them from having the faith God inherently put inside of them. Besides, you can make a good case that making dumb mistakes is a natural part of the maturation process anyway. I have two boys, and as much as I’ve advised them about not doing stupid things that might break a lot of bones, I also realize it’s a rite of passage that I can’t insist they skip.

Another Necessary Part – Scary Risks!

On a recent trip to the Grand Canyon, I begged my 18-year old son to stop standing so close to the edge of the 3,000+ foot drop-off!  He scoffed and kept telling me to relax. I was terrified, but also remembered that I took the same risks at his age!  I wouldn’t take that risk now, but I did when I was 18. Asking our kids to “skip” the stage where mistakes are made won’t allow them to mature in a natural way, and asking them to avoid, at all costs, the mistakes we made when we were full of ridiculous spiritual dreams is not only unfair but can get us in trouble with God.

There is a famous Old Testament example of this in Numbers 13-14: Caleb, Joshua and the 10 spies. Don’t worry, I’m not going to make the application that young people are faithful, while older people are lame. But there are some things to consider from this passage that will help us here. In it, God has his chosen people situated in the wilderness, and he’s ready for them to take the next step, into the promised land.

We know the context. God miraculously rescued his people from bondage and displayed his power and glory in ways designed to make them say, “Wow, God can literally do anything!” So Moses is instructed to send 12 leaders, one from each ancestral tribe, into the land of Canaan to scout it out. What is there?  Who lives there?  What is the land like?  And by the way, do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land. They obey the Lord and diligently scout out the land. They return together full of information, with two of them carrying a big cluster of grapes, a pomegranate and some figs on a pole.

Their report?  Yes, the land is fruitful and fertile, but the people are big, powerful and scary, and they live in powerful fortified towns. Let’s stay here and not mess with them, because we’ll lose!  Just then, Caleb stepped forward and “silenced” them. He saw the same thing they did, but believed that through God victory could happen. Of the 12 spies, only Caleb and Joshua highlighted the potential, not the problems. They saw fruit; the other men saw difficulty.

Potential Problems – Not the Focus!

This is a natural human phenomenon. My guess is the other 10 spies had some good reason for being a bit hesitant about boldly crossing over. The problem is, instead of being a part of the conversation, they let it be the main message. Their lack of faith infected the whole group of Israelites, causing panic and fear to set in. People talked about it, wept over it, and basically freaked out so badly that they contemplated overthrowing Moses and finding a new leader to take them back into Egypt, the place God had just delivered them from!  Here’s the thing, I don’t want to judge those people. They reacted the way a lot of us would, especially after having gone through so much. These were the chosen people of God, they just had trouble seeing God’s power as being bigger than the fears associated with following His bold plans.

Not all of these fears were founded, but I’m guessing some were based on experience. No matter where they came from, we have to be careful not to miss the main message – why was God ticked off enough at them to decide they wouldn’t enter the promised land?  They didn’t believe God could continue to do the miraculous things he’d done before (14:11). That’s it. In fact, a failure to continue to see God’s power through any difficulty, or despite any of our experiences, is seen by God as treating him with “contempt” (14:23). Not good. The only two allowed to cross over were the ones that simply saw the fruit and trusted the power of God, Caleb and Joshua. Young and naïve?  Yes, but boldly faithful.

Here is what I’m hoping we think about. Our movement is wonderful and was advanced by some young dreamers with crazy ideas. Really, some of those ideas worked, but they were crazy!  As much as we’ve seen God accomplish, there is still so much more work he wants to do through us. My hope is that the younger generations use us for our wisdom, wealth of experiences, guidance, and lessons learned. I also hope and pray that senior leaders like myself can work through our own disappointments or process any negative fruit of “bold dreams” in a healthy way, working hard to not let them overly influence the faith and idealism of those dreaming behind us.

I’ll be attending a meeting of Northwest leaders next weekend, and one of the topics to discuss is a new church planting in a Central Washington college town. We’ve scouted it out, talked about it, and need to come up with a plan. I see so much potential, along with some really good things I’d consider potential “risks” for planting a church there next year. However, I think what I’ll do is get the young dreamers in the room, and start with asking the question: “What do YOU think can happen?” And then listen, and let them dream!

Passing the Torch: Are We Inspiring the Next Generation to Lead? by Daren Overstreet

An Introduction by Gordon

The ICOC family of churches is facing a crisis of which too many are unaware. It is an age crisis in leadership. It is an issue all movements inevitably must figure out, and their ability to do so defines their ongoing impact. Early in this century we went through a serious upheaval, during which we all but lost a generation of young leaders. Many were taken off the ministry staff simply because our contributions dropped, producing a financial crisis. We couldn’t afford to keep everyone on staff, and as expected it was “last on, first off.” More sadly, many chose to get out of the ministry because of being seriously criticized for things we older leaders had done but most of them had not. It was a confusing time for everyone, and although much clearer now in retrospect, the damage was done to our pool of younger leaders.

Since then, in my opinion, we have not made the concentrated efforts needed to raise up younger leaders. Some good efforts have been made, but too many have not been made wisely or intentionally, failing to take into account what our younger members in general are thinking about how we do church. We tend to be far more traditional than we think and can be far too comfortable with the current status quo. While many of our older members have become satisfied with a less radical, more comfortable version of Christianity, our younger members have not. Just doing church is not what they are looking for – they are looking for ways to change the messed-up world of which they are a part. They want their lives to make a difference in their world and in eternity – a big difference!

In discussing these concerns recently with my good friend, Daren Overstreet, the congregational evangelist of our Seattle church, he shared some thoughts with me that I think deserve a wider audience. Thus, I asked him to write an article to post on my teaching ministry website (, which he has now done. He has at least two more articles in mind on the subject that he would like to write also, which I highly encourage. Most of the articles on my website are my own, but when someone else writes on a topic that I see as critically needed, I am anxious to publish it. Daren’s article is one of those. Please read it carefully and prayerfully.

 Daren Overstreet’s Article

We just returned from the Delegates meeting and the International Leadership Conference in Panama. It was a productive week, full of conversations about how we as a fellowship organize ourselves, stay connected to each other, and most importantly, how we collectively keep a hurting world on our hearts. Ultimately, the most significant thing we are doing together as church builders is helping lost souls find their place in God’s amazing story. An enormous part of that task is intentionally passing the torch on to the next generation. Our movement is nearly 40 years old, and I know we talk a lot about empowering those behind us, but are we intentionally doing it? Further, are we sure we’re teaching and modeling the things they feel are important? I’m talking to my fellow leaders and ministers who have been around awhile. We are building a church that can be a beacon of light right now, but unless we are intentional about thinking through what the next generation needs from us in order to lead into the future, our hard work now will be sadly short-sighted and struggle to endure.

The Seattle church belongs to the Northwest family of churches, and like all other regional families, we have strengths, weaknesses, and areas/opportunities for growth. A topic we’ve been talking about for the last couple of years is getting younger! And not just getting younger, but purposely raising up the young leaders required for us to see our churches not only thrive now but endure long after we’ve moved on. At a meeting a few years ago, we were all shocked when we looked around and saw mostly older, seasoned veterans in the room! The room contained quite a bit of wisdom, but not even close to enough engagement with the next generation. We have committed to making this different and have all been working hard to invest in young leaders, which includes having a much more inspiring vision for church planting and growth. We simply must have places to send them and their evangelistic dreams. Having said that, I was surprised and inspired to hear what THEY think is important as they watch us do ministry and hope for their chance. Let me explain…

This last July we had a Northwest leaders meeting in Spokane, Washington. During one session, I split the group up into 2 rooms: the younger people in one, the older leaders in another. We asked each group a series of questions. One question we asked the younger group was this: What do you want to see MORE OF in us as we pass the torch on to you? Of course they talked about more and better opportunities for training and leading, but a few of their answers jumped out at me, especially as one of the veteran leaders in the group. These answers spoke to the quality of the relationships and spirituality they see in us.  There are three specifically I hope we all think about:

Be More Unified

In other words, they would like us to show them a much more inspiring picture of unity. Ouch. I just returned from the Delegates meeting, and I think we would all agree, the older generation has strong opinions about how things should be! The younger generation also has strong opinions, but here’s the thing – we happen to be in charge and do most of the talking, so we are the ceiling, and the model for how to cooperate. That’s an incredible responsibility and an opportunity I hope we don’t miss. They are asking us to show them how to maintain biblical unity even when the room is loaded with strong, differing opinions.

In the Northwest, I happen to know what some of them are referring to. We’ve had some meetings where strong opinions were shared in the group. In some of these conversations, unity was modeled well, in others not so much. I knew we had a problem when after one of these meetings, a younger leader asked me this: “Hey, do you think that at the next meeting the young folks could get their own room? We’d love to talk about some stuff on our own.” Yikes. I may not know everything, but I DO know that if younger generation is asking for their own room, there is a problem. Do you know how your young people feel you and your fellow leaders are doing here? You may want to ask…

Humility About Weaknesses

We all know humility is the main ingredient for ministry longevity. Without humility, the next generation won’t last in ministry. But again, do they see it in us? Are we modeling biblical humility by, in Scott Green’s words, “putting our worst foot forward?” Do they see us older ministers being open to change? Do they see us being able to move off our opinions and yield to each other out of love? By the way, isn’t that what the bulk of the New Testament was all about? Do they see us working at getting better, even if we’ve been in the ministry for a long time? Believe it or not, they get inspired by that, it motivates them. In Seattle this last summer, we invited Steve Staten in to do an “appreciative inquiry” (turns out, that’s a fancy name for a survey!). We wanted to find out what we were doing well, and what we needed to grow in. It’s really helpful to regularly invite an outside perspective to take a look at your work, it really is.

After Steve presented his work to the church, I got up and responded. Among other things, I told the church that my desire for us is to be a “learning church,” which simply means I want us to be in the habit of learning what we can do better. To my surprise, of all the things I said during that service, it was that one comment that was highlighted. Why? Humility resonates with people who are trying their best to grow, and I’m telling you, seeing humility in their experienced leaders inspires the young people to want to grow more. Are we modeling what the apostle Paul felt deeply in 1 Timothy 1:15-16?

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”

I have no doubt that Paul putting his “worst foot” forward provided motivation and inspiration to the young leaders he was training. How are we doing in that area?

How to Receive Criticism and Feedback

If you lead any group over about five people, I know you receive a lot of feedback, and plenty of constructive criticism. How are you doing implementing the things people have asked you to consider changing? Young people today are flattened by criticism! In a world determined to make everyone feel great, a lot of young people simply do not know what to do with the knowledge that they may have some things to grow in. I remember a sermon recently preached by one of our ministry interns in Seattle. He’s 25 years old, and a very good preacher. Here is what he said about millennials: “We are the most educated group to ever live, the most socially connected, the most benevolent, the most empowered, the most environmentally conscious, the most ambitious, AND the most sensitive. We hate hearing criticism. We know we need it, we just need to learn how to process it correctly.”

Where do they learn that? From us. So the question is, how are we at hearing things about ourselves? When is the last time you invited input into your life? When is the last time you assembled your trusted leaders and asked them what they see in you that could make you better? When is the last time you asked your leadership group or staff, “what is it like to work with me?”

By the way, it’s not just our young leaders that need to see us working through the things that hold us back, it’s also important for our members. Admit it, as your congregation ages, which means they are increasingly confronted with how often they don’t measure up to righteousness, the sermons that resonate with them are NOT the ones filled with challenging goals and high idealism. Those are needed, but they find us truly inspiring when we’re sharing the various ways God is taking our flaws and refining us. “Perfect” preachers aren’t that inspiring, flawed ones that are using God’s word to grow more Christ-like are.

In my opinion, that is precisely what made Paul the most effective trainer of men in the New Testament. He was more competent than we’ll ever be, but deeply in touch with where his power came from, which allowed him to offer us scriptures like Philippians 3:12-15:

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things.”

Here is what concerns me in this area. The younger generation are getting jobs for companies that have realized the power of feedback and objective criticism. They have entire systems and departments in place for receiving and implementing it. The secular world simply cannot be better at modeling this for the next generation than we are as Christian leaders. None of us have arrived, and all of us have plenty to work on as we press heavenward. Let’s show the leaders coming behind us how to find glory in the growth process.

Do any of these things surprise you? When you think of passing the torch to the next generation, are these areas you would think to spend time and energy. A common complaint from the younger generation is this: “You older folks are answering questions we’re not asking!” Let’s make sure we’re asking them what matters to them. A lot is at stake.

More to come…

The Young Saul: Zeal or Anger?

Introductory Note: This article is actually an excerpt of the first few pages of my book, “The Apostle Paul: Master Imitator of Christ.” The book is one of my longest (272 pages) and also one of my most in-depth. Greater spirituality must include greater knowledge, meaning that we cannot remain satisfied with shallow reading and study. The writer of Hebrews put it this way in Hebrews 5:12-14: “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13  Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” In the interest of promoting deeper study, I wrote this book. In the interest of promoting deeper study through this book, I am providing this brief excerpt to whet your appetite for reading it. Enjoy!

Acts 8:1–3

And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

Acts 9:1–2

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

This first mention of Paul (using his Hebrew name, Saul) is shocking, but it also raises a number of questions. Trying to figure out the context of a passage means that we not only look for the explicit information provided in it, but also the implicit information. Regarding the latter, some implicit information is absolute, while other information may or may not be implied. But the fact that it may makes raising the possibilities important and helps the Bible come alive. Using our imaginations can fill in many blanks for us, as long as we stay within the bounds of what would seem to be at least possible and reasonable. Thus, what is taught here explicitly is that Paul (I’ll just start using the Greek form of his name, since that is the one that we know him by best) was totally in favor of making Stephen the first Christian martyr. Next, we see that Paul’s hatred for the Christian cause wasn’t assuaged in the least by this one murder; he wanted to kill every Christian or at least inflict as much emotional and physical pain on them as possible. Then we see that he was verbally quite outspoken against disciples, and finally, that he was going all the way to Damascus to arrest both men and women who were dedicated to Jesus. Commenting that Paul seemed to be a bit of a madman isn’t a stretch, based only on what is said in these texts. Hence the question about whether he was driven solely by zeal for God (as he then understood God) or by some sort of intense anger is a reasonable one.

One reason for the question is based on our understanding of Jewish discipleship in this era. To follow a Jewish leader as your mentor involved much more than simply learning the Law, and the traditions based on it, from him. Discipleship meant that you were committed to becoming as much like this person whom you were learning from as possible. In fact, it involved a level of committing to imitate them to a point that even those of us in churches that employ discipling would be quite uncomfortable with their practices. Honestly, those practices wouldn’t be dissimilar to some of what we look back on in our history as being clearly wrong. So, why is that practice of discipleship within Judaism so relevant to our question about Paul’s motivation for persecuting Christians? It is relevant because we not only know who his mentor was; we also know something of how he chose to view and treat Christians. Suffice it to say that it was far different from Paul’s choices.

His name was Gamaliel, perhaps the most famous Rabbi of the day. We are introduced to him in Acts 5, when the apostles were creating havoc in Jerusalem. A special meeting of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling body, had been called, and the confrontation between the High Priest and Peter and the other apostles led to these Jewish leaders being “furious” with the apostles and quite ready to have them put to death. In the midst of this wild atmosphere, Gamaliel spoke—calmly and reasonably. Whatever else Paul may have imitated in Gamaliel, he had not imitated his demeanor and approach in emotionally charged settings. The conclusion of his speech was quite striking: “Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:38–39).

Thus, we can safely say that Paul’s intense anger was not based upon imitating the one who was training him; it came from some other source. What might that source have been? I have two ideas, both of which are possibly implied and not stated clearly, but each of which has some biblical support (with a little imagination). Before delving into these, it must be admitted that whatever may be said about Paul’s anger level and its source, he was an extremely zealous person. That was true when he was a Jew only and it was also true when he became a Christian Jew. He was a man of passions when it came to his service of God—period. But he had an anger level that begs for a deeper examination and explanation.

Explanation 1: Paul Sensed the Truth about Jesus and Hated It

It is common for us humans to sense an unwelcome truth before we are prepared to admit it. We try to block it out of our conscious minds and keep it at the subconscious level. Most of us had exactly that reaction when seriously studying what the Bible said about our salvation for the first time (and maybe the second and third time, etc.). Is that not so? Many of us thought we were saved already and didn’t want to admit the possibility that we might be wrong and therefore yet in a lost condition. Further, by admitting that we were lost, we were also tacitly admitting that many of our relatives and friends were also lost. We knew what we had been basing our supposed salvation on and what they were basing theirs on as well. This is such a common phenomenon that we hardly need further illustrations, although there are many that could be mentioned.

Paul knew the Scriptures (Old Testament) as well as almost anyone in Jerusalem, the mecca of the Jewish religion. When he heard the Christian leaders quoting Messianic passages, he didn’t hear any passages with which he was unacquainted; he just heard a different interpretation of them. Jesus tied the Jewish leaders in knots using the exact same technique. In Galatians 1:14, here is what Paul said of himself: “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” By the time he wrote Galatians, his humility level had increased significantly, and to state that he had been the top student of Gamaliel wouldn’t be difficult to believe. As one becoming highly esteemed in Judaism at a young age, following in the steps of his teacher, admitting that the top echelon of Judaic scholars was completely wrong about Jesus being the Messiah of their Scriptures would have been unthinkable at first. Such an admission would not only call his own salvation into question; it would also call into question the salvation of all of his current heroes.

When Jesus finally confronted Paul personally, he made an interesting comment found only in Acts 26:14. The original account of Paul’s conversion is found in Acts 9. Paul then repeated that account in Acts 22 as he spoke to the Jews in Jerusalem who were ready to kill him. Finally, he repeated the account in Acts 26 to Roman officials, primarily King Agrippa, while imprisoned in Caesarea. In all three accounts, Jesus’ first comment to Paul is recorded: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” For whatever reason, when he addressed Agrippa, Paul added an additional sentence spoken by Jesus when he appeared to him, as recorded in Acts 26:14: “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” Paul also adds in this verse that Jesus spoke to him in Aramaic, a fact not mentioned in the other two accounts. I will include the three accounts of Paul’s conversion in an appendix in parallel columns if you would like to observe the similarities and the differences (asking yourself the question as to why these differences exist in their broader context).

Goads were sharp sticks used to prod livestock when they were not acting as their owners wanted. Similarly, Paul was not going in the direction for which he had been created, and was thus kicking against the goads. This was a common saying of the times in application to humans and not just livestock. The question is, precisely what did Jesus mean by it? Did he simply mean that Paul wasn’t accepting the gospel and his ultimate mission? Or was he implying also that deep inside his heart, he had already heard enough to sense that he was wrong. In the latter case, it would have been a matter of his conscience hurting him, even if he was unaware of this phenomenon at the time. Both this explanation of Paul’s anger and the next one involving the latter part of Romans 7 assume that his conscience was involved.

For the scholarly world, this assumption ushers in a problem. Some years ago, a Bible scholar named Krister Stendahl wrote a lengthy article entitled “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West.” In this article, known now as a classic, he argued that Jews in Paul’s time didn’t struggle with guilty consciences. According to him, that is characteristic of a later form of Christianity in Western culture and popularized by writers like Martin Luther. Stendahl denied that Romans 7:14–25 applied to Paul before he was a Christian or after he became one. Of course, Paul did say that he had fulfilled his duty to God in all good conscience (Acts 23:1) and was faultless regarding righteousness based on the Law (Philippians 3:6). However, he also said that our consciences can be hardened (1 Timothy 4:2) and can be an unsafe guide (1 Corinthians 4:4). I think Jeremiah’s comment about the heart must be kept in mind when discussing conscience: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Whatever else may be said, if having a guilty conscience is a learned behavior, as Stendahl implies, then Cain was an amazingly fast learner (Genesis 4); nor can David’s condition of being “conscience-stricken” (1 Samuel 24:5) be blamed on Luther or Western culture. I believe that Paul’s conscience, whether he was in touch with it or not, may well have had something to do with his anger level and extreme reactions toward disciples of Jesus.

Explanation 2: Paul Vented His Legalistic Spiritual Frustrations on Christians

As stated, this possible rationale for Paul’s extremity is also a conscience issue. If legalism could be perfected, Paul would be the champion. No one was more devoted to works salvation or a performance merited religion than he. His own statements along these lines speak for themselves. Perhaps that is why God chose him to be the apostle to the Gentiles rather than the apostle to the Jews, just to keep him in a place of having to constantly deal with Jewish legalists in order to protect his Gentile ministry. At any rate, one who strives with all his might to be righteous by meritorious works rather than by grace through faith is destined to be filled with frustrations and hurts, which inevitably lead to anger. Anger is a secondary reaction, a response to some type of hurt, even if the anger appears almost immediately in a given situation. If the hurts are deep enough, even from the distant past, they can prompt almost a constant state of anger, generating an emotional “hair trigger.”

In Paul’s case, his words in Romans 7:14–25 show some deep frustration and hurt that could easily have been vented through anger at others. The old saying about a man coming home from a bad day at work only to yell at his wife and children and kick the dog reflects this pattern. We often take out our pain on others, sadly. Who can claim to have never done this? Therefore, if Paul is describing his emotional condition as a legalist prior to his conversion in Romans 7, it could account for his anger at those who were saying that salvation could only be had by God’s grace demonstrated through the cross of Christ. It was that message that proved to be the stumbling block for the Jews who rejected Christ’s substitutionary death and their own woeful sinfulness (Romans 9:30–33).

Of course, in order to accept this explanation as a possible reason for Paul’s anger, you would have to accept the interpretation of Romans 7 that applies it to Paul’s preconversion days, in spite of the fact that he writes here in first person. Yet this is a literary device designed to make something more impactful emotionally for the reader—to make them feel the force of the wording in a more personal way. Although this interpretation of Romans 7 is much debated, I do believe it is the correct one. Whether it accounts for a significant part of Paul’s extreme anger or not might still remain a question, but I think this interpretation of the passage is correct, for a number of reasons. Rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel (my wheel, at least!), here is what I wrote in my exposition on the book of Romans, Romans: The Heart Set Free, under the heading of seeing ourselves as being dead to the law as paradoxical:

To really understand the law and the condemnation it wrought in our lives, we must understand its paradoxical nature (vv14–25). The paradoxes are difficult to deal with on a consistent basis, especially on an emotional level. For example, we are not under law (Romans 6:14), yet we are under law (1 Corinthians 9:21). We are not saved by works (Ephesians 2:8–9), yet we are not saved without works (James 2:14–26). We must obey with all of our hearts, yet our obedience does not merit righteousness. We cannot work to earn our salvation, yet we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling! (Philippians 2:12).

Obviously, the line between correct and incorrect understanding can seem to be a fine one indeed. When we live with the correct understanding, life is fulfilling; when we live with the incorrect one, life is frustrating. Romans 7:14–25 graphically describes the latter situation. Much ink has been used discussing who Paul must have been describing in this passage. Some say it describes Paul as a Christian, while others say it describes Paul as a Jew. A variation of the second view claims that Paul used the first person in the present tense to be more graphic in showing his frustration as a Pharisee and of any person who seeks law justification. This view seems to square with the text and other texts the best.

On the surface, Paul was likely not in touch with the amount of his inner turmoil until grace found his heart. In Philippians 3:6, he wrote that he was “faultless” in legalistic righteousness. Addressing the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, he claimed to have lived before God in all good conscience (Acts 23:1). Surely Paul was one of the most exemplary Jewish leaders in all of Israel. But I have to wonder just why he was so filled with rage at Christians. A good amount of frustration and inner turmoil seems to be the most likely answer. After all, this phenomenon is not uncommon, for we all learn to stuff inner pain when we do not believe that solutions exist.

On the practical level, all of us experience the feelings expressed in this passage at various times, for all of us slip into a legalistic mindset. This is why the passage is written at this point of Paul’s argument¾he drives home the truth of how useless a performance orientation actually is! God does not want any of us to feel such frustration and failure. Being guilt ridden does not bring God glory, and it does nothing to produce in us real spirituality. In fact, living with a Romans 7 conscience is about the poorest advertisement for Christianity that we could possibly find.

Certainly this passage was not intended to be descriptive of the disciple’s normal life, although it can seem to be. Note the following biblical principles that demonstrate God’s plan for our spiritual victory over the misery depicted in Romans 7:

  1. We are under bondage to Christ, not to sin (Romans 6:16).
  2. We sin, but we do not practice sin (1 John 3:7–9).
  3. Christ, not sin, dwells in us (Galatians 2:20).
  4. We can follow through in faithful obedience with God’s power (1 Corinthians 10:13; Philippians 2:12–13, 4:13).
  5. Although there is a struggle between flesh and spirit (Galatians 5:17), the Spirit wins in a demonstrable way, for by his power, our lives can be worthy of imitation (1 Corinthians 4:16–17, 11:1; Philippians 3:15–17, 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:10–12).
  6. The law of the Spirit frees us from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2).
  7. We are filled with rejoicing (Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16), not with the frustration and failure that is described in Romans 7! Too many of us do live in Romans 7 and need desperately to move on to life in Romans.
  8. The most important ingredient in making that transition is how we see God and how we think he sees us.

Although there are other possible explanations for his intense degree of anger toward Christians, I think these two are the most likely, perhaps in combination. In describing Paul as a person, he was without doubt amazingly devoted to God as he saw him through the eyes of a Jewish legalist. Further, in my opinion, he was also the very epitome of the “angry young man.” He was full of zeal for God, a quality that remained for the rest of his life, but there seems to be more to it than that. In his non-Christian days, his personality went beyond zealous to the point of anger and hatred. We can debate the reason(s) behind that fact, but the fact itself would be difficult to debate successfully.