Sermon: Holding Up Each Other’s Hands

From the life of Moses, three events clearly expose the leader’s need for help at different points in his life. How did God help Moses when he was fearful, weary, or overburdened?

Taking Romans Personally

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” – Romans 12.1-2

Humility Quote C. S. LewisPaul connects Romans 12 (“therefore”) to the mountain of previous teaching from Romans 1-11. Before he presents what we should do, Paul deals with great theological truths about what God has already done and how we stand in relation to Him because of our faith in Jesus Christ.

Beyond being merely an intellectual exercise, the renewing of our minds includes actually obeying God–doing that which is good and right–which Paul immediately outlines for us in Romans 12.3-15.7. Here’s a quick breakdown of what is covered:

  1. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought; evaluate yourself properly (12.3-8)
  2. Love genuinely (12.9-13)
  3. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep (12.14-21)
  4. Subject yourself to the government (13.1-7)
  5. Love your neighbor as yourself (13.8-10)
  6. Walk properly, as in the daytime (13.11-14)
  7. Welcome the weak in faith (14.1-15.7)

Just about all of this has to do with submitting ourselves to others. How do we actually present our lives as living sacrifices to God and renew our minds? We follow Christ’s footsteps (see 13.14; 15.1-13) by assuming the lowest place, subjecting ourselves to every ordinance of God, submitting to one another in love, yielding to our enemies, and welcoming brethren with whom we don’t see eye to eye.

Humility Quote by D. A. CarsonIn a conversation last night with a friend, something hit me. He asked (in light of the “bearing with the weak in faith” from Romans 14) how we decide who is stronger and who is weaker?

“How can you know who is the weak one?” he asked.

“Whoever the other guy is, that’s the weak one,” I jokingly replied.

But silliness aside, I’m pretty sure that is not the question God would have us ask, because if we use Romans 14 to start a big row over who is weak and who is strong, does that not tend to divide rather than unify, as Paul insisted upon?

As I read Romans 12-15, God speaks to me, personally. I know He didn’t write Romans directly to me, but I should read it as a message from God to me. In other words, I don’t read it to figure out how you ought to change in your actions towards me; rather I read to discover how I might repent and change in my actions towards you. I can only worry about and change myself, and God has only given me control over one person on this planet!

FlowerIf every Christian read the Bible this way, wouldn’t we make gigantic strides towards unity? If every husband only worried about being the right kind of husband and didn’t worry about forcing his wife to be the right kind of wife…if every wife only worried about respecting her husband properly…if every brother only worried about how he was treating his fellow siblings and not about what they did to him or didn’t do for him…how powerful would that be?!

Is that how you read God’s word?

“If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12.18)

Lindie’s Last Resort

Tired WomanLindie’s marriage had been crumbling slowly over the past three years, ever since her husband Charles had decided to take a high-profile and demanding position at a local law firm. Slowly, their time for walking in the neighborhood, holding hands, and reading together in the evenings evaporated. She had suspected for a while that he’d been unfaithful, but she couldn’t prove it.

Her job was wearing her thin, as her boss continued to pile on extra responsibility with little extra pay. No longer did she covet the corporate life; now she just wanted to stay home and rest for a while, but Charles insisted she hold out for just a little while longer until they were financially sound. When will that be? she wondered. When will he be ready to have the kids we talked about before we married?

One weekend the perfect storm seemed to be brewing, as her overbearing boss demanded she finish a project over the weekend, her husband texted that he’d be flying to Chicago for a weekend work thing, and a sore throat was coming on. Life was the pits.

Lindie decided to call Sally, a spiritually-minded friend from church, and ask her to meet at a nearby Starbucks. Sally arrived to find Lindie almost in tears.

“What’s going on?” she asked, concern ringing in her tone.

Starbucks meetingLindie proceeded to unload her worries, concerns, and headaches right out on that little Starbucks table. As she unpacked each one, Sally felt more and more deeply the weight of Lindie’s life situation. Finally, Lindie took a breath.

“How long have you been keeping all this bottled up?” Sally asked. Lindie managed a small shrug. “Lindie, you don’t need to carry all this yourself!”

“I know. But Charlie–”

“I’m not talking about Charlie right now; I’m talking about me and the church! That’s what we’re here for, Lindie. And I’m talking about God. Have you shared any of this with Him?”

That question startled Lindie. In fact, she was surprised at herself. She had not even thought to pray about this for quite some time. Maybe she didn’t want to bother God with her situation. Maybe she felt it would reveal her weakness, her failure as a wife and a woman, to have to ask God for help in this. She felt like it was her duty to deal with all of it because it was her life.

“No,” she finally admitted, “I haven’t. But I now see I should. I suppose my life has finally come to the point where all I can do is pray.”

Sally smiled at her friend, but her head was gently shaking from side to side. “No, Lindie, I want to show you something.” She opened her purse and pulled out a small Bible, flipping to the middle. “Here it is. Psalm 103. I just read it this morning:

“Bless the LORD, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

After a pause, Sally asked, “Does it sound to you like David’s prayer here was a prayer of last resort?”

Bible and Pen“What do you mean?”

“You just said it seems like all you have left is prayer–like it’s your last resort. Does it sound like David prayed that way?”

“I guess not,” Lindie admitted. “But what’s your point?”

Sally looked into Lindie’s eyes. “I think you haven’t been talking to God about your life at all, Lindie. You are walking this life as if you have the power to figure everything out all by yourself and bear the whole load all by yourself…and God never intended for you to live like that! If you read the rest of Psalm 103, you find out that God loves His people very much.” Sally began scanning the chapter again. “He does not deal with us according to our sins. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear Him. For He knows our frame, He remembers that we are dust.

“Doesn’t that make you swell up with just little bit of pride in God? Doesn’t that make you want to love Him?”

Lindie had to admit those ancient words did cause a certain swelling of joy in her heart. As she listened to her friend read, she began to realize how small she was…and how BIG God is.

There would be much more conversation between the two friends, but that moment served as a catalyst to begin changing her thinking. She shouldn’t just pray to God when things seemed the worst, when the night was darkest, when she had no alternative. She had been walking a lonely and (she had to admit) sinful walk by keeping her Creator at arms length. She began to see how much she needed God every single day, every step of the way, in both the bad times and the good. And God really did care about her. Her! Not because she was so special, but because God is so awesomely kind and merciful!

Indeed, bless His holy name! she thought to herself, feeling hope.

Helping Out an Enemy

Helping outMy wife and I watched War Room a couple of days ago, and we both highly recommend the movie.

Slight spoiler alert…

In one of the scenes, the main couple drives up to a guy in a business suit and nice car who has a flat tire. It so happens (of course) the stranded man has been sour and belligerent towards our story’s protagonist, and so we wonder if the man will stop and help his foe. The short scene packs the right kind of punch as we see our hero step out of his car to help his enemy while his wife and daughter watch.

I ran across this verse in my readings this morning:

Exodus 23.4-5 “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.”

What an excellent illustration of both “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk. 12.31; Rom. 13.9), which undergirds the even harder instruction to “love your enemy” and “pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5.43-48)!

If you see an enemy in trouble and you can help him / her, help! It’s what God does. While we were yet enemies Christ died for us…

Notice in Exod. 23.5 the situation God describes: “If…you would refrain from helping it…” In other words, we sometimes find someone we don’t like in a tangled mess, and in the darkness of our hearts we snicker, “This ought to be good,” when we should really be thinking, “I reckon I should help her out because, after all, that’s what I would want from her if the situation were reversed.” Yes, sometimes we just don’t want to help out; we would refrain from it. But God insists, “You shall surely help him with it.”

Yes, Lord. I need an attitude adjustment.