Tag Archives: Romans 12

Why is simple complicated?

given on Sunday, July 16, 2017

Scripture connections:

Opening: Romans 5:10-11, NLT

10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

 Sermon scriptures:

Romans 11:3-6, NLT

Elijah the prophet complained to God about the people of Israel and said, “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”[a]

And do you remember God’s reply? He said, “No, I have 7,000 others who have never bowed down to Baal!”[b]

It is the same today, for a few of the people of Israel[c] have remained faithful because of God’s grace—his undeserved kindness in choosing them. And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is—free and undeserved.

Romans 12:1-2, NLT

And so, dear brothers and sisters,[a] I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.[b] Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Romans 12:9-18, NLT

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection,[a] and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.[b]12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Closing: Romans 16:17-20, NLT

17 And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them. 18 Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people. 19 But everyone knows that you are obedient to the Lord. This makes me very happy. I want you to be wise in doing right and to stay innocent of any wrong. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. May the grace of our Lord Jesus[a] be with you.

 Reflection: Why is simple complicated?

One of my favorite cookies is a ‘no-bake’ cookie. Not only does it have all the chocolate one could possibly want, but also it does not include the extra work of baking them, especially on hot summer days. The no-bake cookie is simple, right? Well, the name of the cookie may be somewhat misleading.

In a similar manner being a Christian is really simple, too. How difficult is it to remember the new law versus the Ten Commandments of the old law? Surely being Christian is simple. Love God. Love one another.

When God decided to send Jesus with a much less complicated law, those who were faithful may have understood the Ten Commandments; but religious leaders had continued to add layers of rules to their lifestyle that complicated faithful living and could have lead one to breaking a law that they may not have even known existed.

Being faithful was not simple.

Jesus delivered a simple way to be faithful: Love God first, then love one another as you want to be loved. How simple can it get? Yet we tend to complicate even the new law. Paul knew the complicated law of the Jewish faith, so when he began his work sharing the new law delivered by Jesus, he wrote letters to keep encouraging the young churches.

Paul referred back to the ancient prophet Elijah about how God had not forgotten his people even though it may have felt like it. God does not forget the faithful Jewish people; he just tried to simplify their laws by sending Jesus to demonstrate how to live a faithful life. Paul’s letter goes into detail about the personal responsibility of all new disciples—whether Jew or Gentile:

  • 12:1 give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you.
  • 12:2 let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.
  • 12:3 Don’t think you are better than you really are.

 

Being a Christian should be simple, but we tend to complicate lives by what we do and do not do.

Paul continues to explain to the Roman church that God has given us each gifts to use: prophecy to speak out with faith; gift of serving; the gift of teaching, gifts of encouraging, giving, and showing kindness. The list is not complete, it simply lists a few of the skills God gives us to use in our lives, but we tend to complicate our lives with some very negative behaviors as Paul goes on to explain:

  • 12:9 Don’t just pretend to love others.. . . Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.
  • 12:10 Love. . with genuine affection and . . .honor each other.
  • 12:11 Never be lazy. . .
  • 12:12 . . . be ready to help . . . eager to practice hospitality.

 

The list details the simple law of loving one another. Sadly, though we can be criticized for what we do, but living simply means ignoring those who “persecute you” and as Paul says in 12:16-17:

 

Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

 

Just like no-bake cookies. The name makes the cookie sound easy, but the instructions do not always include the difficult tweaks that good cooks know make the cookie so scrumptious or how to make them extra special with secret ingredients.

Paul listed the special instructions so the Gentiles could live in community with the Jews who had generations of instruction in living faithfully. The Jewish faithful had to have the special instructions so they could adjust to a simpler lifestyle and not judge the Gentiles. We, too, need to read through Paul’s letters to remember how to live faithfully, also.

Ask the best cooks you know what the secret is to their no-bake cookies and you will get a list of suggestions just as Paul’s letters provide a range of suggestions to the various churches. In Romans, he begins wrapping up his letters with a few other points:

  • Chapter 13: “Respect for authority”
  • Chapter 14: “The Danger of Criticism”
  • Chapter 15: “Living to Please Others

 

And then he concludes the letter with personal notes and plans. These last chapters are like the special notes the experienced cooks write in the margins of their recipes—some even dating when they made the recipe and for whom it was made.

My no-bake cookies are seldom the same any two times. Why? I tweak the recipe based on what ingredients I have available, who the eaters are, and even the time I spend on making them. And what are the notes along my recipe card? The most critical one is to let it boil at least 3 minutes. My favorite tweak is peanut butter added to the recipe. I have even changed it to a non-chocolate no-bake cookie, but it is not greeted as favorably as a dark chocolate version is.

Being a faithful Christian should be easy with God’s new law delivered by Jesus Christ. Why, then, do we seem to make it so difficult? Paul knew personally the extent of the law’s change, and he did whatever he could to encourage the new church to live simply. In our personal lives, we must spend some time evaluating our own practices. Are we living faithfully? Are we respecting each other? Are we demonstrating our gifts in all the ways that we can to love one another?

The recipe may sound easy since it says “no-bake cookies,” but the more we develop our discipleship as Christians, we learn how to tweak the law to make the best Christians we can of ourselves. We need to work to be better. We also need to work together to be the church God asks us to be. When we fail, then we need to reread the recipe and try again. The result will be worth the reward.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

You have delivered us a message, a recipe for faithfulness.

Generations have preserved the simple instructions,

But we look for ways to make them even easier to follow.

 

Just like excellent cooks know, the simplest recipes

Need practice to reach perfection.

Guide us in following your words so we too may reach perfection.

 

Help us to toss out what has not worked

And to try again to find the best ways to love one another

And to carry your message to others in our community.

 

Open our hearts so we can love freely.

Open our minds so we can learn from our mistakes.

Open our doors to all your children who seek

life now and life eternal

with you, our father,

with Jesus Christ your son,

and with the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

 

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God’s Gifts: Accepting and using spiritual gifts

given on Sunday, December 14, 2012:  Gifts even in midst of a national tragedy.

        Jesus loves me!  This I know,

         for the Bible tells me so.

         Little ones to him belong;

         they are weak, but he is strong.  [UMC 191]

 

Those words became a litany running through my head as soon as I stumbled into the news that the Sandy Hook Elementary School was the sight of an unthinkable mass shooting.

Elementary children, kindergartners, first, second, third, and fourth graders.  Why?

Teachers, principals, secretaries, paraprofessionals, and maintenance personnel all hovering around children doing all they could to protect them.  In loco parentis. (The legal definition means that in the absence of parents, the teacher/administrator, etc. serves as the parent).  When parents drop their children off at the school door, these professionals become the parents while the children are in their care.  Why?

The litany rings through my head again:

Jesus loves me!  This I know,

         for the Bible tells me so.

         Little ones to him belong;

         they are weak, but he is strong.

Jesus, the teacher, is God’s gift to us.  Even though it has been 2,000 years plus since the man Jesus began walking this earth, we are still his students.  While Jesus lived as a man teaching us, he was also serving in loco parentis.

God loves his children so much that he sent Jesus to be present with us and to teach us how to live.  Each and every one of us, whether family, friend, or stranger, are enrolled in life’s classroom.  Not one of God’s children is ignored.  Not one of us is overlooked or deemed dispensable.  Not one of us goes without receiving God’s gift of grace.

Turning on the TV these last 48 hours has thrown us into the chaos of today’s world.  It is filled with evil, and the shooting yesterday once again causes the world to scream out ‘Why?’   No answer can make sense of this tragedy, but the litany continues:

         Jesus loves me!  This I know,

         for the Bible tells me so.

         Little ones to him belong;

         they are weak, but he is strong.

Jesus is our teacher, the textbook is the Bible, and the Holy Spirit provides the fruits that enrich our lives.  As students we also have the ability to learn.  Not one child born into this earthly world is ignored.  Each one receives special gifts to use while living on this globe.

During the horrific moments at Sandy Hook Elementary School, as well as any of the horrific moments recorded in time or experienced by any one of us, spiritual gifts leap into action.

Remember that God has given us a spiritual basket of fruits that In, Following Jesus, Carolyn Slaughter defines as “a cluster of character qualities that are progressively produced in us through a life constantly yielded to the Holy Spirit.  [p.55]”  Those nine fruits are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Slaughter continues to explain that the spiritual gifts are “a supernatural power within you to serve others. … more than a human talent or a skill that you have learned; it is the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, empowering you in a specific way to serve well…  It is how the Spirit chooses to be revealed through you…as a teacher, a helper, an administrator, or any of the other spiritual gifts.  [p.64]”

Undeniably Slaughter’s examples were mirrored in the tragedy in yesterday’s shooting because those teachers, helpers, administrators and all the others responding to the 911 call had to rely on those spiritual gifts to continue working for the well-being of the children.  At that moment, the world witnessed God’s spiritual gifts in action.

The list of spiritual gifts is long, 20 according to Slaughter, but think of how many different talents and skills it takes to run this world.  All of God’s children have spiritual gifts and all are needed to keep this world in operating condition.  Yesterday’s events also provided a worldwide broadcast of how well individual gifts fit together to meet the needs of the moment.

Reviewing the list of spiritual gifts may seem like a classroom drill, but it also causes us to stop for a moment and consider just what it takes for a global community to work fluidly:

  • Exhortation (encouragement)—ability to encourage people and assist them in moving toward spiritual maturity and personal wholeness; uses skills of comfort and confrontation, encouragement and instruction.
  • Giving—give of material wealth freely and with joy; uses physical resources in response to assessed needs.
  • Leadership—ability to see ‘the big picture’ and assemble component parts; uses ability to motivate, coordinate, and direct efforts.
  • Teaching—ability to understand and clearly communicate God’s truths to others in ways that leads them to apply God’s truth to their lives.
  • Prophecy—ability to proclaim God’s truth in a way that’s relevant to current situations and to envision how God would will things to change.
  • Mercy—ability to perceive suffering of others and to minister to them with empathy and without condemnation.
  • Serving—demonstrates God’s love through the ability to identify the needs of others and selflessly working to meet them.
  • Wisdom—ability to understand and apply biblical and spiritual knowledge to practical, everyday problems.
  • Knowledge—ability to understand, organize, and effectively use information … esp. for the advancement of God’s purposes.
  • Faith—ability to recognize what God wants to accomplish and confidence God will see it done.
  • Healing—ability to effectively call on God for curing illness and restoration of health in a supernatural way.
  • Discernment of spirits—ability to recognize what is of God and what is not of God.
  • Helps—ability to work alongside others and see the value of accomplishing practical and often behind-the-scenes tasks that promote God’s kingdom.
  • Speaking in tongues—ability to supernaturally speak in a language, known or unknown to others, with no prior knowledge of that language.
  • Interpretation of tongues—ability to understand and communicate the words of those speaking in tongues.
  • Pastoring (Shepherding)—ability to guide and care for a group of Christians.
  • Miracles—ability to effectively call on God to do supernatural acts that glorify God.
  • Administration—ability to organize information, events, or material.
  • Apostleship—ability to see overall picture and respond by starting new churches, pioneering new ministries, or ministering transculturally (missionaries).
  • Evangelism—ability to share the gospel with those who don’t know God.

Yes, this is a long list, but it is one individual’s—Carolyn Slaughter’s—list created and defined based on the scriptures from Romans 12:4-8, I Corinthians 12:4-11, 27-31, and Ephesians 4:11-13.  Other people have made other lists that are similar; for instance, Howard Gardner has crated his list of intelligences.

Jesus loves me!  This I know,

         for the Bible tells me so.

         Little ones to him belong;

         they are weak, but he is strong.

The litany continues.  Jesus, the son of God, loves us.  God loves us unconditionally.  Can you imagine the tears he shed yesterday?  At the same time, he provided all the spiritual gifts needed to manage the emergency as it was underway as well as after the gunshots stopped.

Christmas is typically considered a time of great joy, yet in Newton, Connecticut, joy is accompanied by unbelievable pain.  It takes the enormity of God’s love, distributed by his children through an enormous range of spiritual gifts, to take a community—even a nation—through the process of healing.

Verse two of the litany:

Jesus loves me!  This I know,

                           as he loved so long ago,

                           taking children on his knee,

                           saying, “Let them come to me.”

God so loved the world that he gave his only son.  God as the Holy Spirit gives us spiritual fruit that enriches our lives dramatically.  God also gives us the spiritual gifts that allow us to interact with others to take the children on our knees or to preserve this earth or to love one another in as many different ways as we can to transform this world.

While the joy of living can sometimes be sucked out of our souls, we also know that the pain is temporary, even if it is never forgotten.  We accept God’s grace, we accept the garden he has provided us, and we experience the joy of our earthly lives while anticipating the unlimited joy of our heavenly life.

Verse three of the litany:

Jesus loves me still today,

                           walking with me on my way,

                           wanting as a friend to give

                           light and love to all who live.

This is Christmas.  We are responsible to accept all of God’s gifts and then do all that we can to give light and love to all who live.  If our Christmas celebration can turn on just one more light for God, then the tragedies in this world can lead to transformations in so many lives around this world.

So remember the chorus:

Yes, Jesus loves me! 

                           Yes, Jesus loves me!

                           Yes, Jesus loves me!

                           The Bible tells me so.

We walk through the days of Advent anticipating the coming of Christ, but the Bible tells us that God sent his son over 2,000 years ago, the gifts of our spiritual fruits and of our spiritual gifts are to keep Jesus alive in our world today.  If we don’t, how can the tragedies of this world become transformed?  If we don’t, how can the little children reach Jesus’ knees?  Please join me in prayer:

Dear Loving Father, giver of gifts,

         Today we ask you to bring 20 little children into your lap.  We ask you to include those caring educators who also risked everything to protect these tiny souls.

         Today, in the midst of Advent, we know there are others who have lost the joy in their lives.  Hold them in your arms, let them cry, and then wipe their eyes so they may see your love.

         Today help us to open our own spiritual gifts so we, too, may serve as your earthly servants.  Teach us how to use the gifts in order to love one another and to preserve this worldwide garden.  May our gifts reach out to others who have yet to accept your gifts so the Holy Spirit’s fruits may enrich their lives and they, too, become the children of God.

         Hear our words of our prayers and the hymns as we thank you for the gifts you have given us.  May we work in your name so that others may see your love:

                           Jesus loves me!  This I know,

                           for the Bible tells me so. …

                           Jesus loves me!  This I know,

                           as he loved so long ago.  …

                           Jesus loves me still today;

                           walking with me on my way,

                           wanting as a friend to give

                           light and love to all who live.         –Amen

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