Sunday, November 13, 2016

That we might have hope

Read Romans 15

Jesus was on the cross-losing blood and struggling to breath.  He had been beaten and his body mutilated before he was elevated on this instrument of death designed to be ever so painful to the one being executed and a strong visual deterrent to anyone who happened to see any part of one of these executions.

When the lamb was headed to the temple to be sacrificed, it probably didn’t know what was ahead.  It’s moment of sacrifice was brief.  Nobody shouted insults and curses at it.  Nobody taunted the sacrifice.

But the Lamb of God that we know as Jesus did know what was ahead. He did suffer extreme pain. His human body felt every lash of the whip and every sin of humankind.  His innocent flesh was the only sacrifice that would atone for our sin once and for all but this sacrifice lasted more than a moment.

From that cross—that cruel instrument of death—Jesus spoke, “Father, forgive them.  The do not know what they are doing.”

To those who shouted, Crucify him, Jesus replied, Forgive them.              
To those who taunted him to save himself, Jesus ask his Father to consider that they don’t know what they are doing.

To those who just stood by dumbfounded, Jesus saw only people who needed mercy and forgiveness.

In Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, Paul charged us to take on the nature of a servant as Christ did when he set aside his place in heaven to live and die as a man.  Jesus knew that he would endure much for our sake.  He would give up his life before he took it up again.

Paul told his readers to consider the humility of our Master and be like him.

Now as Paul nears the end of his letter to believers in Rome, he charged them and charges us to once again consider all that Christ did for us.  We who are strong in our faith need to go the extra mile for those who are not. 

We need not only to avoid the things that might be stumbling blocks to another believer, but we are to build up the one who is struggling in their faith.  Sometimes that takes a heart that says, “Forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”

It’s another round of It’s not all about me but Paul pushes beyond not being an obstacle to being a helper.  Even for those who are making bad decisions, and sometimes repeating them, we are still to assist them in growing in their faith. 

We must not condemn them.  We help them grow in grace.  That does not mean that we reinforce the bad decisions.  It means that we do not condemn people for their mistakes.

Just as Christ accepted us—sometimes after years of being a Christian we forget that part—so too we must accept the fledgling believer who needs our help often more than we realize.

We often say that we meet people where they are.  It is a good mantra for this century, but incomplete.  We must add that we meet people where they are, do so without condemnation, and with the divine heart of Jesus to accept them and help them in their faith.

We are helpers and encouragers and guides and mentors and sometimes even teachers.  Elsewhere Paul wrote that he became all things to all people so that so might be saved.  He builds on that here challenging us to be all things to all believers that they might grow in God’s grace.

What if the person who struggles in their faith never seems to grow?

That doesn’t change much for us.  We accept the one who is weak period.  We would love for everyone to know the joy and peace and abundant life that we know in Christ, but if some struggle all their lives we still accept them as fellow believers.

They are still our brothers and sisters in Christ and we who continue to grow in God’s grace must grow not only in knowledge but in mercy.  God is shaping us in the image of Christ Jesus.  Much of that comes with the renewing of our mind, but much is accomplished in the heart as well.

We are being shaped from the inside out.  It is not all about us and we are being given a heart to live that way and eyes to see our brothers and sisters with such understanding and compassion.

We began Romans knowing that much of it would sound like a biblical textbook but we must take note that is was a letter and contain those things that letters contain.

For instance, Paul noted that he had not only wanted to visit Rome but had at least a strawman of a plan of how that might happen.  He had covered much territory already but was sure that he could be the first to lay the foundation of Christ as Lord and Savior in Spain.

First, however, he had an offering for the poor in Jerusalem that he would take personally.  This was important not only to him but to all those believers in Macedonia and Greece that had given cheerfully and perhaps even sacrificially.

Little did Paul know that this would also lead to that fourth missionary journey to Rome, yes, it would be by government transportation that included a shipwreck and snakebite at no extra cost.  When Paul was on his way to Jerusalem, he was on his way to visit these very believers to whom he had written in Rome.  He just didn’t know it yet.

In the words, “I appeal to Caesar,” Paul’s fourth missionary Journey began.  Granted he would have some substantial prison time along the way, but Paul knew the risk in going to Jerusalem.

He asked the believers in Rome to pray the he be delivered from those who did not believe in Jerusalem while at the same time his service to his Lord be acceptable to those who did believe.  Paul knew that he was doing a wonderful thing by delivering this offering.  He knew he was going into a hornet’s nest in respect to the ruling Jews.  He knew there were also followers of Jesus in Jerusalem that he did not want to disappoint by being less than he had charged all those who follow Christ to be.

It sounds like a crazy place to go and surely a crazy thing to do.  It also sounds a lot like our modern world with so many factions pitted against each other.  I can only think that Paul remembered his own words from this letter.  If God is for us, who can be against us?

Paul wraps up his letter in the next chapter but he has given us a challenge in this chapter.  Accept the one who is weak in his faith.  Not only accept, but help them—go out of our way to help them grow in God’s grace.

Sometimes we think that we get a whole lot of challenge every time that we read the Bible –especially in Paul’s letters—when what we think we need is a bunch of support.  When we consistently dig into God’s holy word, we get both.

If you have ever been a mentor or studied mentoring, you know that these are the two elements of mentoring—challenge and support.  The desired result is growth.

If you challenge too much, your protégée often retreats.  If you support too much, your protégée is simply confirmed in their current state and there is no growth.

There must be a balance.  Challenge must be accompanied by support.  That’s how we get to growth.

But what about those of us who are supporting those who are struggling in their faith, don’t we need some support too?  

Where do we turn?

We are the body of Christ and have each other, but we also have the scriptures for these holy words not only challenge us but give us support and encouragement as well.

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

These holy words give us hope.  We know that the prophets before us were often rejected by the world but right with God.  The saints of the early church were often persecuted by the world but preserved by God.

Some scriptures seem to challenge us.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

We are to be strong and courageous, but we should note that this verse that challenges also supports.  God says, I am with you wherever you go!

God told us the same thing in our commission.  We are to take his authority and go into the world making disciples, baptizing, and teaching others what he taught us, but that’s not the end of the commission.  Jesus reminds all of those who follow him that he is with us to the very end of the age.
Remember what Paul wrote Timothy.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

Paul reminded the church in Philippi of this.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Let’s go all the way back to the Proverbs.  God has been giving us both challenge and support in the same verses.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make your paths 
The challenge is to trust God over the ways of the world and to be public about that trust.  The support is that God says, “I’ve got this!”

When we read this verse—for the very few of you who might not have it committed to memory—we need to hear God telling us, “I’ve got this!”

We are to be encouraged.  We are to have hope.  We will grow in grace as we dig deeper and deeper into God’s word.
The psalmist tells us that God’s word is a lamp—a light that shows us where to step.  It is illuminates the path before us.
Paul tells us that this same holy word is our encouragement and our hope.

We who are strong or stronger in our faith than others we know are to help them while we are being helped by God’s word.

Here is the thing that we must understand.  Those who follow Jesus never go it alone.  The body of Christ encourages and supports and sometimes even challenges.
God’s word challenges and supports.

God’s own Spirit lives within us and walks beside us and if we will listen, tells us exactly what we should know.

We have given ourselves completely to God—body and mind—and we are being transformed into the exact person that he wants us to be.

That person knows God’s will and that in itself is encouraging for his will is good, pleasing, and perfect.

So we are to help other believers who are struggling and take the help and encouragement and hope that comes in reading and knowing God’s holy word.

It is part of our discipleship.  It is part of following Jesus.  It is part of who we are as his disciples


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