Love Like No One is Watching- Romans 12

happy friends tasting food in cafeteria

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.- Romans 12 (ESV)

What does the apostle Paul mean by being transformed by the renewal of our minds? Human beings are funny creatures who, if left to the designs of the natural man, like to have things just so, who don’t like to share with others, who want control of their environments and the behaviors of others.

The designs of the natural man are not God’s designs.  God has gifted each of His people with different gifts so that we can work together for God’s purposes.  It’s not always readily apparent what God wants to do with us.  Sometimes we think we are made to be one thing or desire to be something that is different from what God has planned for us or has created us to be.  Other times our roles change based on the needs of others, the stage in life where we are, and the circumstances God has put in our lives.

This is why prayer and discussion in a body of believers is so essential- so that together we can discern God’s direction and follow Him individually and collectively.

All of us in spite of our different gifts we are called to love like no one is watching. We are called to faithfulness and prayer, and to serve others because this is how we serve God.

We are called to listen for God’s call: what should we be doing, where, and how?

We are called to trust God, not to repay evil with evil, but to leave judgment to God alone.

We are encouraged to weep with those who mourn and rejoice with those who are rejoicing.

We are called to be flexible enough to put our own desires aside and let God make His desires our own.

We are imperfect. We are sinners even though we are also God’s saints. Yet God’s purpose and plans will prevail- even when we are dragged along kicking and screaming.

We are not made the same, and it is difficult at times to come together, yet God has a place and a plan for each of us.  He calls us to trust Him.

 

 

June 9, 2020 The Weeping Prophet, Weeds and Wheat- Jeremiah 12:1-4, Psalm 73:23-28, Matthew 13:24-30

Jeremiah

Righteous are you, O Lord, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
You plant them, and they take root; they grow and produce fruit; you are near in their mouth and far from their heart.
But you, O Lord, know me; you see me, and test my heart toward you.
Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter,and set them apart for the day of slaughter.
How long will the land mourn and the grass of every field wither?
For the evil of those who dwell in it,the beasts and the birds are swept away, because they said, “He will not see our latter end.”  Jeremiah 12:1-4 (ESV)

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works. Psalm 73:23-28 (ESV)

Jeremiah asks God one of the age old questions of His people. “Why does evil exist, and why do evil people always seem to get their way?”

Of course we can always go back to the beginning, to the sin of the Garden, when Adam and Eve chose their own will against the will of God.  Humans brought evil in to the world and we live with one foot still in its realm.

Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet.  He had nothing but bad news and judgment to proclaim to Israel.  He was deeply reviled and mistreated by the people of Israel because he always had bad news (sort of like the saying, “if you don’t like the message, kill the messenger.) He was even thrown into a cistern and left to die- see Jeremiah 38.  Jeremiah did not back down no matter the evil that surrounded him or the evil that was done to him.  God did not take away the evil, but he kept Jeremiah through the evil.

Jesus warned us as well that there would be terrible things happen in the world, and that we as His people would have to live in the world.

He (Jesus) put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” Matthew 13:24-30 (ESV)

It is hard for us to understand God’s purposes in letting evil persist.  In today’s world it’s easy to resign ourselves to the fact that the weeds are quite overgrown, and we wonder how can God’s good seed grow here?

The Holy Spirit brings the growth. Even in the weed field, or the cistern, or the prison cell or the lions’ den. What is impossible for the world is possible for God.

God is our refuge, no matter what circumstances bring us.

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

October 7, 2019- The Question of Evil – Praying for Retribution and Justice? Psalm 94:12-23

God love crucifix.jpg

Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord,
and whom you teach out of your law,

to give him rest from days of trouble,
until a pit is dug for the wicked.

For the Lord will not forsake his people;
he will not abandon his heritage;

for justice will return to the righteous,
and all the upright in heart will follow it.

Who rises up for me against the wicked?
Who stands up for me against evildoers?

If the Lord had not been my help,
my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.

When I thought, “My foot slips,”
your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.

When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul.

Can wicked rulers be allied with you,
those who frame injustice by statute?

They band together against the life of the righteous
and condemn the innocent to death.

But the Lord has become my stronghold,
and my God the rock of my refuge.

He will bring back on them their iniquity
and wipe them out for their wickedness;
the Lord our God will wipe them out.

Psalm 94:12-23 (ESV)

The Psalms are generally where we go when we seek comfort, to pray and praise, to find the words to reach out to God when we have no words of our own.  The full range of human emotion is expressed in the Psalms- joy, grief, thankfulness, longing, despair, and even anger.

We shouldn’t be surprised by the existence of or the harsh language of the imprecatory psalms.

(imprecation: the act of calling down a curse) 

In the imprecatory psalms the prayer is that God would curse the enemies of the people. There’s a “God, please get this bad guy, and by the way, he deserves to die,” sort of theme in these psalms that just isn’t there in the more commonly known psalms. The imprecatory psalms are cries for justice- that wicked rulers be brought down, and that evil people would be punished for their crimes, and that injustice would be put to a stop. We are invited in to rally behind the psalmist’s rage.

We can relate to the psalmist’s angst here when we see unfair legislation passed or the powers of government used in improper ways.   When life or the world is unfair it is easy for us to understand where the psalmist is coming from and to chime right in.

When we see those who should be good stewards of society and of the common good made corrupt and people are suffering without cause it should make us angry.  We should cry out to God.  We should be honest about how injustice makes us feel.

Then we remember that God is a just God.  We remember that we are not always the “good guy.” In fact we are the bad guy a lot of the time.  We need to be reminded as Nathan reminded David in 2 Samuel 12:1-15 – “You are the man!”

David was disciplined by God for his transgressions- the loss of his son with Bathsheba and the ever-present sword dividing his house.  Yet David was also beloved of God, the forefather of Jesus, the true King of Israel and of all things.

So we should pray the imprecatory psalms with caution, and with the understanding that even at our best we are simul justus et peccator – sinners and saints at the same time.  While we rail against the injustice and sinfulness of the world we rail against the same sinful things in us at the same time. We ask God to find those times when “we are the man” and reveal them to us so we can confess them to Him- so we can put those impulses and evil deeds that we hate (but we do anyway) to death, and be forgiven.

When I thought, “My foot slips,”
your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.

God holds us up.  Even though we fail and even though we must drown the old Adam in the water of baptism on a daily basis, we are free to call out to God.  He will see that His justice is done.  He will defend and hold up those who belong to Him.

But the Lord has become my stronghold,
and my God the rock of my refuge.

 

November 6, 2017- Simple Faith in a Greater God- 1 John 4:4-5 (NRSV) Joshua 1:9 (NRSV)

god wins

Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.  They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. 1 John 4:4-5 (NRSV)

 Thankfully, God is so often the champion of the underdog. We see evil in so many places and in so many experiences in this world that it’s easy to get discouraged.  Terrorism, random violence, not so random violence, drug addiction, poverty, natural disaster and disease are regular features in the news.

We wonder why. We ask God why these things go on in the world and why they don’t stop.  We wonder if evil really will win out.

So how can we believe in a greater God when we are so powerless in a world filled with heartbreak and evil and sin?

If this life in this temporary world was the only and final reality, then perhaps there would be cause for despair.

But we have a greater hope, not just for the end of days (or the end of our own personal days) but for now and always.

I hereby command you: “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NRSV)

 How can we keep on going on when we are afraid, depleted, discouraged, in pain, or just plain overwhelmed? How do we keep our faith and sanity when we see and experience the insanity that is so pervasive in our world?

God is with us. Have courage.

September 29, 2017- Keep Us Out of Trouble, and Rescue Us From Evil- Matthew 6:13, Romans 8:37-39

temptation of Christ

And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. Matthew 6:13 (CEB)

The sixth and seventh petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are related. While Christianity is not a dualistic religion – we do not believe that the world, evil and Satan are equal to God- we do know that we are subject to the influence of sin and death while we live on this earth.

Whether you believe that Satan is a personal adversary or that he is more correctly viewed as a metaphor for the spirit of evil, the fact is that evil is real. Evil is too alive and well in this world and often we don’t have a good explanation for why evil continues to exist.  We don’t have the answer to why God allows evil to exist in this world.   We can only have faith that:

..in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39 (NRSV)

We do know that we fall into temptation easily enough though. We are constantly subject to temptations of the flesh, temptations of the world, and temptations of Satan and evil.

For in the flesh we dwell and carry the old Adam about our neck, who exerts himself and incites us daily to inchastity, laziness, gluttony and drunkenness, avarice and deception, to defraud our neighbor and to overcharge him, and, in short, to all manner of evil lusts which cleave to us by nature, and to which we are incited by the society, example and what we hear and see of other people, which often wound and inflame even an innocent heart…

Next comes the world, which offends us in word and deed, and impels us to anger and impatience. In short, there is nothing but hatred and envy, enmity, violence and wrong, unfaithfulness, vengeance, cursing, raillery, slander, pride and haughtiness, with superfluous finery, honor, fame, and power, where no one is willing to be the least, but everyone desires to sit at the head and to be seen before all…

Then comes the devil, inciting and provoking in all directions, but especially agitating matters that concern the conscience and spiritual affairs, namely, to induce us to despise and disregard both the Word and works of God to tear us away from faith, hope, and love and bring us into wrong belief, false security, and obduracy, or, on the other hand, to despair, denial of God, blasphemy, and innumerable other shocking things. These are indeed snares and nets, yea, real fiery darts which are shot most venomously into the heart, not by flesh and blood, but by the devil. – from the explanation of the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Luther’s Large Catechism

Nobody needs any help finding temptation. From the smallest temptations- from wanting to snarf down that nice little bit of ice cream or chocolate we know we don’t need, or being enticed to something as devastating as stealing or engaging in infidelity, we need the Lord’s help to resist and avoid such things.

We need to ask for God’s protection from Satan and evil as well. Although Satan and evil can devastate us here on earth, they hold no power against God and His kingdom.

In the Greek text this petition reads thus: Deliver or preserve us from the Evil One, or the Malicious One; and it looks as if He were speaking of the devil, as though He would comprehend everything in one so that the entire substance of all our prayer is directed against our chief enemy. For it is he who hinders among us everything that we pray for: the name or honor of God, God’s kingdom and will, our daily bread, a cheerful good conscience, etc.

Therefore we finally sum it all up and say: Dear Father pray, help that we be rid of all these calamities. But there is nevertheless also included whatever evil may happen to us under the devil’s kingdom — poverty, shame, death, and, in short, all the agonizing misery and heartache of which there is such an unnumbered multitude on the earth. For since the devil is not only a liar, but also a murderer, he constantly seeks our life, and wreaks his anger whenever he can afflict our bodies with misfortune and harm. Hence it comes that he often breaks men’s necks or drives them to insanity, drowns some, and incites many to commit suicide, and to many other terrible calamities. Therefore there is nothing for us to do upon earth but to pray against this arch enemy without ceasing. For unless God preserved us, we would not be safe from him even for an hour.- from the explanation of the Seventh Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Luther’s Large Catechism

When we pray the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer it is good to remember these key points:

  1. God’s Name is holy. It is given to us to address God.
  2. God’s Kingdom is here, and it also on its way to being fulfilled on earth.
  3. God’s will is going to be done, so Lord, help us get on board with it.
  4. God provides for us DAILY, our food, and our needs. We need Him every day.
  5. Forgive others as God forgives us, it brings healing for our souls.
  6. Keep us from temptation because it’s all around us and we want to stay clear of it.
  7. Keep us from the influence of Satan and evil.

Have we thanked God for providing for us in every way today?