Inside out, Romans, Matthew, reject, rejected, gifts, calling, mercy, listen, understanding, practicing presence, squeeze, news, environment, true colours, masks, fears, anger, healing, love, fear, mouths, words, tongue, practicing presence, Shekinah

Sermon: Inside Out

READINGS:

    • Romans 11: 1-2a; 29-31
    • Matthew 15: 10-11; 15-20

 

This week, in the news from Charlottesville and then Barcelona, we see far more fear and hatred in the world than we are comfortable with. This is not the world that I want my daughter to grow up in. The unfortunate reality is that we are in an environment today where people have become comfortable showing us what they really hold on the inside – they are letting it come to the surface and showing their “true colours”. While I’m repelled by it, I’m also a little relieved that the masks are off – now that we know you have these fears and anger on the inside, let’s talk about them. Let’s talk about healing. Let’s talk about a love that casts out all fear!

Our readings this morning dealt with 2 particular topics:

  1. We each have a gift and calling from God that are irrevocable; and
  2. Whatever comes out of our mouths, comes directly from our hearts!

We are all like lemons: a lemon has some wonderfully positive characteristics; it’s full of vitamins, it can help your liver deal with bile, it can cleanse your bowels, you can use it to bleach your hair (if you don’t mind it getting dried out), we put “real lemon juice” in our dish-washing liquid and our furniture oil; it is considered anti-bacterial. On the other hand, it’s also sour, acidic, tart, astringent and in some cases just plain bitter! When you squeeze a lemon, what you get out is lemon juice – because that’s what is inside.

And when you or I are put under pressure and squeezed – the “real” you comes out: that which is really inside of you! And, like the lemon, you have some wonderful qualities, gifts and calling; and other parts of you are sour or bitter or not so pleasant.

STRENGTHS & WEAKNESSES strengths, weaknesses, talents, gifts, serving others, learning, growing, born again, rebirth, transformed, renewing, God, Spirit, healing

Before I talk about your gifts and your callings, I want to remind you that our strengths and our weaknesses are usually connected: they can’t be looked at as independent attributes.  For example: your stubbornness is the determination that gets things done; your creativity is probably somehow tied to your day-to-day chaos; your inconsistency may allow you to remain flexible; your calm may be seen by many as emotionlessness. Many adventurers are seen as being irresponsible; someone who is realistic may tend to be negative and pessimistic; and someone who is self-confident may easily become arrogant.

Behind all of this, is the heart and the intentions of the heart! Is the heart coming from a place of love, caring and calling? Or is the heart  coming from a place of lack, fear and ego?

There is a story that is told of an old Cherokee teaching his grandson about life:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.  “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

WHICH “I” ARE YOU FEEDING?

If you have followed me so far, you will realise that every one of your weaknesses might actually be a strength – a gift that God has given you to help you fulfill your calling. They say that the best moment to plant a tree was 20 years ago; but if you didn’t do it 20 years ago, the next best day is today. If you haven’t identified your calling in life, today is the best day to sit down and identify what you were called by God to do. Every single person that is born was born with a purpose to fulfill on earth! Everyone.

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10

You have your gifts and talents. You were given enough. But if you are busy feeding your heart anger, envy, sorrow, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt & ego – that is what will win. When you are put under pressure and squeezed, that is what will show to the world!

So, when you look at your gifts and talents, and you identify your calling: then you have to strive to perfect those gifts. Use it, or lose it? Anyone that has ever tried to learn a musical instrument knows what no matter how much talent you have, without practice it’s impossible to improve. There are hours of practice of techniques, until muscle memory takes over instead of having to think about each movement. They say it takes some 10,000 hours to become a master! If you look at your spiritual gifts and your Christian life – how far along the path are you investing 10,000 hours to master being a Christian and following in Jesus’ footsteps?

If you considered a University degree – 4 years of study, which is about 8 months out of the year, let’s say 8 hours a day, 5 days a week? That would be about 5,500 hours that you spent only to reach a bachelor’s level of education. Most of us would not consider a recent University graduate to have mastered anything yet. So, when it comes to your spiritual life and transformation, when it comes to what you have inside your heart, why do you expect it to be so easy?

BEING “BORN AGAIN”

rebirth, transformation, patience, struggle, effort, hard work, mercy, gifts, calling, God, listen, understand,, mouth, heartI know for myself, there is this lingering idea that when you are “born again” you become a new creation! Suddenly it’s all easy, right? But if you remember, about 2 months ago we were studying Romans 7, verses 14 to 25, where Paul was agonizing over how he wanted to do good and yet was doing exactly what he didn’t want to do! It was a constant struggle. But as you get to know your strengths and weaknesses, as you cultivate yourself – you practice, sharpen, and develop – then your heart becomes transformed closer each day to the calling that God has for you.

But I would dare to say that “being reborn” is simply “the first day of the rest of your life”. As today is. As tomorrow will be when you wake up tomorrow morning. So use your gifts well. The gifts and talents that God has given you  are not for your own benefit, they’re for the benefit of other people. My gifts are for your benefit. Your gifts are for my benefit. You are to use those gifts in the service of other people. God has given you a special role in this world: you have a special contribution to make that others cannot replace!

1 Corinthians 7: 7 reminds us:

each person has a special gift from God, of one kind or another.

LIVING FROM THE HEART:true, honest, just, pure, lovely, good, virtue, praise, meditation, heart, words, mouth, acceptable, Lord, gifts, talents, focus, meditate, excellent, praiseworth, English speaking, Sunday service, Panama City, Panama

As we read in Romans 11:

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! … God has not rejected his people who he foreknew.
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

God has NOT rejected us! God’s love abounds for everyone: the gifts and calling are irrevocable. But it depends upon us to make our way back to God’s calling and to use the gifts we are given. It is up to us to get ourselves back on track with the forgiveness, healing and help that God has promised throughout the entire Bible. We may reject ourselves. We may reject others. But God is love: God is not ONLY loving. God is love. This means that God cannot help but love us. We are all children of God, called according to God’s purpose. May our hearts and minds reflect this calling.

We read in Psalm 19, verse 14:

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.

David knew well that what he meditated on, in his heart, would control the words that came out of his mouth. As you take stock of your gifts and talents, as you identify your calling and purpose, how you are called to serve others, then you will find the focus on which you are meant to meditate, ruminate, ponder, consider, reflect and think. And as you spend more time, thinking on things which are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy, just, commendable: when you are squeezed by life – that is the fruit that will come out of your mouth from your heart! I trust, as we all leave today, that we will go forth to our calling, using our gifts as we were meant to do.

Readings:

  • Romans 11: 1-2a; 29-31

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! … God has not rejected his people who he foreknew.
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you… have now received mercy… so they now, by the mercy shown to you, they too many now receive mercy.

  • Matthew 15: 10-11; 15-20

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”
But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.”
Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions… false witness, slander [gossip, lying, cursing, blasphemies, evil speaking, complaining, railings, perjury, impiety of speech]. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

Sermon: Abounding in steadfast love

READINGS:

  • Psalm 145: 8-14
  • Romans 7: 15-25a
  • Matthew 11: 25-30

SLOW TO ANGER AND ABOUNDING IN STEADFAST LOVE

I titled this sermon “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” as a reminder of the nature of Christ and the ideal version of every Christian. What would this world look like today, if that were a true description of every person in the world that called themselves a “Christian“? Imagine if every evangelical, every conservative, every progressive, every fundamentalist, every liberal, every Catholic, every 7th Day Adventist could say, in spirit and in truth: “I am slow to anger and abounding, overflowing, exuding steadfast loveI love God and I love my neighbor.” What would the world’s experience of Christians be if we truly followed in Christ’s footsteps?

Did you know that the word “Christian” is used 3 times in the Bible? Three times, in all of the Bible. Twice in Acts and once in 1 Peter.  Christians in this first century after Christ’s death were called such because their behavior, activity, and speech were like Christ. The word Christian means, “follower of Christ” or “belonging to the party of Christ.” One of the better known followers of Christ was the Apostle Paul, who wrote many of the letters that we now have in our Bible. These letters were directed to different communities of faith, and often were in response to specific questions that they raised in their letters. Paul was probably a more prolific writer than the disciples, as he was originally a Pharisee, a well-educated man, with an advantage that they did not have for writing.

Nevertheless, we find that Paul still struggled with some basic spiritual issues.  I want to take a moment, and read for you Romans 7, verses 15-25a from the Bible version “The Message”, because it seems to me that this version is very practical and easy to understand:

ROMANS 7:15-25 THE MESSAGE (MSG)

14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

When Paul wrote Romans, he was already 20 years into his ministry! This was no longer a young, zealous man, battling with temptations of his youth.  This was a man that had lived through trials and tribulations, who had spent most of his adult life as a missionary.  And yet, he writes to us “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not.”

What hope is there for you and me if Paul cannot get it together? Paul had many advantages over you and me: as a Pharisee he knew the 621 rules for righteousness and was well- versed in keeping them. But, just like each one of us, Paul had an ego. I imagine his ego also responded to pride, self-centeredness and selfishness!

God's grace: free & unmerited favor
God’s grace: free & unmerited favor

Paul comes back to GRACE as the solution for his battle! Knowing the law and doing his best to keep the law was not enough. Without grace, Paul was just as lost as the next person. In verse 25 of Romans 7, Paul says “Christ can and does”: it is not I, but Christ that lives in me that allows me to live out a holy life.

Last week, I used the example of the worm inside the apple, an egg laid inside the apple blossom that hatches inside the apple when it is maturing. Sin can be like that in our lives: we are growing and maturing and suddenly find that a bad habit or attitude has been growing and maturing inside of us as well.

Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.

God is looking on the inside: Your Heart!
God is looking on the inside: Your Heart!

Right now, I am at my heaviest weight ever! Even at eight and a half months pregnant, I weighed less than I do now! The weight was distributed differently then, and I felt much healthier than I do right now! And six months after my daughter was born, I was at my perfect weight! Then life happened! I excuse myself with the sleepless nights, the busy lifestyle, and the responsibilities that I have chosen to assume. The unfortunate reality is that I dislike, okay… it’s a little stronger than dislike… I despise getting up at 5.30 in the morning to do exercise!

I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good (get fit and eat healthy), sin (food, laziness, lack of motivation) is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands (having my ideal weight and feeling healthy), but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge (and there I am, sitting down with a cheesecake!).

Everyone has an excuse and a scapegoat! This past week, I blamed it on Betsy for showing up with a gluten-free cheesecake. But the reality is that I have a sugar-tooth, and suffer from insulin resistance. I can either choose to take medications and live a healthy lifestyle, making diet choices that take me back to optimal health; or I can cheat and double the medication and not do the exercise and diet; or I can do nothing at all as I have been doing for the past 12 to 18 months! Last week, I decided to do 21 days of getting up at 5.30 and doing a 30-minute workout and stretching!

Doing right is a titanic struggle and an uphill struggle; doing wrong is a short step or a minor slip. The Chinese says, “Doing right requires ten years, doing bad requires just one minute.” The previous Chinese generation says, “Kids take three days to learn bad, three years to learn good.” Some have modified to say kids take three minutes or even there seconds to learn bad.

In truth, practice what you preach is easier said than done. The good you intend to do ends up not just merely bad, faulty or short, but evil (vv 19, 21) – sin’s Murphy’s Law equivalent: If anything can go wrong, it will. Not only wrong, but wicked and wasted.

For me, the solution to this issue lies in keeping my eyes focused on what I what I want my life to look like. Each morning when I arrive in the office, I look at my vision board: it reminds me of the different areas of my life and what I would like my life to look like if I were living to my fullest. There’s a heading “my best body” – showing healthy food, running, resting, stretching, and fitness! And I have been ignoring that section of the board since January!

Spiritually, there’s also a vision: plugged into the power of prayer! Paul says in Romans 7: 25 that the answer lies in that Christ can and does: Paul thanks God for being patient with him. As David says in Psalm 145, verse 8:

“The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

This grace allows us to say:

“Thank you that even though I’m a mess, you still love me and you are still striving with me and you want to make me something more today that I was yesterday.”

We are loved by God and God is willing to take us just as we are! With Christ within us, God works from the inside out to transform us. We are forgiven from the inside out! If God has forgiven us, we can forgive ourselves.

Keep this small image in mind:

How did you learn to walk? Have you ever seen a little one learning to walk. They don’t get up and just start walking the first time they try. They crawl for awhile. They pull themselves up and take one step and fall back – up again and fall forward. Soon they are taking a couple of steps before they fall. And they walk, and they fall, and they pull themselves back up again, and they totter and they fall.

Life as a Christian, with each new step of the way, is a new learning. As you overcome one challenge, there will always be something new. Paul reminds us to “work through our salvation”, because it is a constant process of growth. We are free from the penalty of sin, but we need Christ in us to be free from the power of sin.

But we remember and we meditate on Psalm 145, verse 8:

“The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

And if Christ is in us, then each of us should be able to look in the mirror and say: “I am gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love!” Imagine a world in which that were the description of each of us!