sermon preview: gentle is how we roll

 

How many times have you suffered a crack in the windshield of your vehicle due to the impact of a rock being flung up by the tires of a big rig?

If your experience is like mine, across the years, the answer is: “So many I’ve lost count!”

Of course, what can be most frustrating about that experience is that in a great many cases such could have been easily prevented. The thing is the trailer truck didn’t have proper mud flaps. They were far too short, too limber, or perhaps even missing completely.

And so, as I made my way into Houston recently, I couldn’t help but notice the flaps on the truck that appears in this picture. It not only had thick, heavy, long flaps that nearly touched the ground, but it also had flaps between the wheels. Yes, between the wheels!

flapsIn other words, the entire rear of this truck – from the outside edge of one tire to the outside edge of the opposite tire – was arrayed with an effective barrier of quality mud flaps. It would be exceedingly difficult for anything to be flung up by this truck’s tires to find its way in becoming a projectile ready to do someone some harm.

Impressive! In part because such a thing is so rare that it stands out with clarity in contrast to the crowd.

The company that owns this truck went the second mile in terms of effort and expense to do everything possible to ensure that their trucks were “driving friendly.” This company is clearly concerned with leaving nothing but good in its wake on the way. It asks itself not, “What is the minimum I can get away with?” but, “What is best for those who follow me?” They are making their way through this world with gentleness.

Unfortunately, I never was able to find out the name of the company that owns this truck. If I had been able, I would have called them or emailed them and thanked them for their thoughtfulness and blessing of others. Such integrity stands out from the crowd!

So why am I telling you this story? Because in my mind it is a perfect illustration of the meaning of the word gentleness. At least the meaning of the word gentleness (Grk. – prautes) as it appears in that list of words we have come to know as “the fruit of the Spirit.” (Gal. 5.22-23a)

For the Christian who lives out this sort of gentleness bears in mind the consequences of their actions on others. They place the good of others before themselves. They are not careless, but mindful of, and deliberate toward, all others. They look out not just for their own good, but seek to bless all they encounter, though most of those others are even strangers to them. They don’t just try to avoid a mess for themselves in life, but avoid making a mess or problem for others to have to deal with. They intentionally extend great grace and mercy.

Pray with me, won’t you?

Lord, make us like these mud flaps – tough enough to readily and consistently take the hit for others, so as to give clear witness of who you are and what you are like: gentle. And make us like the operator of this truck – gladly willing to pay the price to be a blessing to others and to be as little of a problem or pain to others as possible. Steer us way from all that is the opposite of all that is your gentleness: abrasive actions, belligerent speech, the condescending and run-right-over-you look, and the aggressive spirit that constantly seeks to have its way. Guide us in the way of second-mile kindness that grows up from a heart of humility and a mind full of consideration for doing right by all others. Make us meek, Lord, and so, make us shine brightly in the dark world. Amen.

sermon follow-up: 28 acts of generously giving good in Acts

 

My sermon this past Sunday morning (Nov. 6) was in regard to the sixth aspect of the fruit of the Spirit: generosity/goodness.

Each of my sermons in the series of which this sermon was a part (Acts: The Way, It Works) makes some connection with the fruit of the Spirit and the lives of Christ-followers in the book of Acts. However, I deliberately left the connection with Acts missing from this past Sunday’s sermon … until now.

Even just a quick skim of Acts reveals a multitude of instances of generosity/goodness recorded by the book’s author (Luke). Following are twenty-eight examples, one from each of the Acts’ twenty-eight chapters.

1. Giving the community of faith your presence for the sake of united prayer.

“They all joined together constantly in prayer …” (Acts 1.14)

2. Giving your heart and your possessions to those in need.

“They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2.45)

3. Giving your attention to those who have become virtually invisible to others.

“Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him …” (Acts 3.2-4a)

4. Giving the word of God to others, freely and without fear.

“… they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4.31)

5. Giving encouragement to others by having a healthy attitude about the things you suffer.

“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts 5.41)

6. Giving welcome and acceptance to those new to faith in Christ.

“The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6.7)

7. Giving grace to those who misunderstand you, hate you, and work your harm.

“While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed … ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7.59-60)

8. Giving obvious evidence of your faith by sticking with God and taking your faith with you through all of life’s changes.

“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. … Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (Acts 8.1,4)

9. Giving your talents and skills over to the Lord’s disposal for the blessing of others.

“… showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made …” (Acts 9.39)

10. Giving your mind over to God for him to teach you new things as to your perspective of, and way toward, others who are very much unlike you.

“… God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” (Acts 10.28)

11. Giving others the gift of an open mind as to their understanding of things.

“… when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him … Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story … When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God …” (Acts 11.1,4,18)

12. Giving room for others to join you in your service to Christ.

“When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.” (Acts 12.25)

13. Giving energy and morivation to others to keep on keeping on with God.

“… Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.” (Acts 13.43)

14. Giving inspiration to fellow Christ-followers by sharing the generous good you have experienced thru God in your life.

“… they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them …” (Acts 14.27)

15. Giving well-timed use of conciliatory statements in moments of tension.

“We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15.11)

16. Giving of your home to bless other believers.

“When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.” (Acts 16.15)

17. Giving credit where credit is due, particularly when you see those yet to believe catch a glimpse of what is true and right about God and people.

“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” (Acts 17.26-28)

18. Giving the grace of real connection and helpful guidance rather than the world’s way of criticism and complaining, which only breeds problems and distance.

“Apollos … was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. … When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” (Acts 18.24-27)

19. Giving your sinful habits up in public confession and repentance so as to solidify your commitment and to give testimony of the Lord’s work in your life.

“Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. [nearly 150 years’ wages for the average worker] In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” (Acts 19.18-20)

20. Giving your daily existence completely over to the Lord so as to not only free yourself from fear and dread, but to lead others to do likewise.

“… I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20.24)

21. Giving yourself over to full establishment of faith in the lives of your children.

“… Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven … had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.” (Acts 21.8-9)

22. Giving clear thought as to how you can best share with those who could benefit from knowing why you are a Christian and how you became one.

“You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” (Acts 22.15-16)

23. Giving yourself over to intervening for the lives of others.

“The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. … But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.” (Acts 23.12,16)

24. Giving respect to whom respect his due.

“When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: ‘I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense.'” (Acts 24.10)

25. Giving others the courage of your convictions and standing up for your true rights.

“Paul answered: ‘I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!'” (Acts 25.10-11)

26. Giving prayer to God for others come to faith in God, to become disciples of Christ.

“Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’ Paul replied, ‘Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.'” (Acts 26.28-29)

27. Giving thanks to God, openly and sincerely, whether in the presence of believers or not.

“… he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat.” (Acts 27.35)

28. Giving kindness to others in the ways they need most in the moment.

“Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.” (Acts 28.1-2)

And so, let us make our faith practical. Let us practice what we preach, namely that “God is good, all of the time.” Let us do and give good, generously so, to others, every day, in the name of, and by, the Spirit of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. For his glory, not our own.

Amen.

this is the word you want to be

 

 
There’s a word you’re listening for; listening for with all of your heart. The doctor might give you ten thousand words, but no other stands out like this one; none gives you such clarity and relief. It is the kindest word of all.
 
Benign.
 
Upon hearing that single word, one of two things happens. We hear – and hear with truer clarity – what follows far better than we ever could. Or, all of the other words now fade for we have heard what we wanted and needed to hear most of all; we have heard what matters most.
 
“The results show the mass is such and such … and is benign … blah, blah, blah …”
 
Benign.
 
You turn the word over and over, again and again, in your mind. It simply will not go away, and how glad you are for that fact. You think: is there a more beautiful word?
 
One wonders.
 
You have likely heard of the name John Wycliffe, a Christian in the 1300’s. He was the first to translate the New Testament into English. And for doing so, remarkably, he was reviled. By many. With great power. So much so that even nearly half a century after his death, religious authorities had the remains of his body dug up and burned.
 
Is there even a word for that sort of darkness? If there is, surely it is …
 
Malignancy.
 
Which leads me to note: when John Wycliffe translated the texts in the New Testament that speak of the thought of kindness, he used the word “benign.”
 
* “… love ye your enemies, and do ye well, and lend ye, hoping nothing thereof, and your meed shall be much, and ye shall be the sons of the Highest, for he is benign on unkind men and evil men.” (Luke 6.35)
 
* “Knowest thou not, that the benignity of God leadeth thee to repenting?” (Rom. 2.4)
 
* “Charity is patient, it is benign …” (1 Cor. 13.4)
 
* “… the fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy … benignity …” (Gal. 5.22)
 
* “… be ye together benign, merciful, forgiving together, as also God forgave to you in Christ.” (Eph. 4.32)
 
* “Therefore ye, as the chosen of God, holy and loved, clothe you with the entrails of mercy, benignity …” (Col. 3.12)
 
Benign is beautiful for benignity is godly.
 
And so, let us choose not to be malignant to others in any way today, or any day the One true and kind living God gives us. Let us seek to be benign/kind in every big and small way, fleeing from every desire, impulse, thought, word, or way that even hints of anything malignant.
 
For in doing so, we will not merely bring better health to ourselves, or even give relief – great relief – to others, but will do what we were made to do in the beginning and are being remade in Christ to be now …
 
Bearers of the likeness of the Christ who is kind to us.

a 9-day hygiene routine in Romans

 

You shower or bathe daily, right? For this we’re all even more grateful, right? And yet, what about your ways with others? When was the last time you carefully washed away any filth and scrubbed off all of the stink that’s a part of the way you treat others? Has it been awhile?

You use toothpaste and/or mouthwash, right? For this, we’re all very thankful. But, do you do a brain and heart wash? Have you even done that this week?

To be sure – we all need it. And we dare not think we can “skip a day” or that we’re “good enough” for we all know that there are plenty of times that we think we pass “the sniff test,” but others would tell us, if prodded for honesty and they were true friend, that … parts of us, well, just plain stink or that there’s dirt in places we can’t see. For just as a person will never see 30% of their own body without the aid of a mirror, so there is no small percentage of our ways to which we will always remain blind, nose blind even, without the help of others.

And so, we all need others – especially the others we don’t think we need!

Remember: honest to God Christian faith is not about you and God. It is about God and your relationship with him and all others. Think “one another,” not merely “me and him.”

All of which leads me to note: there are several dozen instances of the phrase “one another” in the New Testament and a significant number of them – quite a cluster, really – appear in the latter part of Romans (ch.12-16). And while we’re reading through Romans right now, I’d encourage all of us to keep our eyes open for these passages.

And why is that? Because they speak clearly and directly to the heart of a very important matter – to use our common and terribly watered-down way of speaking today – how church members treat other church members. All of them. Take the time to seriously ponder what it would look like for you to carefully live these things out in your life, and deeply so. To the point that you became a walking, talking embodiment of each one of them in your ways with others, all others, beginning with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Each of these nine statements are exceedingly brief, so brief in fact that you could easily memorize one in the morning and turn it over and over again in your mind throughout the course of a day.

Be devoted to one another in love. (Romans 12.10a)

Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12.10b)

Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. (Romans 12.16; cf. 15.5)

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13.8)

… let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. (Romans 14.13)

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus … (Romans 15.5; cf. 12.16)

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (Romans 15.7)

instruct one another. (Romans 15.14)

Greet one another with a holy kiss. (Romans 16.16)

Think of these matters as floss for your heart and body wash for your behavior. And then imagine a church full of people practicing the same every day.

Courteous, to say the very least, no? Respectful, to be sure. In truth – beautiful.

31 of the most powerful readings in Romans

 

Try this: read, ponder, and pray over each of the following thirty-one passages* in the book of Romans over the course of thirty one calendar days.

If you do so, I can’t imagine your mind not being moved and improved.

Good stuff!

1.1-4 – Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God — the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

1.17 – … in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed — a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

2.4 – … do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

2.28-29 – A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.

3.23-25 – … all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood — to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus

4.25 – He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

5.1-2 – … since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

5.6-8 – You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

6.4 – We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

7.24-25 – What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

8.1 – … there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus …

8.26 – … the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

9.1-4 – I speak the truth in Christ — I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit — I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel …

9.15-16 – I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.

10.9-10 – If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

10.14-15 – How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

11.22 – Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God …

11.33 – Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

12.1-2 – I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.

12.4 – … just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

12.11-12 – Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

12.15 – Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

12.20-21 – “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

13.7 – Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor

13.13-14 – Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

14.1-4 – Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

14.7-8 – For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

14.13 – … let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.

15.3-4 – … even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 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.

16.19-20 – I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.

16.25-27 – Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith — to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

* All of the preceding passages are from the NIV (2011).