Sermon Title: A Verse to Live By
Text: Romans 12:12
Speaker: Ed Grable
Watch the sermon here.
Take notes here.
Good morning! I’m so excited to be with you today! I want to welcome those of you at our North Main Campus. I'll see you all next week. My hope is that you leave here today encouraged and empowered to live a life guided by biblical truth and an overflowing love for Jesus and those he has placed in your life.
I have the privilege today of finishing our Deep Cuts series this year. This has been a series where a few staff and elders have shared verses or sections of scripture that have impacted their life in a deep impactful way. So, if you missed any sermons from this series or any sermon from the last year, I will challenge you to go to gatewayepc.org and watch them.
Today, we’re going to be looking at Romans 12. So if you have your Bible, and I hope you do, you can turn there now. As you’re finding our verses for today, I want to tell you a story. I think one thing we need to have is perspective. Have you ever believed you have had a solid handle on things and all of the clues pointed to one solution, but afterward, you realize that things are not as they seem? So this has happened to me more times than I can even believe. I read an article recently that reminded me of something similar that would happen to me. So I have adjusted the original article as I could see it playing out if it was me.
For example, years ago, I wanted to be a Conductor for Amtrack. I took the train to Chicago and did the interview, and took a written test. Afterward, I had time to kill, so I went to a coffee shop at the terminal. I pulled out a few magazines and a pack of cookies and sat down across from a well-dressed guy at a small table because the shop was full.
He was dressed in a suit. He didn’t look like he was going to do anything weird. What he did was this: he suddenly leaned across, picked up the packet of cookies, tore it open, took one out, and ate it.
Now this, I have to say, is the sort of thing I’m very bad at dealing with. I mean, what do you do when someone in broad daylight has just stolen your cookies? Remember, I'm in Chicago so I did the right thing and ignored it. I stared at my Hot Rod magazine, took a sip of coffee, and tried to concentrate on the article but couldn’t. I sat there thinking, what am I going to do?
In the end, I thought nothing, I’ll just have to go for it, and I tried very hard not to notice the fact that the packet was already mysteriously opened. I took out a cookie for myself. I thought that would help him see that they were my cookies. But it didn’t because a moment or two later, he did it again. He took another cookie. And since I didnt say anything the first time it was even harder to say something the second time around.
We went through the whole packet like this. When I say the whole packet, I mean there were only about eight cookies, but it felt like a lifetime. He took one, I took one, he took one, I took one. Finally, when we got to the end, he stood up and walked away. We made eye contact and he said have a good day, I fumbled my words and said oh you too. Then he walked away, and I breathed a sigh of relief and sat back.
I sat there for about a half hour waiting for my train. As soon as it was announced, I tossed back the rest of my coffee, stood up, picked up the other magazine on the table, and underneath the magazine were my cookies. I was mortified! I ate his cookies! What a jerk!
So next time you are convinced that you know everything and that you are right, make sure you check under the magazine first. You might just be missing something important.
Just like the man on the other side of the table's perspective was much different than mine. Someone can see life so differently depending on what lenses they look through.
As we look at our verses today, I want you to remember perspective is the key to being the people Pauls calls us to be.
In our verses for today, Paul is writing a letter as a prisoner of Rome to the Christians in Rome, a group of Jews and Gentiles. I am sure you all understand who the Jews were. But how many of you know what a Gentile was? I used to sit and listen to preachers read verses like the ones we are looking at today, and wonder what the difference was but like many of you, I never took the time to look it up after church because, well it was time for lunch and a nap. So I took the time to look up the definition when I was going to school for ministry. I was shocked when I read the definition. This will blow you away. Are you ready to write it down? A Gentile is defined as anyone that is not a Jew. Now you know.
So this is a group of people who used to dislike each other, and Paul asks them to love one another and be affectionate to each other while rejecting all evil things and hanging on to what is good while serving the Lord diligently. What we see in this chapter is his institutions for living a Christian life. Paul is very specific and to the point; there is no reason to quote the Greek here, plus I would lose half of you, and it's not my style. I like to keep things simple and straightforward.
As you will learn from our time together, I am a simple man. I also know there are a lot of people like me in this crowd, so this is going to be fun. So strap in because we have a lot of ground to cover and a short time to get there.
We are in Romans 12:12, where we read
"Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer." ESV
That was the ESV the New Living translates it this way
"Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying." NLT
How about the Message for one more?
"Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder." (Message)
For me, this is not just some random verse I like. This is my life verse and one that I strive to live by daily. This simple verse has gotten me through more than I have time or the energy to share with you today. As a pastoral ministry student at Taylor University Fort Wayne, I was asked if I had a life verse. When I said no, my mentor challenged me to find one. He said I needed one that motivated me to be a better version of myself and challenged me to totally depend on Jesus.
After months of searching, I was flipping through some very old devotionals I had been given to find sermon illustrations. I saw it in a story about a young man that had many struggles in his life and the freedom he had found in his faith in Jesus. The more I read, the more it became evident that this was the verse I had been looking for. That next week I shared it in class, and my mentor knowing my story, said that is a perfect fit; now you have to live it. I thought ok, sounds easy enough. How hard could it be? Boy, was I in for a surprise? It has been a journey full of both struggles and victories. But most importantly, it has sustained me and kept me focused on Jesus.
Rejoice in Hope
Today I want to break this powerful verse into three distinct parts. First, Paul commands the people reading this letter and us today to rejoice in hope. Again this is where perspective comes in. If we take these three words at face value, we miss their power in our lives.
To rejoice is to be full of joy; this joy is not conditional on your circumstances. It is based on what Jesus has done for you through his life, death, and resurrection. When you look at the cross, you should be filled with overflowing joy because you have been forgiven and set free.
Paul has reminded others in the first church to rejoice.
To those in Philippi, he says:
Philippians 4:4, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!"
And to those in Thessalonica, he writes
1 Thessalonians 5:16, "Rejoice always".
Now we have to remember Paul is writing to a group of people who are being persecuted for their faith, and he is in jail or under house arrest. He is reminding them that no matter what they may face, they can rejoice because of God's love for them. It is this love that should fill them with joy. The same should hold true for you and me here today.
This joy is in response to his love for you. For some of you who struggle to understand this concept, I have a great visual illustration.
Let's say you go to Archies and order a Sundae, and the girl asks if you want whipped cream on your Sundae and your like is the Pope Catholic-I mean yes, please. So she starts to put it on, and you both get distracted-you by your kids, and she is staring at the cute guy that just started. When you both look back, the whipped cream has enveloped the Sundae and is overflowing onto the counter.
Scripture tells us God lavishes us with his love; this is what lavish looks like. "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" (1 John 3:1a)
Just like the whipped cream, his love for us is overflowing, and in return ours should be as well. That is why I question some people who call themselves Christian because they seem joyless. They walk around like they drank pickle juice and are always grumpy. One of my favorite comedians says you say that you are full of joy, but you must have forgotten to tell your face.
Let your joy be contagious and driven by the love Jesus has shown you, and people will ask you why you are so happy, and then you can tell them about Jesus.
I have seen this lived out so many times in people fighting an unbeatable sickness or disease.
I once cared for a lady as a tech at the hospital in Toledo who put a sign on her door after hearing she had terminal cancer and was told she only had weeks to live. It said to leave your sadness and tears at the door. I want my last few weeks to be full of joy and Jesus. And she meant it. If you came into her room looking sad or defeated, she would point to the sign. Knowing I was a Christian, she would often ask me to sit and talk late at night. One night she looked out the window with tears in her eyes she said "I can not wait to meet Jesus". She was ready and was rejoicing in what was ahead of her.
So that is rejoicing what is the hope we are to rejoice in. The hope Paul is speaking of is the hope we have in a future with Jesus. So again, this is not based on our circumstances or even our personalities. If you are with someone like this, don't look at them. This hope, like the joy we just talked about, is not a hope that we often hear people use. Like I hope I get that raise, or I hope she likes me; this hope is something we should already have in us as believers. I am sure you have been around people who have no hope; we call them hopeless. Like the woman in my previous story, she had this kind of hope. Even though she was facing a fate that should have crushed her, she knew where her trust could be placed. Her hope came as she looked to the horizon with anticipation of being in the arms of Jesus.
I had a friend years ago that was a part of a special operations unit in the military, and one day we were talking about some of his close calls where he was not sure if he was going to make it out of the situation, and he said the one thing that drives all special operators is they never lose hope of victory and getting home. This hope drives them.
The bottom line is that hope keeps you in the fight; fear holds you down.
But so many of us allow our hope to be smothered like a wet blanket over a fire by the circumstances of this life, while others struggle to embrace hope because of their own hurts, habits, or hang-ups. This is sad to me because hope on its own can be powerful if you let it. For some, you can't move forward in hope because you can't see past your past.
As I stated earlier, I am a simple guy and a visual learner, so I have an illustration for you.
Did you know that when you are driving, you should look in your rearview mirror every 5 to 8 seconds? It is just to help you to be aware of your surroundings.
But some of you are staring into the rearview mirror of your life. I borrowed a couple from the army of Honda Odyssey in the parking lot here at County Road 9. I was fair I took one from one with an LB sticker and one from one with a Findlay sticker.
For those who understand the hope we are talking about today and have embraced its power, your mirror looks like this one. You look back on your life, knowing anything you have done is forgiven, and you can look forward to the future with confident hope.
Then there are people that struggle to find hope; even as Christ's followers, they can't shake the mistakes of their past. Your mirror looks more like this one. Broken and shattered. You see nothing but pain, sorrow, and shame. People have been unkind and done and said some bad things. You feel like you are unlovable and unforgivable, and as I speak of hope, you laugh because you believe there is no hope for you.
Well, I am here to tell you it is all a lie from the enemy. You are beautiful and wonderfully created; you are loved and cherished. If you have given your life to Jesus, you are forgiven, and you can live in the hope of an eternity with Jesus.
Stop looking in the past; it's been erased. It no longer defines you. The prison door has flung open all you have to do is choose to walk out of your self-imposed imprisonment.
Start today rejoicing in the hope Paul is talking about. In fact, look what Paul says in chapter fifteen.
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13)
Patient In Tribulations
The next thing we see in our verse is the command to be patient in tribulations.
How many of you would say you are a patient person? I would say we have some patient people in our audience.
These people are usually the ones that drive impatient people crazy. My favorites are those in line at Starbucks the get to the front of the line and don't know what they want. You are in line, and you hear them go, uh, I don't know what's good. And you want to yell get out of the line!
Or you are hungry for a snack, and you grab a bag of microwave popcorn and then throw it back in the pantry because you can not wait the two minutes and thirty seconds it will take to make the popcorn. You're like Doritos it is.
The truth is we can all be patient in different areas of life. We often become impatient when something or someone does not meet our expectations right. You might come across at work as the most patient guy, but once you get home, you are not patient with your wife, kids, pets you name it. Like many of the virtues we have talked about today, it all depends on your circumstances.
There are a lot of quotes out there on patience, and I have two that some of you relate to. The first is “yes, I run out of patience.” The second is “Patience is what you have when there are too many witnesses.”
So what is Biblical patience defined as? How about tribulation?
Leon Morris explains these two important words. Patient “denotes not a passive putting up with things, but an active, steadfast endurance.” Tribulation “denotes not some minor pinprick, but deep and serious trouble.”
Again we have to look at the perspective the audience is hearing or reading these words. Because of their faith, they are shunned from their families, imprisoned, beaten, and sometimes killed. Can you imagine hearing these words and knowing what is happening?
But they were sustained by two things the joy and love that we already have mentioned and Jesus' promise that he would return. They had no idea if it would be a day, a week, a year, or over two thousand years. The thought of Christ's return strengthened them.
Some have asked why Jesus has not returned. Our answer is found in scripture, and it is found in 2 Peter, and it shows us how patient God is and why he has delayed his return.
Peter writes: "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)
The reason Christ is patient in his return is because he is merciful, providing ample opportunity for people to turn from their sin and obey God. He is slowly bringing more and more children into his family.
He is patiently and methodically working out a long-term plan to bring more children into his family on his timetable, not ours. We should appreciate that aspect of his character and seek to develop it in our own lives.
To be patient in itself can be hard enough on its own but to do so while you are being persecuted for your faith takes a form of patience that many of us today would struggle with. Can you imagine being told you can't share your faith at work or you would lose your job, go to jail, or be killed?
As I studied this, I could not help but think of our friend Andrew Brunson who was imprisoned in Turkey for his faith. Or the many missionaries we support around the world, many of them in harm's way for the sake of the Gospel.
Paul knew that the mission Jesus gave him and those in the first church would come at a cost. But he also knew that their patience in the midst of persecution would help people find Jesus, and the message of Jesus would spread and change the world.
We see a great illustration of this in the book of Acts when Peter and the other disciples understood that they might be killed just like their Lord and Savior but they weighed the cost against the call to spread the Good News. We sit here gathered today because they chose to step boldly into the breach even if it could cost them their lives, and for every one of them but John, it did.
Listen to their prayer; it's found in Acts 4:29-31 and it says "29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus. 31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." (NIV)
Wow, what a powerful prayer. Talk about stepping into their fears. I pray this for us as individuals and as the church. If we want to truly change the world it starts with prayer. Because prayer sustains us and strengthens us, this is why it was Paul's final command to the church in Rome and us today.
Paul's final command in our verse is to be constant in prayer.
Constant In Prayer
Now, this might sound familiar to, and that is because this is very similar to what Paul tells the church in Thessalonica. Where he says "16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Sound familiar? Or maybe a better question what in the world does he mean? If you don't know, it's ok; the number one thing people in the church struggle with is prayer. They often ask how to pray, what to say and how often they should pray.
We don't have the time to address all of those questions with the remainder of our time together, but I do want to talk about some things you can do to pray more continually and without ceasing.
For the people Paul is addressing, this was a call to pray for those being persecuted for their faith, including him. They were also praying for those who had gone out to spread the Good News and the work they were doing on behalf of the kingdom. It's the idea as often as you think of these things, pray.
We often make prayer more complicated than it needs to be. Prayer is just meant to be a conversation with God. Just like any relationship, the more you do it, the closer you get.
James the brother of Jesus, says this in James 4:8a, “Come close to God, and God will come close to you."
So how can you be more intentional about prayer? To be honest, I was struggling to find a visual to help you have a tangible takeaway on this then my phone buzzed on my desk.
Do you know how many times people look at their phones on average? Now keep in mind that this is the average. Some of you do this less, while others of you blow this number out of the water. In fact, I think if your phone was lost, you would have to go to phone rehab.
Anyway, the number is 344 times a day people look at their phones. What if each time we touched our phones, we prayed or just said hello to God or thanked him for something in or about our life? -OR- a good suggestion we received from Pastor Josh on how to pray in one of his sermons this last year. When you are struggling and don't know what to pray it is perfectly ok to just say “Hey God Help!”
Just like any discipline you desire to learn. The more you do it, the more you will develop a routine.
Have you ever heard of the 21/90 rule? It's simple if you do something for 21 days, it becomes a habit, and it takes 90 days to become a lifestyle.
Who wants to take part in a 21/90 prayer challenge? Who will commit right now? Ok, we are doing this!
It starts with a shift in your thinking. I learned this years ago from a pastor friend. I was struggling to pray consistently and continually. So he said what do you think about when your drive to work or while you sit at your desk at work. I said when I drive, I think about it a lot, and at work, I think about work mostly. He said I want you to start to pray about those things you are thinking about and if your mind is clear, pay attention to your surrounding as you drive.
Does creation inspire you to pray for anything or anyone? Was there a car on the side of the road? Did you hear sirens? How about people working or walking in your neighborhood? These are all things you can pray for. Even if it is as simple as asking him to help them, bless, or protect them.
Finally, take time to pray for the world around you and the ones you share it with. Pray for your family, your friends, your coworkers, and your church. I have lost count of those times when I tell someone I am praying for them, and they respond by saying things like how did you know.
There is so much power in prayer. Can you imagine if we pray every time we pick up our phones and commit to doing so for 90 days, then pray each time we see an opportunity, we will be praying continually.
So the next question is, now what? Right? Well, I'm glad you asked.
As you go back to your lives this week, take Paul's words with you. Choose to rejoice in the hope you have in Jesus. Show the world what it looks like to not allow your circumstances to dictate your attitude. If you are staring into the rearview mirror at your past, struggling to move forward, tear that mirror down and remember you have been forgiven and you are loved. You can look forward with confidence knowing your past does not define you.
Remember, we will all face tribulations and challenges but if we are to be patient in the midst of them as a witness to who we are in Christ. I would also challenge you to think of all those who are carrying the Gospel to places where they can be imprisoned or killed for their faith. Knowing Jesus is showing patience in his return because he desires for more to know him.
Finally, make prayer a regular part of your day. Start to look for those opportunities and moments when you see God at work in every aspect of your life. Remembering the closer you get to him, the closer he gets to you. If that is a struggle, just start praying every time you touch your phone for the next 21 days, and it will become a habit on its way to becoming a lifestyle.
My challenge to you is you will start applying these simple truths to your life today. I promise you it will make a huge difference in your life and the lives of others around you. Let's pray!
Father, we come to you desiring to be the people Paul is calling us to be for your purpose and glory. May we be a church that rejoices in our hope that we have in you that others ask why we are that way. Thus opening the door to talk about all you accomplished through your life death and resurrection.I also pray specifically for those who are struggling today to know they are loved or that they can never get past their past. May they leave here today knowing they are greatly loved and their past is just that the past and they can look forward with confidence that better days are ahead. Father, we lift up all those who are persecuted for sharing the gospel all over the world and give them the boldness and patience to endure. And may their efforts cause a revival where they are. Finally, the Lord may we be a praying people approaching you constantly through the day so much that it becomes a habit that becomes a lifestyle. Now as we go help us to apply what we have heard today to our lives living each day as the Christ's Followers you have called us to be your ambassadors. In Jesus name, we pray Amen!
May you go rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, and constant in prayer.
You are sent!