I struggle as I sit here to pen my thoughts on this week's sermon. It truly hit me hard in a lot of ways and I did come home with many a thought and desire to move forward in my journey. Yet within 24 hours of hearing and sensing what God was telling me, I was already worn out by life and feeling so spent. Do you ever have those times when you know you're doing all you can to try to live in Christlikeness, when you truly are reading your Bible and praying and living intentionally, but it just seems like everyone else is getting blessed while you have to endure? I'm having one of those enduring times, (as if you couldn't tell). So although this week really spurred me on to growing in God and really hit a nail on the head for me I'm not exactly feeling 'enamored' as it were and I fear that may show up in this post and not do the sermon justice. With that prelude let me soldier on.
This week we skipped over vs 16-17 which our pastor feels are the cornerstone of the message of Romans and we'll be focusing on them next week. We did talk about them briefly but focused more on Romans 1:13-15.
For any of you who know anything about Paul in the Bible you'll know he was on fire about whatever he did. Whether he was killing Christians or standing up for them he did so with fervor. I imagine him to be one of those guys that get so revved up spit flies and no amount of hairspray can keep their hair flat against their head. This week's big question was: What gave Paul the ability to be so bold for the Gospel?
As usual in an Alliance sermon there were some key points all beginning with the same letter! Paul had the courage to be bold because he knew the Gospel is a: Loving message, a Life changing message, a Logical message and a Liberating message.
Paul had an obvious life change after he heard the Gospel. He went from killing Christians to advocating for them. He not only began sparing the lives of Christians he became one of them and truly embraced what that meant. Could you imagine if Paul had not experienced the Gospel but went around trying to tell everyone about it? Some could have pulled that off, (I mean how many celebrities convince us to buy things they never use?), but when it comes to Christianity if you aren't experiencing it people can tell when you talk. Not only because your actions and words contradict each other but because of the hollowness of what is being said. To shout from the mountaintops 'God loves you!' without feeling God's love is really just noise. I'm not a person who had an obvious life change once I heard the Gospel. I'd always been the 'good' kid, I don't have a past full of events I wish I could change. While many may look at that as a blessing, I see it as more of a curse. Once again being reminded that the enemy of greatness is goodness. It takes a lot of extra effort to show the world what God has done for me, and how thankful I am for it, without my life doing a 180. To keep on doing the same thing I did before but with the power of God's gift transforming it and making me set apart from the world, I think it's safe to say that's not something I have mastered. I wonder what it looks like. To go through the every day grind with the same passion as a genuinely converted murderer or recovering addict. I wonder what it takes for my same old life to look as passionate as theirs. I wondered it all through the service and I'm still wondering about it.
I know that the Gospel is a loving message. It's right there in John 3:16, the first verse we ever learn in Sunday school, that God so loved the world. Our pastor challenged us to plead with God to show us each an experience of his unconditional love. I don't think I've felt that before. I know in my head that I can't do anything to earn unconditional love, but that doesn't keep me from trying! It also doesn't keep me from feeling like I've lost God's love at some point either. When I feel like I must have surely disappointed him and so I'm not getting the whole of his love. Which in my heart I know is bogus, but my head only has an understanding of human unconditional love. Which I would challenge is not the same. You know that saying 'I love him/her all the time, but it doesn't mean I always like him/her. I don't think that applies to God's unconditional love, but I sure feel it as a wife and a parent sometimes and that is my reality of unconditional love.
This is where the sermon gets a bit foggy for me, cuz I didn't really understand the next point and God has also been trying to teach me something which combines last week's sermon and the previous point. I really am hung up on the 'goodness is the enemy of greatness' line. Believing truly myself to be good but not great. It hit me at some point over the last few weeks that in believing myself to be good but not great I am in fact sinning. To look at God's creation in me and to not go 'Wow, what a work of art' is in effect saying 'hey God I think you did something wrong here'. Since it tugs so hard at my heart strings right now I fail to find the words to adequately describe my train of thought. But it goes something like; I currently feel like I'm not that great, because if I was great God would be filling my life with blessings not obstacles and since he doesn't seem to be doing so I must not be all that great. Since I'm not all that great God really doesn't love me unconditionally. I know he isn't loving me unconditionally because I can see him loving so and so unconditionally by the blessings he is giving so and so. Since I do not feel at the moment that God has made me great or that he loves me unconditionally I am not experiencing the same thing the Roman church is experiencing. I do not feel compelled, gripped or enamored by God who could bless me exponentially but has decided instead to fill my life with obstacles in order to show me his love. Since I am not experiencing the same thing as the Roman church I am not able to evangelize to other people because how can you talk about something you do not know firsthand. Now that I've filled your current mental experience with that gobbeldy gook, you can kinda see the confusion/frustration/wrestling match my heart/soul and mind are currently embarked on. I think. Like I said, foggy.
The next point of the sermon was that the Gospel is a logical message. I think I need to pursue having that point cleared up because to me the Gospel is anything but logical. Our pastor explained it in what seemed to make logical sense to him, (and I think many others because there was a lot of head shaking and amen's). The question is How can a holy God reach out to a polluted world without compromising his holiness. And the answer is Jesus. I wish I could explain it a bit more, but honestly I don't get it yet. It makes no logical sense to me that a holy God became a human, (unholy), without losing his holiness. To me that's the mystery of Christ and not something I am created to fully comprehend but rather to see it as something only God can do and therefore is no logical to me. Perhaps I don't know what logical means? Any thoughts?
The final point is that the Gospel is a liberating message. It's all about living a life of faith and works are an outpouring of that faith. Since righteousness is obtained by faith it liberates us from trying to have to earn it. We think of good things as having to be earned, like our paycheck or vacation time or even the love of someone. But that's not the case with the Gospel story that is a gift freely given.
So to put the last two weeks together: Paul was compelled, gripped and enamored by the Gospel that he was bold to share because he had experienced it. We should be pleading with God for just such an experience so we can live boldly and be gripped by the Gospel.