Scripture Reading: Romans 5:1-8
Over the last two weekends I have been challenged to grow more. Now I’m know I’m not going to get any taller. And I’m trying to not grow any wider, however I could probably work on that a little harder than I do right now.
But through the Church Renewal weekend in Manitoba, and last weekend’s Cursillo men’s retreat, I’ve been feeling the need to be a better person. I’ve been feeling the need to get rid of the sins in my life that I had ruled as “minor” sin and not really all that bad for me.
But I’ve come to realize a truth that any sin is bad, and any and all sin keep me from growing in my relationship with God.
At the Church Renewal weekend in Manitoba, I had some powerful experiences that I will share with you at a later time. But God spoke pretty clearly to me that there were things I needed to shed from my life, things I had rationalized as “not too bad”, but in reality had more impact on me than I had imagined, or was willing to admit to myself.
So, I am working on these things. Two weeks in, and I’m doing ok. But ask me again in 6 months, that will be the real test.
On the men’s Cursillo last weekend, I also had powerful experiences with God. While I didn’t feel God speak to me quite as powerfully as in Manitoba, I attribute this to the fact I was in leadership on the weekend and constantly thinking about what I had to do next, the weekend was no less holy. God was clearly there as we all felt the power of the Holy Spirit shared among our teaching and our sharing.
I know some of the men had very powerful moments over the weekend as they had shared them with me.
What struck me most over the last two weekends is the realization that God is more than willing to make His presence known to us if we allow ourselves to become humble and vulnerable. If we simply open ourselves up to the fact that we are not perfect, we cannot be perfect, we will never be perfect, and we allow God to speak into those imperfections, then we can be set free from our sin.
God knows we won’t be perfect, there was only ever one perfect human, and he gave his life as an innocent victim of our imperfections. Jesus died for our imperfection so that we can know God’s perfect love for us.
Now, just because we may try and think we’ve been let off the hook because of this, that we don’t need to get rid of our imperfection because of the cross, it doesn’t mean we are right. In fact we are far from it.
We need to continue to grow as children of God. God loves us, absolutely He does, but He also loves us so much He won’t give up on us when we fall apart and away from His love.
We do this all the time. We ignore God in our lives, we rationalize our sin simply because we believe that because everyone else does it, we can do it too.
That’s not what God wants from us. God wants us to be bearers of His love for others, so they too can come to know His love in their own lives. How can we do this if all others see in us are what they see in themselves? What kind of draw is that? Are we drawing people to God, or just more of the same?
God wishes for us to be beacons, to stand out from how the world expects people to be or live their lives. God calls us to a new life, a new life in which we are loved, we are forgiven and we are drawn to be holy, drawn to be disciples of Jesus Christ, seeking to live out the example and teaching he has put before us.
Is this simple? No of course not?
Jesus has asked us to live very differently than the world lives. The world teaches we are to look out for ourselves above all others. The world teaches us to store up treasures for ourselves. Now sure, by teaching I don’t mean it’s in our classrooms and schools, but it’s the way we are told informally to get ahead in life, whatever that means. Commercials show us we need to have lots of toys, which means we need lot of money. Which means we need to work long days and weekends. We need to do all of this for ourselves so that we can look successful in the eyes of everyone else.
We are judged by our appearance and the possessions we have.
We aren’t judged by how we help those in need in our communities.
Jesus invites us to live the opposite of how the world lives, and it’s how he lived his life. Love God. Serve those in need. That’s what Jesus modeled for us.
So if we want to grow in our Christian life, if we want to be better lovers of God and followers of Jesus, how do we get there when our life is such a mess?
Paul gives us a place to start in his letter to the Romans. Paul is getting to the point that we are saved not by what we do in our life, not by following rules or rituals. Paul says we are saved by faith. Faith in God through Jesus Christ. This is very important to Paul. He spends a lot of time encouraging people to live lives of faith instead of trying to adhere to some sort of human constructed list of rules, of what a good life should look like.
Paul acknowledges that life is not always easy, even for the ones who give their lives to Christ. There will still be struggles, but no matter what, he says we can rejoice in whatever life gives us.
I get it that we can boast about God in our blessings. That’s easy right? But he also asks us to boast in our suffering! That won’t be quite so easy. So Paul tries to walk us through what suffering, at least Godly suffering, can do for us.
If we endure suffering, Paul says suffering will give us endurance!
This is true. Think of runners. Runners, when they start to learn to run, well simply put, they kind of hate it. They do, but they are too ashamed to admit it. Running is supposed to be this beautiful thing people do. They all talk about the runner’s high they get from the wonderful exercise they get out in nature and seeing all the sites.
Do you think this happens the first time someone puts on sneakers and runs down the road? Absolutely not. When you start to learn to run, your feet hurt, your lungs feel like they are going to burst out of your chest. You’d rather die than go back out there. In fact, you feel like you just might die while doing it. But you keep at it. Next time you put your shoes on, it gets a little better. You keep training. And soon enough, you find yourself getting that runner’s high everyone keeps talking about. You enjoy it. Why? Because you’ve built up your endurance. The suffering of those first runs has produced endurance.
Sadly, you can’t skip this part. If you want to be a runner, you’ve got to go through the suffering. There is no shortcut. You cannot build endurance without the suffering.
Such as it is with life too. If we want to be a good Christian, then we need to go through the trials, the suffering, which will build our endurance. By suffering, I don’t mean that life will be completely miserable. I mean we need to get past those things which cause suffering. We need to shed the excess, the sin, the doubt, the questions from people who don’t understand what it is we’re doing, the quiet judgement because we go to church when everyone else is doing their own thing that pleases them the most.
Our suffering is what we experience when we begin to move from a wayward life into the life God calls us to live. And through it, we build endurance so we won’t need to suffer any more. This is a good thing.
So now we’ve built up our endurance, what comes next?
Paul tells us endurance produces character. When we’ve suffered and built up our strength and endurance, it is these experiences which build our character, they make us better people. Experience is what makes us who we are. All experience does this, good or bad, and more often we learn more from the bad experiences than the good ones.
It is through bad experience that we learn who we really are. We learn how we react in stressful situations. We learn from our mistakes. We grow as a person. So in our suffering, we learn to get past it, we get stronger. This is what produces our character. This is who we are today.
And we have a lot to learn, not just about the world around us, but also about ourselves through this process.
Have you ever found yourself in some sort of new situation and you surprise yourself with how you’ve responded? Again, this can be for good or for bad. It’s the part of building character when we see how we react, because if we react in a harmful or negative way, then we see how we might want to change our character so we can respond in a healthier, faithful way.
There’s no question God wants us to be better citizens. God wants us to learn to respond in ways which are edifying, ways in which people can see our faith naturally.
If we are in a situation where most people would cave, or even worse, respond in a hurtful way, and if we come through praising God instead, then which is better for drawing people to God’s kingdom? Which is the more faithful response?
How we respond is our character. This is what God is trying to develop in us. God wants us to naturally respond in love, grace and mercy as a result of our faith.
This is not as easy as you might think. It’s not simply the flipping of a switch. We can’t say to ourselves, “I’m not going to swear any more.” Or, “I’m going to respond lovingly instead of screaming at the guy who cuts me off on the road.”
To make this change we need to make a major shift who we are as a person, we need to change our character.
I used to swear like a trucker. I slowly began to change this about myself. And I’d be doing good for a while, but then I’d be playing basketball and getting caught up in the moment and find myself letting a word or two slip out in the heat of the moment.
Shoot, I thought I had it under control. But now, I’m good. Instead of swearing because I missed another easy shot, I let out a little grunt or scream of frustration and continue on.
What’s funny is the guys I play basketball with still swear when they play, but I’ve noticed they’ve toned it down a bit. I don’t know if they themselves notice it, but I have.
Character is important. Who we are as God’s citizens in this foreign land we call earth, seeking to serve others and share God’s love, how we act is important. Our character is important.
If we call ourselves Christians but don’t respond in love, don’t example a Christian life, then how is that praising God? How is it pleasing to God? How is it drawing people to God?
Suffering produces endurance. It makes us stronger.
Endurance produces character. It makes us who we are.
And character produces hope.
What is our hope?
If we are growing our character by the grace of God, then what is our hope?
Our hope is that all these changes lead to unity with God through Jesus Christ. We hope that all the suffering, and the building up of endurance, the changes in our character, our hope is that they all lead to something, somewhere.
Our hope is that God will love us.
Now, God does love us as we are today. And that will never change, He will always love us. Nothing we can do will make him love us more.
The hope is that we will help others realize this in their own lives. That as they see the changes in our own character, they too will let God change their character so they can be better people and turn away from their own sin.
God has a plan for this world. He sees us all as His children, living in peace and harmony, just as it was in the Garden of Eden. But God doesn’t want to dictate our lives. He doesn’t want to be our puppeteer? How is that loving?
So He gave us free will. We can make our own decisions. Which is part of the problem now isn’t it? We freely chose to disobey and walk away from God’s love.
But we also have the choice to walk back into it. And we have the chance to bring others along with us.
Going back to my recent desire to change parts of my life, I believe by getting rid of these things, that is by changing my character, I will be closer to God. I will be better able to hear His voice in my life. And I will be better able to serve Him and reach out to other people who are currently living a life of suffering. But I can’t help others unless I myself am moving past my own suffering, building my endurance, changing my character and finding hope.
I have hope that in changing my character, and this is in mostly small ways, God will use me more.
Don’t we all want God to use us more?
Suffering produces endurance.
Endurance produces character.
Character produces hope.
Hope that through Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross we may know the fullness of God’s love in our lives, and that we can share this hope with others, and together we can transform our homes, our community, our province, our nation, and finally the world into a place of peace and love, with Christ as our centre, leading us back to God.
Can we hope in this altogether? I think we would all love to see an end to war, an end to suffering, and a world in which we are all brothers and sisters living lives devoted to God.
If we can change our character in such a way that others will see God in us, then we are taking the first steps to bring healing to a broken world. It has to begin with us. We can’t expect God to change the world if we don’t let Him change us first.
Imagine how the world would look if we all just took a little time to allow God to build our character as He wants us to live as His precious child.
Let us pray,
Through your life you have shown us how important it is to have good character. You have shown us how our actions impact the lives of those around us, our families and friends, and outward from there. Help us to see the weaknesses in our own character so we may change in such a way that you will be glorified and your love will be known to our brothers and sisters around us.
Jesus, you have shown us the way to live. Help us to turn away from our sin and self-centeredness and move to a life where you are our centre.
We humbly ask for your guidance through this life transforming experience, as we seek to experience new life in you through the power of your sacrifice on the cross.
We ask this in your most holy name. Amen and amen.