Gifted, Graced, Growing

Please read Romans 12:1-8.

God's Gifts_final (2)

Image by James Best, (C) 2020,

https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

God gives us all we need to grow in His grace.

      We need to begin by sharing some alarming information.  But first, a reminder of the Bible’s teaching that we are in this together:

If one part [of the Body of Christ] suffers, every part suffers with it. 1 Corinthians 12:26,  “The world has become less tolerant and less safe for Christians. Based on current statistics, every day around the world …

  • 8 Christians are killed for their faith.
  • 23 Christians are raped or sexually harassed.
  • 25 Churches are targeted and attacked.
  • 10 Christians are unjustly arrested or imprisoned for their faith.

Every week around the world …

  • 186 church buildings are attacked.
  • 276 Christian homes are burned or destroyed.

The total numbers reveal a more than a 1,000% increase in acts of persecution in 2019 over 2018.”

Violence Against Christians Surges; More Than 1,000% Increase in Attacks on Churches Since 2018

The point is this: the enemy is active and organized in its opposition to the truth of Jesus Christ. God created the church to be a body, a movement of people whose ambition is to shine the light of Jesus into a dark world.  We haven’t time to waste on lesser things.

CONTEXT – Bible teacher A.M. Hunter said there are two sides to the Gospel; the believing side and the “behaving side.”  A living faith is growing in knowing and doing.  Paul wrote a doxology (11:33-36) and then followed it up with a call to worship God by sacrifice.  In this way, Paul illustrated both the believing and behaving sides of faith.

  1. God gives gracious gifts.

One act of grace is God’s gift of revelation: it is gracious of God to reveal Himself to us.  In Romans 12:3, Paul reported that God gave him insight into the nature of humility and faith (3). This teaching came from God: FOR BY THE GRACE GIVEN ME I SAY TO EVERY ONE OF YOU.

The specific truth revealed on this occasion is found in the phrase, DO NOT THINK OF YOURSELF MORE HIGHLY THAN YOU OUGHT, for that is pride. Doubt is not the opposite of faith; pride is the opposite of faith!  As we learned in Bible Study recently, “EGO” is an acronym for “Edging God Out.” There is only room for one on the throne of our life; it must be God who sits there.

INSTEAD, Paul wrote, THINK OF YOURSELF WITH SOBER JUDGMENT, for that is humility.  Humility is an accurate self-understanding.  Faith allows us to see ourselves from God’s perspective and thereby to by humble.

Here’s a news flash!  We don’t create faith or even increase it: faith is something God gives us, as Paul wrote, IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE MEASURE OF FAITH GOD HAS GIVEN YOU.  Let me give you two New Testament examples of people who understood faith to be God’s gift.

– In Luke 17:5, Jesus’ disciples said to Him, “INCREASE OUR FAITH!”  There is no exertion of will to believe here, just a plea for more faith.

– In Mark 9:24 Jesus challenged the demoniac boy’s father to believe in order to see his son delivered.  In desperation the man cried out, “I DO BELIEVE! HELP ME OVERCOME MY UNBELIEF!”  He accurately understood faith to be something Jesus gives.

Part of humility is to avoid comparing ourselves with others.  Based on His knowledge of us, God gives each of us a MEASURE OF FAITH that is best for us.  We can pray for more faith, but we can’t create it, not with all the willpower in the world.

God created the Church for our benefit and gives abilities to serve in shared ministry (4-6).  We do not belong to ourselves, but to each other.  The problem is that pride gets in the way.  Pride feeds selfishness and is contrary to fellowship in the church.

Proud people try to support their pride by citing things like amount or length of service, education, or recognition, as if they are trying to work around grace. Any time someone has to build themselves up in a bid to get your attention you can be sure that it is pride – not love – that is at work in them.  Be wary of your own words.

A cure for pride is to think of one’s self WITH SOBER JUDGMENT. This requires a view of self that is informed by Scripture.

  1. God wants us to use His gifts.

Our best response to God’s grace is to worship Him (1). In the Old Testament, worship involved the sacrifice of animals to atone for one’s sin.  In the New Testament, worship still involves sacrifice, but not the killing of an animal, but the spiritual sacrifice of the worshiper, a LIVING SACRIFICE.

This is what Jesus meant when He said the greatest commandment is loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37).  The SACRIFICE of which Paul speaks is all of our personality must be poured into our life-long service to Christ.

Paul wrote that this kind of self-sacrifice is SPIRITUAL, “reasonable” or “true” worship.  This echoes Jesus’ teaching in John 4:24, that God the Father accepts worship that is spiritual and true.

God wants us to be transformed (2), growing in the faith He’s given.  One force opposing spiritual maturity is the devil or Satan.  He’s a liar, tempter and accuser, wielding distraction to achieve destruction.  Another force opposing spiritual maturity is the WORLD (aka “this age”).  The material world has a lot of influence because we temporarily live in it.  Part of the work of spiritual maturity is distancing ourselves from the world’s temptations and ties.

The institutions of this world want our loyalty and our resources.  The world wants conformity.  We’re to keep in line, not rock the boat, not defy their illusionary powers.  However, as God’s people, all we are and all we have belongs to God.  He calls us to transformation, becoming less worldly and more heavenly.  Our priority with our resources is using them to make Earth more heavenly.

The means of transformation Paul gives here is renewal of our minds.  Transformation is also something God gives, but there are things we can do to open our minds to renewal: prayer, study of God’s word, good works done in love, and obeying his commands.  The effect of this transformation is gaining wisdom to discern God’s will.  God’s will is always the best choice because it is GOOD, PERFECT, and PLEASING.

In general, we know that we are being transformed if selfishness is being replaced by godliness.  This is the spirit in which John the Baptist spoke of Jesus in John 3:30, “He must increase, I must decrease.”

God wants us to use our Spiritual Gifts (6-8).  We don’t have space to elaborate on the Gifts in this article.  It is enough for us to note that they are Gifts from God and therefore not a source of pride or competition in a church.  God gives as He wills, knowing up perfectly and working His will in us.

God gives us all we need to grow in His grace.

      I read this week that an egotist is someone who’s ME-DEEP in everything!  Part of God’s amazing grace is that He delivers us from a self-centered life.  He saves us from the burden of having to be right all the time.  He demonstrates forgiveness that renders perfectionism obsolete.  And on top of all that, He places us in a “forever family” that loves and supports us unconditionally.

When you think about it, the Bible has an awful lot to say against pride.  It has a lot to recommend depending on God rather than self.  All of that takes the pressure off and allows us to experience rest in Jesus Christ.

Here’s a practical experiment for you to try.  Whether you’re having a conversation in person, online, or on the phone, try to avoid first person pronouns.  Don’t use words like “I” and “me” and observe the conversation impartially.  When you don’t use those words, how often does the conversation turn to you?  Notice how much more you’ll have to listen and how much more responsive the other person becomes.  It’s a good feeling: you may want to make a habit of it!

 

RESOURCE:

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Romans, Leslie C. Allen.

Seven Modern Maladies and Their Solutions (1 of 7)

Those of you over 50 years old…

 

professor

need no introduction to this guy.  Chances are you can recount the episode from which this picture was taken.

For the rest of you, this is a picture of “the Professor” character from the TV show “Gilligan’s Island,” which premiered on CBS on September 26, 1964.  Actor Russell Johnson portrayed Professor Roy Hinkley all three seasons the show aired and in subsequent sequels.  He originally did not want the part (in what may have been a prideful moment, he was hoping for a show of his own) and admitted to having difficulty memorizing the lines with a lot of scientific words in them.

Several years ago I received an email that identified the characters on Gilligan’s Island with the seven deadly sins, just for fun.  The Professor was chosen to represent the sin of PRIDE because he was a “know-it-all.”

Pride is a sin because it makes an idol of self.

  1. The vicious vice of pride. (1 Cor. 8:1-3)

How can I identify a sinful degree of pride in myself?  It is a matter of trust: do I trust God or self?  Pride is putting trust in myself or any other worldly thing.         It is a matter of love: do I love God first?  Love of self is appropriate if we love God and others first.  It is a matter of grace: do I try to earn favor?  This can be subtle, but I believe that I can be worthy to enter heaven by being a good person, that is a form of pride.

Why is pride deadly?  It is deadly because it can blind us to our need for God.  If we don’t acknowledge our personal problem with sin and our need for Jesus Christ as Savior, we are dead in our sins and unsaved.  Self-reliance can be a good thing except in spirituality.  In spiritual matters we must rely on God.

The context of this verse is a “hot button” issue in the early church; whether or not it was appropriate to eat the meat of animals that had been slain as a sacrifice to an idol.  Paul’s teaching on this issue reveals how pride can replace true spirituality.  In his answer, Paul was inspired to make three points.

First, WE ALL HAVE KNOWLEDGE.  That was Paul’s way of saying, “Everyone in the church has an opinion on this subject.”   The question was, whose opinion was right?

Paul’s answer might be summarized as, “The person who relies on God’s wisdom than human knowledge.”  The spiritually mature view is to not be legalistic because legalism is a religious form of pride.  It puts human knowledge above spiritual revelation, and law above grace.

Second, love is better than knowledge.  Paul wrote that KNOWLEDGE PUFFS UP – that is – it creates a pride.  “Know-it-all” people and legalists have a toxic effect on relationships.  LOVE is better because it BUILDS UP other people.  People who have the love of the Lord have a positive effect on relationships.

KNOWLEDGE asks questions like…

What are my rights?

There are no exceptions – no need to pay attention to context – so, what does the law say?

How can I be vigilant to correct wrong-doing in others?

How do I need to exert my will?

LOVE asks questions like…

What is my responsibility?

What has God revealed to me?

What can I do to show God’s grace and promote spiritual maturity?

How can I help others to do God’s will?

Third, humility is best defined as accurate self-knowledge.  This may sound shocking: self-reliance is the greatest enemy of faith because it encourages inaccurate self-knowledge.

People who are intellectually self-reliant are proud of their big brains.  They tend to reject faith, tradition and Scripture because they’ve “figured it all out” and “know better.”

People who are materially self-reliant seek security from money in the bank or are materialistic in more subtle ways.

People who are physically self-reliant tend to emphasize experience and value excitement.  They refute absolute truth and morality as it might limit on their freedom.

People who are spiritually self-reliant have made up their own faith; they see no problem with placing their hope in something that has no more authority than wishful thinking.

Humility is needed and none of these self-reliant people are humble because they fundamentally misperceive themselves.   Accurate self-knowledge comes only in relationship with God.  For example, every day we rely on a mirror to accurately view our appearance.  In a similar but more important way, we need someone to reflect our true self back to us.

Apart from God, all we have are other people to be mirrors for us.  There are at least two problems with depending on people to serve as our “character mirrors.”

No one else really knows us.  They can’t know read minds and they have not lived all our life with us.  God knows us better than we know ourselves and He has been with us all our lives.

The perspective of others is always heavily influenced by their own thoughts and experiences; they are incapable of being a truly accurate reflection.  God IS the truth.  He alone can truly reflect us.

So how do we access God’s perspective?  Primarily, we gain God’s perspective through prayer, Scripture, and the Holy Spirit.   Secondarily, we can gain God’s perspective through other believers who are spiritually maturing and speak through the Holy Spirit.

  1. The vital virtue of humility. (Romans 12:3)

The context of this passage: in Romans 12, Paul reminded the church members that they were not separate bodies, but one.  The individual believers, like organs in a body, must all function and function together for the health of the whole.

How am I to practice humility?  Paul listed three specific requirements.

First, I must stand in God’s grace, not in my works.  In the phrase, FOR BY THE GRACE GIVEN ME Paul identified the authority behind his words (God) and the source of his words (also God).

GRACE is God’s favor on undeserving people.  Pride is a sin because it attempts to do away with GRACE, to make it unnecessary by redefining sin out of existence or at least making it unimportant.

Humility is a virtue because it admits to our complete dependence on God.  You can’t have humility without GRACE.

Second, I must not think too highly of myself; no more than I OUGHT to.  Humility is NOT making yourself a doormat.  It has very little to do with passivity.  Humility is knowing who you really are, as God has given you perspective to know yourself accurately.

Accurate self-knowledge will never lead to pride.  It is never self-centered.  Accurate self-knowledge is awareness of your strengths and weaknesses and a desire to live within them.  Accurate self-knowledge does not deny ambition, but it tempers it.  It is based on truth and is the most realistic view of self.

I must think of myself as God does.  Because of GRACE, I see myself as a child of God.  Thereby I can…

Third, exercise SOBER JUDGMENT.  I can see good and evil in the world and react accordingly.  I understand life IN THE MEASURE OF FAITH.

Notice FAITH too is God’s gift.  FAITH is not something we make up to suit ourselves or to fit in with the crowd.  FAITH is received.  It must be sought and discovered.  It is passed on and received.

Humility is vital because pride can blind us to our need for God. Pride replaces God with self.  Pride leaves us dead in sin because if we don’t acknowledge our sin & our need for the Savior then we will never have faith.

Those of you under 50 years old…

selfie

know what this woman is doing.

For the rest of you, this gal is taking a “selfie” and she’s using a “selfie stick” and her smart phone to do it.  She will post the self-portrait on a website called Instagram, where people typically draw attention to themselves.

A friend gave me a copy of this cartoon that identifies the seven deadly sins with websites, updating this list for modern times.   Instagram is a photo and video-sharing website and app that began way back in 2010 and is owned by Facebook.  As of September, 2017, Instagram had 800 million registered users and over 40 billion photos and videos have been uploaded to it.  Instagram is criticized both for its censorship and its lack of censorship, proving again you can’t make everyone happy.

My point is not that users of Instagram are raging egomaniacs.  Instead, I merely offer Instagram is a symbol of pride because it is a place where people show themselves to the world.  However, the self they’re showing is possibly more flattering than accurate.

Pride is a sin because it makes an idol of self.

Our message is simple: avoid the vice of pride while practicing the virtue of humility.  We prize independence and in politics and finances, that is a good thing.  But in every other respect, dependence on God and interdependence among believers is the ideal.  It is an ideal achieved by humility, not pride.

Joseph: From Prisoner to Potentate

(Please read Genesis 41 from your favorite version of the Bible.  My citations (in capital letters) are from the NIV.)

 

Message: God lifts up the humble.

 

There was a hunter on a hunting expedition in the Amazon.  As the sun rose, he noticed a family of large birds. The mother bird tended to the baby birds while the father flew from place to place retrieving food for his hungry family.      While watching this scene, the hunter caught sight of a poisonous snake slowly making its way towards the mother bird and the babies, anticipating an easy meal. About the same time, the father bird dropped food at the nest and spotted t snake. The father bird quickly flew away. The hunter was disappointed, thinking that the father bird abandoned his family to a certain death.      He kept an eye on the father bird and saw it break off a leafy twig from the bush and rush back to the nest, where the serpent has come dangerously close. The father bird placed the leaves over the front edge of the nest closest to the snake and then he retreats to a nearby branch to watch.

The serpent drew to within striking range. It coiled itself and launched itself toward the baby birds. However, when the snake touched the leaves it instantly recoiled in pain and fell out of the tree.

The hunter asked the native villagers about this strange turn of events.  He said, “I don’t understand why the snake pulled back.” The villagers explained that the leaf the father bird chose was from the only bush in the jungle that was poisonous to the snake. The father bird knew how to protect his nest.

  1. Pharaoh had disturbing dreams (vs. 1-8).

TWO FULL YEARS pass between chapters 40+41. Virtually everything is in twos: both the prisoners’ and Pharaoh’s dreams are repeated twice, Pharaoh had two dreams to make one point, and Joseph had two sons.  Chapters 42-44 are two very similar plot Joseph unfolds to trick his brothers.  All of this is for emphasis and to show God’s hand in the events as they unfold.

Once again we observe that God’s timing is better than ours.  Had the cupbearer mentioned Joseph two years earlier, Pharaoh would’ve had no need of him.

Even before he learned the meaning of the dreams, Pharaoh was disturbed. In verses 4+5 we observe that Pharaoh awoke and fell asleep again. How well does that work for you?  Might that indicate “troubled sleep” as far as you are concerned?

Verse 8 says pointedly, PHAROAH’S MIND WAS TROUBLED.  That explains why, when he told Joseph about the dreams that he editorialized a bit: “I HAVE NEVER SEEN SUCH UGLY COWS IN EGYPT (v. 19).” Given the way these dreams turned from good to bad, his emotional reaction is understandable.  He had a nightmare double feature!

All this explains his immediate reaction: HE SENT FOR ALL THE MAGICIANS AND WISE MEN OF EGYPT (v. 8).  No help there,  as Pharaoh said, “NONE COULD EXPLAIN IT TO ME” (v. 24).

The first dream took place at the Nile.  It is hard to overestimate the importance of the Nile in Egyptian culture.  They saw that river as the origin of their national life, their most important resource.  If the Nile was corrupted, then that would weigh heavily on Pharaoh’s mind. As it was customary to fatten cattle on the grasses & plants that grew on the banks, the connection of cattle and the river was not itself out of the ordinary.

Regarding the grain, imagine a single seed producing up to 14 stalks and on each stalk a head producing 30 grains.  That’s 420 spikelets per stalk! In Egypt, an eastern wind has blown over the Saharan desert, becoming a hot blast of air that withers plants.

Strictly on his CUPBEARER’s say-so, PHARAOH SENT FOR JOSEPH (v. 14).  The cupbearer’s lack of gratitude to Joseph still stands.  He is only now mentioning Joseph because he is desperate to be useful and to appease Pharaoh.  This shows Pharaoh’s trust in his cupbearer and/or his desperation for an answer.

  1. Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and solved his problem (9-36).

Joseph once again attributed to God his ability to interpret dreams (v. 16).  This is a sign of humility and faith – directing people’s attention back to God. By faith Joseph made a confident promise: “GOD WILL GIVE PHARAOH THE ANSWER HE DESIRES.”

Joseph also repeatedly identified God as the giver of these dreams – not the Egyptian pantheon of gods, but the one true God.

While interpreting the dreams, he also set forth a solution to the famine fore-shadowed in Pharaoh’s dreams.  This is the most significant part of the whole exchange.

  1. God lifted Joseph up (vs. 37-57).

Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph and so convinced of God’s hand on him that he elevates him from prisoner to potentate in an instant!  He noted Joseph’s qualifications in verse 39: “GOD MADE ALL OF THIS KNOWN TO YOU” and “THERE IS NO ONE SO DISCERNING & WISE.”

He elevated Joseph’s authority, from Assistant Warden to Assistant Pharaoh!  Note the specifics:

– He put Joseph “IN CHARGE OF MY PALACE.”

– He proclaimed that “ALL PEOPLE [will] SUBMIT TO YOUR ORDERS.”

– In rank, Joseph was second only to Pharaoh.

– Pharaoh said Joseph would be “IN CHARGE OF/T WHOLE OF EGYPT.”

– He gave Joseph several signs of office, including Pharaoh’s own SIGNET RING, ROBES OF FINE LINEN to replace his prisoner’s garments, and A GOLD CHAIN AROUND HIS NECK.

– Joseph had the honor of riding “shotgun” in Pharaoh’s chariot.

– Pharaoh gave Joseph an unpronounceable and hyphenated name; both very cool!  The name meant “revealer of secrets,” or “savior of the land,” or, in an ironic twist, “a wise man who flees from adultery.”

– He gave Joseph an Egyptian princess as his wife.  It is possible that her father worshiped the one true God and so Pharaoh did not require Joseph to marry a pagan woman and thereby compromise his beliefs.

Verse 46 says that Joseph was 30 years old when he came into Pharaoh’s service.  He was seventeen when he was first brought into Egypt, spending thirteen years in service to Potiphar, and three in prison.

Most importantly, God elevated Joseph, making him successful and blessed.  Joseph was blessed with two sons whose descendants would each become half-tribes of the nation of Israel.

But the most important sign of god’s blessing is how Joseph’s plans succeeded.  God blessed Egypt with super-abundant crops for seven years.  The word ABUNDANCE in v. 47 literally means “handful.”  Imagine this: just the one-fifth of these crops provided more grain than could be reliably counted (v. 49)!  God used Joseph’s administration to save Egypt and surrounding countries during the seven years of famine.

Remember, regardless of the people involved, the hero of every biblical story is God.  God’s hand is the one orchestrating these events, it is His timing that brings dreamer and interpreter together at just the right time.  God’s action in human history is called “providence” and this is one of those occasions when providence takes place on a big scale, affecting the outcome of nations.

PSS 22:27-28 = ALL THE ENDS OF THE EARTH WILL REMEMBER AND TURN TO THE LORD, AND ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE NATIONS WILL BOW DOWN BEFORE HIM, FOR DOMINION BELONGS TO THE LORD AND HE RULES OVER THE NATIONS.