Oh, what fun it was to deliver this message.
I had the multi-faceted privileged of . . .
- Digging deep into Romans 5:1-5;
- Showing a clip from a pro tennis match I won in 1984 (yes!);
- Letting people know that “Jaws” is not a good date movie;
- Leading a demonstration with a batter, waffle iron, and Eggo;
- Teaching the church that God loves them too much to give them a short cut to hope when a long run is what they need.
- Reminding this United Methodist congregation that Jesus really is coming back — not as metaphor but as King.
All that led to this bottom line:
Stop fighting for victory and start fighting from it.
You know, we all faces situations in life that seem hopeless. Like the little girl, at the doctor’s office for a shot and he holds up the syringe and asks, “which arm?” In a quivering voice she answered, “Yours?” Hopeless. Or even the firefighter who was talking to a friend about the rash of calls they’d received recently about copperhead snakes. And I know this is true because it happened to me! And the ff told his friend, “Yeah, we’re getting all kinds of people calling us with copperheads in their yards asking us to come take care of them.” “Really?!” the friend said. “What do you say to them?” “Well, first I ask . . . ‘is it on fire?’” Hopeless.
But you know and I know there’s more and there’s worse. The marriage that is on the skids and threatening to skid right off into the abyss of divorce. Hopeless. There’s the doctor’s diagnosis and it’s gloomy and there’s even a time limit given on your days and the treatment will likely make you sicker than the disease ever did. And it’s hopeless. There’s the prodigal whose return is really just a prelude to another departure. It’s hopeless. And even some of the dreams that some of you have about racial harmony in our land in our time or that dream I have of genuine revival in the larger UMC and I look at the stats and the surveys and I conclude: hopeless.
And here’s the deal: most of us want to take a short cut to hope. Like I have a way home from here that by-passes South Tryon (hooray!) and uses fewer miles with less traffic and VOILA! I’m home. It’s a short cut. That’s what we want to get from hopeless to hopeful . . . we want to flip a switch, turn a corner and BOOM, we’re suddenly full of hope.
But as we open up The Path Of Most Resistance, a series built on the idea that God really loves us the most NOT by giving us the easy way but my coming alongside us on the hard way, knowing that our lives are like a muscle which grows through RESISTANCE training & not ASSISTANCE training, we see that Paul pictures the road to hope very differently. Not as a short cut but as a long run. It’s Romans 5, a pivotal turning point in this letter where after establishing that you GET RIGHT w/ God not based on your performance FOR Jesus but your position IN Jesus, Paul then turns to address the “Here’s what your life as a Xn is gonna be like.” And he is the OPPOSITE of the shiny, happy TV preacher who promises your best life now, overpromising and underdelivering a life of ongoing blessing & happiness.
Look at 5:1-2:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God.
OK, so far, so good. Hope, confidence. And that idea of hope surely has in mind the notion of the 2nd Coming, the return of Jesus to earth to judge the quick and the dead; an even that Paul himself elsewhere calls our blessed hope. This Jesus IN WHOM WE STAND is coming back. Tuck that away as the reality that looms over this entire section. Because, frankly, we’d be fine if Paul stopped talking right there. But he doesn’t.
Look at 5:3-4, the heart of this passage, the scene of this incredible pile on:
3 Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.
And so we go, “Really, Paul?” You glory in, celebrate God in vv 1-2. That’s OK. We GET that; it’s not natural, but we GET it. But then you glory in your SUFFERING? Which in the ancient language has the idea of pressure, pressing. So the more pressure we are under (David Bowie clip?) the more delight we have? Hard to swallow. But then he goes on: Yeah, I glory in that suffering & pressing because I know that’s going to grow my perseverance & tenacity, which will grow my character & integrity, and the result of ALL THAT is hope.” See that? No short cut! A long road! And if you are like me, it is difficult to understand how all this pile on of experience, this sequencing of troubles results in hard won hope. You’re in the middle of a crumbling marriage, struggling with a persistent addiction, wondering about lingering unemployment, and we’re supposed to SMILE in the face of all that pressure because ultimately we will hope? Give me the short cut! And Paul won’t. And he’s the one inspired by the HS. Because 5:5 is the key, coupled with its bookend of 5:2:
5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Paul is, again, talking about the enduring, rock solid certainty that the same Jesus who ROSE will one day RETURN. And when he does, all those ppl who are IN CHRIST will join in resurrected life. Every wrong will be righted, every hurt will be healed, every moment of suffering will be soothed. We can “glory” in sufferings because Paul wants God to use whatever difficulties he needs to grow you ever more confident AND ANTICIPATORY of that coming day when suffering will be no more. Paul knows that the only way to endure, the only way to deal in a healthy way with situations that are in the short term hopeless is to keep long term hope in the front of your mind. To ground your view of the future – where, face it, ALL OF US are going to spend the rest of our lives! – not in your situation but in the certainty of his return. Here’s the deal, all you who feel hopeless. The resistance you’re going through today is to teach you something you’d never learn any other way. Stop fighting for victory & start fighting from it.
Yes! God wants his children IN CHRIST to be so convinced of his ultimate victory that the temporary pressures are just that – temporary, insignificant, proving grounds we face with serenity and strength because we know how the story ends. We look at TODAY through the lens of TOMORROW where WE WIN (actually HE wins and we’re just along for the ride.) We don’t look at TOMORROW through the lens of TODAY, assuming today’s hopelessness is going to be permanent. Stop fighting for victory & start fighting from it.
It’s like this tennis match that was broadcast on Cable Access TV in Hamilton NJ in 1984: PLAY CLIP. Who’s that? Me! Listen: every so often I will put this DVD in and watch a few points and I’m not the least bit nervous. Know why? Because I know out the match turns out and I WIN EVERY SINGLE TIME! (And yes, my prize money was $400 and yes we bought a couch.) Every dumb shot I hit during that match doesn’t matter because I know every time how it ends. So I sit & enjoy even my errors. Stop fighting for victory & start fighting from it.
Or it’s like the movie Jaws. Remember that (Audio of theme song). Ominous and terrifying. But you watch it the SECOND time – which I did on at least two occasions, foolishly thinking as a teenager that it was a good date movie – and it’s no longer a horror movie. It’s a comedy! Because you know ahead of time every head that pops out, every corpse that washes up and – SPOILER ALERT – you know that the shark gets blown up in the end (play clip of that explosion). Yes! Stop fighting for victory & start fighting from it.
Or it’s even like the little boy down at the base of an escalator who just keep watching that hand rail keep circling around. Someone asked him what he was doing. “Waiting for my gum to come back,” he said. REFRAIN. With that kind of certainty that something really good awaits us, Stop fighting for victory & start fighting from it.
See, God loves you so much that he presses you. Yes! He loves you too much to give you an easy way out when you will become more mature via a hard way through. He wants to grow your tenacity, he wants to grow your character. He wants you to be so convinced of the goodness of his return and the victory it contains, that you are the same person when no one is looking as you are on center stage. That’s what character is, you know – who you are when no one is looking. And that kind of godly, good conscience character is rarely if ever built during a life of ease. It’s much more commonly during times of stress and distress. God presses you not out of anger but as an act of compassion.
Like see this waffle iron? What does it do? It presses batter. The batter is only batter until the waffle iron presses it. Then shapeless, formless batter takes on the shape and texture and taste of a priceless waffle! Leggo my eggo!
Until you are pressed, you’re tempted to view life through the short term, to see things for their immediate value only, and Paul is saying there is nothing like suffering & struggling to bring clarity. God will take you on as long a journey as necessary to get you to view life from the END backwards. And know this: this hope is grounded in perspective and in solid teaching and not in wishful thinking. Sometimes we Xns think that “hope” is sitting around wishing for things that will likely never happen. Not at all! Hope is instead conviction & certainty that all my struggles today will one day vanish. All the colors really will bleed into one. And that perspective doesn’t make me give up, it makes me press through because I’m pretty sure how it all works out in the end. Stop fighting for victory & start fighting from it.
Lord, what I don’t want in this church and among people I lead is the German pastor from yesteryear who was so wrapped up in his troubles that all he could do was lament & complain. To the point that one morning his wife came down for breakfast with a black arm band, which is what ppl in that land and that day did when someone died. Alarmed, he asked her, “Who died? Did I miss something?” “Well,” she answered, “With the way you have been carrying on, I thought God did.” No he didn’t! All of our struggles are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us and to us when our resurrected Lord becomes our returning King! Please don’t by your demeanor during struggles allow the world to think he’s dead. Because he’s not. He did not die and he will come back. Your hope is not a wish; it’s a fact. Start living that way. Stop fighting for victory & start fighting from it.
It’s kind of remarkable how well two women from this church learned this and lived this. They both said THE EXACT SAME THING, several years apart, upon receiving a terminal diagnosis. Didn’t know each other. But steeped in the thinking of this message. Both of them, independently, said this to me: “If I beat it and live, I win. If I don’t and die, I am with Jesus, and I win. Either way, I win.” And THAT’S Stop fighting for victory & start fighting from it. How about you?