“My aim is to evangelize where Christ has not been named, so that I will not build on someone else’s foundation, but, as it is written: Those who were not told about Him will see, and those who have not heard will understand. That is why I have been prevented many times from coming to you. But now I no longer have any work to do in these provinces, and I have strongly desired for many years to come to you whenever I travel to Spain. For I hope to see you when I pass through, and to be assisted by you for my journey there, once I have first enjoyed your company for a while. Right now I am traveling to Jerusalem to serve the saints, for Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased, and indeed are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual benefits, then they are obligated to minister to Jews in material needs. So when I have finished this and safely delivered the funds to them, I will visit you on the way to Spain. I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ. Now I appeal to you, brothers, through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to join with me in fervent prayers to God on my behalf. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, that the gift I am bringing to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, and that, by God’s will, I may come to you with joy and be refreshed together with you. The God of peace be with all of you. Amen.” (Romans 15:20-33 HCSB https://bible.com/bible/72/rom.15.20-33.HCSB)
Distracted Living. In my opinion, it is the bane of modern society. Social media alerts, smartphones and watches that tell us we’ve received posts, email or texts from people we know and even those we don’t. Alerts from news and weather apps on our phones about breaking stories, storms, lightning in the area or drought conditions. Reminders of packages being delivered or someone unexpected at our door. We live in a world that is constantly seeking and receiving distractions. We rarely sit in a quiet room and just think, reason, read or pray. One of the results is that we no longer live “on purpose” but mostly “in response.”
In other words, we often tend to be reactionary or responding to the rapidly changing world around us rather than being purpose driven and mission focused. Ok, I recognize that it is necessary to be aware of and responding to the conditions around us as those conditions and circumstances change. We must respond and adapt to those changes but it often feels like that’s all we are doing. We move from one crisis event or pressing issue to the next and we’re just surviving along the way. Surviving and not thriving. Living but not really growing in the process. It especially feels like that over the past few years as we live and react in response to a global pandemic.
As we get close to the end of Paul’s letter to the Roman church, he moves from teaching them and calling them to action and obedience to planning and strategizing with them. He tells them of his purpose, his calling and how he hopes and plans to fulfill it. His purpose is to “evangelize where Christ has not been named” or to preach and proclaim the Gospel of Christ in those areas where no one has heard the story. To evangelize is to “announce the good news” and comes from “eu” (good) and “angello” (messenger, and by extension the message delivered). So, Paul gets to continue the work of the angel Gabriel as he told the shepherds and they, in turn, told others about Jesus and what God told them about Him – “Today a savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.” Instead of reacting, Paul is planning on how to carry out the mission God has assigned him – to go “where no man has gone before.” (Please, forgive my Star Trek reference)
I realize that we must react to the changing circumstances and situations in our world and around us, but our reactions should be purpose driven and mission focused. Instead of letting our emotions dominate our reactions, we should let faith and reason drive our reaction and focus our response. Why? So that “those who were not told about Him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.” Paul quotes from Isaiah 52:15 which is one of the “suffering servant” passages. Take a moment and go read Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12. It specifically references the suffering that the Messiah would endure in order to redeem us – “But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds.” (Isaiah 53:5 HCSB https://bible.com/bible/72/isa.53.5.HCSB)
This is in line with Paul’s admonition in Romans 12:1 and that he echoes in Romans 15:16, that we should respond to Christ’s sacrifice and offer ourselves sacrificially in living service to Him. We aren’t reacting out of fear or anger, we are responding by faith, reason and trust. As Paul puts it, “it is the only reasonable response you can make as you worship.” Let that settle into your soul, for a moment. We often approach worship with the intent of what we “get” from it and not what we “give” to Him. In other words, we approach worship with our hands outstretched in anticipation of what we will receive instead of them outstretched and filled with service, sacrifice, praise, adoration and thanksgiving for what He’s given. Paul’s response is not to sit back and enjoy God’s gift of grace but to push forward as he gives himself in service to make certain others hear about this incredible gift – “That is why I have been prevented many times from coming to you.” (Romans 15:22 HCSB https://bible.com/bible/72/rom.15.22.HCSB)
Paul has been unable to fulfill his personal desire to visit the Roman Christians because he’s been focused on his purpose and mission. Yes, his personal desires to go see them took a “back seat” to God’s purpose and plan. How often do your personal needs and desires take a back seat to God’s purpose? How often do you set aside your plans so that God’s plans are your focus and priority? Let me put it this way, have you ever grown frustrated and irritable when someone with a need keeps interrupting your day? Honestly, I have. I even have one of those, today. My granddaughter asked if I could watch her daughter, my newborn great granddaughter, while she worked. I agreed, but not before I thought about how it would interfere with and interrupt my “Friday off” to work on my sermon and write this blog post. As I write these words, she begins to cry and needs my attention. Just a moment… You see, we often struggle to see God in the midst of life’s struggles and interruptions. Yet, I’m convinced that He’s often in the midst of them trying to get us to refocus and see Him and His plan.
We don’t know whether Paul ever made it to Rome prior to his imprisonment there, though there’s some evidence to suggest he may have been successful. But that’s really my point, Paul’s life was full of struggles and interruptions but God was at work within each of them to achieve His purpose and His plan through Paul. I wonder if we don’t overlook that same work of God within our own life struggles and interruptions. God at work in the midst of our struggles causing us to rely on Him even as we try to walk by faith? Hmmm… sound familiar? It should. If not, go back and reread Romans 8 or go read Hebrews 11.
Next, Paul says that he no longer has “any work to do in these provinces.” That doesn’t mean that every person from Jerusalem around to Illyricum has heard and believed the gospel. But it does mean that Paul’s efforts at establishing key churches in the major cities of the region are complete and he’s ready to refocus his efforts on Spain. God has used him and his missionary zeal to establish a solid foundation of churches that will now pick up the ongoing mission and carry out the task of reaching their communities and the surrounding regions with the Gospel. Imagine that, a mission strategy of establishing self-supporting, Bible-believing, faith-walking, Jesus-loving, God-serving, indigenous churches that can carry out the ongoing mission of reaching their own people with the Good News of Christ. That’s a part of God’s purpose and plan for your church and my church, too. But, it doesn’t end there…
Next, Paul shares his hope to visit Rome on his way to Spain and to be “assisted” by them for that journey. So, not only does the church have an obligation to be a foundation for local and indigenous evangelism and ministry among its own people, it also has an obligation to support the efforts of reaching areas where the Gospel has not yet been heard. Southern Baptists have a long history of recognizing this call and responding. In fact, it is this very effort that birthed our convention and continues to drive its efforts, today. Have we stumbled at times in our efforts? Oh, yes. We’ve even fallen a few times. But, He raises us up and puts us back on the path as we continue to hear and heed our Savior’s call to missions.
True of our convention, but also true of our church. Several years ago, I sat down with our finance committee chairman and we began to map out a strategy to enhance our church’s giving to missions. Why was that necessary? Because, over time, the amount we were giving towards mission efforts had steadily decreased and we wanted to reverse that trend. Over the course of several years, we began to annually increase the percentage of our missions budget and our support for local, state, national and international mission work. Today, our church provides approximately 25% of our annual budget receipts towards these mission efforts. Every church ought to make missions support a primary goal.
Finally, every person ought to make missions, ministry and charity support a personal and family goal. Notice that Paul says, “Right now I am traveling to Jerusalem to serve the saints, for Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased, and indeed are indebted to them.” While Paul commends these churches for their giving to help the poor saints in Jerusalem because of their spiritual indebtedness to them, Jesus commands us to minister to the needy and the hurting in the Matthew 25 parable of the judgment of the sheep and the goats. I would also remind you, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure — pressed down, shaken together, and running over — will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:37-38 HCSB https://bible.com/bible/72/luk.6.37-38.HCSB)
I took my six year old grandson, Oliver, to karate class last night after work. On our way home, he talked and talked and talked but that’s very typical for him. In the midst of our conversation, he asked me a question: “Can you sell your money to get more?” I wanted to make sure I understood, so I repeated his question and asked, “Do you mean sell it for more than you had?” “Yes”, he replied. I tried to explain why nobody would do that, but I’m not sure he understood. I finally tried to explain how you can “invest” your money and that “sometimes” you can make more money through investing but sometimes you can also lose it. I told him that it entirely depends on who or what you invest in and gave an actual example of one of my investments.
Let me reiterate this for you… if you invest your life it CAN have significant benefits and pay tremendous dividends. It just depends on who or what you invest in. You can NEVER go wrong by investing your life (and your life savings) in God and His work. I started our conversation this week talking about distracted living. I think we live in the midst of an epidemic of distracted living. Of course, some will argue with me and tell me that they are not distracted, but they are simply focused – focused on themselves. So, I would counter by pointing out that unless your focused on God and His purpose and plan for your life, you ARE distracted. Let this thought sink in a moment:
If scripture is correct and God exists and created you, then His purpose and plan for your life is perfect and is SO far beyond your purpose and plan for life that they simply aren’t worth comparing.
Most folks seem to be trying to use my grandson’s approach to increasing his money for making their lives better. You can’t “use” or spend your life to make it better or richer but you can invest it. Invest it in God’s purpose, God’s plan. That was Pau’s approach to living life. He was willing to invest himself in God’s plan knowing that he simply could not lose in this investment. He had God’s promise as a guarantee and you do, too…
“The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Those who mourn are blessed, for they will be comforted. The gentle are blessed, for they will inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, for they will be filled. The merciful are blessed, for they will be shown mercy. The pure in heart are blessed, for they will see God. The peacemakers are blessed, for they will be called sons of God. Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:3-12 HCSB https://bible.com/bible/72/mat.5.3-12.HCSB)
The organization I work for recently created a video in celebration of their 75th Anniversary. The video is all about people who invested themselves and their life savings in the work of God. They included this quote, that I love, from an “unknown” source:
“Anyone is able to count the number of seeds in an apple, but only God can count the number of apples in a seed.”
Go, be a seed that God plants in His orchard….