Romans 12: 1-3
by Jeffrey Lindsay
March 8, 2020
Have you ever received a “sweepstakes” offer in the mail? For years magazine companies like Reader’s Digest, Good Housekeeping and Publishers Clearing House sent out mailings offering a sweepstakes where a lucky winner could win substantial prizes if they’d just send in the paperwork. Apparently, it has been a very effective way to advertise because, at one point, it helped generate 1.5 million new subscriptions.
A few years ago, American Family Publishers had a mailing list that included the “Bushnell Assembly of God” in Bushnell, Florida. The computer somehow twisted the name of the church so that the sweepstakes notice was addressed to “God of Bushnell”. The letter read, “Dear God. We’re searching for you. You’ve been positively identified as our $11,000,000 mystery millionaire! What an incredible fortune there would be for God! Imagine the looks you’d get from neighbors. But don’t just sit there God, come forward now and claim your prize!”
I love this! They were searching for God! They promised God a huge blessing, if only God would respond to their offer.
Does that sound familiar? Isn’t that what we often do in our relationship with God? Wouldn’t you agree there are times we are negotiating with God by suggesting if God comes through with solutions to our problems, hope in the world, and clear sense of direction, well… God would get in return our measure of faith with a dash of faithful response.
What Romans 12 seems to be saying is that it’s God who offers the huge blessing. And not just for one lucky winner — but for all who would accept it. Remember it says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
So often on this faith journey we want to know what God’s will is. For specific situations, for decisions we need to make, or especially to escape from tough circumstances. If we are searching for God’s will and we want Gods leading, we must respond to Gods offer. Scripture declares you can only do that by having your mind renew.
How do we get renewed minds? By allowing God to change the way we think, to literally change our minds and hearts. But that’s going to be hard because most people believe that what they think and their personal opinions are the basis of truth.
The market research team “Barna” did a survey of a large sampling of Americans a number of years ago and they found that “people are most likely to make their moral and ethical decisions on the basis of whatever feels right or comfortable in a situation.” In other words: If folks think something is right, it must be right. They believe that it’s just good old common sense.
A wealthy man had a collection of paintings, one of which was the “Leaning Tower of Pisa.” One day he noticed that the painting was hanging crooked… so he straightened it. But the next morning, he noticed it was crooked again. So he straightened it again. That happened every morning for about 4 or 5 days. Finally, in frustration, he asked his housekeeper if she had any idea what was happening.
She answered: “That was me. I have to hang it crooked to make the tower hang straight.” That made sense to her. It wasn’t right for the Tower to lean like that, so she made the painting crooked so the Tower would look straight.
She thought, she knew, she believed and acted on it, but was wrong.
What if we were to become so complacent and comfortable in our relationship with God that we stopped hearing or listening to anything but our own voice? Are we just fine where we are and if so are we unlikely to embrace new ideas, to move and improve, to shift toward God and the transformational work our passage suggests and the spirit promises?
It seems to me that the only hope we have is the hope of God interrupting our complacency and showing us a new way.
According to Webster a good working definition of Complacency is
a feeling of calm satisfaction with our own abilities or situations,
that prevents us from trying harder.
In a familiar passage in Matthew’s gospel there may be insight into how God interrupts our complacency… but I will warn you, it won’t sound very hopeful at first.
Matthew 14. 22Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
From the story… The storm equals challenges, hurdles, crises, problems. The boat contains complacency, security, or the place to step out, in faith from. Jesus in the story, offers an invitation to the new and the hope that interrupts the same old, same old thing. Then the hand of Jesus could represent what our efforts as the church, the followers of Jesus, could be in the world today, offering support to others…
One stormy night, as the gigantic battleship plowed through the seas, the captain was on duty on the bridge when off to the distance he spotted a strange light, rapidly heading toward his ship. Immediately he ordered the signalman to flash the message to the unidentified craft, “Alter your course ten degrees to the south.” Only a moment had passed before the reply came: “You alter your course ten degrees to the north.”
Determined that his battleship would take a backseat to no other ship, the captain ordered another signal to be sent: “Alter your course ten degrees–I am the CAPTAIN!” The response beamed back, “You alter your course ten degrees–I am Seaman Third Class Jones.”
Now in full rage, the captain grabbed the signal light with his own hands and fired off: “Alter your course right now, I am a battleship and I am headed straight into you.” The reply came back. “You alter your course, I am a lighthouse, and you are headed straight into the cliffs.”
When we are complacent, we don’t want to move or improve, we don’t want to embrace change, and thus could be headed straight toward destruction.
In this season, we need hope to interrupt complacency, to interrupt with the goodness of God’s faithfulness, the example from the life of Jesus, our promise of the presence of the spirit, and the renewing of our minds this will produce.
To break free from our complacency and fully experience hope again, we need to take, what seems like, such risky steps.
So, let’s talk about risk takers then. It seems that the world has its share of risk-takers, the seemingly unafraid to try anything and everything. Have you noticed those who are not afraid to tackle new skills, those who just charge ahead into uncertain situations? The world has its share of those who will climb mountains just because they are there. Or swim great distances just for the challenge. There are those who appear to move without fear with any number of tasks and they make the hardest tasks seem simple. They make the impossible, easy; and the complicated, elementary. And when we experience them, we admire them as risk-takers, don’t we? Risk-takers expand our horizons; they expand the boundaries of what is and what could be.
Risk takers shatter our ideas and our pre-conceived thoughts. Thank God for the risk takers who bring fresh air to the old and stagnant and bring brand new visions to old ways of doing things. Can we admire their strength? Can we admire their determination? We admire their courage; their willingness to move forward without a clear path.
Often risk takers are not appreciated. They are called foolish and impractical. We love them and yet we don’t think we want to be like them, because as soon as we get used to something, they come along and tell us there is something new, something else that we might try. They make us realize –which can be unsettling– that we can still experience more. That we are not done, that it’s not over.
Colonial Church– I am convinced it is God’s desire for us to move out of complacency, hold fast to our hope, and take risks in new aspects of our lives.
In the gospel, Peter called to Jesus, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Pretty risky!
What if we followed Peter’s example? In the midst of storms, problems, uncertainty, or complacency, and we looked to our faith? to Jesus our great sympathizer, our great High Priest for a new way?
Jeremiah 33:3 “Call to me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.”
Peter called out to Jesus, but to begin the new journey –to take those risky first steps– Peter had to listen for Jesus’ invitation, “All right, come,”
Not only did Peter call on Jesus, but he listened for the response, for the plan, for instructions, for next steps. And what happened? Peter walked on water!
Will we be a people who, after hearing Jesus’ call to come, then answer instead with…
OK, I don’t want to do that.
Oh, that’s not what I had in mind.
Or, that’s not what I wanted to hear at all?
Sounds like complacency doesn’t it? Hope interrupts complacency and allows us, as Peter showed us, to step out in faith. “So, Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.”
Colonial Church– can we be risk takers, take steps in faith, and get out of our safe boats? Should we focus our attention on Jesus? Should we be like Peter and walk on water?
I have never walked on water, have you? Does that mean we can’t? Friends– might we get out of our boats of complacency, comfort, fear, and hopelessness, and step out with all the faith we can muster together?
Did you know the African impala can jump to a height of over 10 feet and cover a distance of greater than 30 feet? Yet these magnificent creatures can be caged-up in an enclosure in any zoo with a 3-foot plywood wall, because these animals will not jump if they cannot see where their feet will land.
Now, faith, which produces real hope, is the opposite of that. Faith is the ability to trust when we cannot see, and jump when we do not know where we will land. With faith we are freed from the enclosures of complacency and hopelessness that trap us.
For followers of Jesus every step we take in life can be an act of faith, not in ourselves or in our own abilities, or in our own goodness, but in the God of hope.
It may mean that we have to go where we have never been, try things we have never tried, see what others will not see, pick up things that others have been unable to carry, or open doors that have been closed.
The answer to complacency is to look to Jesus. For our faith teaches us that Jesus is our hope, for Jesus is the author and creator of hope.
Peter, in verse 30, “when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’”
Peter took his eyes off Jesus and look what happened. Keeping Jesus in our sight is how we find the hope we search for. The hope that interrupts those places and times that keep us from what God is calling us to.
The Sunday School teacher was describing how the Old Testament character, Lot’s wife, looked back at Sodom and Gomorrah and turned into a pillar of salt. Then one little classmate interrupted. “My Daddy also looked back once while he was DRIVING, but he didn’t turn into pillar of salt, he turned into a telephone pole!”
When we take our eyes off Jesus, we will end up in places we want to avoid.
As followers of Jesus individually or collectively as a church, let us not lose our focus on Jesus, and be distracted. For distraction can easily lead to complacency. Remember Paul’s words to the Romans we heard earlier?
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
But how will this happen? It will happen by following Peter’s steps that can move us from complacency to risk takers. By being a people who look for hope in Jesus first and learn to listen for that leading.
This will lead us to the kind of hope that produces the courage we need for those first hard steps, like Peter, toward where I’m confident Jesus is leading.