Romans 12.1-2 / July 19, 2020
Pastor Ken Larson
Most Sunday mornings are fairly quiet. There usually isn’t a lot of traffic on the roads because people have planned a leisurely day that’s very different from the usual hustle and bustle of a weekday. May 18, 1980 seemed to be a tranquil Sunday morning for a woman in Poulsbo, Washington, which sits across the Puget Sound from Seattle. Then she heard a thunderous noise; her first thought was that a tree had fallen on her house. Her home was fine. What she heard was the explosion that occurred 150 miles to the south when 1300 feet off the top and sides of Mt. St. Helens was instantly blown off in a volcanic eruption. The initial blast blew gas and rock out of the mountain’s side at near supersonic speeds mowing down everything within eight miles; a thick green carpet of Douglas fir and hemlock trees went down like they were toothpicks. A second vertical eruption sent a mushroom cloud of hot gas and ashes with temperatures of 600 degrees twelve miles into the air. The giant ash cloud was visible 200 miles north and as it drifted eastward turned daylight into darkness. A surge of mud, lava and billions of gallons of melted glacial ice and snow surged down the mountain slopes at speeds up to 90 miles per hour, demolishing everything in its path. It turned a scenic mountain into an eerie landscape. The eruption was heard as far as 600 miles away, but incredibly some folks who were rescued from within a few miles of the mountain reported that they didn’t hear a thing. When they saw the sky turn dark they thought it was a cloud cover bringing rain. They were standing in what scientists call a “zone of silence.” The incredible upward thrust of the exploding mountain sent the sound of the blast rocketing up into the atmosphere and when it bounced back to earth, it moved outward and away from ground zero. So those closest to the mountain would not have known of the explosion unless they had seen it happen.
It’s hard to imagine that a person standing within miles of an erupting volcano couldn’t hear it. We are continuously surrounded by sound – music, advertisements, newscasts and political messages. People try to connect with us. We’re also bombarded with visual communiques that come at us through websites and social media and television. We pay attention to some, ignore most, and others we’re oblivious to. Have you ever wanted shut it all off like a water spigot and retreat into a “zone of silence?” Amid all this, God is speaking. Can you hear him?
The Bible tells that God communicated with his servants in myriad ways. He met Moses in the desert, Elijah on a mountainside and Paul on a highway. He spoke through prophets, angelic messengers, dreams and visions. Psalm 19 and Romans 1 declare that the grandeur of the created order announces God’s presence and majesty. In Numbers 22 the Lord even used a donkey to convey his message. That text always gives me hope that he might even use preachers on occasion!
God’s great desire is for us to know and understand him and his purpose for our lives. Over the past several weeks we’ve talked about how God is “closer than you think.” You can detect his presence and hear his voice. Like Jacob, we will find the Lord in places we didn’t expect. As Mary and Martha found out, God can make his presence known no matter what kind of personality you have. Last week Pastor Mike talked about how those around us can help us discern the Lord’s direction. We’ll conclude today by exploring how to hear God by being “mindful” of his presence and voice. We need not exist in a spiritual “zone of silence.” Paul’s words in Romans 12 and Philippians 4 can help us.
In chapters 1-11 in Romans, St. Paul laid out the essentials of the gospel: the state of humanity apart from God, Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins, the promise of forgiveness through faith, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit who enables us to actually live out that faith. Starting in chapter 12 Paul answers the question, “What then does the life of faith actually look like?”
The first thing he says is that in light of all God has done, the only reasonable response is to offer your whole life to him. Paul called this a “living sacrifice.” In most ancient religions, including Judaism, an adherent showed their dedication to their deity by bringing a costly sacrifice to worship – grain, wine, a animal. Followers of Jesus have no such sacrifices because Christ was our ultimate sacrifice that we can’t copy or match. However, we can offer God all we are and have. Instead of a lifeless substance or a dead animal, ours is a “living sacrifice” which means we demonstrate our love for God by our actions – how we speak to one another, the priorities we set, the quality of our relationships.
Making this “living sacrifice” begins with a choice. In verse 2 Paul said, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.” The culture all around us constantly attempts to mold us into a particular shape. God sets before us a different pattern. We are not helpless victims in this tug or war, but we must intentionally pattern our lives after Christ or the prevailing winds will sweep us along if we’re not mindful of how we live. Living as a follower of Jesus is not just about good feelings or sensing a warm connection with God or stockpiling religious information. Your life can be remarkable if it’s conformed to the pattern Christ set for us. Beginning a life journey with Jesus may begin at a moment in time, but God molds us progressively over time as we allow him to do his work in us.
How does this happen? Paul said in the rest of verse 2, “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Why did Paul talk about “renewing” the mind? He certainly wasn’t implying that faith is a purely intellectual pursuit that leaves out the emotions. He was lifting up the importance of letting God fill our minds and thoughts because that’s where we make moral judgments, and decide what is true or false. When God speaks or acts we listen or observe, take note of what we feel, but it’s with our minds that we determine our response. When Jesus was asked what was the “greatest commandment” he quoted Moses words in Deuteronomy 6.5, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength,” but then he added to it by saying we must love God “…with all your mind.” (Mark 12.30)
It is imperative for us to sharpen our minds because that hones our receptivity to God’s voice and presence and actions. In Romans 8, Paul admonished us to let our minds be “governed by the [Holy] Spirit” because that brings us “life and peace” (verse 6). In Ephesians 4 he wrote that those who “harden their hearts” toward God end up with “futile thinking…darkened understanding” and that leads to horrible consequences (verses 17-19). Do you see why “renewing of the mind” was so important? If we want to be able to hear God’s voice, sense his presence, understanding when he’s reaching out to us, and recognize his activity in the world, It’s imperative that we cultivate a mind he can reach. In Philippians 4.8 Paul wrote, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things.” That should be our goal. So what would this look like in practical terms? How does one develop that kind of mind? Here are three questions to consider.
First, who do you spend your time with? Whether they are friends from school, family members, coworkers or casual acquaintances, if their life rubs off on you, will you benefit? Are you surrounded by people with positive attitudes who use good language and challenge you to pursue excellence? Or are they cynical or negative? Do those in your circle respect or mock your faith practices? I don’t believe we should be afraid of people, especially those who don’t share our faith. Relationships with a wide variety of folks is healthy. But it’s those relationships with people who don’t share our beliefs that force us to know what we believe and why we believe it, so that our life and faith can rub off on them. Keep watch over how your life is affected by others and whether or not you are moving toward what is right, excellent and praiseworthy.
Here is a second question: how is your mind impacted by what you let in through social media, film, music or television? Any genre of music can be good or bad, but are the lyrics inspiring or sordid? Some TV programs are great, and can be relaxing; but not all of t hem. We used to watch a sitcom about a married couple and their in-laws. At first we enjoyed the funny situations depicted, but over time the dialogue became increasingly nasty; the characters continually tore down each other. It became so sarcastic and cynical that we stopped watching. What are you reading these days? I’m always working my way through several books. I like to read mysteries for fun, but I’m also reading a biography of George Washington. A third one is titled, The Third Option. It’s written by Miles McPherson, an African-American pastor who played pro football. He writes about how we can improve the relationships between people of different racial groups; it’s well worth reading. If you are discerning, your reading can move you toward God instead of the gutter.
The third question is this: do you align your thinking with the Scriptures? When you hear a news story on the radio, read an article on the internet, hear a television host comment on politics or discuss recent events with friends or co-workers, do you consider all that was said in light of what the Scriptures teach? Or are you more likely to let your political affiliation or past experiences or what you were taught growing up to determine the conclusions you reach? It’s been just over a month since the death of George Floyd and the resulting demonstrations in Minneapolis and other cities across the country and around the world. How did you view the actions and reactions of law enforcement, community leaders, the governor and demonstrators? Did you draw your own conclusions from just looking at events or did you try to get underneath, to really hear the angst and anger that came from minority groups who have been pushed down and disregarded and discriminated against for hundreds of years? How do you think God viewed all that happened? I don’t believe anyone can grow up in this country without acquiring the baggage of bias and prejudice. The question is do we recognize them and then live above them? Seeking justice for others is absolutely a biblical issue. If you read Isaiah and Micah you’d have to close your eyes not to see it. The prophet Amos wrote that God “despises” the worship assemblies of those who piously claim to love him but don’t seek the good of others. Then in chapter 5 he thundered, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-ending stream.” (verse 24) We’ll only understand events and find a proper perspective so that we can pursue the good of others when the truth of God’s Word has captivated our minds and molded our thinking, and the love of God has filled our hearts with love and compassion. Then we can share both with others.
I believe the followers of Jesus should be the best thinkers around because they immerse themselves in the truth contained in God’s Word. Fill your mind with what is “true, noble, right, pure, excellent or praiseworthy…” When we let God transform our minds and mold our thinking, we will develop a deeper spiritual perception and be better equipped to tell when God is speaking, what he’s saying, and where he’s directing our paths. We need not live in a “zone of silence.” Our Lord is all around us, closer than you think. AMEN