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TRANSFORMED: Kingdom Refreshments  Romans 15:23-33Pastor Josh Suddath   (1st)

{Manuscript–View video for complete content}   Toward the end of July I was approached by a gentleman in this church that I did not know well, who asked me how my family was doing.  I shared with him the excitement that my wife is pregnant with our fourth, and that Jesus definitely doesn’t love me because it is another boy and I wanted a little girl.  The man (whom I won’t mention by name because he’d get mad) piped in and very caringly asked, “How is your wife? I remember that you guys have had some issues with pregnancies in the past and how is this one going?”  Immediately my heart was warmed, this man had remembered something from over two years ago about our family’s journey.  I was glad to share with him that this pregnancy is going well so far in every regard, except that it was just so hot in July, and we don’t have AC in our home so that makes my wife uncomfortable.  The man nodded and we went about our days.

The next day, the same man called and arranged a meeting with me at the coffee shop.  I walked in and he handed me a gift card with a considerable amount of money on it and said, “Go get yourself a portable AC unit for your bedroom so you and your wife can sleep peacefully.”  Needless to say, this man’s gift was and has continued to be incredibly refreshing for us.  Incidentally, my wife and I also happen to be lacking a private jet to travel the world if anyone is feeling extra generous this morning.

Resources.  Transformed.  If you have a bible with you this morning, will you turn with me to the book of Romans 15:23-33.   I want to make a note what I mean when I say the word resources; it’s not going to be limited to a financial conversation, and I don’t think a conversation about resources ever should be.  I mean whatever God has put into you or given you that he could use to impact someone positively for his kingdom, that’s what I mean by resources.  We pick up with Paul concluding his letter to the church in Rome. He writes: But now that there is no longer any place for me to work in these regions and since I have been longing to see you for many years, I plan to do so on my way to Spain.  I hope to see you while passing through, and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for some time.  Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem, in the service of the saints there.  For Macedonia, and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.  They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them.  For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.  So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this fruit, I will go to Spain and I will visit you on the way.  I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.  I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join with me in this struggle by praying to God for me.  Pray that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem might be favorably received to the saints there, so that by God’s will, I might come to you with joy, and together with you be refreshed.  The God of peace be with you all.  

Paul’s longed to see the church in Rome for many years now.  There’s got to be a reason why it’s taken him a long time to get there.  I think for us to understand why it’s taken Paul several years to finally get there, we have to rewind to Romans 1:13, where Paul says to the church in Rome:  I want you to know brothers, that I often planned to visit you, though for now have been prevented, that I might reap some harvest among you, as I have also had among the Gentiles.  For I have an obligation to the Greeks and the barbarians, to the wise and to the unwise.  And that is why I long to preach the gospel to those of you who are in Rome.  

Paul’s telling the church in Rome that he wants to see them and he hopes God will work it out that he can get there, but he’s been busy.  He’s had an obligation and resources to use.  He’s had something God has put in to him that needs to be let out.  Paul’s gotten pretty clear about who God has made him to be and what God has asked him to do with what he’s given him.  It’s Paul’s job to get the gospel to the Gentiles.  I believe that a proper posture toward resources begins with a refreshed perspective toward providence. An understanding that God has made me to be me, not you or anyone else, with all my baggage, all of my story, all my pain, all of my talent, and all of my treasure, and I have something to offer the world.

Paul’s story was wrought out of a lot of really ugly and painful baggage that he brought into his relationship with God that proved to be the perfect crucible for God to wield a messenger to the Gentiles.  And you go, yeah but I’m not Paul.  Paul was for real.  Paul was “the man,” and I’m a little bit less than that.  Which is ironic because Paul felt he was a little bit less than you.  He put it this way:  I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ. (Ephesians 3:7-8) Paul goes, “I’m less than you.”   I don’t care who you are, whether you believe it or not, God has made you to be you and I want you to be reminded of that.  Not anybody else with all of your story, all your baggage, all your pain.  God’s put some stuff into you that needs to be let out.  He’s given you a “bag of resources,” as it were.

I love the game of basketball, and there’s a new line the commentators are using these days to describe the way a player will show off his repertoire of skills during a game.  They call it “reaching into your bag.”  He’s been in his bag lately.  And I wonder if you’ve been in your bag lately.   Are there some resources in your bag that you aren’t sure are in there, because it’s been a while since you’ve looked around?  Are there some resources in your bag that you’re a little bit afraid to pull out, because it would require a little bit of risk, or time, or effort on your part?  Or maybe you’re just a pretty humble Christian and you realize the Christian life is about letting others go first, and God should get the glory after all, and Josh, you don’t know my life right now, it’s a little bit messy and I want to be sure if I pull out my repertoire of skills, my motives are pure and I clean up this mess first.   I remember a moment of personal angst in my life, around this issue, and I said to a friend of mine, “I just don’t think I can preach anymore right now.  There’s some stuff going on inside of me…..I read the warnings in James: Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my dear brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1)  Cognitively, I know when I preach that God’s suppose to get the glory, but it feels like most of the time I want it.”  My friend said to me, “Josh, when do you think that’s going to go away?”  It’ll probably be two or three years before I’m that mature.  I actually said, “Probably not for a long time.”  He said something profound to me, “So preach and trust that Jesus was judged more strictly on your behalf.”

I wonder, this morning, if you need to hear what I need to remind myself of that there’s a chance that it’s not your desire for humility that’s keeping you from reaching into your bag, it could be your pride.  It could be the fact that you bought the lie that it’s about you in the first place.  Maybe this morning you need to be reminded that if preaching’s your thing, there’s people out there that need to hear the message.  If service is your thing, there’s people out there who need genuine help.  If encouraging people is your thing, there’s people out there who need encouragement.  If contributing to the needs of others is your thing, there’s people out there with real needs.

Paul has been in his bag lately and by the end of this letter to the church in Rome, he’s looking around going,  “Yeah my work here is done. I’ve pretty well exhausted the resources I’ve been called to use for now. There is no longer any place for me to work in these regions. Hey Rome, I’m coming, and it’s going to be good.  It’s going to be refreshing.  But before I get to you, I’ve got this little task God has put in front of me.  I’m the middle man for this little bit of love that’s coming from here and going to there.  Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.”   He specifically names the recipient of this contribution as the poor.  He goes on to say:  They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe to them.  For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.  He’s making a commentary on the nature of poverty.  He delineates between being spiritually poor and materially poor.   The Greeks were essentially spiritually poor and because of the gospel they have shared in the spiritual riches of the family of God, and in return they owe it to contribute to the equitability of the materially poor amongst them.

Now there is a key principle at work here. I went to school with a guy named Michael Rhodes, who has done a significant amount of work in the area of poverty alleviation in Memphis.  If you want to read a fantastic book on this concept, read “Practicing the King’s Economy.”  In it, he says, “Jesus invites his people everywhere to embody an equitable economy in which everyone has a place to stand and a portion to steward.”  It’s Acts 2:44, it’s the way the early church operated.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.

It sounds really great, and you read a book like that–Practicing the King’s Economy–and you get really excited.  The only problem is it’s a struggle.  It turns out that practicing the king’s economy isn’t that easy.  It turns out that church gets real messy.  Resources get abused.  Givers get taken advantage of.

I remember a story from a church I attended in west Tennessee, where one of the more generous givers set up a meeting with the lead pastor when he received his annual giving statement at the end of the year.  They sat down and he shared with the pastor that the church had grossly underestimated the amount of money he had given during the year.  This man explained that each week he’d faithfully put a healthy wad of cash in a sealed envelope, written his name on it, and deposited it in the collection box at the back of the church.  The collection box which, by the church’s routine, sat securely locked in the back of the church Sunday afternoon and Sunday night.  It was rolled into the office by two trustworthy employees every Monday morning for counting.  A camera was set up, and it was discovered that the sound tech, a young man engaged to be married, was making regular visits to the empty church every Sunday afternoon. He had made a long thin grabbing tool which he used to grab loose cash and envelopes out of the slit in the top of the box.  He was stuffing empty envelopes behind some loose wall paneling while stuffing his pockets with cash.  The young man received an invitation to meet with the head elder and the pastor the following day.  When he entered the office, there was a TV set up, and the pastor simply pushed play.  He was caught, dead to rights.  The young man had stolen around $5,000.  The pastor looked at him and said, “I have two options here.  We can graciously arrange some sort of plan for you to repay all that you’ve taken here, or I can call the cops.”  The young man pleaded with the pastor, “Please, you can’t call the cops.  I’ll work it off, I’ll do anything!” “I most certainly can call the cops,” the pastor said. “What’s stopping me?”  The young man paused, “Sir, I’m marrying the sheriff’s daughter.”  True story.

And in light of the fallen world we live in and our own messiness, it’s really easy to throw up the white flag and just be done with it all.  I don’t trust the church anymore.  You know what, I’m closing up my bag for a while.  If you’ve been there, I can’t blame you.  People close up their bags for any number of reasons. Many of us, without knowing it, close up our bag every week.  We come in and give when the offering comes around, or we serve in an area each week, or maybe we set up our giving online and don’t even think about it on a Sunday, it’s done. That’s our contribution to the movement of resources in the kingdom and then we’re kind of done.   I’ve done that with preaching, with the students.  I get in my car, finally, after a Sunday and I just , “I don’t have to think about that for a week.”  I want to encourage you this morning—Don’t let the tithe behind you keep you from the task in front of you.  Resist the temptation to just check the box and check out, whether it’s in a season of life or on a weekly basis.

Maybe you’re in here this morning and you’re just old, and you’ve given faithfully to the church your whole life.  Or you’ve served in your place at work.  You’ve served your business and you’ve served the people around you, and you’ve even used the gifts God has given you in a powerful and impactful way.   Maybe you’re a young professional and you just feel like there isn’t much in your bag to give.  I mean you’re doing what you can.   I just want to encourage you; Paul had emptied himself. He had gotten the gospel to the Gentiles.  He had spent himself.  Just because Paul had emptied himself, on behalf of getting the gospel to the Gentiles, it didn’t mean he was done.  He had eyes to see the task God had put in front of him.  So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. 

The fact that Paul had emptied himself didn’t mean he was done.  It was actually the very thing that allowed him to say the next part of this verse:  I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ. ….  Because all my life he’s been faithful.  I’ve just been around too long; I’ve seen the goodness of God.  When I come, this train is coming!  It’s not over for me.  I’m not tired.  I’m coming and it’s going to be refreshing.

Paul asks the church in Rome to pray with him that he’d be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea and that his service in Jerusalem would be acceptable to the saints there.  Other versions say favorably received—that his service would be favorably received.  Have you ever tried to give a gift to someone who just wasn’t in a place to receive it?  I mean, what if Paul lands in Jerusalem with this bag of cash and the saints in Jerusalem are like nah, we’re good.  Or what if they just feel guilty, like they should accept this gift because they don’t deserve it.  Really we should just earn it on our own.  Or maybe they are just ignoring altogether their current state of poverty.  Whether you’re the giver or the receiver of a gift in God’s kingdom—The advancement and acceptance of provision necessitates getting acquainted your own personal poverty.

In Romans 1, Paul says to the church in Rome, hey, I’ve got a gift for you and it’s actually not a financial gift, it’s more of a spiritual gift.  He says it this way:  I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.  (Romans 1:11)  Mutually encouraged or mutually refreshed.  And then he spends the next fifteen chapters completely obliterating their sense of self righteousness, their sense of self sufficiency, their tendency toward “nah, we’re good.”

Nine years ago I memorized the book of Romans; it took me exactly a year.  I want to give you a funny little challenge this morning, leave here and spend the next twelve months memorizing the book of Romans!  Come back to me after twelve months and then tell me you’re not just a little bit more acquainted with your own sense of personal poverty.  That book will rip you in half and then it will show you the goodness of the gift of God.

During that season in my life I remember eating at a Denny’s with a friend of mine in Seattle at 4:30 in the morning on our way to an early flight out after a friend’s wedding.  It was a cold, rainy and wet Seattle morning.  As we finished our breakfast and walked to our car in the dark, we passed a young man soaking wet and shivering, looking like he’d been out all night.  My heart sank and I said to him, “Hey man, I hope you stay warm.” No sooner had the words come out of my mouth than my friend took off his coat and put in on the young man’s back.  We got in the car, and this old dead guy, James, started speaking in my ear — Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes or daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  (James 2:15-16)   And—Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.  (1 John 3:18)    Appreciate that one, James, I’m feeling really good right now!  Do you know the difference between my friend, who was the son of a multi-millionaire who grew up on the south side of Boston, and myself at the time?  He was just a bit more acquainted with his own sense of personal poverty.

Interestingly enough, so was the church of Macedonia.  Upon first reading of Romans 15, it’s easy to assume that the Macedonian church was getting along quite well.  Clearly they were the rich helping the poor.  Then you read 2 Corinthians 8:1-4 — And now brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.  Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in generosity.  For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.  Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.  Paul, whatever you do, let us just be a part of the movement of resources in the kingdom.  We don’t have a whole lot, but we’re here and we’re ready.

So Paul says to the church in Rome, “Rome, I’m going to give you a gift here.  I’m going to let you in on this and I want you to be a part of this.  I want you to pray with me—even though these resources aren’t yours, they’re not even mine, and they’re not even going to you—I want you to join in with me and pray that Jerusalem would receive well….so that by God’s will, I might come to you with joy—most likely telling the story of God’s faithfulness in this whole process—and together with you be refreshed.

Our participation in the movement of resources is not just a weekly rinse-and-repeat game of rote obedience.  It’s an invitation for us, as South Fellowship Church, to participate in the refreshing of the kingdom.  I’m going to give you four real practical ways you can participate in maybe taking a step in being a refresher of the kingdom this week.

1) Take 10 minutes and do a resources inventory.  Open up your bag a little bit and see what’s in there.  If it’s been a while, you may need to sit down with someone to talk through what you have spiritually and materially. Maybe set up a time to do that in the near future.

2) Give a gift outside of your regular routine this week.  Maybe you’re like our family and do your tithing online and it’s what you do and you don’t think about it.  Maybe there’s an opportunity this week to give something out of your normal routine—either financially or with your other resources.

3) When you give that gift, pair it with prayer.  This was a suggestion from Aaron.  Maybe you give this gift and as you’re giving it, even just to yourself, you pray the Lord’s Prayer—Lord, let your kingdom come and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, with this gift.

4) If you’re presented with an opportunity to receive a gift, open your hands.  Whatever’s going on, even if you feel you shouldn’t take it, just accept it and let yourself be refreshed in the kingdom.  Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we recognize that every good and perfect gift is from you, raining down from the Father of Heavenly Lights.  Father, I pray as we go about this next week in our lives, as individuals and as families and as a body here, we would see our resources not just as a box that we check off, but as an invitation from you to be a part of your commitment to the renewal of all things.  Lord, thank you for your goodness to us in the past and your promise of goodness to us in the future.  In Jesus’s name…..Amen.