Faithlife
Faithlife

You are Welcome to the Family of God

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In my devotions recently, I was reminded of a very important, but readily overlooked, spiritual fact that ties in very well with the themes that I have been and will be exploring in my preaching.


The devotional book that I am currently reading —and I'm a little embarrased to admit the title— is Two Minutes with God: One Minute to Listen; One Minute to Pray.


Now, before you start thinking that I don't take my personal spiritual life very seriously, let me tell you that the author of this book is Leslie F. Brandt, who is the acclaimed author of the Now! series of Bible paraphrases. You may remember Psalms Now!, Epistles Now! and Jesus Now!?


Anyway, Leslie Brandt's paraphrases are acclaimed because the language of his paraphrases really brought the Bible to life for contemporary readers when it was released, which was long before Eugene Peterson's The Message. So I'm using this book in my devotions because of the relevant and helpful way that Brandt brings the Bible and faith to life, and we can all use more of that, can't we?


Anyway, recently a devotional selection from the book, titled "Be What You Are", reminded me of our Christian conviction that God loves us. But the overlooked insight Brandt shared is that God loves us as we are. Let me read his short paragraphs for you:

Is it possible that you may try too hard to be what you ought to be, or worry too much about doing what God may want you to do? What about the lilies of the field, the birds of the air —the sea, the sky, the sun and stars and moon? All these things simply are, and yet how wonderfully and beautifully they minister to the inhabitants of this planet. Christians hear a great deal about what they ought to be as disciples of Christ. They are challenged constantly —by God's Word as well as the preachers who proclaim it— to be more loving, more giving, more compassionate. Or they ought to pray more, study more, and work harder to carry out their Lord's objectives. "Dear friends, now we are children of God", writes John (1 John 3:2), "and what we will be has not yet been made known." Is your faith large enough to settle for what you are and to forego the nagging urge to be somebody or something else?


Christians must constantly stand with God in judgement over the sins, the self-centeredness, the fractures and distortions of their inner nature. They must also, without anxious striving or worrisome struggling, be themselves as God created them and then redeemed them to be [...] to concentrate on God who accepts and loves you as you are.

A good word, isn't it? Before I proceed with my sermon, perhaps we should pray together as Brandt recommends:

Gracious Father, help me to be what I am,

to grow and bloom where I am planted,

to accept myself as a part of that vineyard

which bears fruit for you;

that I, by your grace, may touch the lives

of sad and lonely people about me

with your healing love.


Forgive me, my God, for aspiring and reaching

for those things never meant for me;

for conscious or unconscious efforts to be top-gun

or king-of-the-hill in my arena of service,

for competing for a position at the head table

rather than accepting my role as servant to others.


I praise you, O God, for creating and redeeming me

to be your child,

and for the joy and satisfaction of knowing

that I am significant to you,

despite the judgements and opinions

of my peers about me.

—(Leslie F. Brandt, Two Minutes With God: One Minute to Listen, One Minute to Pray (Minneapolis, MN, USA: Augsberg Publishing House, 1988), 12-13)

The point that the author was making, which I too forget more often than I remember, is that God loves us, and, when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour and begin to live as if we mean it, then we become members of God's family.


When I was around 3 or 4 years of age, my mother attempted suicide. I didn't know this at the time, but what I do remember is being driven in a car a long distance, while it was dark, to the home of an older couple, and being told that I and my brother were going to be staying with these people for a little while. That couple was June and Harry Rowland, and whatever is praiseworthy about my life, besides God, I owe it to them because they became my foster parents that night. My brother and I lived with them for a year while my mother recovered and pieced her life back together. Their kindness and example brought stability and resilience into my life and gave me a glimpse of what could be for me. I am indebted to them and hope that my life is an honour to them.


My point in bringing this to your attention is that I was not asked if I wanted to stay with that couple that evening. They became my foster parents through no decision of my own. Had I been asked, I probably would have refused because I would have wanted to be by my mother's side. Nevertheless, I benefitted greatly from their entry into my life.


With God, it is different. He asks us if we want to be a part of His family. He invites us to become His sons and daughters, and does all the paperwork in advance, just in case we say yes.


Like my foster parents —who allowed me to continue visiting them, even after I was returned to my mother, up until I moved to Australia (they have since died)— once we become a part of God's family, we are always a part of God's family. God will always love us, and will always love us as we are.


This is the often overlooked spiritual fact which I would like us to investigate further through our scripture focus today.

Exegesis


Follow along as I read from The Letter of Paul to the Romans (Romans 8:26-39) ...


Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirits intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.


We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.


What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;

we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”


No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. —Romans 8:26-39 (NRSV)

The image of a family of believers is an image image in the Bible (:29-30). This image is used in our scripture focus as this passage reminds us that it was always God's desire that His creation would love Him and be loved by Him, and that He and we would dwell together in a relationship not unlike a healthy and whole family. That was and is His plan, that plan for which He has intervened in human history to make possible.


Being members of God's family brings us benefits and blessings, but perhaps not in the way we hope.


The Amplified Bible expands the popular verse 28 in this way: "We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labour] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose". This verse reminds us that God-our-Father is with us at all times and in all things, and we can thus take confidence in knowing that whatever circumstances come our way, they do so with His consent and in accordance with His plan for us.


What this verse does not tell us is that God will make everything work out fine for us. Rather, the apostle has the 'big picture' in mind here: God is with us in our circumstances and works within those circumstances to bring about our ultimate good, which is belonging to God's family and sharing in Jesus' abundant life (:29-30; John 10:10).


While this point might not make verse 28 as reassuring as we might like —and it certainly does not support the Prosperity Gospel preached by some— something far more valuable is made more clear in the preceding verses 26-27: even in the midst of our suffering, the Holy Spirit of God intercedes for us.


There are times in our life when, despite our confident faith, we may feel as if God is far from us. We may feel spiritually dry or dead. Even the saint, Mother Theresa of Calcutta, experienced great periods of spiritual dryness!


While we can say that we know God, we may not always sense God's presence —and that is just a fact of the spiritual life. That we don't sense God's presence may be our own fault, because we have been inconsistent with our spiritual discipline, or, as this passage is telling us, it may be the fault of our circumstances, or even of God's choosing.


While we may not sense God's presence, we can remain confident of His presence because His Spirit is always with us and even intercedes for us when we are inconsistent in our spiritual discipline.


If my foster parents were alive today, they would take any opportunity to tell you a rather funny story about me: during one visit with them, when I was in my early teens, I was asked if I would help out around the house by mowing their lawn, to which I replied in words reminiscient of, "I come here to visit and relax, not to do chores!" This story elicited chuckles every time they told it, but I can assure you that I was promptly directed out of the house and shown the location of the lawn mower.


Belonging to a family is not a blessed vacation from the cares of this world; rather it is an opportunity for challenge and growth, guided by loving parents. Children are safe, when attached to such parents, and find a secure haven from which to explore and engage the world roundabout them.


God-our-Father provides the same security, and more, because "If God is for us, who [can be] against us?" (:31; Psalm 118:6) The remaining verses of this passage declare, unequivocally, that nothing can separate us from the love of God, nothing real or imagined (:31-39). God did not go to all the trouble, and pain, of sending His only Son, Jesus Christ, just to tease us or to lose us!

Conclusion & Response


Let us just pause and let this all sink in for a moment:

  • God loves us and accepts us as we are ...
  • God always intended a glorious life and future for us (Jeremiah 29:11) ...
  • God places no conditions on our adoption into His family other than that we love Him in return ...
  • He accepts us as we are and dwells with us in all circumstances that come our way ...
  • God guides us as a loving, caring parent who wants only the best for us ...
  • All of this love and care and confidence can be ours —it is freely offered— if we would only believe.

That offer still stands for you this morning. If the points made by this passage from the Bible don't convince you to respond to God's love wholeheartedly, then I don't know what will.

Gracious Father, help me to be what I am,

to grow and bloom where I am planted,

to accept myself as a part of that vineyard

which bears fruit for you;

that I, by your grace, may touch the lives

of sad and lonely people about me

with your healing love.


I praise you, O God, for creating and redeeming me

to be your child,

and for the joy and satisfaction of knowing

that I am significant to you,

despite the circumstances that I face.

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