Intro: General John Rossi
Last July, John Rossi, a 55 year old two star general who was 48 hours from pinning on his third star hung himself in his home…he was about to take command of a significant enterprise.
What everyone who knew him said was that Rossi was not hiding some deep secret, he was happily married, had three children…no one saw it coming.
But although the official report (a lengthy and thorough investigation I read parts of it) concurs there were not dark secrets about to come to light…it does show a life out of balance and a man in deep personal, inner conflict
He had slept no more than 5 hours per night for 2 straight years(if you think that’s a good idea, might want to think again…unless you have small children and have no choice…sleep deprivation is a factor in depression, suicide, other physical disease)
There were other physical imbalances…one being that he did not pay attention to some medical conditions.
Our bodies will get their due…one way or another…God has designed us as physical spiritual hybrids…balance requires paying attention to all areas of our lives simultaneously…mental, physical, relational, spiritual.
American culture thrives on excess and imbalance…but we don’t thrive…that is outside our design specifications…not how we were created to live.
The other factor that seemed to push him to despair was his deep insecurity. On the surface he was a brilliant, hard charging, successful man…he was as together as they come…but on the inside…it was a very different story.
Inside…he was a deeply insecure man who felt he was operating outside his capacity and therefore pushed himself mercilessly.
He believed he would let everyone down because of his inadequacies.
So why not just retire? He had served well for over 30 years? Could have a good retirement, could have found some less stressful to do…enjoyed his family.
Good question…the study answered it…turned out to be that he felt retiring would let others down as well.
So in a state of physical, emotional, mental exhaustion…he made the decision to die…it was not a spontaneous decision…it was planned out over at least a week ahead of time…and was the result of years of choices and beliefs.
So somehow, failing or retiring would let everyone down…but taking his life was a better option.
I don’t judge him, that it not the point…this is a terrible, tragic thing that happened to this family…we want to learn from him, if we can.
He had fallen into a state of imbalance…a world were dark options seemed to be right…he felt trapped in a cage…but it was cage without a door…he could walk out…but didn’t seem know it.
He did not see things are they are, or could be, or should be.
He pushed himself to the breaking point…the more he accomplished the more pressure he felt…his success, his points of potential pride…human boasting points…added to his misery…raised expectations.
Imagine every time someone said “Congratulations”…your anxiety and despair increased…”I am a fraud, I don’t deserve to be here…if only they really knew.”
None of that was actually true…many jobs in the world are much larger than one person can every mater…so those jobs have teams of people with a leader who relies on his team.
But on a personal level…what If he had found his confidence in the grace of God…if he could have lived in that place where life is measured by faithfulness…rather than the tyranny of the treadmill of human accomplishment.
Running, hard…getting nowhere…not really.
His job was important and someone needs to do it…someone currently is…someone needs to do what you are doing…and do it well.
But no one needs to do what God has called them to do…with the kind of personal turmoil and stress that slowly kills us…steals all joy.
We have the opportunity…to live in and lean on the grace of God regardless of what he has called us to…it will not make life easy…but it is how life was designed to be lived.
In the end…Nothing lasts, except the grace of God…what is true in the end…is true along the way…grace is how we will stand in the end, Grace is how we stand now.
Apply: What is going on in your inner world?
-Do you feel like you must be more, do more than is possible?
-Do you feel like you are a fraud, that if only others knew the real you…they would know you are a fraud as well?
-Do you feel like you are, or will let others down…the pressure is unrelenting?
-Of course good actions are necessary…grace is not to make us lazy but free from striving to prove ourselves…free from efforts to make ourselves acceptable to God and others by earning and working and worrying.
-Free to work, to do…as free people living in grace that is a gift, not a wage.
Keith Green: Grace by which I stand
Today we will get to Romans by way of Genesis…the story of Abraham.
His story is found in Genesis 12-22 and it revolves around God’s promises to him.
There are four main movements in Abraham’s story, they correspond to the four occasions on which Hebrews 11 says that Abraham took action “by faith”
8: By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went even though he did not know where he was going.
First, God called Abraham to leave his home and people in Ur (Iraq), and promised to show him another land, to make him the father of many generations, and through him to bless all peoples on earth.
God spoke to Abram and said “go to the place I will show you.”…he was 75 years old…he went.
He didn’t get any clarity other than “go, and I will show you” and so he “left”
He got next without getting next after next…which is often the case for you and me as well.
We think we would like the whole map at the start of the journey…we are very unlikely to get that.
Because we would pay more attention to the map…than to relationship with God.
He could just tell us the next 20 years…but if he did…we would probably not check back in with him until about 21 years from now…he is after relationship with not us just getting stuff done.
He most often has our full attention when we need to know what is next…so these times are pure gold for relationship building…we need to see that way.
Abraham takes off from Ur to the place where God will show him…which means…Abraham is going to consulting God daily to know when he has arrived.
9: By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.
Second, God made his promises that more specific, identifying the land as Canaan and declaring that though he was childless his offspring would be as numerous as the dust of the earth and the stars in the sky.
So Abraham basically just took off and eventually ended up in place where God said “This is it.”
Side application: he got more clarity as he obeyed in what he had been given.
To sit and wait for a fuller plan to unfold before you move…rather than to do what is next to do…is to wait in vain…the fuller plan is always going to involve being faithful with the simple next thing to do.
Later, after directing him to the place of the promise God gave him the promise of a child.
Abram believed God…that he would have a child, though this promise seemed unbelievable…and God credited his faith to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6)
11: By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sara herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise.
Third, years passed…no sign of the promised son…and finally when Abraham was ninety-nine and Sarah Ninety, God gave them a son…he also changed his name from Abram to Abraham to signify that he would be ‘the father of many nations”
17-18: By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”
Fourth, God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice Isaac, the child of the promise, and, when he showed his willingness to obey, re-confirmed his covenant to Abraham.
Why is this story so important?
Paul is going to use Abraham’s story to demonstrate that salvation is by faith alone.
Abraham was the father of the people of promise…he was renowned as a man of faith.
His faith made him a heroic character in the eyes of many…but in fact, God, not Abraham is the hero of the story.
God sought Abraham, Called him, lead him, gave him a land, gave him a son…and made a covenant promise to him…one that did not require anything of Abraham other than to believe.
Abraham believed God…and his faith was credited to him as righteousness.
Let’s look at the rest of the story of Abraham…the not so heroic part.
1.The Lord promised to give the land to his offspring…then a famine drove them into Egypt. He told his wife prior to entering “They will kill me if they see how beautiful you are, so lie and tell them you are my sister.”
She was then taken into the King’s palace for a time…until the Lord inflicted disease on them.
Where is the faith in this action? To put his wife into the arms of another man to protect his own life…did he believe God or not when he was told he would be the father of a nation?
2.Later when Sarah despaired of ever having a child she took matters into her own hands…and put Abraham into the arms of her maid. She, like her husband believed God needed help in keeping his promise.
Abraham did not lead, “No Sarah, we will trust God.”
He passively went along with his wife’s faithless plan.
3.Later, Abraham again lied, told yet another king that Sarah was his sister to protect his own life.
So, clearly Abraham was not saved by the strength of his faith but by the object of his faith…he was saved by God through faith.
Imagine I am in a burning building, trapped with flames destroying the floors beneath me, working their way up to where I am.
Suddenly a window in my room is broken, and a fireman appears and says “Come over here, take hold of me and I will take you to safety.”
If I take him up on his offer and move to the window and grab him and allow him to grab hold of me and take me to safety…what are my bragging rights in the whole turn of events?
That I walked to the window? “You should have seen how I walked to that window it was awesome.”
That I grabbed the fireman? “Yes, I was very brave, I grabbed that firemen like you wouldn’t believe and allowed him to carry me to safety.”
Clearly I was saved through my faith in someone other than myself…I trusted the fireman(saved through faith)…by I was saved by the agency of the fireman’s actions not my own.
I was saved by grace (the fireman’s sacrificial actions…unearned by me) through faith…I placed my confidence in the fireman allowing him to save me.
God made a promise to Abraham…there were no conditions for this promise.
Abraham believed God…this belief was enough to apprehend what God was offering to him.
Abraham was the father of the faith…not the great faithful father.
Abraham was a human, much like you and me.
He lived in a place a few thousand miles from here…I walked on the ruins of his hometown, Ur…but it is a real place.
He ate food there, told jokes, made love…worried about the future there.
He had a mother and father, looked at bugs and stars when he was a kid, he had dreams and fears.
He was a real person…who lived his life much like we do…minus cell phones and cars…but in the real, essential human things…he was just like you and like me.
This is important because God spoke to him, directed him, saved him through faith by grace.
Sure his story was put in the Bible…mine never will be or yours.
But it was not because he was significantly different than you or me…it was because this was God plan for humanity…to select this man out of all men and do certain things through him.
He was made the father of a nation that was to bless all people…because God choose him…not because he was so much better than all the other people God had to choose from.
Abraham had no rights to boast…we don’t either.
Abraham did however experience grace…we can as well.
Rom. 4:1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about — but not before God. 3 What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. 6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”
1.What shall we say that Abraham, discovered in this matter?
-What matter? The matter of boasting, observing the law…and being saved.
Abraham was the great hero of the Jewish people…if anyone in history had something to boast about…it was him.
He discovered that he had no boast…he only had grace.
2.In fact, if Abraham was justified by his own actions…he did have something to boast about…when compared to other men, maybe he did more than others…but when considered in light of who God is…he had nothing to boast about…no one does.
3.So, what does the OT say about him? It says that Abraham believed God, and it (his belief, faith…not actions) was credited to his account as righteousness…brought him into right relationship with God.
- Now for an everyday illustration:
-If someone works and gets a paycheck, the paycheck is not grace but wages.
-If you get a check from your employer you may be grateful for the job…but you do not consider that check “unmerited, unearned favor of your boss.”
-In fact it is merited, earned…not favor, but wages.
A gift by its nature is not earned…it is the opposite of wages.
We have earned judgment…we cannot earn grace
The wages of sin is death (the just payment) but the free gift of God is eternal life.
If we were accepted by God because of our efforts, good works, God would be under obligation to accept us.
God cannot be under any obligation to anyone or anything…he is completely free.
Thus Paul says that the man who does not work but trusts God…then his faith is credited to him as righteousness.
Righteousness: relationship with God, justification…liberty from the wages of sin.
But who are these men and women God so freely justifies…well they are the “wicked.”
God justifies the “wicked” is another way of saying that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
God does not justify people who are already in any way worthy of being justified; he justifies people who are still lost in their sin, the “wicked”
So, these wicked ones are all of us…including the great Father Abraham…he too had nothing to offer God and did not earn God’s favor but received it as a gift.
6.Then he jumps heroes…from one great one to another…Israel’s great father Abraham to Israel’s greatest king David.
He uses Abraham as his example and then quotes from David…to make his point.
David…who ought to know…because he was a man of heinous sin…spoke of the blessedness of the one whom God accepts apart from works…whose sins are covered, whose sins the Lord will never count against him.
The sad story of the general who had it all…respect, family, influence…but in his mind he had nothing…is in many respects a reflection of humanity living outside of grace.
He saw himself as a fraud…always on the verge of letting people down.
He drove himself to perform at the highest level…which meant he drove himself to exhaustion and unreality and ultimately his own death.
Such is the price demanded by “earning” and “performing” in order to find our worth, our value, our redemption.
How much is enough…more.
When I be free from this striving…maybe someday, not today.
For some…they don’t push themselves like this…they have largely given up on being worthy, or measuring up.
For some…there is the nagging sense that they will never be free of guilt and shame.
What is the difference between guilt and shame?
Guilt is what you can have all by yourself…you don’t need anyone around to feel this.
Shame is what your guilt feels like in relationship to others…shame is the dread, the fear or the aftermath of exposure of your true self to others.
However, many of you are learning to live in the freedom of grace…you know that God justifies the wicked…that was you.
And when the wicked are justified…he does not count their sins against them.
This freedom of grace…being accepted by God as we are by faith…is a transformational reality.
Paul asked “What did Abraham discover in this matter?”
This matter of human boasting, human effort…seeking to find our value, redemption, life in what we can accomplish?
What did he discover?
He discovered through his faith and failures…that he had only boast…that he knew God…that God had justified him.
Abraham, prior to being declared righteous had done nothing to earn this status.
Abraham, after being declared righteous did plenty to reveal that he was still a man in need of a savior.
How does grace (versus earning) as the lens through which we view our lives impact how we see our lives?
Met a man whose black dad married a white woman (German) in 1952…they had to go to Switzerland to get married and sign an affidavit saying they understood in his home state this was an illegal marriage.
They experienced ongoing prejudice throughout their long marriage…but raised their sons (including the man I met) to move through life looking through a lens of faith not distorted by the foolishness of people around them.
This son has been successful…went to West Point, was an army Ranger officer, owned his own business and lives free…though the pressures around him sought to continually press him into bondage.
His parents against great odds…gave him perspective, attitude that shaped him more than the attitude of those around him…their perspective came from faith.
Attitude: A settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person’s behavior.
Swindoll frequently repeated quote about attitude
The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.
Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home.
The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.
And so it is with you… we are in charge of our attitudes.
Attitude indicator: aircraft…informs the pilot of the orientation of the aircraft relative to the Earth’s horizon…the ground that he doesn’t want to crash into.
So let’s think of attitude not as merely trying to think “happy thoughts” and be cheerful…that is not what Swindoll was saying in his 90/10 principle.
Talking about how we live in our minds then in our lives in a way that we do not crash into the ground.
Attitude is settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person’s behavior.
When our settled way of thinking about our lives is in line with the reality of God’s unearned, undeserved love…the impact on our behavior is profound.
Let’s look at two specific examples in order to get our minds thinking of application:
- Attitude in times of Trouble: I sat next to a man at a meeting recently and when it was over I introduced myself and asked him the normal guy question: “What do you do?”
Then I asked him what I’ve learned from my wife: “Who do you love?”…not really in those words…”Do you have children?”
He said, “I have a 21 year old son, I had a 24 year old daughter who died 4 months ago.”
We sat at our table and spoke for 30 minutes as the room cleared out and others went to lunch.
He told me the story of his daughter’s long suffering (and as a father, I felt his)…but he saw it all through the lens of a God of grace and mercy.
He told me his daughter saw it the same way…she was an amazing person.
When life is about earning, deserving…then what happens when trouble comes, suffering comes?…then surely we are getting what we have earned, what we deserve…she is being punished…I am being punished.
How does that impact how we see trouble…how trouble impacts us for better or for worse?
Very important to see suffering through the lens of grace.
Others: Whether we live as “earners and deservers” or “recipients of unearned love” determines how we live with others.
The lens of grace sees others as equals…neither better or worse than I am.
WE are all, alike…included in the “wicked” who God justifies because of his love not because of our worth.
How would more consistently seeing through the lens of grace impact how you view whatever kind of person you are prone to want to disregard or despise?
We all have certain types (not necessarily ethnicity) of people we struggle with…could be political or social views, could be “lazy” or “driven”…people who whine and complain or people who boast and perform…the options are endless.
Seeing others as sinners like me, in need of a savior…is transformational in relationships.
It can diminish fear and the need to impress…or the tendency to wrongly be impressed.
It can help us not look down on others, to turn from judging to seeing things through their eyes.
*I’ll stop there…but in fact seeing the world through the lens of grace rather than the lens of earning, deserving, boasting…failing, undeserving, shame…impacts all aspects of our lives.
*We are spending this year in Romans so we will spend this year in grace…so we will spend our lives in grace…for God’s glory, for the good of others, and for our own joy.