Week of January 8, 2014

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

In recent years, I have offered at the beginning of the year a top ten list of Scripture passages for you to ponder as you enter another year of life, to whet your appetite for the Word of Life in the living of your days. This year, I have decided to offer one passage only, growing out of the joy of teaching Paul’s Letter to the Romans in Thursday’s Pastor’s Bible Study. Of all Paul’s epistles, none is as substantive, or as challenging to teach, as Romans. Yet for those who take the time to ponder Paul’s words, written towards the end of his remarkable life, Romans offers a breathtaking view of faith in the Living God. The passage I offer comes from Paul’s magisterial 12th chapter, verses 1 and 2:

“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. 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.”

This is a plea from Paul to live a life that finds its foundation in the worship and service of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” “Our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Life is not found in living for yourself. This is a much smaller and more confining life than God created you to live. “The smallest package in all the world is a person all wrapped up in themselves.” Life, abundant life, is found in living for God’s glory, and living not in a narcissistic stupor, but in worship and service to the God who created you. You can waste your life in pursuit of dead ends, and many people do. Paul makes his appeal “by the mercies of God.” This is how we all live. In the New International Version, it reads, “Therefore, I urge you, my brothers, in view of God’s mercy…” I love this phrase, because we all live our lives “in view of God’s mercy.” When parents have their children baptized, we ask them this question: “Do you promise, in dependence upon the grace of God, to raise up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?” We do everything that we ever do “in dependence upon the grace of God.” In worship, we acknowledge this great fact of life, that we live life best when we know we live it all by grace. Worship is that experience of connecting once again with the grace of God, of remembering God’s promises, and of renewing our commitment to live faithfully and passionately the one life God gives us to live.

I also love Paul’s use of the term “living sacrifice” when he pleads with us to present ourselves to God. Paul Ricouer, the great French Reformed philosopher, called this “a semantic impertinence.” Two words are put together that seem mutually exclusive of each other in order to shock you into recognition of something important and life giving. To his first century audience, a sacrifice was by definition something that had been killed, and life is often seen as the opposite of death. To urge you “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice” was Paul’s way to call you to a life of giving. Our lives are literally gifts given to us by God, “the Lord and Giver of life.” What we do with this greatest of all gifts we are ever given is our gift to God. Paul is calling us to lives of giving, lives marked by servant love. Only in Christian worship are we reminded of this. Everywhere else we are encouraged to do whatever we please. God loves us too much to pander to our selfishness.

Next, Paul urges his readers, “Do not be conformed to this world…” J.B. Phillips, in his paraphrase of the Bible, says, “Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold…” We are always in danger of conforming to the pressures we feel around us, and the pressures we place upon ourselves. We all feel pressures that come from places other than the Gospel. “Gotta get more money, a bigger house, a better job, more important friends! Above all, I gotta get the most I possibly can for me.” This is what will help you to conform to theworld in which we live! In our culture, we value looks over substance, feeling good over doing good, success over integrity, and getting over giving. “But even if you win the rat race,” Bill Coffin said, “you are still a rat.” In worship, we are reminded of what God values, of what is important to God. Generosity matters to God, not wealth. Sharing matters to God, not consumption. Service matters to God, not status. Lifting up those who are down matters to God, not getting to the top. The power of love matters to God, not the love of power. In God’s world, you are valued already for who you are, and you are only free inasmuch as you know this great baptismal fact.

Finally, Paul urges us all “to be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” John Calvin spoke of “the life of the mind in the service of God.” He meant that we should love God not only with our hearts and our strength, but also with our minds. It is easy to get tired and cynical. It is easy to get intellectually lazy and to lose your zest and zeal for living. Jesus said, “learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and you shall find rest unto your souls.” This is the great adventure of faith! We are invited to learn and to grow all of our days, and to find transformation through “the renewing of your minds.” Exposure to beauty is renewing, as God is source of all beauty. Music and art and literature can renew our minds and transform our lives. I am always enlarged and enriched when I find myself in an art gallery or at a concert or when walking in the woods. The company you keep can also be a source of renewal. My mother used to say that she had friends who were nutrients and friends who were succulents. We all know the difference, and we do well to seek fellowship with friends who bless us, even as we seek to bless our own friends and family. During his Advent Breakfast presentation, Bill Caruso reminded us of poet Mary Oliver’s advice: “Pay attention. Be astonished at something. Tell someone about it.” This is akin to what Paul meant when he said “be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” This ultimately is the work of the Holy Spirit, of course, but the Spirit works best when we work alongside of God the Spirit!

So let me offer you a Word of Life once more: “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. 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.” Live with these words and grow in grace!

With Love and Prayers,

Todd Jones

© 2024 First Presbyterian Church | 4815 Franklin Pike, Nashville, TN 37220 | (615) 383-1815
Website By Worship Times