Joy–We Are the “Called Out” Ones: a Reflection on Romans 12:9-21
The way you live your life in the difficult times indicates being a follower of Jesus who “gets” how she is a “called out” one. Anne Lamott writes, “Broken things have been on my mind lately because so much has broken in my life this year and in the lives of the people I love-hearts, health, confidence.” A member in a previous congregation I served said to me over breakfast, “I’m tired of picking myself up from the floor. I feel like I’m continually being knocked down.” Many ask the question, “Isn’t being a Christian supposed to minimize life’s bumps and bruises?”
The Bible indicates something different. Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac. Job lost his family and possessions. The blind man endured the crowds until Jesus could heal him. Stephen was stoned to death for telling the truth. The Bible teaches that perseverance matters. Perseverance is the doctrine that all who profess the name of Jesus Christ will be kept by God’s unconditional love to endure to the end, no matter what the circumstances.
Ernest Gordon was a British Army officer in World War II. He was captured by the Japanese at the age of twenty-four. Gordon was sent to work on the Burma-Siam railway line that the Japanese were constructing through the Thai jungle. They used prisoners of war for the labor, although it was against international law. The men were naked except for loin cloths. The 120-degree heat was awful and insects stung their bodies. If a prisoner wasn’t working hard enough, the Japanese guard would beat him to death. Under these conditions, 80,000 men ultimately died building the railway, 393 fatalities for every mile of track. Ernest Gordon knew he was dying. He was sick with worms, malaria, dysentery, and typhoid. His body was withering away. Gordon asked to be placed in the Death House, where prisoners on the verge of death were laid in rows until they stopped breathing. Gordon’s friends had other plans and built a new bamboo addition onto their hut hoping to nurse him back to health. One day, the guards began a new practice to count shovels at the end of the day. One day the guard shouted that a shovel was missing. When the guard confronted the troops and no one confessed, he yelled, “All die! All die!” and he raised his rifle to fire at the first man in line. At that moment, an enlisted man stepped forward, stood at attention, and stated that he did it. The guard beat him furiously and brought the rifle butt down on his head. The soldier sank to the ground motionless. That evening, when tools were inventoried again, the work crew discovered a mistake had been made: no shovel was missing. One of the prisoners remembered the verse “Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Attitudes began to change. Prisoners started to treat the dying with respect. They began to look out for each other rather than themselves. Gordon sensed the change as prisoners volunteered to attend to his needs daily. He began to put on some weight and regained partial use of his legs. As Gordon continued to recover, some of the men, knowing that he had studied philosophy, asked him to lead a discussion group on ethics. The conversations focused on death. Seeking answers, Gordon returned to his faith. He had thought little of God for years, but as he remembered, “Faith thrives when there is no hope but God.” Gordon became the unofficial camp chaplain. The prisoners built a tiny church and each evening they gathered for prayers. They prayed for those with the greatest needs.
Perseverance is God’s gift for us to accept with confidence that “what is” does not have the last word. It is a benchmark of Christian discipleship. God strengthens, motivates, and works in and through our lives in all circumstances. “Perseverance is that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit in the believer by which the work of divine grace that is begun in the heart, is continued and brought to completion.”
The God in whom we believe does the work of perseverance. The weight of Scripture is not that God desires to bless us, but shape us. A lifestyle of perseverance, from a biblical perspective, is one that demonstrates love, zeal, patience, generosity, and hospitality in circumstances that betray otherwise. How a Christian perseveres through everyday circumstances should be different than a person who does not make such a profession. And the text from Romans 12 gives us great guidance: Love. Love hates evil and holds fast to what is good. Zeal. Zeal makes one’s life contagious through service. Patience. Patience claims God will provide in every circumstance. Generosity. Generosity contributes anything to move from consoling to comforting the other. Hospitality. Hospitality reaches out and is welcoming. My task is “to preach how the confrontation between divine blessing and sacrificial suffering may become the dialectic of discipleship.”
The blessing of perseverance, being “called out” ones, is for the benefit of others. Brenda Salter McNeil, the author of Roadmap to Reconciliation writes, “Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is widely quoted as saying, ‘Most people are thermometers that record or register the temperature of majority opinion, not thermostats that transform and regulate the temperature of society.’…Reconciliation allows us to be thermostats instead of thermometers. It brings us into contact with the essence of what God is doing in the world and allows us to be active in the transformation of society.” Live as a “called out” one. Perseverance is the way of Jesus.
Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies (New York: Pantheon Books, 1999), 106.
Philip Yancey, Rumors of Another World (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2003), 173-176.
Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1939), 546.
Dale P. Andrews in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 25.
Brenda Salter McNeil, Roadmap to Reconciliation (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 127.