Sermon series: Open Your Trauma Toolbox
At Chatsworth High School in Los Angeles, he's known as Mr. Memorial. His real name is Brian Rooney; he's the science teacher at the school. And since 1970, he's spent over $200,000 of his retirement money and savings contacting every city and town in this country by mail or by fax, seeking to learn information on any men and women who have given their lives for this country.
"My mission," said Rooney, "is to bring humanity to every one of them." That mission actually began in the jungles of Vietnam 38 years ago with a promise he made to a dying soldier. Two simple words were whispered to the young Army medic Brian Rooney as he leaned over the mortally wounded soldier, trying to read the name on his dog tags. "Remember me," the kid whispered into Rooney's ear as he died. Rooney promised he would.
That promise grew into an obsession. He now spends much of his time cataloguing memorials for the war dead, making sure they are cared for, and that they are remembered. His work led to a bipartisan bill providing federal support for a national registry of veterans' memorials. He has personally cataloged and visited the memorials for over 8,600 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines from 50 states. (Los Angeles Daily News, May 23, 2003, p. 3.)
In that battlefield exchange, the sacrifice of a young soldier became personal to Brian Rooney. Whispered words connected him to this dying hero, a man he had never met before. It hit this young medic that the freedoms he enjoyed were bought by the blood and tears and deaths of the man, who like countless others throughout our nation's history, whisper, "Remember me."
I cannot escape my sense that I live and breathe the air of freedom purchased at tremendous cost, and that price is even now being exacted in the lives of brave young men and women scattered across danger zones around this world. I stand as one who has received a gift for which I have paid little from those who have paid the ultimate price to provide it for me.
What can I say in the face of such staggering generosity? I have not personally suffered the privations of war to gain the many liberties that we commonly enjoyed. These come to me at a terrible price rendered by those who deemed such loss a worthy thing for what was gained. All of us are the beneficiaries of their courage. And from their valiant death comes this gift that most of the world has never known . . . this awesome gift we call freedom.
In the same way, but with extraordinarily more significance and meaning, we who are called Christians by God this morning have received from Him a gift for which we have contributed nothing. In fact, as we shall see, we not only are undeserving of this gift, we are ill-deserving of it. You say, "What do you mean by that?" I mean that we not only have done nothing to merit receiving anything good from God, but we have actively opposed Him, fought against Him, and belittled Him, striking out against the very One we need the most.
This morning, there is a word that I want to call you to consider that is so important, so necessary, so foundational to real hope in our lives that it is one of "Opening Your Trauma Toolbox." Sooner or later, your ordinary life will knocked off its feet by calamity. One of these days, trouble will deliver a right hook that will send you reeling. In that moment, all you have will be what you possessed five minutes before the blows came.
So we are checking out what we have inside to see if we are equipped for the coming storms of life. So far we have seen that The Lord, He is God, that the Bible is His Word to us, that we are lost and in desperate need of a mighty Rescuer, and that there is one and only one who can do that: His name is Jesus.
But today we add an all important truth without which all these previous truths are of no help. Leave this out and we're finished, estranged from God and incapable of doing anything to change that. Receive it, and the whole world is altered, and all is right with God forever.
Here is the truth you must know if you would ever be righteous in God's eyes: salvation is a gift you receive, not a paycheck you earn. Don't underestimate the significance of this biblical truth. You get it wrong - and it is incredibly easy to get it wrong--and you've missed heaven.
I'm not overstating the case. You lean on your own merits, your religious fervor, the sincerity of your motives or the goodness of your overall behavior, and you will remain in your sins, under the wrath of God. Friends, I am convinced that a great many people who go to church regularly are going to be shocked one day when they are driven from the presence of God forever.
So please join me as we focus on one of the clearest statements of truth on this subject in the Bible, Ephesians 2:4-9. In the opening verses, the Apostle Paul writes about the true condition of every human apart from Christ. Left to ourselves, we are sinners all, enslaved to spiritual forces we do not comprehend, forces that are hell-bent to give you just enough of whatever it takes to get you to drift through this life without ever seriously considering your need of the Savior, who is Christ Jesus.
The picture of Eph. 2:1-3 is a hopeless one. We are dead toward God, dominated by the Devil, and destined for hell. There is absolutely nothing we can do to change our standing before God. By nature and by choice, we are an offense to the God of the universe. And, as Heb. 10 says, "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God," says Hebrews 10:31. That is why v. 4-9 is such good news!
Look carefully at what you are reading. On His own initiative, God has acted on our behalf. We were objects of His wrath, but God, because of the great love with which He loved us, had mercy upon us. We were dead, and dead people don't respond or react to anything, but God made us alive together with Christ. We were slaves, powerless and punishable, but God has raised us up with [Christ] and seated us with Him in the heavenly places. All by Himself, God has taken action to reverse our condition in sin. In a word, God has done everything, everything necessary to save sinners.
Why? What impulse moved Him to have anything at all to do with us? The heart has trouble accepting such overtures on face value. Why did God come for me, for you? Maybe a story will help.
"Shortly after the Korean War, a Korean woman had an affair with an American soldier, and she got pregnant. He went back to the United States, and she never saw him again. She gave birth to a little girl, and this little girl looked different than the other Korean children. In that culture, children of mixed race were ostracized by the community. In fact, many women would kill their children because they didn't want them to face such rejection.
"But this woman didn't do that. She tried to raise her little girl as best she could. [This went on] for seven years, [but then] the rejection [started taking its toll]. [Finally, this unwed mother] did something that probably nobody in this room could imagine ever doing. She abandoned her little girl to the streets."
"For the next two years, this little girl had to figure out life in a hard world, which was made even harder because of she was obviously different. People were terribly harsh with her. She was tagged with one of the ugliest words in the Korean language to describe her mixed lineage. It didn't take long for this little girl to draw conclusions about herself based on the way people treated her.
"But in her ninth year of life, something unexpected happened that changed everything. First, this girl found an orphanage and was taken in. This meant some measure of security would return for her, and she wouldn't have to make food, clothing, and shelter her daily pursuit. The second thing that happened was within a few days of her arrival. Word came that a couple from America was going to adopt a little boy.
"'All the children in the orphanage got excited, because at least one little boy was going to have hope. He was going to have a family.'" So this little girl spent the day polishing up the youngest boys - giving them baths and combing their hair . . . " Everyone was wondering which boy would have their dreams come true.
"The time came when the couple arrived. I'll let you hear what happened in this girl's own words: 'It was like Goliath had come back to life. I saw the man with his huge hands lift up each and every baby. I knew he loved every one of them as if they were his own. I saw tears running down his face, and I knew if they could, they would have taken the whole lot home with them.
"(And then) 'he saw me out of the corner of his eye. Now let me tell you, I was nine years old but I didn't even weigh 30 pounds. I was a scrawny thing. I had worms in my body. I had lice in my hair. I had boils all over me. I was full of scars. I was not a pretty sight.
"'But the man came over to me, and he began rattling away something in English. I looked up at him. Then he took this huge hand and laid it on my face. What was he saying? He was saying, 'I want this child. This is the child for me." (Lee Strobel, "Meet the Jesus I Know," Preaching Today Audio #211.)
If you can enter that story and feel what its like to be totally unlovable, and yet be wanted . . . If you can echo the experience of feeling in the same moment both unworthiness and great love, then you are close to the movements of God's heart toward you. Paul takes pains in our passage to make it clear that God was not motivated by anything He saw in us. Instead, the compelling reasons are all found in God Himself.
Paul uses several words to speak of the origins of God's saving movement toward us. We read of His rich mercy, His great love, and His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. But the single most powerful word to describe why God did for us what He did, the word that explains why a dead sinner on his way to hell can suddenly respond to the good news of the Gospel is the word grace.
Three times in four verses, we find this word. But it's in v. 8-9 that Paul breaks the word wide open. For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift-- not from works, so that no one can boast. Three things to see and believe and then we're through.
I. Salvation is the free gift of our gracious God
That's the whole point of the word grace. Grace is the unmerited free favor of God expressed toward guilty and unworthy sinners. It is love that doesn't make sense. To drive this home, Paul comes right out and says that our salvation is not from yourselves; it is God's gift - not from works...
You don't earn a gift. You earn a paycheck. What paycheck have we earned from God? Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death. I don't want what I've earned from God. I want His gift: the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. Get this straight: God's salvation comes only to those who are at the end of themselves. They come with no merits of their own, no bragging points, no negotiations. They realize that their only hope is found, not in anything they have done, but in what He has already accomplished for them.
II. God gives us the capacity to receive His gift
Dead in sins, we are unable to even respond to His loving Word to us, which is why He not only sends His Son to atone for our sins, not only sends someone to tell us that good news, but gives us the gift of faith so that we might trust Him. The part of v. 8 that reads, it is God's gift refers to the entire previous phrase, to the grace and the salvation and the faith. Which is why I heard the gospel many times before it hit me one day.
III. All the glory is God's
If it's not by my achievements, nor a reward for any good or religious or generous deeds I have done, I have nothing I can boast in except the Lord. Listen: all religions are basically divided into two categories. Most spell righteousness with God "D-O." I have to earn it, compel God by my good life and religious activity and philanthropy to overlook my sins, which are minor in my own eyes. This is salvation by works; it's up to me if it's meant to be. This is what Jesus meant by the "broad way that many find." It is the way that leads to destruction.
Christianity spells righteousness with God "D-O-N-E." It believes the Bible's prognosis of our condition and recognizes that our only hope lies outside ourselves. We need a Savior who secures forgiveness of sin and righteousness with God on our behalf. And then we need Him to give us what we need to see it, because without that regenerating work, we are dead, blind to His glory, deaf to His loving call, incapable of any movement toward Him. Salvation is a gift to be received, not a paycheck we earn.