Download the Worship Folder & Announcements for May 23
Fill out a card to record your family’s online worship attendance
For supporting the ministry of the Gospel at Salem
Worship Theme: Day of Pentecost and 8th Grade Graduation
- CW 183 Holy Spirit, Light Divine
- 2nd Grade: God’s Promise by Mandy Whiting & I Love to Tell the Story
- Kindergarten: Everybody Ought to Know
- Senior Choir: Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God
- 1st Grade: I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb
- 8th Grade Class Hymn: Cornerstone
- Grades 5-6: The Potter and the Clay
- Grades 3-4: There Is a Redeemer
Message: Almost Isn’t Good Enough
Pastor Jon Enter
The word “almost” is a sad word in anyone’s dictionary. To almost accomplish something is to never accomplish something. Tim KcKee was edged out for first place in the 1972 Olympic 400-meter race by two/thousandths of a second. He almost won a gold medal. That was the closest margin to lose by until Milorad Cavic lost to Michael Phelps in the 2008 Olympic Games in the 100M Butterfly swimming stroke by one/thousandth of a second. Samuel J Tilden lost the 1876 Presidential Election by only one electoral vote to Rutherford B. Hayes. If he had won, you’d know who Samuel J. Tilden was. But he almost won. Almost isn’t good enough.
The class verse selected by this year’s graduating eighth grade students shows that our Lord doesn’t work in almosts. Jesus didn’t almost die on the cross; he destroyed sin and won. Jesus didn’t almost rise on Easter Sunday, he destroyed death and won. Because Jesus didn’t almost do everything to save you, (he perfectly accomplished everything needed for your salvation) you have great reason for great confidence!
Pastor Paul of the Bible, inspired by the Lord, wrote our text today. He proclaims boldly, loudly, confidently—through personal experience, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (Romans 8:35) These are not inconsequential difficulties! Paul doesn’t list paper cuts or stubbed toes or hangnails here. These are serious pains that would cause anyone who didn’t have the support of Jesus to be overwhelmed.
Let’s look a bit closer at this list that grows increasingly painful.
1) Trouble—It makes sense why Paul listed this first. Everyone has troubles, even children. Aches, pains, irritations leading to stress.
2) Hardship—The Greek word here is the narrowness of a room. Confined, closed in by life. This is the inward distress when life crushes us from every side: serious illness, surgeries, financial burden.
3) Persecution—The Greek word chosen here refers to someone being constantly pursued, on the run. These are the times when no matter how hard to you try to outrun your past, it always taunting you.
4&5) Famine & nakedness—We are just one catastrophic drought away from a worldwide famine. Just one nuclear holocaust away from everyone we know being forever destroyed. Epic disaster is close.
6) Danger—We walk around with this false sense of security. Yet danger surrounds us. A serial killer could live next door. The next car could have a swerving drunk driver. Your child’s school could be the next mass shooting. A gas explosion could level your home.
7) Sword—The Greek here refers to a Roman short sword. In Paul’s day this was the most lethal street weapon. You needed to get close to someone to use it but it was deadly effective. Those closest to you are the ones who hurt you the most. And the scars you wear from that hurt are still visible and still traumatic.
Paul created a scary and intimidating list of horrific acts that could destroy you at any moment. But before you feel overwhelmed, remember the question Paul asked before going into this list of awfulness. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Paul is driving home the point that NONE, absolutely none, of these atrocities could separate you from the love of Christ because Christ is ALWAYS, absolutely always, at your side protecting you. Like a mother helping her infant learn to walk, Christ is always there. Like a father teaching his young child to ride a bike, Christ is always there. Like a loving lifeguard teaching a child to swim, Christ is always there. Christ will NEVER, absolutely never, leave you nor forsake you. Trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword will never be able to separate you from the love of Christ.
Now, this does not mean that these and other difficulties will never affect you. You got bumps and bruises when you learned to walk. You got scrapes and scratches when you learned to ride bike. And you swallowed plenty of water when you learned to swim. But you were safe! You are safe in this life because of Christ!
Please don’t misunderstand this passage to say that God will remove all trials from your path. He won’t. They remain in this sin saturated, broken world. This is what this passage promises; this is what God’s grace delivers. God uses even the most horrendous crimes against Christians to bless his people. Let me give you an incredible and yet true example. I read about a man in Egypt who, about 15 years ago, killed his wife simply because she was reading the Bible and then he buried her along with their infant baby and eight-year-old daughter. The daughters were actually buried alive! He then reported to the police that an uncle killed his family. Fifteen days later, this man’s cousin died. When the relatives gathered to bury him, they discovered in the family gravesite the two little girls were still under the sand—alive!
The country of Egypt was outraged over this incident and the man was sentenced to death for his horrific crime. The older girls was asked by family members and media how she survived. Her story of survival never wavered or altered since she emerged from her would-be sandy grave. She plainly tells people, “A man in shiny white clothes, with bleeding wounds in his hands, came everyday to feed me. He woke up my mom so she could nurse my sister.”
In an unbelieving land, in an unchristian family, and in constant threat of her life, this mother of two trusted in God to protect her and her family. And God did—in different ways. God physically saved the two daughters displaying God’s unending power. God spiritually saved the mother removing her from the oppression of her husband and the unbelieving world when he united her with himself for eternity.
When I read this true story cast over Egyptian airwaves and printed in US papers, I couldn’t help but think of Paul’s powerful words. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing can separate you from the love of the man in shiny white clothes with bleeding wounds from his hands! Apparently not even being buried alive in the burning hot hands of the Middle East can separate us from the love of the Lord!
If you are blown away by this modern day story of God’s grace, then you need to take a closer look at your own story of survival. You weren’t locked up in an airless tomb and covered with a heap full of sand but you were entombed within unbelief at your birth and covered over with a heap full of sin. You were dead in your sins but Christ came to you and fed you. The man in shiny white clothes—make white because of the perfection of his life—came and fed you God’s faithproducing, eternity changing Word! “We were, therefore, buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised form the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4)
You have your own miraculous story of survival! You have your own incredible tale of transformation from sinner to saint, from unbeliever to believer who will never be separated form the love of Christ Jesus our Lord.
There is one final word of warning hidden in this text that demands mentioning. Paul gave you a ghastly list of trials that aren’t even close to being powerful enough to rip you out of the loving arms of Christ. Did you notice, though, what wasn’t on that list? YOU! Here’s the big warning. The devil can actually use this text promising God’s powerful protection against us. NOTHING, absolutely nothing, of this world can pull you away from Christ. But...you can. You can walk away from Jesus. You can so wrapped up in living your best life that you walk away from loving Christ and lose your best eternity.
Eighth graders, you’re graduating today. But you aren’t graduating from your soul’s need to be continue to learn and be in God’s Word. Until we breathe our last breath on earth and then immediately breathe our first breath of heaven’s perfect eternity…until we are ushered through death into glory...until that moment, we are in need of Jesus. Don’t take for granted what you have in Christ. Don’t walk away from his mercy, his power and his love. Stay close to Jesus and he will hold onto you. We simply need to cling to his cross and hold our Father’s hand as he leads us through life.
A boy and his father were walking to church one day along an icy sidewalk. The father cautioned his son, “It’s slippery. You’d better hold my hand.” “Nope!” the boy replied. “I’ll be fine.” A split second later, the boy slipped and fell. After his father helped him up, the boy decided it would be a good idea to hold his daddy’s hand. But when he slipped again, the boy’s small, tiny grip couldn’t steady himself and down he went again. After his father helped him up a second time, the boy realized what went wrong. “Daddy,” the boy said, “I need you to hold my hand.” He did. And the boy was kept safe.
So does your Father in heaven hold you. Your heavenly Father has his hand stretched out to you wanting to lead you through this life so that you don’t almost make it to glory. Because almost is not good enough. With God’s hand guiding you, nothing will be able to separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.