Stand Together

By Randy Roper, preaching minister

April 15, 2021

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus… (Philippians 2:1-5).

Philippians 2 is one of those passages that doesn’t just stomp on toes, it cuts straight to the heart. Paul’s instructions and the Christ hymn he includes (2:6-11) should be carefully contemplated by genuine disciples of Jesus.

Every phrase, every sentence, every directive is an appeal to humbly look outside ourselves and see others. Not to see their flaws or their faults, but to see their true value, and to convey that value through our words and actions.

Looking outside ourselves can be difficult. Many of us suffer from myopia, or nearsightedness. Put another way, we have a condition in which close objects (namely self) appear clearly, but distant objects (namely others) are blurred. We struggle to see beyond self—to look beyond our own viewpoints, experiences, values, beliefs, freedoms, desires and needs.

Having the mind of Christ, as Paul instructed, means feeling what others feel and seeing what they see. It means having an orientation toward others. As Paul put it, we value others above ourselves and look to their interests above our own.

Jesus constantly cared about others. He personified empathy. He knew what it was like to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. When his friends mourned the death of Lazarus, “Jesus wept” with them (John 11:35). When he encountered a man not willing to trade worldly wealth for discipleship, Jesus was surely disappointed, but he still “looked at him and loved him” (Mark 10:21). Jesus truly is the high priest who empathizes and sympathizes with us (see Hebrews 4:15).

Do you have the mind of Christ?

Empathy was one of the interesting variables I studied in my dissertation research. In a nutshell, I discovered that while empathy does, in fact, mitigate aggressive behavior and contribute to positive actions, empathy isn’t necessarily easy to activate in individuals. Other studies have shown there are many variables that affect our willingness to show empathy.

I read an article recently that cited emotional exhaustion as one of the barriers to showing empathy. That is, when our emotional energy tank is running on empty, we may find it more difficult to express empathy or compassion to others.

Emotional exhaustion.

That phrase got my attention. Does anyone else feel emotionally drained from the events and fallout of the past year? Maybe that explains why there seems to be so little empathy and so much volatility these days. We are exhausted.

Our emotional reserves are depleted, leaving little or nothing left to invest in others. To hear others. To walk with others. To feel for others.

To compound the situation, many of us have been somewhat isolated from others due to quarantine efforts and safety precautions. Less social interaction may have dulled our ability to see others. As the saying goes, “Out sight, out of mind.” Maybe our empathy muscles have atrophied over time.

Emotional exhaustion and empathetic atrophy.

Most of us probably haven’t thought in these terms, and maybe some of us don’t want to admit it, but the diagnosis may be spot on. If so, our ability or willingness to walk alongside others in compassion and understanding may have diminished.

Scroll back up and reread the passage from Philippians 2. Resist the urge to point out, in your own estimation, who needs to hear this teaching, and just ask yourself some important questions: How am I doing with the things mentioned in the passage? Am I putting others’ interests in front of my own? Am I valuing other people’s perspectives and needs above my own? Am I reflecting the mind of Christ?

Let today be a day of renewal. A time to start flexing your empathy muscles. A time to look outside yourself and refocus on Jesus so you can focus on others.

Will you join me in humbly asking God to nurture in us a spirit of empathy? It’s so hard to see others when we either can’t or won’t look beyond self. Now is not the time to build walls and draw lines. Now is the time to scale walls and cross lines so we can feel for and with each other.

Now is the time to stand together.

Grace & Peace,


The Pressure is Building

by Randy Roper, preaching minister

We got an Instant Pot for Christmas. It’s great, you can cook frozen chicken in a matter of minutes, and it’s edible! I even eat something called Quinoa cooked in this modern multi-cooker, and it actually tastes good.

The Instant Pot looks like a reinforced crockpot with a bomb timer slapped on the front of it. Evidently, it cooks using extremely high pressure. When the timer goes off, and the food is done, we release the pressure valve and watch as a steady flow of steam spews into the air. Without removing the pressure, opening the pot would be disastrous.

It appears that some of us are like Instant Pots right now. After a long year of uncertainty and unforeseen challenges, there seems to be a lot of pressure building up.

Many of us are just holding it all in and may not even know it. Unless we have a healthy and safe way to release the pressure, sooner or later we will explode. Maybe you’ve been there recently.

You lose your patience with a store clerk.

You rant and rave about something unimportant.

You explode at your spouse or child.

You feel a wave of road rage wash over you.

You burst into tears.

You scream and yell. Or just the opposite, you shut down emotionally.

You say things you later regret.

You react impulsively.

While you may feel better in that instant (see what I did there?), your actions and words cause damage. Relationships suffer. People get hurt. Unity and progress are impeded. Damage is done.

Maybe right now is a good time for an honest self-assessment. How are you doing…how are you really doing?

Do you feel overly stressed? Are you allowing challenges and adversity to gnaw at you? Are people getting under your skin? Is there a chance you are stuffing all the anxiety and uncertainty of a challenging year or a difficult situation deep inside as you try to keep moving forward?

Sooner or later—unless you deal with the sources and symptoms of your stress and find a safe way to release the building pressure—you’re going to explode.

Before you say or do something harmful, please do something helpful.

Talk to a trusted friend or counselor. Pray, fast, and participate in other spiritual disciplines. Get moving and get some sleep. Build in Sabbath rest. But most of all, lean on God.

A short verse in the passage I plan to preach on this Sunday as we conclude our “Exiles” series tells us, very simply, what to do with all that pressure, all that stress and all that frustration:

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

In one short inspired verse of scripture we are told what to do and why to do it. Recognize the pressure building up inside you and the burden of stress you are carrying, and let go of it. All of it.

More specifically, give it to God. Let him take it off your shoulders and out of your heart, and let Him replace it with healing and hope.

Cast your anxiety on him. That’s the what, but even more notably, here’s the why: “…because he cares for you.”

God cares deeply for you. He cares that you are carrying what feels like the weight of the world. He cares that you are going through a tough time. God cares that you are hurting, or grieving or struggling. He cares that you have experienced great loss or that you can’t seem to catch a break.

He hurts with you and cares for you.

God wants to carry what is weighing you down. Jesus already bore your greatest burden when he willingly went to the cross. He removed the sins that separate you from God.

Not only is God’s care for you unmatched, his strength is unequaled. No burden you are trying to carry is too heavy for him. So give it to him, and leave it with him. Don’t take it back. You can trust God.

Letting pressure continue to build will only result in a destructive explosion. God wants to help you, so just let him.

The Narrow Road

by Randy Roper

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14

When I was a kid, I assumed the “narrow road” was all about heaven. I envisioned a skinny escalator in the sky ascending into the clouds with only a few lucky souls being moved upward.

Next to it was another escalator, but this one was much bigger, much wider, and much more populated. It was like a jam-packed walkway ramp under a stadium the moment a big game ends—wall-to-wall people slowly funneling their way down. That, in my young mind, was the road to the eternal hot place.

Narrow road to heaven. Wide road to hell.

If you don’t do everything just right, you are going to find yourself on the wrong road going the wrong way to the wrong place. That was the message I understood.

As I have gotten older and, hopefully, matured some spiritually, I realize that such a narrow view of the narrow road can easily create a sense of pride and exclusivity while also missing the main point of Jesus’ metaphor. There is much more behind Jesus’ words.

While eternal judgement may in fact play out that way (minus the escalators, I suppose), I will let God sort that out. He’s much more qualified than I am to judge. I do take comfort in knowing He wants every single person on earth to embrace His son as savior, and claim their eternal inheritance (see 2 Peter 3:9).

To really understand the nature of the narrow road, we need to consider the context of Jesus’ statement. Matthew 7 is the final of three chapters containing Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In his famous teaching, Jesus is defining—and for some, redefining—what life in God’s kingdom looks like. He is revealing the heart behind God’s Law.

Jesus is inviting his listeners to not only reimagine life in God’s kingdom, but to embrace that distinctive life as their own while living here on earth.

When one chooses to embrace Kingdom life, he or she stands out from the world. The world doesn’t typically bless the merciful, meek, and mourning. The world isn’t quick to go the extra mile or to bless its enemies. The world accepts lust, anger, revenge, and bailing out of a dull marriage as normal and acceptable.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus presents a much different way of life. A narrow way. Not narrow in the sense of being restrictive, but narrow in the sense of being demanding and different, and thus, not a road many choose to explore.

Taken in context, the narrow road Jesus mentions is the narrow road of discipleship.

Not many choose this road because it represents the self-denying, cross-carrying path of sacrifice and surrender. It is much more comfortable and convenient to go down the self-fulfilling, pleasure-seeking path of personal happiness.

Jesus’ road metaphor is not so much about where you end up in the next life as much as it is about how you choose to live this life.

Walking with Jesus in this life means choosing the same road he traveled—the narrow road of humility, love, obedience, and sacrifice.

If you really want to experience life, walk with Jesus. Choose the narrow road.

Hope as an Anchor


by Randy Roper, preaching minister

If you’ve ever been in the open waters of the ocean, you understand firsthand the rhythmic ebb and flow of the waves. I have been deep sea fishing two times—both when I was a child. The first time, smooth sailing. The second time, not so much.

On that second fishing trip, I remember us launching out from shore, and after several minutes, all I could see was blue liquid in every direction. No shoreline. Nothing that represented stability and permanence. I must admit, I got a little nervous.

As our relatively small boat continued to power out to the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico, I started feeling a bit queasy. Giant waves cradled us in their valley before launching us to their crest. Then back down again. Back up. Back down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Over and over. Would we ever get there, I wondered. Did someone convince our captain to just keep going past the Gulf all the way to the Caribbean?!

As we tumbled over every wave, I started getting more and more seasick. It felt like I was stuck in the endless loop of one of those loopty-loop roller coasters. I was woozy and wobbly, and I was very nauseated. My dad must’ve recognized the green tint of my face. “Just lean over the edge if you have to,” he said matter-of-factly.

I had to.

As I buckled over the railing, I was a little worried about the side of the boat. But then one of those giant swells rose up to meet the evidence of my seasickness and wash it away.

I remember spending much of the rest of our time at sea lying down in an outdoor shaded area on the upper deck of the boat while nibbling on, of all things, a giant concession stand pickle wrapped in wax paper. Someone said the pickle would help calm my stomach. Now, I think it was just meant as a distraction.

In some ways, 2020 feels like being stuck out on the open waters of a mighty sea. So many ups and downs. So much anxiety and uncertainty. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it all just makes me feel a bit dizzy and nauseated. I find myself longing for the stability and permanence of the familiar. I am ready to get out of the boat and stand on solid ground.

God always knows what His people need. During the first century, followers of Jesus faced intense pressure. They were getting thrown around by cultural waves, tossed back and forth by false teaching and victimized by violent persecution. They needed something reliable, something dependable, something firm and secure on which to stand.

God gave them hope.

The inspired writer of Hebrews reminded them—and us—that the hope we have in Christ is “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19). Hope tethers us to the promises of God. Hope sustains us through the ups and downs of life. Hope inspires us with the vision of a future reality that far exceeds our present reality.

Hope is our anchor amid the raging waters of the world.

Noted author, Henri Nouwen, once wrote, “Hope prevents us from clinging to what we have and frees us to move away from the safe place and enter unknown and fearful territory.”

He is right. With our hope firmly anchored in the promises of God that were revealed and fulfilled in Jesus, we can venture into the open waters of the unknown with confidence and assurance. We can let go of our fear, release our anxiety, and cast off our bitterness and frustration. Our hope is not in the things of this world. Our hope is in something much bigger, much better—something firm and secure.

We are starting a new sermon series called “Hope as an Anchor.” If there is something we all need to hear during these uncertain times, it is a word of hope. I am praying that you will be able to join us either in-person or online for worship this Sunday.

Also, I’m sure you know someone who could benefit from a message of hope right now. Would you make the effort to invite them to worship with us Sunday? Ask them to join you or send them the link to our online service. I look forward to opening up God’s word with you Sunday to find a much-needed word of hope.

Now, for some reason, I’m craving pickles.

Get busy living!

by Randy Roper, preaching minister

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5).

In some ways, I feel like I have been paralyzed by this pandemic. Because so much in our everyday lives has changed, it’s been a bit of a challenge to find my footing. When it all began, many of us shifted into high gear and tried to adapt and press on to keep pace. We thought we were running a sprint.

Turns out, it’s a marathon.

The new normal everyone seemed to anticipate coming soon has been delayed by the actual normal we find ourselves in right now. Middle ground. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel seems to be getting smaller and smaller because the tunnel is getting longer and longer.

Maybe the key to finding our footing is to just keep moving forward. When I consider the long road ahead, it is tempting to settle into idleness. To emotionally and spiritually “bunker down” and ride out the storm of this pandemic. Turn inward.

But if we allow this major interruption to immobilize us, we may be missing out on unique and God-given opportunities to serve others, battle injustice, make disciples and advance the work of God in our world. As my wife sometimes reminds me, we don’t want to look back on this unusual time with regret that we didn’t do more.

So, rather than settle into idleness, let’s choose to be active. Don’t let the prevailing climate of uncertainty silence the call of God on your life. Embrace the uncertainty as a unique opportunity to think outside the box, to find innovative and meaningful ways to be an ambassador of Christ.

Keep putting one foot in the front of the other. As Hebrews 10:24 urges, keep moving toward love and good deeds, and spur others on toward that same goal.

In a highly dramatic scene in the movie The Shawshank Redemption (TV version, of course), the main character, Andy, declares to his buddy and fellow inmate, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice—get busy living or get busy dying.”

It’s true, we get to choose.

Maybe it’s time for us to get busy living as God calls us to live, no matter what challenges and obstacles we find in our way. Remember, God overcame sin and death, and made us alive in Christ.

Embrace the life God has given you!

Guess it comes down to a simple choice. We can either get busy serving or we can get busy sitting. We can either get busy working or we can get busy whining. We can either get busy living or we can get busy dying.

Which will it be?