I enjoy "top ten" lists. Whether its "ten deadliest things that bite" or "ten best places to order chili", I just think they are fun and am a sucker for them. I am sure there have been attempts at "modern inventions" top ten list. What inventions have contributed most to making the modern world possible. Sure, I know we are in a post-modern world, but I don't see anyone scrapping anesthetics or the remote control for the T.V. so lets call it the modern world for today.
Right up at the top of course would be the computer.
Edison's electric light, I think would rank.
How about the internal combustion engine?
The telephone?
What else?.......antibiotics?

I have a submission. How about Portland cement?
It seems so untechnical, but cement or concrete is a very clever bit of chemistry.
And think how concrete makes our cities possible and safe.
Someone may think it makes cities sterile, but that's just lack of imagination and poor planning, I say.
Concrete gives us stable foundations for our homes. It makes larger buildings like hospitals safe and economical to build.
Think of all the things that use concrete that we rely on day to day...bridges, sewer pipes, sidewalks, reservoirs, hydro electric dams, swimming pools....and the list goes on. Portland cement has made its mark...and many of us have made our mark in it. Without cement, how would we know how big John Wayne's hand prints were?

Cement is even related to faith.
Hebrews 11 says that it is faith that turns dreams into concrete reality.
An architect may sketch a dream onto paper, but its only when the contractor starts pouring the cement for the foundation that the dream starts to become reality. Faith says, "We can do it. Lets get started".
Even its nature is like faith. When its delivered its all fluid and has no strength or shape. The builder has to make the forms that shape the stuff which then cures and hardens into the proper structure.

In Romans 5, Paul is talking about a process in our lives that shapes us and molds us into persons of strength and substance.
He reminds us of the wonderful life that God has given us and how he has opened the door and ushered us in to live with God.
But he also takes account of life's hardships and shows us how God is working even in them to bring about shape, substance and strength in our lives.

In fact, hardships becomes God's cement factory.

The apostle Paul is someone uniquely qualified to talk to us about this.
In his earlier life he thought he could earn his way with God by his own zealousness. He found that he could not and in fact the more he tried to live without Jesus, and in hostility to Jesus, he himself descended into a very ugly person He was guilty of complicity in murder and had a mean streak that led him to persecute the innocent. Hardly anyone's idea of a shining example.

But God came into his life and Jesus, who he hated, opened the door into God's presence.
It was his own experience that is behind the words,

We have peace with God through Jesus, through whom by faith we have gained access in the grace where we stand.

He is describing how it is God's gift to us that he throws open the door to his presence and how we are ushered into the inner courts of the living God. We just walk in by faith.

In fact this is the only way you can come to peace with God. It is trusting in God's gracious nature and God's gift to us by sending Jesus.

This does not make life a rose garden.
There are hardships and there is suffering, but when we stand in God's presence and live in it, those hardships become the means God has chosen to strengthen us. Just like a cement factory.

The manufacture of concrete requires digging and crushing and cleaning and even some cooking before we have the ingredients for cement. So does our life. The untested and untried life may look appealing to us, but given a choice, I think everyone of us prefers having people in our lives who have been tested. And for good reason. The reliable ones have come through the fire.

He even goes so far as to say that we celebrate in our difficulties because they are producing fortitude.
The word for suffering or trials is one that can be translated as "stress" or "pressure".
Now all stress does not produce strength of character. In some people suffering produces bitterness or resignation.

God uses stress to produce character
How pressure or stress produces strength of character is when we know we are in the hands of God who loves us and is bringing us to a good purpose. Then we can move forward through it in confidence.

Interestingly, the strongest concrete is put under stress. It is called pre stressed and is often used in the long bridge spans. Strands of wire are laid in the form attached to the end of the form and stretched like a violin string. The concrete is poured into the form then at the correct time in the curing process, the strands of wire are freed so that they can pull inward on the ends of the concrete, putting it under pressure. This process imparts the stress energy into the concrete giving it much greater strength and ability to carry loads across wide spans.1

Speaking from his own experience he says that God's spirit working in us gives us the ability to take that stress energy and transfer it into a determination to move forward in spite.

William Barclay quotes an anonymous sufferer.

Someone once said to a gallant soul who was undergoing a great sorrow, "Sorrow fairly colours life, doesn't it?" Back came the reply: "Yes, but I propose to choose the colour!"2

We can rarely choose when or if we will have hardship, but we can choose how we will face it. We can face it with faith and choose our own colour, or we can face it without faith and have the color imposed upon us.

This is not just stoicism. It is knowing that we are with God and God is with us in it, so we can entrust it to God knowing it can bring us to something good.

In one of the worst moments in my life, I was half lying by my bed, half kneeling in prayer and calling out to God why such a terrible thing should come into my life. It was a moment of dark despair.
I heard the Lord speak very clearly to me in that moment. Not audibly, but I heard it clearly nonetheless.
He spoke and let me know that this was happening by his permission.
I knew that if it was by God's permission, then God would be in it and I did not have to be afraid to go through it.
I was able. Not alone, but with the help and prayers of others. But I can stand here today to tell you that you don't have to fear any suffering. If God is with you in it with you, it will not destroy you.
Many of you have similar experiences and know that God's hand brought you through your dark night. And you are the stronger for it.

Paul goes on to say that fortitude produces character.
The word for "character" was the word also used of coinage.
The British use, or used, the word "sterling" in reference to their currency. It means its guaranteed the genuine article.
Tested, tried and true.

Back to our cement illustration again. A company manufacturing stressed concrete beams is required to submit them or a sample of them to an engineer for testing. If all the elements of the process check out and if a sample of the material can carry the load it is supposed to, it is given the stamp of approval and can be used in places where reliability is a matter of life or death, where it won't crumble under the load.

God puts his stamp of approval on our lives: "tried and true".
The real deal.
The genuine article.

Hope is a by-product

And Paul says this brings us hope.
But how does this bring us hope?
Because at the same time God is testing us, to give us the stamp of approval, we are also testing God.

Yes the Bible says we may not put God to the test.
That's a way of saying we can't demand of God to perform for us at our will.
But its a totally different matter when we are in the middle of a struggle.
If we reach out to God by faith, we will find him reliable.
Our experience will show us that in a time of need, God is also, "tried and true"
The real deal.
The genuine article.

And that gives us hope for the future.
It's one thing to believe a bridge will support our weight.
It's another matter to drive across it in a loaded car.
When we do that safely day after day, it builds a certain confidence in us.
Same with God.
Its one thing to believe in God's love in theory.
It's another matter to put yourself on the line knowing that love will be there.

I know some of you may have a need for strength and hope and confidence right now because of something you are going through. Others of us know that we want the strength of character that only God can build in us.
We do not look for pain and suffering. It will find us.
But we can look for God's purposes and actions in us here and now.
And we can pray for God's hope and assurance if we are in it.
You may not be able to choose whether you have sorrow, but you can choose the colour.
You do this by remembering that God is there with you.
You do it by asking for what God would have you to do if you are not sure.
Then you move forward doing what you believe is right and best and entrusting the outcome to God.
And when the concrete dries, there will be a new strength you did not have before.

Prayer: Lord we thank you that you have opened the door into your presence. We come in by faith. We know that pain comes to us all, and we do not complain to you for it. We do ask for the strength of your Spirit to remind us to turn to you in it and to trust you in it. Bring us through it we pray and make us into something stronger and more beautiful in your eyes we pray. Amen

Preached  Sunday June 6, 2004
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia

1. An interesting article on the subject can be found at www.ferrericon.com/Whatis.html
2. William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans, The Daily Study Bible Series, Westminster Press, 1975. p. 74

Resources Consulted
William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans, The Daily Study Bible Series, Westminster Press, 1975
A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. 4, Broadman Press, 1931