How the scariest Bible story help us create our Faith Church Growth Process

22 May

Image result for scary bibleWhat do you think is the scariest, most haunting passage in the Bible?  Maybe something about demons or hell or something?  Could be.

For me it is Matthew 7:13-29, and especially verses 21-23 where Jesus says this:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

For me as a pastor, it haunts me.  Why?  Because there are people that assumed, and even were convinced, that they were in good standing with Jesus, that they were going to enter heaven.  But they are dead wrong.  He says to them, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.”

You know why that haunts me?  Those people were convinced they were good to go.  They were sure they were doing what Jesus wanted them to do.  They presented their evidence to Jesus.  In their minds, they were guaranteed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

But they were totally wrong.  Jesus says “Nope, all that stuff you think is important is not important.”  Jesus says, “Many will say to me on that day.”  We’re not talking about a small group.  We’re talking about “many.”  This relates to the previous part of the passage, verses 13-14 where Jesus says a large group of people are headed the wrong way.  Instead a small group finds the road that leads to life.

See how that could be freaky? This large group of people who are headed the wrong way are deceiving themselves by their evidence. Their so convinced the have the golden ticket to heaven, the people try to reply to Jesus that they should be allowed into heaven.  They even have evidence: “prophesying in his name, driving out demons in his name, and performing miracles.”  It seems convincing.  I can hardly imagine anyone, except a true disciple, doing these things.  In fact, I would say all those pieces of evidence seem to demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through those people.

But there is a problem.  What do you notice about their evidence?  It’s all outward.  We look at them and on the outside they seem to be true followers.  But Jesus’ shocking response shows us that they are not.

Jesus’ response is what led to creating our new church logo. Take a look at the logo:

Each part of the logo symbolizes something.

There are four green squares, each representing a major focus of our church: Worship, Fellowship, Discipleship, and Outreach.  The third box from the left is a darker green, indicating it is a special focus. We call the line down the middle the Matthew 7 line.  Finally, the cut-out in the middle two boxes draws an imaginary horizontal line across the middle vertical line, thus giving us the image of the cross.

Every part of the logo tells a story, and it is all based in Jesus’ shocking response to the people in Matthew 7:23.

We call this story our Growth Process, and that is why the squares are colored green, symbolizing growth.  But it is not about growing the church numerically.  That might happen, of course, but our Growth is about how we grow as disciples of Jesus and how we reach out so that more people can become disciples of Jesus.

At the end of our recent teaching series through 1st Timothy we looked at a couple of statements Paul made about eternal life, what he called “the life that is truly life.”  Paul tells Timothy to take hold of eternal life now.  Eternal life is not just something that happens after we die.  It is that for sure.  But it is also now.  Followers of Jesus take hold of the life that is truly life.  That true life, or that eternal life now, is the life that Jesus said those people in Matthew 7 did not have.  Those people in Matthew 7 looked good on the outside doing their religious duties, but they were missing something inside. They had not taken hold of the life that is truly life, they were not living eternal life now.

Our Growth Process story explains how to take hold of eternal life now.  We don’t want anyone in our church family to stand before God one day and hear him say “Away from, I never knew you.”  Instead we want everyone to have a growing relationship with Jesus.

Let’s take a look at the first square, then.  This square represents Worship.  It is first because most people start their connection with our church family by attending Sunday morning worship services.  Not everyone starts there, and of course they don’t have to start there, but most do.

Considering what it means to be a true follower of Jesus, can we say that a person is a true follower of Jesus if attending worship services is pretty much the sum total of their expression of faith?

No.  Very much like the people in Matthew 7:21-23, they might look worshipful on the outside, but Jesus calls his followers to so much more.

So we ask everyone to evaluate themselves.  Are you in that first square?  Are you primarily just a Sunday morning Christian?  If so, that is a wonderful start, and because we do not want you to hear Jesus say “Away from me, I never knew you” we encourage you to add Fellowship to your worship.

I use the word “add” very purposefully.  When you move from square to square in the Growth Process, you are not leaving the previous square behind.  You are adding something.  That is key.

So if you have determined that you are primarily in the Worship square, we encourage you to add the Fellowship square.  Adding fellowship means going deeper, building relationships.  It might be joining one of our Sunday School classes.  It might be joining a small group.  It might be serving on a serve team.  It might be inviting people over for dinner, hanging out, etc.  It is anything that helps you build deep relationships with and care for others in the church family.

Again I ask you to evaluate yourself.  Would you say that your expression of faith in Jesus is in the Worship box, or maybe you have added Fellowship to Worship?

You know what though?  Attending worship services is important, and adding deep fellowship relationships to that is even better, but I’m convinced a person can do those things, and maybe even do them a lot, but still have primarily an outward appearance of faith.  That kind of person can still hear Jesus say “Away from me, I never knew you.”

That’s why the next part of our Growth Process story is the most important.  Crossing the Matthew 7 line.  We don’t want anyone to hear Jesus “Away from me, I never knew you.”  Instead we want everyone to experience his eternal life now, to hear him say “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into your rest.”  But how does that happen?

Jesus himself told us.  To cross over that Matthew 7 line, we need to learn to do what Jesus says in Matthew 7:21: those who enter the Kingdom of Heaven are the ones who do the will of his father in heaven.  What is the will of the father in Heaven?  Jesus would go on to tell his disciples precisely what he meant in Matthew 16:24, when he said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.”  That kind of full life commitment to Jesus means a person has had a deep inner change.  There are no hidden secrets, nothing held back.

He goes on in Matthew 16 to say “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”  We need to add discipleship to worship and fellowship.  The Discipleship box is a darker green color because it is the most important one.  Jesus later said to his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20 that he gave them a mission, a mission of making disciples all over the whole world, teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded.  That is what God desires for us: deep inward change, to be his disciples, giving our lives completely to him, and seeking to help others become Jesus’ disciples as well.

Now for the scary, but all-important question. Those people back in Matthew 7:21-23 assumed that they had crossed the Matthew 7 line, they assumed that they were true disciples, and they were wrong!  Those people looked at their outward expression of faith and assumed that was what God wanted. They were wrong. Is it possible that any of us might be wrong?

We would do well to assume that it is at least possible.  Therefore we have to talk about this.  Our Leadership Team cares so much about each and every person in our church family.  We don’t want anyone to assume that they are disciples of Jesus, only to be shocked one day to hear Jesus say, “Away from me, I never knew you.”  We leaders of the church would have utterly failed you if that happens.  That’s why we are placing so much weight on this discipleship square.  But there is one more square after that.

When a disciple of Jesus adds fellowship to worship, then crosses the Matthew 7 line, adding discipleship to worship and fellowship, something very obvious will happen. Go back to Matthew 7 and see verse 15.  That’s where Jesus talked about false prophets, comparing them to trees.  A bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Only good trees can bear good fruit.  By your fruit you will know who is good or bad.  By your fruit you will know who has crossed over the Matthew 7 line into true discipleship.  True disciples will bear fruit.  Not raspberries or strawberries like in my garden, but the fruit of more people becoming disciples of Jesus.  That is why our logo has the final square.  A disciple is a worshipper, a fellowshipper, and finally a disciple reaches out.  It will be obvious.  Disciples make disciples.

And that is the story of our Growth Process.

That is the process that Jesus taught.  And that is the process that we want to see each and every one of you go through.

So how goes it with your soul?  Or, using the language of the Growth Process, what squares have you added to your life?  Have you crossed over the Matthew 7 line?  Are you a worshipper, a fellowshipper, a disciple, and reaching out?

How goes it with your soul? Our Leadership Team had a wonderful retreat last weekend, and we talked a lot about this Growth Process.  We feel the weight of leadership, and we feel convicted that our God-given role is to care for the spiritual growth of our entire church family.  To do that we are going to regularly start asking each of our church family a version of the question “How goes it with your soul?” because we care so much about everyone.  We don’t want anyone to hear Jesus say, “Away from me.”

So what will the Leadership Team do?  Each of them will be responsible to check in with people in the congregation.  They can not and will not try to force anything on anyone.

You could say in response that you don’t want to be involved in this.  We will honor that. But we encourage you to give yourself to this kind of important accountability.  I know “accountability” can sound like a scary word.  Maybe it sounds harsh.  I guarantee you that our leaders are not interested in being harsh or forcing anything on anyone. There was a unanimous agreement among our leaders that they simply want to care for each of you.

Also let me clarify something specific.  The leader is not there to be your mentor.  That kind of discipling/mentor relationship might happen between a leader and a person in the congregation, but that is not the purpose of the Growth Process.  Instead, the purpose is to have the leadership team intentionally supporting and encouraging people to be moving along the growth process.  If you agree together that you need a discipleship mentor, more than likely the Leadership Team member will direct you to another person in the congregation who can be that mentor for you, who can encourage your spiritual growth,

How many of you would want to be encouraged like that?

So we want everyone in our church family to begin a self-evaluation.  Where are you on the Growth Process?  Are you in the worship block?  Have you added the fellowship block?  Be very honest as you evaluate yourself.

Do that eval so that when the Leadership team contacts you, you’ll be ready to discuss this further.  Your self-eval will facilitate the conversation.  Remember that this will be confidential.

When you are in conversation with the Leadership Team, you may say to them that you want to move forward in the Growth Process, but you don’t know how to add the next block?  You might not know how to move from Worship to Fellowship.  You might not know how to cross the Matthew 7 line.  And that is where our Leadership Teams and Serve Teams are working hard to give you resources to help you.  For example, when you are conversing with the Leadership Team member, you might say that you are not sure you have crossed over into the Discipleship square, but you want to.  You want to be a true follower of Jesus.  That Leadership team member will be able to give you practical suggestions for next steps to take.  It might be getting you teamed up with a discipleship mentor.

We encourage you to take time to evaluate yourself, to take this Growth Process story in prayer to the Lord.  Ask him to give you wisdom and clarity about where you are on the process. Ask him to give you wisdom about how to move forward, growing as a disciple of Jesus.

If you have any questions, please contact anyone on the Leadership Team.

How goes it with your soul?

19 May

“How goes it with your soul?”

Anyone ever ask you that?  Probably not.  It kinda has an Old English sound to it, doesn’t it?  We don’t talk like that.  But maybe we should.

That question “How goes it with your soul?” used to be a standard question in our church circles long ago.

An Anglican priest in the 1700s became frustrated with the lack of piety in the church.  Piety is also a word we don’t use much, but it is a good one.  Piety refers to a practice of religion, but usually not a dead or empty religion.  Pious religion flows from a heart and mind that is joyful about loving and serving God.  This Anglican priest in England in the 1700s felt that pious expression of discipleship to Jesus was missing in the church of England.  His name?  John Wesley.  Wesley went on to have an encounter with God.  He referred to that encounter as a time when his heart was strangely warmed.  It changed everything for him.  Wesley went on to lead a movement within the Church of England called Methodism.

He never set out to start a new denomination, and in fact he never removed his credentials from the Church of England, but eventually his new group of churches became the Methodist church.  It was called Methodist because Wesley created methods for following Jesus.  These methods or habits or activities were designed to help people have a pious heart toward God, a true discipleship to Jesus.

One of these methods was the class meeting.  A class meeting was basically a house church, a small group of people.  Circuit-riding preachers, also called itinerant preachers (itinerant just means “someone who travels from place to place”) would ride on horseback traveling from class meeting to class meeting.  Each class meeting had a volunteer leader who would essentially pastor the small congregation, because in many cases the itinerant preacher couldn’t be there every week.  That lay leader was called a Class Leader, and they had a famous question they would ask each person.

“How goes it with your soul?”  It was an accountability question.  The heart behind Wesley’s question was care and concern for all.  The class leader cared for the people in his house church and wanted them to maintain a heart and mind and soul that was truly following and loving the Lord.  You know what happened?  That simple accountability and follow-up helped people grow as disciples of Jesus.

Do any of you feel that you could benefit from someone asking you this question on a regular basis?

When I was in college there was a guy who, almost anytime you saw him, would ask you “How are things going between you and God?”  That’s basically the same question.

If you’re tempted to follow a religion free of accountability, perhaps you’ll consider spending some time with Faith Church Sunday morning, May 21, 10am at East Lampeter Community Park.  We’re have worship in the park, and we’re going to talk a lot more about Wesley’s important question: “How goes it with your soul?”

What the Bible teaches about how much you should give (or How to beat donor fatigue in a world that asks a lot)

17 May

Image result for cure for donor fatigue

Donor fatigue is real. Do you feel it?  Are you tired of all the people and organizations asking you to support them?  Last week I introduced the issue of donor fatigue by saying that in our culture, where money is tight for so many, it can be hard to be generous.  When all of the asking piles up, it feels frustrating and exhausting.  But since Jesus calls us to be generous people, how do we avoid donor fatigue?

This past Sunday we looked at the final section of 1st Timothy, chapter 6, verses 17-21, and there Paul talks about generosity.  In verse 18 he gives four important commands:

  1. Do good
  2. Be rich in good deeds
  3. Be generous
  4. Be willing to share

In other words, be like Amazon.  Amazon specializes in distribution.  I’ve been astounded at how fast Amazon can get purchases to me.  If you have an Amazon Prime subscription, you get your products in two days.  And shipping is free!  We need to see ourselves as distributors of God’s resources.

Those of you who are rich financially, Paul says, should be known not because you have a lot of money, you should be known for your generosity.  There is nothing wrong with having a lot of money.  Paul never says money or having money or making money is wrong.  Back up a few weeks and we saw that it is the love of money that is the problem.  But money itself is neutral.

No doubt, Paul is saying that those who have a lot of money, those who are rich, need to be exceedingly careful because they can become arrogant.  So those of you who have money, see yourselves as distributors.  God has given you the ability to make money, or maybe you were born into money, so you can be a distributor!

When our hearts are so full of the joy of the Lord, when we know that God is faithful to keep his promises, we can see ourselves as distributors of God’s resources.  That is what honors God.

Paul’s teaching about generosity is something he would refer to in other letters as well.  Probably the best place to read a full treatment of what Paul had to say about generosity is found in 2 Corinthians 8-9. I would encourage you to make a note of that and read it this week.

He is especially focused in 2 Cor. 9:6-15.  In verse 10-11 he says, “You will be made rich… so that you can be generous!”  We are distributors of God’s resources.

You can sum up Paul’s teaching of giving in four words:  consistent (1 Cor. 16:1-4), joyful (2 Cor. 9:6-15), sacrificial (2 Cor. 8:1-15), generosity (2 Cor 9:6-15; 1 Tim. 6:17-21).

You know what word is not in any of these passages?  Tithing.  Do you know what tithing is?  It is when you give 10% of your income to the Lord.  This word is in the Old Testament frequently.  In fact, Israel was commanded by God to give three different tithes.   Two of them were annual, and one was every third year, amounting to about 23% of their income given to the Lord every year.  But the purpose of those tithes included caring for the Levites and other causes that were very similar to our taxation system.

But what about Jesus and the apostles?  There is some debate about this.  I have read authors who make a case that tithing should be binding on all Christians.  I am not convinced with their argument.  If Paul believed that Christians should tithe, he had ample opportunity in 2 Corinthians 8-9 or 1 Timothy 6:17-21 to say that.  He doesn’t.  In fact, if tithing was so important for the church, it really is strange that Paul didn’t mention it.  My conclusion is that tithing is not binding on Christians.

It is not wrong to give 10%, but quite frankly for some of you, 10% is not nearly enough.  You could give a lot more.  And maybe you should.  For others of you, it is OK if you give less.  The question that we need to answer is “How much money should I give to the Lord?”  And a second question as a follow-up, “To whom should I give that money?”

Let’s try to answer the first question: How much should I give?  The principle is this:  Give with consistent, joyful, sacrificial generosity.

I have heard people say “I can’t give,” or “I can’t increase my giving.”  But let me ask: when we think that we can’t give, are we really saying: “I can’t give because I have to support my lifestyle first, and there is nothing left.”?

That’s why back in 1 Timothy 6, Paul has something important to remind the people of in verse 19: “Lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age.” Doesn’t that sound a lot like Jesus talking about storing up treasure in heaven?

How do we invest in heaven?

Paul goes on to say that we “Take hold of life that is truly life.”  What is the life that is truly life?  We talked about this last week when Paul said something very similar: “Take hold of eternal life.”

It is a life of trust in God.  We think, and our culture certainly tries to convince us, that the good life is life that money can provide. But what about God’s life? Living God’s life?  Being filled with the Holy Spirit, transformed, with the fruit of the Spirit flowing out of us?  That is truly life, living eternal life now. So how we do take hold of that now?  It is a life of consistent, joyful, sacrificial generosity.  But what does it look like?

We need examples of people who live out consistent joyful sacrificial generosity.  One is a guy named R. G. Letourneau.  He was famous for creating a company that built earth-moving machines.  He was a committed disciple of Jesus, and as his business and wealth grew, he decided to practice a reverse tithe.  For him, the answer to the question “How much should I give God?” was 90%.  His story is in the book The Treasure Principle, which I encourage you to read for more examples of generous people.  Those people show us that it is possible to live a life of consistent joyful sacrificial generosity.

Letourneau is a wonderful example of the phrase “God loves a cheerful giver!”  There is a massive joy in radical sacrificial generosity.

I have been so impressed with how Faith Church has practiced consistent joyful sacrificial generosity. We had a fundraising breakfast a few weeks ago.  It benefited one of our Faith Church families that has had significant medical concerns.  It was amazing.  Delicious food, great conversations, and it brought in thousands of dollars to show love to that family.  That was some joyful generosity!

So I am not going to answer the question “How much should I give?” with a dollar amount or a percentage.  Instead, when you try to answer the question “How much should I give?” I encourage you to take that question to the Lord in prayer.  I ask you to present your income and your expenses to the Lord in prayer.  See what he would have you do.  And in prayer to the Lord, ask him this: “Lord, how can a I move more in the direction of consistent, joyful sacrificial generosity?”

One last thought on that joyful part of giving.  So often giving a regular weekly offering, or giving a monthly contribution can seem compulsory.  Do you ever feel like that?  Do you ever daydream about how you could use that charitable donation for new gadgets or entertainment?  If so, join the club.  How then, can our charitable giving be joyful?  When you see the value of what you are giving towards, it fills you with joy.  It is the mission of God’s Kingdom, especially through your local church.  When you know you are depending on God by giving generously, it fills you with joy!

The second question is “Who should I give to?”  When you are bombarded with requests, this is a hard one to answer.  I wish it were as easy as “give 10% to the church, and then give generously on top of that as God blesses you.”  But the New Testament teaching is consistent, joyful, sacrificial generosity.  But who do you give to?  Let’s take a look at a few practical options.

Our church family has decided that we would like to operate using a budget.  Every year at our congregational meeting we vote on that budget, and throughout the year that budget guides our spending.  We plan a budget that asks each family to give about 6.3%, based on average local incomes. When we vote on the budget, we are making a commitment together as a church family that we will give enough to fully fund that budget.

There are plenty of other ways to give, as I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon.  Give to missionaries, to local social services, or those working in international justice and relief.  But donor fatigue is real.  None of us can give to every cause that asks us, and frankly none of us can give to all those we want to give to, let alone all those that ask.

So remember the cheerful part.  It is so easy to feel guilty about giving, like we are not giving enough, like we are disappointing people or God.  But instead I encourage you to be joyful and cheerful about giving what you can.  Of you money, your time, and of your abilities.  How can you cheerfully, joyfully, avoid donor fatigue?  Tend your heart.  God is most of all concerned about your heart!

Take a look at closing comments Paul gives in verses 20-21: “Timothy!  Pay close attention to what I have said in this letter.”  Paul was a mentor to Timothy.  That principle of mentorship is very important.  As we think about finances, do you have a spiritual budget coach?  I urge you to be humble and ask for help if money is struggle for you.  We often view money as deeply personal, as if no one should know how much we make or how we spend it.  Instead, I urge you to open the doors to that area of your life.  Invite financial accountability.

This is a sermon that I struggled with preaching.  How should a preacher preach about money?  I don’t want people to walk away from the sermon just hearing “Joel’s asking for us to give more money to the church.”  Please hear my heart in this.  I know money is a struggle.  I know the feeling of getting a letter from the bank saying that you overdrew your account.  I’ve been there, many times.  It’s embarrassing and humiliating, especially when they charge you fees.  But I urge you to trust in God to provide as you give, using the principle of consistent, joyful, sacrificial generosity.

For some of you, I urge you to consider how you can re-evaluate your spending.  What can you do to live more simply so you can pay off debt?  Perhaps one of the most spiritual, sacrificial things you can do is reduce your expenses so you can pay off debt faster, and thus put yourself in a position to be more generous faster.

Remember that behind it all is our heart’s desire.  The principle is consistent, joyful, sacrificial generosity.  Obviously, Paul is saying to Timothy that people should give of their finances to the work of the Lord.

But they should be generous is other ways too.  In good deeds.  Generosity is a lifestyle.  It is not just about how much money you give to the church.  Are you a generous person with your money, with your talents, with your time, with your abilities?

You don’t have to be a millionaire to be generous.  All of us can be consistent, joyful, sacrificial generous people, with the three Ts: our time, our talent, our treasure.  So I urge you to place all that before God, and say “Here I am, Lord, all of me.”

Do you feel you’re being asked to give too much, too often?

12 May

How many of you are living paycheck to paycheck?

What do I mean by “paycheck to paycheck”?  What I mean is that you need that paycheck to keep coming in order to pay your bills.  If you don’t get that paycheck, you won’t be able to pay bills, buy groceries, etc.  Does that describe your family?  If so, your answer is “Yes” to that question.

But if you have enough savings where you can live for at least a month or more without any income, without working, without unemployment, then you would answer “no” that you are not living paycheck to paycheck.

My intent is not to shame anyone.  I know in our society there is a goal, a dream, that we should build up savings accounts and become financially independent.  But the reality is that for many of us finances can be such a struggle.

Those of you who are younger families, life is expensive with all the sports, and lots of bills, school loans, groceries, health insurance, car loans, rent or mortgages, and credit cards.

If you are an older family you might have a fixed income, lots of health bills, and life might be expensive for you too.

The reality is that we live in an amazingly prosperous society, but most people don’t feel prosperous.  Instead, for most of us, finances stress us out.  Do finances stress you out?  My hand is raised for that one.  I hate money.  I work hard to earn it, and it seems like it is gone just as fast as it comes in.

You know what that means?  When money feels tight, it is hard to be generous.

Not to mention how many people and organizations are asking for money: the sports booster club, the fire company, the fraternal order of police, the politicians, the non-profits like the Boy Scouts and local social services organizations.

And then there is the church asking you to give to mission trips, fundraisers, missionaries, the weekly regular offering, and more.

Let’s just admit it.  We churches ask a lot.  Last week at Faith Church it struck me that on one weekend we asked our church family to bring donations for the youth group Chicken BBQ, then to purchase Chicken BBQ, then to give a regular offering on Sunday morning, then to give over and above offering to the Capital campaign, and then at the end of the worship service, we asked yet again, when took up our monthly special offering for missionaries.

Frankly, as I read this, it’s embarrassing.  Essentially, last weekend we asked the family of Faith Church to give to five different needs. I’m tired of fundraising.  Are you?

We live in a day and age where so much is asked of us.  We are tired of all the requests.  We wish we could give more, and we feel guilty that we can’t.  Have you felt like that?  It is called donor fatigue, and it is real.  Has donor fatigue crept into your heart and mind?

This Sunday we finish our study through 1st Timothy, looking at what Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:17-21.  He has some important words to say to those of us experiencing donor fatigue.  We invite you to join us at Faith Church this Sunday May 14, 2017 at 9:00 as we are going to talk about how we should view generosity in a world where finances are a struggle and many of us have a bad case of donor fatigue.

How you can experience eternal life before you die (and why waiting till after you die is foolish)

9 May

Image result for eternal life now

Do you feel like following Jesus is difficult?  I sometimes think that I must be doing it wrong, because following Jesus seems like it should be easy, but I can struggle with it.  Is it is struggle for you too?  And what do we do when following Jesus seems too difficult?  We so often flee pain, trouble, hardship, and we pursue ease, comfort, entertainment.

In our continuing series on 1st Timothy, we have come to chapter 6, verses 11-16, and Paul talks about what it is like to follow Jesus.  As you can imagine, Paul does not tell Timothy to flee the pain and pursue ease.  In verse 12 he says this comforting phrase to Timothy: “Fight the good fight of faith.”

Fight is a brutal word.  When we hear “fight”, we think of boxing.  We think of pushing and shoving and punching and maybe even yelling and pulling hair.  Maybe we think of a sword fight or a gun fight or a bull fight.

But the word Paul uses is not necessarily that kind of fight.   It is defined as “to strive to do something with great intensity and effort—‘to make every effort, to do everything possible, to strain oneself.’”[1]

Surely that definition could relate to a fight.  But it could also be a noncombatant striving, a struggling.  And it is intense.  It involves great effort. We generally don’t like to hear that.  How would you react to the following”

“If you sign up to be a volunteer on the booster club, it is going to be really hard!  You’ll have to struggle and put in a lot of work and effort.”

Or, “Please sign up for to be one of our children’s ministry teachers, it is super hard!  It will require a lot of you. You will have to be committed in time and energy.  It will be exhausting.”

Or “follow Jesus, be his disciple, die to yourself.”

Not a very compelling marketing scheme is it?

How many advertisers do you see that market their experience or product as being a really difficult, challenging, hard experience?  Barely any.  Maybe the military.  Many an elite school.

“Buy this mattress and it will be so awful you’ll have a horrible night’s sleep!”  They don’t do that.

Instead, when marketers advertise to us, they want to make their product as accessible as possible.  So they generally tell us how incredible and helpful and easy and fun and comfortable their product is.

Jesus apparently didn’t go to marketing school.  His call to discipleship is hard.  Paul’s charge to Timothy is hard.  “Fight the Good Fight.”  It is a fight.  Fights are hard.  They hurt.

There is one word in that phrase I haven’t mentioned yet: “Good.”

Paul says “Fight”, but it is a good fight.  It is a good fight of the faith.

What you are fighting for, what you are working for, what you are striving for makes all the difference, doesn’t it?  If the cause is just and good, you are much more likely to put in the long hours, to take a pay cut, to exercise, to practice, to make sacrifices.  Though it is hard, though it can feel like a fight, and though you might be exhausted, you can continue on because you know what you are fighting for is good.

Finishing a college degree might feel that way.

Raising children might feel that way.

Following an exercise or diet plan feels that way.

Paul is talking to a pastor, so yes, ministry can feel that way.

But all these are good things!  In fact, they are very good.  While they can feel like a fight at times, while they might inflict bodily damage on you just like a fight does, they are good, and remembering that they are good is so important.

If we are honest with ourselves, though, and I will be honest about ministry, there are moments of doubt.  We start to question, is it worth it?  How many of you have been there before, when you are involved in something hard?  You start to ask “Why did I get into this?”

I’ll never forget the marathons that I have run, having those thoughts, those questions pounding in my mind.  In the picture below, see the “FULL” back plate?

Image result for baltimore marathon back bib "full"

In the Baltimore Marathon, the race organizers asked us to pin that to the back of ours shirt because we were running simultaneously with half-marathoners for the last 10+ miles of the marathon.  I’m not sure why they asked us to do this.  Maybe it was simply so that runners on the course could know and encourage one another.  And they did.  I was very encouraged when some half-marathoners told me how impressed they were with the marathoners like me.

But at about mile 21 or 22, my body experienced a deep kind of exhaustion that I had never felt before.  In training, the most I ran at one time was 20 miles.  Now I was beyond that.  And I still had 4-5 miles to go.  I was cramping, scared something was wrong and this 18 week process was falling apart.  I entertained the possibility of quitting, of not finishing.  Worse yet, I still had hills to climb.  I started thinking to myself “Why in the world did I ever do this?  This was so foolish!  I’ll never do it again.”

The “full” sign really ought to say this: 

Have you ever doubted your abilities?  Have you felt foolish?

Maybe you have doubted our parenting abilities.  Maybe you wonder if you are smart enough to finish school.  We can doubt ourselves in the middle of the fight.

Have you ever doubted whether you can make it as a disciple of Jesus?  Do you ever feel like Christianity, discipleship to Jesus, feels like a fight?  Why does it feel like a fight?  What are you fighting against?  I think we followers of Jesus fight against at least three things.

First, we fight against ourselves.  We have free will.  When it comes to following Jesus, we freely chose to follow him.  Free will, though, means that we can freely choose the right thing, just as much as we can freely choose the wrong thing.  We have a tendency to make bad choices, think bad thoughts, and harbor bad attitudes don’t we?  Following the way of Jesus can feel like a fight because we ourselves have a free will struggle with our lack of self-control.

 

The second thing that can make discipleship to Jesus difficult is culture.  It is not like our culture has a goal of promoting discipleship to Jesus.  I think it is absolutely possible to live as gracious, compelling disciples of Jesus in our culture.  But it can be hard.  Are there elements of our culture that you find make it hard for you to follow Jesus?

The third thing that can make the good fight feel like a fight is opposition.  There is a very real enemy force in the world that would love to see us fail.  Satan.

Even though these three things work against, remember that it is a good fight!

What is your personal fight?  Here are some personal struggles that people often talk about:

Fear of what other people will say or do to you.  Mine is speaking the truth in love. Specifically the truth part.  I will often skip the truth part because I am afraid of offending. Perhaps the fight is the busyness in life.  Or is it that you feel loneliness, without much support? Our world certainly seems to pressure us to have material comforts. Are you hoping to climb the corporate ladder to the extent you are tempted to let other things go? Why?  To get more money, more prestige at work, or to get Power.  You can perhaps get all these things, but what will it cost you to get them ?  You’ll have to work long hours, and the resultant stress and anxiety will come at the cost of your personal time, sanity, and maybe your family or ministry time.

So Paul says to Timothy, “Fight the good fight of the faith.”  If we are to pursue righteousness and godliness, know that it could be hard.  But it is good!

In fact, Paul says next in verse 12 that it is not just a mediocre good.  Paul says it is a fight to take hold of eternal life.  It is that good!

He says that Timothy should, “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.”

Wait a minute! Eternal life?  Is Paul talking about getting saved?  Isn’t Timothy already saved and going to heaven when he dies?   That’s how we talk about eternal life, right?  You have your present life now, then you die, and after you die, you will go on to eternal life in heaven.

But think about this passage with me a minute.  It would be very strange if Paul thought Timothy wasn’t yet saved, considering that Paul already installed him as pastor of the church at Ephesus.  It would be very strange if Paul thought Timothy was not going to have eternal life in heaven, as if Timothy had to now accept Jesus as his savior and become a follower of Jesus.  Paul would never have allowed Timothy pastor this church that Paul loved if he, Paul, wasn’t certain that Timothy was a true follower of Jesus who was going to have eternal life in heaven.

You what that means?  Whatever Paul is saying here, this cannot be a statement about eternal life in heaven after you die.

Paul is saying that Timothy should take hold of eternal life now.  One of my favorite writers on the Christian life, Dallas Willard, says this:

What Willard says fits perfectly with this passage.  How do we know this?  See the phrase in verse 12: “Take hold”?  It is an imperative tense, which means that Paul is commanding Timothy to do this right now.

Later on in verse 14 he even calls it a command.  What that means is that this command, “Take hold of eternal life”, is really important.  Paul is serious about this.  He is saying, “Make no mistake about it, you have to do this, Timothy.”

Live an eternal life right now.  Or as Willard put it, learn how to live in the Kingdom of Heaven now.

This is another passage to ask ourselves, “How am I doing in my life? What is important to me?  Am I fighting the good fight of the faith to take hold of eternal life now?”

We recently had the season of Lent.  Lent is the 7 weeks prior to Easter, and it is a season where people spiritually prepare themselves for Easter.  The spiritual preparation in Lent features fasting.  The question “what are you giving up for Lent?” refers to this.

I gave up phone games for Lent.  I can’t tell you the amount of time I wasted playing games on my phone.

How about you?  How are you wasting time?  Is what you are doing necessary?

It is good to first ask these questions between you and Lord.  Ask him to evaluate you.  Ask the Holy Spirit to evaluate you.  David in Psalm 139 says:

 

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. 

But you can compound the effectiveness of the evaluation by asking godly, wise people to evaluate you, to speak the truth to you.  One of one or in a small group, ask for accountability.

You know what the result of all this fighting the good fight, and taking hold of eternal life, will be?

We can live eternal life now!  That is so amazing to consider.

We so often feel desperation and frustration in life, and we think “I can’t wait for heaven and eternal life when all this pain will be gone.”  But in so doing, are we enabling ourselves to continue living in the muck of life?  Are we allowing ourselves to stay stuck in our bad habits, stuck in sin, feeling distant from God, feeling powerless to change?

Remember that Paul says “you can experience eternal life now!”  And actually he goes farther than that.  He commands it.  He is saying you must live eternal life now!  Take hold of it!

What an awesome privilege we have.  Following the way of Jesus might feel like a fight, but remember it is a good fight, because it means that we can take hold of eternal life right now.

I love the illustration at the top of the article because it shows how physical life and eternal life overlap.  We can and should experience eternal life now.  In fact, that is what God wants.  He wants the eternal life of his Kingdom to radically impact our lives, our world now, so that we and our world are being transformed now.

Paul is right, that might feel like a fight sometimes.  Anytime we go through transformation, it is usually hard.  But consider what transformation means: it is a good fight that means we are being changed to look and act more like Jesus.  It means that the list in verse 11, all those qualities of eternal life, are more and more are part of our lives.

So Paul finishes with a wonderful benediction in verse 13-16, charging Timothy to keep this command, and thus it is a charge to us as well, to flee evil, pursue Jesus, fight the good fight, take hold of eternal life now, until such time as Jesus returns or God takes us to be with him.

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 662. Print.

Why does following the way of Jesus seem so difficult?

5 May

For those of you that are followers of Jesus, have you ever thought that that following the way of Jesus is difficult?  I think life itself can feel difficult.  But then add following Jesus, and there is another layer of effort, right?

Ever think thoughts like this?

I hear Jesus say “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” and sometimes I think “What?  Jesus, following your way of life is frustrating and complex!”

The process of life transformation that God wants to work in our lives is not always an easy one.  In fact it might be more accurate to say that it is often difficult.

And that can make us frustrated, can’t it?  Whether it is a habit we’re trying to change, a relationship we’re trying to mend, a ministry we are involved in or a sin that we’re trying to repent of, following the way of Jesus can feel heavy.

How many of you think “I just want a break!”?

I often wish following Jesus were easier.  In fact that raises a question in my mind.  Should following Jesus be easier than it seems?  If we think that following Jesus is hard, maybe the way we are following him is wrong?  Is it our fault that following Jesus can be difficult?  If you feel frustrated as a disciple of Jesus, what is going on?

This coming Sunday as our family of Faith Church gathers for worship, we continue our study through 1st Timothy and we’re going to read some comments that Paul gives to Timothy about following Jesus.

You can preview it at 1st Timothy 6:11-16.  Then we hope you’ll join us at 9:00am to hear more!

How my Google Home taught me about discontentment (and how to be more content)

3 May

My smart phone was due for an upgrade recently, so when an advertisement came via email offering the newest version of my phone; I took a look.  The advertisement on that email said that if I pre-purchased the new phone—it was due to be released in a few weeks—I could also get a Google Home and a new TV.  I was ON THAT.

We didn’t need these things.  We already have a TV.  Our life is fine without a Google home.  But they were free!!!!

My new phone eventually arrived in the mail, and I got it set up, but there was no Google Home and no TV.  I started questioning.  Was I too late in signing up?  Nah, couldn’t be…I signed up literally within hours of receiving the email.  Where was the TV or Google Home?  A feeling rose up inside me.  You know what that feeling was?  Discontent.

I called my cell carrier because I wanted to know what happened.  They told me that I had to go to a separate website and register my info, sales receipt, etc., and that’s how I could redeem the offer.   I found the website for the Google Home offer and got my info registered and approved!  Yes!

Then when the email came that my Google home was being shipped, you know what I did?  I tracked that sucker five times every day till it was on my front porch.

But there didn’t seem to be a way on the promotional website to redeem the TV.  That led to more discontent!  Why did this have to be so hard?  I started feeling grumpy.  What if I had never called them?  This was horrible customer service!

I called them again.  They told me to go back to the same website.  What?  I was already there.  There was no button to redeem the TV offer like there was for the Google Home.  Oh, I needed to read the fine print…the TV offer wouldn’t go live for another week.  You know what I did?  I set up an appointment in my calendar for the day the TV offer website would go live and made sure I wouldn’t forget.  I had to get my TV.

Discontentment.  The TV still isn’t here.

Is it possible to find contentment in life?  Will I feel better when the TV arrives?  Maybe I should call again to make sure it is on its way?  Have you experienced any similar feelings in your life?

We continued our Sunday morning series through 1st Timothy this past week, and in 1 Timothy 6:3-10 we learned in verse 6 that “godliness with contentment is great gain.”  That’s a short, but loaded phrase!

What is godliness?  What is contentment?  Let’s take a closer look.

While Paul refers to godliness in verse 6, he had already referred to it in verse 5, but very differently. Look at the end of verse 5.  He says that those false teachers (he called them arrogant ignorant false teachers) thought that godliness would lead to financial gain. Paul says in verse 5 that those false teachers are robbed of truth.  They think godliness will lead to financial gain, and they are simply wrong.

So what is this godliness he is talking about? In the original language this word is defined as “appropriate beliefs and devout practice of obligations relating to supernatural persons and powers—‘religion, piety.’[1]

We Christians tend to dislike the word “religion”.  We say that when it comes to our faith in Jesus, it is not a religion but a relationship.  Religion gives us the idea of buildings and set prayers and rules and something very fake and empty.  We say relationship is where it’s at.  Talking and walking with Jesus and having lives transformed, filled with the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, self-control.

So what is Paul talking about here?  A religion or a relationship?  Because he says in verse 5 that the false teachers think godliness leads to financial gain, that kind godliness must be a false religion, right?  The problem is he uses the very same word in verse 6 when he says that godliness with contentment is great gain.

Look at the definition of godliness again.  It actually encompasses both religion and relationship.  Religion and piety. Religion refers to outward acts of connecting with God, while piety is inward, relational, what we would call our heart and mind connecting with God.

That means godliness is a very well-rounded word here.  You can see why Paul would use it.  So he says godliness is not a means to financial gain.  We should not be using the outward or inward elements of our connection with God to try to enrich ourselves financially.  Using God for personal gain is the stuff of the arrogant and ignorant.

Instead, Paul says godliness with contentment is great gain.  What, then, is contentment?

Contentment is “The state of being content with one’s circumstances or lot in life.”

Have you heard that you are not supposed to use the word you are defining when creating a definition of that word.  So for example, “running is when you run.”  That might be true, but we have not learned much about running in that definition.  How about “running is the act of moving your legs rapidly, starting from a standing position then allowing your body to go in motion”?

So therefore, how do we define contentment?  It can’t just be “the state of being content”. We discussed this at sermon roundtable, and one person said that “contentment is to know that we are children of the King, and he will care for us.”   Additionally, we are content when we feel an inner sense of being okay with ourselves.  One author describes it like this:

“Self–sufficiency in a good sense, sufficiency with oneself as spoken of a satisfied mind or disposition[2].”

I like that.  A satisfied mind.

There is such a thing as holy discontent.  That is when something is not right, maybe an injustice is happening, and you feel discontent about it.  Holy discontent motivates you to right what is wrong.  Paul is not talking about that.

Paul is talking about being content in life.  Contentment is a satisfied mind.  I will admit that this one is a struggle for me.  I don’t always handle stress well.  The years of 2013-2015 had some difficult elements.  And in the late summer/fall of 2015 I started experiencing strong anxiety and even a couple panic attacks.  I was not content with life.  I did not have a satisfied mind.  I couldn’t sleep well, and I needed help. And I sought out that help.

For me discontent has manifested itself emotionally.  Discontentment might also be experiential.  What I mean is that we might be very tempted by the things of this world.   We live in a culture where we are trained to be discontent. Businesses want us to be discontent.  They create advertising so that we will feel discontent and buy their products, which they promise us will make us feel good.

 

Instant gratification trains us to only be happy if we get what we want immediately.  What is the trend of the week that we have to have in order to feel satisfied? The reality is that many of us think it is completely normal, this ongoing discontentment.  We feel that if we have things to hold on to, or if we have the right clothes, gadgets, homes, then we will feel fulfilled, normal.  As if that is just the way life is.

What does this say about us?  What is going on inside us that we can be deceived into believing that these things can provide us the satisfaction we deeply desire?  It is what some have called the “empty self”.  A God-shaped hole. That’s a big hole to fill.  No amount of stuff can fill that hole.

That’s why this principle is so very important!  Godliness with contentment is great gain.  Paul’s statement is a direct judgment to those false preachers who look to godliness to achieve financial gain.

But Paul says that true gain is only found in the combination of godliness with contentment. 1 Timothy 6:6 could be translated like this:

“Religion is a source of great wealth if it is accompanied by contentment with what one has.”[3]

If you are like me, struggling with discontent, then what I say next probably sound very normal. I have literally asked God for $1,000,000 as that would pay off our mortgage, pay off small debts, and get our kids set for college.  What this prayer request shows me is that I am not content, and I believe that removing money concerns from my life will make me feel better.

How many of us think more money will help us feel content?  Paul warns us about this in verses 7-9.  We think the things of this world will be the answer to our discontentment, but what we need is to learn to be content with just a few things like food and clothing.  Contentment comes, Paul says, when we learn to be satisfied with just a few things.  And that is a battle in our society.  But it is a battle followers of Jesus must fight.

Why?  Because discontent can lead to disaster.  It’s a trap, a temptation that is too powerful for most. Paul says, “Nope.  The love of money is a root of all evil.”  To be clear, money is not the problem.  Money is neutral.  It is the love of money that is the problem.

I can’t tell you how many times you will hear the phrase “money is the root of all evil.”  That is not what Paul says.  Look at verse 10.  It is the “love of money”.  It is a heart issue.  It is greed, avarice.  Who can spot what is wrong with this picture?

Image result for in greed we

“In greed we trust”.   It should be “In God we trust.”  But money is temptress and trap.

Money shows how discontent we are.  Like this guy:

When you love money, you are greedy, you are passionate about wanting more and more.  And that is why it so often leads to evil.  Theft, crime. Though we might not be in prison because we committed a financial crime, we might have done some other things.

Did you strive to report your taxes properly?

What about the issue of being demanding when you are not treated right or given the right deal on something you purchased.  Might greed be at the root of that desire?  We might say “Well, I wasn’t treated right, and I want justice.”  Justice is quite important, but is it possible that we can use justice to mask greed?

When we recently visited our son who completed Army Basic Training at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, we arrived at our hotel to find they had given our party of four a room that slept two.  There were literally no rooms left in the hotel.  None in their sister hotel.  None in two other hotels nearby.  It was 1:30am.  I slept on the floor.  The next day, thankfully, a room opened up in their sister hotel next door and we moved over.  But that day I spent some time talking with management about this.  My internal question was how far should we go in getting a refund for the inconvenience?  I had the confirmation email which clearly stated the type of room we paid for.  The hotel was wrong.  They gave our room to someone else, and they took the blame for their mistake.  Were we not due a refund or discount for our troubles?

Or maybe that sense of what was due us was motivated at least in part by greed? Maybe “godliness with contentment” could help us to view this situation from another angle?  Maybe we could take the hit and show grace?  Just like Jesus did for us?  At what point do I just allow myself to be content and avoid the nagging feeling of greed that wants more and more.  As Paul said in Corinthians “why not rather be wronged?  Why not rather be faulted?”

So what does it mean to live a content life?

Evaluate your life.  Get someone who will provide a real honest assessment to evaluate you.

Seek examples to emulate.  Who is an easily recognizable person or example of someone who demonstrates contentment in life?

Contentment is possible.  Not in money.  Not in material things.  But only in Christ.  So pursue godliness.

 

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains 1996 : 530. Print.
[2] Zodhiates, Spiros. The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament 2000 : n. pag. Print.
[3] Louw & Nida, 298.