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.

How I found out I owned 62 slaves (and what I’m doing about it)

2 May

Does the Bible affirm slavery?  The guy in the video below sure thinks so.

No doubt this man’s methodology was really insensitive and hurtful.  Inexcusable.  But take a look at his argument.  He claims the Bible supports slavery.  Is he right.  On the billboard, he lists a Bible verse that seems to endorse slavery.  At Faith Church two weeks ago, we continued our series through the biblical letter of 1st Timothy, this time looking at just two verses about slavery: 1 Timothy 6:1-2.

In their The Genesis of Liberation, authors Powery and Sadler note that the problem with passages like 1 Timothy 6:1-2 is that Southern slave-owners used passages like this one to retain their stranglehold on their slaves and promote the culture of slavery.  Were the slave-owners right?  Does a passage like this justify slavery?

In the years of 1820-1860 slaves and Northern freed blacks were reading these same passages coming to a very different conclusion.  Many of us today would say “No Way! The Bible doesn’t support slavery.” Who is right?  Let’s take a closer look.

What we find when we survey the New Testament approach to slavery is that the NT writers did not endorse the system of slavery.  They never say “Slavery is a just and good system, and we should promote it and affirm it.” Instead Paul taught Christians how to live in the reality of their slave culture.

First up are Ephesians 6:5-9 and Colossians 3:22-4:1.  Paul says essentially the same thing in both passages.  Here is what he says in Ephesians 6:5-9:

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.  And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.”

We have to see that in a context where slavery was the norm, where slaves outnumbered free people, what Paul is teaching here is radical.  He is teaching Christian slave-owners to remember that they themselves also have a Master in heaven. Therefore they should treat their slaves well.

This was very unexpected teaching.  But maybe you think Paul should have been more radical than that. Take a look at Titus 2:9-10.  What Paul says here is similar to Ephesians and Colossians, but he adds some detail:

“Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”

Sounds very similar to the Ephesians/Colossians passage, doesn’t it?  Paul wants slaves to see their masters as people who need salvation from Jesus.  Paul wants them to see how their lives can make teaching about Jesus attractive or repulsive.  If slave owners can become followers of Jesus, then maybe something more radical can happen.

And that is exactly what he says to a slave owner by the name of Philemon.

Are you familiar with the story Philemon?  Philemon was a genuinely great Christian man who owned a slave named Onesimus.  Onesimus, we think, had stolen from Philemon and ran away.  Under Roman Law, this was punishable by death.  Somehow, Onesimus and Paul crossed paths, and Onesimus became a Christian under Paul’s teaching.  So now Paul’s letter to Philemon is a plea to Philemon saying “I’m sending Philemon back to you and I want you to treat him right when he returns.”

Listen to how Paul words it:

“Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.”

Paul is demonstrating clearly the transformation that can take place.  A slave can become a brother!  Now that is radical.  That is pretty much another way of saying “set your slaves free”.  In fact, it is better than saying “set your slaves free.”  It saying “Slave-owner: followers of Jesus have transformed relationships, to the point where your slaves are no longer your property, they are your family.  You don’t’ just set them free, they are your dear brothers and sisters.”

What we see, then, is that Paul, writing in a society that was dominated by slavery, injected his writing with a view to a better future of equality!  This new picture of the future is clear in what Paul says in Galatians 3:26-28

“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Paul is launching a brand new theological understanding of humanity for that culture.  In Christ he says, we are all the same.  We know this from the very beginning of Creation where God says in Genesis 1 that he made all humans in his image.  We are all the same in Christ.  There are different ethnicities, yes, but we are all equal in Christ.  Because of that, there should be no slave, no free.  All are one in Christ.

This theological foundation that Paul taught was the very thing that led to the eradication of slavery in years to come.  Timothy did not live in a world where slavery was eradicated.  The application of Christian theology clearly leads to the eradication of slavery though.  Because we do live in a society where slavery is no more, we should press on to remove even the last vestiges of slavery, including racial bias and injustice, human trafficking and the like.

Slavery does still exist in various forms in the world.  And this is where it impacts us.  Our inexpensive products often come from places across the globe that utilize slave labor in order to keep our prices low.

What if the coffee you bought this morning on your way to work was harvested by farmers that were not paid a fair wage?

What if the chocolate you ate this week was made by slaves?

What if the shirt and pants you are wearing right now are made by child laborers?

In James 5, James the brother of Jesus says this:

“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. … You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.”

James is speaking to us as well.  Think about it.  The reason we get such cheap coffee is often because the workers used to farm and harvest the coffee were not paid a fair wage.  Some of our products are made by outright slave labor.

Wouldn’t you want to know if you are part of the system that keeps people enslaved even today?  As Christians we should want to know and do something about it.

Here’s something shocking I found out as I was preparing this sermon.  I own slaves.  You read that right.

Here’s the kicker: You, too, might be a slave owner! Visit slaveryfootprint.org and you can find out for yourself.  This organization has created a website and app with a quick survey you fill out in which you describe your life.  How many rooms does your house have?  How many cars do you have?  How much clothing do you have?  You enter basic info on your eating habits, sports, technology, etc.  Then it gives you a result.  Based on your lifestyle, and what researchers have found about where our products come from, you will get a number of how many slaves you own.

I was appalled to find out my number.  62 slaves.  How many slaves do you own?  This is a reality check.

I know, I know, I don’t actually own any slaves, and neither do you.  But what James says applies to us.  We might not be the slave-owners, but we buy the products those slave-owners enslave people to make!  And thus we are just as culpable, James says.  The unpaid wages of the workers cry out, and James tells us that cry is heard by God!  We should be very concerned about that.

So what can we do?

When I preached this sermon, one person came up to me afterwards frustrated.  It seems like we are trapped in a consumer system where ethical consumption isn’t realistic.  Can the church, for example, realistically purchase a new HVAC unit for $20,000 when a foreign-made unit, one possibly made by workers not paid fairly, will only cost $6000?  The reality is that we’re not just talking about big ticket items like HVAC units.  Nearly everything we purchase from food to clothing to gadgets just might be part of this system.  If we were to restrict ourselves to only ethical purchases, it seems like our lives would shut down and we wouldn’t be able to exist.

So let me encourage you to start somehow, somewhere.  If this is new to you, perhaps you might start with coffee.

It is very possible and accessible to purchase fair trade coffee.  It will be more expensive than the cheap brands.  But that is kinda the point isn’t it?  You pay more for the coffee because the workers who harvested it were paid fair wages.  So consider visiting Equal Exchange.  They sell fair trade coffee, tea, chocolate, bananas and other ethically-produced foods.  I was so proud a few years ago when Faith Church made the switch to fair trade coffee.  It cost us more, but it was the right thing to do.

Consider ethical clothing companies like Imagine Goods.  The employed formerly enslaved women, paying them a fair wage, empowering them through employment, lifting them out of poverty.  I’ll admit it, I’m biased. My wife and her partner started Imagine Goods, but if you’ll read their story and see their vision and how they are accomplishing it, I think you’ll see why I’m so excited about them.

Here’s an article featuring three apps that can help you make ethical purchases.  This one features six apps.  Another very easy option is to consider purchasing your clothing at Goodwill or consignment shops.  That way you are supporting an unethical industry, you are supporting local businesses.

It will take some work, but it can be done!