Doing What is Really Important!

The Lord we worship is a God who puts up with a lot of us. How does God deal with it? God responds to our many misgivings with love and grace. The the true essence of gratitude is that our God gives us love and grace.

In his letter to Timothy, Paul states, “First of all, then, I ask that requests, prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving be made for all people. Pray for kings and everyone who is in authority so that we can live a quiet and peaceful life in complete godliness and dignity. This is right and it pleases God our savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. There is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the human Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a payment to set all people free. This was a testimony that was given at the right time. I was appointed to be a preacher and apostle of this testimony– I’m telling the truth and I’m not lying! I’m a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” (1 Tim. 2:1-7 CEB)

In the Scripture above the statement “I ask” means more than simply asking. “I ask” is a translation of a word centered on personal involvement in what the request desires. The original word indicates deep concern and desire. Used here I believe it is spiritually dangerous to ignore the request due to the results and consequences implied.

In this passage, Paul urges first of all (meaning of first importance) that we pray for all people. I would let this sink in for a moment. If we are believers, people of faith, part of God’s family the church, we have an obligation, a duty that we are urged to perform. It is not something that is forced or commanded because to do so would go completely against the nature of God.

But isn’t it natural to do something asked of us by the One who gave his life so that we might have a life? Why would we need to be urged to do this? Why would we need to be told, “first of all?” Why we may ask. I believe the reason is that there are many who believe that have allowed the world to stunt their spiritual growth.

Far too many believers have lost the vision for God and have grown complacent about responsibilities God gives us.” We may do our religious duties but we lose the delight. We are called to care. A call to care is a call to prayer. It is also a call to share, with others, what we know is true about Jesus. We are instructed to tell what he means to us. In this, we find the true power of gratitude. In this, we do what is really important.

This passage of Scripture is most likely written to the church at Ephesus. The church at Ephesus started as an outreach to the members of the synagogue but quickly became a gentile-dominated church. Then church at Ephesus became an influential church, a wealthy church. However, its success became its undoing. It became a church that thought of itself as special in an elitist manner. It was a church that became judgmental.

The Apostle John pastored this church after Timothy. The church’s failure to do what was important took center stage when John sends a letter to the church recorded in the second chapter of the book of Revelation, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” They had forsaken their first love. This is not a way to be grateful to God.

I often wonder how most church-going people would define a relationship with Jesus? It is a relationship of familiarity? Is it a relationship of culture (good people go to church bad people do not)? Is it a relationship of habit? God says it needs to be a relationship of love, of first importance. The kind of love expressed in caring, praying, interceding for others.

This is the way to be thankful. If Jesus is active in our lives, then there will be evidence of first love or else there will be an emptiness. A relationship with Jesus is established by faith, but it is sealed by the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit will not let us ignore our responsibilities. The spirit of God is always moving within us, but the spirit of self and of evil is always close by.

We can stifle the Spirit, we can grieve the Spirit. The Spirit will urge us to do what is of first importance, we will be urged to do what really matters. We can resist the Spirit, we can learn to ignore the inner voice. We can hide behind religion, activities, or just make excuses or comparisons with others so that we don’t look as bad. We can be like the Ephesians. God’s grace is beyond measure but we can reach the point where our love grows cold. This is where the demonic would like for us to be.

The cure, the prevention, the recovery from a lack of love is to pray for others, actively lifting them up to God. This brings us to the second thing that really matters. As the current situation in Ukraine reveals. We must pray for our leaders.

There are also those who love our former president and some who love our current president. There are easily as many who don’t. There are probably some with very strong opinions for other politicians, local, state, and national. There are those who some like and who some loathe. That is fine. This is a country of rights and choices. However, like or dislike we are told to pray for our leaders. This has nothing to do with politics or power. It has everything to do with peace. It has everything to do with what God says is important. We should pray for our political leaders to have compassion. We should pray for them to have a conscience. We should pray for them to have conviction. We should pray this for politcal leaders all over the world. We should pray that they will be open to the leadership of Christ. This is our duty as a thankful, grateful people.

When we do this we are praying for peace. We are praying for justice. We are praying that evil will not prevail. When Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness, Satan came to him and said, all the kingdoms of the world are mine. Jesus did not dispute this. We need to pray that Satan’s influence is limited. We should remember how he moves to create chaos in the political systems of our world.

These are things that please God. These are things that show that we not only talk the talk but walk the walk. It means we have begun to awaken to the importance of every human soul. And are thankful to God for every person. Paul tells us that when we are a people of true faith, a people of intercessory, caring, concerned prayer, and our hearts are in tuned with the heart of God wanting everyone to know (that is not just right-thinking but right thinking and doing) we can experience the growing presence of the Kingdom of God in our lives, then God sees this a being good, not good as opposed to be bad, but good as in being spiritually beautiful, in being morally righteous, in being immersed in the best. This is what pleases God. Is this not the least we human beings can seek to give God in light of what God has done for us? Is this not a good way of showing our thanks.

Paul states God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit wants all to be saved. Now some would say this is a one-time event. If this is what you believe the Bible teaches, good. Who am I to disagree. However, I have come to believe salvation is more than an event. I believe salvation is a process. Most times, in the Scripture, the word “saved” is a Greek infinitive. This tense is expressed in a past action that is still ongoing.

What God desires is that we understand so that we can live a life of being saved and saved and saved and saved. This is a reason to be very grateful. Each day, each encounter of life is an opportunity to live in grace, grow in grace, depend on grace, and blessed by grace. I believe if a person is not being saved, they are in a state of being lost, separated, ignorant of the truth of grace. They are in need of our prayer. I fear there are too many people in this state. 2 Peter 3:9 explains the desire of God in the negative, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” The word for want (desire) is tied to the event. God’s desire is that this event, perishing, does not happen but that repentance will happen, restoration will happen, unity will happen, that love will happen.

I think it is important think about this. Who is going to perish if they do not enter and remain in the ongoing saving relationship with Jesus? It will be someone’s child, mate, parent, or friend. Do you want someone praying for the people you know and love? Do you want someone to be reaching out to them? Would you not be thankful if there are people who take this opportunity and responsiblity to heart? Should we not do the same? This is doing what is really important! This is showing we are faithfully thankful and grateful to our Lord and our God.

There is a song from the community of Taizé I often sing in prayer. It is a simple song. Its this message says, “In the Lord I am ever thankful In the Lord I will rejoice Look to God Do not be afraid Lift up your voices the Lord is near Lift up your voices the Lord is near.”

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent

Luke 4:1-13 Two Spirits, Two Choices

I once used an electric bread machine to bake bread beneath the pulpit during a sermon on Jesus being the bread of life. I will never do that again. A preacher’s words cannot compete with the smell of fresh bread around 11:30 on a Sunday morning. It is rumored that a local restaurant sold out of hot rolls for lunch that day. We live and hopefully, we learn.

Now, in your imagination, imagine what the smell of fresh bread would be like after going forty days without eating? Would you be tempted to eat some fresh bread if you had the ability to get your hands on some? I would not be tempted; I would give in and eat. Jesus, who could have turned the stones into bread, (after all he turned water into wine) did not give in. Do you think Satan thought he would? Absolutely, yes. Remember, the Devil thought he could overthrow God.

What motivated Jesus to say no? Jesus’s motivation was the will of his Father. The will of God. Some might say, “Jesus was God.” Yes, Jesus was God but he was also human and suspectable to all we are suspectable to. The writer of the Book of Hebrews under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit tells us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are– yet he did not sin.” (Heb. 4:15 NIV)

I have a question for you, do you think Satan or Satan’s servants seek to find your weakness so that you will give into temptation? The Bible seems to indicate this to be true.  The Apostle Paul writes to the Christians in Thessalonica, “I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain.” (1 Thess. 3:5 NIV)

Now, temptation is not always from supernatural forces. Our own rebellious nature can also lead us to go against the will of God, but we must not take demonic influence lightly. I made that mistake and have paid dearly for it. I fully agree with Paul’s words, “But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” (Gal. 6:1 NIV)

What we learn from this encounter in the wilderness is, “Because he (that is Jesus) himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Heb. 2:18-3:1 NIV) Jesus’s actions are always in our best interest.

We have been given a promise, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humankind. And God is faithful; God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, God will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Cor. 10:13)

Notice how Satan approaches Jesus. He tries to appeal to Jesus’s ego, tempting Jesus just as he did the first human beings. He tries to make it sound like he trying to make it easier on Jesus. He tries to question Jesus’s faith,. He asks Jesus if it is really true the angels will lift you? Why go through all this misery. The power has been given to me to influence this entire world. I will bestow it on you if you just recognize my mercy and bow before me. Would this not be easier?

This is how the evil one works. Evil uses tools of deception, illusion, manipulation, to twist the truth just enough to make what is offered sound OK or at least easier. Do not be deceived. Satan never looks out for our good. We are merely items of derision and contempt for who evil wants to inflict pain, suffering, and death. There may seem to be a bit of pleasure, goodness, or desire but it is only to set us up for destruction.

Note, however, that Jesus has a counter. Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit. It is the same Spirit that the Lord has sent to all believers as an advocate, a comforter, the one who brings God’s gift of consolation to us.

This is how the enemy works. When the demonic think we are weak, the enemy will propose to us apparent pleasures, making them imagine sensual delights and pleasures in order to hold them more and make them grow in their vices and sins. Yet, because of God’s love, the Holy Spirit uses the opposite method, troubling our minds and hearts and working on our conscience through the process of reason.

When we are seeking to be in the will and service of our God our Lord, it is the way of the evil spirit to trouble, sadden and put obstacles, disquieting with false reasons in order to create doubt and discouragement. When this happens, the Holy Spirit seeks to give us courage and strength, consolations, tears of trust, inspirations, and quiet, easing our worries, and helping us stand and overcome all obstacles, so that we can sustain our service in the will of God.

Would it not be wonderful to be able to always listen to the Holy Spirit? Yet, when we engage in the human tendency to be willful rather than willing, our own nature can make us deaf to the Spirit’s work in our lives. If we become complacent in our spiritual practices, if we allow ourselves to be dominated by our own self-interests, or if we have made it a habit of not being alert and continuously giving in to temptation, then we make it easy on Satan.

God has given us a tool, a guide, a source of strength to help us. It is God’s own word. The Psalmist states, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Ps. 119:11 NIV) This is what Jesus turns to counter the lies and manipulation of Satan.

Another tool we have is prayer. Jesus instructed his disciples and us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matt. 6:13 NIV) God hears this prayer. God answers this prayer if our prayer is sincere. The Lord’s Prayer, the model prayer, has helped me more than anything else in my spiritual walk. When we take this prayer seriously and pray it faithfully, we do grow in our faith. Scripture and prayer are our basic tools against temptation. If we neglect them trouble is soon to come.

Note what happens at the end, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” This battle is not over. Satan and the forces against humanity do not give up in this world. They did not give up against Jesus and they will not give up against us. We need to believe and understand this struggle is constant, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph. 6:12 NIV)

Evil is always looking for an opportune time to get at us. Evil will do whatever it takes to bring about our downfall if it can. It hates God so it hates what God loves, us.

So, we are warned, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (1 Pet. 5:8-9 NIV)

This is a battle we can win. How many times have you experienced pain, sadness, suffering, or grief because you gave in to temptation? How many times have you wished, “if only.” We cannot push a reset button, but we can change our willfulness to willingness by accepting the ultimate gift from God, Jesus as our Lord. This is how we can win. I am so thankful for the promise of God, “for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 Jn. 5:4-5 NIV) God will help us. Through Jesus Christ, we can, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and God will come near to you. (Jas. 4:7-8 NIV) The choice is yours.