Lectionary Sermon for Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18   The Seeming Loser Who Wins

When we read Paul’s letters to Timothy, we need to remember these verses of Scripture come to us from a man writing from prison.  The man, Paul, is in prison not because he was bad, but because he was faithful to God.  He is in prison for his commitment to Jesus.

Likely, every one of us in the room will end up confined in some way, in a prison.  Not a prison of stone and steel with guards of flesh and blood, but prisons with limitations, frustrations, fear, or loneliness. Prisons of sickness, age, pain, broken relationships, or social limitations.  These prisons can confine us, punish us, and would push us to despair, grief, and even hopelessness.

When we find ourselves in such situations, we can become bitter, angry, and resentful.  As we read the words of the apostle Paul, his lament lets us know he has every reason to be bitter, angry, and resentful.  Sometimes such reasons can also be from the enemy. This can lead us to focus our anger at whoever or whatever we believe has brought us to such a situation.

Who could blame Paul if he was angry with God?  He had been faithful. He had been committed. He had been bold and steadfast and what did it get him? It brought him pain, rejection, betrayal, and now prison.

Yet, the words of this passage are not words of despair. They are not words of defeat, bitterness, or hopelessness. As with all true lament, it speaks of its grief, anger, and pain, and then turns to hope.

Paul is not saying, Oh poor me.  Instead, the words Paul uses are hope, accomplishment, victory, and celebration.   How can Paul do this?  What is the source of Paul’s strength?  It comes from his faith, from his relationship with God. It is not something Paul bought, caught, inherited, or earned. It is a gift that grows as we seek the will of God.

Listen to Paul’s words, “I am being poured out like a sacrifice.” In the Old Testament, a drink offering was said to be a sweetness before the Lord. Paul knows the Lord is not the reason for his suffering. Paul knows God is aware of his suffering. Paul accepts there is power in his suffering.

Paul does not expect God to send angels, earthquakes (though God did once do that for Paul) plagues, or any other supernatural force to free him. He even prays that those who abandoned him be forgiven (verse 16).

Paul knows what this world is and does. Paul embraced his faith in Jesus knowing full well that to do so would bring him this kind of trouble. After all, before Paul encountered Jesus he sought to make Jesus’s followers’ lives miserable.

Now to be fully honest, following Jesus does not mean you will escape problems. Following Jesus does not mean things will go well. It is not a cure for depression. It is not a promise of health and wealth. It is not protection from pain. God never, ever has promised an easy way for those who believe.

In the book of Job, Job, who was called a good and faithful man, a friend of God by God himself faced as many difficulties, and as much pain as any person could ever face in life.  God did not immediately interfere. When Job was in one of the hardest times in his life, he faced a call tempting him to give up on God.  Job’s response, “Will we receive good from God but not also receive bad?” (Job 2:10 CEB)

How can someone do this? The Bible is filled with stories of people who do this. Some people say this proves

God does not exist or God does not care. Not so, in fact, it proves just the opposite. The only reason anyone could face these kinds of challenges is if God is with them. God is enabling them. God is strengthening them. God gives life.

The Bible is very clear; the reality is that this life is not an easy life.  God never promises anything different. Jesus warned us that following God would be like carrying a cross.  But Scripture also said, Be strong! Be fearless! Don’t be afraid and don’t be scared by your enemies, because the LORD your God is the one who marches with you. He won’t let you down, and he won’t abandon you. (Deut. 31:6 CEB)

And, “After all, he has said, I will never leave you or abandon you” with the response being, “This is why we can confidently say, The Lord is my helper, and I won’t be afraid. What can people do to me? (Heb. 13:5-6 CEB) And

Jesus himself says to us, “Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” (Matt. 28:20 CEB)

You see, those who draw near to God, who seek God, who live for God, know that whatever we go through in life, God goes with us, and faithfulness and commitment are more rewarding than anything this life offers us.

Why, why is this so? Because there will come a day in which the material treasures of this world will not have meaning.  The only real treasure is the relationship we have with our creator and with those who are part of the unity (not uniformity) this relationship creates. Listen again to verse 8.

This does not sound like a man who has failed. This does not sound like a man with little hope. This does not sound like a man who has been abandoned. This is a song of victory. These are the words of a man who understands what comes next and is already being experienced now, a community of love. A reward that is promised to us.

We live in an age in which many people have little time for God. For many people, God is a push “in case of an emergency” button. Too many people only turn to God, only care about God, when they have exhausted their own resources. And then, if God does help, too many people quickly forget and once again put God on the back burner of their lives.

Paul has called out to God. And even though Paul has been abandoned by many, Paul knows God is always there. Paul knows that what he is going through will show others how to be strong in weakness, how to be confident in vulnerability, and how to see beyond circumstances with eyes of trust, faith, and commitment. As Paul states in his letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome, “I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us.” (Rom. 8:18 CEB)

Paul tells us He and God had a talk and God told him, “My grace is enough for you because power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9 CEB)

God will make us perfect in our weakness if we are open to accepting the relationship Jesus offers us and allow the Spirit of God to lead us toward the perfecting of our faith.

There was a man who asked his wife how many perfect men there are in the world.  The wife replied one less than you do.  No, we will never be perfect, but we can be perfected

The words that Paul writes to Timothy are intended to not only encourage and build the faith of Timothy but for everyone who reads these words. Whatever we face embraced by the faith God grants to those who seek the divine, we will not be overcome. It will be worth it.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Gal. 6:9 ESV)

It is easy to grow weary.  It can be easy to give up, especially when our relationship with God is stagnated or merely a religion of rules and rituals. But let us remember, “but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength; they will fly up on wings like eagles; they will run and not be tired; they will walk and not be weary.” (Isa. 40:31 CEB)

What about you? Can you say with Paul, I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith?” (2 Tim. 4:7 CEB) If not, perhaps it is time to rearrange your life’s values, goals, and choices so that you can.

Lectionary Sermon for Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

What does “acquainted with the sacred writings” mean? I looked at several translations. Then I looked at the word in its likely original form at what I found was a word of power and ability to be wise given through faith, the faith, in Jesus Christ. To become acquainted, according to the dictionary, is to be made aware of or familiar with someone or something. From birth, there was an intent to make Timothy aware and familiar with the power of God’s Word.

Timothy was a blessed individual. Timothy was raised in a home where the Scripture was important. Timothy’s family discussed the Scripture (the Old Testament) and interpreted it through the teaching of Jesus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Timothy had always been part of a community of faith. A community that studied and prayed the Scripture. Timothy had been always taught, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4 NRS)

I love hearing children in church. For I know that the children will be at least introduced to the Word of God in a manner that I hope leads them toward being acquainted. The truth is that the church cannot do it alone. It is believed the last time the church had any real standing with youth was in the Sixties of the last century. If we depend on institutions and/or communities alone, that acquaintance will be weak. It takes churches, good friends, relatives, role models, and parents who depend on the Bible in the home and use it as an instrument of love, not legalism, to build up not break down, and most importantly magnifies Jesus as Lord. Be warned, this will not be an easy task, being a parent never is easy, being a parent like Timothy’s is a God-depending task. You will have a great impact on your children.

Then Paul writes these words, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” In these words, we find the definition of Scripture.

God breathed. In the beginning of human existence, there are these words, “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. (Gen. 2:7 ESV) This is how we came into existence, the breath of God gives life, mortal life. But we were meant for more. We need to have a spiritual life that will take our mortal life beyond death and time. That is why when Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus, he told him there needs to be two births. One physical and one of the Spirit. It is this birth of the Spirit that Jesus offers to us. Through this birth, this spiritual birth, we become indwelt by the Spirit of God, a counselor to guide us in the decision we make as human beings as we live in expectation of what is to come in the reality of what is now.

The Scripture is about life. It is about being profitable. It is about being positive, of being guided, and shown dangers and mistakes. It is about aiding us in discovery and accomplishment. It teaches, trains, and transforms. The Holy Spirit brings the writing to life in our lives. It is bread, holy spiritual bread. The Scripture is self-revealing in declaring, “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deut. 8:3 NRS)

Now as for the phrase, “man of God.” The original language states, τοῦ θεοῦ ἄνθρωπος, (2 Tim. 3:17 BYZ) of God man(humans). Yes, anthropos means man but in the generic sense. Not trying to be politically correct, just biblically honest. Most important is that the Scripture is good for all regardless of gender. All can be blessed by its gifts.

This is a deeply encouraging correspondence. Paul, in prison, speaks of the gifts of God and where our confidence should lie, even in trying conditions and/or situations. Paul is faithful. Faithful to a trust proven true time and time again.

Then Paul goes on to give his student in ministry a charge, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom,” very strong words indeed.

The word charge is a word that is both a command and a warning. The command is obvious in the word preach. The warning has to do with what is to be preached. It stresses the seriousness with which the instruction is given. This Word has power. This word is not to be taken likely. Paul invokes God as a witness.  I have no doubt Timothy understood. Timothy knew his assignment, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”

Preach the word. Remember, the word is not a what but a who. John calls Jesus the Word. It is Jesus who is to be proclaimed. For only Jesus can lead a heart to God. The Holy Spirit uses the word proclaimed to call, convict, convert, but also counsel, comfort, and care. If preaching does not do the latter three it is not preaching to me. Preaching requires the compassion and care of the prophets for the people as well as a desire to see them grow in grace and mercy beyond that of the preacher. Every mentor should what their students to grow beyond them. After all, John tells us, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (1 Jn. 3:2 NRS) This is the path, the process, the procedure faith takes us on. The Holy Spirit is always there to speak to our hearts and minds guiding us to God. The Scripture opens our hearts and minds to opportunities for faith and trust. This is what Paul desired of Timothy. This was his charge.

Then comes the prophetic warning, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

Human nature is fickle. Human emotions are fragile. Human understanding of the plan of God is very limited. Human beings (that includes all of us) face the dual dangers of arrogance and ignorance. Each of us lives our lives in the midst of spiritual forces without ever being aware until it is too late. There will always be those who use religion for purpose of their own perverted perspective. There will always be cults and occultists. There will always be religions, sects, denominations, orientations, movements, and mayhem in the realm of religion. The enemy has many, many ways of seducing people to a false faith. God has given us an answer to this dilemma, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn. 14:6 NRS) This is straightforward. This is our foundation of faith. Jesus incarnate, God will us, crucified, resurrected, and ascended. Jesus who promises he will return as he left and till then will be with us always through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Our reading today closes with this exhortation from Paul, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of can evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Tim. 4:1-5 ESV)

A young Bible college student read this passage and said, “be sober-minded” is easy, just don’t drink.” He was laughed at, but literally, he was right. The word sober in the language Paul wrote means to abstain from wine. Figuratively it has a more mental disciple aspect. Paul was saying, keep a clear head. This world would view Timothy’s calling as dangerous, and it was. Timothy was told to prepare for suffering, and he did. As for the work of an evangelist and fulfilling his ministry, that is between God and Timothy. The question for us is have we even discovered our work? Do we have a ministry we are carrying out for God? Remember, God works through people. What is God doing through you?

Lectionary Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Timothy 2:8-15

If you have a semi-warped sense of humor and have access to a conservative theological school try finding out where the students congregate and go there and ask one question, “Does the word oinos (wine) mean grape juice or alcohol-containing grape juice?” Or ask them, “What does the word predestination mean?” Then set back and listen to the debate. Be prepared, it could go on for a long time. This is when religion becomes an intellectual competition at its best and more likely towards it worst, ego idolatry. Note, the ones who will be hurt the most are those who are listening.

Paul warns Timothy, his student, too, “Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.”

This warning, given by Paul comes after he uses a word that he knows is likely to cause trouble. Still, it is a word of importance that should not be changed, the world is elect.

ἐκλεκτούς, the chosen, the ek-(out) lektous-(people), that is the basic meaning of the word. It is a word tied to the end of all we know, the end of time and the coming of the new. Jesus is the way to the Kingdom of God.  Jesus’ first followers were known as followers of the Way. “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn. 14:6 ESV) This the elect, those who hear and by faith believe. But who does that include? Do we really need to define categories and pigeonhole who the elect are?  Instead, Paul teaches, we should focus on the purpose we are called to fulfill. We are the called of God, we are the chosen, and by virtue of our faith in Jesus, we are the elect.

Paul had already had critics who accused him of abandoning is the truth faith, that he had left the covenant, that he was a heretic. Paul responds to such talk by making the statement that began our reading, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David — that is my gospel,” and in this statement laid bare the foundation of his faith. Paul also linked Jesus with his historic connection to King David. Paul continued to remain faithful to his heritage. Paul was faithful and faithfulness is not an easy stand.

For Paul, faithfulness was pure hardship and testing. Paul’s words have a hint of sorrow and pain. Paul laments and Paul tells us why he laments. He writes, “for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.”

Even in suffering Paul gives us hope. No statement could be clearer. The Good News about Jesus is transforming lives. Paul implies that nothing can stop the power of knowing Jesus, the Son of God, who calls us to be his own.

Even while imprisoned, chained to a Roman guard, Paul writes, “so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much bolder to speak the word1 without fear.” (Phil. 1:13-14 ESV) The Holy Spirit was using Paul’s witness to reach others and encourage others in the faith. Teaching others about Jesus, reaching others for Jesus, and encouraging others in Jesus was how Paul viewed his purpose in life. Again, listen to Paul’s own words, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” Paul tells Timothy and us this is why I do what I do. Paul lived for others.

What is our purpose in life? Do you define your own purpose or God’s? Why are we alive? “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon, and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps. 8:3-4 ESV) This has been a question human beings have to ask as long as there has been thought and speech. Do we know what our destiny is going to be? Is eternal life with God really possible?

We live in a time in which people seem to be so easily deceived. We believe lies about elections. Many easily embrace conspiracy theories. Way, way too many Christians allow racism to go unchallenged. We put up barriers, physical and social, to those who are not like us. The spirit of this age seems to be us versus them without our really knowing who the “them” are. Love our neighbor? We are lucky if we just do not hate our neighbor or even care about our neighbor.

This is not our purpose. Our purpose is to awaken to the reality that we were made with the breath of God. We were fashioned for a purpose, to enjoy God and to be enjoyed by God. We are made to care about one another. There is only one humanity. God did not divide us up into the categories we have placed one another. In God’s eyes, we are loved. Our suffering is known. God knows all suffer. This is a fallen world by the way. It is not like we should expect bad things but be surprised when there is good. We consolation reigns.

The story of the gospel is the story of God’s love. God became a human being. God experienced firsthand the suffering of this life. Jesus was the incarnation of God, God with us. Jesus suffered as an innocent. Was put to death and by his death, the wages of sin were paid. Jesus then rose from the grave and then returned to be with the Father. God has declared to us that if we will understand God wants to love us, forgive us (yes, all of us know inside the evil we have thought and the bad we have done), and have God’s own Spirit dwelling in us who are made from the breath of God.

Paul says, “The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him;” but also be warned, if we deny him, he will also deny us;” God never forces love or choice.

But here is the promise we really need to pay attention to, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself.”  Remember Jesus made Paul, Timothy, and us a promise, “I will be with you always to the end of the age.” Jesus experiences everything we experience as the Holy Spirit indwells us. God knows our pain, grief, sorrow, depression, anxiety, anger, our suffering. God also knows our joy, love, compassion, and hope. Jesus is faithful even when our own faith lets us down. Don’t beat yourself when you are down, God is striving to lift you up.

Paul’s next words to Timothy are intended to inspire and prepare Paul’s student for the task at hand. Paul says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:8-15 NRS)

God does not count success as the world views success. What the world might see as failure, God may reward as a success. Paul writes these letters from prison. Paul gained no worldly fame, no long-term contracts, no stock plan or retirement annuity.

Question, would you trade places with Paul? Would you trade places with Timothy? If you could speak to them today and ask them if it was worth it, what do you think they would say?

I bet I know what God said to them. “Well done, good and faithful servant. (Matt. 25:21 ESV) Is this what God will say to you? You can prepare now. The choice is yours.

Facing Anxiety

If you watch the news on television or keep up with it through another media source, you have been told that Russia very easily could use nuclear weapons. I am pretty sure anyone my age or older can remember having nuclear attack drills at school. The drills would not have saved us, but they did give some semblance of comfort or did it. Anxiety is the inner torment due largely to our facing a future we cannot be certain of, facing something against which we are powerless, an unknown threat (perceived or actual) that is creating fear as well.

Anxiety can create mental illness. I am not an expert in the field, but I believe I can say that anxiety is not healthy. Anxiety can be crippling to our spiritual status. Anxiety does not equate with the goal of faith, a faith that tells us, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Lk. 12:25 ESV) For us, hopefully, we have grown in the direction of Paul who said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21 ESV)

When we are faced with a crisis, our body will react, it is the way it has been made. When faced with a threat we go into flight/fight mode. It is hard to be contemplative in such a state. All we have is our faith, developed and responsive rather than reactive, or our faith that survives through pain and unexplained reasons. So how do we meet the following expectation? Paul writes, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil. 4:6 ESV)

How do we prepare? Hopefully, we have taken Scripture to heart, grasp the importance of prayer, and used the spiritual disciplines developed by the Saints gone before us to help us in our faith.

When Jesus was in the garden praying before his arrest, He faced anxiety. He knew when it hit he needed to pray. We are told he prayed, “not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt. 26:39 ESV) And then after he goes and finds his disciples asleep, Jesus goes back and prays the same prayer over. When we face a crisis, a threat, and anxiety rises, we need to be prepared to say from the depth of our hearts to our Lord and God, “not as I will, but as you will.”

We are entering a time of global anxiety. God gives peace to those who love God and who are willing to prepare now in order to be ready for whatever tomorrow or for that matter, the next hour holds.

Lectionary Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Timothy 1:1-14 An intimate letter

God calls us all into a relationship. There are some people God calls to give their lives to serving the people of God. We say that such individuals are called to ministry. I am one of those people. Paul was one of those people and so was Timothy. To be called to such service is both privilege and pain. Paul, the writer of this letter to Timothy says, “of which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher,

which is why I suffer as I do.  (2 Tim. 1:11-12 ESV) Paul did suffer for his faith in the Lord and was eventually killed because of it. Of those who are called, (not those who have found religion to be a nice career or side gig) by God into service I am sure could verify how hard it is.

The truth is, the Christian life in this world is a hard life for many, many followers of Jesus. Why, why is this? First, this world is not how it is supposed to be. This is a world that is in pain and travail.  The Scripture tells us, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” (Rom. 8:22 ESV) In such a world we will not find much mercy or grace. Secondly, we have a mortal enemy who hates God and hates us. “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8 ESV) This enemy will use lies, deceptions, illusions, and anything else that can be used to hurt, tear down, and destroy. If you ignore this enemy’s existence, you set yourself up for tragedy.

The third reason this life is so hard is that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9 ESV) We have a natural tendency to contribute to the evil and corruption of this world. We are often our own worst enemy. Everyone here struggles with this. You know this. How many times have you committed the same thing you know is wrong? In both the book of Proverbs and the writings of Peter we are told we are like a dog. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” (2 Pet. 2:22 ESV) We continually either by omission or by commission sin. Sin has consequences. Sin produces suffering.

“Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” (1 Pet. 4:16 ESV) It is not if we will suffer but when. How we respond to our suffering and pain determines the power it has in our lives. If we believe, really believe, what the Scripture says then we know our destiny is beyond situations and circumstances of pain, suffering, and death. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

(Rom. 8:38-39 ESV)

This is a promise that should fill the faithful with joy and assurance. God’s love is with us, and this will not change unless we ourselves reject it. Paul had confidence that God had and would bless Timothy in his service.

There are two factors that Paul says have powerfully influenced Timothy’s faith. First, Paul makes it clear that Timothy’s family helps strengthen his faith. Secondly, God gave Timothy a gift, a gift of a spirit of power, love, and self-control.

Paul, in praising Timothy’s mother and Grandmother, speaks of the example they had set for Timothy. Paul states, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.” (2 Tim. 1:5 NRS) Notice the phrase, “a faith the lived (lives) in you.”  The word translated lived or lives is a word meaning, dwelling with, literally dwelling in this family.

Oh, it is so easy to miss this. Saving faith, sanctifying faith, renewal faith takes up dwelling in us. The faith is always there, always ready to strengthen and empower us as God’s called people. This faith isn’t dwelling some of the time, part of the time, but all of the time. It has started and it continues. When will we come to realize everything, we do, we include God in it. And when God is part of everything, then we will succeed even if the world thinks we have failed.

Paul tells Timothy to fan the flame of this faith. The fire of this faith is the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that takes the faith we have and works to shape it into the faith Jesus had. This Holy Spirit, Paul tells Timothy and us in verse fourteen, this Holy Spirit will, “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.” (2 Tim. 1:14 NRS)

The Holy Spirit will bring the power of God to us in our time of need, the power to persevere, the power of patience, and the power of promise. This brings up the second factor that supported Timothy’s faith. The gift of God.

Paul says the gift God gave to Timothy was a Spirit. First, Paul brings up the spirit that would and at times does, cripple our faith. This would be a spirit of cowardice, in the face of challenges to believing or living. No, the Spirit God gives is one of a fearless, confident faith, a faith to be trusted in difficult times, a faith of power, love, and self-control. A faith to stand against all the forces, material and spiritual, trying to stop the Good News of Jesus Christ from being proclaimed and lived by all who would listen. God’s spirit, God’s gift are always given to guide all who will listen to the truth. This is the truth as, “it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (2 Tim. 1:10 NRS)

Jesus entered our world fully human and fully God. Jesus died fully human and fully God. Jesus rose from the grave fully human and fully God. Jesus offers us his death on the cross to forgive us of all that has wronged God and others. Jesus gives us a purpose in life, a direction, and hope that can and will sustain the faithful when we need it. In this most intimate letter of a mentor to a student, Paul truly loved with the love only God can give. This same Jesus called Paul and now Paul understands.

In this bond, this time of confession and struggle, Paul shows us the source of his strength, his hope, “for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.” (2 Tim. 1:12 NRS).

There is an old hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” in which there is a stanza that goes, “Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,

strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!” I believe these word capture what Paul is sharing. I think such intimacy, such caring, such love, such disciple in the face of the enemy.

This Epistle, letter, is offered to us as a witness to where faith can take us. We can learn and be mentored ourselves. We can find help in our community of faith and be of help ourselves. We can begin living the Kingdom now.

We close with these words Paul shares from his heart with Timothy, “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (2 Tim. 1:13 NRS) This is our challenge. This is an opportunity. We must decide.

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Lectionary Sermon for Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

1 Timothy 6:6-19 Spiritual Economics

Over the last few months, many of us have experienced what economic inflation can do. I do our family grocery shopping and so I have noticed the increase in prices, sometimes as much as double. We are told by the news media that inflation will be a big issue as to whom people will choose to hold public office. Not who is the most moral, ethical, intelligent, and courageous, but who can help us have more money.

Money is the most sought-after element of human living. The pursuit of money is what drives people in what has been called “the first world countries.” And whereas money might give a person the means to get the material things they want or think that they want, ultimately our wealth will be meaningless, as Paul writes, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out.” Still, for many, many people the desire to obtain and have money is the driving force of their lives.

Jesus told a parable about the desire for wealth and the foolishness of making it life’s priority, “A rich man’s land was very productive. He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops? I will do this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there. Then I’ll say to myself, ‘You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool!1 This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared– whose will they be?  “(Lk. 12:20 CSB)

In this passage of Scripture, Paul indicates that wanting more and more, allowing the desire for more, is not a positive influence on our spiritual lives. Paul indicates that a better path to pursue is one of contentment. If you are pursuing contentment as your goal with the material side of your existence rather than desire will live a more satisfying life.

Any person who has gone from a comfortable, seemingly secure life supported by economic means to someone who is not always sure where the money will come from knows that contentment is much more valuable than desire or sorrow for what was lost. This is what Paul gives as a solution in dealing with the insecurity and finiteness of any economic order, seek contentment with what we have been blessed with.

When I hear the word contentment, I think of the feeling I get from a good satisfying meal. I think of the feeling I have after waking from a good restful nap, and the warm feeling I get from a meaningful hug from a loved one. I can only equate the word contentment with good things. Not so much with desire.

Paul says to Timothy and to us, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” What is interesting is that the phrase, “for the love of money” is a single word that has selfish intent and an evil foundation. And what does this love of money do? It will produce a misleading desire that will likely lead to one’s spiritual bankruptcy.

To help avoid this trap we must remember our primary desire should be to seek God. Our primary desire, which if not sought will be replaced by desires that can never bring contentment, must be on grounded in faith and trust. Jesus makes us a promise, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. (Matt. 6:33 CSB)

In verses 11 and 12, Paul exhorts Timothy on what he must do for his own spiritual survival in a world obsessed and dominated by material economic desires. Paul gives Timothy a list of pursuits he should take instead of giving in to the draw of the material. Paul instructs Timothy to seek righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.” (1 Tim. 6:11 CSB)

Why do we have to pursue anything? Why not just go with the flow of life? Well, to do so would be to make a very foolish choice. First, we live in a world hostile to our existence (I believe global warming and the recent pandemic gives this statement credence).

Second, the flow is the easier path Jesus warned his followers not to choose. Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. (Matt. 7:13 CSB) and third, if we just go with the flow, we will miss the opportunities and blessings seeking the will of God brings.

To choose to follow Jesus is not easy. It is a fight of faith. We will fall, not might but will. Get back up. We will fail.

Again, we will not we might. Start again.

Paul writes, “Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy.” And then this warning given by Paul that is as counter-cultural as any statement could ever be, “But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. (1 Tim. 6:9 CSB)

If one of your goals in life is to be rich, be warned. Seeking this path you are likely setting yourself up for pain, disappointment, fear, and all the struggles a rich person goes through to try to increase wealth or preserve it.

Wealth is not a means of hope. Wealth is responsibility. If a person becomes wealthy without pursuing wealth but as a result of “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness,” then one should have the spiritual maturity to use wealth as a tool in seeking to bring salt and light to others. This is why Paul tells Timothy to, “Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share. Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. (1 Tim. 6:17 CSB)

Money can appear to be a source of hope when our vision is materialistically myopic. Our only real hope lies in, “the only One who has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light; no one has seen or can see Him, to Him be honor and eternal might.” (1 Tim. 6:16 CSB) Our only hope is in Jesus.

The material economic status of this world will rise and fall. Some of us will make money and some of us will lose money. Some of us will be financially successful and some will not. However, if our focus is not on material economics but on spiritual economics we are those who are “working for storing up for themselves (ourselves) a good reserve for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real. (1 Tim. 6:19 CSB). Yes, the spiritual life is the life that will ultimately determine our eternity.

Imagine if you could know the success Apple or Microsoft were going to have when they first began to sell stock. How rich would you be now? But that is silly. We cannot know the future.

Oh yes, we can. A day is coming, not might be coming but is coming when the material will give be transformed into the eternal. God gives us knowledge. It is up to us if we desire God’s promise or not. How is your eternal portfolio?

Politics and the Pew

“I stop going to church because of the evangelical Christian Church. It is no longer a church of Christ but a political Party.” This is a comment found on a blog I read. How many times have I heard this recently! Why do we not understand, “Again, the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.” (Matt. 4:8 CSB) Notice that Jesus does not disagree. Political power is a tool of the devil.

Not all politicians are agents of Satan. God has allowed humanity the ability to order communities, to establish rules of order, and God blesses individuals who are called to be like Daniel in this world making it a better place to live in spite of the evil that works against us. I have not met many politicians who demonstrate the love of God and the desire to make life better for others. I am thankful for such people though such people are few and far between.

Seeking power is an aspect of pride. It is also a form of practical atheism. The idea being, “God won’t bring about the change we want then we will do it for God!” So much evil is carried out in this world in the pursuit of power. So many people suffer because of the actions of a few. Yet the temptation to desire to have power resides in all fallen humanity.  

There is a form of idolatry that I am sure Satan loves, political idolatry. There is an evil possibility inside the soul of every human being to want to be like God, to want absolute control. There is in each of us a potential to believe life is about the survival of the fittest and whoever has the most material things in life wins. Do we ever ask ourselves, wins what?

We want to be winners. We want to have our way. We will often elevate a person who fits the worldly mold of success to a leader to be idolized, like one of our former presidents who could be the Messiah of the material. We put people on a pedestal if they become rich, even if their wealth, their economic influence, has hurt others and likely was built on very unethical grounds. Make America great again sounds very egotistic, prideful, and insults the work of those who view greatness other than obtaining the material things we think we want.

When this type of mindset, of this cultural milieu, infects the church as it has seemed to have done with the Christian Nationalism movement, evil rejoices. Evil knows the Scripture as well, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mk. 3:25 CSB) If the church seeks political power, we will lose our ability to minister out of love and faith. We will instead see our fellowship based on political affiliations and upon perceived certainty, we are right only and only we are right in our perspectives and interpretations.

In these last days, it is the wise believer who seeks the path of the humble and compassionate. We cannot let political parties, politicians, or popular political issues dictate or dominate our call to live out our lives in faithful obedience to Jesus.

Lectionary Sermon for the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

1 Timothy 2:1-7   Doing What is REALLY Important!

Wow, September is upon us. I am already planning (or I should say, my helpmate is planning and I am supporting) what we are going to do this Thanksgiving. There is a practice that is gaining in popularity on Thanksgiving.   The practice is having people at a family gathering state for what they are thankful. Now a story of how that can go wrong.

At one family gathering, a husband stated that he was thankful for how his wife forgave him when he acted like a jerk, which was quite often.  He stated that he didn’t know how she did it.  He said to his wife, I say so many hurtful and mean things to you, but you just take it and go on.  How do you deal with it?  The rest of the family pressed her, how do you deal with it?  She stated, I go and clean the bathroom.  “You go and clean the bathroom, how does that help”, the husband retorted in a condescending tone.  The wife looked at him and said, “I use your toothbrush to do the cleaning.”

The Lord we worship is a God who puts up with a lot from us.  Have you ever wondered how God deals with it?  God responds to our many misgivings with love and grace.  This is the true essence of thanksgiving, that our God gives us love and grace.

In the Scripture, we just heard or read, 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 translated word should indicate deep concern and desire.  Used here in the Word of God, we dare not ignore the request due to the results and consequences implied.

The writer of this passage urges first (meaning of first importance) that we pray for all people. We do that. Really, do we really pray for people? Now let this sink in for a moment.  If we are believers, people of faith, and 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. 

Now, wait a minute.  If we are supposed to do something asked of us by the One who gave his life so that we might have life, why would we need to be urged (with deep compassion) to do this?  Why would we need to be told, “first of all?” 

These are good questions.  Why, we may ask, because too many of us who believe have allowed the world to stunt our spiritual growth.  Far too many believers have lost the vision for God and have grown complacent about responsibilities God gives us.” This is likely the biggest enemy of believers today.

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 one of our most important responsibilities we have as disciples, prey. In this, we do what is important. In this, we honor our Lord.

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.  The 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 show gratitude.

I wonder how most of us church-going people would define our 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? Is Jesus your make-believe friend?

God says it needs to be a relationship of love, of first importance.  A love expressed in caring, praying, and interceding for others. This is the way to show our gratitude.

If Jesus is active in our lives, then there will be evidence of 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. However, we can stifle the Spirit, we can grieve the Spirit. We can ignore the discernment the Spirit seeks to give to us.

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 Holy inner voice.  We can hide behind religion and 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.  The cure, the prevention, and 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 that we are told we must do.  Look again at verse 2, “for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”

I am aware that there may be some in this room that does not like the actions of our current President or are troubled by our former president. There are also those who love our past president and so who love our current president. There are probably some with very strong opinions for other politicians, local, state, and national among us.  There are those some like and some loathe.  That is fine. This is a country of rights and choices. They are trying to govern people in a fallen world. They need all the help they can get.

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 that they will be open to the leadership of Christ. This is our duty as thankful 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 in 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.

Verse 3 tells us that when we are a people of true faith, a people of intercessory, caring, concerning prayer, and our hearts are in tune with the heart of God wanting everyone to know (that is not just right thinking but right thinking and doing) so that they can experience the growing presence of the Kingdom of God in their lives, then God sees this a being good.  This is not good as opposed to being bad, but good as in being spiritually beautiful, in being morally righteous, as being immersed in the best.  This is what pleases God. Is this not the least we can seek to give God in light of what God has done for us?  Is this not a good way of showing our thanks?

Look at verse 4, “who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” This verse states God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit’s desire for all of us.  God wants us safe in God’s Kingdom. 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, but a process.  In our text, the word saved is an infinitive, its 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. 

Each day, each encounter of life is an opportunity to live in grace, grow in grace, depend on grace, and be blessed by grace. 

I also must believe and seek to help if a person is not being saved. If they are being saved they are in danger of being lost, separated, and ignorant of the truth of grace.  They are in need of our prayer and there are many in our community who face this threat as well.

2 Peter 3:9 explains this 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, and community will happen.

Let’s 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 they are?  Should we not do the same? This is doing what is really important! This is showing we are faithfully thankful to our Lord and our God.  This is the word of the Lord.

There is a song I sing in prayer.  It is a simple song.  I would like to end this sermon with you singing this song with me as a prayer if you know it.

In the Lord I am every 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.[1]

[1] Music from Taize. In The Lord

Sad but True Article

I copied this article from Microsoft news. The link is listed below

Black & White Christians Beware of Pulpit Money Changers and Con-Artists.

Staff – Yesterday 5:36 PM

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(ThyBlackMan.com) A few years back, Jesse Duplantis, fake Evangelist and Bible con man, stated God told him to pray for a new jet that just happened to cost $54 million. And guess who was suppose to pay for it? The unsuspecting, gullible followers of his false doctrine. But Jesse is only one of the fake money changers and con-artists who repeatedly twist the scriptures to further their own agenda. T.D. Jakes, Oral Roberts, Paula White and Kenneth Copeland are leading the way down the path of mammon, the love of money and the sliding board that will make people twice the sons of Hell as they were before.

Before some of you open your mouth in shock that I said T.D. Jakes, let me say this briefly. Who the Son sets free is free indeed (John 8:31-36) – not who Jakes sets free with his conferences, books and tapes that appear to “loose” you. That is why many of you keep coming back to these fakes to get free – because they offer a false dependent freedom on them and they never freed you in the first place.

The truth being in you via He who is the truth is what will set you free.

And if you think you have to wait until these conferences and camp meetings come to town in order to be free, you do not overstand the Gospel and what it does for the “believer” at all. Yet thousands upon thousands of gullible people pile into JT.D. Jakes conferences, buy his books and tapes in order to find out how to get free. Wake up. The Bible sufficiently covers how you are to be and stay free and Jakes writing a book only markets a Gospel for sale that he does not own. He changes your money to his and that is why I call him a “money-changer”.