Lectionary Sermon for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Colossians 1:11-20

I was privileged to hear this story, “I met a very happy and interesting man on Thursday at the bank. When I said to him, “bless you”, he replied to me, “Of course I am, and you are too!” We then had a very, positive, lively, conversation about faith and prayer. Then, as he was getting ready to leave, he said to me, “Got to go and continue my practicing at being a Christian. I have to practice because it is so hard to get it right!” I wanted to hug him.”

How true, how true, I really believe that statement nails it.

It is hard to be a practicing Christian. The world makes it hard. Spiritual forces make it hard. Other Christians make it hard, and we make it hard on ourselves as well. We need to practice, practice, practice, and practice as well as engaging in prayer and being prayed for. 

Paul writes to the church in Colossae, “We’re praying this so that you can live lives that are worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way.” Oh, we need this kind of prayer. We need to be praying this kind of prayer for one another. True prayer builds intimacy. If we really care for one another should we not pray for one another. This is not a guilt trip but a request for personal reflection.

Paul then goes on to talk about what this kind of life needs. Paul states it needs strength. It needs endurance. It needs patience. And I believe this is perhaps the most important thing of all, it needs to be a life of thanksgiving. The word Paul uses for thanksgiving is the same word we get the word Eucharist which is another name for communion, the Lord’s supper. Yes, the Thanksgiving holiday is almost upon us, but the thanksgiving of which Paul speaks is much more.

It is the attitude of thanksgiving to God that comes from understanding what God has given, gives, is giving, and promises to give us. It is a thanksgiving rooted in love; love developed through faith. Faith that accepts grace, surrenders to grace, seeks grace, grows in our understanding of grace, and lives to produce the gifts, the works, and the wonders God’s grace desires for our lives.

A desire that we are growing in the ability to, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess. 5:16-18 NRS) This takes a lot of practice. This takes a lot of prayers and praying.

You would think that because of what God has done for us this is something that should always be a priority in our lives. I mean, listen again to what God has done for us.

First, God makes it possible for us to take part in the inheritance. Now, this takes a bit of understanding. We often only think of an inheritance as something we get from someone after they die. It was theirs and then they give it to us through a legal instrument called a will. Such is the mindset of an entitled culture.

What is meant in the Scripture by inheritance is what God has made for us as God’s children. If you wish to think about this for a minute, the Scripture says God made this world for us, but humanity corrupted it. Our inheritance is what God is making for us now. It will not be corrupted. It will not contain death, pain, or loss. This inheritance is not just something that we will gain when we die but is an inheritance we can begin to claim now.

There was a movie a few years ago called, “The Rain Man.” It was a story about two brothers who did not know the other existed until their faith died. One brother has autistic. The other was self-centered and very materialistic. When the father died, he gave the self-centered son his old car. He gave the autistic son his wealth. The selfish son kidnapped the autistic son thinking he might be able to get some of the money. What he got was a brother he never knew and a love he had never experienced. It transformed him and his perspective on life.

This is exactly what the inheritance of God can do for us not just in the future when we die, but in our lives now. But note, God makes it available. Whether or not we take advantage of it depends on us.

Secondly, God grants us light, light being the chance to see reality. The chance to let holy knowledge replace our carnal ignorance. This is a gift to understand who we really are. This is a gift that offers us a path, a purpose, and a perspective that allows us to discover what is truly important. This gives us the most valuable treasure a human being can possess, hope, hope with a deep assurance and trust in God.

When you are facing a terminal illness, how much comfort do you think you would get being able to buy the newest iPhone? If your family is falling apart, how joyous will your investments bring to you? When you lose a loved one, how much money can make that hurt in your heart go away? In these situations, hope is priceless. It is also the hardest thing to manufacture in a crisis. It must be grounded in one’s soul to be truly possessed. Only God can give hope that transcends all human dilemmas.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus he writes, “so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.” (Eph. 1:18 NRS)

Then there is the third thing that Paul tells us God does for us. Paul tells us God frees us, rescues us, from the control, from the authority of darkness, and transfers us to the Kingdom of Jesus. The darkness is the chaos, the fallenness, the hopelessness of guilt, the pain of separation, and the agony of spiritual emptiness that will increase and harden our hearts.

The Kingdom which God offers to transfer us (literally remove us from one and take us to another) is described not as a place, but as a person, a love, a relationship where God is restoring, renewing, reviving, reconciling, and rewarding those whom God loved so much, whom God desired so much, that God sent Jesus knowing full well a cross would be waiting for him.

Listen again to verses 15-20. This is where God offers to take us. This is what God offers us to experience. This is what God wants for us. This is the God who loves us and offers us more than simply being a creation, but a relationship as a child. For this, God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit gave, gives, and will continue giving forever. How could we not be thankful for this?

Yet, so many take these opportunities, these gifts for granted. So many believe they are entitled. So many ignore or out and out reject all that God does to reach them. So many trade the possibilities of God, the love of Jesus, and the presence of the Holy Spirit for the limits of their own abilities and knowledge and settle for a life of limitation that will eventually turn into lamentations.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7 NRS) The peace, “Jesus brought peace through the blood of his cross.” (Col. 1:20)

There is a song, “To God Be the Glory,” that is a perfect prayer.

How can I say thanks

for all the things You have done for me?

Things so undeserved,

yet You gave to prove Your love for me.

The voices of a million angels

could not express my gratitude.

All that I am and ever hope to be,

I owe it all to Thee.

Awaiting the Last Thing of this World Lecture 2

Over the next few weeks, before we enter the Advent season, I am going to publish a lecture series I gave at the Saint John’s Anglican Church in Brownwood, Texas. The series has to do with eschatology, a study of last things.  There are eight lectures.

Eschatology:  Lesson 2

No one comes from a cultural vacuum. We all are socialized into a cultural system, a very complicated and often multi-fragment cultural/relational system that has a powerful influence on our beliefs and values.

Jesus was born into a culture steeped in its covenantal history and mythology. History teaches that those who challenge an established culture’s values and beliefs will be viewed as either heroes or villains. 

Concerning the eschatology embedded in the culture and people of Jesus’s day, there was the conservative culture of the Pharisees, Essenes, and some Zealots. Each of these groups had its own ideas about eschatology. And, there was also a Greek-influenced culture (Hellenistic) that was embraced by the Sadducees that mixed the historical-clan-based culture of the Hebrew ancestry with Hellenistic ideas based on Greek philosophy whose views were completely different and at odds with the conservative group.

Hebrew eschatology’s main tenets (Primarily gleaned from the Prophets of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) are the following:

End of the world (before everything as follows).  (Hellenists – the ultimate war between good and evil; the conservative traditionalists- the dominance of the Abrahamic covenant- with legalism developed by the rabbinic schools and the Sanhedrin).

Shared in their theologies are these accept these stories; God redeems the Jewish people from the captivity that began during the Babylonian Exile, in a new Exodus. God returns the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. God restores the House of David, and the Temple in Jerusalem God creates a regent from the House of David (i.e. the Jewish Messiah) to lead the Jewish people and the world and usher in an age of justice and peace.  All nations recognize that the God of Israel is the only true God

The Pharisees believed God resurrects the dead. God creates a new heaven and a new earth. It is also believed that history will complete itself and the ultimate destination will be reached when all mankind returns to the Garden of Eden.

In these theologies, everything focuses on the descendants of Abraham through Isaac.

The standard Jewish belief was that after one dies, one’s immortal soul joins God in the world to come while one’s body decomposes. At the end of days, God will recompose one’s body, place within it one’s immortal soul, and that person will stand before God in judgment. The idea of a messianic age has a prominent place in Jewish thought and is incorporated as part of the end of days motif. This was perceived as being a key element in the covenant God made with God’s people. This was an aspect of faith to hold and grab tightly. Exile was coming.

Much of this thinking developed during the Babylonian exile as means of overcoming the despair of the present with hope in the future-often a hope encased within the legalism of “an eye for an eye” against oppressors. Out of this thinking came the idea of the Messiah being more of a military redeemer for Judah than a suffering savior for the world. It is not hard to understand this when you take the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah. God has every reason to come as “might makes right,” but God does not.

Then comes Jesus, Jesus who does not dispute the future ending of this world but the goal of that ending. Jesus does not dispute the concept of judgment in a personal eschatology, but upon what is righteousness and upon what foundation will the judgment take place. Jesus shows that, even in last things, the love of God is paramount.

Over and over Jesus stressed a faith relationship righteousness and a servant leadership mindset. Jesus challenged the mindset of a clannish interpretation of the covenant with an open, faith relationship-based community of inclusion and acceptance.

Jesus rejected the Hellenistic idea of a cosmic war of good verse evil, for God could never be beaten and humanity was redeemed from its deception and defeat by the Incarnation, cross, and resurrection. This was the eschatology Jesus taught to the Apostles and disciples. This was the foundational eschatology of the early church.

However, the early followers of Jesus still had to deal with the impact of cultural socialization on their religious beliefs and views. (A primary example is Peter-who ate with Gentile’s forbidden foods but then backtracked and had to be corrected by Paul).

A new covenant had been established by Jesus. This included a new eschatology, that was more personal and process-oriented (moving toward perfection in love and relationship with God) than event-oriented (the end of the world).

The spiritual war that now rages is not good against evil, but humanity against spiritual forces desperate to overcome their defeat on the cross and resurrection. These forces are using tactics of deception, intimidation, and physical elimination to try and negate the process of salvation the divine Trinity had instituted. God has no competitors or challengers to God’s divine sovereignty over all that exists, visible or invisible.

As the Church began to develop into communities through the evangelist work of the Apostles and other disciples, there existed within the church a tension between the expectancy of Jesus’s immediate return and Jesus’s continual exhortation to be patient, watchful, and prepared. The prepared part had to do with the process of becoming a more devoted disciple.

As the church reached out beyond the Jewish community, general eschatology was not what reached the Gentiles, but a message of inclusion, forgiveness, and a personal eschatology amid a culture in which death was very common and open. I do want to put emphasis on the term, “personal eschatology.” I believe it is the most important part element of eschatology.

However, once the communities became established and the founders (the Apostles and first disciples) began to die off, challenges to the teachings handed down to the Apostles from the Lord began to rise as individuals began to try and mix speculative theology and esoteric philosophy in a manner that challenged the “orthdidache” (right teaching) and orthodoxy (right worship).

Most of this teaching (primarily in a group called the Gnostics) viewed eschatology from the viewpoint of a cosmic struggle between good and evil in which only the initiated would prevail. These heretical teachings would downplay the divinity of Jesus, overplay the philosophies and theodicies (expiation of why bad things happen) created for sources other than Scripture, or took Scripture out of context.

Whenever difficulties occur with human communities and cultures that put pressure on one group or another, those in the challenged group tend to look for events to blame. This creates a situation for groupthink. Most event-oriented apocalyptic mindsets are expressions of groupthink. This occurred in the church due to the rise of persecution by the Roman government.

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when a group forms a quick opinion that matches the group consensus, rather than critically evaluating the information. Mass hysteria can be seen as an extreme example of groupthink.

Groupthink seems to occur most often when a respected or persuasive leader is present, inspiring members to agree with his or her opinion (thus the influence of the Gnostics who offered esoteric wisdom). It often takes an even more compelling personality to overcome the groupthink situation.

The church leader most well-known for taking on the Gnostic eschatology that was being promoted was Irenaeus. (130 – c. 202 AD) A Greek bishop noted for his role in guiding and expanding Christian communities in what is now the south of France and, more widely, for the development of Christian theology by combatting heresy and defining orthodoxy.

During the persecution of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor from 161–180, Irenaeus was a priest of the Church of Lyon. The clergy of that city, many of whom were suffering imprisonment for the faith, sent Irenaeus in 177 to Rome with a letter to Pope Eleutherius concerning the heresy Montanism, and that occasion bore emphatic testimony to his merits. While Irenaeus was in Rome, a persecution took place in Lyon. Returning to Gaul, Irenaeus succeeded the martyr Saint Pothinus and became the second Bishop of Lyon

Quote: Irenaeus- stresses unities: the unity of God as creator and savior, in contrast to the Marcionite and Gnostic tendency to see in the world continuing conflict between warring supercosmic forces; the personal unity of Christ, as both the eternal Word, the agent of creation, and a full participant in our fleshly, human life; the unity of every person, as a single composite of spirit and flesh who is called, as such, to salvation through Christ: and the unity and continuity of all human history, which begins in its creation by a loving God, endures the temporary defeat of sin, and is now – thanks to the Incarnation of the Word – drawing near to the lasting union of the human race with God that was history’s goal from the start. P. 28 (The Hope of the Early Church)

Irenaeus returns the church to a primary view of personal eschatology that focuses on the process of spiritual growth leading to unity with the purpose of God.

In our age, with so many social pressures and the influence of postmodern thought that challenges all authority, and the idea/reality of our being in a cultural war with non-Christians have led to a distraction from a personal, process-oriented eschatology and pushed us again into a speculative event oriented general eschatology, one in which God may or may not be a player. I believe this makes us even more open to delusion.

Awaiting the Last Things of this World

Over the next few weeks, before we enter the Advent season, I am going to publish a lecture series I gave at the Saint John’s Anglican Church in Brownwood, Texas. The series has to do with eschatology, a study of last things.  There are eight lectures.

Eschatology:  Lesson 1

The term “last days” is used 5 times in the New Testament

The term “the end” is used 33 times  However, when we focus on the finale of this world the term eschatology is used most often. I believe this is a mistake and one of the reasons there can be so much division and confusion about the future of humanity. Two key words are, eschatos (last) and teleos (end). So, eschatology is the area of theology that studies last things. Last things can mean a time, location, type, an event. Teleos means complete, end, a finality of process, fulfillment, and/or achievement. Eschatos can have a meaning like, he came in last (location), or, she is the last person (type), or it is the last minute of the auction (time). Teleos as an accomplishment, “She persevered to the end (goal).” 

The meal brought a pleasant end (perfect). They finally found the end (finality of process) they had predicted would occur. Eschatos as an event gets attention. We wonder when and if the events of the prophets or apocalyptic language will take place. The disciples were always asking Jesus when, when will the events take place? When teleos is viewed as a process, escatology can be overlooked. Yet every one of us is moving toward an end. And will the end will likely be an event, failing to pay attention to the process that gets us there is a spiritually dangerous mistake.

Many denominations focus on salvation solely as an event. Once the event has taken place then the main work is done. I believe this is not what I understand Jesus and the Apostles taught. I perceive they understood salvation as a process. Relationships (loving the Lord God) as not event-oriented but a process, growth-oriented. Event-oriented theological thinking looks for events as signs. Process-oriented theological thinking looks at movements, changes, developments, relationships, and linkages. Event orientation asks us when.  Process orientation asks us how and why.

Now, why do I believe this is important? Discipleship is not event-oriented. There are event passages, but it is the process that brings us to where we need to be. Faith does face events, but faith is more of a process of trust and the development of belief. We can speak of the divine dance as an event to which we are invited, but the dance itself is a process of movement and guidance.

There will be an end to this world. Jesus will return. God will create a new heaven and a new earth, but these events are a part of a process that is grounded in God’s love and faithfulness revealed to us in the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the Scripture, developed through the process of the Holy Spirit’s preserving and maintaining the orthodoxy, orthodidache, and orthopraxis in the lives of the called out people, the Church, through the process of growth and fellowship of the faithful in the universal church. Each of us are included in our hope of the events through our choices, and of the submission of our wills, as well as the commitment of our obedience to God’s righteousness.

Most of the individuals of the past who are known for mystical experiences as contemplatives paid little attention to the concept of last things other than speaking as a prophetic voice calling others to a deeper relationship (an actual intimacy developed through prayer and service) with Christ that enable them to experience the positive promises of last things now and made worry of what is to come worthless.  Most had gone through the suffering that comes with the dark night of the soul and so the physical fears had no real merit. They did still watch for the spiritual dangers which ultimately will end this current age of death, but we are more focused on the process of life. I will try to include some of them in our study.

I want to tell you a true story. To many, “Edgar Whisenant” has recently become a household name. Whisenant, a former NASA rocket engineer turned prophecy teacher, became famous through a booklet that included two of his works: 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could be in 1988 and On Borrowed Time. In this booklet, Whisenant predicted that Jesus would return to rapture His church sometime during the Jewish holiday of Rosh-Hashanah in 1988, which was from sunset, September 11, to sunset, September 13. Before those dates, The World Bible Society, which published the booklet, printed 3.2 million copies and distributed 200,000 of them to pastors throughout the United States. Christian radio stations broadcasted this event as though it would happen.

However, the prediction of the last day turned out to be false. However, on May 16, 2001, Edgar C. Whisenant experienced the reality of every human’s last day, the certain event we will face, he died.  I hope he had paid attention to the process in his life as well.

This happens again and again. People make predictions, creating theological systems which are based on events that must happen or have happened. Most often, this type of theological thinking is founded upon general eschatology rather than another form of Eschatology that is focused on the personal. Every single one of us is living in the last days. From the moment we are born a countdown begins. No one knows how long this countdown will last. We do know that each day that passes brings us closer to the final day. As to when the reality of General Eschatology will take place. That will remain a mystery, but some (human beings being the ego-driven creatures we tend to be, will make predictions and seek to interpret events as to when this will take place.

In the Olivet Discourse Jesus tells the disciples: Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. (Matt. 24:42 NRS) Jesus uses the phrase “be alert” twice and Luke records its use by Paul in Acts. Keep awake is used 7 times in the Gospels and once in 1 Thess. Four times in other epistles are we told to be alert.

But what do we watch for? Events or a process?  I am hoping in the next 8 weeks to get us to reflect and focus on developing a personal eschatology that will enable us to better understand a general eschatology without dependence upon systematic theological systems that are as much speculative as they are biblically based. I believe that if we can become more aware of our own personal eschatology we can be more enlightened when we encounter the multitude of differing views on what eschatology means. 

Next week (posting) I will look at the views of the early church and church Fathers on the subject of eschatology using these early views to understand what value the study of end things were to the church then  Then we will seek to develop a theology of death and life. This will also involve a study of what the Bible says about what we can look forward to or fear about our own last things in the light of the reality of the soul and the resurrection of the dead. Psalm 49, as a psalm of personal eschatology, will be studied. This will be followed by a move toward general eschatology by first looking at how often there is an eclipse of Christ in most eschatological studies.

After this, we will look at those OT Scriptures pertaining to last things and to the NT Scriptures which contain the promise of Jesus’s return and his literal physical existence joining with those who are part of the kingdom and the fellowship of the saints. I believe it is also essential to examine Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25) in detail. Then we will finish up with the rest of Jesus’s words on “last things” and in the context of the blessed hope in a fallen world awaiting final redemption. My purpose of a study of eschatology is founded upon the certainties of revelation rather than the ambiguities and speculations. Now I will speculate (especially on the issue of time) but am hoping for fostering an interest in the process rather than the events of what is to come.

Lectionary Sermon for the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13      Disciplined

Beginning Good News, the gospel: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. (Jn. 3:16)

But those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children, born not from blood nor from human desire or passion but born from God. (Jn. 1:12-13 CEB)

This is how we know that we love the children of God: when we love God and keep God’s commandments. (1 Jn. 5:2 CEB)

This is a quick, three-verse summary of the journey leading to life. These verses are for us individually. The problem is that we do not travel alone. Some who travel with us, willingly or unwillingly can slow us, stagnate us, sabotage us, and yes, even separate us from the gift of life eternal if we are not careful.

The lectionary passage today is given from a motivation of love and concern rather than control. The word “command” tends to irritate modern people in our culture. We don’t like to be commanded. We do not like being told this is something we must do. We live in a time in which, in our culture, many live by words, “what is right in their own eyes.”

Something has happened. We tend to value independence more than guidance. We tend to place more value on our autonomy rather than on authority. In the case of humanity’s relationship with God, we place more emphasis on the self than the soul. Just because the Bible says something does not mean that we will accept it. The days of “biblical authority” have passed for a large segment of the population including Christians.

But I have a question. If you were about to unknowingly walk off the edge of a cliff, would you rather be commanded to stop or be given a suggestion to stop? When driving, do you want the other drivers to obey the sign that states stop or just hope they will consider stopping?

Whether we realize it or not, we need authority, we need commands if there is to be order and safety in our world.

And, whether we realize it or not, when God’s word, the Scripture, gives us a command, it does so for our own good. It does so for the benefit of our souls. It always comes from a motivation of love and a desire to protect. God has demonstrated this over and over.

So, verse 6 begins with a command. It is a bit of a shocking command. This command seems to be paradoxical to what Jesus teaches elsewhere.

Jesus told us as believers, “This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples when you love each other.” (Jn. 13:35 CEB) Later, in the book of Hebrews we are told, “Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:25 CEB)

But here, we are told, “to stay away from every brother or sister who lives an undisciplined life that is not in line with the traditions that you received from us.” Is this not a contradiction?

This is not stranger-danger, this is staying away from other brothers and sisters in the faith who are “undisciplined.” Other translations state, “to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive (NIV); and, “that walketh disorderly” (KJV).

The question is why this paradox? Why are we commanded to do this?

We are given this command because God knows just how powerful influence can be, social influence. God knows how a negative attitude can be contagious. God also knows how manipulative and deceptive human beings can be.

In verse 11 we are told that these people (brothers and sisters, part of the family of faith) are meddling (the word translated meddling is a word meaning bustle about uselessly, be preoccupied with trifling matters, sowing discontent, confusion and creating conflict). All I could think of was social media and politics.

God, through the words of Paul, is warning us that such people, undisciplined people, can create resentment, fear, frustration, and distraction. Even though they are family members, they pull us away from the mind of Christ and can devastate the spiritual life of the community.

In the case of the Thessalonian church, their people would not work. They would not contribute, and they meddled in the work of others. This was not the example Paul set. This is not what Jesus taught the disciples. This produced a poor image for the church. By going along with this behavior, by tolerating this behavior, the church was harming the advance of the kingdom.

This is the key concept Paul is striving to get across. When harmful behavior (spiritually harmful behavior) is allowed, accepted, or simply overlooked, it will be toxic to the community.

This is not just about not working or meddling. It is about the effect of undisciplined behavior of any kind going unchallenged in our midst. The Scripture is clear, “Don’t be deceived, bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Cor. 15:33 CEB) Pay attention to that and do not be deceived for there are many who are so discontent but pretend to be good.

But we are to be loving. We are not to judge. I absolutely agree.  However, you do not love someone by enabling them. We harm the body, the church when we are tolerant of such behavior.

This is not a command to judge people. Paul calls them brothers and sisters. What we are to respond to is to behavior, to attitudes, to a spiritual war in which sometimes the only effective response is showing our concern, and our anxiousness about the behavior by distancing ourselves from those who engage in the harmful activity to demonstrate the danger. Look down at verse 15. Do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as believers. (2 Thess. 3:15 NRS) They are not our enemies, but individuals deceived.

Evil seeks inclusion. Evil seeks association. When we allow evil, rebellion, immaturity, or even spiritual apathy to be in our midst, it will be a corruptive influence. If we really care about people, we need to make sure we do not support or enable an undisciplined life. And we need to start with ourselves.

In the book of Jude, which is in many ways a quick reference in how to live in “undisciplined times”, we find the following: But you, dear friends: build each other up on the foundation of your most holy faith, pray in the Holy Spirit, keep each other in the love of God, wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will give you eternal life. Have mercy on those who doubt. Save some by snatching them from the fire. Fearing God, have mercy on some, hating even the clothing contaminated by their sinful urges. (Jude 1:20-23)

Brothers and sisters,1 do not be weary in doing what is right. (2 Thess. 3:13 NRS) Don’t let others who are not willing to develop the disciplined life of a true disciple corrupt you. Heed the warning given by a God who is love, and who loves us enough to warn us. Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” (1 Cor. 15:33 NRS)

Instead, follow the example and path the Lord gives us. No discipline is fun while it lasts, but it seems painful at the time. Later, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness for those who have been trained by it. (Heb. 12:11). This is the truth. The truth in love.

Lectionary Sermon for the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

For this reason, God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned. (2 Thess. 2:11-12 NRS)

This verse is left out of our reading today. To me, it is a frightening verse. I know how easily I can be self-deceived, so the possibility of dealing with a powerful delusion, strong deception, is frightening to me. I am afraid not just for myself, but for everyone else who faces this event. The danger is very real today as it was when Paul wrote this letter.

The church at Thessalonica had a hard time understanding the promised return of Jesus. They were looking for his imminent return. Some believed the rumors that Jesus had already come, and they had been left behind. Others believed those who had already died had missed out and would not be included when Jesus came. Evidently, Paul taught the church not to be concerned about the return of Jesus, but instead to be ready for it. In verse 5 Paul writes, “Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?” For some reason what Paul taught had been either misunderstood or twisted and now the church was in a state of confusion.

When followers of the Lord become distracted by things for which they cannot know, such as the dates, times, and sequences leading to the return of Jesus, there is usually conflict and dissension. This should in itself tell us we are focusing on the wrong emphasis and should instead be rejoicing in the promise of hope the return of our Lord gives to us. This is especially true of end times when the focus should be on spiritual preparation rather than timeline certainty. A time when we need spiritual discernment rather than pseudo-intellectual guesswork.

There will be an end time. This is not a religious statement but a fact of known science. Eventually, all suns either burn out or are eaten by a black hole. The biblical timing has to due with God’s timing for accountability, a new creation, and a fulfilling of the blessed hope we hold in our hearts.

It is not going to be an easy time. It will be a time of taking personality worship to the ultimate level. A time in which a creation of God will once again challenge the supremacy of God. Paul warns, “When the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.”

It was not a good time for Christians waiting for Jesus then and it is not a good time now. It was, is, and will be a time of hardship, suffering, betrayals, apostasy, deceptions, denials, demon evils, pain, and without Jesus, despair.

Paul knows he cannot force them in any manner of belief, but instead does what our Lord does, Paul offers comfort and assurance. Paul reaches out to them with compassion and says, “beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” This is their assurance. God chose them. God loves them. God’s Spirit sanctifies them. This should be their focus. This is how they should live, not troubled, anxiety-laden, or caught by surprise by what rumors they may hear. This is still good advice today.

Then Paul says to them, “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.” First, what are traditions?

The traditions Paul is talking about are a mature understanding that comes from tested instruction, a truthful narrative, and paying attention to accepted precepts for understanding and objectively seeking the will of God. Traditions that focus on delivering an increase of love and faithfulness, and are ritually grounded in Scripture. This is the kind of tradition Paul is speaking.

Again, the traditions are not the “every fourth Sunday dinner” or “We always dismiss Sunday School on Miss Anna’s birthday.” Churches today have traditions such as the color of the carpet, the format of the liturgy, the choice of music, and I could go on and on. Traditions that have nothing to do with love building and spiritual direction and everything to do with personal interests. There are legions of those types of traditions.

So what does tradition tell us? It tells us Jesus will come again. It tells us that we who are faithful will know when he comes. Tradition tells us to be ready. Tradition tells us to prepare and to be alert. Tradition tells us to live our lives in the light of Jesus’s promised return. Tradition tells us that no one but the Father knows when. Even though we may not know the day or the hour, we can know that Jesus will be with us no matter what. So we should stand firm.

Stand firm, hold fast we are commanded. Stand firm, being stable in a world that is not. The God we seek is not a god of chaos but stability. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Heb. 13:8 ESV) This is stability.

Hold fast, grasp, and do not let go. The traditions taught by the Scripture, the creeds of the church, and the experiences of faith we have had with God should lead us to keep these commands.

Over the years many people have tried to predict when Jesus would return. Some of you may remember the “99 reasons Jesus will come in 1999?” There are continually those people who are convinced they have it figured out, feel compelled to tell the rest of us, and end up causing fear, anxiety, and worry. This only aids the enemy and weakens faith rather than strengthens it. Every time someone makes such a prediction and is, of course, wrong they damage the character of our faith. It makes us look silly, stupid, and “superior to others” who are not on the “in.”

What we should be about is waking up in the morning saying this might be the day and then going to work for the glory of God. We should not put off a spiritual task because today could be the day. We should live our lives in the power of the Lord who, “loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope.”

We have hope, not speculation. We have assurance not certainty of times or events. We have a mission to carry out until the Day of the Lord. And we are able to do this because we have a God who will, “comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word. (2 Thess. 2:17 NRS)

We live in a time of unprecedented global upheaval and anxiousness. We have never been closer to a nuclear war. Global warming is creating more and more disasters. We have three potential pandemics going on. Crime, hate, violence, and injustice are daily occurrences.

Jesus, our Lord, our Savior, and our hope says, “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. (Matt. 24:6-8 ESV)

Let us not be anxious. Let us be ready and hold fast to the traditions we have been blessed with.

Lectionary Sermon for the Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

There is a way of praying by asking for blessings, for God’s grace and peace. This way of praying can start with the words, “bless to me” or “God with me, Christ with me” in reference to the self (we often do not pray out of our own reflections on gratitude and grace). And then, of course, one would ask God to bless others. with nothing but good.

If there is anything one should pick up from those who live a faithful, Christian life is that they are people who understand the importance of giving thanks. Our very act of receiving the Lord’s Supper is a eucharist (which means Thanksgiving). This is a key element of a Christian’s life.

The feelings I believe are expressed in Paul’s initial words of greeting in this letter are those of thankfulness and hope. This letter is both personal to Timothy and corporate to the church in Thessalonica. Thus, this is a universal letter the Holy Spirit can use in each of us.

Paul also makes it very clear, he knows these blessings must come from God. God who is the Father, Son, Spirit, the God who is one. Confusing? It can be, it is one of those realities I face with the prayer, “Lord Jesus, I believe, help my unbelief.” The Trinity may be hard to understand but it is essential to our faith.

The church had been struggling with its understanding of Jesus’s promise to return. Many in this church believed in the imminent return of Jesus. They wondered if those who had died before this return would miss out? I have discovered that understanding the “last days” and the “end of time” as we know it can be challenging to anyone who ventures there with anything but fear, faith, trust, and understanding the dangers of ignorance and arrogance in any eschatological study.

In Paul’s first letter he addressed their end-time concerns, but also opened up other aspects of their concerns that came out of their current situation. Why had Jesus not yet returned and why were they facing so many challenges to their faith? Why were they suffering?

Paul seeks to encourage. Paul tells them that their faith is growing because of the evidence their love for each other is increasing. Love comes from increased intimacy and trust. Such love increases caring and support. Paul blesses them for their steadfastness. This steadfastness gave them patience and endurance through the difficulties they are facing.

Becoming a Christian meant going against the culture of the day. It meant you would be eyed with suspicion and distrust. Becoming a Christian meant you would likely be persecuted for what you profess and believe. To live as a Christian was to enter a world of tribulation.

In our culture in which religion is seen as a personal, consumer preference, we do not face the hard life that believers in the first century faced. Whereas our faith may cause us some inconvenience or maybe some embarrassment, we do not risk losing our livelihood, our property, our freedom, or our lives for professing our faith.

What we do risk is our becoming lukewarm. We risk compromising Christ. We risk a pseudo-faith that has the possibility of us hearing the words, “Depart from me, I never knew you,” from the mouth of God when we stand before God in judgment.

One of the interesting aspects of our lectionary passage is that it skips over verses 5-10. Why? If we look at those verses they seem highly emotional, almost vengeful. These verses are end of days oriented with the emphasis being on judgment. Why were these verses skipped over in the assigned reading? Why would I care if they were skipped or not?

These verses are not easy verses. These verses are hard. Verse five speaks of one of the ways we are made worthy. The word for worthy is a passive word. It is not something we can do; it is something that is done for us. Paul pulls no punches. There is a struggle going on between the Kingdom of God and the ruler of the world. If you think it is bad for us as believers and followers of Jesus, we cannot even imagine what those who reject our Lord will reap.

What about the attitude of vengeance and the suffering of others. Christians are not supposed to want this. This is true, but we are human. We cannot deny our feelings, our pain, our own suffering. We have a desire for justice and fairness as this too is part of love. So, I think we should not be disturbed by verses 5-10 their being left out. The key focus of the lectionary verses I believe is fulfilled in what verse 11 and 12 have to say in the midst of hard, difficult, painful, suffering-filled times we find in verses 1-10?

In verse 11, Paul makes a claim, “To this end we always pray for you.” Paul makes a bold claim when he states, “we always pray for you.”

I have always been cautious of telling someone I will pray for them. We have made the phrase “I’ll pray for you,” have as much meaning as “how is the weather?” If we tell someone we are going to talk to God for them we had better fulfill the promise.

But then again, Paul is confident in the power of prayer to influence events. Perhaps the most faith-building action we can take in life is to develop a practice of prayer. When we seek the face of God in behalf of others, I believe it makes the spirit of compassion, the Holy Spirit, grow in us more committed and the experience of God’s will much more satisfying.

The prayer Paul says he prays is for God to make us worthy. Paul says, “God will make you worthy of his call.” This raises some questions. I thought Jesus makes us worthy. I thought grace was a gift. I thought that we could do nothing to make ourselves worthy of salvation.

The above, “thoughts” are all true. What Paul is talking about is that it is God and only God through the divine power that will guide us to desire goodness, to develop a willingness to give, and to seek moral excellence. This is what God’s power is doing in our lives. Paul prays for our spiritual success that it will be fulfilled by God’s power in every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thess. 1:1-12 NRS)

This is the bottom line. This is what Paul has come to desire more than anything else in his life and in the life of others, the glory of Christ. This is the greatest goal anyone could have yet one that very few seek.

We are living in a time in which the world is on edge due to our ability to kill one another. Some believe this is a sign. Not really, for there will be wars and rumors of wars. What is more of a sign is how people’s love for one another has grown cold. The stranger is not welcome. We are isolated even in closeness to our neighbors. We have embraced ignorance, almost deified arrogance, and have turned believing lies and gossip (conspiracy theories) into art. The Lord may soon return in one way through the end of this age or through coming for us in death as millions are killed in moments. We need to be ready. We need to prepare. We need to be people who persevere no matter what comes. We need to persevere not to survive. We need to persevere for the glory of our Lord. Bless to me my Lord, my Savior, and my God.

Let us pray, Lord, have mercy on us as sinners.

Lord, not our will but thy will.

Lord, speak for your servant listens.

Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

Lord, into your hands I commit my spirit.

Amen[1]


[1] Montoya, David, Repetend Prayers: A Means of using prayer as preparation for crisis, self-published, 2022

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.