Gifted, Graced, Growing

Please read Romans 12:1-8.

God's Gifts_final (2)

Image by James Best, (C) 2020,

https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

God gives us all we need to grow in His grace.

      We need to begin by sharing some alarming information.  But first, a reminder of the Bible’s teaching that we are in this together:

If one part [of the Body of Christ] suffers, every part suffers with it. 1 Corinthians 12:26,  “The world has become less tolerant and less safe for Christians. Based on current statistics, every day around the world …

  • 8 Christians are killed for their faith.
  • 23 Christians are raped or sexually harassed.
  • 25 Churches are targeted and attacked.
  • 10 Christians are unjustly arrested or imprisoned for their faith.

Every week around the world …

  • 186 church buildings are attacked.
  • 276 Christian homes are burned or destroyed.

The total numbers reveal a more than a 1,000% increase in acts of persecution in 2019 over 2018.”

Violence Against Christians Surges; More Than 1,000% Increase in Attacks on Churches Since 2018

The point is this: the enemy is active and organized in its opposition to the truth of Jesus Christ. God created the church to be a body, a movement of people whose ambition is to shine the light of Jesus into a dark world.  We haven’t time to waste on lesser things.

CONTEXT – Bible teacher A.M. Hunter said there are two sides to the Gospel; the believing side and the “behaving side.”  A living faith is growing in knowing and doing.  Paul wrote a doxology (11:33-36) and then followed it up with a call to worship God by sacrifice.  In this way, Paul illustrated both the believing and behaving sides of faith.

  1. God gives gracious gifts.

One act of grace is God’s gift of revelation: it is gracious of God to reveal Himself to us.  In Romans 12:3, Paul reported that God gave him insight into the nature of humility and faith (3). This teaching came from God: FOR BY THE GRACE GIVEN ME I SAY TO EVERY ONE OF YOU.

The specific truth revealed on this occasion is found in the phrase, DO NOT THINK OF YOURSELF MORE HIGHLY THAN YOU OUGHT, for that is pride. Doubt is not the opposite of faith; pride is the opposite of faith!  As we learned in Bible Study recently, “EGO” is an acronym for “Edging God Out.” There is only room for one on the throne of our life; it must be God who sits there.

INSTEAD, Paul wrote, THINK OF YOURSELF WITH SOBER JUDGMENT, for that is humility.  Humility is an accurate self-understanding.  Faith allows us to see ourselves from God’s perspective and thereby to by humble.

Here’s a news flash!  We don’t create faith or even increase it: faith is something God gives us, as Paul wrote, IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE MEASURE OF FAITH GOD HAS GIVEN YOU.  Let me give you two New Testament examples of people who understood faith to be God’s gift.

– In Luke 17:5, Jesus’ disciples said to Him, “INCREASE OUR FAITH!”  There is no exertion of will to believe here, just a plea for more faith.

– In Mark 9:24 Jesus challenged the demoniac boy’s father to believe in order to see his son delivered.  In desperation the man cried out, “I DO BELIEVE! HELP ME OVERCOME MY UNBELIEF!”  He accurately understood faith to be something Jesus gives.

Part of humility is to avoid comparing ourselves with others.  Based on His knowledge of us, God gives each of us a MEASURE OF FAITH that is best for us.  We can pray for more faith, but we can’t create it, not with all the willpower in the world.

God created the Church for our benefit and gives abilities to serve in shared ministry (4-6).  We do not belong to ourselves, but to each other.  The problem is that pride gets in the way.  Pride feeds selfishness and is contrary to fellowship in the church.

Proud people try to support their pride by citing things like amount or length of service, education, or recognition, as if they are trying to work around grace. Any time someone has to build themselves up in a bid to get your attention you can be sure that it is pride – not love – that is at work in them.  Be wary of your own words.

A cure for pride is to think of one’s self WITH SOBER JUDGMENT. This requires a view of self that is informed by Scripture.

  1. God wants us to use His gifts.

Our best response to God’s grace is to worship Him (1). In the Old Testament, worship involved the sacrifice of animals to atone for one’s sin.  In the New Testament, worship still involves sacrifice, but not the killing of an animal, but the spiritual sacrifice of the worshiper, a LIVING SACRIFICE.

This is what Jesus meant when He said the greatest commandment is loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37).  The SACRIFICE of which Paul speaks is all of our personality must be poured into our life-long service to Christ.

Paul wrote that this kind of self-sacrifice is SPIRITUAL, “reasonable” or “true” worship.  This echoes Jesus’ teaching in John 4:24, that God the Father accepts worship that is spiritual and true.

God wants us to be transformed (2), growing in the faith He’s given.  One force opposing spiritual maturity is the devil or Satan.  He’s a liar, tempter and accuser, wielding distraction to achieve destruction.  Another force opposing spiritual maturity is the WORLD (aka “this age”).  The material world has a lot of influence because we temporarily live in it.  Part of the work of spiritual maturity is distancing ourselves from the world’s temptations and ties.

The institutions of this world want our loyalty and our resources.  The world wants conformity.  We’re to keep in line, not rock the boat, not defy their illusionary powers.  However, as God’s people, all we are and all we have belongs to God.  He calls us to transformation, becoming less worldly and more heavenly.  Our priority with our resources is using them to make Earth more heavenly.

The means of transformation Paul gives here is renewal of our minds.  Transformation is also something God gives, but there are things we can do to open our minds to renewal: prayer, study of God’s word, good works done in love, and obeying his commands.  The effect of this transformation is gaining wisdom to discern God’s will.  God’s will is always the best choice because it is GOOD, PERFECT, and PLEASING.

In general, we know that we are being transformed if selfishness is being replaced by godliness.  This is the spirit in which John the Baptist spoke of Jesus in John 3:30, “He must increase, I must decrease.”

God wants us to use our Spiritual Gifts (6-8).  We don’t have space to elaborate on the Gifts in this article.  It is enough for us to note that they are Gifts from God and therefore not a source of pride or competition in a church.  God gives as He wills, knowing up perfectly and working His will in us.

God gives us all we need to grow in His grace.

      I read this week that an egotist is someone who’s ME-DEEP in everything!  Part of God’s amazing grace is that He delivers us from a self-centered life.  He saves us from the burden of having to be right all the time.  He demonstrates forgiveness that renders perfectionism obsolete.  And on top of all that, He places us in a “forever family” that loves and supports us unconditionally.

When you think about it, the Bible has an awful lot to say against pride.  It has a lot to recommend depending on God rather than self.  All of that takes the pressure off and allows us to experience rest in Jesus Christ.

Here’s a practical experiment for you to try.  Whether you’re having a conversation in person, online, or on the phone, try to avoid first person pronouns.  Don’t use words like “I” and “me” and observe the conversation impartially.  When you don’t use those words, how often does the conversation turn to you?  Notice how much more you’ll have to listen and how much more responsive the other person becomes.  It’s a good feeling: you may want to make a habit of it!

 

RESOURCE:

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Romans, Leslie C. Allen.

The Answer is “No and Yes”

ambition

The question: “Is this as good as it gets?”

          Ambition can get you in a lot of trouble.  Too much is a problem, as is too little. If a person has ambitions that are selfish or materialistic, they’ll find the pursuit of God to be frustrating.  Ambition that creates competition can be divisive.

Pastors are not immune to this issue; there’s a surprising amount of literature on the subject.  For example, I read an article titled “The Ambition Engine” by Pastor Skye Jethani.  He wrote about how his seminary experience revealed a dark side to pastoral ambition. “On the first day in a small class, when asked to introduce ourselves and say why we had entered seminary, the first student said, ‘I’m here because I’m going to be the next Bill Hybels.’ Really, I thought. Hope that works out for you.

“The next said, ‘My grandfather was a pastor, my father was a pastor, and I’m supposed to be a pastor too.’ Daddy issues? The third student revealed his three-year plan to become senior pastor and then transform his congregation into a megachurch. ‘My denomination wants me to have an M.Div. degree,’ he said, ‘but once I’ve proven I can grow a big church, I don’t think they’ll make me finish the degree.’ Good grief, I thought.”

https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2010/fall/ambitionengine.html

Yes, ambition can cause some particularly stupid notions.  Achieving a balance requires deep knowledge of one’s self, obedience to the Holy Spirit, and a willingness to change to meet changing circumstances.

On way to promote a healthy balanced ambition is to keep asking yourself, “Is this as good as it gets?”  The answer will lead to maturing faith if your ambition sits squarely on God.  In Philippians, Paul evidences a good balance of ambition and contentment.  We’ll look at it this morning following the “thesis, antithesis, synthesis” method.

“Is this as good as it gets?”

  1. No way – God is not finished with you (Philippians 1:6).

CONFIDENT in the Greek meant “persuaded, convinced, trusting in the object.”  You might say this word refers to an earned trust.

Paul used this word five times in his letters, twice here in Philippians (see Galatians 5:10; Philippians 1:6; 2:24; Philemon 1:21; Hebrews 6:9).  Of these references, twice he was CONFIDENT IN THE LORD (Galatians 5:10 and Philippians 2:24).  The other three times his confidence was in the recipients of his letters.  Paul never expressed confidence based on himself, only on t LORD and His people.  The LORD had earned Paul’s trust and though church folk disappointed him, Paul knew t LORD would never abandon his people.

The phrase BEGAN…CARRY ON TO COMPLETION encompasses the scope of salvation.  God took the initiative with each of us; He BEGAN the process of salvation right after the sin of Adam and Eve.  God has not abandoned or forgotten any of His people; He will save everyone who calls on Him.  The beginning and the end are in God’s hands; let there be no doubt about that.  But we are all still in process; let there be no doubt about that either.

How long will the process last?  Paul’s answer here was UNTIL THE DAY OF CHRIST JESUS.  The DAY OF CHRIST JESUS occurs just six times in the New Testament; three of them here in Philippians.  This DAY is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, the event that signals the completion of God’s work of salvation.

The life we know right now cannot be as good as it gets because we are in process, and the process is not complete.  The Bible calls this process “sanctification,” a word that means becoming increasingly holy.

If we are convinced that some day in the past or the present life is as good as it gets, we must be frozen at a point in our maturing.  All of us need to cultivate a little “godly discontent” in this regard.  We should always acknowledge that the biggest room in our home is “room for improvement.”

“Is this as good as it gets?”

  1. Yes – be content (Philippians 4:12).

Paul has seen it all: times of NEED and times of PLENTY.  He did not exaggerate in the least.  On the PLENTY side, he grew up in a family wealthy enough to purchase Roman citizenship.  On the “needy” side, he suffered a great deal because he faithfully preached the Gospel (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 for a lengthy list of all Paul suffered for the sake of the Gospel).  This fact proved that Paul’s joy did not depend on his circumstances.  Even in all his sufferings he was CONTENT will all God provided.

Having seen it all, Paul learned the SECRET OF BEING CONTENT IN EACH AND EVERY SITUATION.  It was a “SECRET” in the sense that contentment is something learned by experience and by individual commitment.  No one can be content for you or teach it to you.  It must come from within your heart.  Again, Paul’s contentment was not limited to moments of ease; EACH AND EVERY SITUATION includes all the normal and extraordinary situations he faced.

Isn’t contentment the opposite of ambition?  On the surface, contentment can feel like saying “I don’t need or want any more.  I am fine with what I have/what I am right now.”  On the surface, ambition can feel like a hunger that cannot be satisfied, a dissatisfaction that motivates movement.

To me, it’s more helpful to see these emotional conditions as two ends of a balancing pole.  Wire-walkers sometimes perform with a pole in their hands, using it to achieve balance on the wire.  Similarly, contentment and ambition are two virtues we hold in balance to keep us steady as we make our way through life.  There will be circumstances where we need to be more content and others where more ambition is needed.  God supplies wisdom so we know the difference. Our final note on this passage narrows the issue down for us.

“Is this as good as it gets?”

  1. Yes and no – be content with God’s material provision;

be ambitious for godliness instead (Philippians 3:13-14).

In humility, Paul admitted he hadn’t TAKEN HOLD of all Jesus had done for him.  The phrase TAKEN HOLD means to “seize, grasp the meaning, understand.”

He hadn’t yet been raised to heaven.

He hadn’t been MADE PERFECT (12).

Those things happen on the other side of this life.  And yet, at that moment, Paul had as his ambition to take hold of as much of it as possible on this side of life.

Paul noted two steps in achieving this ambition.

One: FORGETTING WHAT IS BEHIND.  God gave me a series of one-liners to understand and apply this truth:

– Resist the urge to gold-plate the past.  The days behind held their share of sorrows too.

– Resist the urge to hold grudges.

– Forgive and forget the offense, but hold tight to the lessons learned.

– Seek forgiveness from people and God wherever offense and sin is unresolved.

– Reject the devil’s false guilt.

– Love unconditionally, as God has loved you.

– Remember people in the most positive light.

– Sentiment clouds our judgment; best avoid it.

– Discard limitations your past places on you.

Two: STRAINING TOWARD WHAT IS AHEAD.  Imagine the victory, then pour yourself into achieving it under God’s direction.

No amount of effort will change the past.  Some of your efforts may immediately change the present.  Every effort will have an effect on the future.  That fact alone ought to dictate where we devote our attention.

For the believer, Jesus awaits us on the other side of the finish line.  We pour our heart and mind and strength into faithful obedience because we await His welcome on the other side of that line.  If our eyes are on anything other than the finish line, we tend to veer off course and/or slow down.

The Apostle Paul undertook one method in realizing his ambition: I PRESS ON.  The phrase PRESS ON pictures a runner stretching forward to cross the finish line.  The athlete is pouring every last bit of strength into finishing the race; his effort leaves everything on the field of competition.  Nothing needs to be reserved for after the race of life because there is nothing left to be done after this race.

For many of us, life is a marathon, not a sprint.  The effort required to be faithful does not relent until death comes to us.  Quitting is not even an option.  When weariness comes, we may have to change our pace, but we keep moving on toward our heavenly goal.

Paul had one goal in life: TO WIN THE PRIZE FOR WHICH GOD HAS CALLED ME HEAVENWARD IN CHRIST JESUS.  The PRIZE in this case is eternal life; a forever spent in God’s presence and in fellowship with the rest of His people.  We know that because verse eleven ends with a reference to THE RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD.

There is nothing this world can offer that compares with heaven.   Our problem is not so much having trouble believing that, but our problem is more often remembering that.  We don’t always behave like people who are headed for heaven, do we?  The world can easily distract us and our human nature can easily betray us so we don’t act as heaven-bound folk.  That’s called SIN and we need to avoid it and repent of it when we fail to avoid it.

The parts of us that survive the death of the body are the good and godly things.  Nothing evil or worldly makes it into heaven.  It’s upon us to partner with the Holy Spirit in filling our days with godly words and deeds.

“Is this as good as it gets?”

          A man became envious of his friends because they had larger and more luxurious homes. So he listed his house with a real estate firm, planning to sell it and to purchase a more impressive home. Shortly afterward, as he was reading the classified section of the newspaper, he saw an ad for a house that seemed just right. He promptly called the realtor and said, “A house described in today’s paper is exactly what I’m looking for. I would like to go through it as soon as possible!” The agent asked him several questions about it and then replied, “But sir, that’s your house your describing.”

https://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/1126/house-for-sale/

God revealed to Paul that he should be continually ambitious for spiritual maturity but content with the material things God had already provided.  This allowed Paul to be undeterred by circumstances, numbers, or any other material signs of success or failure.  That is a worthy example for us to follow.

Here’s one way we can put this into practice.  The next time you feel compelled to upgrade to the bigger, faster, newer, or prettier version of something we already have, require yourself to make a matching contribution to church or charity.  Doubling the expense will cause you to think twice about buying the item at all and might just simplify your life.

Seven Modern Maladies and their Divine Solutions (4 of 7)

#4 = Laziness/Godly Ambition

Laziness is the vice of avoiding necessary deeds.  Godly Ambition aims at doing God’s work in His way.

Anyone OVER 50 years old needs no introduction to

220px-Lovey_Howell

“Mrs. Howell” (the “millionaire’s wife”) from “Gilligan’s Island.”

        Of all seven characters on Gilligan’s Island, it may be Lovey that has the least backstory.  The writers never even bothered to give her a first name.  Her maiden name was “Wentworth,” and attended Vassar, but details are scarce.

The actress’ name was Natalie Schaefer, a lady whose stage and film career spanned more than seventy years!  Through wise investments, Ms. Schaefer parlayed her acting earnings into millions.  Ironically, she played a millionaire’s wife on TV and in real life was a millionaire single woman!  Both Alan Hale Jr. (the Skipper) and Ms. Hale died of cancer in 1990 and both had their ashes scattered over the Pacific Ocean.

Lovey Howell was chosen as the symbol of laziness because she never lifted a finger to help with the islanders’ escape plans.  She was used to having servants wait on her in the Howells’ various homes in the US and Europe.  No one would say Lovey was apathetic or uninvolved with the other castaways, but she obviously preferred the life of the “idle rich.”

  1. The vicious vice of LAZINESS (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15)

What is sloth or laziness?  It is an unwillingness to exert or even inconvenience one’s self, regardless of how important or needed an action may be.  It is seeking the path of least effort or least resistance. (In this sense, laziness can be manifest in an unreasonable insistence on doing the cheapest, easiest, most familiar way.  It is a “dumbing down” of method and mission when something better can be achieved. Lazy people set low expectations.)

Laziness is a sin of omission: omitting good works; not doing good things.  Godly living is a full morality.  It is not just the avoidance of evil (sins of commission), but is also the practice of good. Practicing good is an active effort put into seeing the good and responding to opportunity in a timely way.

This vice of laziness or sloth most often involves making excuses, even telling lies.  For example, a chronically lazy person can rationalize their lack of love by means of a false sense of entitlement, a claim of victimization or disability, and/or a fear of failure or loss.

Why is laziness deadly?  Most importantly, because one’s salvation is called into question.  Salvation is something we’re commanded to “work out” in Philippians 2:12: THEREFORE, MY DEAR FRIENDS, AS YOU HAVE ALWAYS OBEYED – NOT ONLY IN MY PRESENCE, BUT NOW MUCH MORE IN MY ABSENCE – CONTINUE TO WORK OUT YOUR SALVATION WITH FEAR AND TREMBLING.  The meaning of the command to “work out” our salvation may not be obvious.  Let’s think about it.  We do not obtain salvation by means of good works, it is God’s gift.  Having obtained it, salvation changes our character. We WORK those changes out of our inner person so others can experience them and be blessed by what we say and do.  A chronic refusal to do good works is a sure sign of not yet being saved.

Laziness is also deadly because it is rooted in self-deception.  The previously mentioned excuses are one example of how self-deception occurs.  Inflated views of self, apathy, or depression are different forms of self-deception but have the same deadly effect: people who have convinced themselves they don’t have a problem are not going to seek a solution.  Never solving one’s problem of sin results in eternal condemnation after death in this world.  A more serious problem than that you cannot find.

Laziness is insensitivity to the needs of others.  It is arguably the most obvious form of self-centeredness.

A lazy person expects all kinds of things but offers little or nothing in return.      This behavior  creates a “net loss” in the community (be it family, church, or municipality) when a person is only a consumer.  As we will see, God wants us to be “contributors” and “consumers.”

It’s a problem when cheats us out of two things: joy and health.  There is a particular joy that comes with growth and achievement.  People who don’t care enough to try will never know this kind of unique and deep joy.  Where mediocrity and failure are accept-able alternatives, laziness is present.  It is a fact of life (physical AND spiritual) that health and vigor can only be developed by exertion.  God created us to grow by challenging ourselves.  Trials of all kinds will force challenges on us, but we need to choose challenges in order to develop health, growth, and energy.

Idleness leads to other sins: like marijuana – which is a “gateway drug” (leading to other forms of drug abuse) – sloth is a “gateway sin,” leading to other kinds of sin.  “Nature abhors a vacuum” is old expression grounded in science.  In the natural world, nature fills empty spaces.  This expression is just as true personally as it is scientifically.  When we are bored or lonely, we seek to solve the emptiness of those feelings.  Too often, the “filling” is with evil words & works.  “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” is another old expression proven by experience.  Idle people are more likely to get themselves in trouble.  Work has positive spiritual benefits and laziness has negative spiritual effects.  These are facts of human nature that are affirmed in Scripture.

It can be argued that laziness is the original sin: it promises reward without effort or risk.  In the garden, the serpent deceived Eve by offering her godlike powers without any effort and without risk.  All that was required was disobedience of God.  The serpent’s promise was, of course, a lie.  As we’ve observed, all laziness is based on some kind of lie.

Being lazy leaves one unprepared for the future. While we are not to be prey to anxiety or obsess about the future, the Bible commands we put reasonable effort into preparedness.  Lazy people don’t care.

Laziness betrays a lack of love.  I don’t think the opposite of love is hate.  Hate at least implies SOME kind of passion, a level of involvement that – though evil – is still involved.  I think apathy is the opposite of love, because it is disinterest, disregard.  In any case, the lazy person has no love for themselves, say nothing of loving others.

In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, we see how the Apostle Paul dealt with lazy folk in the flock. Paul’s warning about “idleness” came IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST (v. 6).  This is not a case of name dropping; it is the kind of language Paul used when a command needed extra emphasis.  Reading this phrase, the reader was to sit up and take extra notice of what followed.

Paul dropped two rules in dealing with lazy people.  They are to be subjected to church discipline.  Discipline should be invoked because idle persons cause trouble.  Boredom, if nothing else, ensures this.  The Greek word for IDLE can be translated as “truant.”  Truancy is not meeting one’s obligations; being idle.

The first means of discipline is to invoke the “Golden Rule of Work;” IF A MAN WILL NOT WORK, HE WILL NOT EAT” (v. 10).  Eating ought to motivate even the laziest person to get up and do something.  This rule covers those who refuse to work.  Persons who cannot work are covered by grace, not by law.  This first level of response to laziness calls the offender to repent and to take their full place in the community by getting to work.

When hunger fails to move a person to repentance, the second means of discipline the church is disfellowshipping (aka “shunning” or “excommunicating” in other churches).  We might call the second rule the Rule for Unrepentant Idlers.  Disfellowshipping is the ultimate penalty the Church can levy; this is serious business.  However, order must be maintained and disorderly and lazy people must act to protect its fellowship and reputation and act decisively to put the offender out o/t church.

According to 1 Thessalonians 5:14, plenty of warning and opportunity to repent needs to be given before applying the second rule.  When there is no good response to the use of these two rules, “tough love” is needed and the chronic offender needs to be disfellowshipped.  Here’s how Paul expressed this rule of law regarding unrepentant idlers:

Verse six = KEEP AWAY FROM THE BROTHER WHO IS IDLE.

Verse fourteen = DO NOT ASSOCIATE WITH HIM.

There are three purposes to the use of church discipline.  First and most importantly, discipline is used to win the offender back to the truth; to save their life.  Verse fourteen states, IN ORDER THAT HE MAY FEEL ASHAMED (14).  And, in verse fifteen, even when disfellowshipped, DON’T REGARD HIM AS AN ENEMY, BUT WARN HIM AS A BROTHER (15).

– Church discipline is a difficult thing to do, but when love and grace do not promote godliness, it’s time to embrace the temporary difficulty of discipline to attempt to achieve long-term reform.

The second reason is to protect the church.  Every local church must act to protect its unity, spirituality, and reputation.  When we allow people to flaunt them-selves as chronic, unrepentant sinners, then the church is better off without them.  The problem is we put up with it too long and let the congregation be poisoned by toxic personalities.  Church folk often say, “We can’t afford to lose any members,” when the truth is, there are some members we can’t afford to keep!

A third reason is to do justice and protect the more needy members of the congregation.  We need to protect one another from the chronic toxic people that exist even in churches.

Paul gave us insight on how to recognize a lazy person.  He wrote that lazy people disavow the truth.  In verse six he wrote they do not LIVE ACCORDING TO THE TEACHING YOU RECEIVED.  Someone whose lifestyle is based on deception is not going to tolerate the truth.

Lazy people act as BUSYBODIES.  In verse eleven we read THEY ARE NOT BUSY, THEY ARE BUSY-BODIES.  Idlers tend to fill their empty hours by being “drama queens;” consciously or subconsciously creating drama to relieve their boredom.  Naturally, this makes for disorder in the church.  Paul knew that it is in the nature of idlers to be disorderly (those words are alternate translations of the same Greek word).

  1. The vital virtue of GODLY AMBITION (1 Thessalonians 4:1-12).

What makes ambition “godly?”  Making effort toward finding and doing the will of God in all situations is godly ambition.  This effort flows from like-mindedness with Christ and His people.  The word ZEAL conveys the attitude behind the actions.  Love for God and others must be manifest in a passion to do right by God and others.  ZEAL is passion that submits to God’s commands to love and tirelessly works to achieve them.

Why is godly ambition a vital virtue?  One, it keeps our priorities in order.  Though it does not bring in a check, love is JOB #1.  Our vocation is JOB #2, our relationships are JOB #3 and avocations (hobbies) JOB #4.  One can go into more detail, but it’s the order that counts.

Two, godly ambition keeps us in balance: we are neither an “idler” nor a “workaholic.”  An IDLER has already been identified as a vice; see the previous section.  Identifying a workaholic can be more difficult because the line can be subtle; it tends to be hidden by achievement.  Logically, a workaholic is…

overcommitted.  Their schedule is out of control.

a perfectionist.  Their personality is out of control.

consumed with worldly standards of success.  Their inner life is out of control.

Three, godly ambition results in a righteous kind of self-sufficiency.  As we’ve seen in previous messages, our ideal state is to be

DEPENDENT on God,

INTERDEPENDENT with each other, but

INDEPENDENT economically.

Paul is our example here; though he deserved financial support from the churches, he chose to work to support himself.

Four, godly ambition keeps us from idleness.  Work is not a curse; it is NOT a condition imposed the Fall.  The Bible shows Adam working in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2) and explains that the curse on Adam in Genesis 3 was not having to work, but having to work hard and sometimes unfruitfully.  In short, in the Bible, WORK is not a “four letter word.”

Five, godly ambition provides means and opportunity to serve and witness to others.  One of the particularly illogical things about our culture is the separation of work and faith.  We’ve all seen and some have personally experienced the attempt to make the workplace and community secular; to make faith only a private matter.  That is not God’s way, not according to secular law, and we don’t have to be intimidated.  Both the law of God and the law of the land prohibit acts of prejudice against spirituality.  Further, we must see that work is another arena in which we must live out our Christian faith, demonstrating in word and deed that Jesus lives in us.

Six, godly ambition encourages spiritual maturity.  Play and work are both arenas in which we can learn spiritual lessons and proclaim spiritual truths.  We need both anyway, so it makes sense to put them both to best use; serving God.  Work develops good habits and good habits are part of a maturity.

We’ve hailed godly ambition as the best form of ambition, which leaves an additional question: How do I enact godly ambition?  The answer is expressed in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, where Paul expressed it under the words MAKE IT YOUR AMBITION.  This word translated as AMBITION also means to “to study,” or “to strive eagerly.”

Godly ambition is to live a life that pleases God and directs the attention of others to Him. Through the Spirit, Paul supplied five qualities of godly ambition.

Be ambitious to live a QUIET life (v. 11).  Each of us ought to live in a “drama-free” zone, a sphere of influence that begins in our soul and becomes available to others as we relate to them.  Ironically, a quiet life is not achieved by being lazy about work and relationships.  It is about promoting peace and having ambitions more noble than self-centeredness.

Be ambitious to live a self-contained life.  When Paul wrote MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS in verse eleven, he executed a word play, contrasting BUSINESS with BUSYBODIES who make everything their business.  Here are three simple rules that will help you MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS.  These rules are not original with me; they are reclaiming consideration for others that our culture used to possess but have disappeared from civic discourse. The MYOB kind of lifestyle respects others and doesn’t inflict every last thought on them.

One, don’t give advice until you are asked or you have asked permission.  Giving unsolicited advice is detrimental to relationships as it puts the other person on the defensive.

Two, keep your opinions (especially complaints) to yourself.  Until you are asked or get permission, assume nobody wants to hear it.

Three, own what you say.  I once received a fairly toxic anonymous complaint.  I gave it the attention it deserved; I tore it up and threw it in the trash.  If you can’t put your name to it, don’t put it in public.  There’s far too much of that kind of gutless nonsense and bullying in social media; it’s especially inappropriate in church.

Be ambitious to live a self-sustained life.  In verse eleven we read, WORK WITH YOUR HANDS.  This does not mean that only physical labor is godly.  Instead, the distinction is between doing your own work and relying on others to do your work for you.

Having state that biblical observation, may I make a cultural one?  We are becoming a culture that condemns physical labor.  People in the media, for example, assume that working at a minimum wage job is for lower class people and that people like them who only use their hands to type are “real jobs.”  We are losing our respect for craftsmanship and doing work with pride.  Love for God and others demands that we do our best.  We need to stop “dumbing down” our standards for good workmanship and recapture the work ethic that helped America achieve greatness.

Four, be ambitious to live a life of witness and service.  We see why this is important in verse twelve: SO THAT YOUR DAILY LIFE MAY WIN THE RESPECT OF OUTSIDERS.  Idlers, busybodies, drama queens and other toxic personalities are not respectable persons.  When such a person claims to follow Jesus, their lives prove their claims to be a lie and all Christianity suffers a loss of reputation by association.

We win respect by being respectful.  As the late Billy Graham said, “You may be the only Bible some people will read.”  Make sure you are a pleasant and accurate read.

It’s a fact that we will be held responsible for every idle word (Jesus said so in Matthew 12:36).  Stop and think; do you really want to be responsible for some of the things you say?  Does anyone want to miss heaven?

Five, be ambitious to live an independent life.  One purpose of work is to NOT DEPENDENT ON ANYBODY (v. 12).  This is not the infamous “Marlboro Man” shutting himself off from others.  It is someone who works up to the capacity that they can work so they are contributing something positive to the community.

People who can work but refuse to work come under law and need to be treated as lawbreakers.  People who can’t work come under grace and need to be supported.  You can easily tell which kind of person Paul has been writing about in these passages.  Financial independence is a godly goal but must not be turned into an idol.  It is a means to an end (spiritual maturity), not an end in itself, for that is idolatry.

Anyone UNDER 50 needs no introduction to

sloth

“Netflix,” an mail order and online video streaming service. Netflix facilitates “binge watching,” an activity which may be the epitome of laziness. This involves watching episode after episode of a series, one right after another, a kind of “couch potato” marathon.

The cartoon picture depicts someone doing some binge watching on Netflix.  Time for confession: I have watched three episodes in a row once or twice.  I am a lightweight when it comes to binge watching.  A fair amount of mental stamina is required, even though there’s little more physical exertion than going to the kitchen for a snack.

Netflix was started way back in 1997 when its main business was renting videos by mail.  Sometime between then and now, the online streaming part of the business took over and I’d guess most people utilize Netflix through their computer or on their phone as an app.  As of April this year, Netflix had 125 million total subscribers worldwide, in 190 countries.  It has become a behemoth in the entertainment world, producing a LOT of its own content.

Since TV took off in the 50s, Americans have wasted a huge portion of their lives staring at the “one-eyed monster.”  Whether you binge watch or not, TV can be an addiction that demands nothing more than vast amounts of time and delivers nothing more than distraction and soul-sapping worldly culture.

In Matthew 6:22-23, Jesus taught, “THE EYE IS THE LIGHT OF THE BODY.  IF YOUR EYES ARE GOOD, YOUR WHOLE BODY WILL BE FULL OF LIGHT.  BUT IF YOUR EYES ARE BAD, YOUR WHOLE BODY WILL BE FULL OF DARKNESS.  IF THEN THE LIGHT WITHIN YOU IS DARKNESS, HOW GREAT IS THAT DARKNESS!”  What a warning these verses supply!

It would not be right to say that TV and/or Netflix are the authors of laziness.  That sin has been with us since our first parents, Adam and Eve.  However, in our modern time, it’s safe to say that we feed too much of our lives to the one-eyed monster, exchanging precious time and energy for worldly distractions.  What we lose in the process can be so much more important than just life.  What we give up is part of our soul.  We stare at the one-eyed monster and allow its light to cast darkness in our souls.  I fear we give up a little of our spirit in the bargain.

This is a struggle.  I am convinced that if we eliminated staring at a screen just to be entertained, we would automatically improve our inner life.  But it is a hard thing to give up, even experimentally, to see the improvement we would receive from quitting TV and internet cold turkey.

Two things.  One, think of the struggle in terms of the vice of laziness versus the virtue of godly ambition.  There is a moral high ground here worthy of battling to possess.  Two, start small.  Declare a Sabbath from screens.  I’d suggest sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday.  Give that part of your life to God and your loved ones and see what He will do for you physically, spiritually, and in every other sense.

Love Never Fails

Take up your preferred Bible and read 1 Corinthians 12:31-14:1.  Myself, I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Love is the virtue at the center of our identity.

Now that the turkey is reduced to leftovers, we put Thanksgiving behind us and think more about Christmas.  I know we have Christmas overachievers in our church family; you already have your gifts bought, probably wrapped, and either hidden or placed carefully under your tree.  The underachievers who will wait until Dec. 24 OR LATER to shop and all the rest of us are going to be out and about the next three weeks.

One of the things we experience while out and about, especially this time of year, are strangers doing “random acts of kindness” to other strangers.  This week, Richard Hanson had a great idea to improve the custom.  His idea was to have a card prepared explaining that your act of kindness was not random at all, but was the product of a love-relationship with Jesus Christ.  Do the act, leave the card and have a “silent witness” of Jesus.

We have printed several of these cards for your use.  Let me recommend you take a few of these and when you buy lunch for the people in line behind you or pay for the purchases of the person in line ahead of you, give them one of these cards and put the face of Jesus on your kindness.

J.B. McPhail wrote, “Love is the fabric of a life well lived.” Acts of kindness are seasonally appropriate and give evidence of good character.  If you use these cards, you will add witness to service and improve both, with eternal consequences.

  1. Context: THE GREATER GIFTS, THE MOST EXCELLENT WAY,

THE WAY OF LOVE (12:31 + 14:1).

There are three expressions Paul used that provide context for this teaching, so it’s important to interpret these first.

The first is, EAGERLY DESIRE THE GREATER GIFTS.  Paul wrote about Spiritual Gifts because his original teaching had been corrupted by false teachers for their purposes.  The Gift of Tongues had been exalted as being above all the others, so Paul countered by saying there are greater Gifts than Tongues. Paul didn’t identify which Gifts are GREATER, but in chapter fourteen, he made it clear that the Gift of Prophecy is a more useful Gift than Tongues.

The second phrase is THE MOST EXCELLENT WAY.  This is Paul’s transitional statement, the way he introduces this chapter about love.  1 Corinthians 13 is a passage lifted out of its context possibly more often than any other in the Bible.

Paul wrote about Spiritual Gifts in the chapter before and after.  Ch. 13 is NOT a parenthesis, but part a chain of reasoning covering chapters 12-14.   In chapter 12 he introduced the reader to the Spiritual Gifts, listing and defining them as God’s way of growing churches.  In chapter 13 he puts them in proper perspective vis-à-vis LOVE; the Gifts are ways to express and enact love.  In chapter 14 he showed how misuse of the Gift of Tongues messed up worship in the Corinthian church.

Paul made it clear that LOVE is superior to t Gifts; it is THE MOST EXCELLENT WAY.  The Greek word for LOVE here is agape.  The word was used only once in all the secular Greek texts which survive into modern times.  This word was taken up by New Testament authors and the Church to convey the ultimate love given by God to humanity.  It is the deepest, most spiritual version of the three Greekk words for LOVE.  It is the ultimate kind of LOVE.  It is not superficial, sensual, or sentimental.

The third phrase is FOLLOW THE WAY OF LOVE is in 14:1; LOVE is a WAY of life.  We are to pursue this virtue in our daily living and ultimately, in our character.

  1. Without love, even the Spiritual Gifts are powerless (13:1-3, 8-10)

Without love, TONGUES fail to communicate (1) and will ultimately be STILLED (8).  LOVE is the difference between merely making noise and communicating in a godly way.  Without a translation, public use of the Gift of Tongues only succeeds in making noise and worse, may irritate the Body of Christ, like the clang and bang of a GONG and CYMBALS, say.  The GONG and CYMBALS were used in Old Testament worship (see 2 Samuel 6:5; 1 Chronicles 13:8; Psalms 150:5) and also idol worship; not referred to in a derogatory way. Instead, there’s just not a lot you can communicate with a GONG or CYMBALS.  We need to make words, not just noise.  One aspect of love’s superiority over Tongues is that LOVE will continue to exist after the Second Coming, while the Gift of Tongues will cease (8).

Without love, the knowledge and faith bestowed by PROPHECY amounts to NOTHING (2) and will ultimately CEASE (8).  The Gift of Prophecy can involve FORE-telling the future but it is mostly FORTH-telling; interjecting the truth where people are misunderstanding or misbehaving.

MYSTERIES and KNOWLEDGE are variations of the same Gk word.  They refer to deep knowledge of hidden and significant things.  In Paul’s time as in ours, “moving mountains” is an expression for overcoming great challenges (see Mark 11:22-23).  BUT – done without love, even great achievements are NOTHING.  After Jesus’ Second Coming, there won’t be any need for the Gift of Prophecy because all survivors will know God’s will (see JMH 31:33-34).

Without love, GIVING has no benefit (3).  The kind of sacrifice Paul describes in verse three is total, even to the point of giving up one’s life.  In modern terms we might paraphrase Paul to say, “Even if I become such a workaholic that I suffer burnout”.  This may be a reference to the fiery trials of Shadrach, Mesach, and Abenego in Daniel 3.  Notice that Paul did NOT say in verse eight that giving will cease.  Heaven will be a place of ultimate and true giving (never false or for evil, only good).

Our knowledge is, at best, partial and immature (8-12).  It requires love to make it valuable.

Our knowledge is always partial.  People who ignore this fact fall into a vice that makes people hard to live with: the arrogant assumption they know it all.  Paul identified this vice in 1 Corinthians 8:1, Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.  KNOWLEDGE PUFFS UP means that knowledge can lead to pride.  The Bible teaches that only God is all-knowing, so put your pride in park and get real!

Our knowledge is always immature.  Growing old and maturing are not the same thing.  Growing old happens automatically; the longer we survive, the more birthdays we accrue.  Maturing takes time, so it looks similar, but maturing is a process that happens by intention and application of hard work.  Spiritual maturing, the greatest of all kinds of maturity, happens only with hard work and the help of the Holy Spirit.

The more we learn, the more we have to admit there is more we CAN learn.  It takes a maturing person to admit there is still room for self-improvement and then to take up that challenge.  There is no reason to be “puffed up.”

In heaven (WHEN COMPLETENESS COMES, v. 10), our knowledge will be full and mature.  Now we see God only as He is reflected in human beings – sometimes a very poor likeness – but then we shall see Him FACE TO FACE.

(Corinthian mirrors of polished metal were famous in the ancient world – Paul refers to them here.)  In heaven we will KNOW FULLY, even as God now has perfect knowledge of each of us.

  1. The qualities of true love (13:4-8, 13).

Paul expressed the qualities of LOVE positively: LOVE IS…

– PATIENT (4) = it overlooks small offenses; resists becoming resentful; is active, not passive.

– KIND (4) = it thinks of ways to help others.

– Joyful in the TRUTH (6) = lovers are happy with honesty.

– Unfailing (8) = as God is love, love will always be needed, appropriate, and powerful.

– Maturing (11) = childish ways of thinking and speaking giving way to adult means are Paul’s way of symbolizing spiritual maturity.

– Protective (7) = it helps, doesn’t hurt unless pain is necessary for healing.

– Trusting (7) = by being trustworthy.  Loving people have discernment but start with positivity.

– Hopeful (7) = Negativity always hinders and hurts.  Hopeful people give others the benefit of the doubt.

– Persevering (7) = will not give up on people and is willing to endure adversity in order to love.

– The greatest of all virtues (13) = HOPE and FAITH are important, even essential virtues.  They will all remain for eternity, but LOVE is t GREATEST.

– You could summarize all ten of these virtues as being having a focus on someone other than self.  Those who truly love are focused on God first, others second, self last.

Paul also expressed the qualities of LOVE negatively: LOVE IS NOT…

– Envious (4) = it is not materialistic; it does not want what others have.

– Boastful (4) = it does not seek superiority over others, nor is it characterized by “one-upmanship” and an insistence on “winning” arguments.

– Proud (4) = it is not arrogantly centered on one’s achievements and qualifications to the point of feeling entitled.

– Dishonoring (5) = it is not so self-absorbed as to disregard the well-being of others, even to the violation of God’s standards.  It doesn’t withhold respect.

– Self-seeking (5) = this vice sums up this entire section.  The other eight vices explain how to recognize self-centered people.

– EASILY ANGERED (5) = it’s focus is not on one’s self manifest in a short temper and/or perceiving insults or injuries where none were intended.

– A recorder of WRONGS (5) = it does not withhold forgiveness.  When we pray, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” we may be asking for a world of hurt.  Selfish people hold grudges.

-Delighted with evil (6) = it does not derive a wicked happiness when seeing someone else “get what they deserve” or get away with wrong-doing.

Horror is not a genre I enjoy, so I rarely read or watch it.  One of the most horrifying movies I’ve ever seen has no monsters or killers or violence of any kind.  It is a film shown to us in elementary school, called “Cipher in the Snow.”  It is the short story of an ordinary school kid who walked off the school bus one morning and fell over dead.  His teacher undertook to understand what killed Cliff.

The film was based on a story by Jean Mizer, a lady who worked as a teacher and guidance counselor, published in the NEA Journal in 1964.  It was produced by Bringham Young University and has been used extensively for anti-bullying education and moral training.

Although the film does not come out and say so explicitly, it is clearly implied that Cliff died from a lack of love.  The teacher finds that Cliff’s parents divorced and he had no friends at school.  There was no one there to love him.

It scared the willies out of me, but I took the lesson to heart.  The film illustrates the disaster that is a loveless life.

Love is the virtue at the center of our identity.

Love is one of the easiest things to talk about and sing about.  Everyone wants to celebrate love and everyone wants to receive love.  It’s not so easy

to do.  It’s not always part of our nature or personality to be loving, especially not at the high standard God sets for love.

It’s much easier and more natural for us to love self first, or substitute legalism for love and then make excuses to conceal our lack of love.  Love is not optional for a follower of Jesus, it is essential, indeed, the defining aspect of our character.

Seek ways to love.  Act on opportunities that present themselves.  Love is too important to be kept waiting, so get to it.  And, there’s no better time than Christmas to go about proclaiming and enacting the love of Jesus Christ.

What IS Real

Please read 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 and 18-20 in your favorite Bible.  Me, I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane on September 20 of this year; just over a month ago.  In its wake, Maria left the island of 3.4 million people without clean water and electricity.

Nine days after the hurricane, a storm of another sort arose on Twitter.  President Donald Trump responded to criticism for the federal response, twice faulting San Juan’s Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz.

I will not weigh in on the tweet shots fired across the ocean between these leaders.  Frankly, that would dignify an exchange that should never have taken place.  But there are two things to be learned.

First, we are reminded that even people who share the same goals can disagree.  The important thing is that the right to disagree does not endow anyone with the right to be disagreeable.  Let’s be honest: whether we are communicating in person or by any other means, respect and honesty are essential, not negotiable.  This is especially true in the church, which is supposedly populated by people who are committed to a higher standard of love and relationships.

Second – without taking sides – I like what Mayor Cruz wrote: “I have only one goal and it is saving lives, and I will do and I will say whatever needs to be said or done to be able to do that.”

Here’s what I like about that quote: she called for a restoration of perspective.  Part of what we must do to keep the number one thing number one is to push aside pettiness and personalities to pull together toward God’s perfect will.

Paul wrote this letter to a divided church.  They were feuding about several things, some of which were very petty and one of which was a dispute over personalities.  The people were dividing into camps over who their favorite preacher was – Paul or Apollos.  It concerned Paul enough that this was the first issue he tackled in this letter.  We’re going to take four Sundays to carefully study this passage and learn what God reveals to us about real church life, how we are to conduct real relationships.

  1. Realistic Identity = Who are we

a. We must not be worldly (vs. 1-4, 18-20).

Worldliness is a sign of immaturity (1-4).  Paul referred to the recipients of this letter as INFANTS IN CHRIST.  They survived (but did not thrive) by “feeding” on spiritual MILK.  They were not ready for SOLID FOOD.

MILK is a metaphor of basic beliefs about salvation.  It is the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” When you are feeding an INFANT, MILK is the logical choice of foods; it is the introductory food.

SOLID FOOD is a metaphor of deeper biblical truths.  It is the answer to the question, “What must I do now that I am saved?”  If you are feeding someone more mature than an INFANT, you begin to switch out MILK with SOLID FOOD.

To put it another way, Paul wrote, “You weren’t ready before and you haven’t matured enough since then.”  The problem is not the cuisine per se, but the fact that the choice of cuisine was dictated by their immaturity.  This is the situation Paul was talking about when he wrote to his associate, Timothy; For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:3)

This letter is addressed to a church, but we see the same predilection toward subtle selfishness in our culture: look at the “experts” in media, the popular voices.  They advocate self-satisfaction, self-centeredness, and self-help.  But this is also manifest in the Church when people prefer sermons and Bible studies they can safely ignore, servings of short and soft and non-challenging pap.

Paul offered three signs of immaturity as examples.  This particular set often results in divisions in the church.

– JEALOUSY is competitiveness where cooperation ought to exist.

– QUARRELING is taking a simple difference of opinion to a more emotional level.  A quarrel can only happen between people who insist on “winning,” though there are no winners.

– ACTING LIKE MERE HUMANS, too willing to split into parties and/or to idolize leaders.  (Paul and Apollos served the Corinthian church together (18:1-28).  They did not encourage this party spirit in the church.  Some church folk pushed that agenda and chose up sides.

Even sincere and maturing Christians still struggle with their human nature.  The Corinthian church folk who politicized their pastors were not operating in the Holy Spirit.  Instead, they were guided by sinful and self-centered desires.  They were “Functional Atheists;” believers in word not in deed.

What the NIV translates as WORLDLY is literally “fleshly.”  It is sin, the opposite of a life that is heavenly and spiritual.  Real life is lived with God in focus, following His way.

Paul called these people his BROTHERS AND SISTERS, so his aim is not cutting them out of the church, but ordering them to grow up and not just grow old.  He wanted to talk to them about deeper matters of faith, but they were frozen at a level of immaturity; they weren’t growing.  Getting frozen at a level of immaturity is a common problem because we get lazy or resist change or prefer our secret sins.  Refusing to grow betrays that our human nature is in charge, not the Holy Spirit.

An aspect of worldliness is being wise in your own eyes, not in God’s (18-20.)  DO NOT DECEIVE YOURSELVES is a key insight into sinful nature: it is an act of self-deception before it is deceiving others.  “Wise in your own eyes” is a biblical phrase that condemns the sin of pride; in this case, pride in your big brain.

– Proverbs 26:12 = Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.

– Isaiah 5:21 = Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.

WISE BY THE STANDARDS OF THIS AGE refers to the humanistic cultural norms of our current time and place.  The paradox is that all of us have to become FOOLS in the eyes of the world in order to become WISE in God’s eyes.

Paul quoted a couple Scriptures to prove that paradox.  God knows our hearts better than we do, so even self-deception won’t fool Him at all.

– Job 5:13 (v. 19) shows that God is not fooled; He recognizes which people who claim to be wise are merely being crafty.

– Psalm 94:11 (v. 20) warns that the plots of worldly wise people end in futility.

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

The immediate application is delivered in v. 21: SO THEN, NO MORE BOASTING ABOUT HUMAN LEADERS!  Paul’s pastoral concern was for the end of all divisions in that church, starting with the division over which pastor was “true leader” of the church.

Nobody comes to church spoiling for a fight.  Mostly, we come to avoid fights.  We come to get away from the world and its deep divisions, wars and violence.  It is our sincere hope that church will be the kind of place the Bible describes, a refuge from the strife caused by ungodliness.

And that is what it is until someone brings worldly (read “ungodly”) attitudes inside.  I don’t believe we are hopeless in the face of such people.  God wants unity and He wants all of us to safeguard the unity the Holy Spirit creates in our midst.

If we won’t sacrifice self on the altar, if we won’t swallow our pride and more than a few of our words to keep the peace in order to enjoy that peace, we must do it for the rest of the world.  The world outside these walls hungers for a light, an example to follow, a guide to lead them out of the sorrows and isolation that sin creates.

If we won’t do it for ourselves or the world, let’s do it for Jesus.  He surrendered His life on the cross to make the idea church a possibility.  Why should we hesitate to do what He asks of us?

Here’s how it works.  We stick up for each other and we stick together.  We make peace a priority over rights and will and all forms of self-interest.  Then watch life become more real than ever.

Coming up – parts two to four of this series of messages:

a. We must be godly (vs. 16-17, 21-23).

2. Realistic Expectations = What can we do?

a. We begin with a good foundation (10-15).

b. We can be faithful builders (vs. 1-4, 18-20).

Faith of Our Fathers

(Please read 2 TIMOTHY 3:10-17 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I have used the NIV.)

Can You Name All Ten Commandments? If Not, This (and 18 Other Questions) Could Get You Deported                                         Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra                               [posted 6/07/2016]

<Retrieved from http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/june/19-christian-questions-converts-deported-uk-asylum.html on 6/13/16.>

You know how desperate the Syrian refugee situation is affecting European nations.  There are thousands of people applying for asylum based on the claim that they are Christians.  How would anyone be able to prove such a claim to an immigration officer?  In Britain, the approach has been to ask applicants a series of “Bible trivia”-type questions.  The more wrong answers you give, the greater the chance of deportation.

Imagine taking a test under such circumstances!  Talk about stress!  The quiz is included below, with the answers at the end.  Take it yourself and see if you’d face deportation or be granted citizenship.

Of course, this practice is not without controversy.  A group called UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom of Belief and the Asylum Advocacy Group has recently released a report condemning the use of the quiz.  They stated that correct answers can be given by anyone, regardless of their actual commitment.

Another problem is that the case workers administering the test don’t necessarily understand Christianity.  A third problem is that there is some room for debate about the answers.

For example, Mohammed, a Christian convert from Iran, was asked what color the cover of the Bible was.  “I knew there were different colors,” he told the BBC. “The one I had was red. They asked me questions I was not able to answer—for example, what are the Ten Commandments. I could not name them all from memory.”

Mohammed’s application for asylum was rejected. So was a convert who didn’t know that Catholics abstained from meat on Friday. So was another convert who correctly named the last book of the Bible but did so in Farsi and was misunderstood.

The Christianity Today article concluded, “In the United States, only 60 percent of practicing Christians (those who identify as Christian, say their faith is important in their lives, and have been to church within the past month) can name the first five books of the Bible, according to an American Bible Society and Barna Group report released last month.

“It is better to ask how a convert feels about Jesus, what being a Christian means to that person, and how being a Christian had affected his or her daily life.”

This is the kind of situation you’d expect when non-Christian bureaucrats try to make snap judgments about t authenticity of a person’s claim to faith.  Fortunately, for us, there is a better way.

The best way to “get” faith is in the way Paul describes in his second letter to Timothy; by passing it along, one person to the next.  This has been God’s plan all along, as indicated by the fact of our human nature that things are more likely to “stick” with us if they are “caught, not taught.”

Today, on Father’s Day, it seemed especially appropriate to me to look at how we need role models, people who demonstrate faith to us.  We need fathers and others who live out what they claim and encourage us in BOTH word and deed to follow them as they follow the example Jesus set for all of us.

The best result is that, rather than preparing us to pass a quiz, our mentors and leaders are preparing us to live LIFE in a way that proves our claims to be true and draws others to join us in inspired living.  Let us learn today how to pass along a true, saving faith.

  1. How many books are in the Bible?
  2. How many books are in the New Testament?
  3. How many chapters are in the book of John?
  4. What are the 10 Commandments?
  5. Which gospel relates the story of Jesus’ birth?
  6. Where was Jesus born?
  7. What were the names of Jesus’ earthly parents?
  8. What was his earthly father’s occupation?
  9. How many disciples did Jesus have?  Name them.
  10. Where did Jesus become angry with the money lenders?
  11. Who did Jesus raise from the dead?  Which book is this miracle in?
  12. Recite the Lord’s Prayer.
  13. What happened during the Last Supper?
  14. Who betrayed Jesus to the Romans?
  15. Where was Jesus arrested?
  16. What is Ash Wednesday?
  17. Is Easter celebrated on the same date every year?
  18. What is the date of Pentecost?
  19. What is the meaning of Lent?

Do we have a faith we’ve received or one we’ve invented?

  1. Paul had set a good example (3:10-13).

Timothy had personally experienced Paul’s ministry: YOU KNOW ALL ABOUT MY…

– TEACHING = He had heard many of Paul’s sermons and his debates with his critics.

– WAY OF LIFE = Timothy had seen Paul in public and private moments; he had experienced the consistency between what Paul said & how he lived.

– PURPOSE = Paul’s purpose was to point people to Jesus. He used different methods, but the message was always the same: Jesus Saves Sinners.  (Interestingly, Paul’s other uses of this word is in reference to God’s purpose.  He clearly sees himself as fulfilling God’s purpose for human life on earth.)

– FAITH = Not saving faith, but faithfulness; remaining true to what we profess to believe.  Use the words “loyalty” and “integrity” here if you wish.

– PATIENCE = Forbearance and fortitude; the ability to go on without compromising or quitting. This can also be translated as “longsuffering.”

– LOVE = Ministry to all persons, regardless of their status in society or response to God.

– ENDURANCE = Keeping one’s focus on God in spite of how difficult circumstances make it. I like the interpretation of “brave patience.”  This is not passive tolerance, but active overcoming adversity.

— PERSECUTIONS = Adversity inflicted by others with the intention of discouraging faith.

— SUFFERINGS = In Antioch, Iconium, & Lystra, Paul was attacked & opposed by mobs; we can read about these events in the book of Acts.

Timothy had also personally experienced Paul’s deliverance.  As Paul testified, THE LORD RESCUED ME FROM ALL OF THEM.  Being “rescued” does not mean escaping all harm or avoiding stress.  It does mean being kept from real harm and death.  No one was able to make Paul stop following Jesus, to discourage him into silence.

Paul pointed out this is not just his experience, but is common to all followers of Jesus: EVERYONE WHO WANTS TO LIVE A GODLY LIFE IN CHRIST JESUS WILL BE PERSECUTED.  Does this sound depressing to you?  It shouldn’t: telling others about our faith and facing people who hate us for our faith are two of the most exciting and uplifting experience of faith we can have.  More importantly, God has not left us alone in this struggle; He has given us His Spirit and each other for encouragement and support.

Those who oppose EVIL MEN AND IMPOSTORS (“swindler”or “cheat”) will not be able to hide.  God’s judgment will find them out; they WILL GO FROM BAD TO WORSE.  This pattern of degeneration identifies them as EVIL and false, despite what they may say or the reputation they may have created.  We don’t have to follow them.  Obviously, they set a negative example; one to be avoided.

The persecutors of the Church are DECEIVING AND BEING DECEIVED: they are not at all in the truth.  Falsehoods propagate like viruses; they spread from person to person.  We need to be “germophobes” in regard to false teaching. Sincerity is not the issue; people can be sincerely wrong.  It happens all the time.

  1. Timothy was to continue in that example (3:14-15)

Paul charged Timothy to keep the faith he’d received: CONTINUE IN WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED.  Like Timothy, we are to continue in the truth, resistant to falsehood, vigilant.  One sure way to avoid being deceived is to stick with the faith you’ve inherited.  As Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:12 = DON’T LET ANYONE LOOK DOWN ON YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE YOUNG, BUT SET AN EXAMPLE FOR THE BELIEVERS IN SPEECH, IN LIFE, IN LOVE, IN FAITH AND IN PURITY.

Staying with the truth means that we aren’t swayed by the latest or most popular teaching.  This means that we have come to understand what we believe and why.  It means that we have evaluated what we have been taught by the standards of Scripture and are assured that what we believe is as truthful as possible.

The received faith to which Paul refers is what Timothy owned personally.  He had BECOME CONVINCED OF it.  Persecution and any kind of challenge can cause us to compromise our faith.  Remember, our faith is to shape our view of life, not vice-versa.  Paul suggests two ways we make sure our theology is as truthful as possible.

– It is drawn, as literally as possible, from the Bible.

– It assumes that the faith we’ve received is the most valid until proven unbiblical.

Paul had two reasons for giving Timothy this charge.  One, YOU KNOW THOSE FROM WHOM YOU LEARNED IT.  This faith had been personally received.  Likewise, we need trustworthy people to develop and demonstrate the truth for us.  We need to have a personal history of having been nurtured in faith; not just taught lessons, but an example has been set.

Two, YOU HAVE KNOWN THE HOLY SCRIPTURES on which it is based.  Jewish children memorized the Scriptures; from the least capable to the most, all Jewish boys memorized the first five books of the Bible.  This mental and spiritual preparation made Timothy WISE FOR SALVATION; prepared him to receive the true faith by teaching him the wisdom of obeying the will of God.  Salvation is  THROUGH FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS, the one who provided salvation for us by means of His sacrifice.

  1. We rely on the Bible to guide us (3:16-17).

The origin of Scripture is the Holy Spirit; it is GOD-BREATHED.  (See also 2PR 1:21.)   Because it comes from God, it needs to be used as literally as possible.  That’s the discipline of following God, not self.  Because it comes from God, we need to resist compromise and watering down the Bible in order to make it more appealing to our culture.

In John 10:35, Jesus said the Word of God cannot be broken.  By that He meant that the truth will always win out.  However, it can be twisted to say things God did not intend and we have to be careful to avoid that.

The usefulness (“profitability”) of Scripture is to equip God’s people for good works.  Specifically, we are to use it for:

– TEACHING refers to the content, not the method. In our age, it is not the media that matters, it is the message.  Our message must, in both word and spirit, consist of the words on the page.

– REBUKING refers to the spiritual power of the word to bring conviction of sin. It is generally not our job to convince people they are sinners.  Generally speaking, we let the word speak for itself.

– CORRECTING literally means “to straighten up” or “set in an upright position.” This is a life-long process and if we don’t let our pride complicate it, it doesn’t have to be an unpleasant thing to give or receive.  We all need course corrections occasionally and those are easier to achieve if we do them BEFORE we drift too far off.

– TRAINING (used to refer to child-rearing) IN RIGHTEOUSNESS refers to putting God’s word in our hearts so that in any situation we can be guided by the truth, arriving at a decision that honors God.

This preparation is complete; Scripture enables us to personalize and enact the faith of our fathers.  That’s how Paul could write that we are THOROUGHLY EQUIPPED = not lacking anything.  No excuses for not doing right.  We must be biblically literate, but that’s not the goal.  The goal is to know enough of the Bible to obey God.  To do right is the goal.  It can be translated as “complete, capable, proficient, or able to meet all demands.”  God has EQUIPPED us with salvation, the Holy Spirit, the Word, the Church, and a head to understand and a heart to love.

Continuing on this universal preparation them, Paul added FOR EVERY GOOD WORK.  We do not study, listen, watch and learn about the Bible just to increase our knowledge.  Instead, we put God’s word in our hearts and minds so we can DO RIGHT.  There are few things as miserable as a Bible snob.  Don’t think you know better if you don’t DO better!  Don’t argue or put on airs only to have your ungodly secrets let the air out of you!  What really matters is loving the Author of the Bible and making that love real in everyday life!

According to the latest poll, the percentage of people who strongly agree that the Bible is a sufficient guide for meaningful life has dropped from 53% in 2011 to 45% in 2016.  The percentages of those who disagree strongly or somewhat have increased over the same time frame, from 23% to 33%.  In total, that’s an 18% loss of confidence in the Bible over the last five years.  Treat surveys and polls and that kind of data as you wish, but I think these numbers betray what we all suspect: there is a growing lack of confidence in the Bible as an authoritative document.  So – as we conclude, let’s have a quick history lesson on how we got here.

The “Premodern” Era

In the first 1500 years of history after the birth of Jesus (the “Common Era” in modern secularized parlance) this passage would have been easily applied and applauded.  The prevailing thought then was that everything true had already been revealed.  The past was their main time period.

Faith was something you received through your ancestors and through the authoritative teaching of the church.  Their emphasis would be on Paul passing on the truth he had personally received from Christ.

The “Modern” Era

Over the next five centuries, the emphasis would shift to the individual.  Most people believed that reasonable people, given enough time and reliable information, could understand the truth of any situation including the Bible.   Their emphasis was on the future, expectantly believing that reason would create a better world tomorrow.

The formation of their faith examined sacred texts like this one from an impersonal, scientific point of view to wring droplets of truth from the damp cloth of the interpretations of previous generations.  Their emphasis would be on Timothy, who had to apply his faith as he pastored his church.

The “Postmodern” Era

In the last two generations of the Western world, the culture is at a place entirely the opposite of the Bible writers.  If a Paul wrote these words to a Millennial Timothy, Tim would likely respond, “What?  Just because you say so?  What about me and my experiences?”  The prevailing thought is to be skeptical of traditions and all information commonly accepted as true.  The present moment (as an extension of self) is t time period most important to this culture.

Faith is something you have to create for yourself or it is not real.  People are encouraged to borrow words, symbols, and ideas from all kinds of religious traditions without having the bother of understanding them in context or using them in ways that are faithful to the religion of origin.  Making faith personal means redefining things in ways relevant to self.

Even on Father’s Day, the message that we celebrate and affirm and the “Faith of Our Fathers” is a hard sell.  It’s part of what makes Christianity irrelevant in our culture.

My suggestion is that we keep the message but tweak the method.  We call on each person to examine the Faith of Our Fathers; to own it by means of personal experience, reason, and spirituality.  BUT, we assert that the Bible is final authority and that our search for meaning be open-ended, not driven to affirm what our secular culture has ordained as its new orthodoxy, “political correctness.”  We should stress the benefit of studying what previous generations have said and not reject traditions out of hand.  It is to our benefit to use the context in which these words were given and how they have been received historically.

Here’s what I want you to do.  Take a look at the quiz in this morning’s bulletin and pick one question that you think is more important to you.  Then, if you can, have a conversation with someone at least one generation younger than you.  You will tell them which question you selected and why you think it is important.  Ask them what they think.  Do they agree with the faith you’ve just declared?  Is it important to them?  Explore differences of opinion.  Talk about ways you’ve personally experienced and demonstrated this truth.  (Personal experience trumps authority & antiquity.)

Answers:

  1. 66
  2. 27
  3. 21
  4. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image and worship it. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord. Remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy. Honor your father and mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. You shall not covet.
  5. Matthew and, more famously, Luke.
  6. Bethlehem
  7. Mary and Joseph
  8. Carpenter
  9. 12: Simon Peter, Andrew, James son of Zebedee, John, Philip, Bartholomew or Nathanael, Thomas, Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas Iscariot
  10. In the temple
  11. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead; it was recorded in John 11.
  12. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” ~ Matthew 6:9-13 (Late manuscripts add “for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”)
  13. During the Last Supper, Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples. He washed their feet, gave them bread and wine by which to remember his body and blood, and told them he would soon be betrayed.
  14. The Jewish religious authorities, with the help of Judas Iscariot
  15. Garden of Gethsemane
  16. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in the Western Christian church.
  17. Easter is held on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. (Thank the Council of Nicaea.)
  18. Pentecost is seven weeks after Easter.
  19. Lent is a season of 40 days that lasts from Ash Wednesday to Easter. It represents Jesus’ 40 day stay in the desert, and those observing it pray, repent, and fast.

Putting on Heirs

Please read Galatians 3:23-29.  My remarks were prepared with the New Living Translation.

INTRODUCTION

Bill Bradley and Jack Kemp are two men who have enjoyed success as professional athletes and as politicians on the national stage.  The two men played different sports, so they never faced one another in competition, but they were on opposite sides of the aisle in Washington, D.C.  Bradley is a Democrat and Kemp was a Republican (he died in 2009).

It was through their time in professional athletics that these men learned life-long lessons on the subject of race.  They learned to do better than tolerate their black teammates, they came to respect them and ceased to see skin color as any kind of barrier to playing ball or living life.

When he was Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Jack Kemp wrote, “I couldn’t face my friends Ernie Ladd, Cookie Gilchrist, or Tippy Day or all the black football players I know and lived with and lost and won with, if I weren’t their voice in the [president’s] cabinet.”

In his book More Than Equals, Chris Rice wrote the following, “Racial reconciliation shouldn’t begin with a debate over affirmative action and quotas – or theology.  It’s about getting to know names and faces.  Build relationships and share in your new friends’ concerns for their families and communities.  Go into the neighborhood.  Visit the church.  Let their experience speak to your life.”

<Both quotes are retrieved from the December 26, 2001 devotional in Men of Integrity magazine.>

Today is Flag Day.  Let’s note something about Old Glory.  Do you see more than one color here?  Each of these colors have an important symbolic meaning and each contributes to the whole flag.  Old Glory would be less glorious if any of these colors were deleted.  LET THE SAME THINGS BE SAID OF OUR CHURCH!  Let’s see what God said.

Context: This letter deals with the problems caused by false teachers who insisted that non-Jews had to become Jews before they could properly become Christians.

Message: What has always mattered most is God’s love.  One of the beneficial effects of His love is that it unites us, makes us one family under our Heavenly Father.

Comment:

  1. We were formerly orphans under the guardianship of the Law (3:23-25).

Paul comments on life under the Law of Moses as a “B.C.” state = “Before Christ.”  V. 23 = BEFORE THE WAY OF FAITH IN CHRIST WAS AVAILABLE TO US.

– Comment #1 = Faith in Christ is a way of life, a worldview, an approach to daily living that is all-encompassing.

– Comment #2 = The Law of Moses (what made Israel the people of God, a part of what made Jews “Jewish”) was only a temporary measure.  v. 23 = UNTIL THE WAY OF FAITH WAS REVEALED.

– Comment #3 = The purpose of the Law was to protect God’s people.

–  V. 23 = WE WERE PLACED UNDER GUARD…KEPT IN PROTECTIVE CUSTODY.  (Even the verb here is in the passive voice!)

– V.24 = THE LAW WAS OUR GUARDIAN…IT PROTECTED US.

– The word translated here as “guardian” is the Gk word from which we get “pedagogue.”  The word referred to people who had custody of children to train them.  Children born in wealthy houses went from mother to wet nurse to pedagogue, who later took them to a teacher for book learning.  They were completely responsible for their charges; if the child misbehaved, it was the pedagogue who was punished!

– This is obviously a temporary situation; sooner or later the child grows up and can govern herself.  The pedagogue works themselves out of a job, preparing the child to be responsible and mature and self-sufficient for the day when the family says they are old enough to be an adult.  Paul used this common cultural practice to illustrate the state of godly people under the Law.

– V. 25 = NOW THAT THE WAY OF FAITH HAS COME, WE NO LONGER NEED THE LAW AS OUR GUARDIAN.  Though we don’t all mature, we do all age, and there comes a time when children cease to be children and become adults, responsible for themselves.  It was at this time a male child became a citizen and his father’s heir.

The WAY OF FAITH is a system of greater freedom, more responsibility, and more power to decide for ourselves.  Paul uses this illustration to show that the false teachers were false because they failed to understand that in the new agreement instituted by Jesus Christ, we “graduated” from childhood to adulthood.  Just as it is ridiculous to sleep in the nursery when one has “grown up,” so it is for these false teachers to lie and say it was necessary for us to live in the spiritual nursery when we are adults & heirs with Christ.

From what did the Law protect us?

– From the sinful and human sides of our natures.

– From our ignorance of the will of God.

– From the influence of the Enemy who tempts us to sin & accuses of guilt when we give into temptation.

– Note that the Law did not SOLVE these problems, it offered protection as a temporary alleviation.

A couple of caveats:

– Being in custody, even PROTECTIVE CUSTODY, is still nothing like freedom.  It is in our human nature to chafe under restraint and to yearn for freedom.

– Being in the custody of the Law is more pleasant than being PRISONERS OF SIN (v. 22).  So the law was given to protect us from the death penalty to which PRISONERS OF SIN are subject.

Paul’s comment on life of faith in Jesus Christ, under God’s new covenant, as a part of God’s new people, the Church is revealed in his repeated use of t word UNTIL:

– V. 23 = UNTIL THE WAY OF FAITH WAS REVEALED.

– V. 24 = UNTIL CHRIST CAME…UNTIL WE COULD BE MADE RIGHT WITH CHRIST.

It’s clear a new situation exists.  He spends the next four verses explaining God’s final solution.

  1. We are now God’s children and part of one family (3:26-29).

God’s people have gone from being under a guardianship to being adopted into the family of God.  How did this happen?  Jesus Christ did it for all people and we who receive it by faith are privileged to be children of God.

Note Paul’s use of inclusive language.

–  V. 26 = YOU ARE ALL CHILDREN OF GOD THROUGH FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS.  The Gk word ALL here is in emphatic voice and it is the first word in the sentence.

– V. 27 = ALL WHO HAVE BEEN UNITED WITH CHRIST IN BAPTISM.  Some scholars believe vs. 27+28 are part of a liturgy that was used in the early Church when baptisms were performed, to explain the significance of baptism.  The imagery of PUTTING ON NEW CLOTHES is a way of describing taking on the characteristics of someone, like a child putting on daddy’s shirt and acting like him.

– V. 28 = YOU’RE ALL ONE IN CHRIST JESUS.  This teaching is found elsewhere in Paul’s letters: (see 1 Corinthians 7:17-28; 12:13; Colossians 3:11).

The effects of God’s gracious action to adopt us are profound and they set worldly ways of thinking on their ear. For example, according to verse 28, there are no longer any earthly divisions that matter.  We’re not saying that they cease to exist, but that they cease to matter.  What once divided us divides us no more. What matters is that we are one family.

– We are one family; not JEWS or GENTILES.  That distinction no longer determines membership in God’s family.  (This one is the most relevant to Paul’s argument.)

– We are one family; not SLAVES or FREEBORN.  That distinction no longer entitles one set of people to human rights and denies them to another set.

– We are one family; not MALE or FEMALE.  That distinction determined inheritance of property in the ancient world but it does not make us heirs with Christ.

Paul may have chosen these three comparisons because they are exactly counter to the prayer a pious Jew made every morning, thanking God for not making him a Gentile, a slave, or a woman!  Or he may have selected these three as representative of the three most basic human relationships – religious, civil, and familial.  Ungodly folk use these distinctives as excuses for division and injustice, but not in the Church!  In the Church we affirm that we are ALL ONE IN CHRIST JESUS!

As verse 29 teaches, it is by faith we accept God’s gracious offer of adoption and that place us in a very privileged position.  Here are the great things that are true NOW THAT YOU BELONG TO CHRIST:

– YOU ARE THE TRUE CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM.  The Jews held a great deal of pride as being the legitimate sons of Abraham.  In fact, John the Baptist dealt with this arrogance; “PROVE BY THE WAY YOU LIVE THAT YOU HAVE REPENTED OF YOUR SINS AND TURNED TO GOD.  DON’T JUST SAY TO EACH OTHER, ‘WE’RE SAFE, FOR WE ARE DESCENDANTS OF ABRAHAM.’  THAT MEANS NOTHING, FOR I TELL YOU, GOD CAN CREATE CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM FROM THESE VERY STONES.” (Luke 3:9)  This is what TRUE means in v. 29.  Apart from prideful claims & arrogant complacency, anyone can – by faith, not birth – become an heir & receive what God promised Abraham.

– YOU ARE HIS HEIRS, AND GOD’S PROMISE TO ABRAHAM BELONGS TO YOU.  This is Paul sticking it directly to the Judaizers in the Galatian church.  They were guilty of the same arrogance and pride John the Baptist confronted, as proven by their insistence that non-Jewish believers become Jews first.  The heart of their pride was their claim of Abraham as their true father, so Paul reveals pointedly that ALL who are IN CHRIST are Abraham’s true heirs.

CONCLUSION

What’s the difference between friction and traction?  After all, both of them involve two objects rubbing against one another.  The difference is that friction only generates heat, but traction generates movement.  To what kind of church family do you want to belong – the kind that is merely abrasive or the kind that gets somewhere?

Think about it a minute.  Who do you think is going to solve the problem of prejudice?  How about the problem of poverty?  Equal pay for equal work?  The government and the media claim to have been working on these issues for fifty years or more – have we seen any progress?  Are these problems going to be solved by any worldly means?

The obvious answer is no.  We will see real change come from the Church because only the Church – with all her problems – is connected to the real source of truth and power, God.  The Church will accomplish this by turning one soul at a time toward God.  Change the people and the laws will follow.  Change the culture by changing the attitude of one person at a time.  Heal the nation by healing yourself and your neighbor. What we need to do is all the things that contribute to traction.