Archive for June, 2016

The Rise of Radicalism

 

Matthew 2540 [widescreen]

Matthew 25:31–46 (NLT) The Final Judgment

31 “But when the Son of Man* comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations* will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,* you were doing it to me!’

41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.* 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

As I write this, I have just heard the news that the UK has voted to leave the EU.  This morning, we awoke to this news with the markets in disarray.  David Cameron, the British PM has resigned.  It seems the Brexit campaign won mostly through a campaign of fear, much those in the American presidential campaign, by preying on the fears of others:  the stranger, the immigrant, and the Muslim.  In the US, we have seen it in verbal attacks on particular groups:  first the fear of Mexicans and other immigrants, then after the recent  terrorist attacks, the fear of Muslims.

But Christians have not been given “a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”  (2 Tim. 1:7)  Throughout the Bible there is a concern for those on the margins of our society:  the poor, widows and orphans, the stranger, the homeless, and the immigrant.  In fact, in many of the OT wisdom writings, “the poor” are synonymous with “the righteous.”  In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus makes it clear that we will be judged, not on the basis of whether we said a sinner’s prayer or any such modern contrivance of what salvation means, but on how we treat the other:  the poor, the immigrant, the stranger, etc.  Jesus calls them “the least of these my brothers and sisters.”  The Son’s words of damnation to those who treated others poorly are: “Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.  For I was hungry and you didn’t feed me.  I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink.  I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home.  I was naked and you didn’t give me clothing.  I was sick and in prison and you didn’t visit me.”  (Matt. 25:41-43)

Karen, my wife, and I have been reading a devotional called A Year With Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Each day has a selection from some of Bonhoeffer’s writings.  The reading for June 23 was entitled “The Rise of Radicalism.”  Bonhoeffer is writing, of course, in Germany during the period of the Nazi regime, probably one of the most reactionary governments that has ever existed.  Hitler rose to power by playing into the fear of the other, in particular, he focused his vitriol on the Jews, and so we had the Holocaust.

Bonhoeffer wrote, “Radicalism always arises form a conscious or unconscious hatred of what exists.  Christian radicalism, whether it would flee the world or improve it, comes from the hatred of creation.  The radical cannot forgive God for having created what is… When evil becomes powerful in the world, it simultaneously injects the Christian with the poison of radicalism.  Reconciliation with the world as it is, which is given to the Christian by Christ, is then called betrayal and denial of Christ.  In its place come bitterness, suspicion, and contempt for human beings and the world.  Love that believes all things, bears all things, and hopes all things, love that loves the world in its very wickedness with the love of God (John 3:16), becomes – by limiting love to the closed circle of the pious – a pharisaical refusal of love for the wicked.  The open church of Jesus Christ, which serves the world to the end, becomes kind of supposed ur-Christian ideal church-community that in turn mistakenly confuses the realization of a Christian idea with the reality of a living Jesus Christ.  Thus a world that has become evil succeeds in making Christians evil also.”  (Ethics, 155-156)

In order to remain the church of Jesus Christ, we must resist those in our society who prey upon our fears.  We have not been given “a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”  In order to remain the church of Jesus Christ, we have no choice but to love the other among us, as Jesus has commanded us and as Jesus demonstrated to us through his life, and especially through his death upon the cross.  “For this is how God loved the world:  He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)  Everyone means everyone.  To remain the church of Jesus Christ, we have no choice but to love the other:  no matter whether they are different from us, whether they are Christians or not, whether they speak our language or not.  John Wesley called this perfect love:  “Love for God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and “Love for one’s neighbor as we love ourselves.”

And in the end, we will not be judged in the court of public opinion, but in the court of the Lord on the day of judgment.  I hope that he will say to me, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.”

 

 

 

All Scripture Is God-breathed

2 Tim 3_16

2 Timothy 3:10–17 (NLT) But you, Timothy, certainly know what I teach, and how I live, and what my purpose in life is. You know my faith, my patience, my love, and my endurance. 11 You know how much persecution and suffering I have endured. You know all about how I was persecuted in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra—but the Lord rescued me from all of it. 12 Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 13 But evil people and impostors will flourish. They will deceive others and will themselves be deceived.

14 But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. 15 You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

Paul’s final charge to Timothy is to remain faithful to the teachings of the apostle.  Paul asks Timothy to remember everything that Paul taught him, how he lived his life, suffered for his faith, and particularly how the Lord rescued him from persecution.  Yet, Paul does not now ask the Lord to rescue him from the persecution that would lead to his death by beheading in Rome.  Instead, he reminds Timothy that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ will suffer persecution.”

The fact that Christians in the United States do not suffer persecution is probably due more to our lukewarmness than to any particular godliness or blessing from God.  To the contrary, Paul says that the normal state of those who seek to live a godly life will be that of persecution.  The fact that we do not suffer persecutions should give us pause.  Exactly how are we living our lives so that we do not suffer persecution?  In fact, much of our lives in the United States is spent in trying to avoid pain and suffering.

2 Timothy 3:16, 17 are two verses which every Christian should memorize.  As Paul writes these verses he is referring to the Old Testament, as the New Testament had not yet been written.  Yet Peter was already aware that Paul’s letters were being treated with the same reverence and respect as that of the Old Testament Scriptures.  (2 Peter 1:21) The formation of the New Testament had already begun as most scholars agree that there was a period in the early church, when the stories about Jesus Christ, the proto-Gospel, was spread about through the teaching of the apostles (including Paul) and repeated verbally from one believer to another and in the preaching and teaching of the pastors and evangelists in the church.

The word translated inspired is theopneustas, meaning literally God-breathed.  It occurs only in this verse in the NT.  Vine says that Wycliffe, Tyndale, and Coverdale all translated this word as “inspired of God.” (2 Tim. 3:16)  Divine inspiration is contrasted with natural inspiration.  There is a similar expression is found in 2 Pet. 1:21 “Above all you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative.  No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.”  Amos claims that the Lord revealed his counsel to the prophets.  (Amos 3:7)

There was a recognition that the Scripture was somehow different from other writings.  This is why there was a period of formation in both the OT and the NT in which the readers of the Scripture became aware of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit upon these books rather than some other books that might be good, but not have the same authority.  This is what we call the canon of Scripture.  Canon is a word that mean a rule or measuring rod.  The books of the Bible have been measured against an ideal, that they are inspired by God.  By the 4th century AD, the church had found itself with 66 books that constituted its Scripture.

The formation of the Hebrew Bible is separated from the formation of the NT.  The Hebrew Bible that we have today is essentially unchanged from the time of the return from the Babylonian captivity to today.  Scholars can discern 3 versions of the OT, but the Jewish scribes had created a master copy which was kept in the Temple and from which all other copies are derived.  The OT was ordered into three categories:  Law (Torah), Prophets (Naviim), and Writings (Kethubim).  When Jesus summarized the OT Law, he spoke of the Law and the prophets, meaning the whole Hebrew Bible.  The Hebrew Bible contains only 24 books as 1 & 2 Samuel form one book, 1 & 2 Kings form one book, Ezra-Nehemiah is one book, and the book of the Twelve contains the 12 minor prophets.  Luther in translating the Bible into German followed the LXX (the Septuagint, Greek Old Testament) and so we have 39 books in the Protestant tradition.

The formation of the NT was a process that was completed by about the 4th century AD.  The main criteria for the formation of the NT canon were:  apostolicity (there is some connection to the apostles), universal acceptance by the entire church, liturgical use (used in the worship of the church), and consistent message (the message is consistent with the rest of the Bible).   Matthew, John, Peter, and Paul were apostles.  So Mark was written by John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas who accompanied Paul on his journeys and later was with Peter in Rome, and Eusebius tells us that Mark wrote his Gospel based on Peter’s preaching.  Luke and Acts, of course, were written by Luke the beloved physician who accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys. James and Jude were the brothers of Jesus, who were important leaders in the church of Jerusalem.  Although we do not know who wrote the letter to the Hebrews, it was accepted into the canon based on its universal acceptance, and that the message was consistent with the whole tenor of the Scriptures.  The author of Hebrews was someway connected to Paul’s ministry through Timothy who is mentioned in the final verses (13:23).

So there were many non-canonical books, which were disputed or denied or omitted and ultimately rejected from the canon.  They may have been considered good books, but not holding the same level of authority as the Scripture.  Some of these are the Shepherd of Hermas, Barnabas, Apocalypse of Peter, 1 & 2 Clement, etc.  The majority of the rejected books are those that are termed pseudepigraphical books, that is, they were written later, but claimed to be written by one of the apostles.  The Protestant Bible includes only those books that Luther, Calvin and the other reformers included in their NT translations into the vernacular.

All the books that we have in the Bible have passed these tests of canonicity, and so we can trust that they are divinely inspired, “and useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives,” to “correct us when we are wrong and teach us to do what is right,” and “to prepare and equip” us “to do every good work.”  (2 Tim. 3:16, 17)  The purpose of all our preaching and teaching of the Bible in the church should match the purpose given in these verses.  We go wrong when we try to make the Bible say things that it does not say by taking it out of context, or try to use the Bible to support our agenda, especially when our purpose is opposed to the purpose of the Scriptures.

 

Christ’s Good Soldier

2 Timothy 2:3–7 (NLT)  Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who e…

Source: Christ’s Good Soldier

Christ’s Good Soldier

2 Tim 2_4-4

2 Timothy 2:3–7 (NLT)  Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them. And athletes cannot win the prize unless they follow the rules. And hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor. Think about what I am saying. The Lord will help you understand all these things.

Paul is writing perhaps his final letter to his beloved son in the faith Timothy.  As he sat in prison, he was thinking about all the things that he wants Timothy to know.  The things he would tell him in person if he were present.  When I was activated for Operation Desert Storm, my son was only about 4 years old.  As we had no idea that the war would be so short (it was actually finished before we had finished our training), we were all thinking about what might happen to us.  I wrote in my journal many pages of what I wanted my son to know as he grew up in case I never returned.  Thankfully, the war was very short and I returned safely after only half a year.

Paul uses a couple of metaphors in this passage.  He compares the Christian life to that of a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer.  As a retired soldier, I am often reminded that the values of the US Army are deeply ingrained in me.  Many of these values are the same or similar to Christian values:  loyalty, duty, respect, self-less service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.

As Christians, Paul says we should be like soldiers.  Paul had in mind, perhaps, the Roman soldier who kept him captive and had charge over him in the Mamertine prison.  What Paul says is still true for soldiers today.  Soldiers don’t involve themselves in civilian affairs.  (v. 4)  Instead they endure suffering along with their comrades.  A study was conducted in WWII as to why soldiers fought.  The answer was not because they believed in the mission (even though most did), nor because their commander told them to, nor because of patriotism (although they were patriotic), but rather, they fought because they wanted to protect their friends, their comrades in arms, the man to the right and to the left of them in line.  They had endured the suffering of hard training together before they deployed, and endured the hard suffering of the war together.  So they fought not to let their friends down.  Paul is encouraging Timothy to endure suffering like a good soldier by having a mission focus.

Mission focus is a concept that the Army came up with maybe 30 years ago.  The overall mission of the Army “is to fight and win our Nation’s wars by providing prompt, sustained land dominance across the full range of military operations and spectrum of conflict in support of combatant commanders.”  Everything that the US Army does is to fulfill that mission.  Each combat mission has a military mission statement that falls under that mission statement.  The Army’s focus then is on fulfilling the mission.  They have mission focused training, and mission focused structure that enables the US Army to fulfill its mission.

Likewise the church has a mission.  Our mission statement is given in Matt. 28:19, 20:  “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.  And be sure of this:  I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Everything we do should be focused on fulfilling this mission.  Everything means everything:  how we live our lives, how we structure our church, how we conduct business in the church, our outreach to new people, what kinds of programs we have in the church, how we welcome and make places for new people in the church.

In the realm of all possible good things, there are many good things that the church can do.  But every church struggles with the same limitations, no matter how large or how small.  We all have limited resources of time, money, and volunteers.  Everything we do should maximize our mission accomplishment.

How do we do that?  In my ministry, I have tried to focus my time and energy on the 20% of activities that will accomplish 80% of the mission.  These are what we used to call mission essential tasks.  If we do these 20% of activities, then we will accomplish 80% of the activity.  What would our churches look like if our entire focus was on fulfilling the mission which Christ has given to us?

Many people think that the church in the US is declining, because of increased theological liberalism, others think it is because we are not liberal enough.  My research on church growth has indicated that theological bent (however we describe it) has little or no bearing on church health or vitality.  What makes the difference is whether a church is focused on the mission of reaching new people and making new disciples for Jesus Christ.  If a church is focused on reaching new people with the Gospel through evangelism and witness, and outreach and mission, then they will probably be a vital and healthy congregation, and they will grow, no matter where they are, or what circumstances they are in (the demographics of the area).

Lord, help me to endure hardship like a good soldier.  Help me to have the same mission focus that you had, to always keep your mission in mind, that I will please you, my commanding officer.  Forgive me for the times when I forget my mission and lose my mission focus and get involved in trivial controversy and fighting over words.  Strengthen me to control my tongue.  In your name I pray.  Amen.

The Spirit of Power, Love, and Self-Discipline

2 Tim 1_7

2 Timothy 1:5–10 (NLT) I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you. This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News. For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. 10 And now he has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News.

2 Timothy is Paul’s last will and testament for his young friend, Timothy, who is like a son to him.  His main concern is to encourage Timothy to live out his calling in the power of the Spirit.  While 1 Timothy focuses on the character of a faithful congregation, 2 Timothy focuses on the character of a faithful minister.

In this passage, Paul encourages Timothy to not be ashamed of his testimony.  (v. 5)  Timothy was a person with authentic faith, which he had received from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice.

You can’t underestimate the power of praying parents and grandparents  The faith that I possess today can be directly traced to the prayer of my beloved mother Carol, and my grandmother Mary.  “The earnest prayer of the righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”  (Jas. 5:16b)

Paul reminds Timothy to fan into flames God’s gift that is in you through the laying on of hands.  We often think of God’s gift as being in the realm of those who are in full-time ministry, but every Christian has a gift from God.  (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4)  If you don’t know what your gift is, there are spiritual gift surveys online that enable you to somewhat figure out what gift is yours.  Most of them will indicate what the top three gifts are indicated in your answers, or how you rate in all the gifts.  A better way to discover your spiritual gift is to get involved in ministry in the church or outside the church.  What kind of ministry do you feel called to?  What kind of ministry do you fulfilled in?  Try different ministries out and you will come to know where God desires to use you.

“Don’t be ashamed of the testimony about the Lord…”  (2 Tim. 1:8)  The Greek word for testimony or witness is marturion.  Its the word from which is derived our English word martyr.  Testimony or witness is the declaration which confirms or makes something known (Matt. 8:4; 10:18; 24:14; Mark 1:14; 6:11; 13:9; Luke 5:14).  In the NT usage, it is the witness or testimony of Christ (1 Cor. 1:6).  The meaning is that the person bases what he or she says on their own personal knowledge.

Many Christians are timid when it comes to giving their testimony.  What is this fear based upon?  If we are talking about speaking in front of a congregation, then the fear is often related to a fear of public speaking in general.  But if we are talking about sharing our witness with others with whom we already have a relationship, then I think its a fear of rejection.  We don’t recognize the power of our testimony, especially to those with whom we already have a relationship:  our friends, relatives, associates and neighbors.  It boils down to fear.  Paul says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”

Our witness is how we live our lives.  But to be an effective witness, eventually we must be able to speak up about what God has done in our lives.  Some people have no problem speaking to others about anything.  My son has this gift.  He never met a stranger.  You may find it hard to believe, but I had a stutter as a child.  I was shy and fearful.  And outwardly, I was standoffish.  Yet God has called me to preach.  Those whom God calls God also enables.  So God the Holy Spirit gives each of us a spiritual gift.

But even a shy person can learn how to speak about the wonderful things that God has done in one’s own life.  One of the most powerful witnesses is telling people how God is at work in your life.  In our church, we teach people to answer three questions:  Why God?  Why church?  Why this church?  The answer to these three questions can be summed up in a short (3 min. or less, in sales language, an elevator pitch) testimony which you can speak to people, your friends, relatives, associates and neighbors, as God gives you the opportunity.

Lord, help me to not be ashamed to tell others about you Lord, about the mighty works that you have done in my life.  Help me to fan into flame the gift that you have given to me.  Help me to not be fearful or timid, but to know that you have given to me a Spirit of power, love and self-discipline.  Holy Spirit, fill me afresh this morning, and strengthen me to live into the calling you have given me – first to be a disciple and witness.  Amen.

Fight the Good Fight of the Faith

1 Tim 6_12

1 Timothy 6:11–16 (NLT) But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses. 13 And I charge you before God, who gives life to all, and before Christ Jesus, who gave a good testimony before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you obey this command without wavering. Then no one can find fault with you from now until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 15 For, At just the right time Christ will be revealed from heaven by the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords. 16 He alone can never die, and he lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him. No human eye has ever seen him, nor ever will. All honor and power to him forever! Amen.

Before Paul closes his letter, he gives Timothy a charge to live a life beyond approach.  Paul calls Timothy “a man of God.” Oftentimes, we think of this book as a book for all who are in full-time ministry.  Certainly, Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus have this application, as Timothy is serving as the pastor over the church in Ephesus at this time.

Yesterday was Father’s Day (Sunday, June 19, 2016), there can be no greater title for a human man, than that of father.  But with fatherhood comes great responsibility.  Earlier, Paul admonished fathers as to how to treat your children, “Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged.”  (Col. 3:21)  In the Roman Empire, fathers and male heads of households had supreme authority over their household even to the point of holding life and death over those under their authority:  their wives, children, and slaves.

Its not so in our culture today, yet, fathers remain an important part of the lives of children.  While the role of father has been somewhat diminished in our society, yet sociologists have demonstrated that when it comes to raising children, children need both father and mother to thrive.  W. Bradford Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project of the University of Virginia, wrote, “But the view that men are superfluous in today’s families is dead wrong.  While it is certainly true that some children raised without fathers turn out just fine (I did), on average, girls and boys are much more likely to thrive when they have the benefit of a father’s time, attention, discipline and especially affection.  Boys are more likely to steer clear of trouble with the law when they grow up with their fathers in the home…Another study foudn that girls whose fathers disappeared before the girls turned six were about five times more likely to end up pregnant as teenagers than were their peers raised with fathers in the home.  And we know that kids – especially boys – are more likely to excel in school, and to steer clear of the principal’s office, when they are raised in a home with a father who takes their homework and school conduct seriously.”  (“Children Are Better Off With a Father Than Without One”, NYT, Dec 16, 2013)  Christian parents have an obligation to raise their children in the faith.  How much more should Christian fathers be men of God.

So, as men of God, we should flee from all the things of this world.  (1 Tim. 6:11)  Oftentimes in our culture, it seems that we live our lives as if we are playing a game in which the one who accumulates the most stuff wins.  Many things are permitted, but not everything is beneficial.  (1 Cor. 10:23)  Neil Postman, an educator, wrote a book entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death, in which he says that the contemporary world is reflected by Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, whose public was oppressed by their addiction to amusement.  Although the book was written in 1984, Postman’s premise has become even more true in our society with the rise of the internet.  We should flee from the things of this world as if we were fleeing from a snake.

Instead, we should “Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.”  Righteousness and godliness describe the right attitude toward God.  Righteousness is the essence of a person who is righteous.  Righteousness fulfills God’s claims of righteousness.  A person who is righteous adopts God’s law for oneself.  Godliness is devotion or piety toward God.  The godly person fulfills their obligations to God.

Faith and love are the fundamental principles of the Christian life.  Rowland has said, “Righteousness is the offspring of faith, and godliness is the offspring of love.”  Patience and meekness express the principles required of those who will successfully resist the temptations and trials of this world.

The Christian church has severely misrepresented the life of faith.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship, wrote about what he calls “cheap grace.” “Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner” (p.46).  “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (p.47).  We have sold people a bill of goods, as if the life of faith were not costly.  We only have to walk down an aisle and say a prayer, and we are in…a heavenly insurance policy.  But as Bonhoeffer states, discipleship is a following after Christ, which means taking up one’s cross daily and following Jesus.  The way of the cross is the way of suffering and denial.  This is why the church in the United States is so weak.

There is no crown without a cross and no victory without a fight.  So Paul suggests with the admonition, “Fight the good fight of the faith.”  Muhammed Ali just passed away, probably the greatest fighter of all time.  We think he was just super talented. But the article about his career in Sports Illustrated shows that he began his career as a youth practicing in the gym daily with disciplined struggle.  At the start of his career, he did not demonstrate any particular genius as a fighter.  It was only by learning literally in the school of hard knocks that he became a great fighter.

So we believers must learn to fight the good fight of the faith, like Paul did.  We should not yield at any point.  And so we will win the prize.  We don’t fight for a belt, like Ali did, or any earthly prize, but the prize that we fight for is “the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses.”  Paul is asking Timothy to recall his testimony that he shared with the church.

Each of us has a testimony of how we came to the Lord.  In our church, we are learning how to be a witness by answering three questions:  Why God?  Why church?  Why this church?  The goal is to be able to answer those three questions in about 3 min., an elevator speech, so to speak.  One of the most powerful witnesses to the truth of the Gospel is your testimony.  Many people can resist clever and intelligent arguments about the truth of the Gospel, but no one can deny the truth of one’s own experience with the risen Lord.  So we should live into our baptism on a daily basis.

Father, God, help me to live into the covenant of my baptism.  Help me to live into the witness of the eternal life I professed before many witnesses.  Strengthen me to fight the good fight of the faith day by day.  “That being  born through water and the Spirit, you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.”  (UMH 42) Amen.

 

 

Pray With Holy Hands Lifted Up to God

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1 Timothy 2:1–8 (NLT) Instructions about Worship

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. For, There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. And I have been chosen as a preacher and apostle to teach the Gentiles this message about faith and truth. I’m not exaggerating—just telling the truth.  In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy.

Paul’s first letter to Timothy was sent to Paul’s protege, Timothy.  Timothy was the son of a Greek man and a devout Jewish Christian mother and grandmother.  (2 Tim. 1:5)  He was highly respected by those in his home church of Lystra, and in the nearby town of Iconium.  Paul calls him, “my true son in the faith.”  (1:2)  He joined Paul on his second missionary journey.  Paul speaks of prophetic words that were spoken over Timothy regarding his spiritual gifts.  (1 Tim. 1:18)

Paul, in prison in Rome, had appointed Timothy over the church in Ephesus, and his purpose in writing is to help the young pastor to shepherd the church in his charge.  “The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith.”  (1 Tim. 1:5)  But the church in Asia was threatened by false teachers.  Paul writes to warn the church against these false teachings.

In this passage, Paul writes about how to conduct oneself in God’s household (1 Tim. 2:1-3:13).  So this passage begins another of Paul’s household codes (2:1-15).  Paul begins with a general encouragement to prayer.  “Pray for all people.  Ask God to help them.  Intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.”  (v. 1)  Paul commands the church to pray “for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.”  (v. 2)  Remember who was emperor at this time?  It was the violene, cruel, and despised Nero, who persecuted the church and executed both Peter and Paul.

Prayer for our government leaders has a practical purpose:  “so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.”  Prayer in this case focuses on the mission of the church.  While it is true that the Good News has been spread by the blood of the martyrs, yet Paul enjoins the church to pray for peace so that the work of the church may spread in as much as possible to those around us.  I think Paul is especially thinking about the disruption caused by riot and war, as opposed to the ability to travel and work to spread the Gospel in times of peace.  Paul and the other missionaries benefited greatly from the pax romana, the peace of Rome.  The pax romana allowed the Roman army to build good roads throughout all the Roman Empire, and to keep travelers safe from bandits on the roads.  This pax romana enabled missionaries to spread the Gospel from one end of the empire to the other.

In our culture, there has been a lack of respect that I have observed among Christians for our leaders.  If we disagree with them on any stance, then we not only do not pray for them, but we vilify them.  I have seen good Christians who are otherwise loving treat our president as if he were the anti-Christ.  I have seen good believers posting on Facebook as Facebook trolls vilifying people who disagree with them on any point about politics, or a particular candidate, or a government official.  Think about your witness online before you post something online.  Just because disagree with someone does not give us the right to speak disrespectfully about them.

Newsflash:  No party in the United States represents the biblical point of view in my opinion.  No party has a lock on biblical truth.  If you think I’m wrong, then prove me wrong.  Belief in America and its values is not the same as biblical faith.

Christians, having a particular point of view does not give you the right to forget your faith and speak about those who are in authority in government in such a way.  This is a blatant sin!  Instead, Paul urges us to pray for our government leaders, and all who are in authority.  I see no other way to read this.   Speak respectfully about our president, whoever he or she is, or don’t say anything at all.  (That’s what my grandmother used to say:  If you don’t have something good to say about someone, then its better to say nothing at all.)  We can disagree without speaking disrespectfully about people.

Here is a link for ideas about how to pray for our government leaders from getamericapraying.org: http://www.getamericapraying.com/downloads/30%20Ways%20bookmark-FINAL8.pdf