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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Grace for Distressing Days (2 Timothy 2:1-7, 2o-23; 3:1)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

          We are praying for wisdom and revelation – for individuals, as we each live as disciples and for HillSong Church as the body of Christ.  I believe God answers this prayer, but in order to receive that answer, we must be positioned toward God, listening, waiting, and ready to receive what God gives us.
          Last week we said we believe God has and continues to issue a specific call to us - HillSong church.  This prayer for wisdom and revelation comes in the context of an identity God has already given us.
We are to be a sanctuary – safe space that welcomes all people into the love of God.  We are to encourage discipleship so that people meet the Spirit of God here.  When we meet God in Christ, we become new creations.  As new creations, we are sent into the world to bear witness to the salvation we have in the crucified, risen Lord.  The key words for our church are Safe-New-Sent. 
          Within this model of church, what does God speak today? And when God speaks, can we hear what is said?

          There is noise that fills our ears and makes it hard to hear.  In 2nd Timothy 3, we see a gauntlet of challenges that would throw us off track before we even begin our quest to find God’s word for us.  I mentioned last week that our enemies are Satan, sin, and death.  Satan is the tempter who would lead us to rebel against God by choosing our way instead of God’s way.  In doing that, we put ourselves in God’s role, that of ultimate decision maker and standard setter.  Satan tempts and our own tendency to sin make us vulnerable to the temptation. 
When, under the influence of the evil one, we set ourselves up as the ones who determine ultimate meaning, we have entered into idolatry.  This comes by way of pride, Satan’s and our own.  The way of God is life.  God is God of the living.  Any other way is the way of death.  Thus the forces that oppose God and oppose us in living out the purpose God has for us are Satan, sin, and death.
This morning, the second member of that malevolent trio, “sin” comes into focus. The opening to the 3rd chapter of 2 Timothy says in the last days, distressing times will come.  Why? 
The chapter goes on to list 18 examples of destructive behavior.  This way of living is characteristic of the end times.  We are given 18 ways a person can turn away from God.  Our Father loves each of us unconditionally and eternally.  Here are 18 ways to tell God we’re not interested in the love he offers or in being involved with him at all.  Sin runs amuck in the last days.
Are we in the last days?
          I think so.  Sit down to watch a football game with someone under 10 years old.  See how frequently you have to mute the commercials because they are inappropriate.  Keep a tally of the stories of rape, extortion, tax evasion, mass shootings, terrorism, and poverty that are the content of any night’s evening news.  Go through in your mind the number of times someone in the last month has frustrated, hurt, insulted, or deceived you. And, consider those times you harmed others with words of condescension, dismissal, or shame. 
The degradation of humanity in rebellion against God is an obstacle to our design of seeking God, receiving God’s instruction, and following God’s path.  This obstacle, the tendency humans have to stand on pride, live in idolatry and reject God is everywhere and we cannot be a safe place where people are made new, and we cannot receive God’s revelation until we understand how we stay faithful in these end times.
Allow me to clarify my understandin of phrases like “the end times” or “the final days.” This is the period between Jesus’ resurrection, and the second coming of Christ.  It begins in Acts 2 and lasts until Jesus returns.   We don’t know the length last days will be, but we know we’re in the middle of it.
Yet in this midst of this turbulent time, our church is called to seek and serve God.  How do we do that?  We endeavor to bring the blessings of God to one another and to people outside the church. 
The blessings of God begin with salvation through faith in the resurrected Messiah.  We know many will initially reject that Gospel.  So we offer love through programs that promote education to those who can get it, help with rent to those who have trouble paying, fix houses for those who can’t do it alone, provide community and friendship for the lonely, and offer hospitality to those who come to us for reasons other than a thirst for truth.  We promote human flourishing. 
As we pray, listen, and wait for God to act, in our lives, we (1) strive for excellence in all that we do.  As we make excellence our standard, we (2) lean on God’s grace.  As 2nd Timothy 2:1 says, “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
That’s it.  We strive for excellence knowing our success is dependent upon God’s help and knowing God gives that help in abundance.  Our “no” to the forces of our age that would have us set ourselves up as gods and make our own sensual appetites our ultimate goal is to say “yes” to human flourishing.  We look around us and says, “How can I and how can we help make things good just the world was good when God first made it?”  How can we be God’s agents of redemption? 
Several pictures come from 2nd Timothy 2 to help us get this.
First, verse 3.  “No one serving in the army gets entangled in everyday affairs; the soldier’s aim is to please the enlisting officer.”  God is that officer and we live for God’s pleasure.  Through prayer, the support of our church community, and the constant empowering Holy Spirit at work in us, we don’t get bogged down by those 18 signs of distress in chapter 3.  We live with resurrection in view.  That’s our focus.  We live to please our commander.  And our commander’s greatest commands are that we love God above all else and love our neighbor with an extensive loves that speaks through acts of compassion.
The next picture comes in chapter 2, verse 5.  It says, “in the case of the athlete, no one is crowned without competing, according to the rules.”  Two words jump out.  First we have to compete.  Being a disciple is work.  We cooperate with the Spirit in trying to live compassionately, and generously.  Yes our success is Spirit-dependent, but we do our part.  We commit to compassionate God-love the way a great champion commits to performing at high levels in her sport.
We compete and the second word related to this athlete metaphor is we do it by the rules.  We do things God’s way.  Our ethic is as important as our result.  We love with integrity.  This is why we need to constantly pray for wisdom, by the way.  The balance of extreme compassion and extreme integrity is impossible for humans but doable when we act in God’s power.
The third picture comes in 2:6.  “It is the farmer who does the work who ought to have the share of the crops.”  Effort is required to be strong in the grace that we have in Christ and strive for excellence in all things.  Our work does not save us.  Jesus does that.  But our effort to live as God would have us live and love as God commands us to love indicates how highly we value the life to which God calls us.  Worship, prayer, individual devotions, commitment to compassion in our daily lives, responsible living in our habits, family, and jobs, kindness, and generosity – these make up our work as disciples. 
That’s three pictures of living in grace while striving for excellence – the focused soldier, the competitive, committed athlete, and the diligent farmer.  For the fourth is in 2 Timothy 2:20-21.  There true disciples are compared to golden utensils, the household’s very best.  In a world that is dying, we belong God.  This means our lives have purpose – to point people to God.  Nothing matters more so we live in such a way that we are witnesses.  Whether out activity is religious or the stuff everyday life, we do what do properly and in kindness and generosity so that even in banal things we point people to the Lord.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven.”  If our striving for excellence in life and in discipleship draws an observer’s attention to God to the point that the observer then glorifies God, that observer is in the process of turning to God and himself becoming a disciple. 
Give attention to these pictures, metaphors that show what it is like to be a committed follower of Jesus in world hell bent on rejecting Him.  The focused soldier, the competitive athlete, the diligent farmer, shining golden vessel: this is the disciple. 
When we live into these images we are ready to accept God’s invitation to join Him as co-creators.  Through us, God enables people to flourish, to live the abundant life Jesus promised.
When God first created the universe, God’s intent was for human beings to be singled out among all God made.  God intended that we humans be in relationship with Him and do the types of things He did. 
God invited Adam into the creation process by giving him the responsibility of naming the animals (Genesis 2:19).  It says, God sat and waited to see what the man would name each animal.  Before sin came into the world, God gave humans work to do – the work of naming.  When the world is redeemed, God will again give us creative work.  God made us to be productive and creative.  Our striving for excellence is a way we live in anticipation of Jesus’ return.    
One day, in the Kingdom of Heaven, we will exercise our God-given, creativity.  Today’s prayer for wisdom and revelation is a reach toward human flourishing that can only happen in relationship to God. 
Now, if I were having a tough time in life and I heard this talk about excellence, I’d think, “Wow!  That sounds like a lot.  I barely make it from day to day. I can’t think about creativity or flourishing.”  That’s alright, if that is where you are today.    
God knows.  If doing your best is making it through today, then make it through today leaning on God.  The word is not “be strong in all the power you possess.”  We are all weak.  We are all broken.  The word is “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
That’s where we end – with God’s grace.  God’s grace is enough.  If I commit 1000 sins today, God’s grace is enough and I will be forgiven.  I need to stop all those sins, but until I stop, God will forgive.  If I never stop, God still loves me. 
If every day is a struggle for someone, God’s grace is enough to get her through. 
If someone appears to win in everything she does, take a closer look.  She hurts too and is as grace-dependent as you or me.  And I believe she and you and I have the potential to flourish.  We do when we learn to be strong in grace and live in Christ
Imagine what flourishing would look like in your life.  Pray and ask God to show you a picture of how God wants you to be a co-creator with Him.  Ask for help in getting past all the snares listed in 2nd Timothy 3.  Imagine being strong in His grace and living a life of rich creativity and full, joyful flourishing in relationships with God and with people.  Pray for these things as we respond to God’s grace.


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