Sunday, September 25, 2016

1 Timothy 6:6-19 - The Rules of Acquisition

Here in this country we are obsessed with money. Money is a huge part of how we value ourselves and how we value each other. Since World War II it has been how we gauge how well we are doing as a nation. We are doing well when our GDP grows. It is vitally important for the stability of our nation for us to buy more and more stuff.
Everything revolves around money, but we cannot talk about it. How much each of us spends is important to our vitality as a nation, but we cannot actually tell anyone how much we spent on anything. This can be seen in the fact that when we buy gifts, we take off the price tag before giving it. To not do so is seen as rude. We do not like talking about how much we make, or how much we spend or how much we give to others, to charity or even to the government. This is so much so that this election season, whether or not the political candidates reveal their tax information to the voting public is a big deal.  And we really do care about it.
Whether we like to talk about it or not, our relationship with money is an important part of our lives. Paul agrees. We do not like to talk about money and our relationship with money, but here in 1st Timothy, that is exactly what Paul does. Paul addresses the unspeakable and not only talks about money, but talks to us about our relationship with money. Our relationship with money matters, and it not only matters in how it affects the GDP, or how it effects the growth of our economy, but it matters to God. Our relationship with money affects our relationship with God.
Paul begins to talk about “gain.” What we gain; in what ways we profit, in this world matters, and the only profit, which matters is that we profit in is godliness. When it comes to the “Rules of Acquisition”, what we gain and how we gain it is the primary focal point in godliness. These “Rules of Acquisition” govern our relationship with money when we live by them our relationship with Jesus Christ is strengthened. When we do not live by them, wealth, money, riches, things become things which hinder and tear apart our relationship with our God, and lead us away from all that really matters in this world.
According to the “rules of godly acquisition,” the only gain that is substantial is gain that does not rust or fade. The only gain that matters is that which will last. Any gain that is not godliness is no gain at all. It is worthless and unsubstantial. The first rule of which we should be aware, is: we enter this world with nothing and we will leave this world likewise with nothing. So anything which we gain in between that does not and cannot transcend the barrier of death is worthless. All the stuff we care so much about; all the things, all the objects which money buys for us here in this world, reside wholly, solely and only in this world. The only gain which we can acquire in-between entering and leaving is godliness, righteousness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. These are the things which we are to pursue. These are the things which hold value in the life eternal.
Since we enter with absolutely nothing, we have nothing which commends us to acquire the love, the care, and all that we gain while we are here, all these things are provided for us. They is given to us and we gain them not on our own accord. For what can we, being the tiny helpless creatures, which we are upon our entry, do to gain the things we need for our very survival. All is given; all is gifted to us. It is gifted to us freely, and is ultimately given and gifted to us by God. All that is provided, given and gained, from our first breath to our last, which allows for our very survival, is not ours, it is the provision of God at work in our lives.
The second rule of acquisition therefore, is that we should be content with that which is provided, given, gifted to us. In fact when it comes to contentment, although it is not the first rule of acquisition (being dependent upon understanding the first), it is the most important rule. Godliness cannot be gained, unless we are content with that which God has provided for us.
If we have food and clothing, which was is a sort of ancient shorthand of saying all that is needed to survive. This includes food, shelter, clothing, water and warmth, all the basic necessities of life. Once provided with all that is needed to survive, we are to find contentment in simply having those things.  Being grateful and content for all that we have is the root of godly acquisition.
The third rule is this, “Do not want to be rich.” Our desire in this life should not be for riches, wealth, money or things. Just as contentment is the root of the acquisition of godliness, the love of money, (and all that goes with that) is the root of evil. Our desire in this the life, the things for which we long, is to be righteousness, godliness, faith, love and endurance – the things that set our sights on God and God alone.
Our desire is not for be for money and all that it can provide. This seems implicit in being content, but when we look at the world around us and we see all that can be had. When we see all that which money can buy, when we see the things which those who have more than us acquire, it is hard to not want, to not desire, that which we do not have, to strive to gain more things, thinking that they will make our lives better, easier, that there is profit in their gain. But there is no profit in the desire to gain that which is not needed. To want to be rich, to have more, is a trap. It’s a trap which is a sinking hole continuing to suck us in, causing us bit by bit, one more thing at a time to want more and more. There is no end to this kind of desire, it is insatiable and unending. There is always more to be had, always something else to gain. There always another item which we can acquire. In this unending circle of want, and gain; desire and acquisition, the focus on the gain of material things and riches leads to ruin and destruction.  There is truly no real profit in.
The corollary to this rule is that the ultimate result of the desire for wealth and the acquisition of things is that we will wander away from the faith. Since the ultimate goal is godliness, the point toward which we are aiming is God, the center of our life is Jesus Christ. This is not only seen when our goal or our aim is godliness, but in other things in life as well. This drifting toward where our focus is, can be seen when driving. Our focus is forward toward where we are going and as long as we continue looking forward we will move in that direction. When we shift our focus, when we look at something off to the side, we will find that we will shift our direction and begin to drift toward where our focus is. This is the same when we are walking or running. If you move your focus from where you are heading, you will begin to move in the direction you are looking. When it comes to our lives as Christians, if our focus is shifted off of God onto anything else, we will begin to head toward that that which we are focusing. If our desire is for riches, wealth, or the things which they can provide, our focus no longer remains on God and we will move away from the acquisition of godliness, we will wander from the faith, and we will find ourselves lost when it comes to the things of God.
The rules of Acquisition go on to discuss how we should think about the money and riches that we do have. The first rule of which we should be aware when it comes to owning, having wealth, is that we are to not be haughty. That is that we are to never think of ourselves as better than someone else because of the things which we have gained here on earth. We are not to find pride in the material things which we possess, we are not to see what we have, as making us superior to those around us who do not have what we have. Our money, our wealth, our things, and our possession of them does not make us better than those who do not have what we have. To ever come to believe that those who do not possess the things which our wealth affords us is due to moral failure or ultimate character flaw in another is the kind of haughty thinking which is to be avoided.
Since we know that our wealth, and all that we acquire here on earth is ultimately of no value, to then to believe that simply in the having of it, results in our possessing more value than another or that we possess these things because we are morally superior or more righteous in anyway, is to conflate our wealth with godliness. The only thing which adds value to ourselves is godliness, as seen in righteousness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness, which is what we are to pursue because these are the only things which endure beyond this world.
The next rule, for those who know the riches which having can bring, is that we are not to put our hope in these things. They are not that which will bring us joy or peace, or happiness. Finding hope in these things will not bring contentment. We are to be content with that which we have, not find hope in them. Seeking hope in wealth is seeking something in it, which it cannot ultimately provide. Hope can truly only be found in Jesus Christ. Setting our hope on money, creates in us the same down falls as setting our desires on acquiring the things which money can provide, it is an empty hole which will never be filled and always require more and more, until it has taken all, creating in us more and more discontentment, restlessness and it results in a joyless hopeless life. Seeking hope in the things which we have acquired in this world will ultimately lead to nothing more and nothing less than hope-less-ness.
All that we own beyond that which is needed to survive, food, shelter, clothing, water and warmth, are things which we have that for our enjoyment and even (perhaps especially) that which brings enjoyment is given, is provided to us by God. These things are not ours of which to be proud. And again when we pass from this world, like all else, they will remain. As a rule these things are not for us and for us alone, these are things which are given to us for a purpose.
These things of enjoyment are given to us, so that we might afford to do good; so that we are able to be rich in good works, and that we might be generous and ready to share. We are to be seeking to help those around us. This is the opposite of being haughty, and comes from finding hope in that ONE who gave all, so that we might live.  Realizing that our prosperity is given so that we may work to bring enjoyment to those around us, who might not have more than what is necessary in life, to raise them up and allow them the small enjoyments of life, of which we are familiar. These are not ours to keep and to hoard, they are ours with which to be generous, to share and to give so that our blessings may be the blessings of others, that through us God can give to others.
Finally the last rule of acquisition is the most important, that is that we are to at all times, “take hold of the life that is really life.” (I love that phrase – take hold of life that is really life). Live the life that is worth living. A life of working to gain all the things that can be gained and are worth gaining, that is righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. The life that is really life is what we truly gain when we live by the “Rules of Acquisition” as spelled out in this passage.
When we live by these rules which govern our relationship with money, our relationship with money will enhance our relationship with God instead of being a hindrance to our faith and will lead to godliness.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

1 Timothy 1:12-17 - A Testimony of Grateful Praise

1 Timothy 1:12-17
I was called to ministry when I was 13. I look at Cidra now as she is 11. I was just two years older than she is. I cannot help but think about exactly at how young I was. I am amazed at how God must have been working in my young life, for me to have been so willing and obedient at such a young age. 13 is so young. So many things going on in a 13 year olds’ life, so much turmoil, so man changes, so much uncertainty about life and so many other things. Somehow, God got through all that, and I was able to hear God’s voice, when God spoke to me. God is really truly an awesome God, to have been able to speak to a 13 year old in such a way that she would understand and respond.
But, I want to go back to an evening a few months before that day, I had gone during a district winter retreat. We had just finished up an evening chapel service and I sat in my chair and cried, while asking God to take all of me, to take my life, my present, my past and my future, all my unknown days, who I was and who I was becoming. The speaker had spoken about this and I knew that is what I wanted. I told God that I did not just want to have God in my life, but I wanted everything I desired to be what God desired, for me, for those around me, for everything.
I was 13, I had attended Nazarene Church practically since I was born. I had gone to Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday evening services as long as I can remember. I had always been surrounded by saved and sanctified Nazarenes. My parents were the kind of parents who got us to Church whenever there was something there for us. I have heard about holiness and sanctification for as long as I can remember.
When it came down to it, I did not realized what God was doing in me that evening, I did not walk away that evening thinking about sanctification or holiness, I just knew God had done something amazing in me and I was perfectly happy, perfectly content knowing that all things were really and truly right between myself and God. It was not until I looked back on it several months later, when someone asked me about sanctification that I was able to say, “Yes, yes I am and that is when it happened.” I tell you this because I believe that if I had not given God everything; if I had not given over to God all my tomorrows, all my hopes, all my dreams, all my fears; if as a frightened 13 year-old who could barely comprehend her place in this world had not handed all that over to God that day, three months later I would not have been able to hear the call God placed on my heart.
I am still amazed to this day, that God would call me, my 13 year-old self was astounded and to this day, I am amazed that at the call God has placed on my life. What is even more amazing, when God called me to be a preacher, is I said, “Yes.” The only reason I see that made this possible was that I had given myself over wholly to God, so if God wanted me to do this, I could. Now don’t get me wrong, it is not like I knew from that minute on that someday I would be here doing this. It is a long road from being 13 to pastoring. Years of exploring what it was God was calling me to do, a time period when I was certain I was called to youth ministry and a deep longing to be called to the mission field but in the end, God showed me my true call was to pastoral ministry. Between being 13 and now, there were five years of middle and high school, four years of college and four years of seminary, two years of pastoral ministry before I was ordained.  And that was 12 years ago. A lot of journeying has taken me from there to here. But, it began with a call to holiness, a call to give it all to God.
Paul in this passage speaks of being thankful to Jesus Christ for giving him strength, in fact he ends this passage with a snippet of a short hymn of praise, a sort of doxology, which gives glory and honor to God for the way God had worked in his life. Paul is able to give God thanks and praise because Paul sees the way God has worked in his life. His testimony is his praise, he pauses and acknowledges the work God has done for him and through him. Paul sees who he was and sees who is and knows that all the strength he found to be the person God was calling him to be was found in the grace and mercy of a God who takes sinners and transforms them and their lives.
The strength of which Paul speaks in this passage comes from living a live given wholly and completely over to Jesus Christ. At this point in his ministry, when he writes this letter to Timothy, Paul is in jail, he is not certain but the end is near, as he writes, he does it as a father to a son, a mentor to his mentee, wanting to impart, to pass on important knowledge and understanding about the faith. Pastoral epistles in general are instructions about the Church, given to instruct and guide the Church, Paul is imparting this kind of pastoral knowledge to Timothy. He wants Timothy to know that his ministry the work he has been doing is found only in the strength found in living wholly and completely for Jesus Christ.
Paul can trust the his future, no matter how uncertain it may be, and the future of the churches he has planted, because he knows that all the work he has done is not his work, that he is not entrusting all he had done to Timothy and others like him, but he is entrusting the Church to the ONE to whom the Church ultimately belongs, Jesus Christ.  He has lived his life given completely over to God, he has already given all the unknowns over to God, he knows that God can be trusted and is trustworthy in all things. He is calling for Timothy to live likewise, to find his strength in Jesus Christ, entrusting all the tomorrows and all the unknowns over to a God who IS trustworthy in all things.
Paul’s life, ministry and work, serve as an example to all of us what God can do in a person’s life. His life shows us what holiness looks like in action, what it looks like to truly trust all of your days, allow God to take a hold of all of your life, past, present and future, all of the unknowns that are and will come, everything. That is how Paul lived. Paul gained strength in Jesus Christ because he had given himself completely over to God, he allowed God to shape and change him so completely that Paul’s life and ministry became the life and ministry we now know. Paul’s strength is found in holy living, giving all his days, all his hopes, fears, dreams, tomorrows and all the unknowns that are and are to come over to God. Holiness is living wholly and absolutely for God. It is about allowing God’s desires in all things to be your desires. This thing we Nazarenes call Sanctification is living so that each and every day of your life is shaped and changed by God, so that your strength is found in God and God alone and who you are and are becoming is because of God’s grace and mercy overflowing in you and at work in all you do. And it is to this life to which Paul is pointing in this passage. This is the grace and mercy. This is what is overflowing. This life is what gives him strength, it is the work of God at work sanctifying Paul’s life creating in him and through him the holy life we see exemplified in scriptures.
Paul sites what his life was like before Jesus Christ, Paul calls himself a, “blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence,” he reminds us of who he was before, so that we could always know that we too can live victoriously as Paul did. Paul was not some kind of person of amazing faith. He was the person who held the coats of other men while they stoned Stephen, to death. He was on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians when God got a hold of his life. God stopped Paul in his tracks, and because of Paul’s encounter with Jesus Christ on that Damascus road, Paul gave his life over to Jesus Christ and the Church as we know has never been the same. Paul’s strength is found in his utter devotion to Jesus Christ.
God does amazing things when we give ourselves completely and utterly over to God. Lives lived in this manner reflected the amazing strength of which Paul speaks. Blasphemers become founders of the church and 13 year-olds become preachers.
Paul can look back and see the strength in his life, I can look back at my life and see God at work. Each and every one of us should be able to look back and see how God’s mercy, love and grace have overflowed toward us strengthening us. We all like Paul should see our lives as testimonies to the strength which God gives. We all should be able to join with Paul and give thanks and praise to the one who raise us and changed us and gave us new life, who gave us strength to be the people God called us and is calling us to be.
This passage is just as much about sharing the testimony of what has been done in us and through us, for which we all have reason to be grateful and for which each of us can give God which belongs solely to God, as it is hope that God will continue to be our strength, hope that the love and mercy which has thus far overflowed up on us will continue.
Paul is in jail, there are so many unknowns. Will he die? (He is pretty sure the answer to that one is, “Yes”) When will he die? Who will carry on his work and his ministry? Is he leaving his churches in trustworthy hands? Will the church fail? This might not seem to be in doubt as we look back over two thousand years in which the Church has flourished, but at this time, this was a legitimate fear, the future of the new Church was yet to be seen. Would it survive the to the next generation? (as question we always seem to be asking) But, Paul could testify to the work God had done in him and through him. He was grateful to the mercy and love, which had overflowed to him, he knew the strength which could only be found in living the holy life, to which God called him. He had given all the unknowns, all his hopes, all his dreams, . . .all his fears over to God. He knew God would not fail, that God’s mission was to seek and save the lost and that as long as Christians like Timothy, like you and like me continued to live Holy lives completely given over to God, that the future of the Church was assured in this and this alone, God’s people living Godly lives.
The call of this passage is to Holy living. The call of this passage is to stand up and give grateful testimony to the who allows for us to live holy lives. I have shared the testimony of this pastor and the 13 year-old girl whom I once was. What is your testimony? What grateful testimony of the work God has done in you and through you? In what way can you stand up today and give god the glory and honor and praise for who it is God shaping and forming you to be?