Monday, September 30, 2013

Fight the Good Fight

19th Sunday of Pentecost
September 29, 2013
Fr. Philip Eberhart

Fight the good fight!
(click title to hear audio)

Whenever we can we should listen to men’s “famous last words!”  Our reading from Paul’s letter to Timothy, his protégé, this morning are those kinds of words.  Words with a final kind of authority and power for the hearer – for the listener.  In fact, Paul uses almost the same phrase of his own “fight” a few chapters later, at the end of his second letter to Timothy, at the very end of his life:
“I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7)

The Apostle here is using the words of struggle and conflict, of contest and commitment, of his own life and ministry and of the life and ministry of his junior apprentice, who by this writing was likely a full time pastor in Ephesus, we believe – and who later became the Bishop of Ephesus.

Paul is clear throughout his writings that the walk of faith is not an easy “way” through life.  It is a calling to “share in the sufferings of Christ” – Paul says that he “made complete” the sufferings of Christ for the sake of the Church, Christ’s Body.

Are there aspects of your life that seem to be a “fight?”  Let me ask it another way, are there any aspects of your life that DON’T seen to be a fight? Struggle seems to characterize much of what we encounter in this life – especially in regard to the exercise of our faith toward God and our love toward one another.  And especially if we are as Paul urges Timothy in our reading: pursue[ing] righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.  This seems to be the content of the fight that Paul is after in his own life and in the lives of those he led in the churches.  For Paul, the “good fight” wasn’t considered to be the struggles he had while proclaiming the gospel, they were the inner struggles he had (and we all have) of living the gospel in its fullness in our own lives.

This list mirrors another that we are familiar with from Paul – the fruit of the Spirit:  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  The Apostle Peter has such a list as well:  faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love. And Peter follows these with the injunction that “if these qualities are yours and are increasing in your life, they will protect you from being ineffective and unfruitful in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (2 Pet 1)

You see, my friends, the fight we fight is a fight of character.  It is this one fact that spoils all our enterprise, that spoils our government and our churches, our culture and our world – that we are “fallen” and given to vice and corruption, to selfishness and blindness – in short we are sinners – and we must come fully to this knowledge and to the end of our SELVES. Then we are ready to become like Him, but it is a fight!  A constant battle between the forces of life and the forces of death – a fight for our attention – for our focus!

The discipline of a race if often seen in scripture to describe that focus that is needed by the runner to finish the race successfully.  Paul uses this over and over:
[1Cor 9:24 ESV] 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.
[Phl 2:16 ESV] 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

And again, whether from Paul or one of his protégé’s, the words we have in Hebrews 12 ring in our ears on this note as well:
[Hbr 12:1-2 ESV] 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

The writer to the Hebrews goes on and talks about the fight, the discipline of the Lord, and the sacrifice and suffering that is needed to finish our course.  Like the runner in the race, our view is on the prize, Jesus himself – the finish line is the character of Jesus itself that is displayed to us in his own sacrifice on the Cross.

We must focus on Jesus, the “author and finisher” of our faith in Him – no other focus will get us to the goal!  No other focus is the goal, not salvations, not meals delivered, not numbers on Sunday, not our net worth, cars, houses, boats, planes, or any such like.  Only a focus on Jesus himself will bring us successfully to the place of fulfillment and completion.

Keep the faith, baby!  It was a 60’s phrase borrowed from the bible, but the “faith” it spoke of was not the faith that Paul is speaking of!  The picture we have here is of someone who is in the storms of life and who has “lashed” himself to the mast of the ship, in the face of giant waves and overwhelming winds.  In our reading, Paul tells Timothy to “fight the good fight of the faith.” 

38 times in the NT we hear the phrase “THE FAITH” – used with the definite article, mostly in Paul and interestingly, mostly in these letters to Timothy! 13 of the 38 references are in just these two letters to Timothy.  Paul might be trying to make a point here!

For Paul, “the faith” is a distinct reality, into which we are introduced by God, when as he referenced both Timothy and Jesus, we “make the good confession.”  It is something that has definitive prarameters – boundaries – and out of which we may drift or fall.  So vigilance is required of adherents to THE FAITH, to make sure that they are still “in the way.”  We see this applied in Paul’s own life, in the way he talks about his own walk and “the fight” we mentioned before.  We see it in his warnings to Timothy and others under his care:

We see this most clearly in the middle section of his preamble in 2 Tim 1.  He writes to Timothy as he is impassioned with this care: 

[2Ti 1:5-13 NASB] 5 For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. 6 For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. 8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, 10 but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. 12 For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. 13 Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.

We love the phrase in verse 7 so much that the rest of this has not really gotten much press or pulpit time.  But after verse 7 there is a “therefore!”  Better pay attention to what Paul is saying here:

  1. Do not be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord!
  2. Join me in suffering for the gospel according to the Power of God
  3. And this is that Gospel…
  4. We are saved by God, not through works but by grace
  5. We are called for a purpose by God granted us “in Christ”
  6. That purpose is revealed in Him: in his appearing (incarnation), his conquest of death (crucifixion) and his bringing life and immortality to light (resurrection.) This is the “good news” which is the gospel we preach.

Paul speaks a word about his own call here and then concludes this paragraph with this charge to Timothy: Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.

Friends, “keeping the faith” means just that.  Holding to the form of the testimony of the Gospel of Jesus, His life,  His death and His resurrection and the meaning of Jesus for the world and for each individual in it.  This is our own call in our own generation.  We are reminded, like Timothy, not to be timid or fearful, but to be powerful and loving and soundly self-disciplined in our thinking.  It is here that this battle for “the faith” is won or lost.  The battlefield is our own mind and heart.  It is in the vigil of maintaining our focus on Jesus that we “Keep the Faith”; that we “Run and Finish the Race”; that we, indeed, “Fight the good fight!” 

So let us keep on keeping on – keeping our eyes on Jesus, the Author and the Finisher of our faith.  For, just as Paul said, “there is a crown of righteousness awaiting … all who have loved His appearing.”  Have you loved His appearing?  Have you spent your days and nights looking for Him – waiting for Him – expecting Him?  Or has your focus been blurred or dimmed?  Has it been on other things?  Have you gotten your eyes off Jesus and onto the waves, like Peter did?  It’s easy to do.  But let us look to Jesus again, afresh, anew every morning – every moment, for His power, and His love and His purpose in our lives.

May we pray?

Lord Jesus Christ, we close our eyes to see you more clearly.  We bow our heads to look up into your face. We bend our knees to be empowered to walk in your way. We fold our hands to receive from your hand that which we are to give away.  Help us, Holy Spirit, to see Jesus, our savior and example of life – indeed to live in Him and He in us, by Your power.  Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing.  That is our confession, that is our testimony, that is our hope.

We look to you, Lord Jesus, and from your hand, receive all that we are and have.  Let us be your hands and feet, your eyes and ears, your mouth to speak your words.  Use us to touch, to heal, to speak in your Name, as we move through our life from day to day.  Grant us your grace and power, in Your Name and for the sake of Your Kingdom, we pray.

Amen and Amen.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Hide and Seek

16th Sunday of Pentecost
Fr. Philip Eberhart
September 8, 2013

click title for audio

Have you ever played "hide and seek" when you were a kid?   Did you ever hide by putting your hand over your eyes and thinking that you were invisible?  Isn't that silly - kind of childish thinking - that we can put our hand over our eyes or close our eyes and simply not be seen any longer!  How foolish.  Of course we can be seen - by everyone around us with their eyes open.

In our readings this morning, Jeremiah and David, the psalmist address a similar kind of thinking on the part of Israel and on the part of each one of us individually.  Somehow we believe that we can simply close our eyes to our sinfulness and it disappears from God's view!

How absurd.  How foolish.

Jeremiah was taken on a road-trip down to the Potter's House.  Of course, this was a place of commerce - a shop where the most common pieces of life were formed and then fired and then sold for use in the home.  When Val and I got engaged, we had a friend
who was a potter at ORU in the Art Department.  Brian was his name.  Brian decided to give us a set of pottery for our wedding present.
And so, a few months before our wedding in the fall, Brian began to form the pieces and mix the glazes.  At the end of the process, we had a hand-thrown, artist signed, 8 place setting of plates, bowls, chalices, serving pieces.  It was astounding work and an astounding gift to us as we were starting out in life.  

In ancient Israel, hand thrown pottery was all there was.  In archaeological digs around the middle east, you can see the shards, the broken pieces of that life and time scattered everywhere, for the picking up.

So this was no little enterprise that Jeremiah came to observe - it was a bustling place of business, where God brought the prophet to teach him a lesson about the relationship between God and the nation of Israel - and all nations.  I think we might apply it to our own nation this morning.

"Just like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it." 

Over the past year or so, after reading the book, The Harbinger, I've been aware that God is sending us messages from heaven, here in America.  Not unlike the message He sent to and through Jeremiah, to ancient Israel, God is speaking to us as a nation in America.  We know the principle and the verses well.  We have been hearing them for nearly three decades now:

"If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven; I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."  2 Chron 7:14

In the past few months I've also heard again and again that there is a wave coming across our land - a wave that is both revival and judgement.  This will be one wave sent from God, that will be judgement on our nation and revival for God's people.  The question if one of our readiness.

The question is one of our playing "hide and seek" with God!  Playing "hide and seek" with our sin, our attitudes, our consumerism, our indebtedness, our selfishness on a cultural level - we tend to close our eyes and pretend its alright... pretend that it's not there.

David, the psalmist this morning, gives us a clear picture of what God sees when he looks at us.  Let's read those first 5 verses again together:

LORD, you have searched me out and known me; *
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You trace my journeys and my resting-places *
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *
but you, O LORD, know it altogether.
You press upon me behind and before *
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; *
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.

He sees it all!  Can you say...  ALL?    All !!  He sees it all!

This is the nature of God - his omniscience - His all knowing, all seeing presence.  It is what we count on when we go to pray every day, multiple times in a day - we hope that God is listening!   And He is.  All the time, in every place, light or dark, good or bad.  He is.

Jesus' given Name by the prophet Isaiah, was EMMANUEL - God With Us.  

Do you have a sense of Jesus being with you as you go through your day?  Of Jesus being along side of you by His Spirit?   Of Jesus living inside of you to empower you, to direct you, to open doors for you for ministry - opportunities as you are on your daily journey?

Do you try to play Hide and Seek with the Holy Spirit?  Or do you try to pay attention to Him, to watch to see what He is doing and then to do that?


Jeremiah at the Potter's house gives us another lesson as well.  God's course of action in judgement is determined not by some fixed plan of events but by our hearts and by our attention and by our repentance and obedience to His Word sent to us.   If our hearts change, and our actions change, then the "evil" he is planning for us will change!

America need not be judged.  The word that is spoken to us is a personal word for each of us and a corporate word for all of us.  Our personal behavior and our corporate culture in America are inextricably bound together.  We are just a guilty of playing Hide and Seek with our sin on an individual basis as we are on a cultural basis.  That is the foundation of our cultural "blindness" to God and His Word, is the fact that we have all closed our eyes and are pretending we are not seen!

I want to spend a few moments in prayer this morning. . . confessing our tendency to play Hide and Seek with our sin; with our our behaviors that offend God and His Word.  This will be a time of silence - ask God to take your hand off your eyes!  

(short silence) 

God is the one who can enable us to not play Hide and Seek any more.  He is the one we must turn to for power to change our ways.  He is the one who is long suffering and whose love never fails.  He is the one who's mercy is made new every morning, as sure as the sunrise.  Let's go to Him, to Jesus and His Spirit.

(another Time of Silence)

Now pray with me again from our Psalm, the first and the last two verses:

LORD, you have searched me out and known me; *
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.

How deep I find your thoughts, O God! *
how great is the sum of them!
If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand; *
to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.

Amen and Amen.