September 29, 2013

Invisible Quality - Sep 29, 2013

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“White Squall” is a movie that came out in 1996 starring academy award winning actor Jeff Bridges. In the movie Bridges plays the captain of a small sailing ship that takes a crew of young men on an extended voyage. The purpose of the school sailing trip is  to develop experience, discipline, and whatever else the parents pf these young men feel they lack.

It’s been a while since I saw the film, so, if I watched it again I’m sure it would feel like a new movie to me. But one scene I remember clearly. The ship is sailing near Cuba before the “Bay of Pigs” fiasco took place. A Cuban gunship sights the small sailboat and stops it, believing that there may be Cuban refugees on-board.

A tense standoff occurs between the military captain of the gunship, and Bridges’ character. Realizing that he can’t take any of the sailors off the boat without violating international law, the military captain relieves his anger by smashing the sailboat’s compass to bits. He then turns to Bridges and says, “Now you will really have something to teach your students captain.” To which Bridges calmly replies, in fluent Spanish, “A real sailor only needs the stars to navigate with.”

I probably remember the scene because it’s one of those, “In your face” good guy vs. bad guy moments. The military captain thinks he’s really struck a blow by taking away the most crucial tool of navigation that Bridges has. But he really hasn’t done much harm at all, for this captain has real quality. His most important sailing tools are all found in here (point to head).

Outward tools are often important, but inward tools are more important—and they can’t be so easily taken away.
Our sermon reading for today comes from Paul’s letter to a young pastor named Timothy. Here Paul warns Timothy to beware of the love of money, which is merely an outward tool. Paul counsels Timothy to develop invisible tools instead.

1 Timothy 6:6-10 (ESV)

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
Contentment is not something that American culture encourages. Having the latest and greatest phone, car, clothing, or whatever, is what America teaches. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie from Hollywood about a person who was simply content with what they were given. It just doesn’t make for an exciting story line.

The very definition of “contentment” seems to be skewed in the minds of many. We equate contentment with settling for less, or giving up. In reality, contentment isn’t about giving up, it’s about being willing to accept circumstances. Being patient and balanced. Being mentally and emotionally satisfied with what we have, even when we would like something more.

Being content doesn’t mean you’ve lost all desire, that you’re broken or weak. On the contrary, contentment makes one stronger, and more clear minded than a person full of greed and ambition.

Contentment doesn’t mean that a person doesn’t have goals to work toward. It just means that getting more and more isn’t number one on that person’s list of priorities. If the promotion at work comes, great, but if not, that’ll be just fine too. If the investment pays off big, that’ll be a blessing, but if it doesn’t, so what?

The person who is content realizes that money and things don’t equal happiness. They don’t equal fulfillment. They don’t equal satisfaction. There truly are much more important and lasting things to pursue in life than what can be bought and sold.
Paul says that people who want to be rich fall into temptation and a trap. This is pretty easy to see. When we’re obsessed with something our priorities get all out of whack. We find ourselves on that terrible precipice where we can reach what we’re obsessed with, but only if we compromise what we know is right. Just a little sin will get us what we want. That’s textbook temptation by the Devil. Lure with the bait, let the prey fall into the trap.

Paul also says that people who want to be rich get tangled up in  all kinds of stupid and damaging urges. They neglect the people they love, in order to spend more time at the office. They spend time with people they think might be able to further their career, but abandon the ones that make their life valuable. Perhaps they begin to take chances that they wouldn’t otherwise take, because it might pay off big. And when the bottom falls out of that risky investment, everything they’ve worked for is gone. Or if all that hard work actually pays off, they find that there’s no one to share the top of the mountain with anymore, except their new friends, who really aren’t friends at all.

Paul says that the love of money is a craving that can even destroy faith in God. Jesus once noted,

13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13).

When money pushes God off the throne of person’s heart, and then lets them down, what’s left? Paul describes how it feels when this happens, saying that these people “pierce themselves through with many sorrows” (see 1 Timothy 6:10).

Money is a poor substitute for the living God, and the love of money leads ultimately to disappointment and heartache.

After warning pastor Timothy to avoid loving money, the apostle Paul points him to a better path.

1 Timothy 6:11-16 (ESV)

11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
The first thing I’d like to point out in this section are the dramatic words that Paul chooses. He says FLEE from the love of money and all the damaging baggage that accompanies it. PURSUE righteousness and all these other things. In other places in Scripture, the word “Pursue” is translated “Persecute”. It carries the idea of running after, following, hunting down.

Paul keeps up this dramatic language by saying FIGHT the good fight of the faith. But the fighting Paul encourages isn’t any outward fighting. It’s an inward struggle. Battling to establish these good qualities in one’s soul.

Paul utilizes one more dramatic word here. He says Timothy should TAKE HOLD of the eternal life to which he was called. In other places in the Bible the word for “Take hold” is translated “grasp”, “catch”, sometimes even with a violent connotation. Timothy is to OWN eternal life by holding onto it tightly. Sinful behavior such as the loving of money loosens our grip on the gift of eternal life. Developing godly traits strengthens our grip on Christ’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life.
Note that all of the things Timothy is to diligently seek are not OUTWARD possessions, but INWARD qualities. Paul doesn’t want Timothy to seek after the temporary, but things which he can carry beyond this world.

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he emphasized the importance of invisible things. If you examine the Lord’s Prayer you’ll find that only ONE of the petitions is about physical things. We say, “Give us this day our daily bread”. But all the other petitions in the Lord’s Prayer are about spiritual things.

Help us to keep your name holy Lord.
Let your reign come to our hearts, and to the hearts of others.
Help us to do your will in this life.
Forgive us our trespasses.
Help us to forgive others.
Keep us away from temptations to sin.
Save us from evil.

Is this the way we pray in our own personal prayers? Mostly about inward, spiritual things? Or do we fill our prayers with request for the temporary and concerns about things which are merely physical? Prayer is powerful because God is involved. But are we failing to use prayer to it’s full potential? Are we asking for the wrong things?

We need the Holy Spirit to help rewire our thinking so that we truly put the invisible before the visible in our list of priorities. We need the Holy Spirit to help us value godly qualities far above earthly possessions.
One way in which we can help rewire our own minds is to look to good examples in Scripture.

The apostle Paul comes to mind. After coming to know the forgiveness of Christ, Paul’s whole life took on new direction. He didn’t seek higher promotion among the Pharisees anymore. He sought to preach the soul saving Gospel of Christ to people who didn’t have it yet.

When Paul finally arrived in Rome, he was under arrest and set to face trial. He had no possessions to speak of. Nothing more than the clothes on his back, and pen and paper. But he was content. And from that jail cell, Paul wrote letters of encouragement to his fellow Christians. Letters we still read today.

Or look to the example of Christ Jesus himself. He left the throne of heaven to become human. He was born into a poor family. He never owned a house. He never had a wife and children. When he stood before Pontius Pilate, he had no earthly prestige, but only the truth, and the determination to carry out the suffering that was needed to erase our sins.

Or think of God the Father himself. Why is he great? Because he owns the universe? No. God was great before anything was created. He is great because he possesses every good spiritual quality that exists. Paul describes God as being so full of quality, that no other being can see him completely . He “dwells in unapproachable light”.
Essentially, Paul encourages Timothy to avoid imitating the people of the world, and to start learning to be like God.

Paul says, “Be righteous.” Avoid sin and situations that lead to sin.

“Be godly.” Actually live your life according to the code of conduct God lays down in the Bible.

“Have faith.” Trust that God has removed your sins through Christ and has a place of astounding glory waiting for you.

Paul says, “Love others.” Give of yourself to spiritually benefit those around you.

“Be steadfast.” Hold your ground under the pressures of life. Fulfill the responsibilities laid on you.

“Be gentle.” Have a patient and caring attitude toward people that you come into contact with.

The fact that Paul says to PURSUE these things implies that this is going to be a work in progress for Timothy. To incorporate these qualities into our inner person takes time, effort, and ultimately the Holy Spirit’s power.
They say that nothing good in life comes easy. And that’s true. If you want to be a good captain of a ship, it takes time to learn how to read the stars. You need a good teacher. You need hands on experience. And then you need more experience.

Even our salvation didn’t come easy. Jesus had to live a perfect life. He had to endure the hell of the cross. Even though he GIVES us the gift of forgiveness and eternal life without charge, even that doesn’t come easy. The Holy Spirit has to convince us it’s true. And he has to hold us in faith all the way to the end. And like Paul said,

“…through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 ESV).

Along the way to heaven the Devil and his forces of evil will try to destroy our trust in Christ. The Devil will try to lead us down the road of sin, to the land of impenitence and unbelief. But if we hold tight to Christ, we will make it through.

Prayer: Dearest Jesus, thank you for giving us the gift of faith. Help us to always trust in your promise that our sins are forgiven through your cross. Teach us to be content in whatever situation we find ourselves, trusting that you know what you’re doing. Help us not to love or trust in money, or anything else in this world, more than you. Help us to accept hardship with patience, knowing that goodness beyond imagining is waiting at your side. Help us to grow in faith and in inward quality as we wait for you to return and collect us. Amen.

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