Don’t Be Stupid (2 Timothy 2:14-26)

Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 

Avoid godless chatter because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”

In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 

Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (New International Version)

Stupidity doesn’t have to do with intellect; it is a matter of character. A fool is stupid. A wise person is smart. One can be a “genius” yet still be as dumb as a bowling ball. And someone who never gets a “A” in school just might be the most knowledgeable person in the room.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.

Proverbs 12:1, NIV

The Apostle Paul understood this – which is why he put the focus on cultivating and communicating character instead of sheer intelligence. Anytime we purposefully neglect and forget this, we land into Paul’s “stupid” category of people.

Much of church ministry needs to be a memory care unit experience. That’s because too much spiritual dementia happens. There must be continual reminders about the importance of Christian character. It seems believers in Jesus too easily forget their identity and what they are supposed to be doing. This is most certainly not a new issue; it is one that has been endemic throughout the ages. It’s a problem as old as sin itself.

In the Gospels, Jesus miraculously fed a great crowd of people not once, but twice. The second time he called his disciples to remember what had happened the first time in order to understand the second. 

In the Epistles, Paul kept on reminding the Jewish believers to remember the ancient covenant; and he called the Gentile believers to keep in mind that they were once estranged from that very same covenant. Both Jews and Gentiles together needed to collectively remember the death of Christ that unites them into a new covenant community. And much like them, we are to remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. (2 Timothy 2:8)

Whenever we forget who we are, whose we are, and what it is we are really all about, we get downright stupid. We get lost majoring on the minors and wagging our tongues like a bunch of foolish simpletons.

It’s stupid to say bad things
    about your neighbors.
If you are sensible,
    you will keep quiet.
A gossip tells everything,
but a true friend
    will keep a secret. (Proverbs 11:12-13, CEV)

Christians are blood-bought people of God, belonging to Jesus Christ, and given a mission to make disciples and participate with God in the redemption of all creation through remembering the poor, seeking justice, and being peacemakers in the church and the world. 

And what’s more, we are not to put up with letting others stand around and endlessly argue about lesser things, making every doctrine and dogma a battleground – as if the fine China and paper plates were exactly the same.

“Remember the height from which you have fallen!  Repent and do the things you did at first.” (Revelation 2:5, NIV)

There is a difference between the brains of dementia patients and Christian folk – the mind overtaken by dementia will only worsen, yet the church can recover its collective memory by listening again to the ancient Word of God; any and every congregation can be constantly refreshed with the promises and covenant of God. 

We must neither rely on mere pragmatism nor doing things the way we always have done them without any understanding of why we do it. 

Yet, we must understand that even when we point out what to remember and why we are to remember it to others, they aren’t always going to respond like we want them to – which is why instruction needs to be gentle so that another does not stumble on the messenger instead of the message.

A person of great understanding is patient, but a short temper is the height of stupidity. (Proverbs 14:29, GW)

It takes no effort to be stupid; but it takes a great deal of will and energy to keep learning and growing in the Christian life. Too many persons have unwittingly fallen into the trap of the devil, believing themselves to be godly because of their defense of the faith. Sadly, they’ve been defending their own interpretation of faith instead of the actual faith itself.

Please, don’t do that. Don’t be stupid. Better to focus on having a pure heart of your own rather than always pointing out the impurities of others.

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

What’s On Your Wish List? (Acts 26:24-29)

Before Paul finished defending himself, Festus shouted, “Paul, you’re crazy! Too much learning has driven you out of your mind.”

But Paul replied, “Honorable Festus, I am not crazy. What I am saying is true, and it makes sense. None of these things happened off in a corner somewhere. I am sure that King Agrippa knows what I am talking about. That’s why I can speak so plainly to him.”

Then Paul said to Agrippa, “Do you believe what the prophets said? I know you do.”

Agrippa asked Paul, “In such a short time do you think you can talk me into being a Christian?”

Paul answered, “Whether it takes a short time or a long time, I wish you and everyone else who hears me today would become just like me! Except, of course, for these chains.” (Contemporary English Version)

The Apostle Paul was quite the guy – a zealous, indefatigable, intense, Type-A dude. Yet it wasn’t those characteristics that Paul wanted others to see in him. He simply desired others to see Christ in him. 

Having been arrested for preaching the good news of forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ, Paul found himself before King Agrippa, engaging in a DTR (define the relationship) talk; and making a strong apologetic for the Christian faith. 

Agrippa asked Paul, “In such a short time do you think you can talk me into being a Christian?” Paul answered with confidence and conviction, “Whether it takes a short time or a long time, I wish you and everyone else who hears me today would become just like me!” 

“Trial of the Apostle Paul” by Nikolai Bodarevsky, 1875

I wonder how many of us could boldly say the same thing as Paul. 

Are we the sort of Christians that others could emulate? 

Has our faith journey led us to the place of being a solid model of what a follower of Christ should look like? 

Do we expect others to change while avoiding change ourselves? 

Do we deeply desire and work toward others coming to know Jesus? 

So, what is on your wish list?

  • I wish each Christian everywhere would spend their relational and emotional energy making this world a better place by living into the words and ways of Jesus Christ.
  • I wish every person I encounter would have the privilege of knowing Christ as I have.
  • I wish all my parishioners and patients would become what I am, except, of course, for my self-made chains.

Perhaps we all must look in the mirror and examine our true desires. It’s easy to put our energy into good yet lesser wishes in life. Yet, if Christians are to become like their ancient forefather in the faith, the Apostle Paul, we will begin focusing our energies into things such as the following:

  • Making outreach a priority. We do what is most important to us. That’s probably self-evident. But churches and believers that do not make outreach a primary priority are really making it no priority, at all.

Paul said, “Do the work of telling the Good News. Do all the duties of a servant of God.” (2 Timothy 4:5, ERV)

  • Mentoring others into the words and ways of Jesus. Many church laypersons believe that training other Christians is what we pay the clergy to do.But this is really the responsibility of every believer.

Paul said, “You have often heard me teach. Now I want you to tell these same things to followers who can be trusted to tell others.” (2 Timothy 2:2, CEV)

  • Taking responsibility for spreading the good news. Blaming and shaming gets us nowhere. Pastors complain about churches. Churches bellyache about Pastors. And both attack the culture, the denomination, or some other external scapegoat. It’s time for all of us to own what needs to be said and done.

Paul said, “Be ready to spread the word whether or not the time is right. Point out errors, warn people, and encourage them. Be very patient when you teach.” (2 Timothy 4:2, GW)

  • Connecting prayer with telling the message of Christ. It doesn’t take a lot of energy to pray for Aunt Mable’s bunions to go away. It’s altogether another thing to pray sustained, focused, and passionate prayers for the people in my life to know Christ and him crucified, risen, ascended, and coming again.

Paul said, “Don’t forget to pray for us, that God will open doors for telling the mystery of Christ… Pray that every time I open my mouth I’ll be able to make Christ plain as day to them.” (Colossians 4:3-4, MSG)

  • Being compassionate and kind, like Christ, to others. There not only needs to be a clear articulation of the gospel, but also a clear demonstration of basic human kindness. Many Christians never get the opportunity to share the gospel because they’re just downright obnoxious.

Set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience. (1 Peter 3:15-16, NET)

  • Establishing every Christian ministry as an opportunity to share the gospel. Intentional effort and energy toward proclaiming the gospel in both word and deed needs to go into everything we do.

Paul said, “So take special care how you conduct yourselves. Don’t be unwise but be wise. Make use of any opportunity you have because these are wicked times we live in.” (Ephesians 5:15-16, NTE)

  • Caring, not at all, that new Christians will change our lives or our church too much. I’m serious. I’ve heard the line many times by church folk in my years of pastoral ministry that new believers come in and change things we like. Come on, man. Get over it. Change is built into the Christian experience. God said:

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19, NRSV)

You don’t need a personality like the Apostle Paul to live into your calling as a Christian. You and I only need to put our will and energy into things that matter most to God.

Risen and ascended Lord, you are the king of all creation. May your rule and reign take over my life to such a degree that everything that comes out of my mouth, and every action I take would be worthy of emulation in your way of love. Amen.

What Will It Take to Reach Others? (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it! (The Message)

What will it take? 

What will it take to impact the world with the gospel of grace? 

What will it take to reach your neighbor with the love of God in Christ? 

What will it take to positively influence your relative, co-worker, or friend in grace and truth? 

The answer? It will take becoming a servant to them all. 

Reaching others with the glorious and incredible good news of forgiveness and new life in Jesus requires us to relinquish our rights and freedoms in order to have a ministry of presence. 

Somehow, far too many Churches and Christians have adopted the wrongheaded notion that they can reach people without interacting with them. They wing-it with a few tepid prayers, wishing that people will magically show up their church or event in order to experience their friendliness.

But it takes going to where people are and engaging in real human relationship to reach another person. It ought to be obvious, yet it isn’t for a lot of folks:

We have to be around other people in order to reach them. 

That’s why reaching the party-crowd takes going to the bar. 

It’s why reaching young moms takes sitting with them at the park while the kids play. 

It’s why reaching kids requires getting on the floor with them and playing what they want to play.

This is why it takes being present among the various people, businesses, and institutions in the community in order to reach them.

The goal is not to get other people to show up on our turf and become just like us. The goal is not for us to remain in comfortable surroundings while we expect others to get over their uncomfortableness to be with us.

Rather, the goal is to show up on their turf and relate to them, to become like them.

If it weren’t in the Bible we might think it blasphemous to say such a thing. But there it is, and we must wrestle with its implications for our lives. So, what needs to change?

My wife and I have a lot of experience working with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients – which means we also end up working a lot with their adult children and grandchildren. It’s difficult watching a person who raised you becoming a different person, living in a different world.

Many relatives try their darndest to get mom or dad back into “reality,” to return to their original selves and their surroundings. So, they correct, cajole, and criticize, in order to reach them and pull them back from their supposed mental abyss.

And it doesn’t work. More than that, it’s not only unhelpful, but it’s also often hurtful.

Instead of expecting a dementia patient to come into my world, I must go into their world.

Just the other day, my wife was talking with a self-described “Ninja Priestess.” And this dear woman was refusing to wear her socks on a hospital floor – which cannot happen in a healthcare setting. She didn’t want to wear them because “it diminishes my power and my connection to the ground.”

If we insist on remaining in our world, this immediately becomes a fight. Ultimatums are issued. Policies are pronounced. Security is called because everything escalates out of control.

Yet, if we enter the dear woman’s world, we choose to see things from her perspective and not ours.

My wife’s response? “It’s okay. The socks are cotton. All natural. They won’t hinder your power, at all.” And off they went together down the hall without incident and the patient feeling cared for and empowered.

When it comes to reaching people – anyone, no matter who they are – we must be willing to enter their world and be a part of it, seeing things as they see it, understanding where they’re coming from, without judgment and with plenty of empathy and compassion.

But if we insist on colonizing others in order to harvest their souls for our own spiritual benefit, then we have failed to understand the spirit and intent of the Apostle Paul’s teaching to us.

Being a servant means exactly that – serving others by listening, washing their feet, giving them time, and making compassionate connections.

God has cut us into the action of divine purposes in this world. This is privileged work. So, let’s do it with all the care and concern given us by the Spirit.

Merciful God, help us, your people, to live wisely among those who don’t yet know you, so that they can see the light of Christ in us, hear the words of Christ from us, and experience the salvation of Christ which is in us. Amen.

Get Along with Each Other (Romans 3:1-8)

So, what difference does it make who’s a Jew and who isn’t, who has been trained in God’s ways and who hasn’t? As it turns out, it makes a lot of difference—but not the difference so many have assumed.

First, there’s the matter of being put in charge of writing down and caring for God’s revelation, these Holy Scriptures. So, what if, in the course of doing that, some of those Jews abandoned their post? God didn’t abandon them. Do you think their faithlessness cancels out his faithfulness? Not on your life! Depend on it: God keeps his word even when the whole world is lying through its teeth. Scripture says the same:

Your words stand fast and true;
Rejection doesn’t faze you.

But if our wrongdoing only underlines and confirms God’s right-doing, shouldn’t we be commended for helping out? Since our lies don’t even make a dent in his truth, isn’t it wrong of God to back us to the wall and hold us to our word? These questions come up. The answer to such questions is no, a most emphatic No! How else would things ever get straightened out if God didn’t do the straightening?

It’s simply perverse to say, “If my lies serve to show off God’s truth all the more gloriously, why blame me? I’m doing God a favor.” Some people are actually trying to put such words in our mouths, claiming that we go around saying, “The more evil we do, the more good God does, so let’s just do it!” That’s pure slander, as I’m sure you’ll agree. (The Message)

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman Church is a hefty sixteen chapters of dense material and extended arguments of intense reasoning. Likely,

Likely, Paul felt compelled to be so verbose because of the church’s situation.

The Roman Church, at the time of Paul’s writing, was made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus. Jews and Gentiles have a complicated history together, to say the least.

The Roman Empire was firmly in control of Palestine and did not always treat the Jewish people well. In addition, the religious backgrounds of Jew and Gentile were as different as you can get.

Whereas the Jewish Christians had a long and rich history with God and the Old Testament, the Gentile Christians were green believers, fresh from centuries of paganism and esoteric rituals. Now, the two of them were together in one place, worshiping Jesus together.

Jews and Gentiles together made for a potentially combustible situation.

Throughout the letter to the Romans, Paul goes back and forth addressing the two groups of Jews and Gentiles. The overarching problem was this:

  • The Jewish believers tended to look down on the Gentile Christians and thought they needed to become Jewish to really be the kind of Christians God was looking for.
  • The Gentile believers tended to dismiss their Jewish brothers and sisters as backward and stuck in tradition.

Each group thought the other must become like them. So, Paul, bless his apostolic heart, had a hot mess in the making with these believers.

In our New Testament lesson for today, Paul is directing his comments toward the Gentile Christians. He wanted them to gain some appreciation for the Jewish people. After all, they were chosen by God to become a nation of priests and prophets for the world. Discounting that history would be to neglect and even invalidate their shared salvation.

For Paul, to have two churches, one Jew and the other Gentile, would be a complete travesty of Christ’s redemption for humanity.

Jesus sought to bring disparate peoples together and not keep them divided. The cross freed us by eliminating the barriers which separate us. The Roman Church needed to work together at being one people under the lordship of Christ.

There was to be no ethnic, religious, or political one-upmanship on Paul’s watch.

Truth be told, both Jew and Gentile did not always do so well with their respective histories. So, there is no ground for boasting or trying to argue for their own way. In fact, the unfaithfulness of people simply shows the incredible faithfulness of God in greater relief. 

If there were no sin, grace would not be needed; no cross would have existed. Just because the foulness and degradation of sin brings out the gracious, faithful, and forgiving character of God in Christ, does not mean that sin is okay or that we can flippantly wave it off with uttering some mumbo-jumbo cheap grace which devalues the majesty of God.

For example, when antebellum southern slaveholders in nineteenth-century America argued for their peculiar institution by saying that snatching black Africans from their homes was a good thing so that they could get out of their religious animistic worldview and be exposed to Christianity, I am positively sure that the Apostle Paul rolled over in his grave and begged Jesus to resurrect him early and send him to tackle such an affront to the cross of Christ!

Sin is never to be excused through twisted human mental gymnastics.

Paul worked laboriously to unite the churches he established and bring differing people groups together under Christ.

  • This does not mean is that all cultural and personal distinctions are ignored or erased.
  • This does mean that we value one another’s differences and gather around the shared value of knowing Jesus Christ.

The Church was neither going to become Jewish nor Gentile but something altogether new – one new people out of the two. Paul framed the matter this way to the Ephesian Church:

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-18, NIV)

Solitary righteousness is an oxymoron. Righteousness can only be truly lived and expressed with other people.

Yes, there is freedom in Christ. Yet, that freedom must be continually applied through making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

So, get along with one another.

O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace to seriously lay aside all unhappy divisions. Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly union and harmony: that, as there is but one Body, and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all; so, may we be forever all of one heart, and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, faith and love, with one mind and one mouth, glorify Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.