Today the church faces serious challenges. Almost all are aware of the serious challenges we face in a world and culture increasingly hostile to Christianity. The hostility is often open and blatant. Our rapidly increasing world presents new challenges for taking the gospel into a world where, despite new techonological advances, a smaller and smaller percentage have heard the name of Jesus. The challenges of immorality, evangelism, post-modern thinking, and cultural conformity loom large indeed. But an equally important, and more difficult to see, threat looms within the church.
As the years pass, I know I am becoming older because I am becoming more concerned and more nostalgic. Iant to discover my roots, know my place in world. In the 19th century, my ancestors came from PA, to Paris, IL, then families moved to southwestern Missouri, Woodbridges and Dreibelbises. One can almost see my grandparents sparking under the huge trees in the West Union church yard, they eventually married, were part of the Campbell reformation as it was known, and at end of 19th century, that was a thriving church. My family has a strong heritage of preachers, with deep religious roots. Eventually my grandparents moved in 1922, by covered wagon, to New Mexico, and sixteen years later back to northwestern Arkansas. I want to know all I can of that story, to see that heritage, and to pass it on to my children.
On my father's side, in recent years, we have visited Madison County, Iowa (not for the bridges, although we saw them also). My ancestors went from Winterset, Iowa to Wyoming to work the railroad. One set of great-grandparents worked as forest rangers, and my grandmother remembered as a child having Buffalo Bill Cody at the station for breakfast.
Today I want us to turn our hearts to 2 Timothy, for Paul wanted to pass on the story to his son in the faith, Timothy, in parallel fashion as we want to pass on to own children their story. We want to know what we have received from our own family. Through the book of 2 Timothy, I want to view this topic, When the Church Faces Challenges from Within. Our focus is not the forces from without, but the threats from within. Not from culture, but from what is happening to us, within us, typically not some great heresy or insidious evil, but the most serious problems, the ones we hardly notice, unsuspecting, mundane, little neglects.
I. Guard the Faith
In a time of serious challenges, both from within and without (2 Tim 1:12), Paul urges Timothy to hold to the standard of sound teaching you have heard from me, of faith, love in Christ Jesus, guard good treasure, guard gospel, guard possession God gives in heart, must protect, be sober, be diligent, because it is easily snatched away.
Have you watched with sadness, fear, terror, as so many in the church allow day by day, year by year, the gospel entrusted to them to be snatched away, because we are not alert, not prepared, life seems too easy, we are busy doing our own work, we are in little conversations, wrapped up in own marriages, lulled into thinking all is well, but in fact we are giving little thought and prayer to the living of our days.
Sometime, early, late, we will find self in time of personal, family, or faith crisis. Then it becomes clear, we have lost grasp of the gospel God has entrusted. Perhaps we never really understood the nature of discipleship, or never grasped, or were grasped by grace and power of God.
Every year, to my preaching students, you will be tempted to betray marriage vows. You will be tempted to give away your faith. Almost always, their response is that such is unimaginable. Yet we know as we look at life that many will fall. Such tragedy. In many cases, these can be redeemed, reclaimed, regrasped, and these will say above all, be careful, guard the treasure. Some give up out of naive overconfidence, because we are members of the church in good standing, because we usually attend, all will turn out alright, or because we are part of the church of Christ, and will somehow that will protect us.
The prophet Jeremiah preached a simple sermon: because of your disobedience, indifference, because you are not protecting what God has given, God will take away what you prize most, he will destroy your city/temple. The people respond more boldly and confrontationally than any member ever did to me, "you shall die." It is not enough to simply say, The Temple of the Lord, The Temple of the Lord, for God will destroy all because of unfaithfulness. Nor can we sit in pews, crying our cry, coc, coc, if we are not living out the implications of the commitment we made to Christ. "But I am a member in good standing" will not suffice.
For many, we rely on our own abilities. We have so much education, sophistication, we are professional, competent, and we forget what it is to be in need. We rely on our own skills, and we are no longer able to genuinely surrender. There is so much renewal of worship around us because there has been too much self-reliance which says, "If we do right things in right ways, that is all that matters," but hearts are crying out, and we are being called to be on our knees in utter surrender before God.
Too many preachers spend more time carefully preparing sermons than praying for the people. Too many elders spend time making decisions and not bathing them in prayer and pastoral ministry, too many Bible school teachers rely on their own skills and throw a few thoughts together on Sat evening or Sun morning when the precious lives of children and adults are at stake. No wonder there is so much hollowness in our churches. Paul says to Timothy, you make sure you minister, function, serve, make sure you understand the gift you have received, what is entrusted by the Holy Spirit, constantly guard it. Protect it with care.
II. Share the Faith
Also from this epistle, our faith is in danger when it is not passed on. When it is not well received, when it is not understood, that which we have been given is so valuable, Paul reminds Timothy what he received from his mother and grandmother, what is now a part of his life, and urges him to rekindle that flame, not to forget heritage, history, people who have gone before, who have loved, provided, spiritually nurtured for a vibrant Christian life.
The concern, tragedy, is that those in middle and younger years live life without reference to great lives of godly gray heads among us. Tragic when cut self off from hearing their story, experiencing their faith. We should be concerned when our youth programs keep children and teens from time with those younger or older. Similar concern on OVC campus. Students in environment where no serious conversation with anyone over 25 is necessary. We need to spend time, sit down, listen. Ask these great godly women and men about their faith, about their lives, about their decisions for Christ, about how God has worked in their lives to create dynamic faith in them, for unless we hear story, we can never be the kind of vibrant Christians God calls us to be. We are not called to stand on our own, no generation stands on its own. I say to young preachers, sit down with older preachers, elders, but also with men and women who have been Christians for years, be quiet, listen.
Receive what has been passed down to us, for if we do not, we will be so shallow. We are not just to receive this faith, but to pass it on. Timothy, pass on your faith, 2:1ff. Entrust the message to others. Make sure you can pass it on, do not keep it to yourself, but pass it on. That which can rob the heart of the church in years to come is the idea that the gospel and Christian life is just for me, for us. That we would have very little sense that a mission of Christ's gospel to the world is part of our existence. In a recent mission strategy session, with an outside resource person from another religious group with lots of internal problems, the guest was asked what had happened to their missions efforts. The response was that missions has gone unstopped, planting 15000 churches around the world each year. When asked how such was possible, he responded, "because that is our identity. That is who we are. We pass on the message of Jesus." I am fearful that is nowhere close to the identity of churches of Christ. Yes, there are great exceptions, but generally, we are not there when it comes to missions. The percnetage of our budgets going to missions is meager, paltry. Yes, this is a different day, and there are thousands of reasons to stop missions. Many churches give less than 5%, or less than 1% of an annual budget to missions. No wonder we are not growing, because we are not passing on the message, and missions and evangelism are words that embarrass us, and are something someone else does and not us. No wonder we are nurturing so few within our fellowship for missions, so few wanting to be missionaries, discouraged, parents not encouraging. In our churches, we give attention to making everyone feel good, focus on self. We must give more than entertainment, but we are concerned that they will be gone somewhere else if church is too boring, that they will not come. Some think that if we spend more time teaching the Bible, kids won't come. I say we have too little confidence in self, and too little confidence in the power of the word of God. Teenagers are saying, give us more. Give us depth, Bible, Jesus Christ, a cause to live for. Teens need more than entertainment to live on. I am saying that this conspiracy of events, this disconnectedness, the loss of missions identification, and focus on self are killing us. We are forgetting to pass on faith, and it is creating havoc in the faith of our children, and robbing us of the power of the gospel. It will be our destruction. Be strong in grace, in faith, and pass it on.
III. Live the Faith.
Finally, be careful how you live. In 2:14, avoid wrangling, a ruination. Do your best to be approved, a worker, not ashamed, rightly explaining. Avoid profane chatter which leads to more impiety, 2:22. Pursue righteousness, avoid senseless, stupid controversies. Careless words are not sound doctrine or healthy teaching, when we wrangle over words and controversies. These do not create the environment to nurture the word of God in our midst. Too many churches are plagued by gossip, criticism that is epidemic--in congregations making statements about others, congregation to congregation. We are shallow, we talk about one another so easily. We repeat stories and have no idea whether they are true. I know some things are not true, but they perpetuated, written up. Such moots the effectiveness of ministers of gospel, so watch words, watch life.
No way we can avoid seeing some of the things that are said in some circles about OVC. Things passed on as truth are simply not so. Every faculty at OVC in Bible department believes that the Bible is the full authority, word of God, and is inspired, completely from beginning to end, and effective for every facet of our lives. Jesus was born of a virgin, and his resurrection is not metaphorical, but a physical resuscitation of his body. These are at the core of the doctrine of the church. So for senseless gossip, Paul has two ways of describing--unhealthy, or more bluntly, when we so speak in ways unhelpful, when say things we have not verified and have not prayed about, that is sin. God calls us from within to be responsive to the word of God. There are too many needs in this world to quarrel over words. Too many hurts, too many desperate souls, too many marriages in trouble, too many who have lost their way for us to be involved in stupid and senseless controversies. We are called to be ministers of encouragement, sound doctrine, healthy teaching.
What we do for the sake of Christ will be costly. Suffering will come, 1:12, 2;3,5. Be aware that it will not be easy, will be difficult, costly, discipleship is costly, but it is not worth much if it does not cost much. For many it is not worth much, it does not mean much, because it has not cost us much. Our lack of understanding of costly discipleship, an easy cost suggests if you give monetarily, God will give back monetarily in return. The more you give, the more you will get back. So Christian living is a wonderful way to invest. Such is not the gospel of Christ. We do not know much about paying the price. Little sacrifice is in our world. We are not called in this life to be rich, except by divine word of God.
To live out the Christian life is to live out a costly life, to surrender, to sacrifice, to give up, and what we gain is of immeasurable worth, even though it may mean and will mean suffering here. I want to have the kind of faith that lives well here, but never want to forget that here is not my home.
My children, listen. I need you to know that our ancestors made their way here, brought family, worked, lived, worshiped, but we know little about them. Not much, but do know this--in their homes were spoken words of faith, Scripture, God. Rest assured, something of significance happened in those homes, for there was the gospel of Christ passed on, and on, and on. The faith that was spoken in those homes now pulsates through your lives. I will tell you this, unless the Lord comes, the time will come 150 years from now, your grandchildren's greatgrandchildren will live, work, and perhaps not know your name, and your life will matter little--clothing, sports, job, house, car, money, but this they will know--whether you have been people of faith. Whether you loved one another, whether you kept your commitment to a spouse, whether Christ was lord in your home, and of all things in life that you do that really matter, this really matters. Do this with all your heart. Guard the gospel that has been entrusted to you.
God has given us the gospel, he has changed our lives, with all of heart, guard that precious treasure, share that treasure, and let that treasure change your life, and may God be with us all.
*Suggested and developed in part from notes from Jack Reese.
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*Suggested and developed in part from notes from Jack Reese.
Return to Sermon Index