(1 Timothy 6: 6-19)
When I was a young police officer I was always interested in what kind of cars other departments drove and how they were equipped. Was it an interceptor package or a taxi cab package? What size motor, stiff suspension, heavy duty cooling system, what kind of radio, any extras like a computer or a shotgun? I’d love to take it for a spin. Then I became an attorney and I developed a fascination with courthouses. Teresa and I loved getting off the main road to drive into a town to see their courthouse. Most in Texas were very old and had huge, ornate courtrooms designed to accommodate the large crowds a sensational case would draw. I would imagine myself trying a case there doing my best to zealously represent my client just like Atticus Finch. Then, for some reason, I developed an interest in small-town churches and would drive by imagining myself there on a bright sunny morning preaching up a storm to the faithful and belting out some old favorite hymns. Sadly, some of the churches looked like they were no longer being used. Some had even been converted to some other use. I’d wonder what happened, why did they close? What caused them to give up fighting the good fight?
And that’s where we find ourselves in our scripture reading for this morning. The Apostle Paul is writing his young protégé Timothy urging him to remain faithful and to keep fighting the good fight. The way I read the passage, is that even 2,000 years ago the Apostle Paul saw trouble looming on the horizon between those who were trying to live a godly life and those who were more interested in more secular, worldly pursuits. He starts out by laying down the premise that there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. He points out that we came into this world with nothing to our names and that God has and will provide for our every need if we remain in Him and are content with what we have, our basic necessities, our daily bread. But it’s those worldly distractions that cause us trouble as we are drawn to that which glitters and pleases. He says; But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. These are the people who are not content with what they have, they want more and when they get it, they aren’t satisfied. They are restless in their pursuit of more in their effort of not only keeping up with the Joneses but to have more and better stuff. Paul states that; For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. He’s talking about people of faith who have succumbed to the lure of worldly riches, wealth and power. All they’ve gotten for their efforts is pain and misery. That’s not to say that all wealthy people are like this. Many are content and happy because they understand the role their money plays in their lives and do not let it control them. In verse 18 Paul says that these believers of faith, those who have been blessed with wealth, are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life. We are blessed to have people like that, but Paul is more concerned about those who have wandered away from the faith in their pursuit of riches and it’s that quest that determines their direction in life. Those who have been lost to the secular world.
In addressing those of faith Paul says; But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. He’s telling us to fight the lure of fame and fortune and to pursue righteous living. Live lives pleasing to God. Live in faith and love with endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith forsaking all these things you do not need in order to live a contented life in Christ, a life of service. Live for God and for the promise of eternal life.
So, I wonder about these shuttered churches I pass along the side of the road. What happened to cause them to turn the lights out? To turn out the light they were charged with carrying into the darkness. What caused them to cease fighting the good fight of faith? Did they lose members of faith who left to pursue riches or the other distractions the world offers? Did they fail to offer the people what they really needed? As Paul stated, one of our pursuits is endurance. It takes work and stamina to be a child of the light. We have to endure much in the service of God. The work seems to get harder the older we get and the fewer we are in number. Did the faithful few sit around waiting for the people to come back? Did they wonder when God was going to send them some families with children? This is what happens when you rely on what is known as the “attractional” model of religion. You think you’ll attract people because you are nice people who love God and why wouldn’t they want to hang out with you on Sunday mornings? We are nice people and we do love God, but we are competing with a lot of other things out there that are much more attractive and many of them happen on Sunday mornings. Many of the parents of these young families we hope to attract are working more than one job just to keep their heads above water, even if they aren’t actively pursuing the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Their kids are involved in all kinds of activities during the week and on weekends and Sunday may really be their only day of rest, and the last thing they want to do is spend it in church. What are we failing to see? What need are we not meeting?
This is why I think we can’t sit and wonder where they are and why they aren’t coming. This is why I think we need to take the fight to them. We need to take the fight to the streets. When our new bishop was appointed a couple of years ago, our district name was changed from the Puget Sound District to the Puget Sound Missional District. The bishop wanted to emphasize how important she thought mission work was in the life of a church. I couldn’t agree more. My life, as your pastor, is driven by this one question: If we closed our doors, if the lights went out, would anybody notice or miss us? I think this is the question all churches should be asking themselves, everyone from the newest member to those in church leadership, to the pastor, to the District Superintendent, to the Bishop and the Cabinet.
I’m a back to basics kind of guy. Every job I’ve ever had I’ve been able to identify the basics that made it operate, whether it was the basics of police work, the basics of criminal defense, the basics of prosecuting those accused of breaking the law, or the basics of worshipping and serving God. Preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of love your neighbor as yourself, and of having a servant’s heart. And, because we love the gospel and have servant’s hearts, I believe we are fighting the good fight and taking that fight to the streets through our mission efforts both large and small, especially small. I believe we are mastering the art of the mini-mission., And, this is what I think attracts people to our church. We are relevant and are doing something while we wait, waiting patiently for more direction from the Holy Spirit all the while asking; what’s next?
Through our missions and service to Jesus Christ, we are pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. In all we do, we should honor God and center our desires on Him and be content with what God is doing in our lives, knowing that we can do anything through him who gives us strength. As we continue to grow in our faithfulness, we learn more of what it means to give and to give generously. In the end, we will become not what we own but what we do. Our good and generous hearts build lives worth living. And yes, I do think if we closed our doors and turned out the lights people would notice and wonder what happened to God’s people, because we are fighting the good fight of faith with every fiber of our being.
Please pray with me.
To fight the good fight of faith, we must stand up for Jesus and be his soldiers of the cross. With all we have we pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. We lift his banner high as we march from victory to victory vanquishing our foes of injustice, oppression, poverty, starvation, homelessness, prejudice and hate. Stand up, stand up for Jesus in his strength alone and trust not your own. Put on the gospel armor, each piece with prayer and move with the Spirit as duty calls as we work together for that day when our King of Glory shall reign eternally. In Jesus’s name, we pray, amen.