It is good to be God’s people.
It is good to come to church to be reassured that everything is just fine.
It is good to know that we can finally relax in our faith, be comfortable with our growth, and know that we don’t have to make any more changes.
It’s good to know Jesus so well.
But do we truly know him?
Paul writes Timothy and tells of terrible times when people will become lovers of themselves, when evil men will worm their way into the homes of weak willed women, when everyone who is in Christ will be persecuted.
Then comes the bad news. Things are going to go from bad to worse.
Paul then tells Timothy that all scripture is God-breathed, useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.
Hold on! How do things go from bad to worse?
Then Paul tells Timothy to preach the word. More than this, he says to be ready to preach the word in season and out of season. Paul is sometimes prone to his poetic inclinations. What does in season and out of season mean for preaching? It is always the season to preach God’s word.
But what about that going from bad to worse? What’s going to happen here? Is this were we need to study Revelation and the beast and what all of those horse riders mean and decipher heads of a sea monster and kings and wounds and burning Babylon?
What happens when things go from bad to worse?
We are a nation of rubber-neckers. We see the ambulance on the side of the road, and strain to see if there is some blood and gore.
We don’t just want to see the enemy die at the hands of Rambo, we want to see him blown to bits. We want some blood and carnage.
We want to know all the gory stuff that’s going to happen at the end of the age.
We want to know what will happen when things go from bad to worse.
OK, here it is. The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.
Not quite! Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
They will turn away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
They will believe what they want to hear. They will make Jesus into a savior that they are comfortable with. They will preach salvation without repentance.
George Benard Shaw once said that God created man in his own image, and then we returned the favor.
You might think, ‘that’s a cute quote.’ But look around at most of the pictures of Jesus we have in this country. He is of Anglo-Saxon descent, with a decent tan. Yes, he has that sixties look going for him, but he was a little bit radical, so maybe that’s a good look for him.
Shouldn’t he look a bit more Jewish?
Doesn’t our Jesus agree with most of our opinions?
Doesn’t he side with us on most political issues?
Could he be anything other than an American?
Doesn’t he side with us when we just want to go five miles over the speed limit? He understands that Christians have places to go. He knows that we read what James wrote. We are only here for a short time.
Doesn’t he say it’s OK when we sleep in on Sun day morning?
We are doing a pretty good job of making Jesus in our own image. We are doing a pretty good job of thinking and visualizing what our itching ears want to hear.
But Paul warns Timothy that one day that won’t be enough. One day, people will demand that their preachers tell them what they want to hear instead of the truth. And when the men and women of God won’t do that, they will gather others who will.
We can’t even fill the pulpits we have in our denomination and we are told of a time when God’s people will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
Other churches can’t keep their pulpits filled either. It is a nation-wide problem.
Because it is just too hard! Preachers know what to preach. In almost every case, preachers know what to preach, but it is just too hard.
It is too hard to be alienated from your elders or deacons or friends in the congregation or friends in the community; because God’s word like its author is no respecter of persons.
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
If we preach the word of God in season and out of season, then we are going to be alienated from some people who were OK with us going to church, but now are uneasy with us proclaiming the Good News of life through repentance and Jesus Christ.
How far are we along this path towards not wanting to hear God’s word?
Let’s see what sort of kingdom we are proclaiming to the world. We as God’s people, what do we proclaim to the world?
Do you remember the preacher in Florida a month or two ago that was going to have a good ole Koran burning. Now what says the love of Christ more than burning books? Has it been a decade since many churches rallied to burn the Harry Potter books?
During the recession, many pastors told their membership not to worry about their tithe. Wow! Now that’s an act of compassion, if you view the tithe as a tax. But how could any of God’s ministers view the tithe as a tax. How much more did God’s people need God to pour out blessing—yes financial blessings—on his people than during the past couple of years? Why would God’s preachers give in to itching ears when they knew that blessing came with the truth?
Do you remember proposition 8? It was California’s proposed Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as one man and one woman. Most Christians would say that’s a good definition.
But do you know that supporters around the country spend somewhere between eighty and ninety million dollars in advertising. Most of that money came from the pockets of Christians.
Did it stop homosexuality?
Did it preserve the institution of marriage?
Considering the number of people who just live together, I’m thinking that we didn’t make a lot of progress here either.
Did it decrease the divorce rate for heterosexual marriages?
Did it do anything?
Yes. It said Christians don’t want homosexuals in their churches.
Well that’s not really true. If they repent, then they can join.
How many of us were sin free when we made our profession of faith?
How many of us were instantly matured in our faith?
It seems that even yet we are not sin free—we confess every week—but we are sure willing to cast our share of stones.
Maybe what goes on California isn’t quite a measure of the Oklahoma pulse. We don’t have a lot of same sex marriages in these parts. In fact, it seems to be the exception that cohabitating couples of the opposite sex even get around to being married at all.
Who can blame them? Oklahoma ranks higher in the divorce rate than the Sooners do in the BCS poll. And that’s for people who actually get married, not for those who just shack up for a couple years and then split. Those don’t ever make the stat sheet.
But c’mon, the Bible says that homosexuality is an abomination unto the Lord.
Yes, it does. It’s in Leviticus just a few chapters after God says that touching the skin of a dead pig is just as disgusting. I am pretty sure that Landry Jones read this verse just before he fumbled the pigskin near the OU goal line late in the OU-Texas game. Fortunately, the Longhorns must have read the same scripture as they fumbled the ball back a couple plays later. Fortunately for OU, there were a couple of pagans in the vicinity to fall on the ball and save the day. Perhaps they were Christians wearing gloves?
Maybe state-wide statistics and silly football analogies are too impersonal. Here’s something closer to the heartbeat of rural western Oklahoma: Selling beer in the Cordell United. It seems that some churches and citizens of this metropolis rallied to the cry to defeat this measure, and they succeeded, and they declared a victory for Jesus.
If I want to buy beer in Cordell, I can just go to any of the three convenience stores and pay a little more.
Yes, I know that denominations take different positions on the consumption of alcohol. We who do not treat the substance as poison speak tongue-in-cheek of our brethren who do. Surely, when Jesus turned water into wine at Cana, it was only an intermediate step to making exceptional grape juice.
My intent is not to pursue denominational differences on the subject of alcohol, but to consider what we as Christians call a victory. It’s not like they wanted to sell toxic waste in the supermarket. People should have to go to a convenience store to buy that.
There is a new Wal-Mart Super Center in Weatherford. In a few days there will be a new Wal-Mart Super Center in Elk City. How will this impact this single grocery store that has served this small town faithfully for years?
I don’t know if the beer sales would have given them a fighting chance or if loyalty of local customers will be enough to keep them afloat. I just can’t understand celebrating defeating this measure as a Christian victory.
What did it hurt?
Maybe nothing, but what would we have gained if the same level of enthusiasm for this victory had been put into reaching every lost person in the county? What if instead of casting stones at this one store, Christians had personally talked to and worked with more people who struggle with alcoholism?
What if the ninety million dollars spent campaigning on Proposition 8 had been spent helping people meet real needs. Ninety million dollars pays for a lot of food, clothing, rent, and yes doctor visits. While the country tears itself apart with foreclosing on homes and the never-ending acrimony in the health care debate; could a good part of this money that came from Christians not have gone to get some sick people to a physician?
There will come a time when people do not want to hear the truth. They will surround themselves with preachers who will tell them what they want to hear.
We are not talking about an army of the Evil One marching against us. We are talking about those who say that Jesus is Lord but don’t want to hear the truth. We are talking about those in our ranks not wanting the truth.
It is easy to jump on a condemnation bandwagon in the name of Christ. Those causes are just what our itching ears want to hear. It is because it these things are easy to get behind.
But it is hard to hear the truth because the truth will cut through us like a sword separating bone and marrow. And the truth is that we are a forgiven people who are called to live in response to God’s grace.
We are a people who are told to love one another. That’s way harder than sending money to stamp out homosexual marriage. That’s way harder than rallying to keep beer out of the Cordell United.
We are told to love our enemies. That’s way harder than burning a Koran in the name of Christ.
We are told to love sinners. When Jesus came in human form, he angered the religious leaders of the time because he talked to, met with, and dined with sinners. Jesus dealt with these people—these outcasts—as if they were God’s children too.
All scripture is God breathed. It is useful to teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.
To what end?
So that the man of God will be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
As God’s people we should never want God’s word to confirm our lifestyle. We should not want God’s word to tell us that whatever we do is OK.
Why is God’s word so important?
Let us look to Jesus for that answer.
In the second chapter of Philippians we are told that Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. He set aside his power and humbled himself to live as a man.
During his forty days in the wilderness, we read that Jesus was tempted three times by the devil.
First, turn these stones into bread. We know that Jesus had to be hungry.
Second, from a high place where he could see all the kingdoms of the world, the devil offered Jesus kingship over all of them if he would just bow down and worship him.
And from the highest point of the temple, he tempts Jesus to jump off and let the angels catch him?
Jesus replies that ‘Man does not live by bread alone.”
He answered, “Worship the Lord you God and serve him only.”
And he rebuked the devil saying, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Jesus, who was and is God, could have called upon unfathomable power, but instead called upon the authority of the Holy Scriptures.
Now we find other examples in our Bibles of where Jesus was filled with power, but in his time of temptation as a man at the very hand of the devil, Jesus called upon the authority Holy Scripture.
And we are told of a time when men will reject the inspired word of God and substitute it with myths or legends that will be just what their itching ears want to hear.
Paul tells Timothy:
- Keep your head in all situations
- Endure hardship
- Do the work of an evangelist
- Discharge the duties of your ministry
You might think that Paul is talking to preachers, and mostly he is. But all of God’s people need to realize that they must hunger for God’s word. They must seek God’s Kingdom. They must never give in to the temptation to have someone preach what their itching ears want to hear.
We must desire those words inspired by God, especially those that are in red. Those that tell us:
- Love God
- Love one another
- Love your enemies
- Blessed are the peacemakers
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
- Judge not, lest you be judged
- Forgive as your Father in heaven has forgiven you
These are words that cut into us like a double edged sword that search the thoughts and attitudes of the heart
I began by saying:
It is good to be God’s people. Yes it is.
It is good to come to church to be reassured that everything is just fine. Yes it will be, not because God is sing Billy Joel songs, “don’t go changing to try to please me;” but because he is changing us through his word.
It is good to know that we can finally relax in our faith, be comfortable with our growth, and know that we don’t have to make any more changes. We can relax because we have finally surrendered ourselves that it’s not faith in God or something else; it’s faith in God. We can be comfortable with our growth, because for us growth is the normal state. God continues to shape us in the image of Jesus Christ. We don’t have to make any more changes because we have been changed. In an instant we have become a new creation. We are a creation that is growing and continues to grow, but we have been changed.
It’s good to know Jesus so well, and to realize he wasn’t made in our image; that we are being made in his.
All scripture is God breathed and we are to preach it and hear it in season and out of season. Let our ears long for nothing else.
Are we vulnerable? Ask yourself what sort of Kingdom you proclaim in God’s name. Is it one that reaches out to the homeless, drug addicts, prostitutes, alcoholics, those in prison, and people who just don’t look, talk, think, or even smell like us?
Or are we proclaiming the Kingdom to people exactly like ourselves. People who will join us in finding teachers to tell us just what we want to hear?
Let us pray that God’s people have a hunger only for the truth.