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Ready for Good, Ready for God

Sermon - 10/21/07
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

2 Timothy 2:20-26

We have been looking at Paul's second letter to Timothy.  We looked at the first chapter last Sunday, and this morning we want to take a look at the conclusion to the second chapter, which begins at verse 20:

In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. 21All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work. 22Shun youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24And the Lordís servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, 25correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, 26and that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will..

 

In the Bryant home there are two places where we keep our dishes, as I suspect with many of you -- there's the kitchen dishes, and then there are the hutch dishes. 

The kitchen dishes are the everyday dishes, a mish-mash from various sets, that are always right there, you just move them from the dishwasher to the cupboard.  The hutch dishes are in the dining room.  Those are the good dishes, the family heirlooms, the china passed down from generation to generation.  We save those for special occasions.

Dad and his wife Dorothy were down for Founder's Day at Northwest Christian College, came over Friday night after a meeting at the Wilson's house.  Being a good host, I thought I'd serve a little snack.  Don't know what they had over there at the Wilson's, but to add to that.  I dumped some crackers into a cereal bowl, pulled out a tub of hummus, pulled the lid off, and set it on the coffee table in the living room.  My wife immediately swoops them up, takes them back into the kitchen, pulls out the serving dishes, you know.  Sue me, but I thought it was about the food, but it's equally about how you present it.

Special utensils for special occasions.  Only clueless klutzes like me would use the wrong utensil.

And that's the image used here in this text to challenge us to be, as that ad for military service says, all that we can be.  The idea is not that we can make ourselves better than others, but that we can make ourselves useful for God.

Here's the basic concept:  when we replace bad habits with good ones, wrong actions with good deeds, poor choices with good decisions, then we are ready for God to use us.  To be put into play, like that second-stringer on the team, who always has to be ready.  Has to be in good shape just like the starter.  Has to know all the plays just as well as the starter, so that when his or her name is called, he or she is ready to play, to contribute to the team.

I don't know, there may be one or two Duck fans here, are there?  We of course don't want to mention yesterday's game [Ducks beat the Huskies in football, 55-31] because we have some Washington fans that are here.  We wouldn't want to rub it in, you know, those nearly 700 yards of total offense J.

Duck fans know (Husky fans may not know this), but Duck fans know that we have lost 3 of our best offensive players, and 1 on defense.  And hence in that game yesterday, we had 4 second-stringers who had to step up their game and play.  The result being Ducks 55-34.  But we won't rub it in J.

Well, no one likes to sit on the sidelines and watch.  At least almost no one.  I played football for two years -- 7th and 8th grade.  Was on the front line, right-guard.  Right there were all the action was, got to do that manly stuff, put on those pads and a helmet, and get in there and hit bodies, sacrifice my body for the glory of some fullback.  For two years I did all of that, all that male-bonding stuff.

And then I decided that it was time to try out for a different position -- team statistician!  And I discovered that I enjoyed that as much or more so than being out there on the field.  I was good.  Kept those totals and those averages and those percentages of completions.  I went on to become the basketball statistician.  And the baseball statistician.  I mean, Jordan Kent [3-sport star at the University of Oregon from 2003-2006] has nothing on me!  Three sports, count 'em!  It was like spring training for preaching -- holding that clipboard, walking up and down the sideline, I was an athlete in training.  Look at this physique!  

Real players, though, want to be on the field, want to be part of the action, in the game.  Real disciples want to follow Jesus.  Want to be of some use to God and to do something that will make a difference.  

So, hear then, this very practical advice of Paul, or more likely a disciple of Paul writing in his name after Paul's death to keep his teaching about Christ alive, current, and relevant.  See if you notice anything, I want to put this up on the screen -- see if you notice anything about the pattern of this.  The author tells us to shun youthful passions, and then lists four positive things:

Negative

Positive

Shun youthful passions Pursue Righteousness
  Faith
  Love
  Peace
Avoid controversies and quarrels Be kindly to all
  An apt teacher
  Patient
  Correct opponents with gentleness

Look at the list, and what do you notice?  We could spend some time talking about the list on the left, but I don't know anything about those things J.  Never involved in any controversies (or at least not stupid ones J).

But what strikes me as especially insightful and useful is the overabundance of the positive things to outweigh the negative -- a 4 to 1 ratio there.  And I think there's a message here that goes beyond the specifics on the list and suggests that a key, or perhaps the key to being ready for God is to focus on the good rather than the bad.

So just think about who you'd rather spend time with.  Someone who is always concerned with all the things wrong in their life, and all their illnesses, and all the bad things that happen?  Or someone that talks more about all the good things of life in this world?

Who would you prefer as a spouse or a partner?  Someone who tells you all the things that are wrong that you do, or someone that lifts up the things that are right?

And which would you prefer as a teacher, that person who shows you all the wrong ways to do something, or someone who shows you the right ways?

That's not to say we should be pollyannaish about the hard things of life.  But that the way to overcome the bad, or to 'escape the snare of the devil' as the author personifies it, is to focus more on the positive.  I think this ration of 1-to-4 is a good place to start.  People in public relations say that it takes 11 positive interactions to overcome one negative.  Just think about that in your own life, of when someone said something to you that kind of put you down, of how difficult that could be at times to overcome.

One of the lessons that we picked up from Ken Callahan years ago when we studied the 12 keys to an effective church was the importance of building on our strengths.  Callahan says that when you focus all of your attention on the weaknesses, the result is that you rise to the level of mediocrity.  But when you build on your strengths, when you focus on those things that you do well so that you'll do them better, than in turn kind of raises everything.  

I have been struck in the way this is true in all aspects of life.  And that does not mean that we ignore our weak spots.  But when we focus on what builds us up, rather than what tears us down, we are more apt to build something useful and attractive.

Think for a moment of just the implications of that last phrase of "correcting with gentleness".  Imagine what a different world it would be if that became the practice of at least all Christians, let alone all people.  Think of the difference it would make in families.  The difference it would make in our public discourse.  The difference it would even make in the way that nations relate to other nations -- to correct with gentleness.

I know you've seen the scene played out a hundred times in negative ways.  Of that child misbehaving in public, maybe he hits a sibling, and the parent yanks the child away and takes them and stands them in the corner and forcibly enforces their will upon the child.  Whacks them on the rear-end, and yells "How many times have I told you never to hit your brother?!"  Whacks them again.  Something there a little incongruous?

How long will it be before that child, who is terrorized into doing the right thing, will terrorize others?  What will that be like when the child grows up?  You can call that what you want, but don't call it parenting.

Imagine that same scene with that same child, misbehaving, and the parent who gently but firmly (there's nothing that says you can't be firm in your gentleness), takes the child aside and gets down on the child's level (eye-to-eye rather than towering over them) and instructs the child with love and gentleness.  And tells the child, 'I want you to go and apologize to your brother'.  And he does, and the two, before long, are playing peacefully together once again.

How long before we have presidential candidates that will behave like that?

The key to the second parent's reaction is instead of seeing a 'bad' child who needs to be punished, sees a 'good' child who needs to be taught to be better.  

Technically, a glass that is half empty is the same as a glass that is half full, isn't it?  It's how we perceive it that is the issue.  When we see our enemy not as an object of hate but as a human being to love, that's when we're ready for God.  When we see the foreigner not as a stranger to be feared but as a guest to be welcomed, then we're ready to welcome God.  When we see that hungry person not as a beggar to be avoided but as Jesus to be given bread, we're ready for God.

When we see ourselves not as sinners to be condemned but as men and women created in the image of God, we are ready for God in our lives, to fill us.

There was one theme that came up repeatedly in our prayer triads that have just completed their 10 weeks of prayer together, and that is that people say that they like the fact that here in this church we do not focus on sin and condemnation, we focus on love and God.  I heard the same thing from two of our newest members when visiting with them -- they live coming here because we don't make them feel bad about themselves.  "Sinners in the hands of an angry God" as Jonathan Edward preached at the beginning of the great renewal.  But rather we make them feel good about who they are as children of God, and challenge them to be better.

And that's very good to hear, that people pick that up.  And yet it makes me sad to realize how much of Christianity, or at least the popular image of the Christian message, is about condemnation and judgment.  And usually that always comes with a long list, you know, of the people that are condemned.  The secular humanists, the communists, the feminists, the ecumenicists, the environmentalists, the evolutionists, members of ACLU and Planned Parenthood and United Nations, Teletubbies, Harry Potter, and your kindergarten teacher too, probably is on that list.

The reason people have that image of Christians is because that's what they've heard.  That means they are not hearing the alternative from us.  That there is a different way of being a Christian in this world that focuses on the positive and good in people, rather than the negative.  That emphasizes God's love for the world, not hate.  That is kindly and gentle, not overbearing and quarrelsome.  That believes in the freedom of thought and the use of our minds, not adherence to rigid doctrine and dogma and entrenched authority.  That seeks peace through justice and human rights, not peace through victory and military domination.  That believes that God sent Christ to save the world, not to condemn it.  That our vision of God is for the reign of God here on earth, not for divine retribution against it.

It all comes down to this:  that we have a message of good news.  A message to share about faith, and love, and peace.  A message about kindness, gentleness, and hope. 

When that is our message, and we share it and we live it, then we are ready for God.  We are ready for good.

 


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