One of the many words in the English language that we tend to overuse has to be the word, “love.” Now, love is not a bad word. It’s just that its meaning, significance, and implications have been cheapened a bit by its universal usage. Many people have become desensitized to loving something or someone because of the various qualifiers that we place on things or people that we love. For example, I can say that I love pizza, I love sports, I love Christmas, I love dessert, and I love my wife. While all those things are indeed true, how might one begin to distinguish my love for all of them? One would hope and even rightly expect that I love my wife more than I love pizza, but this brings us back to our sometimes-casual use of the word, “love.”
Now I know for a fact that many of you use this word in many genuine ways. When you tell someone that you love them you do mean it in all its importance and significance and that is valuable. What is it that this kind of love delivers to us? What is it about receiving this kind of devotion from a friend, family member, spouse, child, or parent that brightens our day and realigns our perspective? Hopefully all of us have those kinds of relationships in our lives where we have this sincere love shown and given to us often.
One of the main deliverables that genuine love offers to each of us is a sense of security. When you know that you are loved, there is a sense of permanence and confidence that takes hold in your life. When you know a love like this, there is an assurance and certainty that you can take to the bank every time.
For many of us in our relationships, we are unable to show this love perfectly. Our love has limits. Although our love can be sincere and genuine at times, it can only deliver so much because of the way that our sin and selfishness can creep onto the scene. This is what is so amazing and life-giving about our text for this week from 1 John 3. In the opening verse, John blurts out in euphoric marvel: See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! John got to walk, talk, and travel with love personified. He got to spend the better part of three years experiencing the most secure kind of love that there is: the love of God shown to us through Jesus Christ.
The love of God has indeed been lavished upon each of us and through this love, we receive security. We can be assured of His love, we can be assured of our place in His family, and we can be assured that He is doing a mighty work in us to give us hope for tomorrow. When you know and live in this kind of love, the question becomes how does this shape your perspective about yourself? How does it impact your view of those around you? How does it influence how you live in a way that shares this love that was first given to you? We are invited to trust and rest in the security of this love and then seek to deliver it to others who might need the assuring grip of it too.
Do you ever need to hear something more than once? Do you ever find yourself being thankful that certain reminders were given to you again and again? We all have those circumstances in our lives where we benefitted from repetition. We all can think of those moments when we were rewarded and encouraged by something foundational.
Why do we need reminders? Why do we need repetition? For starters, we can be forgetful people. We can have things so clear and solid one day and then the next day fall into confusion and doubt all over again. We can grow lax or become too comfortable with our routines that we take for granted some of the basic building blocks of our existence. We don’t intentionally try to do these things. Most of us don’t intentionally try to be forgetful or distracted, but these times happen. Hence, our need for reminders.
This week, we get to have one of these life-giving reminders delivered to us. On this Reformation Sunday, we look back over 500 years ago to when a Catholic monk named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany that sparked what became known as the Reformation.
Luther credits his reading of Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome as an essential and formative resource for his discovery of God’s grace given to us in the Gospel. Romans 1:17 was especially influential to Luther as it reads: For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” We see this echoed in our text this week in Romans 3, where Paul writes: But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
These are some of the hallmark, foundational building blocks of Christianity. The gift of faith in Christ. The Good News of the Gospel. God declaring us righteous because of what Jesus has done. And yet, these are often the same things that, as essential as they are, can tend to be forgotten or taken for granted all too often in our lives. We can hear these things and say, “Yeah, I know that” or “I’ve heard that before” but what role do those words and reminders play as we live our lives? We need to be reminded of these truths often because they define our new identity in Christ, and they give us a reason to hope for anything beyond tomorrow.
In one of his writings, Martin Luther was quoted as saying: Every week I preach justification by faith to my people, because every week they forget it. Maybe you or I would disagree with this statement, but it does shine a somewhat humorous light on our need of and benefit from this reminder of the Gospel. I need this reminder in my life daily and you do too. I was a hopeless sinner that had no way to justify or defend the ways I had rebelled against God. And yet, in His mercy, He sent His Son Jesus to pay the penalty that was mine and give me grace. How good is that?! May it be our prayer that we would be reminded of this hope that we have, and may we live in the freedom that it brings to us knowing that we are children of God.
It’s amazing how many things in life require preparation. We spend a lot of time, energy, and resources preparing for various circumstances and situations in our lives. We prepare for tests at school, projects and presentations at work, interviews, parenthood, retirement, and the list goes on and on. Think of a recent situation where you had to prepare for something. There was hopefully a sense of confidence, readiness, and peace that came over you the more you prepared. Being prepared doesn’t always take away the nerves or the stress, but it sure goes a long way in helping subside those natural emotions that come over us in the moment.
As we wrap up our look into the letters that the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, we see him leaving Timothy, and the Church today, in a pretty expected way. Paul is encouraging us to be prepared. To be in a state of readiness; to act and draw upon the faith that has been given and delivered to us; to trust the Holy Spirit working inside of us that gives us the power, love, knowledge, and wisdom to live our lives for Christ.
This Sunday, we get the honor and privilege of hearing from one of our own: Manley Olsoe. Manly has served as a pastor in the Lutheran Brethren for over 20 years and has been eagerly preparing to share God’s Word with us this week. I am excited for all of us to hear Him deliver God’s Message of grace and truth to us. It also helps give you all a break from hearing me ramble on week after week too!
I bring this part up because Manley is going to be speaking on this opportunity and call that God gives Paul to remind Timothy, and us, today. In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul writes: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. This level of preparedness might strike some of us as odd or strange. “I’m not a preacher…I’m not a pastor…I’m not going to be giving any sermons.” These are all thoughts that can go through our head when we read words like that, but it goes much bigger and broader than that. That’s kind of how God tends to work, doesn’t He? God is calling us to a readiness to preach His Word with our lives…by how we live and love and serve others with His Spirit guiding and directing us. It’s a beautiful thing when all of us as believers are sent out into our schools, workplaces, and relational circles with this message of hope found in Christ. Who knows what kinds of interactions or conversations God might be directing you to or placing in your path? The Good News for us is that when those times and situations do come our way, we have the guidance of the Holy Spirit to give us the wisdom and words to share God’s love with those in our midst.
Fall has officially arrived! The weather has changed, the leaves are turning, and there is even snow in the forecast…must be Minnesota! One of the many projects that people undertake this time of year is fall cleanup. (By the way, this also serves as a little plug for our Church Clean-Up Day on Saturday, October 26.)
For many people, there are leaves to be raked up, windows to be washed, gardens to prepare, trees and shrubs to prune, and that doesn’t even begin to get started on any indoor rearrangement and tidying jobs. Hopefully I haven’t stressed you out too much yet! There is still time!
I love when things are clean. I find it relaxing and calming when I don’t have to notice little messes that need to get picked up, but I have recognized, in my limited experience, that this is just not real life…especially living in a house with three young children. There are always things to clean, there are always messes to pick up, there are always projects to do and rooms to tidy up. The problem can become when we leave those things unattended and then they pile up into something otherworldly and overwhelming.
This week, we are going to be continuing our look at the Apostle Paul’s second letter to Timothy where he writes about the necessity and importance of a clean house. But Paul is not talking about your physical dwelling…rather, he is talking about God’s House: The Church. Because the Church is full of messy, sinful people like you and me, there is plenty of things that need a good cleaning and much of it is brought on by ourselves because of our sinful nature. We can so easily be tempted to let these little messes pile up until they become big and so noticeable, they have to be addressed, but by then it can become out of control. We can let little quarrels, arguments, disagreements, and conflict stew and pile up to the point where we harm others and the unity of the Body.
Paul’s response to these things is to instruct Timothy, and believers today, to flee from these things, to not spend any time indulging them, to not give them a foothold or the time of day because they are simply not worth it. Rather, we must allow ourselves to be cleaned, to be made new, to be restored so that we can enjoy the humility and unity that comes from being cleansed. That’s the promise of God through His Holy Spirit. As members of one family…His family…we are all undergoing a cleansing process that is transforming our selfish, rebellious, sinful selves into something that is holy, useful, beneficial, and ready to love and serve. Along the way, we will experience moments where our sin will get the best of us in our interactions with one another or with others in general, but that is where we extend grace to one another. We give out of what we have been first shown and given and along the way, we catch a greater glimpse of our Savior.
Hopefully you have been enjoying our past several weeks together taking a more in-depth look at Paul’s first letter to his friend, Timothy. Paul, as the elder statesman of the two, had been Timothy’s ministry partner, mentor, teacher, encourager, and motivator for much of Timothy’s young life. He has invested a lot of time and energy to help in equipping Timothy for a life of service to the Lord as a pastor to the Christian Church in Ephesus.
As we move into Paul’s second letter to Timothy, we come to unique correspondence as this will be the final letter and work that Paul writes that we have in Scripture before his time on this Earth is complete. Paul is writing this letter from his Roman prison in hopes that he would be able to see Timothy one final time. But if that meeting never happens, he wants Timothy to have this letter as one final encouragement for his journey ahead. Consider it Paul’s final word to Timothy.
There is a phrase that is used in track-and-field called “passing the baton.” This is something that happens in a relay race where four runners engage in a race of varying distances, each one responsible for one leg of the race to complete the entire thing. One essential element to this type of race is the cylindrical baton. The baton, which is about a foot in length, is passed from one runner to the other and it signifies the ending of one runner’s race and the beginning of the new runner’s turn. In some ways, it is like one runner is literally handing off the responsibility of the next leg of the race to the next runner. People have used this phrase and analogy to illustrate the passing of the baton in life too. Parents pass on responsibilities and legacies to their children, bosses pass on tasks to those in waiting, and those with experience and authority seek to share and pass along their work to those that come after them.
Society and culture and religion have always had this passing of the baton. It is essential for key ideas and practices to continue even after our own lifespans. Paul is using this letter to pass the baton, to pass along the role and responsibility of a leader in the Church and in the faith to his young protégé in expectation that Timothy would continue the good work that God had already begun and had grown in his life. Paul encourages Timothy to not be timid, but to be strong in the Spirit. Paul calls for Timothy to continue allowing the power of the Gospel to influence and affect his life. And he is encouraging Timothy to continue to place his trust in the work that God is doing in him and through him.
There is much that we can take from Paul’s words and you don’t have to be in pastoral ministry to glean something from them. All of us that are believers in Christ, have been called to boldness to share Him with our lives. We have all been called to allow the Spirit of God to work in us and through us to make Him known. We have all been invited to trust in and to guard the faith we have been given in service to the Lord. The beautiful part about all of this is that it started with the passing of the baton: from Jesus to His followers, to the early Church leaders, all the way up to today. Think of the people in your life that have passed along the baton of faith to you. Who might God be leading you to pass on this heritage of faith in your life?
Pastor Ben Bigaouette