How To Not Fail At Faithfulness

          I used to own a bowling ball with a picture of Jeff Gordon on it.  I didn’t know whether he was a good guy or not, all I knew is that the ball helped me convert many a spare shot.  Later on, I found out that Mrs. Konda liked Jeff Gordon, so I knew he couldn’t be all bad!  I have never developed an interest for NASCAR, but having a dear friend and sister in Christ that enjoys it and having a bowling ball with a driver’s picture on it has caused me to at least pay attention to the sport when it is mentioned at the end of the local news programs over the years.  So, my ears perked up a month or so ago when I heard the sports broadcaster mention that Jeff Gordon was getting ready to break a record, he would be making his 789th consecutive race, going over 20 years without missing a contest!  I learned something about Jeff Gordon right then and it struck me so much that I immediately turned to my wonderful wife and said—Now That’s Faithful!  I’m sure that there were days when he didn’t feel the best, days when he and his pit crew weren’t getting along, days when pressures of life from off the road were driving at him, but still he was faithful—to racing at least (maybe so in other areas as well, I just don’t know that much about the man.)  As I thought about it more over the next days the thought came to me that, though it certainly must have been difficult to have such a record of sticking to it, that it’s easy (or at least easier) to be faithful when you’re doing what you love, seeking what you cherish, and being rewarded with what you value.  These three points turned into a sermon encouraging us to be faithful to Jesus and we’ll look at these areas in this month’s newsletter.

            Doing What You Love! (Luke 7:40-50)…Jesus was invited to dinner by a Pharisee named Simon.  Of all the groups that opposed Christ during His ministry, the Pharisees were the most strident.  Yet Jesus still went to Simon’s house, knowing that they needed the word of God as much as anyone and knowing that there was a certain divine encounter with a sinner woman that awaited him there.  Part way through dinner the evening was interrupted by the aforementioned sinner woman.  Simon hadn’t invited her but she came into the room and began kissing Jesus’ feet, washing them with her tears, wiping them with her hair, and anointing them with an alabaster vial of perfume.  The self-righteous Pharisee hosting the party was not only unappreciative of the extra guest but began to question whether or not Jesus was truly a man of God.  Surely, thought Simon, if He were a prophet, much more if He were the Christ, Jesus would know that the woman who came and displayed such emotion at His feet was a sinner woman, unworthy of being in such close proximity to One who was holy!  The host didn’t verbally express this sentiment, but that didn’t keep Jesus from hearing him loud and clear.  Jesus answered Simon’s accusatory thoughts by telling a story.  The Lord told of a banker who had given loans to two individuals, one who borrowed 500 denarii and another who borrowed 50 denarii (a denarii was a day’s wage).  Both debtors ended up in bad situations and neither was able to repay.  The creditor, in mercy, forgave both of them.  Christ then concludes the short illustration with a probing question, asking Simon which of the borrowers would love the banker more.  The host responds with the obvious answer that the one who had been forgiven the most would love the most.  Jesus commends Simon for his reply and then applies the story in a rather convicting manner.  The Lord tells the proud, high reputation Pharisee that he had not provided water for Jesus’ feet to be washed, he had not greeted Jesus with a kiss, nor had he anointed Jesus’ head with oil—all common courtesies of the time that the respected host should have extended to a guest worthy of honor.  On the other hand, Christ points out that the uninvited, lowly, crying sinner woman had not ceased to wash His feet with her hair and anoint them with perfume from the time she made her humble entrance.  Jesus concludes by forgiving the woman her sins and teaching the truth that the one who has been forgiven much loves much, but the one who has been forgiven little loves little.

            Was the Lord implying in any way that Simon only needed a little forgiveness and was therefore excused from his lack of love and service?  No!  The Pharisaic Host was a sinner who needed forgiveness from the greatest of vices, that of pride!  (see James 4:6)  The reason Simon didn’t love much, and consequently was unfaithful in his service, wasn’t because he did not need grace, but because he did not recognize his great need for grace.  The reason the sinner woman did love much, and consequently served faithfully, was that she did recognize her need for grace, was humble enough to receive it, and showed the gratitude that naturally (or perhaps we should say supernaturally) accompanies the life of the forgiven follower of Christ.  She was faithful, without having to be told.  Why?  Because she was doing what she loved!  Having trouble being faithful serving the Lord?  Ask yourself, do you love Him?!

Chasing What You Cherish! (Luke 15:1-10)…Jesus never compromised the character of God nor the content of the gospel.  That having been said, He could attract a group of sinners, much to the chagrin of the religious leaders of His day.  Such was the case in the fifteenth chapter of Luke.  Here Jesus addressed spiritual snobbery with three famous parables.  The first was the story of the lost sheep.  There was a shepherd, a good shepherd, who owned 100 sheep.  99 of them were safe in the fold, but one was lost.  Now sheep aren’t the smartest of animals, nor the best smelling either!  It might not have intended on getting lost, but it got lost nonetheless.  Most any businessman would be thrilled with a 99% success rate!  But not this shepherd!  He leaves the ninety and nine to go after the one who was lost.  Hardly any businessman would put 99% of his assets at risk to chase after 1%!  But this shepherd would!  Why would he gladly be faithful to go after the one lost sheep?  Because he was chasing what he cherished!

            The second of Luke 15’s parables tells of a woman with ten silver coins.  One of them got lost.  Certainly the coin did not willfully intend on being lost, but it got lost nonetheless.  She lit a lamp to see and got a broom to sweep.  She looked high and she looked low.  She scoured every nook and cranny of her dwelling.  She left no stone unturned.  We aren’t told how long she had to search, but we know she didn’t give up searching until she found what she was looking for.  Why did she persevere?  Because she was chasing what she cherished.

            Up until this point, the religious leaders listening to Jesus’ message could have nodded their heads in agreement and lifted their voices to say the amen.  Sheep are valuable.  Coins are valuable.  They’re worthy to be chased.  Then comes the final parable from what I affectionately call “the lost chapter” of Scripture, that of the lost son (more commonly referred to as the parable of the prodigal son).  Christ tells of a wealthy Jewish father with two sons.  The younger, bound by the foolishness of youth and captivated by the entrapments of worldly lusts, asks for his portion of his father’s inheritance while his dad was still living.  This was tantamount to saying to his father, “I wish you were dead.”  The elder man did the unthinkable; he gave in to his son’s wishes and gave the boy his inheritance.  The son did the even more unthinkable; he moved to a Gentile land (a sinful place to live for a religious Jew);  he spent up all his inheritance on what the King James Version calls “riotous living” (falling deeper into a life of sin); and ultimately, when his fortune was all wasted, he found himself at a job cleaning a pig pen, being filled with such hunger that he desired to eat of its slop (the lowest of the low for a Jew!).  One morning he comes to himself, his mind blessedly haunted by the memory of the goodness that he had enjoyed from the hand of his father.  He decides to go back home and ask his dad to be just a servant in the household.  However, the young man finds that his father, upon seeing his son coming towards home, chases him down, falls on his neck, and offers forgiveness.   This loving restoration faithfully evidenced by the provision of new shoes, a new ring, a new pair of clothes, and a welcome back party replete with serving of the fatted calf.  This sensational story caught the religious leaders off guard.  The boy deserved judgment, not grace.  He had earned the back of his father’s hand, not the warmth of his father’s embrace.  The father should be forcing him to bow down and kiss the ring, not running to him with gifts.  But why was the father faithful to forgive and restore?  Why was he willing to run to his son, an act seen as beneath the position of a patriarch for it would have caused the older man to hold up his robe in a potentially undignified way?  Because he was chasing what he cherished!  Having trouble being faithful to the things of God?  Ask yourself, do you cherish Him?!

            Being Rewarded With What You Value (2 Timothy 4:7-8)…The Apostle Paul has a life worthy of study.  Before he became a preacher of Christ, he was a persecutor of Christians.  He was in the upper echelon of Jewish religious leadership.  Some scholars even believe that he might have been on track to eventually become the high priest.  Saul, as he was also called, once viewed Jesus as a false messiah.  Surely the true deliverer promised throughout the Old Testament was not one who would die, but one who would triumph!  In Saul’s eyes, those preaching that Jesus was the Christ were dangerous and deceitful people who were leading multitudes astray from the true faith of Judaism.  Saul was committed to stamping out this heresy and wasn’t above using jailing and stoning and all other means to accomplish his will.  Then, by the grace of God, Paul was knocked off of his high horse…quite literally!  After being a leader in the martyrdom of Stephen in Jerusalem, he was on the road to Damascus to inflict further devastation on the Christian church when Jesus miraculously appeared to him.  Paul lost his natural sight for a period of time due to the blinding vision, but thankfully gained his spiritual sight forevermore, coming to know Christ as the genuine Messiah, the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament promises that he knew and cherished from his youth up.

            The newly converted Paul thought for sure that his friends who had sought the lives of Christians with him would be thrilled to hear about the revelation he had received concerning the Lordship of Jesus and the misguidedness of their persecuting ways.  He was wrong.  His friends became his foes, vowing to kill him.  These former friends and those like them followed his ministry around much of the known world attempting to destroy all that he was trying to build.  The man once on the fast track to stardom in Judaism found himself on a rocky road to eventual martyrdom; denying himself, taking up his cross, and following Christ.  Still, through every trial that Paul encountered for the remaining decades of his life (which included but were not limited to: being stoned and left for dead, being shipwrecked, being imprisoned, being in famine and distress, being followed by persecutors and having to correct false teachers who tried to take over the church), the Apostle never yearned to go back to his pre-believing days, always pressing toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus and counting what he had lost along the way as mere rubbish compared to the excellency of knowing the Lord in the power of His resurrection and in the fellowship of His sufferings.  When it does come his time to depart this world, far from bemoaning life’s tribulations, he is praising God that he has finished his course, he has fought the good fight, he has kept the faith, and he was soon to receive the crown of righteousness which the Lord Himself was going to give to His faithful servant.  How was Paul able to be faithful and not long for the world that was behind him?  Because he was being rewarded with what he valued—a relationship with Christ and a crown of righteousness!   Finding it hard to be faithful to Jesus and press towards Heaven?  Then ask yourself, do you value being rewarded Him?!…May we be faithful to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!