(Photo from the Sheep's Head walk for Christian Aid last month)
A couple of people actually read last weeks effort, so for anyone that may be interested, here is this mornings sermon.
Text: 2 Timothy 1:1-14
Have you ever watched or taken part in a long distance endurance test, you know something like a sponsored walk from Malin Head to Mizen Head, a cross-channel swim, the Cork, Dublin or London Marathon, or crossing the Himalayas on a pogo stick!? One of the things that they all have in common (apart from making the participants very tired) is that they all have support teams. There will be a crew of people backing up the walkers, providing food, drink and perhaps shelter. There may also be a crowd along the way, clapping and cheering as the participants pass by, giving encouragement “well done”, “keep going”, “Only 4000 Kilometres to go” and so on.
The Christian life is in many ways a bit like a long endurance race. We will sometimes find the going tough, we may even want to give up, drop out completely or hail a taxi to take us to the finish line! One of the things that makes it easier is when we encourage one another. I just love it when I hear that happening, when you take the time and the effort to look after your fellow travellers and ask how they are doing and help them in different ways, encourage them to persevere and pray for them. This is one of the reasons why the Tuesday morning and Thursday evening groups work so well for those that take part; they are places of encouragement. People always come away encouraged and built up in their faith.
As we look at the reading today from 2 Timothy, we see that Timothy, a young church leader has a very tough job to do. Without support, it would be fair to say that Timothy would not have lasted the distance, yet the letters he receives from the Apostle Paul (who is in prison in Rome), spur him on and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, he is given the power and energy and strength to persevere.
Right in the first verse, Paul puts the Gospel in a nutshell; it is “the promise of life”. Outside of what Jesus did for us upon the cross there is no promise of life. Without Christ we are completely lost and without any hope, yet the gift of God is forgiveness and eternal life.
Then in verse 3, Paul writes:
I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.
Wow, Imagine that, having the Apostle Paul pray for you, wouldn’t that be great! Perhaps we underestimate the importance of praying for each other. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your prayers for my family and for me “Please Lord help Daniel with his work, help him to get round all the visits he needs to do, get to all the meetings he needs to be at and let his sermon not be so long this week Amen!” Let us always pray for each other, for our family members, friends and even people whom we don’t know. I’m sure that in heaven we will be stunned at the effect our prayers had in the purposes of God’s Kingdom, how God used our weakness to perform mighty acts of greatness. Never underestimate the power of prayer.
Timothy came from a godly home. Paul writes that
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. (v 5)
The love of Jesus was there in Timothy’s younger days. He saw how important this faith was to his grandmother and mother. Timothy grew up in the Lord. How important it is for us to make sure that our children ‘grow up in the Lord’, that we show them a godly example of how to live and that we teach them to pray and teach them to read the Bible and show them how to be godly, to be loving to others, to be forgiving and gentle, yet strong in faith and courage. I know how difficult this is and we can only begin to do it with God’s help, but I am convinced that all the effort that we put into trying to bring up our children to know and love the Lord Jesus will not be in vain. Our children may not turn out the way we want them to, but if they can just acknowledge God in their life then ultimately that is all that matters.
As the weather begins to turn cold once more some of you may have already lit your first fire for several months. Some people just seem to have a gift when it comes to lighting a fire. Many times I have a fire all set, I have a good amount of dry kindling and newspaper and it is all looking good. I light the match and it all starts off well, the fire roars into life then in no time at all the flame dies down and there is just a bit of smoke hanging on and it is all looking rather pathetic. Then Sonja comes in, gives me a look of pity, and in less than a minute I have to stand back because the heat of the fire is so great!
The Apostle Paul likens Timothy’s spiritual gift to a fire. He says:
I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. (6b, 7)
We don’t know especially what Timothy’s gift is, but the same truth applies to us also. What gifts do you have? What has God made you good at? Gifts tend to fade in strength when they are not used or encouraged, so whatever gift you have make sure you use it and when you do, give all the credit and glory to God, because a gift is just that, a gift. There are lots of people at the moment helping to make the Alpha course we are doing go so well, including those with the gift of hospitality. They are using that gift so well that the Grace Centre feels such a welcoming and homely place (not to mention the fact that I have probably put on half a stone since the course has started)!
It seems that Timothy was (understandably) a bit overawed by the responsibilities entrusted to him. Ephesus was a city where few people had any sympathy for Christ; there was much persecution and opposition to the Christians there. Paul reminds Timothy to rekindle, to get the fire going again, to be strong in the Lord, not to rely on his own strength and power, but Gods strength and power. The word ‘cowardice’ in the Greek means someone who flees from the battle, who will not stand up to the fight. How often has this been true of us, that we have not spoken up when we should have done? How often have we neglected to tell someone of God’s love and forgiveness, how often have we fled from the battle? I can think of many times when I should have spoken up on something but didn’t, so I am encouraged by this verse and I hope you are too; God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
We know that in our own strength we are simply not able, we do not have the ability to use our God-given gifts, we are naturally cowards who run away from the battle, we are lacking in love and we have the self-discipline of a sloth! Verse 8 though gives us the answer:
‘…relying on the power of God’
That’s it, that’s the secret. Relying on the power of God. Have you ever run out of petrol and had to push your car? It’s not easy is it? It is possible (especially with a bit of help) to move the car, but it will move very slowly and only for a short distance. When we do not rely on the power of God it is like we are running on empty! We need His power and we get this power when we surrender to Him, when we hand over control of our lives to Him. Let us pray:
Here I am Lord, I give you everything, my whole life and all that I am. All my plans, wishes and desires I give to you. Leave no stone unturned. Lord, please heal me of my selfishness and forgive me for the countless times I have sinned. Cleanse me through the power of the cross, wash me from the inside out. Lord I am yours, use me for the glory of your name and by your grace to make a real difference in this world for you. Fill me with your Spirit that I may not be afraid to speak about you and to help people in your name, to live out the gospel everyday in all that I say and all that I do and I ask this in the name of your Son, my Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.