In 1 Timothy 6:11-12 Paul tells us, “But you, O man of God... pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”
Something I have been learning is that fighting the good fight requires an “attitude” NOT and an “aptitude.” What do I mean by that? Aptitudes are what we have the capability of doing. Many people tie their sense of self-worth to what they can do… their aptitudes. Sometimes I fall into the trap of measuring myself by my capabilities and/or my opportunities. If I have the opportunity to do the things that I want then I feel like I am fighting the good fight. On the other hand, if I don’t get the opportunity, or lack the capability (aptitude) then I can start to feel like a failure. I know I am not alone in this because I talk to many people who view life as unfulfilling or dissatisfying.
In these instances the joy of living is tied to what I can do, or what I get to do. But what happens when circumstances turn against us and we can’t do what we want to do? The temptation in these times is to feel defeated and assume that we are no longer “fighting the good fight.” This is—of course—a false notion, but a prevalent one.
The truth is, it’s your attitudes (and mine) not aptitudes that will determine whether or not we fight the good fight and finish strong. People with the right attitude find things they can do for God. They discover ways to serve their neighbor, bless others, and grow the Kingdom of God. Attitudes enable people to rise above aptitudes.
In the scripture text above did you catch the ingredients of a good attitude? In verse 11 Paul said, "pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness." These are the ingredients of a good attitude. (Isn’t it interesting that we are supposed to "fight," but in a non-combative way… at least, not with each other. But, our attitudes toward each other should be marked by patience, gentleness and love.) So, what’s my attitude going to be? What is your attitude? Because that will determine how we finish far more than what we can do or not do.
Finally, notice that in the spiritual realm, God rewards those who, like Paul, have been faithful. Those who fight the good fight, who finish the race, who keep the faith have a great expectation. 2 Timothy 4:8 states: Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
Sounds pretty good. Is this reward meant for you? Are you one of those to whom God will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have fought the good fight, you have finished the race, you have kept the faith. Here is your reward."
Let’s stop and check our attitudes!
How many know what R.O.T.C. stands for? “Reserve Officer Training Corps.” My Brother-in-Law, Lee, was a member of the R.O.T.C. in high school and in college; he went on to be an officer in the U.S. Army. But, today, I want to use the initials to mean something else – Regardless Of These Circumstances or, you could say Regardless Of This Crisis.
In Scripture, we find examples of people who remained faithful to God regardless of their difficult circumstances… in spite of whatever crisis they were in the middle of they kept the faith. They maintained a positive attitude AND a joyful disposition despite the trials. A great example is Joseph. Let’s see… he was:
Betrayed by brothers
Threatened with death
Left in a pit to die
Sold as a slave
Wrongfully accused by Potiphar’s wife
Thrown into Prison
Forgotten by his so-called Friends
Finally, however, he was liberated when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream. In spite of all of the terrible and negative things that happened to him he refused to forsake his faith in God. How do I know this? Genesis 50:20 (ISV) “As far as you're concerned, you were planning evil against me, but God intended it for good, planning to bring about the present result so that many people would be preserved alive.”
So you see, R.O.T.C. (Regardless Of The Circumstances) Joseph remained true to God. In the Old Testament, I can think of many others… Moses, Gideon, Deborah, David, Esther, Elijah the Prophet—the list could go on and on. In the N.T. we could make a similar list. But, the one I would like to focus on is Paul. He had an amazing assortment of horrible experiences, yet he remained faithful.
2 Corinthians 11:24-27 "Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked."
Despite all of this we find this testimony in Acts 20:23-24 “The Holy Spirit witnesses (and warns me) in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.”
Now, I don’t know your circumstances or crisis. I do know mine… and I say with Paul, “None of these things move me.” I won’t let circumstances steal away from me a positive attitude. I won’t let a crisis rob me of my joy. And, I sure won’t allow my problems to stop me from being faithful. MY CHALLENGE FOR YOU IS TO DO THE SAME. Be faithful in spite of your trials. Be positive in the face of your problems. Be joyful regardless of your circumstances. Don’t let any of the hardships you face move you from your faith in God. Say with me…
– “Regardless of These
Circumstances… I Will Be Faithful!”
Recently, I have giving consideration to the relationship between the church and the community. Often, you will hear church people say, "we exist for the community." But do we? Really? Every church should have a focus beyond themselves—should exist for their community, but unfortunately most do not.
Dr. Thom Rainer (after extensive research) wrote a book called “Breakout Churches.” In the book he identifies what separates average churches (which also happen to be in decline) and prevailing churches that are growing and thriving. Heading the list of common barriers to growth is what Rainer calls “Comfortitis.” As the name indicates, this is where the people of the church (or the staff) have no real desire to change and grow. In the midst of an ever-changing and fast paced world, they want the church to be a place of sanctuary untouched by the radical shifts going on around it. While it may be natural for some people to want the church to stay the same… it’s a death sentence.
Dr. Rainer gets to the heart of the issue when he talks about "Barrier #6--the Inward Focus." Its a problem that grips many churches. In churches that are focused inward, the focal point of activity becomes the care and needs of the members instead of evangelism—reaching the lost. Pastors start to function like chaplains. The inward focus limits most churches to 90 members, or there about. This is what is called a single cell church. It’s not until churches turn the focus outward, to the community around them, that they begin to “breakout” and grow… to do what Christ intended for his church.
Barrier # 12 is what Rainer calls “The Ex-neighborhood Church.” As you might expect, this is where the church does not match the neighborhood. There is a disconnect between those who comprise the church and the people who reside in the community around them. And, the church is not doing enough to rectify the situation.
All of these are variations of the same disease, a self-centeredness by a local fellowship of believers, instead of an outward, or community focus. Author David J. Stewart has written:
One of the biggest problems with Christians today is that they are hiding their light within the church walls (in a "secret place" as mentioned by Jesus in Luke 11:33). "Secret place" simply means "hidden place". Why would a person light a candle and then cover it? Or in today's thinking, why would you turn on a lamp and then cover it with a box? It is just as ridiculous for a child of God to hide their light from the world. Yet, there are churches all across America that meet a couple times a week behind closed doors and the local community has NO IDEA what the church believes. Their candle (light) is well hid.
Just like we would never dream of drinking antifreeze, or eating a sandwich laced with arsenic—I wonder if we as a followers of Christ can commit ourselves to never allow a self-absorbed, inward focus to define our churches? Instead, let's display powerful motivation and response to do whatever it takes to reach our community… to exist for something outside of ourselves.
Here is a challenging question: are you living in the fullest enjoyment of God's YES to you in Christ Jesus? And, have you said “yes” to all of God's YES to you? It’s a question I have been dealing with lately. 2 Corinthians 1:20 says, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God.”
John Piper, a Bible commentator, translates the verse like this: "The decisive YES has happened in him"—God's heart is not divided in Christ. Christ Jesus means YES! For all the promises of God find their YES in him. That is why we utter the Amen (which means “yes”) through him, to the glory of God.”
So Paul is saying that God's heart is not divided toward me and toward you. If you belong to Christ by faith, then everything God could possibly give you for your good he has signed over to your account in Christ. You hear the same answer at every point: Is this promise in my account? Yes. Is this promise in my account? Yes. Is this blessing in my account? Yes. Yes. Yes. All the promises of God are YES in Christ.
Every seeker who comes to God in Christ, with all his needs, finds God coming to him in Christ, with all his promises. When a sinful person meets the holy God IN CHRIST, what he hears is YES. We ask of God, do you love me? Answer: YES. Will you forgive me? YES. Will you accept me? YES. YES. Will you help me change? YES. Will you give me power to serve you? YES. Will you keep me? YES. Will you show me your glory? YES. All the promises of God—all the blessings of God in the heavenly places—are YES in Christ Jesus. Jesus is God's decisive YES to all who believe. Great news, isn’t it?
But, now comes the great challenge and the connection between all this and prayer. The second part of verse 20 states, "That is why we utter the Amen though him, to the glory of God (literally: to God for His glory)." "Amen" is a word taken over into Greek from Hebrew and it represents a very strong affirmation (see Numbers 5:22 & Nehemiah 5:13; 8:6). This is a formal, solemn, earnest "I agree," or "I affirm what you just said," or "This is true." Most simply AMEN means that in every way “I am on the same page with you.” In this context, it is a very earnest YES in the context of addressing God.
Now notice the connection between the two halves of verse 20. The first half says, "For all the promises of God find their YES in him." The second half says, "That is why we utter the Amen through him, to God for his glory." When you realize that AMEN and YES mean the same thing, here's what the verse means: In Jesus Christ God says his YES, his AMEN, to us through his promises; and in Christ we say our YES, our AMEN, back to God, through prayer.
So, are you and I living in the fullest blessing of God's YES to us in Christ Jesus? On the other side of the equation, is there any of God's YES to you to which we are saying NO or MAYBE or NOT NOW? Let my commitment to God (and may yours) be this: Today, and from this moment forward, I give my YES to you, O God. I consecrate myself to You. I forsake the NO and the MAYBE and the NOT NOW of my unbelief. And I say YES to everything that resides in your YES to me. Will you join me?
Most of us have heard the word “doldrums” and know that it represents a period of stagnation or slump. The word may also refer to a period of depression or unhappy listlessness. But, the origin of the word “doldrums,” is nautical and literally refers to “the equatorial belt of calms... an area around the earth that is centered slightly north of the equator between the two belts of trade winds. This region is noted for calm periods when the winds disappear, trapping sailing vessels for days or weeks.”Some churches—even some individual Christians—experience the summer doldrums. They go through a period of slump, stagnation, or even “unhappy listlessness.” Of course, God doesn't want us trapped in the doldrums—either personally or as a church. So the question becomes, “how can we sail through the summer doldrums?” Or, to put it another way... how can we keep growing as individuals—spiritually speaking—and growing as a church? The answer lies in paying close attention in three areas:
The first part of the answer lies in our intentions. Certainly for many people the season of summer is synonymous with vacations, trips to the lake or the beach, picnics and cook-outs, visiting family and friends, reunions, sporting events and relaxation... and who could forget gardening and/or extra property maintenance. Now, there's not a one of those things that is bad in and of itself. But what is conspicuously missing from the list is spiritual growth.
When was the last time you heard someone say in answer to the question, “what are you going to be doing this summer?” I am going to be growing in my relationship with the Lord and serving Him actively? The point is, we seldom get the things that we put in no effort to receive. If we don't establish the intention of growing spiritually and serving the Lord and others this summer I can almost guarantee we won't grow!
Ironically, some people wonder why they aren't growing spiritually (or why the church isn't growing) and all the while they are planting in other fields, investing their time and energy in other ways, and wondering why there is little spiritual harvest. It should be no wonder at all. Starting today, let's sail through the summer doldrums by making it our intention to grow in the Lord and serve Him faithfully.
A second issue that accompanies spiritual doldrums is inconsistent church attendance. The “norm” for many believers during the summer is to become inconsistent, even lackadaisical, in church attendance. The problem is that it becomes difficult if not impossible to grow when we remove ourselves from the activities that foster our growth. That would be like trying to grow a plant without water or nutrients... it's not going to happen.
One thing we sometimes forget is how much others need us and depend upon us for their spiritual growth and well-being. We sometimes have a “consumerist” attitude toward church attendance asking, “well, what will I get out of it?” We forget that the first question should be, “how can I help or encourage others by my presence?” Even as a pastor, I can sometimes get discouraged when I don't see individuals enthusiastically gathering for worship, for growth, for gathering around a shared mission, and so on. You are important to others. So, by committing to consistent attendance this summer you can go a long way toward sailing through the spiritual doldrums. Will you?
Lastly, I want to talk about holy habits. Have you noticed that words like, “habits,” “rituals,” and “disciplines” have almost become bad words in our society? It's true... many people seem to shy away from the idea of holy habits and spiritual disciplines almost as consciously as avoiding the plague. But establishing certain “holy habits” can help us insure spiritual growth and avoid the summer doldrums. Take for example daily devotions. Regular encounters with the Word of God and routine fellowship with the Holy Spirit through prayer can absolutely stop dead in its tracks any kind of stagnation. You can't be powerless when you're connected to the power source.
Another holy habit centers around our stewardship. When we faithfully give of our finances and support God's Kingdom work it really reveals our priorities. I've noticed that I pay special attention to the things that impact my pocketbook. Jesus said that “where your treasure is there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21). So it stands to reason that if we will be faithful in our giving, we will also be engaged in other ways. Conversely, when we get lax in our giving our attention will likely wane.
[At Lakewood Way Community Church we have made it possible for people to make Online Contributions and in this way—even when away—people can maintain their consistency in stewardship.] Along with the other things I have mentioned, remaining consistent in financial giving is a way to keep the excitement up and the growth happening.
Bible says in Galatians 6:9-10 “Let us not become weary in doing
good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give
up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all
people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
Having grown up working on a farm, I know that while harvest may
come in the fall, summer is a season of planting, cultivating,
nurturing, watering, and (in general) working hard for a great
If you will permit me to mix metaphors, doing the things necessary to ensure a good harvest later on will also enable us to sail through the summer doldrums.
In the Gospel of John, we read the story of a miraculous healing by Jesus at the Pool of Bethesda. The folklore surrounding the pool was that an angel—or the Spirit of the Lord—would occasionally “trouble” or stir the water of pool and the first person in the water would be healed. Of course, Jesus was not in need of swirling waters to effect a change... he healed a man who had been disabled for 38 years. Nevertheless, I can only imagine the level of excitement of those around the pool all those times when the waters did begin to swirl. Here is my point, it seems like there is a stirring at Lakewood Way Community Church. The Spirit appears to be moving and lives are being changed for the better. If you have been present have you noticed it? True, the Lord can work without any apparent stirring—but it sure is exciting when we KNOW that the Lord is at work because we can see and feel the effects. Are you ready to jump in?