Sunday, February 10, 2013

Caterpillars and Butterflies

Transformation Sunday is a curious thing. How many things do you know of that can transform in one day? Not many, I bet. So how did transformation Sunday get its name? Many, possibly everyone, will tell you it is marking the day Jesus was transformed. That, is very interesting. Let's look at the story for a minute. “As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning... a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my son, whom I have chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone.”
So. Peter, John, and James saw Jesus, his face changed, and his close bright white. Then, they themselves were covered with the cloud. Just as suddenly, everything, including Jesus, was back to normal. So normal, in fact, that, if we look at the next verse, “The next day... A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. I begged your disciples to drive it out but they could not.”
Someone comes to Jesus for healing, and the disciples drop the ball. Jesus actually loses his cool and he scolds them. “What a generation! No sense of God! No focus to your lives! How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this? Bring your son here.”
I am pretty sure I have heard many adults scolds their children in the same exact way. Jesus said this to the disciples, my grandfather said to my father, my father said to me, and I am sure I will say it to someone when I grow up. That, I'm sorry to say, tells me that absolutely nothing was transformed on the top of that mountain.
Sure, Jesus changed, but he changed back. Tadpoles transform into frogs. They don't change back. Clown fish, if the colony is threatened, can transform from male to female and keep the colony alive. They don't change back. Caterpillars transform themselves into butterflies, but they don't change back. A quick visit to informs us that transform the means to change in form, appearance, to change in nature.
Jesus did not change in nature.
Jesus changed in appearance.
I guess change Sunday just doesn't have the same feel to it as Transformation Sunday. Let's examine this story again. They heard the voice of God exclaim that, “This is my son,” and that they should “listen to him.” Didn't God know that the disciples believed Jesus was the Son of God? Did God doubt the faith of the disciples? When I look back at the bumbling nature of that group, I have no doubt. God felt they needed a kick in the seat of the pants. Throughout Jesus' ministry, The disciples, time and again, just don't seem to get it. None of them are exactly the shiniest penny in the fountain. They are just ordinary people. Very ordinary. Most likely they were more ordinary than any of us. We have heard story after story during the season of Epiphany about Jesus proving that he is truly the Messiah. He has been building his ministry. He has thousands of people turn out to meet him. Famously, 5000 turnout at one point, because they believe Jesus to be the Messiah. Somehow, Jesus himself has hand-picked 12 people that just don't get it. They seem to have less faith in Jesus than the thousands that Jesus is ministering to. Just a few chapters ago, Jesus told a woman that her faith had healed her, yet the disciples don't have faith. It got so bad that God stepped in, changed Jesus to get their attention, and then spoke to them himself.
My mother has told me that she believes she has heard God's voice. Not a feeling, his actual voice in her ears. Twice. Once, when she was unconscious and having a ruptured aneurysm in her brain repaired. Once, when she was having a triple way heart bypass. Both times, she nearly, and arguably should have, died. Both times, God told her she was going to be okay. She believed him. She recovered completely from both surgeries, because God told her she would. My mother is not a religious person. When she came to rock Springs, she declined to come to church with us, but God spoke to her, and she believed him.
God told the disciples that Jesus was the son of man. God commanded them to listen to Jesus. At the beginning of this chapter, we learn that, “Jesus now called the 12 and gave them authority and power to deal with all the demons and cure disease. He commissioned them to preach the news of God's kingdom and heal the sick.” Yet, the day after God spoke to them. Most likely several hours after God told them, reminded them, to listen to Jesus, a man told Jesus he had asked the disciples to heal his son, and they couldn't do it. They didn't believe.
In thinking, and praying, and researching the sermon, I have come to a conclusion, and if Craig Thompson weakened the beams in the ceiling, this might bring them down.
Jesus was not transformed. He had always been the Son of God. He changed, that is his face and his clothes changed, but they changed back. Jesus was not the subject of the trans-formation. Jesus was not the target of the trans-formation. Jesus was supposed to be the reason for it. The disciples were the subject, the target, of the transformation. It was their moment. It was time for them to break out of their cocoons, spread their wings, and take flight. They failed. They didn't transform. At least not that day. It took a while.
It took a long while. It took until Jesus was crucified, plus a few weeks, plus a few after postmortem visitations, but they finally made it. They spread their wings and carried the message across the world.
So, here's what I propose. Let today mark the beginning of the Season of Transformation. Let today be the day God tells you to get the lead out, to listen to Jesus, or simply, that it will be okay, and believe him. Believe him, and starting today, let your faith heal you. It may take a while, and that's okay. God may kick you in the seat of the pants along the way, and that's okay also. Begin. Make a start. Do something to begin the transformation of you.
Do you want to be a caterpillar, or butterfly?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

I have the pulpit again this morning. As I was thinking about a sermon, searching this idea and that, I came across some wise words from another author.  My sermon then became most of his text - with proper citation and credit where credit is due, and my comment on his words.  Hope that is okay.... Here it is:

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
~ Matthew 13:31-32
I was racking my brain to come up with a Father's Day message this morning. The best one I could come up with was, “Happy Father's Day!” So, I turned to this well-known parable of the mustard seed. Has anyone heard this parable before? Raise your hand if you have heard it. That's what I thought. This parable has been taught eight ways to Sunday! I started racking my brain, looking for a new angle to it.
I found one, and I am going to share it with you, but I have to give credit first. I am reading from Guerrilla Lovers: Changing the World with Revolutionary Compassion , by Vince Antonucci. Mr. Antonucci explains it like this:
“Remember, Jesus took center stage with the words, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near.” One hundred eleven times the Bible records Jesus saying the word kingdom. And now he asks, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to?”
A mustard seed.
When a mustard seed grows it becomes a weed. It’s a vine-like weed which will grow and grow and will intertwine with other weeds. And they’ll continue to grow. And then they’ll come into contact with a flower, which will be overtaken by the weeds. Now they’re growing more. Soon they’ll touch a tomato plant, and pretty soon that tomato plant has been overtaken by the weeds.
In fact, Jewish law at the time of Jesus made it illegal to plant mustard seed in a garden. Why was it against the law? Because they knew that it would grow and grow, invade the vegetables and other plants, and eventually take over the garden. If you let mustard in, eventually you’d be left with only mustard. The secret to gardening for the Jewish people of Jesus’s day was: keep the mustard out!
I wonder how people reacted when they heard Jesus compare his kingdom to mustard seed planted in a garden. Did they just look shocked? Are you serious? Don’t you know about mustard? Or did they giggle? This guy is hysterical. I can’t wait to hear what he’s going to say next! Or perhaps they frowned and thought, Jesus, hush. We like you, and if you keep comparing your kingdom to mustard, you’re going to get yourself killed.
Jesus used a notorious, forbidden weed to describe God’s kingdom. He said God’s kingdom is like a man who planted a mustard seed in his garden. But people didn’t plant mustard seed in gardens. It was illegal. If you did, the mustard seed would grow and grow and take over the entire garden.”
Vince continues,
“I’ve tried to think of modern-day equivalents. If Jesus was here today and asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to?” what would he say next? What modern-day metaphor would make the same point and have similar shock value?
Maybe: “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a vicious computer virus a man sent out in an email from his computer, and it spread and spread and infected more and more computers.”
Or perhaps this: “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like AIDS, which infected one person but soon spread and spread and became an epidemic as scores of people received it.”
If we heard that, our heads would spin. We’d say, “What? Are you serious? And the people who heard Jesus back then would have reacted the same way.
So what was Jesus trying to teach us about the kingdom of God?
The Jesus revolution is subtle. It starts small, like a weed in a garden, but it spreads. It reaches out and everything it touches it grabs and pulls in. It spreads one life to another, more and more people getting pulled into it. And the harder you try to get rid of it, the faster it spreads.
I think Jesus is teaching us that the revolution is meant to be viral. It spreads like a disease. It’s a disease you want to catch, but still it spreads like a disease. When you hang out with someone who has the flu, you catch the flu. Jesus is saying the revolution should be sneezable. The revolution should be contagious, and when it comes into an area, it should grow into an epidemic.
But it will only grow into an epidemic if it’s done right. Weeds don’t come in and announce they’re taking over the garden. They don’t invite all the other plants and vegetables to a meeting and ask them if they’d like to be taken over by the weeds. They don’t hand out tracts explaining the benefits of the garden overrun by weeds. They don’t wear weed T-shirts. They don’t put a billboard up for all the vegetation to see: “For the Gardener so loved the garden, he gave his one and only weed.”
No, a weed comes in unannounced, popping up very subtly, and it starts to grow. Then another weed pops up. And if these two weeds meet up, they’ll get enmeshed, and then they’ll intertwine with another weed. Soon they’re pulling in flowers and plants, and eventually the entire garden is taken over by the weeds.
And Jesus teaches us that this is the way of his kingdom. The way his revolution is intended to function, the way it grows best, is not through public meetings, billboards, and TV. No, it’s a love revolution that spreads person to person, one individual to another. And when we try to make it something it’s not, it just won’t work quite right. But when we live it out as it’s supposed to be, watch out.” (End Quote)
If we combine these thoughts with the wisdom of Winnie-The-Pooh, that weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them, it makes perfect sense. After all, God made those weeds, the mustard plant, and the dandelion, and many others. These lowly, frowned upon weeds. We fear them so much that we actually poison the soil so that they will not grow. And the meek shall inherit the earth. Well, not if we poison it!
Are there human beings we take this same attitude about? That homeless guy out by Walmart? The people next door, whom you are sure are either using or dealing drugs? Do we ever find ourselves thinking, “We need to get them out of our neighborhood, out of our city, our state, or our country?” Are these people, the less fortunate, the meek, human weeds? Let's go ahead and pretend they are. What does Jesus say we should do with them? Pull them out, making sure to get the root so they don't come back? Poison the soil, the community, so that they have no place to live? No! God chose David, the least likely candidate to lead his people, and Jesus specifically told us to plant those weeds right here in our garden, shoulder to shoulder with us! To bring them into this church family, water them, feed them, care for them, and help them grow. Jesus told us that if we do that, these less fortunate weeds will take over the garden. And when that happens, only when that happens; when we accept, plant and nourish all the weeds, we will have achieved heaven. But only then.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Music went well today.  Took trumpet and cornet in, demonstrated how they work, similarities and differences.   Also borrowed the church's hand chimes.  The kids love those!  Some of them have never touched a musical instrument, including 2 classes of first graders, with after about 15 minutes of instruction, they are playing The Star Spangled Banner, Twinkle Little Star, Mary Had a Lamb, and even Happy Birthday.  Once, I had a 6th grade class try out The Mexican Hat Dance...... not so recognizable on hand chimes. Thanks for following.  Gotta get some class work done before orchestra.
I have edited all of those posts that I can.  Note to self - do all reformatting in some other program.

I was almost run off the road by some idiot on a cell phone who was changing lanes while we were both going through an intersection.  I hate those people. Someone once corrected me when I said that.  They said, "You don't hate the people, you just hate what they are doing." Let me be clear.  I hate those people.  Those people who don't think enough about someone else's life.  Those people who think their need to be somewhere quicker is more important than my life, or the lives of my friends and family, I hate them.

Teaching music tomorrow.  Bringing my trumpet and cornet, as well as the church's hand chime set. That is always fun!

It's late again, but look, two posts in two days!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Whew!  I just posted all the sermons I have, that I could find.  I believe there are some others.  Some of them are kinda good, I think.  They have a decent message, anyway.  Enjoy these, leave a comment if you are moved to do so. Look at the time!  Off to bed.
This one didn't get a title.....
Sermon by Jonathan Firme

Whenever I come up here, I wonder, “Am I in the right place? Do I belong up here?” There are people, luckily not in this congregation – that I know of, who think not. Some believe that you have to have training, or the right this or that to do this job, or to do other things in life as well. When I have these feelings of doubt, I remember that Jesus did not recruit the best and brightest to do his work on earth. The disciples were not trained, not looked up to, were not considered by many to be worthy of doing the work of God, but they were. So, I continue to practice, and I urge all of you to do the same. If you let God determine your worth, you will always be worthy.

Let's begin with the reading from the gospel. Another story from Mark. This time, Jesus has healed a leper. I think, by now, we all understand the role lepers played in society in biblical times. The leper was the least important, most cast out person. Barely a person at all, the absolutely least worthy. The lepers all lived together, on the very outskirtiest part of town. They were unclean, and simply by being around them, you too would become unclean. There were no two ways about it. If you spent time around the lepers, you contracted leprosy, became ill, your parts began to come off, and you died.

That sounds like a lot of churches that are facing financial difficulties. Their membership drops, they disconnect from the community, they start cutting programs, and they die. Some do, anyway.... not us!

Then we have Jesus. Jesus, who can heal people without even touching them, decides to touch this leper. Not just touch him, but heal him. This goes against everything. It breaks every rule in the book! Remember? You spend time around them, you become unclean, you die. It does not work the other way around.

If I take my Jeep out into the desert and drive through some fantastic mud holes, my Jeep gets dirty. When I come back to town, my Jeep does not get clean because I drive on clean streets. The clean streets get dirty. The Jeep sits in the driveway, and chunks of mud fall from it, and Jean's shoes do not clean it up – they get dirty.

But Jesus – clean Jesus, touches this man and Jesus' clean rubs off onto the leper. Of course, we know that Jesus was the healing messiah, so we might expect it. It seems as though the leper expected it as well. After all, he told Jesus, “If you are willing, you can clean me.” It is almost like saying, if you are who I think you are, prove it. We know that Jesus was challenged in this way more than a few times in his ministry, but was this the first, and Jesus took the leper up on it? He did it under the condition that the leper would not tell anyone, but of course, he did. He told everyone. This changed everything in Jesus ministry, as crowds began to follow him everywhere.

Well, that is the breakdown of the story. Not being a theologian or a historian, I can't get into it much more than that. I can share what I think it might mean for us, here in Rock Springs. I don't feel too bad sharing this story, because I do believe there are a few in the audience who have not heard it. I think I once promised not to use it in a sermon again, but I figured you have heard this leper story more than me recounting our troubled recent past, so maybe I would be let off the hook. It really is a great story, and it just keeps getting better and better. So, two weeks before we, hopefully, hire a new full time pastor, on Healing Sunday, get out your rulers, because we are going to draw some parallels.

We, here in this church, this church itself, had leprosy. If you are visiting today, please do not leave, because I think we are better. We HAD leprosy. We were shedding out connections to the community. Being up here on this hill never seemed further from town. Even our own faith community, the UCC, seemed to be waiting for our obituary to show up in the Rocket Miner. The disease threatened to force us into cutting off parts of our self like music, Sunday school, various services, a pastor, a secretary. Luckily, we had the collective common sense, and strong enough faith to say to God, “If you are willing, you can heal us.” And he has.

You see, Jesus did not heal that leper because he was bored. He did not do it just to prove he could, because he told the guy to keep in under the table. He healed that leper simply because the leper had faith enough to recognize Jesus could do it, if he was willing to. Jesus could sense that , “The force was strong in that one, “ and basically rewarded him for it. Before you can receive healing, you have to have faith that you can be healed, then you need to ask for it. If we did not think it would help, we would not raise people up for prayers. We wouldn't spend 2 minutes on joys and concerns. And, if we don't have the faith that God can heal, it wouldn't matter if we spent 2 days on joys and concerns. It is a two way street. Even George Michael once proclaimed, “You gotta have faith.”

It is because we are truly a community of faith, an assembly of believers, because we suffered through not having a pastor at all, suffered through a couple of my sermons a month, that God sent Steven to be with us. Even though many others lost faith, we knew that, if God was willing, we could heal us. Once Steven arrived, there again, we had to have faith that that Steven, with his video clips and stage production services, could help heal this congregation. And he did.

So, here we stand, and sit, and stand again, on Healing Sunday, two weeks before the rest of us meet Kay Grice, the person who, the search committee believes, will lead us into the next chapter in our wonderful history. Personally, I believe too. How could I not? In the last 5 years, my faith has been on such a ride. It started growing exponentially when I first got here and met all of you. Like a tiny sunflower seed developing into a huge flower and stalk. My faith has withered and fallen, like the kernels on that flower that dry up in the sun, and fall to the ground. My faith has been growing again, using the very stalk it came from to feed off of, growing twice as mighty as it was before. I have believe that the prayerful considerations, and the difficult deliberations, the meetings, emails, phone calls and, literally, hundreds of pages of profiles and recommendations that our Search Committee has gone through will result in our further healing. We said to Wanda, Sharon, Jean, Annie, Mark and Rob, “If you are willing, you can heal us.” Thank goodness, that perfect blend of personalities said they were willing. Now, their hard work has brought them to someone to whom they felt they could extend that invitation; “If you are willing”

We don't know how many people that leper talked to, but I don't imagine he asked many people to heal him. If he saw people at all, he probably was reduced to begging for some food. However, when he saw Jesus, he asked to be healed. Though it really wasn't a question. It was more of a statement of fact. “You could heal me if you are willing.” Jesus could have said, “Yep”, and kept moving. Reverend Grice is willing,and I have faith.

There is one little catch to our gospel story. The leper disobeyed Jesus. He was specifically told not to speak of this healing , but to show himself to the priests. We don;t know if he showed his healed self to the priests, but we do know that he sang like a bird. He shouted it in the streets, telling anyone who would listen, and probably some who wouldn't. Did Jesus misjudge this man? Did Jesus make a mistake in healing him? By retelling the story of his healing, he certainly made it more difficult for Jesus to do his job. Jesus became a rock star. He couldn't go anywhere without a crowd after this, and everyone wanted healing. Just exactly what he wanted to avoid. I don't have an answer, but it deserves some thought. Jesus was fully human. This was right at the start of his ministry. I know it would be hard, impossible for me to keep quiet about it. I can't even stop talking about how proud I am of this congregation for pulling together over the last few years. A lot of you have made some very significant changes that have helped us tremendously, and I am proud to be part of your family. Jesus lit a fire in this leper's soul, just as he has in my life, and I can't keep quite about it. Nor should any of you. This is a great congregation to be a part of, and we should go out and share our story with everyone. Go, tell it on the mountain! Hark! The herald angels sing! I love to tell the story.

And I truly do. I love to tell the story of a little group of believers. A remarkable group of people who have made a terrible, and terrific journey together. They picked up some more people along the way, quite often, people who felt they did not belong anywhere. Forced into some difficult changes, their faith tested in the likes of Job. It is the story of The First Congregational Church of Rock Springs. They put all of their eggs into one basket and lifted it up to God saying, “If you are willing, you can heal us.” And he did.

I love to tell this story.

And when we are in glory,

We will tell this old, old story,

of Jesus endless love.

Fight The Good Fight

Sermon by Jonathan Firme

Some clever person has written a fictitious letter from a pastor to a church search committee. The letter reads as follows:

"I understand your church is looking for a pastor. I should like to submit my application. I am generally considered to be a good preacher. I have been a leader in most of the places I have served. I have also found time to do some writing on the side. I am over fifty years of age, and while my health is not the best, I still manage to get enough work done to please my congregation. As for a reference, I am somewhat handicapped. I have never served in any place more than three years, and the churches where I have preached have generally been pretty small, even though they were located in rather large cities. Some places I had to leave because my ministry caused riots and disturbances. When I stayed, I did not get along too well with other religious leaders in town which may influence the kind of references these places will send you. I have also been threatened several times and been physically attacked. Three or four times I have gone to jail for expressing my thoughts. You will need to know that there are some men who follow me around undermining my work. Still, I feel sure I can bring vitality to your church. If you can use me, I should be pleased to be considered." The letter is simply signed, 'Paul'.

Most leadership of the early church wouldn't make it through the church interview process today. Theirs was a rough and dangerous world. Turmoil on every side, both in the Jewish nation and the Roman. Think of the pictures we have seen from Iraq and Afghanistan these past few years and you get an idea of hardships the Apostle Paul faced as he traveled for 20 years and thousands of miles all over the Roman world.

Our reading this morning comes from 2 Timothy. Writing this letter, his second letter to Timothy, most likely the last thing he wrote, Paul is in prison, awaiting his execution. Still, he writes, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. All that's left now is the shouting – God's applause.” Paul is certain that all the hardships he has endured to spread the message of Jesus were worth it. For him, and for anyone who has worked for God as he has. I thought it would benefit us to take a look at how this extraordinary man dedicated his life to God, by keeping the faith, finishing the race, and fighting the good fight.

Paul writes about keeping the faith. Well, Paul certainly kept his faith through all of his struggles. He was rarely encouraged in the towns he visited. More often he was assaulted, arrested, imprisoned, or otherwise driven out of town. He was mocked, and his message disrespected. Yet, he pressed on, and he did establish churches in these hostile places. He kept the faith.Notice, Paul did not call it his faith. We often hear people say, “I lost my faith.” Paul talks about keeping The Faith, as though it were in capital letters. Not having it, but keeping it. Paul is a keeper of The Faith. He guards The Faith – the message of Jesus Christ, with his every word and action.

I played soccer and coached youth teams for years. Now, people who are not familiar with the game can usually name one position – the goalkeeper. The goalkeeper has one job. Protect the goal from any and all attackers. No matter where the attack comes from, no matter how many attackers there are, his job is to protect that goal. Even if it means getting stepped on, kicked or elbowed, he will defend that goal. In that same sense, Paul was a faith keeper. Everywhere he went, people were out to undermine his efforts, attacking the message he was carrying. Paul never stopped keeping the faith, and that is one of his messages to us. Against all who would use the the message of Jesus to keep some people down, deny rights to others, and pad their own bottom line, we must keep The Faith.

Keeping the Faith, and then finishing the race. Paul tells Timothy that he has finished the race, and it is time for Timothy to take the baton. It is time for us as well. I've been around long enough to know some men and women whose lives were completely dedicated to God, and within a few years, they had given up the race, and walked off the track. They had given up. They had lost their longing for God and all that he is. They felt God had nothing to offer. Too many times, these conversions happen in people who, for one reason or another, become dissatisfied with the teachings or practices of a particular religion. Paul warned us that there will be people who offer alternative messages, false religions. He also told us not to be surprised when people give up The Faith – capital letters again – to follow. Running the race, for us, means to be there when those runners decide to join us again. Not too long ago, I shared with you my own crisis, when I was ready to drop out of the race. It frightened me, but it strengthened me as well. It should frighten all of us. The possibility of quitting the race is real for all of us unless we allow our hearts to be completely gripped by God . . .

I never want to lose the grip God's greatness has on my life. It can be difficult though. Often times, there are many tasks demanding my attention on the third Thursday of the month, when I am supposed to meet with the admin team – or board of trustees, depending on which language you speak. I often have some other thing threatening to take the place of the council meeting on the last Thursday. Sunday evenings it can be difficult to get motivated for a book study, and don't even mention Sunday morning activities before church. It is all too easy to take some time off for me. To drop out of the race, just until the next checkpoint. However, the last thing I want to do is crawl across the finish line a defeated, derailed Christian or worse-give up the race before my life is over. I want to break that tape with arms high and my face to the sun and say with the apostle Paul, "I have finished the course; I have kept the faith"

The more I study Paul, the more I admire the man. Paul did fight the good fight. I want to share his own words on this subject, as he wrote in 2 Timothy, from The Message :

Don't be naive. There are difficult times ahead. As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They'll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they're animals. Stay clear of these people.

These are the kind of people who smooth-talk themselves into the homes of unstable and needy women and take advantage of them; women who, depressed by their sinfulness, take up with every new religious fad that calls itself "truth." They get exploited every time and never really learn. These men are like those old Egyptian frauds Jannes and Jambres, who challenged Moses. They were rejects from the faith, twisted in their thinking, defying truth itself. But nothing will come of these latest impostors. Everyone will see through them, just as people saw through that Egyptian hoax.

You've been a good apprentice to me, a part of my teaching, my manner of life, direction, faith, steadiness, love, patience, troubles, sufferings—suffering along with me in all the grief I had to put up with in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. And you also well know that God rescued me! Anyone who wants to live all out for Christ is in for a lot of trouble; there's no getting around it. Unscrupulous con men will continue to exploit the faith. They're as deceived as the people they lead astray. As long as they are out there, things can only get worse.

But don't let it faze you. Stick with what you learned and believed, sure of the integrity of your teachers—why, you took in the sacred Scriptures with your mother's milk! There's nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God's way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.

I can't impress this on you too strongly. God is looking over your shoulder. Christ himself is the Judge, with the final say on everyone, living and dead. He is about to break into the open with his rule, so proclaim the Message with intensity; keep on your watch. Challenge, warn, and urge your people. Don't ever quit. Just keep it simple.

You're going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food—catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They'll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But you—keep your eye on what you're doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God's servant.

You take over. I'm about to die, my life an offering on God's altar. This is the only race worth running. I've run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that's left now is the shouting—God's applause! Depend on it, he's an honest judge. He'll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for his coming.

Fight the good fight. Some battles in life are fought and instantly won; passing tests, playing games, solving a puzzle in the newspaper, or winning at a sporting event. We preoccupy ourselves with these "battles" because they give us instantaneous gratification and bring us a measure of pleasure and self assurance.

Some battles are fought for a while and won; graduating from high school or college, getting a promotion at work, achieving "retirement." We can see the need for fighting these kinds of battles because there is a significant achievement to be won at the end and once we have achieved that level, we can move on to other things, having won the battle.

There are other battles, however, that are ongoing and we will never, in this life, completely win until we conquer them in death. These battles are constant and daily efforts with which we must struggle on a regular basis. This is a hard thing for our society to accept as we are accustomed to complex crimes being solved in a one hour TV program, sporting events ending in less than two hours, and worship ending by 11:30. This kind of battle is only won in the continued fighting of it; it isn't a battle that is won, never to be fought again.

Paul's command to a young new minister is Paul's command to us, today. Keep The Faith, finish the race, and fight the good fight. So, what can we do now to ensure, as Paul put it, God's applause? That finish line victory? We can get back to basics: Honestly answer these five questions:

Do I hunger for God? Does God's Word govern my life? How quickly do I repent when I see my wrong? Am I sensitive to the Spirit's prompting me? Is my faith growing?

Well, is it?