2 Timothy 1:6-9, 13-14
Theme: Excitement for Christ
My Boy Scout troop was in Sycamore Canyon northwest of Cottonwood for the spring Camporee. Troops from across Northern Arizona, the original Grand Canyon Council, were there to compete in various outdoor activities to see which troop was the best prepared. For one event, the boiling water cookoff, we had selected teams from our patrols and I was on the water boiling team. We were given an empty coffee can and the instructions; While one person runs to the creek to fill the can with water, the rest of the team was to gather fire building materials and as soon as the full water can was ready, we lit the fire. The first can boiling was the winner.
Nothing spells “interesting” like taking 30 11-14 year-old boys and give them a box of matches to light a fire. A couple of the teams had brought back logs for their fires and couldn’t even get a small fire going. Others had medium size branches and had little fires started. A few of us, had gathered leaves, really small twigs, and other debris off the floor of the sycamore and cottonwood forest. We had roaring fires around the cans but a lot of the heat went right up into the air. A couple teams had taken time to build a small “stove” with rocks that lifted their can up off the ground. When they lit their fire they just continually fed it with leaves and twigs to keep it roaring, but UNDER the can. These were the two teams that won (I still think they had a hint from their leaders of the competition and had practiced before coming!)
After the competition was over, the leaf and twig fires died down and cooled quickly but the log fires were just getting started and those teams ended up taking all the cans and running relays back and forth to the creek to get enough water to put out the fires.
There are those who come to church out of curiosity or a desire they perhaps cannot identify and who are touched by worship or a ministry and become excited. Exuberant, they jump in with both feet for a time, usually short; sometimes only a few weeks and it is as if the fire has burned out and they disappear from the life of the church. We barely get to know them before they are gone.
Some have come and remined on the sidelines for months, arriving just as worship starts and leave quickly at the end. We may not even know their name. Under the surface a spark has ignited but it smolders perhaps not even smoking. Covered, the spark is not visible and if not exposed, it will eventually go out.
There are some who have experienced God’s presence, perhaps in a dramatic way, whose life has been changed and altered because of that experience. For some, the fire burns a small flame, carefully and slowly burning. This kind of fire is not bad, either. There was a phrase we used in Scouting, “White man build big fire, stand far away get cold. Indian build small fire, stay very close, get warm.” A small fire has its place, steady, easy to feed and you don’t burn out too fast. With a small fire, the coals have time to build up and those coals stay hot for a long time giving off heat to keep warm.
There are some who start off with great difficulty. It is as if the wood has been soaked in water. It takes a lot of tinder, small bits of dry leaves, twigs, and small branches to build enough heat and just enough coals so the water is dried out and the log finally catches fire and begins to burn. This kind of fire takes quite a bit of tending and can go out easy until the coals have built under it.
When I first learned to cook on a campfire, I tried to use the flames. It was, after all, the visible part of the fire and I thought that’s where the heat was. I usually ended up with burned, sooty food. You can’t control the heat from the flame and all the smoke is right there, generally in your face and food. Most often we burned Ponderosa Pine, burns great with lots of pitch, but smells like tar. It was some time before I finally understood what my scoutmaster, Dr. Beal, was telling me; the best cooking fires are the coals – nice steady even heat.
In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he offers guidance on caring for the people he has been charged with and to continue following the instructions Paul has given him and to remain true to the gospel. “For this reason,” he writes, “I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of hands.”
Ponderosa Pines are the best trees for fuel source when you are learning to build fires as a Boy Scout. The needles make great tinder and will flare up with hot fast flames while the pitch content of the wood makes it easy to have a large flame. The dead and brown needles need only a spark to ignite but they burn out fast. They don’t need to be fanned into flame. It’s the smoldering spark of a fire in a log that doesn’t seem to get enough oxygen so as you fan it, more oxygen is pushed onto the heat and fuel and combustion increases more and more.
If you want a lasting faith, one full of the fire of the Holy Spirit, you have to fan it into combustion. A faith-filled life doesn’t happen all by itself. Left alone, it’ll cool and simply die out, a smoldering cold fire of no value.
Many, who come to the church seek a quick fix, a sudden change and when that doesn’t happen they burn out and disappear. Perhaps they didn’t meet anyone or feel welcomed in a ministry they were drawn toward. I think it’s okay, because that spark is still there and perhaps either here or someplace else, they will return and renew the fire.
Some find a way to connect, through friends or a ministry, and they remain, a small fire or perhaps smoldering and when the occasional experience or message brings some oxygen, they burn again – for a time, before smoldering again.
Some, a few, have tended their fire, fanning when needed by seeking worship and prayer experiences where the relationship with the Holy Spirit is rekindled again. These people have a good bed of coals around them. They surround themselves with people of faith, with spiritual disciplines, and who have developed habits of spiritual practice that keep the fire fanned, and more fuel at the ready. The presence of God is evident, their lives an example of what Jesus asked us to do and to be.
Sadly, a very few have become soggy with poor teaching and influences waterlogging the gospel. They quench the fire of others through criticism, skepticism, and legalism. Sometimes, they even put out the coals by cooling the whole fire.
Over the past six years, part of my job has been to fan the fire, stoke it with tinder, and feed you with new fuel. We have started new things, re-kindled old, celebrated, cried, and fellowshipped. Some have come to us like a flash and burned out disappearing from the life of the church. Some have come and smoldered for a while before petering out with a wisp of smoke, and some like this are still here waiting for the chance to catch fire again.
Paul writes, “but the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord…” Together, we have been bold in trying new outreach, new mission, new opportunities and some have made a difference, others have fizzled out. Do not be disheartened when something doesn’t work, it may not be the right time. Keep trying, keep experimenting as you “try on the clothing of ministry and mission” until you find a fit.
Do not call yourselves a “small church” for you are a mighty church. Each week, two to three hundred people pass through the doors or are touched by one of your ministries - and do not think they pass through without some impact on their life, however small. Your ministry reaches across the conference showing your willingness to follow Jesus. From AA to the one who says, “yes!” to Jesus for the first time, people are being transformed into the likeness of Jesus.
Verse 9 reminds us it is Jesus who has saved us and called us to holy lives and this is not our doing, it is only through the grace of God – his purpose, his love. You have received this gift, do not let the fire die as some have done. Churches across the country are closing their doors because the fire has gone out. They have given up, there is no longer even a spark smoldering in the recesses of the pews. God has moved on where the fire burns and his work continues.
For a time, we have shared this life and ministry. I believe in you. There is a unique personality here at SOH, but it can be lost in an instant if you are not on guard, if you are not tending to the fire of the Holy Spirit. Do not minimize the power of the Spirit, do not neglect the Spirit in you or in those beside and around you. You are the coals of the fire, tend them well.
Care for your new pastor and invest in the ministry she will share with you and that she will join in alongside you. You will discover more love and grace, more ministry, and a broader, deeper faith. I commend you to give yourself time to come to know her, at least six months and remain open to the teaching of the Holy Spirit. The success or failure of any pastor is largely dependent on the coals of the fire. Stay close and keep each other burning for a coal by itself will burn out quickly.
I leave you with these final words from Paul, “13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”
Grace and Peace, Pastor John
I’ve been thinking about our worship last Sunday. It was different, we met in our fellowship center and had brunch. We had to squeeze into the room, it’s not really big enough. A few of our folks who use walkers had some difficulty, but people pitched in to help. Little Kevin, only one leg, moved about without any problem.
We talked about friends and friendship using verses out of Proverbs. Some avoided the topic and hijacked the conversation. Some probably didn’t talk (that’s ok), some didn’t understand why we were talking about friends. Out of 80-some folks only 27 completed a commit card where I asked you to commit to making a new friend, invite a friend, or just get to really know someone at SOH. I guess a 33% return isn’t too bad.
I’ve had some conversation this week with the SOH family and here are some comments I’ve heard:
“It was too crowded”, “Why didn’t we worship in the sanctuary and then have lunch?”, “I didn’t like the way we did communion”, “I was uncomfortable”, “Why didn’t the children go to Sunday School (presumably so they would be out of the room – that person doesn’t have children)”.
More than one person, with joy in their voice, said, “I met a new friend!” I said, “Great! Who is it?” And the reply, “Oh, I don’t know their name.” … Might I suggest you did not make a friend, you had a “social interaction with someone.”
When you first came to SOH someone (probably more than one) made the effort to learn your name and somehow you made friends with people, hopefully, getting together for dinner or mission or bowling, or just hanging out. Studies show that, typically, people will know about 20 people really well at their church and will have acquaintances with 40-50 others. That means, with about 90 in attendance each week, you can know about 1/3 to half of the people so there are quite a few you can take time and make the effort to get to know others. Heck, I had to ask some of you your name at least a dozen times before my feeble brain learned it! Ask! When you show interest, even if you must ask over and over, it communicates that you are at least interested in that person.
Worship. What is worship? It comes from two Old-English words; ‘weorth’, meaning something having worth or being worthy. The second word is ‘scipe’ or ship which carries the meaning of shape or quality. Worship then is having the “quality of being worthy” or “having worth.” When we ‘worship’ God we demonstrate our recognition of our relationship to God. We give thanks, we praise him, we give him glory by our humility before him and acknowledge his power and greatness.
Worship is one of the primary reasons for our existence! 1 Peter 2:9, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” This is part of our job description as Christians – we are to declare God as worthy, give him praise, and sing and speak that he is better than anything else!
When we speak about God in such terms, sing to him, pray, and fellowship (there’s that ‘ship’ again) we are worshipping. So, I ask, did we worship on Sunday?
Is there more than one way to worship? Or, must we sit in rows looking at the back of the head in front of us, never turning to meet the person next to us, all the while, watching the talking head up front? For two weeks, we have varied our worship setting, style, and atmosphere. If you have been a bit uncomfortable, good! It means that something is happening and you are paying attention, you may not understand, but you are paying attention. When we become too comfortable, familiar, and, perhaps complacent, in worship, we really aren’t glorifying the Creator of the universe – we’re doing something else entirely.
Again, I ask, “How will you worship God today?” Each day, seek a way to show God he is worthy and praise him. It might be simple with a worship song and prayer or by sharing God with a friend.
Oh, we’re back to friend’ship’ (there’s THAT word again). “Quality Friend.” Let me ask, and be blunt; if you don’t know someone’s name, can you really claim they are a friend? What kind of quality friend are you if you don’t know that first, basic, important fact?
I freely acknowledge that to be a friend is often very hard work. It is sometimes one-sided. It is someties thankless (at least in the present). It is always worth it. When you become a friend, and build a friendship (quality takes time!) you are valuing the life of the person you are with and in the process, you give glory to God for his creation. In a very real sense, when you demonstrate true friendship, you are worshipping God. “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” ~Genesis 1:27
I invite you to allow God to expand your notion of worship, your adaptability to opportunity for worship, and to experience the wonder and glory of the One who loved you so much he sent his Son for you. “Seek him and you will find him” in the eyes of each new friend.
Grace and peace to you! Pastor J.