given on Sunday, August 30, 2015
Game Time: Are you ready?
Scripture lesson: using the NLT
Psalm 72:4-7, 12-14
Help him to defend the poor,
to rescue the children of the needy,
and to crush their oppressors.
5 May they fear you[a] as long as the sun shines,
as long as the moon remains in the sky.
Yes, forever! . . .
. . . 12He will rescue the poor when they cry to him;
he will help the oppressed, who have no one to defend them.
13 He feels pity for the weak and the needy,
and he will rescue them.
14 He will redeem them from oppression and violence,
for their lives are precious to him.
8 . . . Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.
10 How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. 11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ,[a] who gives me strength.
17 Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.[a] He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.[b] 18 He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.[c]
19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger[d] does not produce the righteousness[e] God desires. 21 So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.
Have you noticed that football preseason is wrapping up this weekend and the 2015 season begins next weekend—Labor Day Weekend? Baseball season has a couple more months and the anticipation locally is high that the Royals make it to the final World Series game. Kansas City football and baseball fans are energized.
Are we, as Christians, energized like the sports fans on game day? Do we live our faith like jerseys with our favorite player’s number or the team’s name or logo? When we are in conversation at lunch or on breaks, do we sit around and discuss our faith with the same enthusiasm as we do the various sports news?
Living our Christian faith should be as obvious as our sports loyalty, yet many of our friends, neighbors, and co-workers cannot name what church you attend or even if you attend a church. If no one can identify whether or not we are Christians, then we are failing the team. Each day is game day, are we ready?
Pretend that next Sunday is the opening game of the season. We have reviewed the playbook, talked about different plays, practiced a few key points, and prepared. The pre-season ends Saturday, but the game is Sunday morning.
Paul certainly was a highly visible Jew known as Saul. He was a leader in the persecution of the newest faith team, Christianity. He used the old playbook, knew the laws extremely well, and led others to join in the persecution of the Christians. But God had a different plan for Saul.
An unexplained injury, so to speak, struck Saul. For a few days it was touch and go as to what his future would be, but God is in charge and he changed Saul’s position. His conversion successfully led the Christians to develop into a winning team.
The game plan is so simple—love one another. In fact, the success of that play propelled the church to move from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea on around to the north and the west under Paul’s direction. God’s plan can be repeated in community after community, country on to other countries, even across oceans. Yet, the simple and successful play has hit a snag.
The churches are at a plateau. For some reason, Paul’s successful game plan is not working. For about 50-65 years, the stadium—I mean churches–are no longer filled. The fans are worn out and tired from doing everything that does get done, and even their families seem to need a vacation more than an hour or two at church.
Paul clearly understood the challenges of maintaining a church’s growth. His letters are filled with advice and encouragement. He was quick to compliment, but also quick to scold the young church leaders in the efforts to keep their faith and to grow so others may learn the good news.
Over the past few weeks, the worldwide team followed the same advice in the common lectionary as provided the Ephesians. The rule is unchanging: love one another. The opponents are no different. The difference is the world itself. The cultures are so focused on business and technology and on international politics that the churches are no longer the first priority.
The Bible is our playbook, and the leaders’ stories provide the historical experience and timeless examples of how Christians can live in a complicated life using the simplest rule possible. The formula is fool proof so why are the churches failing?
Beginning today, reaffirm your commitment to God. As part of the game plan, check the Bible. The use of the three scripture readings today detail the very behaviors needed to keep each one of us healthy Christians:
- Psalms 72—Help defend the poor, rescue the children, and crush oppressors. Even the faithful Jews knew these rules in ancient times.
- Philippians 4—Fix your thoughts on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and admirable. Praise. Practice. And then Paul adds a very personal statement:
11 . . . for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
- James 1—Get rid of filth and evil. Accept the word God planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.
Following the lectionary is one major practice that keeps each Christian player focused and prepared for all life dishes out.
Reading scripture is critical yet so easy to overlook. Worship services can highlight scripture like coaches do when they tell players to go back to the game book, but fewer and fewer people are attending. As part of our covenant with God, we need to be inviting and encouraging others to attend church. Are we asking family, friends and co-workers to join us in our churches?
Worship is something like a game practice session or even a huddle before lining up on the field. It gives us an opportunity to review, to praise another player, and to ask questions. Worship interrupts the week and reminds us to stay faithful, to refresh our commitment to God, and to rally each other so we are strong enough to handle all the challenges thrown at us during the week.
And, each day practice. Be conscious of how you are living your faith. Read a daily devotional. Maybe read a piece of the lectionary or a small devotional book like The Upper Room, Guidepost, or Daily Word. When you check your emails, maybe you find a daily scripture you have signed up to receive. Another way is to listen to Christian music like on K-Love, your personal playlist or CD’s. Pick up a hymnal and read through one of the hymns. Practice. Practice. Practice.
Game day is every day. Make sure you are ready. Over the week, practice, then when the opportunity to invite others to join the team, you are ready to win one for God.
We know the rule.
We have the game book.
We listen to the coaches.
Help us to stay in the game.
Guide us in our practice.
Praise us when we do well.
Strengthen us when we tire.
Scold us when we make mistakes.
As your team player,
We strive to do our best.
We promise to practice.
We thank you for your gifts
We thank you for the coaches.
We thank you for playing time.
We thank you for the joy of winning
Life eternal now and forever. –Amen