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Sunday, February 19, 2012

That's NOT in the Bible! "Once saved; always saved" (Hebrews 10:19-26, 2 Peter 2:20-21)

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. For if we willingly persist in sin after having received the knowledge of truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them to have never known the way of righteousness than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment that was passed on to them.

Perhaps some of you are familiar with YouTube personality Betty Butterfield. She shares thoughts and wisdom on various aspects of life, and she devotes a pretty significant series to her experience visiting churches of various denominations. Her response to each is a little bit parody, a little bit caricature, but also eerily accurate to how we inside churches are often viewed by outsiders, and perhaps, even, how we sometimes view ourselves.

In her visit to the Methodist church, she says, “All I ever really knew about the Methodist Church is that . . . somewhere, in the middle of all the churches, is the Methodist Church. If you don’t fit in anywhere else or you’re not real extreme on nuthin,’ then you can be a Methodist.”

Have you ever heard anything like that, or thought something similar? That Methodists aren’t real extreme on nuthin’ or that we’re sort of in the middle? Indeed, Methodists have been called “reasonable enthusiasts,” or “extreme centrists.”

This map shows each county of the US by religious groups with a plurality of the population. Methodists, shown in green, are not the dominant religious voice in any region, but we are second in most places. We are often defining ourselves against the dominant denomination, but also find ourselves soaking up its characteristics. In the Northeast and West, Methodists both look and sound an awful lot like Catholics, but are also quick to point out how they are different from the Catholics. In the upper Midwest, we do the same thing with Lutherans.

I have a friend who serves in a rural United Methodist Church about seventy miles from here, and when asking one of his long-time members about the religious diversity of their community, the old-timer looked at him and said, “Preacher, we got both kinds of religion here - Baptist and Methodist.”

Here we are, in the middle of this sea of red Baptists, most particularly the Southern Baptists. Here in the buckle of the Bible Belt, where the roll of some churches leads us to believe that certain counties have a higher population of Baptists than they do people; Baptists have obviously been the dominant voice of religious influence, and so Methodists here look and sound an awful lot like Baptists even as we often define ourselves in the ways that are different from how Southern Baptists believe and behave.

Let me say at the outset here that Baptists and Methodists hold a lot more in common than we do in difference. Indeed, we have more common ground with all Christian groups than we do places of disagreement - and unity should be the basis of our relationship with those in other Christian groups.

At the same time, I don’t want to gloss over the differences in understanding and emphasis too quickly. While it is true that we, as United Methodists, don’t hold the corner on the market, nevertheless we do hold a particular and unique corner, and I happen to think where we live provides something that is both special and necessary. It’s one of the reasons I am a United Methodist and not something else - the particularity of our identity is a good and helpful thing.

Here in the Bible Belt, one of the key differences between Methodists and Southern Baptists is in how we understand and speak about the experience of God’s salvation for us in Jesus Christ. I have heard the accusation advanced that we Methodists don’t care about salvation or even that we don’t believe in salvation, simply because the way we speak about it is different than those in the dominant religious culture around us. That accusation is just nonsense, and I hope you’ll see that, in fact, we speak about salvation differently precisely because we care so much about it!

Think of a couple preparing for marriage, who places all of their emphasis and preparation on the day of the wedding itself - a beautiful service, the perfect reception - but no thought goes into the actual marriage. This is something I really try to underscore with the couples with whom I am working in preparation for their marriages. Yes, we’re certainly going to plan a wedding and make it as perfect a day as we can, but my real role, the important role I play with them, is in the preparation for marriage and the relationship of a life together. The wedding itself is vitally important, but the thing that really matters is the day-to-day ins and outs of the marriage. The wedding day is important - it’s a big deal! But so is every day beyond that.

Similarly, John Wesley taught that coming to faith is not the goal of the religious journey. It is important. It is critical. It is necessary. But it is not the goal. In the Wesleyan tradition, the end of the road is not an altar where one has knelt in deep repentance and accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Hooray when that happens - but it is not the end of the road (Belton Joyner, Being United Methodist in the Bible Belt, p 3).

Hooray for the wedding day and the rightful cause for celebration that it is, but the cause for greater celebration is when the vows made are lived out in the day-to-day of life together. And so, Hooray when we come to faith, but the cause for greater celebration is when we continue to live as faith-filled people.

It is no coincidence that one of the metaphors used to describe the relationship between Christ and the Church is that of a marriage, with Christ as the groom and we, all of us, the Church, as his bride. This is one metaphor of many that helps us reclaim a Scriptural definition and understanding of salvation. For one thing, the initiative is always, always, always God’s. Christ, the groom, asks us to be his bride. We certainly choose whether or not to accept the invitation, but the salvation relationship was God’s idea and extended at God’s initiative.

Further, too much emphasis on that moment of getting saved, particularly when it is coupled with the slogan, “Once saved, always saved” cheats us of the fullness of an unfolding relationship with God. It also places the start line of our faith journey in the wrong place, allowing us to think that we choose the starting point, when in reality, the story of God’s salvation and our participation in it begins long before. Indeed, our loving God of reconciliation has been reaching toward us and offering us salvation and eternal life since the very beginning.

The phrase “Once saved, always saved” is a slogan that originally applied to the classical Calvinist doctrine of “Perseverance of the Saints,” the basic premise of which is that those whom God calls and saves by grace, God will grant a measure of grace sufficient to continue as a disciple of Jesus. A person desiring to continue as a disciple of Jesus will evidence their desire for salvation and do such things as are consistent with following Jesus, such as praying, reading Scripture, attending public worship, sharing their resources, and committing themselves to works of piety and works of mercy.

Honestly, I don’t take much of an issue here. As a Methodist, I certainly nuance it a bit more and add that we have free choice and always have the option to accept or reject God’s grace and therefore can choose whether or not to practice these holy habits, but at the end of the day, I’d agree that these are the habits and practices of one who has experienced and continues to experience the cleansing, transformative power of the Holy Spirit that accompanies salvation.

However, this is a far cry from how the phrase “Once saved, always saved” is commonly used. Typically, it implies that once one has made an honest, genuine, uncoerced commitment of one’s life to Christ, that’s all there is to it. The danger in this is that it glosses over the hard, day-to-day work of discipleship required for being a Christ-follower, similar to how placing too much emphasis on the wedding itself can gloss over the work required to build the marriage relationship.

In Bible Belt culture, “getting saved” is a socially-expected rite-of-passage, apparently bonus points are awarded if one can name the date, time, and place of salvation. It is expected that one has a dramatic story of the moment they turned the corner from sinner to saint, a moment they can point to when they accepted Jesus into their heart, and that moment in which a personal decision was made is forever emblazoned in their faith story as the moment they were saved.

However, as we United Methodists understand salvation,it is not so much a singular moment as it is a lifetime journey of following and walking with Jesus. Moments like what we just described are a vitally important part of that faith journey for many, but they do not represent the entirety of the experience of salvation. Those moments of clarity, when we feel our hearts strangely warmed, when we aware of God’s presence like never before, when we make a conscious choice to turn away from self-centered living and devote ourselves to Christlike God-centered living - all of those moments are vitally important and should be celebrated as milestones in every person’s faith journey, but we must also realize that none of those moments, in and of themselves, represents the totality of salvation.

Further our reconciliation with God is already a reality. Everything necessary for our salvation is already accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God has already extended the invitation, and when we grab onto the grace extended toward us, we are saying “Yes” to all the ways God has already said “Yes” to each of us.

But “Yes” is not a response we give to God only once in our lives. I know I must be incredibly frustrating to folks who are trying to save my soul in the parking lot at the mall or the grocery store or Caribou Coffee, because the first question they usually ask is, “Are you saved?” and I respond with an enthusiastic “Yes.” Then they ask, “When?” and I say “2000 years ago in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and by the grace of God, most recently, today.” That response is usually enough to throw them off script and send them away mumbling something to themselves about smart-aleck Methodists.

Buying into the slogan “Once saved, always saved” could very well be the thing that keeps us from growing in our relationship with God, for it comes with the implication that once we’ve repented and experienced that initial forgiveness, that’s all there is to it. One of the worst things for us would be to be people who claim to be followers of Christ, yet who have no fruit in our lives that would suggest we are in a relationship with Christ. Talk about a death sentence - to have said “Yes” to Christ a long time ago and convinced ourselves that we are just fine, perhaps preventing ourselves from having said “Yes” to Christ lately; it’s no different to having made vows to our partner at our wedding, but having done very little to uphold them lately.

As the bride of Christ, we are called to say “Yes” to Christ daily. “Once saved, always saved” is a slogan that doesn’t work because it ignores the day-to-day call to follow Christ and grow in his love and example. Every day, we have choices. Salvation is an accomplished reality in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but each day, we choose whether or not we will participate in that reality.

Salvation is not only a matter of where we will spend eternity, it’s also a matter of ushering in the reign of God in the here and now, that God’s kingdom shall come and God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. It’s not only a matter of us getting into heaven when we die, it’s about getting heaven into us while we live! Friends, that is something that, like a marriage, takes dedication and commitment, a lifetime of saying “Yes” to God, of turning ourselves over to God, of constantly choosing to participate in the salvation which God is freely offering to each and every one of us.

The slogan “Once saved, always saved” cheapens the experience of salvation by collapsing into a single moment a relationship that is to be enjoyed with God over a lifetime. Having said “Yes” to Christ once does not suffice for never saying “Yes” to Christ again. On the contrary, saying “Yes” to Christ starts us on the journey of continuing to renew that “Yes” all through our lives. If you get married, you don’t merely say “yes” to your partner on the wedding day, it’s about each and every day beyond that. If you come to faith, it’s not about saying “yes” to God just once and that being the end of it. It’s not “Yes, once and always.” It’s “Yes, again and again, a thousand times, YES!”

Today, I want to extend an opportunity for you to say “Yes” to God. Maybe that’s something you’ve never really done before, maybe it’s been an awful long time since you have, maybe it’s something you do constantly - in any case, it’s something we all need to do. Whatever your circumstance, if you truly, in the depths of your heart, desire to say “Yes” to God today and every day, in a moment, I’m going to invite you to stand as your way of saying “Yes.” Maybe you even want to come and kneel at the altar rail, or gather around the altar rail with others, or reach toward heaven or those around you - whatever the Spirit leads you to do, you just go right ahead and do that. I’m going to be here at the altar rail to pray with those who’d like to. We’re in no rush today - this is too important to rush through it, and as long as you and God have business to do, however long that takes, that’s how long we’re going to take. The important thing isn’t so much how you say “Yes” to God today, it just matters that you do. And, if today is the first time you’ve ever said “Yes” to God, would you do me a favor and just me know - maybe quietly on the way out, or shoot me an email or text later today? I’d like to pray for you, and help you on this lifetime journey of continuing to say “Yes” to God. And so, if you’re ready to say “Yes” to God today, whether that’s for the first time ever or this is something you already do daily, would you please stand?

O God, look upon these, your beautiful and beloved people, who stand this day to say “Yes” to you. They are saying “Yes” to your offer of salvation, they are saying “Yes” to being your disciple, they are saying “Yes” to walking in your ways. They aren’t standing because they’re perfect or they have everything together or figured out. They’re standing because they realize how much you love them, and they love you, too, and according to the grace you pour upon them, they want to continue saying “Yes” to you all through their lives. Holy God, pour out your Holy Spirit upon all gathered here today, give them the strength to continue to stand strong in you, transform them from glory into glory, and use them to transform all the places they find themselves, and the heart of every person they encounter. Help us, now and always, to say “Yes” to you. In the name of Jesus, who was and is your “Yes” to us - Amen.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

That's NOT in the Bible! "Hate the sin; love the sinner" (Romans 5:6-8)

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Over the last several weeks, we’ve been working our way through a series called “That’s NOT in the Bible!” Each week, we’ve looked at a different phrase or proverb that sounds like it could be Biblical wisdom, often gets quoted as Biblical wisdom, or at the very least, serves as a summary statement of a particular worldview often espoused by people of Christian faith. The problem with all of these sayings is that not only are they not in the Bible, many of them actually advance a view of God that is grossly inconsistent with who Scripture truly reveals God to be.

The world offers us its version of wisdom, and that’s what all of these phrases are, yet the Gospel offers us so much more. Turn to your sermon notes as we look at this week’s phrase, “Hate the sin; love the sinner.” May we pray.

So we know the phrase “Hate the sin; love the sinner” isn’t from the Bible. So where did it come from? Our quiz on the origin of these phrases has been missing for the last couple weeks, but I’m pleased to bring it back today. I’m going to give you four options for the origin of this phrase, and I want you to vote by raising your hand for the person you think originated the phrase, ok?

Option A - St. Augustine (354-430) - the philosopher and theologian most influential in the development of Western Christianity, he was appointed bishop in present-day Algiers, in northern Africa.

Option B - Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) - the Renaissance humanist theologian, most famous for his work, Oration on the Dignity of Man, in which he argued for the dignity of all persons on the basis of their having been created in the image of God.

Option C - George deBenneville (1703-1793) - London born who immigrated to the American colonies, he was a Universalist preacher and evangelist and was influential in forming the Universalist Church of America.

Option D - Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) - the preeminent political and ideological leader of India, most known for his non-violent resistance and civil disobedience.

And the origin of the phrase goes to - St. Augustine and Gandhi - it’s a bookend tie! The phrase itself as we know it came directly from Gandhi’s 1929 autobiography. However, in Augustine’s letter 211, written around 424, is the phrase, Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum, which roughly translates as “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.”

Context is vital to our understanding. Part of the problem for Christians is that we seem to have lost the Biblical meaning of the word “sin.” Sin doesn’t mean “bad” or “bad things.” In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word is chatta’t and it means, “separation.” In the New Testament, the Greek word hamartia, is translated “sin.” It’s a term from archery that literally means “to miss the mark.” It’s when you let the arrow go and it fails to hit the target. So sin is both a condition - one of separation from God, and a missing of the mark - aiming our lives away from God.

This Biblical understanding of sin helps us understand St. Augustine’s use of the phase. Prior to his Christian conversion, Augustine had lived a pretty sensuous life - lots of women, lots of drinking and partying and all sorts of self-indulgent behavior. During that phase of his life, he didn’t hate his sins at all - he was actually enjoying them! And so, when Augustine writes, “with love for mankind and hatred of sins,” he calls to rid ourselves of anything that separates us from God and neighbor. He is actually reframing Jesus’ command to “love God and love neighbor.” And here’s the really fascinating thing: he is referring here to hating our own sin, yet when the phrase is used today, most commonly it is used to refer to the sin of others.

Hating the sin while claiming to love the sinner gives us an opportunity to place more emphasis on the shortcomings of others rather than ourselves. In Matthew 7, Jesus told us to judge not, lest we should be judged. Concerning sin, he told us not to fuss about the speck of sawdust in our brother or sister’s eye when we’re blinded by a 2x4 plank in our own eye. Or, in John 8, a group of people point out to Jesus a woman who had been caught in adultery and remind him that the law teaches she should be stoned to death, and they want his response, and he says, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7).

In other words, it is quite inappropriate for us to go around pointing out the faults, shortcomings, failures, and weaknesses of others when we still have so many of our own. “Hate the sin; love the sinner” fails to meet this test because it focuses not on our own sin, but on that of someone else. The Scriptures clearly teach that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:32), but the caution for Christians is to remember that this applies to us on the inside as well as those we perceive to be on the outside, and perhaps we who live in stained-glass houses should think twice before we start throwing stones.

Then, understanding this phrase in context, we come back to the phrase which appears in Gandhi’s autobiography; many people assume it’s a worldview he embraced. Not so. Just read the whole sentence he actually wrote: “Hate the sin and not the sinner is a precept which though easy enough to understand is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world.”

Why is it hard to practice? Because our feeble human minds have an impossible time making a distinction between a sin and the person who commits it. Even with the best and noblest of intentions, we end up hating the person right along with the sin, and for this reason, evil, prejudice, and bias continues to spread. There are plenty of examples of this through history – groups whose blind hatred has contributed to great evil being committed in the world.

What I find most disturbing about each of these examples is that each operates from a position of self-righteousness, so convinced of the divine correctness of their own position that they really are convinced they are doing God’s bidding in the evils they commit. There is an awful lot of evil proudly parading around in the world that people have been kind enough to attach God’s name to. But friends, know this – God is not the author of evil, and when an agenda of hate is advanced anywhere, God’s heart breaks and God weeps with us.

Hating the sin while claiming to love the sinner too easily spreads hate in the world, because I am convinced that hate is just too strong a human emotion for us to keep under control. We, as humans, are not disciplined enough to handle our hate, and when we give into it, it becomes a white-hot consuming fire within us that blinds us to all else.

Perhaps you’ve heard the Native American story about the elder of the community who was once asked how she had become so wise, so loving, and so kind over her lifetime. She replied, “There are within me two wolves – one of love, and one of hate. You can’t feed them both, and so each day, whichever one I feed, that’s the one that grows.”

Friends, the gospel calls us not to feed hate; following Jesus Christ requires that we feed love. Yes, we are sinners – even St. Paul referred to himself as “chief among sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) – yet the gospel remains good news for all sinners, for we are clearly told “God proves his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God loves sinners – all sinners – there is no way around that. When it comes to sin, our task is not to point out the sins of the sinners around us, because let’s be honest, people know there is an emptiness inside them, a separation from God – yes, sin – people know that without our best-intentioned efforts to point it out to them. People try to fill that emptiness with all sorts of things, but rather than yelling about whatever other people have placed in their cup, we just keep offering them the real thing; we just keep making room for them around our table, we just keep inviting sinners to meet the Savior.

Do you see how “loving the sinner and hating the sin?” lands just a little bit off target? Again, hate is just too powerful for us. We are not disciplined enough to keep from sliding down its slippery slope. We can start out with the best and noblest of intentions to hate the sin and not the sinner, but hate is so powerful we run the very grave risk of hating the sinner right along with the sin. And if there is even the slightest chance that we might end up hating our neighbor rather than loving them, that’s a risk that is simply too great to take. Fully half of Jesus’ great commandment was that we should love our neighbor, and if there is even the remotest possibility that we would be led down the path of hatred rather than love, it’s just not worth it.

If we are going to hate anyone’s sin, the only person whose sin we have a right to hate is our own, and that’s it. And yet, I place a word of caution in even doing that – the same slippery slope that applies to hating the sin of others also applies to ourselves. We too easily slide from hating our sin to hating ourselves, and a people who are full of self-hate are going to find it very difficult to love anyone.

Rather than hating sin – whether that is our own or someone else’s – let me suggest a response to sin that is more faithful to the Biblical tradition. When it comes to sin, we should mourn our own, and forgive others. Mourn our own because we are deeply grieved at the distance between ourselves and God, forgive others because we are deeply grieved at the distance between them and us. Mourning and forgiveness keeps us from feeding the wolf of hate and stunts the growth of hate within us. It’s a much different emotional response than giving into hate, but the results are much more faithful to what God desires from us.

We don’t have to hate sin in order to take it seriously. Indeed, mourning and forgiveness are both hard work – infinitely harder than simply giving in to hate. Hate is the easy way out. Mourning our own sin and forgiving the sin of others requires that we cannot gloss over sin or ignore it. Sin, and its emptiness, its brokenness, its great separation from God and all the effects that come with it are very real. The reality of sin forces us to do the hard work of mourning and forgiving, in order that whatever distance there is between us and God, and us and others, is closed.

The reality of sin should make us all the more diligent in sharing God’s love with all sinners. Let us be faithful in freely, radically, recklessly sharing God’s love with all – to invite and welcome all people into the church’s fellowship, to push our doors open a little wider, to put ourselves out a little more to seek and save those around us, to crowd a few more chairs around God’s table – precisely because of the reality of sin and God’s great, overflowing, abundant love for sinners, his love that was displayed in Christ’s willingness to die to save sinners, including you and including me.

It is the gospel – Christ died to save sinners. At just the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. Christ died for unrighteous people. Christ died for those who didn’t deserve it. Christ died for people on the outside, even though those on the inside were trying desperately to keep them out – why? Because Christ’s death for sinners was how God proved God’s love for sinners. All sinners. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

For us, as disciples of Jesus, it simply means that we’ve acknowledged that reality and are trying to follow Jesus as best as we can through God’s grace. It doesn’t make us better than anyone, it simply makes us co-laborers in God’s project to reach the hearts of sinners with his love. The way we do that is not to point out the shortcomings of others or to add to the pain, brokenness, and separation in their life. Not at all. Rather, our God-given task is to throw out the welcome mat for sinners of every shape and form, with the recognition that we are no different or better than any of them. We’re all sinners in need of a Savior, and those of us who know him have the joyful pleasure of introducing him to others who haven’t yet made his acquaintance.

Christ died for us, all of us, while we were yet sinners. That proves God’s love toward us! You know what we call that? Grace. Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace. Amazing grace. That’s a treasured hymn, in part, because it cuts right to the heart of how God deals with sinners. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a . . .” what? “Wretch like me.” Not amazing grace that saved a good person like me, a godly person like me, a perfect person like me, a faithful church member like me, an all-star volunteer for Jesus like me – a wretch like me. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved an imperfect, clumsy, ignorant, selfish, prideful, hateful person – a wretch, a sinner – like me. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to hate or marginalize anyone else with this melody in your head? Hmmmmmm . . . .

Any time you feel the impulse of hate swelling within you, anytime that wolf inside is screaming out “Feed Me!” you just hum “Amazing Grace” to yourself, and allow God to do some amazing work in you.

Whenever I am tempted to hate the sin of another, or even when I’m tempted to hate them, I have to remember that I’m not so different from them as I might like to think. I, too, am a sinner, dependent upon a grace that belongs not to me but the God who saves me. God proves his love in that while we were yet sinners, each and every one of us, Christ died for us, and for them.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

That's NOT in the Bible! "Money is the root of evil" (1 Timothy 6:6-19)

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

As for those who are in the present age rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

All right – so anyone confused yet? We’re working our way through a series called “That’s NOT in the Bible,” we’re looking at sayings that aren’t actually in the Bible, yet they are quoted as if they are. No doubt, you saw either on the sign outside or in your bulletin that today’s saying is “Money is the root of evil,” and yet we just read a passage, from the Bible, and you might be thinking, “Wait a minute, there it is, plain as day!”

Remember at the outset of this series, we said these phrases are a bit of a grab bag – some are silly, some are antithetical to the gospel, and others are really close to actual Biblical phrases. This is one of those that’s really close. Verse 10 of today’s reading says, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” It’s a subtle difference, and yet, that subtlety is where we really find meaning. May we pray.

How much money is enough? If you were to ask this question of people across the spectrum in terms of wealth and income, you would get a remarkably consistent answer. Can you guess what that answer would be? “Just a little more.” In the movie The Wedding Singer, Adam Sandler’s character goes on a job interview at a local bank, and the bank manager asks him, “Do you have any experience with money?” Sandler replies, “No, sir, I have no experience but I'm a big fan of money. I like it, I use it, I have a little. I keep it in a jar on top of my refrigerator. I'd like to put more in that jar. That's where you come in.”

When people responded that “enough” money would be “just a little bit more,” it turned out most people had in mind a figure that was about 7-10% more than their current income. So, for the person who made $10,000 a year, “enough” would be another $700-1000/year. For the person making $50,000 a year, “enough” would be another $3500-5000/year. For the person making $1,000,000 a year, “enough” would be another $70,000-100,000/year. These figures are consistent across generational lines and at all income levels.

Here’s what is encouraging. Most people really don’t want to be super-rich, they want “just a little bit more” so they can be just a little more comfortable. But here’s the rub - so long as we want “just a little bit more,” we desire something that is always going to be just a little bit out-of-reach. “Just a little bit more” remains a moving target that we’re always really close to, yet that always remains just beyond our grasp. Like every first down in football, once we’ve achieved it, the chains are moved a little further down the field. The difference, however, is that unlike football, chasing after money has no endzone. We just keep reaching, and reaching again, and reaching again, and as long as we continue to reach, the thing we seek remains just out of our grasp.

Money itself is not evil. Having money is not evil. Being wealthy is not evil. It’s how we use money, and the attitude we have about money (our love for it, that is), that we must carefully watch. Today’s text says, “Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

Money itself is the not the problem, it’s the love of it and the desire to be rich where we can get ourselves into trouble. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; you will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24). This is pretty simple: loving God places claims on our lives that are inconsistent with what we do if we love money. The appetite for things that grow out of a desire to be rich are sure and certain ways to lead us away from the faith.

How so? If we think of evil as the antithesis to things of God, and realize that sin, at its core is self-centered living instead of God-centered living, then we see that loving money is the express lane to a self-centered life, ie: a sinful life, ie: one that is bent toward evil. Money tempts us to be self-made people, but the gospel tells us we are God-made people. Money tempts us to think we can do it on our own, but the gospel tells we cannot do it apart from God. Money tempts us to be completely independent, but the gospel tells us we are most fully alive when we are dependent on God, and interdependent with each other. The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and the desire to be rich has led many away from the faith.

Today’s text tells us not to be lovers of money. Verse 11: “As for you, man [or woman] of God, shun all this. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; [not join the rat-race looking out for number one], take hold of the eternal life [not take hold of lots of material pleasures]” (1 Timothy 6:11-12). This is the call upon those who claim to be Christians, not to get caught up in the games the world invites us to play about accumulating and pursuing and loving money, but in our love for God and neighbor, living a life in which righteousness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness are the most important things we have to show on our life’s balance sheet.

Doing this requires us to mentally re-set the definition of success. The world defines success in terms of wealth, yet today’s Scripture turns that notion on its head, saying “There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment” (1 Timothy 6:6). We Christians play by a different set of rules and have different standards of success. The world says, “Get as much as you can while you can at whatever cost necessary.” The world says, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” That’s how the world defines success. That’s how the world defines great gain. But our definition is different; there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment.

One way we can do that is by practicing gratitude. Rather than focusing on what we don’t have and pining away for those things, we would do better, every day, to take stock of what we do have, and to praise and thank God for the blessings that are already ours. Over time, practicing gratitude serves as a reminder that even the very breath we are given is a gift. Everything we possess, every skill we have, the ability to work and earn a living, material blessings and everything we have is a gift - simply recognizing that reality leads us to experience godly contentment - the place our Scripture tells us is the place of great gain. It’s not about how much stuff we have, it’s about using what we have, whatever that is, however much or little it may be, for God. Practicing gratitude leads us away from loving money and the things money can buy, and it leads us to fall more in love with God.

Another way we can keep from falling into the trap of loving money is to check our motivation. Of the stuff we desire, what’s our motivation? This is a question we need to ask both as individuals and as a church - what’s our motivation for desiring the stuff we want? God does not want us to hoard, God wants us to share. Is it for our own purposes and our ego and making ourselves look good, or is it something God can use and we can share? If it’s just for ourselves, our own egos, to make ourselves look good, then we’ve missed the point.

The text closes, and so do we, by saying, “As for those who are in the present age rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

Before you think, “Phew, I’m not rich, so this part doesn’t apply to me,” you’re not off the hook on this one. Every single one of us in this room is rich. How do we figure? What do you think a normal annual household income for someone living in Charlotte is? Any guesses? The median household income in Charlotte in 2009 was $49,799. On a global scale, where do you think this median income of $49,799 would rank? If you could fill in the blank, saying that income is in the top “X” percent of world income, what number would you say?

As it turns out, this “middle-of-the-road” person in Charlotte is in the top 0.98% of world income earners. That means that more than 99% of the world’s population is poorer than the median household in Charlotte who makes $49,799 a year.

Any idea what the median income is around the world? It’s $762 a year. That means the median income in Charlotte is 65 times higher than the median income around the world. Now, before you start saying, “Yes, but the cost of living is vastly different in various parts of the world,” which is true, know that these figures are already based on purchasing power parity, meaning $10 would buy you the same amount no matter where in the world you were. Differences in the costs of living are already taken into account.

So how does a person live on $762 a year? Very differently than we do. They don’t have electricity, appliances, heat, air conditioning, running water, a bathroom, a telephone, a bed, a car, a radio, or a computer. They don’t have healthcare. They don’t have an education. Almost 100% of their income goes toward a meager amount of basic food to remain alive. They would be lucky to get a few pieces of clothing and a bit of medicine, and that’s about it, and if they survive to the ripe old age of 45, they would be one of the oldest people they know.

Did you realize you were so rich? Puts things into a little different perspective, doesn’t it? Perhaps makes us a little more grateful to realize, relatively speaking, all that we do have. Perhaps that makes it a little easier to define great gain as godliness combined with contentment.

Friends, whether we realize it or not, we are rich people. That perspective makes it seem a little odd to devote our lives to the love of money and the pursuit of wealth, when we already have so much. Money itself is not the root of evil, but the love of it certainly can be.

What we actually need a little bit more of isn’t money - it’s godliness and contentment. Set your aim to grow there, for in so doing, we set our hearts not on the uncertainty of riches, but in God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Do good, be rich in good works, be generous, and ready to share. Store up for yourself the treasure of a good foundation for the future, and take hold of the life that really is life.