esterday's Gallup Poll affirmed what we have been witnessing in our church and all across America during the past few weeks; folks are taking another look at faith in the midst of troubled times. In the poll conducted September 21-22, 64 percent said religion is "very important." This was the second highest ever. Additionally, 47 percent said that they had attended church or synagogue during the preceding week, compared with 41 percent in two previous polls during 2001. (AJC, 10/6/01, B-1)
In today's text Paul is encouraging the young believer Timothy to "rekindle" his faith, or "the gift of God that is within you already." Evidently, his grandmother and mother, Lois and Eunice, had been believers and had christened Timothy in the faith, but he had not fully claimed it as his own. If stopped on the street by a Gallup survey taker, Timothy would have possibly said, "my religion is kind of half way important but it's not any big deal."
It is good whenever lukewarm "christianetts" are moved by some major event in their lives, or in their world, as in the case of the terroristic acts of September 11th, and they begin to more earnestly seek a rekindling of relationship with God. This new religious interest is perhaps one of the good things that will come from this terrible mass loss of human life. The good will not make the bad become good, nothing could ever take away the terror that we all felt on 9/11, but anything that makes people feel like seeking reconnection with God is a good result. It will be comforting to the many bereaved family members to someday realize that there were some things that resulted from their loved ones tragic deaths.
Religion is about our connection with God. Our religious life is somewhat analogous to our television sets that enable us to watch TV. Religion is not an end in itself but is a way to connect to the television programming. It is not strictly an academic discipline, but an emotional level friendship: An inward and spiritual awareness of knowing God, and growing closer to Him. Physicists, theologians, high mathematicians and other academicians can become theists through their research, study and logical thinking; but actually knowing Christ as a spiritual friend and having a heart felt assurance, is won on our knees in prayer. Grace is God's gift and coming to church is like coming to the Christmas Tree to open our gifts. This is the place where the gifts of the Spirit are distributed.
The New Testament teaches that "whenever we begin to draw close to God, He will draw close to us." (James 4:8) However, even when we think that we are making the first move toward discovering God, we later learn that God had been there all the time drawing toward Him. He seems to have a need for our love; in fact, He created us to return His great love for us. God's love could really not find a focus until the creation of free human beings who could choose to love, or to reject Him.
Many of us post WW II Baby Boomers were in the boat with the young Timothy during our teens and twenties. There are even a few from "The Dropped Out Generation" still dressing like Hippies of the 60s. Back then the major national event that shook our foundations was the tragic assassination of President Kennedy. It happened on Friday, November 22, 1963, and everyone living then still remembers where they were and exactly what they were doing when they heard the news. America prayed back then too. Folks returned to church to find answers. Many of us began to rekindle our faith, to ask some pretty big questions such as, "How could a caring God allow such a thing to happen?"
This same major question being repeatedly asked today. It has been asked of me countless times during the last twenty-seven days. The answer that I have tried to give to each person is that God has given people the freedom to make good and bad choices and the terrorists made some really bad decisions. Obviously, they were victims of the tragic consequences of an extremely radical fundamentalism and were turned into something resembling robots that were being controlled from afar. However, each terrorist mad their own decisions to follow through with the crazy idea of committing suicide and mass murder in the name of what they had been duped into thinking was God's will of destroying innocent lives.
Hopefully, we can learn from this that it is really important to make choices, and major decisions, within the framework of the teaching of Christ and His Church. There are also principles that all civilized people hold in common that we will never feel justified in breaking; such as, suicide and murder are never condoned by any right thinking people of any culture. We all need to look out for the danger signs if we are led into a subculture that teaches outlandish ideas and tries to bend its followers into dupes and tools of the group's insane power. There are groups with some of these "Taliban type" goals within our city.
Certainly, God wants to lead us in the development of our relationship with Him but He always operates within the parameters of what is best for us and within the limits respect for our individual freedom. Also, the true Church never contradicts the mutually held views of the Bible. If we have a knowledge of Scripture we can more easily spot a fake. Be leery of anybody who claims to have a "new revelation" that calls for you to break away from what you know is wrong.
I really do not want to know by what methods these fringe groups mind wash their zealots. Around the typical Methodist church we can hardly get our folks to come to Early Communion, or Sunday Evening services, or to sign up to be photographed for the Pictorial Church Directory.
Our approach here
is to lovingly lead you into a deeper experience and understanding of
your faith that is much like the faith that young Timothy learned of
from his mother and grandmother. For two-thousand years our methodology
has proven to be legitimate and it's the best place to "rekindle
the gift of God that is within you." (v.6, NRSV).
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor