Taking Hold of Life that is Really Life

Bible Book: 1 Timothy  1 : 17-19
Subject: New Year; Christian Living; Commitment

1 Timothy 6:17-19:

“17 – Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, Who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 – Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 – In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

One of the electives I took while in seminary was a course called “THE HISTORY OF THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION.” It was a 2-hour class offered during one three-week January term and I decided to take it because I thought it would be interesting to know more about our denomination. Plus it was taught by my favorite professor, Dr. Walter Shurden—and it turned out to be a good choice because Shurden shared some very interesting things about the SBC during those three weeks.

For example, I learned that the SBC is the largest Baptist denomination in the world and the second largest Christian organization in the US.

The only bigger Christian group in our nation is the Catholic Church.

I learned that Southern Seminary in Louisville where I was attending is our denomination’s first seminary, hence its name: THE Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I learned that Southern Baptists came up with a great idea when it came to missions. They thought if churches pooled their money they could do more to fulfill the Great Commission.

This idea became the cooperative program and this fund-pooling—combined with the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Annie Armstrong Easter offering—make it possible for the SBC to send more missionaries around the world than any other group of Christ-followers. SBC missionaries are very well-trained and also receive a good salary and benefits which means they don’t have to spend valuable time in the states every year raising funds. Instead, they can stay on the field and focus on sharing the Gospel with those who’ve never heard.

So—I learned some GOOD things in that class—things that made me kind of proud of my denominational acronym—but I also learned some things that made me a bit EMBARRASSED.

For example I was ashamed to learn that, like most denominations founded in the early 19th century, the SBC was originally pro-slavery.

They eventually repented of that sin but it was still a shock to study that sad chapter of SBC history.

Another embarrassing thing I learned was that Southern Baptists have come to be known for their DISAGREEMENTS.

Over the years they have almost always been arguing about something or arguing about boycotting something. This is why Dr. Shurden wrote a book about the history of the SBC and titled it: Not A Silent People—because they’re not.

Here’s another somewhat embarrassing fact that we covered that J-term: The SBC has always been famous for making GOALS that they never reach.

For example, the year I was born they had a campaign called, “A Million More in ’54!” in which Southern Baptists pledged to reach a million more people for Christ. But, in spite of this lofty goal there were NOT a million more in ’54. Now—don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. As denominations go, the SBC is a great one. I mean, there is no such thing as a perfect denomination and the SBC makes no more mistakes than any other group of believers. All denominations are flawed. If we did it God’s way there would be only one “denomination” called THE CHURCH—made up of believers working together around the world as the Body of Christ.

In any case—as I said earlier—the SBC does a lot of things right.

Their missions program is wonderful.

Their discipleship curriculum has always been top notch. I mean these are the people who gave us Beth Moore and Experiencing God.

Plus—SBC disaster relief groups are usually the first ones on site when an emergency hits—like Katrina or Haiti or the typhoon in the Philippines.

And even their outlandish GOAL-SETTING is actually a good thing. I say this because, as my professor pointed out in that J-term class, although the SBC never MET any of its lofty goals, they always did more toward meeting that year’s goal than they would have if they didn’t make it. For example, in 1954 they led far more people to Christ than they would have without making soul-winning their aim. As a matter of fact, in my study this week I came across some powerful testimonies of people who put their faith in Jesus in back in 1954 because of that SBC goal-setting emphasis.

And—that brings me to the reason behind my bringing up all this SBC history.

I do this because we are about to begin a NEW YEAR—which means in a few days millions of people will behave like the SBC in that they will make lofty GOALS or RESOLUTIONS. And, as we all know, like the SBC most of those people will not meet these annual goals. In fact, statisticians tell us that only 8% of us are successful in achieving our New Year’s Resolutions. This failure rate has led to statements like this one by Oscar Wilde: “Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account.” Comedian Joey Adams put it this way: “May all your troubles last as long as your New Year’s resolutions!” We chuckle but the truth is in spite of their bad reputation, resolutions—goals—are a GOOD THING because just like the SBC, even if we DON’T achieve them—we still achieve MORE than we would have otherwise. As my dad used to say, “He who aims at nothing hits it.” So—it’s important to aim at something. It’s a good thing to make good resolutions. We should STRIVE to do better—BE better.

In fact, the Bible affirms our doing this. In Luke 13:34 Jesus urged us to RESOLVE to go against the “flow” of this fallen world when He said, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.” In Acts 24:16 Paul made the following RESOLUTION. He said, “I STRIVE always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” And in Philippians 3:14 he gave his most famous “aiming statement” when he said, “I press on toward the GOAL to win the prize for which Christ has called me Heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

So making goals or resolutions as we begin a new year is a good thing and with that in mind, I’d like to suggest a few—some resolutions for us each to make for 2014—things I believe will help us to do as Paul says in our text—“take hold of the life that is truly life.”

I. Get More Involved in Church

First, resolve that in the coming year you will get more INVOLVED in this church.

You should remember my telling you during our Advent series that purpose in life—fulfillment in life is found in investing in things of ETERNAL SIGNIFICANCE. Paul talks about this principle in our text for today when he advises AGAINST making it our goal to be “rich in this present world” and instead focusing on, “…the coming age.” He says this is the only way to, “…take hold of the life that is truly life.” The reason this is the only focus that brings us true fulfillment—true abundance—is we are eternal beings. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that, “God has planted eternity in the hearts of man.” and because God designed us this way—the things of this temporary world always leave us wanting more. We all have this hunger in the depth of our beings—THIS DESIRE to do things that LAST.

Well, one of the best ways to focus on things of eternal significance is to get involved in a local church like Redland. There are TONS of eternity-impacting things to do here. You could teach Sunday School, work with children or teens, help with UPWARD basketball, volunteer at OPEN GYM NIGHT in the ROC, serve on the Outreach and Evangelism team. You could volunteer to help lead the monthly worship services we are starting at Brooke Grove Rehab or you could teach in Vacation Bible School, or help in AWANA or volunteer at Manna or the soup kitchen at St. Martins or help teach ESL. I could go on and on and on but I won’t do that because I realize that for the most part I am “preaching to the choir” when it comes to this first potential New Years’ resolution and I say that because here at Redland we have a very high percentage of people who are actively involved in ministry. In most churches 20% of the church does 80% of the work but that is not true here. I say this because I did a little research project one afternoon I while on Sabbatical.  I took our most recent pictorial directory—which of course is not all our members of course but a very representative sampling as surveys go. Well as I leafed through its pages I counted the members who are involved—active in ministry. When I finished my tally I discovered that only 17% of the members in my survey were not active, which means that 83% of the members ARE—which is amazing! You could say that here at Redland we have REVERSED the norm because eighty PLUS percent do 100% of the work!

I think the REASON for this high percentage is that most of you have discovered this principle I’m talking about. You’ve experienced the joy and fulfillment that comes from doing things of eternal significance—doing these things TOGETHER with other believers in a local church like Redland. So if you’re ALREADY involved—resolve to keep doing what you are doing and if God leads you to do more then resolve to do so in the coming year but the main thing I’d like you “choir members” our there to do is RESOLVE to PRAY. Pray that God sends us more members—more workers—this year so we can have an even greater impact on eternity. AND AS FOR THE REST OF YOU—the 17%—GET involved. Make that one of your New Year’s Resolutions. Decide to get off the “bench” and join us in the good work God has called us to do as a church. By the way, I wrote down your names and have your pictures! So don’t be surprised if the nominating committee calls!

And those of you who attend but have never officially joined this church. DO! We would love to have you and you would love to have us!  When they do, say YES! I promise—you would be blessed by working with us here at Redland. Remember, there are two things you cannot do alone: be married—and grow as a Christian. We need relationships with other believers and the best place to get those relationships is in a local church—and the best way to develop those relationships is to do ministry together. Christ-followers who do this—believers who are active in a local church like Redland—are people who are experiencing the life that is truly life! They have learned that the local church is an amazing place where amazing things happen!

In Bill Hybels’ book, Courageous Leadership he says, “The local church is the hope of the world.” Hybels goes on to say, “It’s as if God has work gloves on. And He calls us to roll up our sleeves and join Him [there in the church] with our talents, our money, our time, and our passion.  He tells us, ‘You can keep chasing the wind, or you can hook up with Me and TOGETHER we’ll transform this hurting planet.’” Rick Warren writes, “We ARE created for community, fashioned for fellowship, and formed for a family, and none of us can fulfill God’s [eternal] purposes by ourselves.” So, hear me—if you are not involved or if you’re not a member—if you want to enjoy life—really enjoy life—if you want to feel like you’re making an eternal difference, then get off your purple seat and get active in a local body of believers like Redland! Here’s a second potential New Years’ resolution for you to consider.

II. Share Your Faith More

Decide that in the coming year you will SHARE YOUR FAITH more.

I’m not saying you should commit to winning a million more in 2-0-1-4 but that you should commit to looking for ways to share the gospel as much as possible with co-workers and neighbors—and whoever God puts in your path. If that sounds good but you’d like a little training—come to my study on Wednesday night. It’s based on Bill Hybels’ excellent book Just Walk Across the Room. There are details in The Sower.

Another suggestion would be to host a fellowship in your home where you show the recent Billy Graham video: THE CROSS. How many of you saw this on television or the Internet this past fall? I’m referring to Dr. Graham’s “MY HOPE AMERICA” broadcast back in November. Sue and I saw it while we were at THE COVE on my sabbatical—and it is excellent.  Here’s a description of the campaign from the website: “Following a simple biblical model,  My Hope America with Billy Graham combines the impact of video programs with the power of personal relationships. Christians across America can open their homes to share the Gospel message with friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors.” We’re going to watch the 30-minute video here at Redland on Wednesday, January 8.  Come watch it with us or watch it on your own on line. Then set a date and prayerfully invite some neighbors or friends who don’t know Jesus to watch it in your home. Tell them you’re going to have great food and then sit back and watch what may be the last message that this world-renowned 95-year-old evangelist delivers.  It’s only 30 minutes and it is VERY well-done. It features clips of Dr. Graham—interspersed with the testimonies of two people who decided to become Christ followers. I’ll provide both the video and training materials. God may even now be putting names of people in your head to invite. He may be giving you other ways to be more intentional about sharing your faith and I encourage you to take Him up on this. I promise—if you do—if you strive to do your part of fulfilling the Great Commission it will bring you a wonderful sense of fulfillment. It will give you a taste of the life that is truly life!

Here’s a third suggestion for a resolution you might make this New Year’s…

III. Get To Know God Better

Decide to spend more time every day GETTING TO KNOW GOD better.

Resolve that in the next twelve months you will grow your personal relationship with our Heavenly Father. The sad fact is many believers don’t know God as well as they should. And this weak relationship gives birth to misconceptions about God that negatively impacts all aspects of their lives. Richard Foster says, “To think rightly about God is to have everything right. To think wrongly about God is to have everything wrong. Nothing twists and deforms the soul more than a low or unworthy conception of God.” And, do you remember what A. W. Tozer said about this? You should because I’ve quoted him tons of times over the years. In his classic work, The Knowledge of the Holy, he writes:  “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Foster and Tozer are right. Our knowledge of God affects everything. Think about it.

First, it affects our relationship with Him. I mean, if we think of God as a fanatical POLICEMAN always looking for an opportunity to “ticket” us for our sins, we’ll spend our lives avoiding Him—like we avoid speed cameras. If we think of Him as an angry JUDGE, we’ll always feel guilty for our shortcomings. We’ll never experience His forgiveness because we’ll be afraid to ask for it. If, like many, we put GOD “IN A BOX”—if, in our minds, we limit His power and wisdom—well, we won’t go to Him for help in the crises of life. We’ll spend our days living in fear of the seemingly unlimited trials and tribulations that come with life in this fallen world. If we think of God as a Being Who is busily focused on running the universe, we’ll conclude that He is too busy to care about our problems—much less talk to us when we yearn for His companionship.

So you see, misconceptions about God—wrong thoughts about Him—can create a barrier—a barrier that keeps us from what we want most to have, a personal relationship with Him, the kind of relationship we talked about a few weeks back. A flawed perception of God can keep us from the friendship and love we were designed to share with Him. It keeps us from experiencing the life that is truly life.

Well, let me ask, as you stand on the verge of a new year, how is your relationship with God?   Are you experiencing intimacy with God—closeness? Or do you feel like you never measure up…like God is always down on you eagerly waiting for you to mess up so He can discipline you? Do you find it hard to pray—like your petitions get no further than the ceiling? Do you struggle with OBEYING God because you think you might miss out on some fun if you follow His will completely? Well, your answer to these questions reveals a lot about your perception of God—and if your replies are in the affirmative why not RESOLVE to change all that in the coming year?

Here’s some suggestions as to how you can go about this.

First—and I know this seems obvious—make it your goal to spend more time with God in the coming months. Start every day with what we used to call a QUIET TIME—a time to read God’s Word—a time to talk with Him—a moment every morning in which you begin a conversation with God that continues throughout your day.

A couple years ago as a family we Adamses resolved to read through the Bible together.  Ashley’s parents and brother joined us in this. We each got a Chronological Bible—which is the entire Bible but it’s arranged chronologically—like THE STORY—but this version doesn’t leave anything out. It’s set up so that you read a portion every day and by the end of the year you’ve read it all—from Genesis to Revelation. We covenanted to do our daily reading and then to swap e-mails in which we shared our insights. I did this the first thing every morning from January 1 right on through to December 31. I would do my reading and then ask God to speak to me—ask Him what to share in my daily e-mails—and it was wonderful. I mean, I thoroughly enjoyed that daily time with God. We got to know each other better—and I’ve known Him for a long time—but that daily practice deepened my walk. In fact, I’ve decided I’m going to do it again this year—and every year until God takes me home. I’m going to do this because reading the Bible is a great way to get to know God better. You see, if you are a Christian, then you have the Author of this Book living inside you and every morning when you read from its pages He is there to help you understand its truth. This is what Jesus promised—remember? In John 16:13 he said, “When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.” Re-reading the truth of the Bible won’t get boring because, unlike any other book in that it is a LIVING Word. A.T. Robertson was perhaps the leading New Testament scholar of his generation. He taught at THE Southern Baptist Theological Seminary before my time. Someone told me that Dr. Robertson was such a skilled Greek scholar that he would read directly from the Greek New Testament—translating on the fly. Well, at the end of his life Roberston said, “For over fifty years I have been studying, writing, teaching, and preaching the New Testament, but I never read it without finding something I never saw before.” You see, you and I can learn all there is to know about other books—but not the Bible.  The Bible is a living spring—an inexhaustible source of absolute truth that will never run dry. Why not resolve to READ it every day in the coming year as a way to get to KNOW GOD BETTER?

This leads me to my fourth suggestion for potential New Years’ resolutions…

IV. Tithe

Decide that in the coming year you will TITHE more.

I know it’s not popular for pastor’s to use the “T” word. I always sense a sort of “congregational UH-OH” when I do—in fact I just did—but the fact is God commands us to tithe. If you read through the Bible with me in the coming year you’ll see this command repeated over and over again…God’s command to trust Him with our finances by honoring Him with our tithes.  Well, obeying this command is a great way to deepen your relationship with God because one of God’s promises is that if we trust Him enough to be faithful in giving to His church—He will provide for our needs. Do you remember what God says in Malachi 3:10?  “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this says the Lord Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of Heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” All of us struggle from time to time to allow God to be the source of our sufficiency. We struggle with learning to trust our INVISIBLE God with our VISIBLE money—money that seems to disappear in today’s economy. But we need to learn to do this because God encourages us to trust Him in EVERYTHING and trusting Him with our money such that we tithe is a great way to start building that trust.

By the way, it amazes me as I see the crazy things people put their trust in these days. U.S. News And World Report says 150,000 people each year trust their lives to rafts as they shoot the rapids of the Colorado River. This week I read that tens of thousands of people have taken up the hobby of hang-gliding, trusting their lives to some aluminum bars with canvas stretched across it. Additional thousands of bungee jumpers trust their lives to a big rubber band and leap from bridges. Think of all the sports where people risk their lives by putting their trust in certain things: skydiving, scuba diving, auto racing, snow-skiing, horse racing. I heard the other night that it has become popular to swim with sharks. Each morning tens of thousands of commuters put their trust in their cars as they head down I-270. 4,000 new people enter the stock market every day. Hundreds of thousands trust in the lottery. Some people even still put their trust in the Redskins! In light of all these silly things we put our trust in—why is it so hard to think of trusting God?

Zig Ziglar said, “It’s risky when a plane leaves the runway, but that’s what planes are for. It’s more risky for the plane to just sit there and accumulate rust. It’s risky when a ship leaves the harbor but that’s what a ship’s for. It’s riskier when the ship sits in the harbor and collects barnacles. It’s risky for the Christian to give, but that’s what we are designed for.”

For the first fifteen years of our marriage Sue and I rented apartments or houses—and one of the advantages to that is that when something breaks it is the landlord’s responsibility to fix it. Well the Bible teaches that God owns everything and that means it is His responsibility to take care of us and God promises to provide for our needs. R. G. LeTourneau, once said, “I shovel out and God shovels in but God’s shovel is always bigger.” I have found this to be true. Sue and I have tithed since I graduated from THE Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—and God has ALWAYS been faithful to meet our needs—MORE than meet our needs. His shovel is indeed bigger than mine.  I’m saying that tithing has helped me to know God better—to trust Him more.

Here’s one more suggestion for a New Years’ resolution:

V. Become More Like Jesus

Decide that this year you will strive to become more LIKE JESUS.

In other words, make it your goal in the coming twelve months to live up to your name. I mean, you are a “Christian” — which literally means “little Christ.” Well, in 2014 strive to be just that—a little Christ. Resolve that co-workers and family members will more easily be able to see that you are indwelt by the Spirit of Jesus. Obey Ephesians 4:15 which says, “God wants us to grow up like Christ in everything.” Let this be a year when you become like Jesus in the way you love people and help people—a year when it becomes SECOND NATURE for you to do so. I love the lyrics to a chorus we used to sing a few years back.  Sing it with me once you get the hang of it:

“Lord, make me like You. Please make me like You. You are a Servant. Make me one too.

Oh Lord I am willing. Do what You must do.

To make me like You Lord. Please make me like You.”

Now—please understand, as Roger Price said in his sermon on gentleness, a couple months back this resolution is not about our effort. I mean, it’s not about our TRYING to be like Jesus. No—it’s about letting Jesus live in and through us. As someone once put it, “It’s not IMITATION. It’s INHABITATION.”  The only way to become like Jesus is to make Jesus Lord as you let Him live in you and through you empowering you to ACT and REACT as He would.


In 1927 the director Cecil B. DeMille cast British-born actor H. B. Warner as Jesus in his famous silent film King of Kings. Warner, who 19 years later played the druggist in It’s a Wonderful Life, was kept on a short leash during the filming of this silent film. You see, Cecil B. DeMille was concerned that any behavior by the lead actor deemed inconsistent with the image of Christ would result in negative publicity for the film. As a result, DeMille enforced strict measures to ensure that Warner kept up a good Jesus-image (or what DeMille thought would be a good representation of Jesus). Both Warner and his co-star Dorothy Cumming (who played Mary, the mother of Jesus) had to sign agreements that barred them for five years from appearing in film roles that might compromise their “holy” screen images.  During the filming, Warner was driven to the set with blinds drawn, and he wore a black veil as he was delivered to the set. DeMille separated Warner from the other cast members, even forcing him to eat alone every day. Warner couldn’t play cards, go to ballgames, ride in a convertible, or go swimming. Unfortunately, the regimen of rules and regulations didn’t make Warner more holy. Instead, all of the pressure to be more Christlike without having the power or forgiveness of Jesus seemed to drive Warner over the edge.  During the production of King of Kings, rather than act more like Jesus, Warner merely relapsed into his addiction to alcohol. This is because no one can BE LIKE CHRIST on their own. The only way to consistently become more like Jesus is to learn to let Jesus live in and through you. I know Carrie Underwood has been criticized and made fun of for her song, Jesus Take the Wheel, but the fact is, letting Jesus do that is the only way to experience the life that is truly life. So—I suggest—no I ENCOURAGE—you to make that resolution in the coming year.

Now—the best way to keep a resolution is to make it public so as we stand and sing I encourage you to do that. You can turn to the person sitting next to you and share your resolution or you can come down the aisle and share it with me or one of the other pastors. We’ll pray with you. Today may be the day that you resolve to become a Christ-follower—or to join this church family. Come as God leads.