Sunday, June 06, 2004

Never Run Out of Gas!

Second Timothy 1:3-7
Confirmation Sunday

(shared with the people of Friendship Church, June 6, 2004)

Down in Florida, there’s a sign posted along a highway as you come to a bridge that says: “It is against the law to run out of gas on this bridge.” That’s understandable. Every carload of people depends on every other carload of people to keep going. Otherwise, everybody’s progress stops.

The same is true in other parts of our lives. We depend on ourselves and on others to keep making progress. But more often than not, it seems, we run out of gas. Nearly ten years ago, Ann and I attended her twenty-fifth high school class reunion. Since Ann and I graduated just one year apart from the same high school, I knew lots of people in her class. But when I walked in, I was stunned. Looking people over, I turned to Ann and whispered a question: "Who invited all of these old people?" It wasn’t just their grey hair or their middle-age bulges. Most of us are “blessed” with those things after a certain point in our lives. It was the demeanor of many of our old schoolmates. They acted older than their years: rundown, almost afraid of living.

There’s a reason for that, I think. Most people seem to get to a particular point in their lives—it may be when they’re confirmed or they graduate or they get their first full-time job or they have their first child, or hit their fortieth birthday—and they sort of die. They run out of gas. They let milestones become millstones...or even tombstones. Henry David Thoreau had it right when he said that, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” It’s sad.

The novel and movie, The Natural, by Bernard Malamud, tells the story of a once-promising baseball player whose career is seemingly ended by an act of violence committed against him and the scandal that ensues. More than a decade later, that career is miraculously resurrected. But because of his age and his past injuries, he knows that he doesn’t have many playing years left. To his old high school sweetheart, he laments, “Things sure turned out different.”

Sometimes life can turn out so “different” from what we expect that we just give up, like one of those cars running out of gas on a Florida bridge. Disappointment leads to inertia and a decision to opt out of living.

Young people—those of you this morning affirming your intention to follow Jesus Christ throughout your adult lives and those of you who have just graduated from high school—the words of today’s Bible lesson are for everyone. But I picked them especially for you. God and we of the Church are counting on you, as we count on each other every day, to not run out of gas.

When disappointments and setbacks come, don’t give up. Jesus Christ died and rose for you so that, with a direct and personal relationship with God, you can keep growing, keep living, keep becoming the person God invented you to be! And that’s a process that never ends, even in eternity.

Our Bible lesson was written by the first century preacher, Paul, to a young pastor named Timothy. Paul and Timothy had a history, sort of like the history that our own Tim Vogel has with you young people. Paul had watched Timothy grow up in the loving Christian home created by his mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois. And elsewhere, Paul calls himself Timothy’s “spiritual father” and refers to Timothy as “my beloved child.”

In today’s lesson, Paul remembers that special moment when he placed his hand on Timothy’s head to ordain him as a pastor, much as I will place my hand on the heads of our Confirmands today. Paul tells Timothy:

"...I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline."

God has wonderful plans for those who follow Him...eternal plans. He doesn’t promise us easy lives. But He does promise to be with us and that ultimately, He will turn every evil that befalls us in this life into eternal good. That promise is for you, young people, and for everyone here this morning. God has work that only you and I in our unique ways can do. God has blessed us so that we will be blessings. If we followers of Jesus run out of gas, the whole world will pay the price. The world needs us!

That’s really what Paul is saying when he tells Timothy and us to rekindle the gifts of God. Another word for rekindle might be recharge. Every follower of Jesus Christ must recharge themselves in order to accomplish what God has in mind for our lives.

And another word for rekindle might be reposition. I’ve used this analogy before, but since the Reds are doing so well these days, I’ll use it again. In baseball, an outfielder has no control over what pitch the pitcher throws or over how the batter hits the ball. But a good outfielder will be able to anticipate where a hit ball is going and reposition himself to make the catch. God has blessings He wants to bat our way, beginning with the unearned gift of everlasting life. To receive it, we reposition ourselves by turning away from sin and surrendering to Christ. God also wants to give us the power and strength that comes from intimacy with Him. But again, to receive that free gift we need to reposition our lives, leaving time in our days for God to come to us.

But how do we do that? I laughed this past week when I read about a prison break from a minimum security prison in England. Two inmates escaped and immediately ran to a high-security prison. They did it on purpose. It seems that the two young men had just gone through drug rehab. But the discipline was so lax in the minimum security prison, with drugs bought and sold openly, that the two inmates, Audie Carr and Benjamin Clarke, were afraid that they would slip back into drug use again. They didn’t want that. So, they literally repositioned themselves so that through the discipline of the tougher prison, they could get the strength to keep their lives on the right path.

Over the past several years, we’ve talked at Friendship about seven habits of joyful people. Historically, the Church has called these habits, spiritual disciplines, habits that refuel us, rekindle our faith, reposition us to receive life from Jesus Christ.

The seven habits are: regular worship, service in Jesus’ Name, prayer, study of God’s Word, sharing your faith with others, encouraging others with God’s love, and giving to the cause of Christ. People who engage in these habits give God openings into their lives. They’re like doorways through which we welcome God to come into our hearts and minds. We may get wrinkled. We may get grey and flabby. But through these habits, our whole lives brim with the vitality, power, and passion that God gives to people who surrender to Him.

The other day, I spoke on the telephone with a friend of Philip’s, a former classmate of his from college. I’ll call her Christy. Christy isn’t having an easy time of it right now with the job that she’s working, getting started in life. But I know that she’s going to be okay because even in the midst of the challenges, she isn’t running out of gas. She’s rekindling her faith and refueling on God’s love by keeping her regular appointments with God. She clearly has incorporated the habits of prayer, worship, service, study of the Bible, witnessing about Christ, encouraging others, and giving in her everyday life. Later this summer, she’s going on yet another mission trip to Russia, sharing the Good News of our God Who loves us as we are and helps us to be everything we can be when Christ is our Lord and Savior!

One final thing. Followers of God make mistakes. Our judgments can be wrong. We can fail. We sin. But when those things happen, it isn’t time to give up. It’s time to look up! Ask God for forgiveness, for new wisdom, and for the power you need to go on living a good life for Jesus Christ. That is a prayer God always answers. He’ll answer it for everybody here this morning. In fact, sometime this week, I hope that everybody who has never done so before or who feels the need to recommit their life to Christ, will take some time to be alone with God and do what our Confirmands are going to do today. Tell the Lord that you know Jesus died and rose for you and grateful for that, you want to live a life in which you turn away from sin and turn toward Christ. Tell God that you want to make those seven habits the seven meeting places where day-in and day-out, week-in and week-out, you will meet the God Who loves you and is committed to helping you become the tremendous person you were born to be. This week and each day of our lives, let’s refuel on God, rekindling His gifts to us. When we do that, I guarantee that we will never run out of gas. We’ll just keep going, right into eternity!

[The story of the sign on the Florida Highway appears in Leonard Sweet's wonderful book, SoulSalsa.]

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