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Sermon for August 16, 2009

Who Chooses the Rules?

Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You live this way already, and we encourage you to do so even more. For you remember what we taught you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways. Never harm or cheat a Christian brother in this matter by violating his wife, for the Lord avenges all such sins, as we have solemnly warned you before. God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

But we don’t need to write to you about the importance of loving each other, for God himself has taught you to love one another. Indeed, you already show your love for all the believers throughout Macedonia. Even so, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you to love them even more.

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.

Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other. Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone. See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people. Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 4:1 - 12; 5: 12 - 19


Almost half of the world’s shark attacks occur along a single stretch of Florida’s coastline, long considered one of the finest surfing spots in the state. In fact, the Volusia County shoreline is considered the shark bite capital of the world. An average of 10 million bathers visit Volusia’s beaches each year, and the most shark bites recorded in one year in the was 24 in 2008. A combination of murky water, caused by recent heavy rains, and unusually crowded beaches may have caused the sharks to mistake humans for fish. Juvenile Black Tip and Spinner sharks cause the majority of bites. These young sharks are learning to find food and get disoriented when they get into the wave area near the beach. Once they bite a human, they usually realize their mistake and let go.

The Today Show once interviewed a Florida shark attack victims — a surfer whose hand had been mistaken for food. The shark left a 2-inch gash on the back of his hand, which required surgery to repair torn tendons and ligaments. Towards the end of the interview, Ann Curry asked, “Did you know that there were sharks in the water?” The left side of the surfers mouth turned into an impish smirk and he said, “Ya.” “Then why did you go in the water?” asked the astonished Curry. The surfer answered, “The sharks are always there. You can’t let that stop you from going in the water. It’s just part of the deal.”

During the Summer of 2001, I heard an interview of a paraglider who attempted to land on the Statue of Liberty’s torch and then bungee jump 300 feet off of her arm onto the base of her pedestal. The daredevil’s chute got tangled up in Lady Liberty’s torch. He was suspended upside down until police came to rescue and arrest him. On another Today Show interview, the man’s lawyer declared that he did it for the sake of art and free political expression. And despite the risk to police, tourists, and himself, The paraglider declared he would do it again.

The surfer and the paraglider, in their wildcat ways, expose a deep spiritual truth about sin and human nature. It seems that we humans always take colossal risks to seek pleasure. We will do it at the risk of getting bitten by or tangled up in the very thing that draws us with false promises of good results: cheating, gambling, hard drinking, lying, gossiping, sexual gratification, pride. You know the list. Each one of us is familiar with which entices us with counterfeit promises of fulfillment and satisfaction. Many people will risk their reputations, their integrity, public exposure and shame to seek a moment of pleasure.

A man named Drew Anderson reported the following story in Reader’s Digest. He wrote: While my wife and I were shopping at a mall kiosk, a shapely young woman in a short, form-fitting dress strolled by. My eyes followed her. Without looking up from the item she was examining, my wife asked, “Was it worth the trouble you’re in?”

I can testify to the brainlessness of yielding to temptation from my own childhood. There were things I just wasn’t allowed to do as a teenager. My father didn’t want me to ride in the back of pickup trucks. For some reason he didn’t want me cliff diving at the local gorge. He didn’t want me to hang out with the older teenage boys at the local pizza place in the center of town. Of course, he caught me doing each of these activities more than once. I still don’t know how he found me in those pick-up trucks. Each time I was caught, it was not a pleasant experience. One would think I would have learned my lesson, but no! I kept on doing the forbidden activities and kept myself getting in trouble

We have all have been tangled up in and bitten by the consequences of our sin, and like the surfer or the paraglider, we don’t seem to learn our lesson. We undertake the risk, we suffer a moment of pain, we promise to change our ways, and then slowly return to the same old habits that injured us in the first place. And, if you’re like me, all the willpower in the world won’t keep you from avoiding sin. We tend to give all the credit (or blame) to willpower. But, is willpower really the make-or-break factor in your success? Surprisingly, no! Don’t expect that willpower will get you to be the person you want to be. I think it’s just unrealistic to expect to “will” yourself away from sin. Sure, your sheer will may help some of the time, but let me offer us some help for more challenging situations. When enticed by sin, try changing your environment. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon once said this:
“What settings are you in when you fall? Avoid them. What props do you have that support your sin? Eliminate them. What people are you usually with? Avoid them. There are two equally damning lies: 1) Just once won’t hurt. 2) Now that you have ruined your life, you are beyond God’s use, and might as well enjoy sinning.”
Let’s think about a tool that can change our environment in the face of temptation. What I’m going to suggest is a resource we can use when we are near perilous settings, or harmful people. It is called a “rule.”

Rules sometimes get a negative spin. Some people resist the idea of an authority telling us how to behave. But, the dictionary simply defines a rule as a principle or regulation governing conduct. Published rule books governed the behavior of monks in early Christian communities. The most famous is the Rule of St. Benedict, founder of the Benedictines. Benedict wrote his rule in the late 400’s to give directions for the ordering of his community. He wanted to lay down nothing harsh or burdensome, but an ordered way for Christians to learn how to serve the Lord. In a chapter called, “The Tools for Good Works,” Benedict gives his expectations of a Christian’s behavior, based on his understanding of Scripture. He writes:
First of all, love the Lord with your whole heart, your whole soul, and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Then the following: you shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal nor covet; you are not to bear false witness. You must honor everyone and never do to another what you do not want done to yourself. Renounce yourself in order to follow Christ; discipline your body; do not pamper yourself, but love fasting. You must relieve the lot of the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and bury the dead, go help the troubled and console the sorrowing. Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else. You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge. Rid your heart of all deceit. Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love. Bind yourself to no oath lest it prove false, but speak the truth with heart and tongue. Do not repay one bad turn for another. Do not injure anyone, but bear injuries patiently. Love your enemies. If people curse you, do not curse them back but bless them instead. Endure persecution for the sake of justice . . . Refrain from too much eating, or sleeping, and from laziness. Do not grumble or speak ill of others. Place your hope in God alone. If you notice something good in yourself, give credit to God, not to yourself, but be certain that the evil you commit is always your own and yours to acknowledge . . . Listen readily to holy reading, and devote yourselves often to prayer. Every day with tears and sighs confess your past sins to God in prayer and change from these evil ways in the future. Do not gratify the promptings of the flesh; hate the urgings of self-will . . .Live by God’s commandments every day; treasure chastity, harbor neither hatred nor jealousy of anyone, and do nothing out of envy. Do not love quarreling; shun arrogance. Respect the elders and love the young . . . and finally, never lose hope in God’s mercy.

I wonder what it would look like if each of us came up with a rule for our own conduct as Christians. What if each of us individually took responsibility for our actions in a positive way by intentionally living out what we believe? What would your rule look like? Where would you start?

I suggest getting out a Bible, and writing down, to the best of your knowledge, what you think God’s expectations of you are. Don’t do it for anyone else — just for you. Don’t just think it through, but write it down and make your thoughts concrete. Then, when faced with places or people that might ask you to compromise your standards, you will know exactly what your standards are.

Paul often closes his letters with encouragements and appeals to holy living. We find them in the books of Galatians, Colossians, and in today’s reading from 1 Thessalonians. If you were to take today’s Scripture passage and make it into a simple rule for Christian living, Paul’s advice would sound something like this:

Live to please God. Control your bodies and you will live in holiness. Don’t cheat your brothers and sisters in any way but love one another more and more. Live a quiet life, not sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong but working hard. That way you will I’ve as an example to those who don’t know Christ. Listen to respectable leaders, and live peaceable with all people. Encourage the timid, care tenderly for the weak, and be patient with everyone. Don’t take revenge, but do good to all. Be filled with joy, pray always, and be thankful. Don’t stifle what the Holy Spirit wants to do in your life. Hold onto good, and avoid all evil. In short, change your environment, and you will resist temptation. Paul also reminds us that those who choose not to follow rules like these are rejecting God’s law, not human law.

Paul tells us that the point of all this us to pursue holiness.Someone asked me recently what the point of life is. The text book answer is that our purpose is to glorify God and enjoy God forever. But the Bible is also clear: without holiness, no one will see God. The goal is not to be able to check off points on your rule like a to-do list. The goal is to adjust out lives so that we are growing to be more consistently like Jesus Christ. If we can do this, we may find more gratification in knowing God and basking in his presence, than we do in pursuing our own self-gratification through sin.

And let me be clear: adhering to a list of do’s and don’ts is not going to make you holy. We can never make ourselves pleasing to God only by outward displays of piety. Jesus showed us a different example. He taught that in all our thoughts, all of our actions, in every part of our character, the rule that guides us should be the desire to follow him by doing the will of God.

This is not the only way to monitor and guide your conduct, but if you have a desire to grow in the Lord and haven’t tried anything else, why not give this a try? If you are interested and would like some more guidance, come talk to me about it sometime. No matter what you do, do something. May you grow to be like Jesus in every way, and find hope and fulfillment in following God.

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