Near to the Heart of God (10/27/2013)

Near to the Heart of God

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18;  Luke 18: 9-14

A pastor went out one Saturday to visit his church members. At one house, it was obvious that someone was home, but nobody came to the door even though the preacher knocked several times. Finally, the preacher took out his card, wrote out “Revelation 3:20″ on the back of it, and stuck it in the door.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me. – Revelation 3:20
The next day, the card turned up in the collection plate. Below the preacher’s message was written the following notation:
Genesis 3:10- I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.

I began today’s sermon with a funny story about pastoral visitation. This week, I started pastoral visitation wanting to meet every member of our church and our neighbors face to face and so far no one has hidden themselves from me. I must say that I have had a meaningful and enjoyable moment with each one of you. And I pray to God for us to build a great bond as one family of Christ combined with faith and love. 

I believe that we are the people who daily struggle to come to the heart of God. We call that a faith journey. However, we know that coming to the heart of God is not easy. Life is often filled with unexpected problems or crises. Unrest and despair will darken the way of even the strongest saints. Yet many Christians should strive to maintain composure and stability in spite of stress and difficulties in the course of their lives. We cannot escape the pressures and dark shadows in our lives. This is why the writer of Psalm says “O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me. Many are saying to me, ‘there is no help for you.’” Sometimes, we feel depressed and hopeless.

However, we, as Christians, still believe that those pressures and dark shadows can be faced with a spiritual strength that our Lord provides. We believe that as we are held securely near to the heart of God, we find the rest, the comfort, the joy and the peace that Jesus promised. Because of this, we can live every day with an inner calm and courage. This is why we strive to get to the heart of God.

In today’s lesson, we meet Paul whose life was totally filled with crises and problems but always held securely near to the heart of God. Let us look at the text. Paul says in 2 Timothy 4, “As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
Paul said that his life was poured out like a libation. What does it mean? Libation in
this context means a life poured out in the form of costly sacrifice like wine spilt on the altar. Therefore, this text emphasizes Romans 12 where Paul admonishes the faithful to present their very “bodies as a living sacrifice to God (12:1).” His life was in the center of the heart of God. Now that he faces the final moment of his life and the fulfilled missions given to him, he boldly confesses that he did his best.

Martin Buber once said, “The good is the enemy of the best.” In a world that will put up with “that’s pretty good,” Paul challenges us to do our best, to pay up personally even to the point of pouring out our lives as a living sacrifice. Paul lived as a living sacrifice to God to get to the heart of God. For us to get to the heart of God, we also need, like Paul, to do our best.
As a living sacrifice to God, he tells us of his accomplishments; “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” What a wonderful confession, especially at the last moment of one’s life! “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” And now he awaits the crown from God. 

Consider the ending of Second Timothy, which refers to payback in connection to God’s final reckoning. I summarized the ending part of Second Timothy in the following three points.
• First of all, Paul’s life nears its end. As that life is being poured out like a sacrificial drink offering to God, and as he dies as one who has “kept the faith,” Paul awaits “the crown of righteousness.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
• Secondly, others, too, await this crown, others “who have longed for Jesus’ appearing,” not the first appearance in Galilee and Judea but the coming one. (4:8)
• Thirdly, even the Lord can expect some payback, in a sense. The One who has brought Paul safe thus far deserves the praise, “the glory forever and ever.” (4:18)

Let us think of the four points. The Lord will give Paul and other believers the crown of righteousness. This reward is not Paul’s to seize. The Lord is the one who has accompanied, strengthened, and preserved Paul along the way. Paul didn’t earn it, necessarily; but his faithful service buttresses his confidence that the Lord will prove faithful in providing it to all who faithfully await his appearance. A confidence about future rewards — this is one more virtue commended to Timothy and others by Paul’s example.

Throughout the letter, Paul has been the example to imitate. But it has been the Lord who makes such faithfulness possible. The Lord makes perseverance a reality and not only a need.
While studying this lesson, I have looked at myself. I asked myself this question, “Am I doing my best for this church?”

Last Monday, I had an interview to recertify my local pastor license. There were about 10 interviewers and I was very nervous. They could reject my request for recertification if they think that I am not qualified. If that happens, then there would be a serious problem. However, they read the documents I sent in advance of the meeting, and they collected various data from my mentor, from D.S, Seok Hwan Hong, and from others. They were impressed by your support of the church ministry. I really thank you for that. Also, they were sure that I, as a pastor, was doing my best.

Somehow, I can do better. Since I have only been here 10 months, and am still learning, I plan to do my best. Now we are running the race to get to the heart of God. During this race, we face pressures and dark shadows. However, we should keep our faith in God. God will accompany, strengthen and preserve us along the way to the heart of God.

I am now doing pastoral visitation. It is not just a social meeting. It is for supporting and encouraging you who are on the race to the heart of God, so that you can do your best to keep your faith in God on the journey of faith. God be with you all in this journey. 

Let us pray.
Dear Lord, we give thanks to you for the lesson given to us this morning. Now we ask you to give us courage and faith to keep our race. Sometimes, dark shadows blind us in the race and make us depressed and distracted. However, we believe that they can be removed with a spiritual strength that you provide. We believe that as we are held securely near to the heart of God, we find the rest, the comfort, the joy and the peace that only you can give. Be with us and guide us. We pray in your name. Amen.

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