When we got married, we both brought Cr into the mix. I brought a Ford Fairmont that had a lot of miles on it. My wife brought a Ford Pinto that had…a lot of miles! The Pinto was bright yellow and, although we traded the Fairmont in somewhat quickly when we bought a new car (and BOY is THAT car worthy of a sermon series…based on regret, woe and great pain!), we kept the Pinto for a while.
Our habit has been “drive the wheels off of a car before we get rid of it” and the Pinto was no exception. We literally drove it until it had a catastrophic failure and would have taken more money to fix that it was worth. It would not only NOT drive- it wouldn’t even start. It was in the driveway, dead in the water.
I found a guy who would come and pick it up to part it out. But I had to get it out to the street before he could pick it up. So, my plan was to simply push it out of the driveway and onto the side of the street. It was, after all, a Pinto- a small car. I should be able to do that by myself. So, the morning he was to come and get it, I went out to move it. I opened the passenger door, braced my shoulder against the frame of the car and took the car out of gear. (It was a manual transmission with a stick shift.) There were two problems that A. I did NOT take into account and B. became immediately apparent. 1. The car, although small, was older and had an older, steel frame. It was fairly heavy for its size and 2. The driveway loped DOWN from the street…immediately.
Those two things combined meant that, not only could I NOT push the backward- it was too heavy to fight the downward slope, but I could BARELY keep it from moving farther forward. And that was a BAD thing! Forward led to a deeper slope, down alongside the house and into the backyard. Who knows what that would done and where the car would have stopped. So, I had to get it back in gear…but I couldn’t. I couldn’t move enough without letting the car roll on down the driveway. Stuck between a Pinto and a hard place!
I tried again to push. Nope! It just made the car dig deeper into my shoulder. I was literally suspended in midair- my shoulder against the frame and my feet two feet off the ground, braced against a retaining wall between the driveway and the yard. There was no one at home and no one out of their house- there was NO one to help me.
I finally did the only the only thing I could think of- I used my hands to turn the steering wheel hard to the right. I then eased up my hold on the car and let it GENTLY come to rest against the aforementioned retaining wall! I then went across the street and got my neighbor, who helped me push it out! (It was STILL hard!) That day, I learned a valuable lesson about giving up the ground you already had!
Our current sermon series- John’s 3 Letters- focuses on the 3 letters of John (Makes sense!) found near the tail end of the New Testament. They’re rarely read, rarely referenced, but have a lot packed into their short length. Three different letters, written at three different times, to three different people- yet they’re all tied together by the same ideas. Week 1, we started by talking about Love and Hatred. Week 2, we moved to Water and Blood. Last week, we considered the Lady and Her Children. Today, we move to Don’t Lose What You’ve Worked For. Here is today’s Scripture:
2John 1:7-12 I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work. I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.
In this passage, John shares with “the lady and her children” from last week some pastoral advice concerning false teachers who are traveling among the churches. His advice gives us some insight into a special problem early Christians were faced. Christians traveled pretty extensively throughout the 1st Century Mediterranean world. Christian hospitality was therefore a important ministry in the 1st Century church community. But because of that fact, John has to warn that hospitality being exploited by people masquerading as Christians who were, in reality, taking advantage of the generosity of Christian hospitality. These false prophets would try and use the hospitality to spread chaotic and false teaching.
There’s a delicate question of balance between openness and hospitality on the one hand and the wisdom to protect yourself, your family and your church on the other hand. True need is often counterbalanced with sophisticated cunning intending to exploit the kindness that grows inherently out of the Gospel. Exploitation happens, and false seeds have been planted.
So, what do you do about all of this? Well, here’s a Biblical 3-step test to see if what you’re hearing is what you SHOULD be hearing:
- Does this supposed prophet actually teach the truth?
- Does he try to overstay his welcome?
- Does he ask for money?
In his letters, John promotes balance. He promotes truth, love AND a wise and discerning approach to people and situations. He advocates a healthy mixture of law and gospel, truth and grace, wisdom and tough love. That’s what we are called to do. In fact, in Matthew 10:16, Jesus says, “Look, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Think that through- “shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.” You read that and think, “How can I do BOTH?” Use the threefold-test- do they speak the truth? Are they saying things that are supported by the Bible, that are the kinds of things Jesus would say? Are they trying to overstay their welcome? Do thy continue to find reasons to linger when there is no reason to do so? And Number 3, are they asking for money? I realize I get paid for what I do. But if someone is offering you “free” advice but then tries to solicit money from you or sell you something you don’t want- be wary.
Whether you are trying to push a Ford Pinto out of your driveway or trying to carve out a better existence for yourself and your family, refuse to move backward. And on that note, I hear people say, “I’m just taking a break from my faith for now.” There is no “taking a break”. There is no standing still. There is no treading water. I am absolutely convinced that we are ALWAYS doing one of two things- we are either moving forward, getting the Pinto UP the slope, or we are moving backwards, watching the Pinto slide farther and farther down the slope. Don’t convince yourself that you are standing still- resting. Work from that premise- you’re either moving forward or sliding backward. And once you start that backward slide, it’s a very slippery slope. It leads to places you don’t want to go, places you don’t want your family, your church to go. Be careful what you bring into your home or your church. They are sacred places that need to be protected yet welcoming. Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.