The pain was excruciating.
That’s pretty much the only way I know to describe the feeling in my arm when it broke during judo practice. I must have been about ten at the time and pretty busy doing various sports (none of which I was very good at, but enjoyed nonetheless). I was playing baseball, basketball, and taking judo at the Norwalk Judo Dojo. On this one particular night, I was practicing with a guy about four times my age and almost twice my height. He could literally pick me up onto his back. As he was throwing me to the floor, he was supposed to let go of my right arm so it could absorb the impact from the fall, but he let go of the wrong one. My arm snapped back and POP! CRACK! Everyone in the dojo came up to me immediately as I was clutching my arm. I was trying hard not to let it show how much it hurt, but when they asked me to move it, I shouted through clenched teeth, “I CAN’T!” and my dad helped me up and took me to the hospital. The whole time in the car all I could feel was the searing pain as every bump on the road reminded me how bad it hurt. Sure enough, after doing x-rays they told us it was broken and put a temporary cast on it until I could get a full cast the next day. I think I wore that cast for something like three months. That part is a bit hazy. But I remember when they took it off how completely different it looked from the other arm. It was like having a space alien arm on one side and a normal arm on the other. The skin was a different color and the muscles looked so small. The doctor said that was normal. But it sure didn’t look like it.
Our faith is like that.
Faith is like a muscle. If you don’t use it, it grows weak and becomes harder and harder to move. And if enough time goes by, it eventually becomes useless. Like your appendix. Since as far back as I can remember, people have wondered what in the world the appendix was good for. It didn’t seem to serve any purpose other than randomly exploding inside your body. It was like carrying around a ticking time bomb. But researchers believe at one time it might have been a storehouse for helpful bacteria the body needed. When you suffered from something that emptied you of all those good bacteria, they think the appendix would release its store back into your body to help you recover more quickly. As we evolved it became less and less useful to the point where, as far as we know, it isn’t an essential part of the body any more. After so many centuries of not functioning, it just sits there useless. Like any other part of your body, if you don’t use it, it eventually stops working. And that axiom is true for things outside of your body also. Think about anything in your house with a motor – cars, lawnmowers, even your garbage disposal. If you don’t use it at least once in a while, eventually it breaks down. Faith is like that, too. When you don’t use it, it begins to atrophy and eventually becomes useless. So ask yourself, how often do you exercise your faith?
Can you really call yourself a Christian if you don’t DO anything?
We’ve talked about this many times. I often go back to one of my favorite sayings, “Being in a church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car.” How we spend our time actually matters. But it has to be more than just lip service. In one of his letters to the church, the apostle John wrote, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth (1 John 3:18).” Doing is more important than saying. It’s easy for us to say we are Christian, but is there any evidence of it in our lives? God warns us about being idle, of doing nothing when we could be doing something. In the case of our passage this morning, the people at the church of Thessalonica were literally doing nothing. It wasn’t a metaphor for lazy spiritual behavior. They were literally sitting around, waiting for the world to end. It was common during this time to believe that the end times were near, that Jesus would return any day to take believers up to Heaven. So there was a group who sat around, just waiting. And Paul writes this warning to the church.
Now we commend you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
This was taking “waiting” to a whole new level.
These people were not doing anything. I imagine they were sponging off their family and friends, letting their farms go to waste or just not showing up for work. I mean if the end times are near, why waste it working? But Paul’s letter makes it clear that it’s important what you do with the time you’re given. Whether it’s a minute or a lifetime, we must make good use of the time we have. If we truly love the Lord, we need to do more than just wait. We need to use the time to our advantage. We need to live a life worth imitating so that others can see how Christ has changed who we are. That passage we read in the Bible about being a light on a hill (Matthew 5:14-16) was meant to remind us that we have a responsibility not just to ourselves but to God and to those around us to set an example for how we want the world to be, and that’s what Paul is talking about here. He tells the church that the disciples work hard, not because they have to because there are plenty of people who would help them out, but “in order to give you an example to imitate.” Our actions are not only meant to build up our own faith but the faith of those around us as well.
What kind of example are you setting?
For your kids, your grandkids, your nieces and nephews, do they see evidence of Christ working in your life? About 83% of people tell pollsters they are Christian, yet only about 18% ACTUALLY attend church services on any given week. Now attendance isn’t the only measure of what it means to be Christian, but if we take the Bible seriously, it’s clear God wants us to be involved in a community of believers; to learn, to grow in our faith, to encourage others. So if 75% of “Christians” aren’t in church, how are they engaging in the type of community God is calling us to live into? The truth is most of them aren’t. In a study from 2016 they found that among those who used to go to church more often, about half said they are “too busy,” “too lazy,” or just “don’t care” about it as much as other things. And of the about 33% of Americans who call themselves Christians but rarely or never go to church, most of those never have. How do you know if you are Christian if you don’t take the time to find out what it’s about? Just the fact that you’re here, now, and reading these words means you care; that for you faith is more than just a check box on a sheet of things to do. But if you don’t come regularly, I want to encourage you to do so. I want to ask you to give faith a chance.
I read something very interesting.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called Outliers and in this book he talks about how to become what the world would call successful. And the interesting thing he found was that the most committed people were also the most likely to succeed. Not necessarily the most talented, but the most committed. Now, there are other factors involved too and he goes into all of them. Status, wealth, position, opportunity, etc. But the one thing that differentiated the mediocre from the exceptional in nearly every instance was what he called the 10,000 Hour Rule. It was the 10,000 Hour Rule that separated the average from the exceptional. He found 10,000 hours of honing your craft – whatever it is – seems to be the key to success. He talks about the Beatles and Bill Gates, two completely different success stories in two completely different fields and how the one thing they had in common other than natural talent was that each completed 10,000 hours of honing their skills at a relatively young age. What Gladwell says is that practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do to MAKE you good. Practice isn’t the thing you do ONCE you’re good. It’s the thing you do to MAKE you good. Do you show that kind of dedication to your faith?
Coming out of that cast, my arm was a pitiful sight.
Having not used it for only three months, it looked pale and weak. Just putting my two arms side-by-side, it was easy to tell which one had been used and which had not. Don’t let your faith get pale and weak. Don’t let your faith go by the wayside. In our busy lives it’s all too easy to let God slip by the wayside. It’s ironic, but especially during the Christmas season, when we’re running around trying to clean our houses, wrap our gifts, shop for our relatives, bake cookies for the church potluck, we can so easily forget what is truly important. Make a commitment, not just now but for always to put your faith in the forefront of your life and watch how God will increase the abundance of blessing in your life. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Church attendance: https://churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/139575-7-startling-facts-an-up-close-look-at-church-attendance-in-america.html ; % Christian: http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=90356&page=1