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(Romans 1:8) Chasing Sticks

(Romans 1:8) Chasing Sticks

by Stephen Davey Ref: Romans 1:8

What are your ambitions and dreams? What gets you out of bed in the morning? For the apostle Paul, it was seeing the glory of Christ spreading throughout the world. Stephen reminds us why everything else is secondary.


Chasing Sticks

Romans 1:8

Steven Lawson wrote these provocative words in his book entitled, The Legacy: “Every man leaves a lasting influence . . . that will affect future generations for centuries to come.  But let’s face it, not all legacies are the same.  Some are productive, others are destructive.  Some are illustrious, others are infamous.  What kind of a legacy will you leave behind?  A spiritual legacy is one that money can’t buy and taxes can’t take away, it is passing down to the next generation what matters most.” 

 Steven J. Lawson, The Legacy, Multtnomah Publishers, 1998; p. 14

Every man leaves a lasting influence.   Is that true?

We do know that the very nature of the transmitting of doctrinal truth is the responsibility of one godly man passing it along and through another godlyman.  It is the passing of a legacy. 

Paul told Timothy, “The things which you have heard from me. . .these entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (I Timothy 2:2)

I find it interesting that older godly women are likewise to teach younger women how to live godly lives  (Titus 2:4,5).

The truth of scripture is like a priceless heirloom handed from one generation of believers to the next.

Is it any surprise then that the vast majority of people who come to faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, come to Him as young children?!

J. Oswald Sanders quoted that famous study of two families who lived during the same era in American history.  Two families from the state of New York were carefully studied. One was the Max Jukes family and the other was the Jonathan Edwards family.  Jonathan Edwards as a godly man who lived for the glory of God.  He married a woman who also followed Jesus Christ and over the next 150 years, among their descendants were, 14 presidents of universities; one vice president of the United States, 3 congressman, 30 judges, 60 physicians, 60 authors, 100 attorneys and 300 theological professors, missionaries and pastors.

During the same era, the descendants of Max Jukes, an unbeliever who also married an unbeliever.  They also lived in New York and among their descendants were: more than 100 alcoholics, 190 prostitutes, 300 vagrants, 130 felons who served an average of 13 years each, 7 of them sentenced for murder.  Out of 1,200 descendants, only 20 of them learned an honest trade, but 10 of them learned their trade while serving in the state prison.  The family of Max Jukes cost the state of New York an estimated 1.5 million dollars to care for them over the years.

Certainly, Sanders revealed to extremes from either direction, but the principle remains in some form, one godly influence can impact several generations.

What would the evidence of our own generation suggest, as to the model we seem to be following?

A study by the University of Rhode Island now describes the most dangerous place to be, outside of riots and war is in the American home.  On a national scale, the average American home is filled with anger and violence.  30% of American couples experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime.  2 Million couples have used a gun, knife or other lethal weapon on one another during their marriage.  20% of all police officers killed in the line of duty are killed while answering calls involving family fights.

Los Angeles Times, April 27, 1978 quoted by Charles Swindoll in The Tale of the Tardy

Oxcart, Word Publishers, p. 199.

What kind of man would use a lethal weapon or some other form of violence on his wife?  What kind of man would endanger his children physically, or emotionally devastate them as they live through his violence. 

I had lunch with a man several weeks ago who can remember even though he was 5 years old watching his father knock his mother to the floor and then yell at her to get up so he could beat her down again. 

Paul said that these men would not be the exception but the rule – perhaps not all violent in that way, but equally vile in other ways.

He wrote in 2 Timothy a description of men during the last days.  We’ve been living in the last days for some 2,000 years now.  And Paul’s description of a man in the first century applies today as if Paul had written it about men in the 21st century.

He wrote, “But realize this, that in the last days . . . men will be lovers of self, (that is the first description and it probably serves as a categorical description of them all – of the 18 things Paul will describe men to be, this one sums it all up – men are in love with themselves!  Furthermore, they are) lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy,  3.  unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good,  4.  treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” (2 Timothy 3:1-4)

Could there be any, more fitting description of the 21st century man than that?

Now, it would be comfortable, to some degree to simply give statistics and illustrations and verses on how bad it is outside the church, and we could all sit in this auditorium and cluck our tongues and shake our heads and say, “My, my . . . those unholy, self-centered men out there.”

Trouble is, the church herself is crying out for men to stand up and take their role of godly leadership in the home and in the church.

The typical church service has 59% females versus 41% male attenders.  Married women who attend church without their husbands outnumber by four to one the men attending without their wives.  One major denomination recently released the fact that 85% of the subscribers to its premier devotional booklet were women.  This same statistic is proven by the fact that the overwhelming majority of books purchased in Christian bookstores are bought by women.

The majority of ministry in the church and parachurch organizations of the world are organized and prayed over and moved along by women.

The cry of the church today, more than ever in recent generations is, “Where have all the godly men gone?”

 You know what I have discovered about godly women?  The more godly a woman, the more desirous she is to have godly men lead the way.  The closer she walks with Christ, the more deeply she agonizes over the fact that the men around her don’t walk with Christ.

I have a really godly husband and I’m having a hard time following him.  He loves the Lord and me and the children – he prays for us and wants us to grow in Christ, and I’m really feeling insecure about that!

I have never yet had a woman come up to me and say, “Stephen, I don’t know what to do.”  “Oh, what’s the problem.”  “Well, my husband has stopped watching television all the time and, would you believe it, I saw him reading His Bible the other day – it’s making me feel really insecure.  And he’s even spent money on several Christian books lately and he’s reading them.  And in the car, he keeps bringing God up in the conversation with the kids . . . I wish he’d stop praying with the children . . . what am I supposed to do, Stephen, he just keeps making one Biblical decision after another.  I can’t take it any more!

Wouldn’t that be great?

What I have been asked 100 times over is, “Stephen, my husband won’t pray before we eat at home, or with our kids – is it wrong for me to do that in his place?” or “Pastor, my husband complains about giving money to the Lord, is it wrong for me to give some of mine without his permission, or will the Lord understand if I don’t?” or “Stephen, my husband won’t ever bring scripture into a conversation, would I be preachy if I did every once in a while?” 

Where have all the godly men gone?

Maybe it’s time to stop and evaluate where we stand.  What kind of legacy will you leave? 

Kent Hughes, in one of his commentaries recounted one Charlie Brown cartoon.  Linus has just thrown a stick for Snoopy to retrieve.  Snoopy’s first instinct was to chase after the stick and bring it back – only to have Linus throw it again and Snoopy bound after it all over again.   Only, this time, Snoopy suddenly stops and decides against running after it.  He says to his reading audience, “I want people to have more to say about me after I’m gone than, “He was a

nice guy . . . he chased sticks.”

I personally believe that we have in this auditorium enough men to start a spiritual revolution.  To so effectively transfer a spiritual legacy so clear and true – so Biblically distinctive and passionate that the world will never be the same.

Dogs chase after sticks – because most of them have a natural affection for chasing things like that. 

Well then, what are the affections of a godly man?

Over the course of several weeks, I want to do something that I was told not to do in seminary.  “Never isolate a portion of your audience,” they said.  But that’s exactly what I intend to do, as I preach these messages primarily to men, young and old.

Now, obviously, Biblical truth is easily applied across lines of gender and age.  Furthermore, this will be truth for every married woman to pray her husband will live; this is the kind of man you can encourage your daughters to marry; this is the man you will want your son to become

We want to answer the question, “What does a godly man chase after, long for and desire; what does he talk like and how does he live?”

The answer begins in the second sentence of Romans chapter 1.  For the first time, Paul begins to write on a personal note, with intimate and heart revealing language.

Nearly a year ago as I read carefully again this chapter in light of this exposition through Romans, I penciled a word in the margin of this paragraph.  It was the word “affection”. 

Paul, perhaps unknowingly, yet by the grace of an inspiring God, models for us the affections of a godly man.

Let’s read the first few verses of this paragraph.  Romans chapter 1 verse 8.  First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.  9.  For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you,  10.  always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you.  11.  For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established;  12.  that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.

The first affection of a godly man is, Affection for God Himself.

When Paul reveals his investment of prayer on behalf of the believers living in Rome, his close relationship with God.  

In fact, his prayer was based upon intimacy with God and intercession through Jesus Christ.

I am thanking “my God, through Christ.”

He didn’t say, “I thanking my wife’s God . . . my children’s God . . . my co-workers God . . . ” No!  I am talking to “my God!”

Martin Luther, the Reformer once said that Christianity was the religion of possessive pronouns.”  Anyone can say “God” but only Christian can utter the words, “my God.”

The godly man has a living, active, intimate, personal possessive relationship with God.

His first and foremost affection is for his God.

That is the very reason Paul can precede those two words with those astounding words, “I thank”.

You have to be kidding!  This is the man who was stoned, beaten, jailed, mistreated, shipwrecked, jeered at and ultimately imprisoned  in Rome and there, we believe, executed.

The Holy Spirit has already told him that wherever he goes bonds and afflictions await him. (Acts 20:23)

Paul will eventually spend time in the Mamertine Prison in Rome.  One commentator pointed out that this prison was connected to the city’s sewage system which ran past the prisons main gate.  The prisoners of the Mamertine prison were sent there to die and they died either at the hands of the guards or starvation.  After the prisoners death, the guards simply flooded the chamber with sewer water and washed the corpse away.

How could he ever say, and how can any godly man ever have on his lips the ever present words “I thank!”

Only when you can say, “My God.”

Paul began by saying, “I am thanking my God for you.”  In other words, “I am investing part of my life in praying for you.”

That investment requires spiritual vigilance.  It will require the discipline of refusal.  You’ll more than likely have to turn something down in order to find time to pray.

The average unchurched man watches 2-3 hours of television a night.  The average churched man watches 30 minutes less a night.

The question is, “Who is praying for your wife?  Who is praying for your children?  Who is praying for you church?  Who is praying for your country?” 

You’ll never get around to this kind of investment if all you ever do is chase after sticks.

Paul said, “First of all, I thank my God for you. . .”   Can you imagine what it meant to the Christians in Rome to learn that Paul was praying for them?

But he actually did much more than that.

In this first phrase of verse 8 Paul revealed another affection of a godly man.

It was affection for God’s people

If praying requires spiritual vigilance, then this affection requires spiritual vision.

Paul said to them, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all!”

Wait a second.  Not everyone in the church at Rome deserved equal commendation.  Surely there were fence sitters and bench warmers.

We know that Paul was writing a church that was struggling with division between Jew and Gentile.

But then, what a brilliant way to encourage unity by praising them all.  By saying if effect, “I love all of you, equally!”

“I thank my God for you all!”

Paul knew there were some who needed to grow up.  He knew who the leaders were, in fact, he’ll name several people in the last chapter who were moving the church forward.

But here, he graciously commends them all – and takes the opportunity to praise the Lord for them all.

That’s why I say his statement required spiritual vision.  Barclay wrote, “There are some people whose tongues are tuned to praise, and others whose tongues are tuned to criticize. There are some people whose eyes are focused to find faults, and others whose eyes are focused to discover virtues.” 

William Barclay,  The Letter To The Romans, Westminster Press p. 15

I don’t believe Paul was blindly flattering.  His affection for God’s people focused him on their potential, not their problems.

In his book, Anchor Man, Steve Farrar told of the process of growing a very expensive grade of bamboo.  In Malaysia, there is a strain of very valuable bamboo that takes great wisdom and patience to cultivate.  Here’s how they do it.

In the first year, they plant the seed, water and fertilize.  Nothing visible happens.  In the second year, they continue to carefully water and fertilize.  Nothing visible happens in the second year either.  In the third year, water and fertilizer are even more necessary, yet nothing visible happens.  There is absolutely no visible indication that your three years of work are even close to being successful.  The fourth year comes around and water and fertilizer must still be applied, in the right amounts and at the right time.   But you guessed it, nothing happens.  In the fifth year you again diligently water and fertilize.  And the bamboo grows 90 feet in 30 days.    Not 9 inches in 30 days; not 9 feet in 30 days; 90 feet. 

Steve Farrar, Anchor Man, Nelson Publishers p. 17

Now I have to admit, that 5th year would really be exciting wouldn’t it!  But I don’t know about the first 4.  In fact, I’d probably be interested in planting something else.

Maybe that’s why chasing sticks is so much more interesting.  You get immediate results. 

Maybe that’s why passing on a legacy to children to or a class of students or Bible study group is less appealing – it takes time.

Paul would say to the Ephesian elders and congregation, “I taught you for three years, day and night with tears!”  (Acts 20:31)

A Christian psychologist, wanting to determine how much time fathers spent in contact with their young children, surveyed a number of them.  He said, “How much time do you spend, on an average day, talking with your children?”  And the average father said, “Oh, I don’t know, fifteen or twenty minutes.”  And, with their permission, he attached microphones to the shirts of these little kids and tape recorders, walk-mans, and recorded their daily interaction.  The results that came back were tragically surprising, because the average father spent an average of  37 seconds in personal interaction.  Now, of course, this did not include, “Pass the butter,” and “Do your homework.”  But in one on one interaction with his child or children, the average father spent no more than an average of  37 seconds a day! 

You will never hand off a spiritual legacy in 37 seconds a day. 

Thirdly, the affection of a godly man include affection for God’s purposes.

Spiritual vigilance; spiritual vision and spiritual values.

Paul writes in the last phrase of Romans 1:8 perhaps the most telling phrase of his godly character,  “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”

Paul, in effect communicated, “I am so proud of you - you have become famous for your faith.”

The vibrancy of your trust in God and commitment to Him is on everybody’s minds.  Imagine how significant it would be to live in the capital city of the empire of Rome, where Nero himself lives, and never bow your knee to Caesar.  What a life of faith that alone would require.

One author provoked my thinking by reminding his readers that some churches are famous for their architecture; some churches are famous for their pastor; some are famous for their organ; some are well known for their programs; others are famous for choir; some churches are famous for their history; some are famous because of who attended in the past or the celebrities who attend now – but can you imagine being famous throughout the world, for your faith!

One of the things we can miss in this phrase is the fact that Paul is quietly encouraging their priorities by what he praises.  

He could have praised a dozen things.  And later on he’ll highlight them.  But first – he praises their faith, as if to say, that’s the most important thing of all.

What impresses you the most about people?  What excites you about people?  What do you compliment the most in those close to you?  Their job – their looks – their car – their title – their connections – their house – their grades?

The godly man whose affections are driven toward God and God’s people and God’s purposes is most excited about the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of those around him.

He is most thrilled at the demonstration of faith in the lives of his beloved.

The one who is excited about those things is on his way to becoming a godly man.  The one who is impressed about lesser things, is probably too preoccupied with chasing sticks.

I picked up this little book a few days ago.  It’s a collection of stories by various authors and Christian leaders entitled, “Thanks Dad, For Teaching Me Well.”  One of the authors shared this personal story of two men in his life who passed on a spiritual legacy.

“My father grew up on Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia in the early 1900’s.  With a family of six he lived in a second-story apartment above the Germantown Gospel Fall, where they all worshipped.  In 1917, when my dad was only five, his father wired the Gospel Hall with electricity, determined to have the job completed in time for Sunday morning worship.  Grandpa worked steadily on the project from Monday after dinner until Wednesday night, when he paused for the weekly prayer meeting.  He continued his work the next day and pressed forward on into the weekend. 

The last two nights he worked he had a high fever, but he kept going by wrapping cold cloths around his head.  By Sunday morning the lights were working . . . but Grandpa couldn’t go to the service to see them because he was in bed with the flu.  He stayed in bed all the next week.  In spite of the doctor’s coming to care for him, he got worse.  By now Grandpa was delirious with fever, tossing and turning, his bedclothes wet with perspiration.  In a moment of lucidity, Grandpa looked at my then five-year-old father, and, with tenderness in his eyes, put his arms around him and uttered  the words, “Don’t cry, hush now, God is in it.”  A few moments later, he died.  Fast forward to a Sunday morning when I was now five.  About fifty people had gathered in a circle around a table to partake in the Lord’s Supper.  In the middle of the table, covered with a white cloth, were the elements.  I was lying on the floor.  As my dad stood to pray, I looked up at him.  And as I listened to him pray, I thought, “Whoever he’s talking to means more to him than anyone else does.”  The greatest gift my parents gave me was the realization that I was not the most important person in their lives.  Neither was my brother. Neither were they to each other.  No one was more important to them that God.  I learned that everyone’s life is a story whose point is discovered only when that story is lifted up into the larger story of God.  We’re not the point; none of us.  God is.  And until we see our story as only a subplot in that eternal drama, we’ll never see the meaning of life.  I learned that lesson from father, as he taught me the value of God.

Adapted from Thanks Dad, Ken Gire, Waterbrook Preses, p. 17

That’s a legacy, handed from one godly man to the next.

A godly man who has a deep and growing affection for God and affection for God’s people and affection for God’s purposes is in the process of passing on a spiritual legacy whether he can see visible signs of growth or not.

And to that man, like the Apostle Paul, no matter what happens in life, God is in it . . . God is in it!



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