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Hold Fast To What Is Good

I Thessalonians 5:12-22

She certainly made a name for herself. In fact, they called her “Calamity Jane”. But interestingly enough, she wasn’t a person—she was a putter. Let me explain…

Some years ago, a talented young golfer joined the professional golf tour. Immediately, he captured the attention of the golfing world with his unique ability. But since he was just starting out, he had no money. Some friends got together and raised enough money to send him to play in the Australian Open. They made arrangements for him to stay with an Australian rancher.

The young golfer arrived early. The rancher was showing him around the old home place. When they came to the barn, the young golfer noticed some old golf clubs stuck over in a back corner of the barn. They were obviously discarded, because they were covered with dust and cobwebs. As golfers will do, this young pro pulled out one of the clubs—it happened to be the putter. He took a few practice strokes. He said: “I like the feel of this putter.” The rancher said: “Well, then you can have it. That old putter has seen its days. It’s worthless, if you ask me, but if you want it, I’ll give it to you.” The young golfer thanked him, went back to his room, and stuck that old discarded putter into his golf bag, and forgot about it.

The next day the Australian Open Golf Tournament began. On the first green, the young golfer stood over his first putt of the day. He studied that difficult putt carefully, and then he reached back for his putter. Accidentally, his caddy handed him that old discarded putter. The young golfer prepared to putt, but suddenly realized that he had the wrong putter in his hands, but it felt good, so he used it anyway, and he made the putt. He kept on using that old discarded putter, and he kept on making his putts. He won the Australian Open. Then he won the British Open, and over the years, he won many of the greatest golf tournaments in the world. In fact, no one has ever won more major golf tournaments than he did. He became, in the estimation of many, the greatest golfer the world has ever known. He spent his entire golf career using a worthless old discarded putter, which he called “Calamity Jane”. Perhaps you’ve guessed that the golfer’s name was Bobby Jones!

You know, as I think of Bobby Jones and remember how effectively and productively he used that old discarded putter which someone else had regarded as worthless, I realized that there’s a sermon in that story. I found the story driving me back to the great truth the Apostle Paul underscores in his letter to the Thessalonians. In essence, he sums up the whole letter with these words: “Love one another. Rejoice always and pray constantly. Give thanks in all circumstances. Test everything. Hold fast to what is good.” I want to look closely at those words with special emphasis on his command to “hold fast to what is good”.

Of course, when Paul spoke of holding fast to what is good, he was not talking about physical things like tattered sweatshirts or moth-eaten bathrobes or out-of-style neckties or worn-out sneakers, or even antiquated putters. No! He was referring to spiritual things—things that really matter in life. In essence, he was saying: “Be careful. Don’t let the world confuse you about the true priorities in life. Don’t let the world determine for you what is of worth and what is worthless. Don’t let the world baffle you or bewitch you, mislead you, or misinform you. Test everything by the measuring stick of Jesus Christ. The world may regard spirituality as worthless, but in the final analysis it is only the spiritual things which last. Therefore, hold fast to what is good.” Paul then notes three spiritual qualities which we need to hold onto at all costs. Here they are.

First of all, hold on to the spirit of gratitude.

Paul said it like this, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” Notice, please, he didn’t say give thanks for all circumstances— he said give thanks in all circumstances. Obviously, we don’t give thanks for things like cancer and heart attacks, arthritis and accidents. But we can give thanks in all circumstances because God is with us come what may. When we reach out to him in faith, then He will give us the strength to see us through. We can count on that, because we can count on Him—and that is cause for great thanksgiving.

Years ago, I studied in Scotland under Dr. James Stewart, regarded by many as the greatest preacher of the twentieth century. Perhaps that is true, I don’t know, but what I do know is that he possessed an extraordinary faith, and an equally extraordinary ability to communicate that faith and the truth of Scripture. I remember one day in class he did something so dramatic that it has stuck with me ever since. When the class began, he prayed a brief but powerful prayer, and then without saying a word he walked over to the chalkboard and he drew the sign of the cross. Underneath the cross he wrote two words: God’s love. Then, without saying a word, he moved to the left of the cross, and he drew a series of arrows pointing toward the cross. Under this line of arrows he wrote the words: “In order to…” Then moving to the other side of the cross, he drew another series of arrows, these pointing away from the cross. Underneath these arrows he wrote, “Because of…” Then he turned to us, and in his very gentle, polite style, “Gentlemen, do you have an “in order to” faith or a “because of” faith. Do you do good works in your life in order to win God’s love, or because you already have God’s love? He pointed to the “because of” side of the board, and he said: “This is where we need to be. We love because God first loved us. We serve God, not in order to woo Him or win Him or wow Him, but because of His gracious love already given to us through Jesus Christ. We serve God out of sheer gratitude for what He has already done for us on the cross.” Hold fast, Paul would say, to that spirit of gratitude. That’s exactly what Paul was saying so long ago, and that’s what I’m trying to say to you today: “Hold fast to what is good. No matter what the world says to you or does to you, don’t ever discard the spirit of gratitude.”

There’s an old legend which tells about a man who came one day to the barn where Satan stores the seeds of evil he scatters across the earth. The man noticed that the seeds in most abundant supply were stored under the labels “bitterness” and “discouragement”. He asked Satan about those seeds. “Oh yes”, came the reply, “bitterness and discouragement are without any question my most effective weapons.These seeds will grow almost anywhere.” And then with a solemn look on his face, Satan added, “Of course, there is one place where the seeds of bitterness and discouragement will not grow.” The man asked: “And where is that?” Satan answered; “They will not grow in a grateful heart.” My friends, whatever you do in your life, hold fast to the spirit of gratitude.

And then hold fast to the spirit of hope.

Paul expressed it like this: “Rejoice always and pray constantly.” In other words, no matter what problems or difficulties or troubles or heartaches may come your way, don’t ever lose heart. Hang in there. Stay positive. Trust God. Don’t cast aside the spirit of hope.

Several years ago, a NFL football team had high hopes of going to the Super Bowl. They made the play-offs easily, however, in their first play-off game, they played a terrible first half. As the second quarter came to an end, they found themselves behind 21-0. They trudged toward the locker room—down, dejected, dispirited. They knew what was coming. The coach was going to scream his lungs out at them, and with good reason. They had played so poorly. They had missed tackles; blown blocking assignments, dropped passes, flubbed kicks, several fumbles. You name it, they did it and it was all wrong. They knew that the coach was going to unload on them at half-time.

Strangely enough, the coach didn’t come into the locker room, so they just sat there in silence. No one said a word, each one reflecting on how badly he had done. Just before time to begin the second half, suddenly the coach stepped into the locker room and delivered a single sentence. And on the strength of that sentence, they charged out of the locker room and they went on to win the game. And what did the coach say? Just this: “Gentlemen, you’ve got a great second half inside of you.”

When you stop to think about it, that is precisely what God is saying to us. “You’ve got a great second half inside of you.” If you feel that you have stumbled or failed or disappointed someone or fallen short of your best effort; if you feel down and out, defeated, and dispirited, then listen carefully. God has a great word of hope for you. He is saying: “You’ve got a great second half inside of you. I believe in you. I will help you. I will give you the strength you need. I will stand by you.”

Dear friends, whatever this world may say to you or do to you, don’t ever believe that there is no hope, for where God is, there is help and there is hope. Hold fast to the spirit of hope in your life.

And then, finally, hold fast to the spirit of love.

Paul says it like this: “Love one another. Do good to one another.” The world will try to tell you that love is weak, and that real strength is found in things like military might, political clout, and material possessions. Don’t fall for that lie. Love is now, always has been, and always will be the most powerful thing in the world.

Will Durant produced a massive study of history called, “The Story of Civilization.” Volume I is called, “Our Oriental Heritage.” It has over 1,000 pages. Volume II is called, “The Life of Greece”—close to 800 pages. Volume III is called “Caesar and Christ”—750 pages. Volume IV is called, “The Age of Faith”. It has 1,100 pages. Volume V is “The Renaissance”—750 pages, Volume VI “The Reformation”—1,000 pages. Will Durant wrote five more volumes in that incredible series. He was, without question, one of the most respected and knowledgeable historians of this century. Someone asked him once, “Dr. Durant, after all those volumes and all of those pages, what has history taught you?” Will Durant answered: “I can sum up all the years of history in three words: ‘Love one another’. The final lesson of history is the same as the message of the Bible: ‘Love one another’. The world may try and tell you something different, but you just try it. Love is the most powerful and practical thing in the world.” Isn’t that amazing? Eleven volumes, thousands of pages, and Will Durant says that the message of history and the message of Jesus are the same: LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Hold fast to the spirit of love in your life.

Well…

When Dr. Pierce Harris was pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Atlanta, he was invited to speak to some 400 inmates at the state penitentiary in Georgia. The service was held outdoors. He stood on a flatbed truck, surrounded by the convicts wearing prison uniforms of black and white stripes. He was introduced by one of those convicts who stood up and said: “Some years ago, two boys lived in the same town in northern Georgia. They attended the same school, played with the same bunch of fellows, even went to the same Sunday School. One of them dropped out of Sunday School because he thought he had outgrown it, and he thought that religion was sissy stuff. The other boy kept going because it really meant something to him and because God and Christ were important in his life. The boy who dropped out of Sunday School and let go of God is the one who is making this introduction today. The other is the famous preacher who is now going to speak to you.”

To each of us is given the opportunity to choose which way we will go in life. Therefore, I plead with you, don’t discard the spirit of gratitude in your life. Don’t discard the spirit of hope in your life. Don’t discard the spirit of love in your life. Instead, hold fast to what is good.

Hold fast to Jesus Christ!

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