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Redeemed & Secure

             I.      Introduction – A Love Story

Last week, Chris introduced us to the book of Ruth.  Now, he stopped at the end of Ruth chapter 2 as Ruth and Naomi were headed back to Bethlehem.    We’re going to pick up in Ruth chapter 3, and will read about the love story about how Ruth met Boaz and they married.  That’s right, the principle difference between Chris’ lesson and mine is that in Chris’ lesson, Boaz is ruthless.

But today we are going to discuss the love story and marriage of Ruth and Boaz.

I encourage everyone to read the books of Ruth 1-4 to get familiar with their story, it is a love story, and let me give you the overall snapshot so you understand what’s going on.  Chris taught an excellent lesson last week about the decisions Ruth made that affected our lives today; Ruth was the great grandmother of King David and by her example showed us how to have a winning walk toward the promised land and how important our decisions are.

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In Ruth chapter 1, Elimelech and Naomi were living in Bethlehem when there was a great famine.  Elimelech and Naomi decided to move with their two sons to find food.  They moved to the land of Moab, which apparently were populated by Moabites, who knew.  The Moabites did not worship the Lord and treated Israelites poorly.

While living in Moab, Naomi’s husband Elimelech died.  Naomi’s two sons married Moabite women named Orpah and Ruth.  After 10 years, both of Naomi’s sons died, leaving Naomi and her two daughter-in-laws, all 3 widows.

The famine ended, Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem, and urged Orpah and Ruth to stay with the Moabites.  As we learned last week, Orpah was stiff-necked and stayed behind, but Ruth said to Naomi, “Your God will be my God,” and Ruth and Naomi traveled to Bethlehem, arriving just at harvest time.    Naomi returned to the promised land but changed her name from pleasant to bitter.  Ruth, who’s name meant “friend” or “companion,” was willing to give up everything, little as it was, to be a gentile with a heart for the Lord.

Now, Naomi and Ruth are both widows, and in the days of the Old Testament and Judges, widows were not treated well.  There might be plenty of food at harvest, but not for the 2 widows.

In Leviticus 19:9-10,

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

God’s people were not to harvest the outer edges of their fields because they should leave that for the poor.  So when the harvest was done, Ruth went to the leftover crops and picked grain for herself and for Naomi.  It so happened that the field Ruth went to belonged to Boaz.  Boaz was a distant relative of Naomi’s deceased husband Elimelech, and Naomi discovers that Ruth has been harvesting in the field of a distant relative.

Naomi is pretty excited about this news – she tells Ruth that Boaz is a relative and is obligated under the law to be a “kinsman-redeemer.”  Here we pause in our love story and discuss some biblical terms because, after all, this is a bible study.

There are several passages in the Old Testament that talk about the kinsman-redeemer, and the Hebrew word is “גָּאַל gâʼal” which means a relative that delivers, avenges, ransoms or purchases something.  Think of it sort of like a pawn broker who hold something of value of yours.  If you want that valuable, you redeem that item and it belongs to you again.  A kinsman-redeemer is based on Leviticus 25:47-49.

If a foreigner residing among you becomes rich and any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to the foreigner or to a member of the foreigner’s clan, they retain the right of redemption after they have sold themselves. One of their relatives may redeem them: An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in their clan may redeem them. Or if they prosper, they may redeem themselves.

Naomi and Ruth are in this position, poor widows, and Naomi is excited that Ruth has found favor in the eyes of Boaz.  Naomi gives Ruth a series of instructions –

  1. Wash, perfume yourself and put on your cloak
  2. Go to the threshing-floor
  3. Do not let Boaz recognize you during the feasting
  4. When he sleeps, lie down at his feet and uncover him
  5. Do whatever he tells you to do

          II.      The Seduction of Boaz

It appears that Naomi has a plan for her daughter-in-law to get rich.  The phrase “uncover him” is a euphemism for sexual relations, the same phrase is used throughout Leviticus 18 about unlawful sexual relations.  If Ruth seems enticing to Boaz, perhaps he will have sexual relations with her, get married, and they will both be saved.  Ruth is obligated to obey Naomi, but not at the cost of obeying God’s law.  How will she be both obedient to Naomi and to God?

Ruth does everything Naomi tells her to do.  That night, Ruth returns to the threshing floor – remember the threshing floor from a few weeks back, when Gideon was hiding from the Midianites?  Ok, he was hiding in a hole in the ground, but the threshing floor is a large flat surface used for separating the wheat from the chaff.  There must have been some sort of after-harvest party because Ruth 3:7 says Boaz had finished eating and drinking and went to lay down near the grain pile.  Ruth follows Naomi’s instructions and lays down at the feet of Boaz.

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Boaz wakes up and there’s a a young woman lying at his feet.  Boaz is shocked and asks Ruth what’s she’s doing.  Ruth is truthful and says she belongs to Boaz if only he will redeem her, and Ruth promises to do whatever Boaz asks.  She has placed her trust in Boaz as her redeemer, and fortunately, Boaz is a righteous man and Ruth’s chastity remains intact.  Boaz is touched.  He says to Ruth that there are plenty of younger men available, but he is flattered Ruth chose him.  And Boaz will indeed redeem her, but there’s a catch – Boaz is not the closest heir.  Boaz will redeem her, but because he’s a righteous man, he will make the offer to the closest heir first in front of the town elders, then leave the outcome up to God.

             III.      The Redemption of Ruth

At the beginning of Ruth chapter 4, Boaz finds the closest relative and asks him to sit at the gate while Boaz gathers ten of the town’s elders.

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In early Israelite towns, the town gate served as the center of public business.  Heavy wooden double doors were hung on large posts and were secured by bars and locks during the night.  In front of the gate entrance there was an open space lined with benches where the elders sat.  Matters of commerce were discussed and trade transactions were made, and the local judicial court of elders met to decide business and legal transactions.  It was also where elders delivered judgments in violation of the Law, and it was outside the town gate that the guilty were punished.

So in front of the elders, Boaz tells the other relative (who is not named in scripture), “Naomi is selling the land that belonged to Elimelech.”  Because of Jewish law, the closest relative had the right to redeem it, and the other heir says, “excellent, I will redeem it.”

Boaz then tells him that the property also comes with Ruth the Moabite, which the heir also must redeem if he is to accept the property.  At this the heir says that’s a problem and he cannot redeem it, it puts his own estate at risk.

Think back on our pawn shop example, you’re trying to redeem something of value that the pawn shop owner has.  In order to redeem it, there are 3 requirements –

  1. You have the right to redeem it. It rightfully belongs to you.  The heir in our story has the right as a blood relative to redeem the property and Ruth.
  2. You have the means to redeem it. You are willing to pay the cost.  The kinsman had the financial means to buy the property from Naomi.
  3. You are willing to redeem it. You actually want it back.  The kinsman has a concern about his own estate and decides he is not willing to redeem the property if Ruth is part of the bargain.

So the right of redemption falls to Boaz.  Boaz has the right as a relative, he has the mean to pay the price, and he is also willing to redeem Ruth.  Ruth 4:9-10,

Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown. Today you are witnesses!”

Our love story today is possible because of the righteousness of Boaz and his redemption of Ruth.  And they all lived happily ever after.

 

             IV.      The Redemption of You and Me

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Now if this was just a love story between Ruth and Boaz, it’s a beautiful story, and nobody dies at the end like “Romeo and Juliet” or “Titanic.”  But I believe God’s word has more meaning than that, and is applicable to us, today.

So, through decisions at forks in the road that Chris mentioned last week, Ruth is born a Moabite in a foreign land, but follows the God of Israel back to Bethlehem, respects her parent Naomi, and she is a widow and considered part of the property her father-in-law had.  Due to somebody else’s choices, Ruth is in bondage, is lacking freedom, and cannot free herself.  All she has is her choice on whether to be obedient to her mother and whether to follow the God of Israel.

Can Ruth free herself?  Is there a future that is in her control?    No; she is in bondage due to her ancestor’s choices, she is unable to free herself.  She needs a redeemer.

Who are we?  Who are you and who am I?  Can we free ourselves from the bondage of sin?  Is there a future that is on our control?  We are in bondage to due to the choices of our ancestors, and we are unable to free ourselves from the bondage of sin.  We need a redeemer.  Who will redeem us from this bondage of sin?

Where does redemption fit in our theology of eternal salvation?  We talk about our assurance of eternal life because of the blood of Jesus, but there are actually several things that happen in quick succession when we profess our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus.

We are born into sin; because of our sin nature – thanks a lot, Adam – but we ourselves make poor choices, and sometimes we make downright bad choices.  Our sin nature puts us in the family of the devil who rules this world.  And our Holy God has promised to right all wrongs and will eventually destroy all evil, including the evil that is within us.  A Holy God will not permit the unholy.

On our own, it is hopeless.  Romans 3:23 says we are all sinners,

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

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We are subject to the wrath of God, unless somebody purchases us, redeems us from our sin.  This scripture, Romans 3:23, may be familiar to us, but this verse in contexts says,

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

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In order to be saved, we must belong to Christ, but at sinners, we are in the possession of the devil.  When we repent and turn to Jesus Christ, Christ redeems us from the devil, his death on the cross atones for our sins, and we are then accepted as righteous and have eternal salvation.

Does Christ meet the three requirements as our redeemer?  Let’s see, Jesus must have the right, the means, and the willingness to redeem us.

We are created in God’s image, but we are in the possession of the devil.  As the Son of God, Jesus have the right to claim what he has created, to free us from the sinful choices we made.  Because Jesus is the Son of our Creator, he does indeed have the right to redeem us.  The Old Testament qualification for our redeemer (Dueteronomy 25:5-10, Leviticus 25:25, Ruth 2:1) says that our redeemer must be related to us by blood.  Jesus fulfills these as described in Galatians 4:4-5,

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

Does Jesus have the means to redeem us?  To be able to redeem us, he has to pay for all of our sins, past, present and future. In this world, when we do wrong, we may be able to find a good friend to bail us out of one bad problem, but not a lifetime of problems.  Our hypothetical friend has his own sin issues to deal with.  But Jesus has no sin and can freely pay for the sin we commit.  And as deity, Jesus can take away the sins of the world.  Jesus alone has the means to redeem us, Jesus and no other.  1 Peter 1:18-19 puts it this way,

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

But these two requirements we met by the unnamed heir who refused to redeem Naomi.  The heir had the right and the means, but not the will.

In John 10:14-18, Jesus said,

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.  The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.

The price was steep, but in perfect submission, Jesus surrendered His will to that of His Father.  As steep as the price was, costing Him his very life, Jesus paid it all for us.

          II.      Conclusion – A Love Story

In Ruth 4:13-17,

So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.  The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel!  He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him.  The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

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So King David, a man after God’s own heart, was Ruth’s grandson, and David of course is in the lineage of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  When Boaz redeemed Ruth, He did more than accept her as His own.  Boaz married her and accepted her as his bride.

In Revelation 21:2 at the beginning of the eternal kingdom, Jesus accepts us, the church, as His bride.  In John’s vision:

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

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Our sins are washed away, we are righteous and beautiful before the Lord.  And in our love story, somebody does indeed die at the end.  Jesus gave up His life so that you and I could live.  And now, I know, my redeemer lives.

And we all lived happily ever after.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

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The Timid Warrior

             I.      Introduction

Let’s open our bibles to the book of Gideon.  Or if you don’t have a book of Gideon, let’s open our Gideon bibles.

We’re going to look today at a warrior named Gideon in the book of Judges chapter 6, so let’s turn there.  Your bible should have a book of Judges.  It’s just after the book of jury selection.

The year is probably between 1045 and 1000 BC, and the book of Judges does not name the author, though the prophet Samuel is the likely author.  The book begins with the Israelites defeating the Canaanites and ends with the Israelites defeating the Philistines and the death of Samson.  We can summarize the entire book of Judges with these three verses,

Judges 2:16-17,

Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.  Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the Lord’s commands.

Judges 10:15,

But the Israelites said to the Lord, “We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.”

And Judges 21:25,

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

The Lord has never failed to rescue His people when the repent of their ways, but Israel has fallen into a destructive pattern.  Obedience led to disobedience.  Disobedience led to destruction.  Destruction led to repentance.  Repentance led to rescue.  Rescue led to obedience. slide4

But enough about Israel.  Let’s talk about us.  Well, actually, maybe I already am talking about us.  We want to be good Christians, but when the Lord cares for us, it’s easy to get complacent and take the Lord’s blessings for granted.  We fool ourselves into thinking that a little misbehaving is ok, but then our misbehaving leads to trouble that we get ourselves into.  Then we cry out to the Lord, please save me, I’m in trouble.  And this time I’ll promise I’ll be good.

          II.      Gideon’s Condition

There’s got to be a better way than falling in the steps of the Israelites.  We’re going to focus on Gideon in Judges chapter 6, and this is what the land of Israel was like in those days, Judges 6:1-6,

The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites.  Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds.  Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country.  They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys.  They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it.  Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.

The Midianites had oppressed the Israelites, and that doesn’t really describe how bad things are.  The people of Israel were vastly outnumbered, forced to live in caves, and anytime the enemy showed up, the enemy killed the Israelite’s sheep and cattle and donkeys.

When it appeared that life in Israel was completely hopeless, then Israel turned to the Lord.  Not as their first response, but only after they had tried everything else and lost.  Not that we would ever do such a thing, take things into our own hands until we’ve made a complete and utter mess of things, and then finally turn to the Lord and say, “Lord, where are you?”  No, of course we would never do that.

When we are discouraged or in pain, of course we cry out to the Lord for help.  And God in His great mercy and love for us often helps us, but we have to acknowledge that sometimes we create the problem ourselves, and the solution begins with obedience, finding the path the Lord has set before us and walking that path.  God does not appear like a magic genie and pluck us out of our difficulties; our spiritual growth and discipline comes first and then the relief comes later.

And it’s not enough for Israel to be sad and upset with their condition.  But if the only thing Israel is sorry for is that they are living in caves, then they do not yet understand what the problem is.  If we spend all our money on clothing or boats or travel or eating out and the credit card collectors begin harassing us, can we go to God and ask for financial blessings to rescue us?  Are we sorry we are broke, or are we sorry we were not good stewards of God’s blessings?

2 Corinthians 7:10 puts it this way,

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

God’s response to Israel was to send a prophet and clarify to Israel what the problem was, Judges 6:7-10,

When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land.  I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

God has rescued them before and will rescue them again, but God again asks Israel to repent of their ungodly ways.

       III.      Gideon’s Complaint

So the Lord sent a message to Gideon who was hiding in a basement somewhere so the Midianites couldn’t find him.  Verse 11-12,

The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.  When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

Usually wheat or corn is threshed on a threshing floor to remove the husks and straw, a flat surface is best.  Slide9.JPGBut Gideon was hiding from the Midianites in a winepress, a hole or a pit.Slide10.JPG  So when the angel of the Lord calls Gideon “mighty warrior,” Gideon probably looked around to see who the angel was talking to.  And it didn’t take very long to look around, because, well, Gideon is in a hole in the ground.

Gideon’s response to the Angel of the Lord is to complain, Judges 6:13,

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

So we know the answer to Gideon’s question – Israel is in this mess because they turned their backs on the Lord and worshipped false idols and other gods.  Gideon though is questioning the Lord – if the Lord is really with us, why do all these bad things keep happening?  Seriously, Lord, I’m in a hole in the ground trying to thresh wheat, so where are you?

But you know, it’s ok to bring our complaints to the Lord.  If we are in prayer with the Lord, we should be as honest with the Lord as we possibly can.  We do not need to feel we have to pray a certain way or pray only how we think the Lord wants us to pray.  We don’t need to be phony and pray the way we think Christians should pray.  Scripture is consistent that the Lord wants us to approach Him in pray with honesty, open our hearts completely, even if it is a complaint.

Remember David, a man after God’s own heart?  Here is his Psalm 10,

Why, Lord, do you stand far off?

Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Be honest with the Lord.  If you have a complaint, bring it to the Lord.  Question the Lord and see if He will answer.  That’s what Job did – Job lost his health and his family and his friends and his livestock.  It must have been a mystery to him since he was a righteous man, and he took his complaint to God.  Job told God he wished he had never been born, that he has no peace and no rest and he has unending troubles.  And the Lord answered Job.

God has rescued them before and will rescue them again, but God again asks Israel to repent of their ungodly ways.

          IV.      Gideon’s Reluctance

In answer to Gideon, the Lord didn’t bother to recap Israel History 101.  The Lord tells Gideon in verse 14,

The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

If we have a single scripture to remember today, it’s this verse from Judges 6:14, “Go in the strength you have.”  Gideon was a timid man, hiding in that hole in the ground so his enemies wouldn’t find him, and the angel of the Lord called him, “mighty warrior.”  Gideon’s response shows that Gideon didn’t feel he was the right man for this job.  Verse 15,

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

Gideon feels inadequate because he is the runt of the litter.  Gideon’s error is that Gideon seems to think he has something to do with the Lord’s victory.  The Lord doesn’t need our help, but He desires our heart, our willingness, our obedience.  God wants us to step out on His behalf, to be His ambassador, but the victory is the Lord’s, not ours.  The Lord’s response in verse 16,

The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

God calls us to lead a godly life of repentance, obedience, love and joy and peace and sometimes it seems like it’s just too hard to do everything we are supposed to do.  It’s just too much.  It’s too stressful, I can’t be sure I’m doing it right, I don’t see it working, we find a myriad of excuses.  Gideon’s excuse is that he was too little.   He’s little enough to hide in a hole.  He’s the runt of the litter.  He’s the smallest of the small.  Other people are better suited.

But that completely misses the point of what God is asking of us.  He’s not asking us to be victorious, he’s asking us to be obedient and then God will be victorious.  Go in the strength you have.

Remember when God asked Moses to lead His people out of Egypt?  In Exodus 3, God appears to Moses as a burning bush and says to Moses, “Go, I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”  Moses’ first response is, “Who am I to do these things you ask?”  And God says, “Just go.”  And Moses says, “What if they don’t listen to me?”  And God says, “Just go.”  And then in Exodus 4:10-13,

Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

One thing I know about each and every believer: God has a plan for each one of us, a plan to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us hope and a future.  And I cannot fulfill the plan God has for you, and you cannot fulfill the plan God has for me.  The plan God has for you can only be fulfilled by the one person God created to fulfill that plan.  Moses finally recognized that God had a plan for him and became obedient.  When Moses finally appeared to Pharaoh and began to lead the Lord’s people out of Egypt, there was quite a few obstacles, including that inconvenient Red Sea obstacle.  But when it came time to overcome that obstacle, who parted the waters?  Was it Moses?  Or was it God?

When Peter walked on water, was He enabled by Jesus, or did he walk on water on his own power?

God doesn’t ask us to be victorious, He doesn’t ask us to move mountains, He doesn’t ask us to perform miracles.  He just asks us to be obedient.  Use the mouth the Lord gave you to speak and do not be concerned whether you speak well.  Use what the good Lord gave you, and that’s more than enough.  The Lord has already equipped you for the work He has given you.  It’s not about us, it’s about the Lord, and the victory is already His.

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In the next chapter of Judges, Gideon finds out he is massively outnumbered before the battle with the Midianites.  Gideon has 32,000 men, the Midianites have 135,000 men.  The Midianites outnumbered him four to one.  And the Lord says to Gideon, “You have too many men,” and Gideon’s army was reduced to only 10,000, or 13:1.  And the Lord says, “You still have too many men.”  And Gideon’s army was reduced to 300 men.  He’s now outnumbered 450 to 1.

Why does God drastically reduce the size of Gideon’s army?   If Gideon is outnumbered 4:1 or even 13:1, Israel might boast of their victory.  But when they are outnumbered 450:1… Israel would not boast.   It is apparent that with such overwhelming odds there was no way Israel could win.  The victory belonged to the Lord.  It could only have been victorious because of the Lord.

That’s why it doesn’t matter what you think about your abilities.  If you speak well, or you’re unable to speak.  If you can lift 1000 pounds or 10 pounds.  God created you for the task He gave you and you are already perfectly equipped to fulfil that task.  Just be obedient to the call you hear.

Ephesians 2:8-10 puts it like this to the body of Christ.  You do not save yourselves, there is nothing you can add to or take away from your salvation, it is a gift and all of the glory belongs to the Lord.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

             V.      Conclusion

I’ve got a snippet of a video that sort of illustrates this point, and I hope you’ll bear with me.  It’s not exactly the best illustration of today’s lesson, but I baked my brain in the sun this week and I was a little incoherent.  But I went with the strength I had and the victory belongs to the Lord. Here’s the setup:

When Barney sings under his own power, the result is, shall we say, acoustically challenged. Andy comes up with a plan but it requires Barney getting out of the way:

So the day of the performance arrives, and here’s the result:

God wants us to open our mouths, then get out of the way and let Him sing through us.

Judges 6:14 –

Go in the strength you have.

And the victory belongs to the Lord.

To God be the glory. Amen.

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Value Life

             I.      Introduction

Today’s lesson is going to veer from my normal study.  I like to present God’s Word directly, connect the dots, provide explanation.  And even though we all have a tendency to project biases in our work, I am conscious that that possibility exists and try to make sure I’m as factual as possible.

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But the church is making a coordinated message today on the sanctity of life.  It’s something I feel very strongly about, but my feelings are based on conclusions I’ve drawn from the bible.  In others words, there is no scripture that says “abortion is wrong,” but I think a reasonable conclusion based on statements from God is that abortion is wrong.  So I’m going to tread carefully and try to make sure my opinions are clearly expressed as opinions based on scripture, not a quote from scripture.

Also, I know these topics can be emotional for a variety of reasons, so when I make a case against abortion, I want you to know that I have personal experience with regard to abortion, though in my case, the abortion was stopped and the child is alive today.  That’s not to my credit though, I give glory to God for His work, but your story may be different.  Just know that, regardless of your history with some of these controversial topics today, regardless of your past, it’s not a judgement against you.  As a child of God, you are forgiven permanently, and every day is a new day to live for His glory without living in bondage to your past.

That felt like a legal disclaimer that you see on television commercials.  “Warning, may cause nausea, dry-mouth, head-ache, inability to breathe, temporary tooth loss, minor blindness, imaginary smells, excessive earwax, redundancy, redundancy, and possible death. Consult a lawyer before taking blah blah blah.”

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In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  And He made light and darkness, water and sky, the land and the seas and all the plants and animals.  This took 5 days and after each day, God saw that it was good.

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On the 6th day, Genesis 1:27, 31 –

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

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And of all the things that God created, it wasn’t until God created man and woman did God declare His creation to be very good.

          II.      Evolution vs Creation

Our secular society has diminished and understated this part of creation.  Our public schools teach our children that evolution is a god, that man’s evolution from the apes shows that we are nothing but a random collection of cells that decided symbiotically to live together, our brain cells with our blood cells with our skin cells.  And there is nothing special about any one of us.

I believe this state-mandated doctrine of evolution is responsible for the callous attitude of our young people toward human life.  In 2012 in Missouri, 15 year old Alyssa Bustamante killed Elizabeth Olten by strangling her, stabbing her in the chest, then slicing her throat.  The reason was because “she wanted to know what it felt like” to kill someone.

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Not an isolated case, by the way.  Here in Texas, two teenagers are being tried for murder.  Dakota White and Brandon Warren originally selected a 12-year old to kill, but then killed an 18-year old instead.  Their reason?  They wanted to know what it would feel like to kill someone.

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And just this week, Dylann Roof was found guilty and sentenced to death in South Carolina for killing 9 people at a bible study.  At his sentencing, in front of the jury, Dylann offered no remorse.  He said, “I still feel like I had to do it.”

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We are not just a collection of evolved cells that decided to work together.  We are created in God’s image.  When God created us, He said it was very good.  We have value to Him.  God has a love for us and a yearning for us to be with Him.  But it wasn’t long before we messed that idyllic Garden of Eden relationship.  We disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit, and created a problem.  Our God is holy, we are tainted with evil, and like matter and antimatter, they cannot exist in the same place at the same time.

We also created new problems between people.  That, too, started in the Garden of Eden.  God asked Adam if he ate the forbidden fruit, and Adam through Even under the bus.  “Eve gave it to me, that’s why I ate some of it.”  Eve of course, blamed the serpent, and the serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on.  I can’t image how the holidays were at the first Garden of Eden Thanksgiving, Adam and Eve glowering at each other, each blaming the other.  “The only reason we have to have Thanksgiving dinner here in this cave instead of the garden is because you had to go and eat that fruit, didn’t you?”

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Of course, their kids had to see this attitude in their parents.  Cain and Abel were probably like, “he’s sitting too close to me.”  And “he’s looking at me.”  And “I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you.”  And then one day Cain’s attitude overcame him, and Cain killed Abel.  Now Thanksgiving is really awkward.  It’s not like they could go to their in-laws.

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But it was God that was pained.  Every human life is important to the Lord, and when Cain killed Able, God said in Genesis 4:10,

The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”

Mankind through the years continued to inflict pain and death on one another.  Family conflict gave way to tribal conflicts.  Tribal conflict turned into national conflicts, then became wars.  Then genocide.  Over the centuries, mankind has become very efficient at killing mankind.

In the United States of America, we got off to a slow start in killing people.  In the American Revolutionary War, 25,000 American lost their lives. Americans died at the rate of 11 people per day.  By World War I, there were 116,516 deaths at the rate of 279 a day.   World War II, 405,399 deaths at the rate of 297 a day.  But before that, American deaths peaked during the American Civil War, 750,000 deaths at 420 per day.

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Those, by the way, are just American deaths.  World War I killed 17 million people.  The Holocaust, perpetrated by the Nazis against the Jews, killed 78% of the Jews in Europe, estimates as high as 17 million.  World War II killed 85 million.  Under Stalin, the Russians killed 10 million in gulags and 20 million through forced starvation.  And in China, Mao Zedong killed 78 million through starvation, forced labor and executions.  Between wars, terrorism, genocide, we humans have become efficient and ruthless at trying to eliminate the human race.

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And of those millions and millions of people in those death counts, each and every one is a soul that God fashioned with love and kindness.  In Psalms 139:13-16,

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

Before we were even born, God created each and every one of us individually for a purpose.  Our sinful nature and the world ruled by Satan has corrupted that purpose to horrific results.

       III.      Abortion

And not just through wars and genocide.  Oh no, we are far too callous of human life.  We destroy human life from before birth all the way through old age.  That statistic about the worst war, the American Civil War, killing 420 people a day?  Abortion kills 3300 per day in the US alone.  Worldwide, 115,000 per day.  42 million souls per year.  1.3 million already in 2017.

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Roe vs Wade in 1973 divided the unborn human life into 3 trimesters.  In the first trimester, Judge Blackman ruled that since abortion was safer than childbirth, the woman and her physician had the sole decision on whether to abort.  The second trimester until “fetal viability,” the state could regulate abortion as long as the health of the mother was the primary legislative purpose.  And in the third trimester, the state’s focus should switch from the life of the mother to the “potential life” and that abortion could be regulated as long as there was an exception to preserve the life or health of the mother.  This exception, “to preserve the life or health of the mother,” turned out to be big enough to drive a truck through.

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Fortunately for the original plaintiff, “Roe” was a pseudonym, the real “Jane Roe” recanted.  Norma McCorvey wrote a book in 1994 called “I am Roe” and described her reasons for the abortion.  Later that year, McCorvey gave her life to Christ and was baptized in 1995.  She then wrote a second book, “Won by Love,” and has since become an outspoken advocate of the pro-life movement.  She wrote in her second book,

I was sitting in O.R.’s offices when I noticed a fetal development poster. The progression was so obvious, the eyes were so sweet. It hurt my heart, just looking at them. I ran outside and finally, it dawned on me. ‘Norma’, I said to myself, ‘They’re right’. I had worked with pregnant women for years. I had been through three pregnancies and deliveries myself. I should have known. Yet something in that poster made me lose my breath. I kept seeing the picture of that tiny, 10-week-old embryo, and I said to myself, that’s a baby! It’s as if blinders just fell off my eyes and I suddenly understood the truth — that’s a baby!

I felt crushed under the truth of this realization. I had to face up to the awful reality. Abortion wasn’t about ‘products of conception’. It wasn’t about ‘missed periods’. It was about children being killed in their mother’s wombs. All those years I was wrong. Signing that affidavit, I was wrong. Working in an abortion clinic, I was wrong. No more of this first trimester, second trimester, third trimester stuff. Abortion — at any point — was wrong. It was so clear. Painfully clear.

She petitioned the Supreme Court in 2005 asking them to overturn Roe v Wade since she had legal standing as one of the original participants, but the petition was denied.  The Supreme Court said the issue was settled.

One of the most common reasons given for supporting a woman’s right to abortion is to protect the life or health of the mother, and also as a remedy against rape or incest.  Rape is a traumatic experience for sure, and I certainly do want to diminish that horrific act, but I heard once a long time again that if one believes that life begins at conception, then why should the baby be punished for the act of the father?  Statistics show that even if you support this exception to abortion, it’s a very minor contributor to the reasons given for abortion.  The Guttmacher Institute  in 2004 anonymously surveyed women after their abortion for their reasons, and the results are as follows:

<0.5% Victim of rape
3% Fetal health problems
4% Physical health problems
4% Would interfere with education or career
7% Not mature enough to raise a child
8% Don’t want to be a single mother
19% Done having children
23% Can’t afford a baby
25% Not ready for a child
6% Other

Over 92% of abortions are not related to health of the woman, health of the baby, or because of rape.  92% just didn’t want a child.  That means of the 1.44 billion babies aborted since 1980 worldwide, 1.3 billion babies would be alive today.  That’s about the same as the entire population of China or India.

          IV.      Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

And the human race isn’t content with ending life at the front end, we’re also trying to end it early at the back end.  Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicides are on the rise since countries such as Belgium and The Netherlands and now the state of Oregon made it legal.  Statistics are harder to come by since it’s not legal everywhere – yet – but the legal early terminations of life are already in the thousands per year.

I haven’t even gotten to all the other ways we humans destroy life.  Terrorism.  Murder.  We are proficient.  And if this all sounds depressing, it’s not supposed to be.  It’s realistic.  The number of lives that never even have an opportunity to have a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is staggering.

This is not what God created us for.  God has given us purpose and meaning.  He created us in love.  God created us to know Him and resemble Him as our heavenly Father, created with moral and spiritual capacities and creativity.

Jeremiah 1:5,

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.

Genesis 9:6,

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.

Psalm 127:3,

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.

Isaiah 49:16,

Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.

Ephesians 2:10

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Luke 12:6-7,

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

How much does God value us?

John 3:16,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

             I.      Conclusion

Look, I’ll make it simple for you and me.  Here is our life’s purpose, beginning with John 3:16.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

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We live our lives according to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20,

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

We do this because of 1 John 4:19,21

We love because He first loved us. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

And time is running out, for you and for me and for the entire world, 2 Peter 3:9,

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

The Lord wants no one to perish, but to have everlasting life.  Our purpose is to value life the way our heavenly Father values us.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

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I Believe in Miracles

             I.      Introduction

Let’s start our lesson today in the book of Joshua, book 10.  We actually have to start at Joshua 1 to find our place in history, so let’s have a little background.

Moses has led the Israelites out of the land of bondage with the Egyptians.  For several reasons, Moses was not able to lead them into the Promised Land before he died, and that task was given to the Lord’s servant and prophet Joshua.  Joshua believed the Lord when he said in Joshua 1:3,

I have given you every place where the sole of your foot treads, just as I promised Moses.

The land of Israel belonged to the Israelites, and the Lord will deliver that land if His people just follow the Lord’s commands. slide2

When we get to chapter 10, Joshua has led Israel against several cities such as Jericho where the walls of Jericho miraculously fell before the conquest.  Joshua has conquered a city called Ai and completely destroyed it, and the town of Gibeon has effectively surrendered.

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The Amorites who lived in the land were greatly alarmed at this, and 5 Amorite kings banded together, joined forces, and set out toward the town of Gibeon to take it for themselves.  Joshua set out toward Gibeon with his entire army to confront the Amorites.

One thing we need to know about Joshua is his complete trust and obedience in the Lord and His promises.  When Joshua first came to Israel as a spy, it’s documented in the book of Numbers.  Ten of the twelve spies reported that the land was full of milk and honey.  And giants.  Caleb and Joshua, though, said the Lord has given the land to the Israelites, so nothing should stop them, including the giants currently living there.

Now, years later, Joshua is still the fierce warrior and dedicated servant of the Lord.  When Joshua hears that the Amorites have gathered against him, the Lord tells Joshua (Joshua 10:8):

The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, for I have handed them over to you. Not one of them will be able to stand against you.”

The Lord said it, so Joshua believed it.  It is done.  Joshua attacks and defeats them and the Amorites begin to run.  Joshua doesn’t even have to chase them, verse 11:

As they fled before Israel, the Lord threw large hailstones on them from the sky along the descent of Beth-horon all the way to Azekah, and they died. More of them died from the hail than the Israelites killed with the sword.

The Lord is not slow about keeping His promise to Joshua.  A hailstorm from the sky on top of your enemy is certainly miraculous, but then something even more miraculous happens.  Joshua needs more time to defeat the remaining Amorites, so he prays for the day to be longer.

          II.      God Answers a Big Prayer

Joshua 10, verse 12,

On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the Lord in the presence of Israel:
“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,
and moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”

And the Lord answers in verse 13,

And the sun stood still
and the moon stopped
until the nation took vengeance on its enemies.

Have you ever doubted something you read in the bible?  Over the years from my early days as a casual Christian to later years as a disciple of Jesus’ teachings, my level of trust in the bible has certainly grown.  But I still stumble over passages and wonder if what I’ve read is true.  Today’s passage is one of those.

When preparing to study for today’s lesson, I wanted originally to gloss over this passage.  I could focus on God’s promise to Joshua and God answering that promise, and I think we’re still going to do that today.  But the longer I pondered this passage, I realized I couldn’t just skip over it.  The Holy Spirit was telling me I had something to learn, and I wasn’t going to learn it if I skipped over passages I found difficult.   If Joshua’s faith was rewarded for believing in the Lord, then my doubts over something the Lord says tells me I have a lot to learn from Joshua.

The bible makes some grand claims, and sometimes does so in spectacular ways.  God said, “Let there be light.”

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God placed Adam and Even in the Garden and Eve, who were then deceived by a serpent.

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God sent rain for 40 days and 40 nights and flooded the earth.

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A prophet was swallowed by a big fish and lived to preach in Nineveh.

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God caused the sun and the moon to stand still for an entire day.

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God rose His son from the dead.

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       III.      Can I Trust God?

When I was younger, I made a lot of excuses for God.  The Garden of Eden is a figurative place, it didn’t really exist, but the imagery was useful in teaching about our relationship with God.  Or 40 days and 40 nights flooded a large area, and even though the bible said it flooded the whole earth, it just seemed that way to the people at the time.

There are four miracles attributed in the book of Joshua, we’ve already talked about two of them, the hailstorm and the day that the sun stood still.   Earlier, Joshua parted the Jordan River, and on another occasional, Joshua blew the horn and the walls of Jericho fell.  How much do I trust the scripture?

Let’s start with what the bible says about the bible.  We just finished studying the books of Peter recently, and in 2 Peter 1:20-21, Peter says,

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.  For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The bible tells us that the bible wasn’t written by men.  Sure, men put the words on the paper, but it was the Holy Spirit telling them what to write.  We can also look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17,

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Your version may translate “God-breathed” as “inspired,” which is more or less accurate, but the original Greek work packs a lot more meaning into it.  The word is “theopneustos,” “θεόπνευστος,” and literally means “divinely breathed by God.”  God spoke His Word to us with purpose for us.

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And let’s not forget the beautiful opening words of the book of John 1:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

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God did not intend for us to misunderstand His Word.  It’s a mystery only in the sense we have not completed our lifelong study of His will.  The words themselves are both simple to understand and difficult to fully comprehend.  As Mark Twain once put it,

It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.

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The biggest problem I see it that when I try to determine which parts are true and which parts are stories, then I am essentially deciding to be the arbiter, the judge, of which parts of the bible I want to believe.  And then it’s a short step to decide on my own which parts I want to obey.  In essence, I have appointed myself God.

Is that what God meant when He breathed His word for me to read?  What if I take the Word at its Word?

Certainly, there are parts that are figurative, but for the most part, they’re labeled clearly.  The parables of Jesus, for instance, almost always start with the words, “Then Jesus told a parable…”  But Jesus himself described the Bible as historical and authentic and referenced on separate occasions Moses, Noah, Sodom, Johah, and Lot’s wife.  And Jesus did not leave an opening for me to choose some parts of the bible to be accurate and allow me to disregard other parts.  In Matthew 5:18, even the individual letters in the word are to be believed:

For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

Jesus asks me to trust the Word, because He *is* the Word.  The bible claims to be both infallible and inerrant.  It’s God’s Word.  When I start to question what I read, then I am reminded than the Holy Spirit Himself is directing the words, and doubting what I read in the bible is doubting God.

The understanding and trust of God’s word grows over our lifetime.  We begin our earthly lives as enemies of God, and this is how we understand God’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:18,

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

And we spend our entire lives, practicing to be the very perfection of Christ, trying to live up to these words in Proverbs 3:5-6,

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

In other words, we begin thinking everything we read is foolishness, and end with thinking everything we read is wisdom.

Which makes sense to me.  So I made a decision. When I have been given a choice between trusting God’s Word the way it is written versus trusting my own interpretation, then I will trust in the Word.  I will doubt my doubts.  I will believe in Him.

So back in Joshua 10, is it so hard to believe that God made the sun stand still?  Let’s look at this verse again,

“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,
and moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”
And the sun stood still
and the moon stopped
until the nation took vengeance on its enemies.

Maybe I misread it, or it’s not translated right.  What does “stood still” mean?  The Hebrew word is “amad” “עָמַד” and means, “to stand, to cease, to continue, to dwell, to endure, to establish, to be, to raise up, to remain, to set forth, to wait.”  Ok, I don’t see a lot of wriggle room there.  The sun stood still.

I read lots of commentaries on this, from perspectives ranging from very liberal to very conservative.  Critics and liberal theists insist that the event was impossible.  Couldn’t happen so it didn’t happen.  And by the way, since you can’t trust this story, you can’t trust the rest of scripture either.

One explanation is that it’s figurative, a story.  For instance, maybe the Lord helped Israel win so decisively in such a short time that it felt like the day was longer.  But this breaks one of the basic rules of translations of the bible, in that one should translated literally until proven figuratively.  Joshua 10 is written as an historical narrative, not like a fable.  The text is simple, “the sun stood still and the moon stopped.

Or maybe there was some sort of natural explanation.  Some proposed that the planet Mars passed so close to the planet Earth that it tilted on its axis, making the sun hang in the sky longer than normal.  Not a whole lot of evidence for this one, the earth has never tilted on its axis like that and who knows what sort of earthquakes or tsunamis we’d see.

Or maybe it was just a local miracle.  Maybe the sun’s rays refracted off the moon so miraculously that the night appeared as bright as day.  Or maybe it was the earth that stopped spinning and then started back up.  The trouble with these explanations is that you’re basically replacing one miracle with another, and the basic problem skeptics have is that it’s a miracle in the first place.  That’s what they’re trying to eliminate.

Or we take the scripture at face value.  The simplest explanation.  The sun stopped, the moon stopped.  Indeed, the entire universe may have stopped in its tracks for a day, with all relative positions and motions simply suspended.  A miracle.  Joshua prayed for assistance to do the Lord’s will, and the Lord answered.

Why is it so hard to believe in miracles?  If we are going to believe God created the entire universe by speaking it into existence, well, let’s look at Psalm 33:8-9 –

Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm.

An interesting thing about this passage is that other cultures record this same day.  In pagan culture, the ancient Greeks record in their Orphic hymns that the god-man arrested the course of the sun and the moon.  In Hindu culture in India, legend says that the sun stood still to hear the cries of the prophet when Crishna died.  In Buddhist culture, a holy Buddhist named Matanga prevented the sun at his command from rising.  The ancient Incas and Aztecs of Mexico also have a legend, as well as a Babylonian and a Persian legend.  China says that when Emperor Yeo died, the sun stood still.  Herodotus says Egyptian priests showed him their temple records with a strange account of a day that was twice as long as the natural length.  And Harry Rimmer in 1940 wrote that the Polynesians also have in their history of a day that the sun stood still.

The entire universe, the sun, the moon, and the earth are a miracle that exist because God says so.  And a God that can do that can do anything.  He can suspend the very rules He created.  I choose to doubt my doubts, the bible says what it says.  God spoke the world into existence and for that particular purpose on that particular day, God paused the Universe so that Joshua would win the battle.

          IV.      God Makes a New Promise

If we are going to fully understand God’s word, then we need to learn to accept God’s Word like Joshua.  Accepting some of the Word is a good start – it opens up even more of the Word.  The Word itself says so.  In Matthew 13:11-13, the disciples of Jesus ask Him why He speaks in parables.  Jesus says that one must understand a little of the scriptures before you can understand a lot.  So what’s with all the stories, Jesus?

He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.  Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.  This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

Jesus says if you want to understand the entirety of scriptures, start by understand what you already know, and more of the Word will be revealed to you.

             V.      God Fulfills a New Promise

Once we accept that the Lord performs miracles to serve His will, then it becomes much easier to accept that God has been at work throughout the human history and He is not finished with us yet.  In Isaiah 7:14, God describes in advance a miracle He is going to provide.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Two thousand years ago, a virgin conceived and gave birth to a son.  A miracle.

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The magi from the east came to Jesus, bearing gifts, by following a star.  A miracle.

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Jesus lived and died in accordance to prophecy, taking away the sins of the world.  A miracle.

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Today, I am assured of a place in heaven because I have placed my trust in Jesus and I believe.  A miracle.

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          VI.      Conclusion

Joshua believed the word given to Him, that the promised land belonged to Israel.  He acted with faith that the Lord’s word was infallible and inerrant, and the Lord provided a miracle so that Joshua would win the Lord’s battle.

We can believe the word given to us, that we too will win the battle and will one day dwell in the promised land.  And that is the true meaning of Christmas, the miracle of Christ the Savior.  A miracle we can believe it.

Isaiah 9:6 –

For unto us a child is born,
unto us a son is given,
and the government will be upon his shoulders.

And his name will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

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I believe in miracles.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

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The Day of the Lord

             I.      Introduction

Today we are going to wrap up our study of 2nd Peter, and as you may recall, Peter was considering his imminent death and wanted to leave behind words of strength and encouragement to the early church.

Those were difficult days for Christians.  During the first few years after the death of Jesus, Christians were considered a sect of the Jewish religion.  This sect was led by Paul, Peter, James, the brother of Jesus.  But in 62 AD, the Jews stoned James to death, and hostilities between the Christians and the Jews were cemented.  Then the Romans withdrew official protection from the Christians two years later.  Then came the Great Fire in Rome, and legend has it that the emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned.  It was not a very accurate legend; we know that Nero was 35 miles away when Rome burned, and the fiddle hadn’t been invented yet, but hey, it’s a good legend and makes for some nice imagery.  Nero did however use the Great Fire for political gain, and blamed the Great Fire of Rome on Christians, and outright persecution of the Christians then began in earnest.  Peter writes his letter to the church 31 years later in 95AD after decades of persecution and being fed to lions to reassure Christians.  Peter wanted them (and us!) to know about our eternal life and how we should live while we wait.

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The persecution that Peter mentions in 2 Peter 3 is probably better translated as “sufferings.”  The letter was probably written to churches as far away as Corinth, outside of Rome, and these Christians probably were not being fed to lions.   slide3While some persecutions of Christians existed, probably due to local governors sympathetic to Nero, it was more likely these Christians were subjecting themselves to antinomianism, the belief that grace is so sufficient, that morality is of no use.  As Paul says in Romans 5:20,

Where sin increased, graced increased all the more.

We are saved, dudes, and there’s nothing we can do to lose it, so let’s party on.  But this attitude is Christian anarchy.

Even today, this very liberal view of Christianity is very widespread.  “If God loves me and I cannot lose my salvation, then why not enjoy the good life?  Why not spend all my time and money on pleasure?  God will forgive me.”

But this is like an engaged woman saying, “He loves me and he’s going to marry me, no matter what I do.  Why not play the field a while longer?”  It shows a one-sided love.  It shows God’s love for us, but it also shows we don’t truly love God back.

Antinomianism is not true Christianity – Paul addresses this in Romans 6:1-2,

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

Antinomianism is a false teaching, and it is likely that Roman immorality and paganism was embraced by these false Christians, perhaps to better fit in with the Roman culture, who then either taunted or lured Christians away from their life of purity.  And it is in this setting that Peter writes to the church about our hope in Jesus forever.  One day the Lord will harvest His crops in love, and the weeds will perish in the fire and the believers will dwell with the Lord forevermore.

          II.      Resist and Rest, 2 Peter 3:1-7

So let’s open to 2 Peter 3 and look at the first 7 verses –

Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you.  I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking.  I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.

 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.  They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?  Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”  But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water.  By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.  By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

Ok, in verse 3 we are warned that in the last days, scoffers will come.  And what will the scoffers be doing?  They will be scoffing.  I am certain I have never called anybody a scoffer, it just sounds funny.  Robitussen Scoff Medicine.   I’d use ridiculing, making fun of… I guess my vocabulary is more limited.  You can scoff at me if you wish.

These scoffers are essentially saying that Jesus isn’t coming.  There’s no evidence.  The world today is the same as it was yesterday and will be the same tomorrow.  God doesn’t change the world, it’s been this way ever since He created it.  The second coming of Jesus can’t be possible because that would be a big change in the way God treats the world.

Peter responds that the scoffers are deliberately misleading.  God has intervened in the history of the world.  God does make miraculous, major changes.  The first major change was creation itself.  What was the world before God created it?  It was nothing, a void.  Then God spoke, and the universe was created.

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God made another change during the time of Noah.  He flooded the earth to remove the unrighteousness.  Destroyed every living creature except those rescued in the ark.  Afterward, you may recall, God put a rainbow in the sky as a promise to Noah that He would never again destroy the world by water.

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But He will one day destroy it by fire.  In Psalm 50:3, David said,

Our God comes
and will not be silent;
a fire devours before him,
and around him a tempest rages.
He summons the heavens above,
and the earth, that he may judge his people:
“Gather to me this consecrated people,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”
And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,
for he is a God of justice.

So not only are the scoffers wrong, but the scoffers know they’re wrong.  God has indeed judged the world before, and He will judge the world again.  And to the true Christians listening to Peter, don’t believe the scoffers.  Resist the call of the scoffers to party like it’s 1999, and rest instead on truth.

And what is the truth?  The truth is that Jesus will come again.  Peter’s writings are an introduction to eschatology, which is the study of the end of time, a study of the end of the world.  Christian eschatology is the study of the destiny of humankind as revealed by the bible, including death and the afterlife, Heaven and Hell, the Second Coming of Jesus, the Resurrection of the Dead, the Rapture, the Tribulation, Millennialism, the end of the world, the Last Judgment, and the New Heaven and New Earth of the World to Come.slide11

The word eschatology comes from two unpronounceable Greek words eschatos (ἔσχατος) which means “last,” and logeia (λογία), which means “the study of,” or more accurately, “a collection.”  These words are unpronounceable and even harder to write down.  It’s like Greek to me.slide12

Before the resurrection of Jesus, there were two main Jewish viewpoints on what happens to people after death.  The Sadducees recognized only the Torah, which are the first five books of the Old Testament.  According to the historian Josephus, the Sadducees believed that the soul is not immortal; there is no afterlife, and there are no rewards or penalties after death.  One just ceased to be.

This was a major point of contention with the Pharisees, who accepted not only the Torah, but also the Oral Law which eventually became the Mishna and the Talmud.  The Pharisees accepted, for instance, the Book of Daniel, and in Daniel 12:2 it says,

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.

Even today, not all Christians have the same beliefs in the afterlife.  Seventh Day Adventists teach that upon death, the soul sleeps and is reawakened at the Resurrection.  Catholics teach that one enters into heaven either immediately or through a purification known as Purgatory, or immediately into Hell.  Most Protestants believe that Christ removed all obstacles and there is nothing we can add or take away, Christ paid for all of our sins and we enter directly into the presence of God after death.

Regardless, Peter emphasizes that there will indeed come a day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.  Even though scoffers may ridicule them and party like there’s no tomorrow, Christians can be confident in Jesus’ return.  And today, Christians are still surrounded by the ungodly, by partiers, by pagans and New Age type beliefs.  When is this day of judgment going to come?  What is God waiting for?

       III.      Be Aware and Behave, 2 Peter 3:8-13

I’m glad you asked that, because Peter addresses that in the next few verses.  In 2 Peter 3:8-13,

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.  But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

We like the idea that God judges the guilty, as long as it’s other people he’s judging.  We’re less enthused about God judging us, and if we’re honest, we know we’re not innocent people.  Thankfully, we have a Savior.  Since we’re saved, we should have no fear of the Day of the Lord.  So what is God waiting on?  We’re surrounded ungodly everywhere we turn.

The answer is found in God’s unfailing love.  God’s love begins with the very first definition of love found in 1 Corinthians 13:4.  Love is patient, love is kind.  God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son.  God made man in His image.  And God withholds the Judgment of the Day of the Lord so that no one will perish.

Remember Abraham trying to bargain with God not to destroy Sodom?  The Lord said that their sin was so severe that He was going to destroy Sodom.  Abraham said, “Will you kill the righteous with the wicked?”  God said to Abraham, “If I can find 50 righteous people in the entire city of Sodom, I will spare them.”

Abraham started dealing.  “How about forty-five?  Thirty’s a good number.  Twenty is even better.  How do you feel about only ten righteous people?”  But when Abraham arrived in Sodom, all he found was wickedness.  He couldn’t find even 10 righteous people.  It was only then that God destroyed Sodom.slide16

And how about the story of Noah and the Flood?  God saved Noah and his righteous family, then sent a flood to wash the world of its wickedness.  Afterward, Noah plants a vineyard, gets drunk, and passes out naked.  And Noah was the righteous one.  Can you even imagine the wickedness that was washed away?slide17

Eventually, God’s perfect love and patience will eventually be overcome by His perfect justice.  He cannot let evil prevail.  And on that day, we won’t have any warning.  The Day of the Lord will come like a thief.slide18

Peter uses the phrase “Day of the Lord” which was an Old Testament phrase for the final judgment.  Isaiah used it, Isaiah 13:9 –

See, the day of the Lord is coming
—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—
to make the land desolate
and destroy the sinners within it.

slide19And in Joel 2:1,

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy hill.
Let all who live in the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming.

slide20And then again in Zephaniah 1:14  and Malachi 4:5.  But Amos 5:18-24 seems especially apropos, directed at the so-called religious who were not living righteously –

Woe to you who long
for the day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the day of the Lord?
That day will be darkness, not light.
It will be as though a man fled from a lion
only to meet a bear,
as though he entered his house
and rested his hand on the wall
only to have a snake bite him.
Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—
pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?
I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

So for the non-righteous Jews, for the antinomians who abused their freedom in Christ, the Day of the Lord is the day God’s righteous anger punishes evil.

When will this happen?  Only God knows when this will be.  God created the universe, and one day He will bring it to an appropriate end.  Jesus told us this day would come (Matthew 24:14), that we should watch for the signs (Matthew 24:29-30), and the timing will be according to God (Matthew 24:36).  It’s been 2000 years since Jesus, and that seems like a long time, but God doesn’t exist in time the way we do.  God is outside of time, and “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day .”slide23

We’re aware this day is coming.  The Rapture, the Great Tribulation, the Book of Revelation describes it in great detail.  So what do we do in the meantime?   We live with the expectancy that this day could come at any time.  Peter tells us to live holy and godly lives.

Why is that important?  I think first of all, living a holy life enables the Holy Spirit to work within us.  We’re here, each and every one of us, for a purpose that only we can fulfill.  When we live in the Spirit, we’re attuned to God’s direction; it’s easier to obey because it’s easier to listen.  We find it easier to understand that it’s not happiness that God wants from us, but righteousness.  But when we seek first His righteousness, then all these things, including happiness, will be given unto us.  Living a holy life demonstrates the Spirit lives within us.

And when the Spirit lives within us, then we demonstrate to others the spirit lives within us.  We demonstrate that righteous living brings godly blessings; we exhibit the fruits of the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  And we do this to draw others to Christ, because God does not want anyone to perish, but for everyone to come to repentance.

          IV.      Work and Watch Out, 2 Peter 3:14-18

While waiting for the Day of the Lord, we must work at being a pure people, guarding against erroneous ideas.  In the last part of 2 Peter 3, he says,

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.  Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.  He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters.  His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.  But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

These scoffers and false teachers will be with us to the end of the age.  Our best defense is a good offense.  And the best offense against false teaching and antinomianism is to continually seek God’s will.  When we read the bible, we read first-hand how God treats his people, how God expresses His love for us, and what thoughts, words, and actions please Him.

Is it possible to live a spotless, blameless life?  Of course not, but that’s not what Peter says.  He says, “make every effort.”  Of course we’re going to make mistakes, we’ll take the blame for something.  We won’t be spotless, we’ll get spots.  But that’s ok.  It’s because we are fallible that we also know we need a Savior.  We’re not perfect; that’s too high of a bar for us.  But if we make every effort, we can be at peace because we know the Lord is pleased at our righteousness.

Sometimes we stumble here – somehow thinking this obedience is required to earn our salvation.  That is absolutely false – we cannot earn our salvation.  If we think we must somehow earn our salvation, we start to travel down the road of legalism.

No, we obey the Lord because it pleases Him.  It’s our love returned to God.  In 1 John 2, the author says,

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;  and He Himself is the satisfaction for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.  The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;  but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

The reason we read the bible?  To grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.   Because we cannot keep His word if we do not know His word.  Because we cannot resist false teaching unless we know what the truth is.  We must be on our guard, because our enemy prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Christ will come again, and when He does, we want to be safe and secure in His arms.

            V.      Conclusion

What have we learned today?  We’ve learned that there are big words like antinomianism we’ve never heard of before.  And we’ve learned that Greek is a really hard language.

But we’ve also learned that we can have faith that Jesus will come again.  He’s prepared a place for us, and someday He will take us there.  We learned that the secular world around us will make fun of us, scoff at us for these beliefs, but they do not know the Lord.  Our Lord is full of perfect love and patience, but there will come a day where the Lord’s perfect justice will rule, and the unrighteous will be destroyed by fire.  We don’t know when that will be, a day or a thousand years, but we know that day is coming.  And while we wait, we are to strengthen ourselves with knowledge of His Word and obeying the Lord’s will, not out of fear or obligation, but because we love the one who first loved us.

And then we will spend an eternity in the presence of the One who loves us.  That’s something good to hope for.

I’d like to conclude this message at Thanksgiving with a hymn that demonstrates both the thankfulness of the holiday season as well as an illustration of the message today from 2 Peter 3.  In 1844 A.D., Henry Alford wrote this old English hymn, “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come”.

Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
all is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.

All the world is God’s own field, fruit as praise to God we yield;
wheat and tares together sown are to joy or sorrow grown;
first the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take the harvest home;
from the field shall in that day all offenses purge away,
giving angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast;
but the fruitful ears to store in the garner evermore.

Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring thy final harvest home;
gather thou thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin,
there, forever purified, in thy presence to abide;
come, with all thine angels, come, raise the glorious harvest home.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

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Growing in Godliness

  I.      Introduction

We’re starting a new book today that looks a lot like the last book we were studying.  We will study just the first few verses of 2nd Peter.

1st Peter was written to the early church, and the early church had big problems to overcome.  Many in the congregation were devout Jews, proud of their legalism and their rules of do this and don’t do that.  The other half were pagans and gentiles who didn’t believe in following rules at all.

Come to think of it, we have those same problems today in our churches.  Some people that tell us what we should and shouldn’t do.  Other churches that tell us that the bible is a good book but you shouldn’t believe everything you read.

2 Peter was written about 4 years later, and for a different purpose.  Peter knew his death was coming and he wanted to strengthen the churches before he was crucified.  Peter wanted to the church to be knowledgeable about their faith, and 2 Peter teaches us the foundations of our faith, the basics of our salvation, the basics of the scripture itself, the basics of how to recognize false teaching, and the basics of how to live while we wait for the certainty of the return of Christ.  slide2

In other words, 1 Peter was written to the church about the dangers outside the church; 2 Peter was written about the dangers inside the church.

II.      The Foundation of Our Faith, 2 Peter 1:1-2

Let’s look at just the introduction to see Peter’s purpose for this letter, in 2 Peter 1:1-2,

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

This is more theologically complex than a simple, “Dear Church, it’s me, Peter.”  Peter describes the very foundation of Christianity, what it means to be a Christian.

First, Peter describes himself as servant or a bondservant, but that’s a little lightweight.  The Greek word is “doulos” and means one is who is devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interest.  In other words, Peter is not just a follower of Jesus Christ, but one who has entirely given himself to the service of Christ.

Why does Peter do this?  I think the answer is the 2nd word, “apostle” of Jesus Christ.  Peter is an ambassador of the Gospel, a personal witness to Christ’s life and ministry, and specifically sent out with a mission.  In other words, Peter saw Christ in person and heard the Great Commission.  How could Peter do anything else but obey the Son of God?  While once a fisherman by trade, now Peter is the “rock” that Jesus Christ will build His church.

He’s addressing his letter to fellow believers, but he goes a step further and says these believers have received the same kind of faith as Peter did.  Peter’s faith isn’t a different kind of faith than you and I have, it’s the same.  The same faith Peter received is the same saving faith we receive, and it links us to our eternal life with Christ.  Notice that Peter says this faith is something we receive; it is a gift.  We cannot boast in our faith, that one person’s faith is stronger than another.  Faith, like life itself, is a gift from our heavenly Father.  And that faith must be centered on our God and Savior, Christ Jesus.  Some churches teach a weak form of faith, that Jesus was a good man, and perhaps what is true for you isn’t true for me.  And that’s not true, at least it is not for me.  The righteousness we have, like our faith and our life, is a gift from God through Jesus who is both God and Savior.  Apart from Him we can do nothing.

And with this knowledge that our faith and our righteousness is a gift comes grace and peace in abundance.  It’s a gift that we don’t earn, it’s given freely to us so that none of us are lacking in ability to do the work God has placed before us.  Any righteousness we have is “through” Christ, or “in” Christ, as 2 Peter 1:1 says.  We don’t have righteousness on our own.  We fall short.

And what do we do in response?  This grace and peace is ours through knowledge.  It is one thing to say, “yeah, sure, I trust Christ.”  But when the storms of life blow in and our boat is shaken, we are tempted to swim to shore on our own power.  That is because our faith and trust is weak.  To strengthen our faith, we must also strengthen our knowledge by reading God’s word and studying like we are today but also on our own.  Then we can understand God is in full control, from parting the Red Sea, through knocking down the walls of Jericho, to sending his holy and righteous son to take the punishment for our sins, to His love for all me throughout all time, to His love today for me.  With knowledge, we have a better understanding, our faith and trust is deeper, and grace and peace grows abundantly.

III.      The Resources of Our Faith, 2 Peter 1:3-4

So let’s go on to 2 Peter 1:3-4, where Peter discussed the importance of biblical knowledge in more detail;

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

Peter tells us that this knowledge of Jesus, our study of the bible, provides not just righteousness, not just increased faith, not just grace and peace in abundance, but this knowledge is all the power we need to live the abundant life as well as be free from the corruption of this world.

Of course, we all sin.  It’s in our nature.  But let me contrast the response of 4 types of people, and you might think I’m making up these categories, but I’m not, they’re all listed in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 –

  • The nonbeliever: this person may have a sense of right and wrong, but it’s not well-developed. He believes what the world tells him, that premarital or same-sex relations are ok, that lying and stealing are ok in the right circumstances, that truth is relative.  Non-believers can be very moral individuals, of course.  But their morals are not based on solid rock, they are based on shifting sands.  The New Testament term for “unbelievers” is “ψυχικός,” “psuchikós;” Natural, pertaining to the natural as distinguished from the spiritual.slide8
  • The baby Christian. We use this phrase for new believers who do not have a strong spiritual foundation yet.  They have professed their belief, but often still rely on the world for support.  They lack knowledge of the Lord, but the Holy Spirit continually prompts them from within to seek truth.  When times get tough, which they will, they are challenged in their faith: do they trust the world, or do they trust Jesus?  The Greek term for “infant believers” is σάρκινος or sárkinos; with propensities of the flesh unto sin; νήπιος nḗpios; an infant, child, baby without any definite limitation of age, usually referring to immaturity and lack of instruction.slide9
  • The backsliding Christian. This is an uncomfortable place to be, but it happens to all of us at some point in our lives where we have decided we have a valid excuse for not obeying those prompts by the Holy Spirit, and our disobedience grieves the Holy Spirit.  Eventually, one of two things happens; we either rededicate our obedience to the Lord and again seek His face, or the Lord gives us over to our desires and hardens our hearts.  Paul refers to these as “Carnal Believers,” σαρκικός or sarkikós; having a tendency to satisfy the flesh, implying sinfulness, sinful propensity, carnal.  These carnal Christians are disobedient or even in open rebellion.  By now, they should have matured, but they are stuck in their sin nature.  It’s hard to tell them apart from non-believers.  They are not destined for hell, but they are missing out on the abundant life.slide10
  • And finally, the mature Christian. These are πνευματικός or pneumatikós; persons who are spiritual, enlightened by the Holy Spirit.  The mature Christian, or perhaps I should say, the maturing Christian because nobody ever reaches full maturity.  Perhaps we can agree that Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, was a mature Christian, but Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, chapter 3 verse 12,slide11

Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus.

Maturity is the goal and maturity is the journey.  Full maturity is the destination we never quite reach.

IV.      The Growth of Our Faith, 2 Peter 1:5-7

What is another word for this maturity?  The simple answer is “sanctification,” but then there’s a whole confusing definition on what sanctification means.  And this is important, but the English language is going to trip us up with how we are to understand God’s work in our lives.slide13

The Webster’s Dictionary defines sanctification as “to set apart for sacred use: to consecrate, to make free from sin: to purify.”  So we can understand the basic definition of sanctification as being separate, to be set apart.  In the Greek New Testament, the prefix “hag-“ is used for several words –

  • Hagiasmos: holiness, consecration, sanctification
  • Hagiosyne: holiness
  • Hagiazo: to sanctify, consecrate, treat as holy, purify
  • Hagios: set apart, holy, saint, sacred

The basic idea of the Greek prefix is to stand in awe of something or someone.  So let’s summarize it with this definition:

To be sanctified is to be made holy.

I’m going to follow a rabbit trail here, one of those enlightening observations that I think is important here.  I grew up Catholic and believed that “saints” were some long-dead super-Christians.  The apostles were saints, like St. Paul and St. Peter, and then there’s a whole mess of other super-Christians that become saints, like Saint Joseph of Arimathea is the patron saint of pallbearers, and Saint Isadore, the patron saint of farmers.  At the website Catholic Online, I found 149 patron saints listed.

But the word for saint comes from the same root prefix used for holy, sanctified, consecrated, set apart.  Romans 1:7, Paul addresses his letter to the church of Rome,

To all who are in Rome, loved by God, called as saints.

And in Colossians 1:2,

To the saints in Christ at Colossae, who are faithful brothers.

Saints are not some long-dead super-Christians.  Saints are the believers in Christ, members of the Church, our brothers and sisters.  Saints are you and me, set aside for God’s purposes.  Now, whether we walk in the manner of saints, well, that’s what the books of Ephesians and Colossians are all about.  The books of Ephesians and Colossians describe how saints ought to live, in unity, truth, love, wisdom, light, that saints ought to talk in a manner worthy of the Lord.  The behavior of the saints ought to reflect the name of the One whose name we bear.

The definitions of saint, set-apart, consecrated, holy, are all intertwined.  They all come from the same Greek prefix, and they all apply to all Christian believers.  To be sanctified is to be a saint.

So, are we sanctified?  Or are we being sanctified?  Or will we one day be sanctified? slide17

The answer is yes to all three, but the word “sanctification” is used in three different ways.  In fact, different churches use the word in different ways which cause misunderstanding among Christians when in fact we’re often saying the same thing.  If you choose to study the doctrine of sanctification, it’s important to realize how confusing it can be unless you realize all the different ways it can be used and misused.

Are we sanctified?  Absolutely, we have “Positional Sanctification.”  When we repent, we confess our belief that Jesus Christ is Lord.  At this very moment, we are redeemed.  We are cleansed by the shed blood of Jesus.  We have been forgiven of all our sins, and we are made holy before God through the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  This is a one-time event; we are saved.  Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, and although we are sinners, we are pronounced “not guilty” as Christ has taken our punishment and we are made free.  The wrath of God for our sins has been satisfied.  We are once saved, always saved, our eternal life has begun from that moment.  Sometimes we call this “salvation,” but again, the English word doesn’t full capture the nuances of past, present and future.  I’ve usually used the word “justification” based on previous studies.

Sometimes this can be called “regeneration,” and this is also what we mean by “born again.”  I think “Positional Sanctification” is an accurate term that captures this one-time event.  Hebrews 10:10 refers to our “positional sanctification,”

And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

When we have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ and we have “Positional Sanctification,” we are set apart from the world for God’s purposes.  The Holy Spirit enters the life of the new believer, and we are made free from the penalty of sin, once and forever.  We are sanctified.slide18

Are we being sanctified?  Absolutely.  We have “Progressive Sanctification.”  We are experiencing God’s plan for our lives.  Where we still find ourselves still in the world, the Holy Spirit continues to set us apart for God’s use.  This is what we usually mean by “spiritual maturity.”  While we are already holy and set apart, we are now becoming more holy and set apart.  This is where Christians that follow Christ find out we switched sides in the battle between good and evil.  Where once we were children of the devil without realizing it, now we have decided to follow Jesus and we are on a collision course with the world, we are opposed by Satan, and even our own sinful nature continues to fight against our new spiritual nature and the presence of the Holy Spirit within us.  2 Corinthians 7:1 says it this way,

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

This is a confusing time for all believers, and this is when we learn to trust in Jesus more and more.  The conflict that we are engaged in makes us continually ask, “Does God know what is going on in my life?”  And as we grow in spiritual maturity, we begin to realize that the conflict we are experiencing is proof that God is at work.  We are continually asked, with higher and higher stakes, to decide if we want to place our trust in the world, or place our trust in God.  It is how God tests our faith and grows us spiritually.  When we first become a believer, we are free from the penalty of sin, but as we grow in spiritual maturity, we become free of the power of sin.  We are being sanctified.slide19

Will we be sanctified?  Absolutely.  Even though we have been sanctified, and are being sanctified, we will also be sanctified.  We have “Ultimate Sanctification,” or sometimes called “Glorification.”  This is the final stage in the salvation process, our future glorification as a believer.  We are glorified when we are transformed into the likeness of Christ and presented to the Lord as holy.  The presence of the Holy Spirit within us during spiritual maturity is the guarantee for our glorification, which includes the redemption of the body, the eternal inheritance that can never spoil, and deliverance from the future wrath of God.  We will be sanctified.  Where we once were free from the penalty of sin and then the power of sin, once we are glorified, we are free from the very presence of sin, forever and ever, amen.  1 John 3:2 says,

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

Once a believer, once our faith in Jesus Christ is proclaimed, Steps 1 and 3 are guaranteed.  We are positionally sanctified and free of sin, and we are ultimately sanctified, glorified and dwelling in our eternal kingdom.  It’s the middle step, progressive sanctification, that is entirely voluntary.  It is our lifelong journey to become more Christ-like, recognize we cannot do it on our own, and grow our trust in the work of the Holy Spirit within us.slide20

  • We are saved, are being saved, will be saved
  • We are holy, are being made holy, will one day be holy
  • We are sanctified, are being sanctified, will be sanctified,

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So we are studying 2 Peter 1, I bet you forgot, didn’t you?  Let’s look at verses 5-7,

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.

This is a beautiful description of sanctification.  Which sanctification?  The second one, our Progressive Sanctification on the road to spiritual maturity.  It is completely voluntary, of course.  We already have the gift of salvation.    In the sanctification process, each step moves us closer to full spiritual maturity, but it is entirely up to us.  Just because the Holy Spirit shows us the path doesn’t mean we have to walk it.

But should we choose to answer the tests with our faith, we grow in spiritual maturity.

The first step is just to be good. If you are a new Christian with faith but without much knowledge of the bible, just try to be good.  Say nice things and do nice things.  It’s a great first step on the road to spiritual maturity.

But sometimes it’s not always apparent what being good is.  Let’s say I’m friends with a man who is having an affair.  Do I tell him I just want him to be happy?  Or do I tell him something else?  What would God want me to tell him?  To be good, we add to our knowledge, we study the bible to understand what it means.  With knowledge of God’s will, what it means to be good becomes more clear.

So, armed with a little knowledge, I blurt right out to my friend that I think he’s going to Hell because he’s having an affair.  And now my friend won’t return my calls.  And I realize that knowledge must still grow, and I learn that my words must both be true and kind.  In my new knowledge, I was so eager to be true that I forgot to be kind.  I learn self-control.  I apologize to my friend, I say I’m sorry, I was judgmental and rude in the way I said what I did, please forgive me.  My friend is still having an affair, but I so want him to understand the love of Jesus like I do that I persevere as his friend.  I understand that loving my neighbor means loving sinners, for we are all sinners, falling short of God’s glory.  My friend doesn’t come to Christ today, or tomorrow, but I persevere.

And I learn through this perseverance that Christ suffered in every single way, and died for me, and I understand a little of how a holy God amongst sinners must feel.  Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us.  And he’s not angry at us because of our sin, he’s among us because he wants to save us from our sin.  And I want to be more like Jesus and my life reflects the Holy Spirit living in me a little more each day.  Is my life demonstrating godliness?  Do others see me and do they see Christ in me?  I live my life of godliness among friends and family that are impacted by my life, and I am encouraged by my Christian brothers and sisters who share a mutual affection with me and pray for me and I can do the same for them and I realize that it’s not just me that has struggles, but my Christian brothers and sisters struggle, too, they are facing tests just like I am and I want to encourage them to be strong in the face of the enemy but the enemy isn’t other people but the principalities of this world and when there is persecution I realize my enemies, too, need to know the love of Christ and I realize that Christ loved me while I was still a sinner, that I understand now why I should love my enemies because my enemies, too, are made in the image of God and God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son so that no one may perish but have everlasting life, and the best way to let my enemy know the love of Jesus is to be good to him and I realize in my spiritual journey I’m starting over at the beginning learning what it means to be good.

  V.      The Benefits of Our Faith, 2 Peter 1:8-11

It’s a lifelong process.  I am being sanctified, I’m being set apart for the Lord’s use, I am being made, slowly and sometimes struggling, into the image of Christ.  And even when I think I understand, I realize that my brain is probably only about 3½ lbs and will probably never be able to fathom all the mysteries of this universe that an omnipotent, omniscient God breathed into existence, or why God would look out across the expanse of time and space to give his grace and mercy to me, but the more I get to know God, the more I want to know God and His unfathomable love for me.

2 Peter 1:8-11 tells me that my sanctification will eventually lead to my glorification, my ultimate sanctification.

For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

VI.      Conclusion

My life now is messy, but I have grace and peace in abundance through the knowledge God has provided.  My sanctification has a purpose.  One day, my visit to this planet will come to an end, and God will call me home.  My destination is secure, and the peace that surpasses all understanding washes over me when I think of the love that saved a wretch like me.  And though a life dedicated to growing in Christ puts me square in the middle of a spiritual conflict with the forces of evil, I know my God loves me and will never forsake me and one day I receive a welcome, not just any welcome, but a rich welcome, into an eternal kingdom with Christ Jesus.  And I hope, and I’m sure you do to, that when we arrive the words “Well done, good and faithful servant” will ring in our ears joyfully forever and ever.

To God be the glory.

slide1

Equipped to Live

   I.      Introduction

In our lifelong journey, we all want to be better than we are.

We want to be healthier.  We want to be taller.  We want to have more money.  We want to have more friends.  We want a nicer car.

And once we become Christian, we want to be a better Christian.  But I sometimes think we equate being a better Christian with being a better person.  And then we look around at all the perfect people in church and think, “I wish I could be like them, but there is so much garbage and filth in my past, I can never be as good as they are.”

Our perception of what it means to be a better Christian is flawed.  We are putting the cause before the effect, we are putting the “after” before the “before”.  Christians are not better people because we have Christ.  We are blessed because Christ has us.  And that is how we should live.

Peter is writing his letter in 1 Peter 4 to the early church, talking to those who have recently given their lives to Christ.  We have spoken before of this initial transformation of the young Christian; how they one lived as enemies of God and slaves to their own sin, but now chose to be slaves of Christ and begin their eternal lives.  Their eternal lives begin, not after death of the body, but the death of the old life.  We are “born again” into a new family.  But this can be a difficult transition; some new Christians may look back at their old lives and see their old friends partying and enjoying their old sin.  Let’s face it, sin is fun.  Satan doesn’t entice us to the dark side with healthy vegetables.slide2  He entices us with pumpkin cream cheese pancakes.Slide3.JPG

Let’s begin with the first part of our scripture today.  We are in 1 Peter 4, and we have 11 verses to cover.  There are about 35 separate topics in these 11 verses, but we’re going to focus on just 2 or 3 because, well, lunch.

II.      We Are Not Who We Were, 1 Peter 4:1-4

1 Peter 4:1-4,

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.  As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.  For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.  They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.

The chapter begins with “therefore” and when you see a “therefore,” we have to ask ourselves what it is there for.  This refers back to 1 Peter 3:18 which describe the life of Christ,

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

This was the purpose of Christ, to save lost sinners like you and me.  The death of Christ brought us forgiveness through grace in 3 ways –

  1. Christ’s death fulfilled the Old Testament Law of a sacrificial offering. We know that Jesus answered the Pharisees accusation by saying that Jesus did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.  Therefore, an unblemished lamb was sacrificed.
  2. Second, Christ died as a propitiation for our sins. I confess I heard this term for years before I finally studied it, and it’s just a big word for a simple concept.  The bible says that God is a righteous and holy God, and God will not allow sin to go unpunished.  It’s not in His holy nature to say, “well, boys will be boys, I think I’ll let that one slide.”  No, God is a holy and righteous God, and God will punish every sin.  The wrath of God is a terrifying righteous thing.  And over the centuries, man has certainly given God plenty to be angry about.  None of us are innocent; Romans 3:23 says all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  The Good News, the gospel itself, is that this wrath has already been satisfied when Jesus was put to death on the cross.  The wrath of God was satisfied when God’s own son was put to death.  That is what propitiation is – God’s wrath, satisfied.
  3. And third, Jesus was a substitution. A guilty man cannot take the punishment for anther guilty man.  Each must serve their own.  But Jesus was perfect, sinless, innocent.  He had no punishment of His own, so He is able to take our place.  And as God, Jesus can take away the sins of you and me.  Jesus can take away the sins of the world.

So this first “therefore” in 1 Peter 4 is powerful.  Jesus suffered and died to defeat sin with his body.  Therefore, we should arm ourselves, we should put on the whole armor of God, and put our sinful past behind us.  We are done with sin.  We are done with sin.

Sin might not be done with us, though.  Our old lives, our old friends, our old decisions, our old life choices want to follow us.  1 Peter 4:3-4,

For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.  They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.

But we are done with sin, and we have armed ourselves in the Armor of God, have we not?  Our old friends are still living that life, and our old friends are surprised when we say we are done with sin.  And when we say, “no thanks, I have a new life in Christ,” they taunt us, they heap abuse on us.  Call us names and ridicule us.

And let’s be honest – when that taunting and name-calling comes from friends, it’s hard.  But the worst part is that the words echo in our old sinful selves, and we taunt and ridicule ourselves.  “Of course I’m not good enough to hang with those perfect Christians and their perfect spouses and their perfect 3.2 children.  I’m a drunkard, carouser, idolater.  Don’t they know what I’ve done?”  We put ourselves in a self-induced purgatory, too good to be with our old sinful friends, but not good enough to be with our new perfect Christian friends.

That’s Satan’s lies.  Our God is bigger than that.  Our God is bigger than any sinful thing we have ever done.  Our God is omniscient, seeing into our black sinful hearts.  Our God is omnipotent and brought His wrath upon our sin and utterly destroying it, separating us from our sin as far as the east is from the west.  Our God saw the worst we had to offer, and yet loved us so much and decided we were worth saving.  He sent His son to die for those sins so we don’t have to live them anymore.  We are free of that past.  And I don’t mean just the past from 20 years ago, but the past all they up to this morning until the moment you walked into this class.  You are an adopted child of the God, the Creator of All.  Your past is gone, yesterday is a closed door and you don’t live there anymore.

You see, we look in the mirror and we see what we have done.  But God looks at us, and He sees what He has done.  He has done a miracle in us.

III.      Judgement Day, 1 Peter 4:5-7

Our primary motivation for living our new eternal lives is gratitude and thanksgiving for what the Lord has done for us while we were still yet sinners.  Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  We know that Judgement Day is coming.  1 Peter 5-7,

But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.  For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. The end of all things is near. Therefore, be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.

God gives us a choice on how we would like to be judged.  Our old sinful lives want to be judged by sinful human standards.  If our mind is on worldly things and we desire the approval of worldly people, and turn down the free gift of salvation offered through Christ Jesus, then God gives us what we want.  We are judged according to our deeds, our words, our thoughts.

Revelation 22 is the final chapter of the bible.  The end of history.  In Revelation 22:10-11, it says,

Then he (the angel) told me (John), “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near.  Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.”

The words “let him” implies “let him make his final decision.”  The God Almighty has provided a free choice.  After the Millennium Kingdom, The Book of Life is opened, and for those who have accepted Christ and their names are listed in the Book of Life, they proceed to the Judgement Seat, or Bema Seat of Christ, described in 2 Corinthians 5:10. As Christians, we are judged for our works while in this body, and we receive rewards for those deeds.  And there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, for Christ died to pay the price for where we fall short.

Those that do not choose this gift of life and have decided to be judged on their own efforts and works, they appear at the Great White Throne described in Revelation 20 and judged exactly as they wished.  And everyone at this judgement, without exception, falls short of the glory of God and is thrown into the Lake of Fire.

So this “let him make his final decision” is God granting us our free will forever and ever.  God will not force us to accept His will, but that choice is final.  Dinesh D’Souza gave a speech at Liberty University on Friday night, and began it with this thought:slide10

https://twitter.com/DineshDSouza/status/787270366469222400

That is why Peter tells us,

The end of all things is near. Therefore, be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.

The end of all things is near, but as mortals, we have short attention spans.  We forget our eternal destination and focus on the world around us.  Peter himself was an example of what happens when we take our eyes off of Jesus.  When Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, Peter’s eyes were on Jesus and Jesus called him.  And Peter walked on water!  But then Peter looked at the world around him and noticed how high the waves were and how deep the sea was and started to sink.  Peter’s salvation was still secure – Jesus reached in and caught him – but would Peter have sunk if his eyes remained on Jesus?

In the middle of going to work, shopping for groceries, exercising at the gym, we look at our watch and we never think, “What time was the world supposed to end?”  The end of the world seems less important to us than picking up the dry cleaning.  But the end of all things are near, and it’s not hard to imagine the last days becoming closer.  If you forget the end is near, turn on the TV and watch the news for 5 minutes.

So we keep that in mind when we pray, remembering the urgency that comes with the end of the world.  We need to be alert and focused.  But to have effective prayers, the NIV says we must be alert and sober.  The Holman Christian Standard Bible says serious and disciplined.  The NASB says sound judgement and sober spirit.  Others says clear-minded and self-controlled, serious and watchful, earnest and disciplined.  We must be focused on what God wants, not what we want.  We clear our minds and we seek God’s will.

I confess it is a mystery to me why God answers prayers.  He alone is worthy; He alone is just.  He doesn’t need my advice when I come to Him in prayer.  But the bible is clear that our prayers move God to act and that our prayers are like a fragrant aroma to Him.  It pleases God for us to pray.

So we pray for ourselves, we pray for our loved ones, we pray for our neighbors, we pray for our enemies.  We pray out of love for one another, that nobody should face the Great White Throne of Judgement without our Advocate in Christ Jesus at our side.  We pray out of love.

IV.      We Are Not Who We Will Become, 1 Peter 4:8-11

1 Peter 4:8-10,

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

I think it is of no surprise that the word for “love” here is “agape,” the love that loves others so much that it is willing to sacrifice for others.  We are to sacrifice for each other with no hesitation or reservation.  I don’t think the NIV captures the essence of the word “deeply” here.  The Amplified bible calls it “intense and unfailing love for one another.”  This agape love is from God working through us and has nothing to do with how we feel.  Sometimes we don’t “feel” loving.  Love anyway.  Sometimes we feel irritated.  Love anyway, because love covers a multitude of sins, both their sins and especially our own sins.

What is agape love?  1 Corinthians 13:4-7 tells us exactly what love is and what is not.  As an engineer, I’m sort of spreadsheet oriented and I’ll eventually have the entire bible categorized properly in a giant spreadsheet like it should be, but for now, here’s a spreadsheet on love that you can stick on your refrigerator:

1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Attitudes Actions
Love is Love is not Love does Love does not
Patient Jealous Rejoice with truth Brag
Kind Arrogant Bears all things Act rudely
Provoked Believes all things Seek its own
Hopes all things Keep a record of wrongs
Endures all things Rejoice in unrighteousness

slide13Love is easy, and love is complicated.  But it’s worthwhile to reflect on this list.  It’s easy to say we love someone, but harder to actually love someone in action and in attitude.

For instance, the very first words of this list is, “Love is patient, love is kind.”  I don’t know about you, but if this is a definition of love, I didn’t even make it past the first two words.  I’m not always patient.  What’s that old joke, God grant me patience, and grant it to me now?  The things in my life that are my biggest source of frustration seem to be life-long battles.  And I once thought of myself as patient, but I have a better understanding.  Not that I’ve been able to put it into practice, but at least I have a better understanding of where I fall short.

How long does patience last?  A couple of hours?  A week?  A year?  I think any number does the word “patience” an injustice.  In Genesis 18, The Lord is going to wipe Sodom from the earth, but Abraham asks God if the Lord will destroy with righteous along with the wicked.  Abraham starts by asking if 50 righteous people are found for the Lord to spare the city, and the Lord agrees.  Through a serious of humorous bargaining, Abraham then tries to make it easier on himself, so he asks if 45 people are enough.  Then 40, then 30, 20, and then 10.  And the Lord agrees.  But no righteous people were found; Lot and his family were spared, but not because of their righteousness.

Fast forward to 2 Peter 3:9,

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

When Peter says, “The end of all things is near,” and then his next letter says “The Lord is not slow about keeping His promise,” I think of 1 Corinthians 13 saying “love is patient” and John 3:16 that says, “For God so loved the world” that over 4000 years have passed since the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  But the end of times hasn’t yet arrived.  So patience is at least 4000 years if you love someone.  To truly understand patience, we must be patient.

As for “Love is kind,” has anyone ever said an unkind word?  It’s hard to keep our tongue in check.  James 3:6 has these kind words to say about our ability to control our tongue:

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

Now I understand why some monks take a vow of silence.  Ouch.  I have had some progress in this regard by remembering James 3:9, just 3 verses later:

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.

The thing to remember about how we express love and to who and what attitude we have while we do it … well, that seems to sum up our purpose while we are visiting this big blue marble in preparation for our eternal kingdom.  We are to love our family; we are to love our friends.  We are to love our neighbors.  We are to love our enemies.  In short, we are to lead a life of love that demonstrates the light of Christ in us.

What comes out of our mouth reflects what is really inside our hearts.  When I read about some celebrity or sports figure apologize for something they said, I’ve been seeing this phrase being used, “That’s not who I am.”

A NYPD detective abusing an Uber driver, caught on tape.  “I let my emotions get the better of me…. That’s not who I am.”slide16

Marco Rubio when he was running for President implied that Donald Trump had a small… something.  It was insulting to a man.  But Rubio’s apology? “It’s not who I am and I shouldn’t have said that.”Slide17.JPG

Isaiah Crowell, running back for the Cleveland Browns, after a police shooting death of two black me, posted a graphic picture of a cop with his throat slit.  He apologized, donated a game check to the Dallas Fallen Officer Association and said, “That’s not who I am.”slide18

Dani Mathews, 2015 Playmate of the Year, took a picture of a heavier woman who was naked in a gym shower, with the caption, “If I can’t unsee this, then you can’t either.”  After an uproar, she apologized saying she accidentally posted the photo and … “that’s not who I am.”Slide19.JPG

I find the trend disturbing; people are essentially claiming they are innocent – “that wasn’t me.”  Like somehow if I robbed a bank at gunpoint and say, “That wasn’t me, I don’t rob banks.”Slide20.JPG

But it was them.  And as Christians, we certainly are not immune to saying ugly things.  The only reason it comes out of you is because it was in you.  The only way to keep it from being in us is to fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit so full there isn’t room for our own iniquities.  And if something ugly comes out of our mouths, then we apologize and say, “That was me.  I am sorry.  I am trying to be better but I still often fall short of the glory of God.”slide21

Our scripture verses today end with 1 Peter 4:11,

If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

When we profess to be a Christian, every word we speak represents Christ on earth, for we are Christ’s ambassador to our brothers and sisters in Christ, to our family and friends, to our neighbors, to non-believers.   Every word we say reflects our heart and reflects Christ, so we should speak slowly and choose each and every word carefully.  Once you say them, you can’t take them back.

  V.      Conclusion

Our sanctification process is to be a better Christian daily.  We look in that mirror and see what we’ve done or what we’ve said, but God sees what He has done.  We want those two visions to be the same; we want to see what God sees.  And we cannot do this on our own, for we battle daily with our sinful nature and the principalities of this world.

Some days, I hate to admit, that old sinful nature is going to get the upper hand briefly, and we are going to say or do something that hurts somebody.  It will be unloving because we didn’t fill ourselves up with goodness, and we will reflect badly on ourselves and be a poor ambassador for Christ.

Don’t beat yourself up too badly.  It will happen to all of us sooner than later.  Some sooner than others.  None of us are perfect.  And our closest family and friends?  They, too, will say or do something that is hurtful.  But our key verse that wraps all of this together for us is 1 Peter 4:8,

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

Because of the love our family has for us, we can fail and it’s ok.  Love covers a multitude of sins.  Because of the love we have for others, they can fail and it’s ok.  Love covers a multitude of sins.

Because God so loved the world and gave his Son as a perfect sacrifice, a perfect propitiation, a perfect substitution, we can fail, and He still loves us.

Love covers a multitude of sins.

To God be the glory.