Connecting With God: “Judgment Day” – 2 Peter 3:1-13

the last judgment 2Twenty-five years had passed since the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican was painted in Rome when (between 1536 and 1541) Michelangelo Buonarroti began working on the monumental work called the “Last Judgment” at the front of the chapel. By now, as an older artist, he decided to create a new standard for this scene famous among artists of the Renaissance. Instead of positioning people according to their social station, dressed in the common garb of that place in society, he placed nude figures (entirely equal before the throne of God with nothing to hide behind). Stripped bare of rank, each person faced God in the truth of his own vulnerable, physical state. The scene graphically displayed separation of the blessed and the damned with the saved ascending on the left and the damned descending on the right. Muting the colors for a specific reason, the fresco is dominated by the tones of flesh and sky – because those indicate the point of the whole scene – as heaven swallows up mortality.

The depiction of the Second Coming of Christ and the corresponding eternal judgment by God of all humanity was captured in an overwhelming artistic scene. It is loved by artists and students, but was spurned by many when first unveiled. The artist was accused of being insensitive to decorum, incorporating nudity and refusing accepted social convention. In fact, the Pope’s Master of Ceremonies Biagio da Cesena said of the painting “it was mostly disgraceful that in so sacred a place there should have been depicted all those nude figures, exposing themselves so shamefully,” and called the work suitable “for the public baths and taverns.” Michelangelo worked Cesena’s face into the scene as Minos, judge of the underworld and gave him a set of Donkey ears (signifying foolishness), with the critic’s nudity covered by a coiled snake. Eventually, the genitalia in the fresco was painted over with a variety of draperies after Michelangelo died in 1564, only to be removed by conservators in more recent years where possible.

Just as well-studied guides to the Vatican know the history of the reaction to the painting of the Last Judgment, avid Bible students have studied the predictions concerning the reaction of the masses to an actual coming judgment as God revealed it through various Biblical writers. Here is the truth: as the day approaches, most people will become convinced that such a judgment is a myth – and reject its actual nature. That point was made clear in passages like the one for this lesson from 2 Peter 3. Here is the truth of this passage…

Key Principle: God has set the time and terms of judgment. They are not mean, but just. They are not harsh but deserved. We must therefore prepare not only to face that judgment, but to find a way to continue to offer the message of it in a more and more hostile climate.

While on the subject of artwork, the “Second Epistle of Peter” is like an exhibition of three sculpted works of art:

• In the first chapter, Peter offered a sculpted model of the fruitful and secure believer that is following after God, offering a scale we can compare our walk to (1:5-7).
• In the second chapter, Peter offered a sculpted model of the deceptive teachers that work to hurt the cause of Jesus in the world.
• In the final chapter, Peter sculpted an image of a “frieze scene” of a whole time period, a judgment that is coming, and what every believer should DO about it!

In the case of the third and final work, the point of the passage is two-fold. First, because judgment is coming, preparation is necessary. Second, even the notion of that judgment will be dismissed by most in the days ahead, and that should come as no surprise to us.

Peter wrote the last part of this epistle to help us with BOTH preparing people to face (or avoid) such a judgment AND (even more) to prepare believers to face a world increasingly hostile to the very idea that God will judge.

We will make this point again as we study the passage: Don’t miss the dual truths interwoven within the words. Both the fact of judgment and some of the reasons for its rejection are threaded into the verses of the chapter…The preparation, then, concerns both those who reject God, and those who must proclaim the truth of coming judgment in an increasingly hostile audience for that message.

“Have you ever noticed how popular notions and the Bible clash over heaven?” One writer asked it this way:

Have you ever noticed that when a discussion turns to a recently deceased celebrity, someone invariably says, “I know he’s looking down on us right now”? It doesn’t matter how godless the person was, his peers refer to him as being in a better place and then gesture skyward. Mark Coppenger, professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, sees a lamentable example of that in the 1941 poem “High Flight,” which was quoted in tribute to astronauts who died in the 1986 explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Not all the astronauts were Christians “but we were told they ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God,’” Coppenger noted… Such secular cultural perceptions are uninformed by the truth and seem to be based on the delusion that one’s eternal destiny is determined either by heinous deeds or good poll numbers. Some people assume the dearly departed are in heaven because they weren’t notorious sinners. People want to believe the departed went to heaven because they know they themselves are sinners and want to believe they are not bad enough for hell. “I’m not as bad as the other guy,” goes the thinking. “God will somehow understand in the end that we were pretty good people, and based on our overall behavior He should let us into heaven.” In a 2004 address at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., said, “Even those who retain some vague idea of heavenly bliss beyond this life are slow to acknowledge the reality of final judgment and condemnation. Modern men and women live with the mindset that there is no heaven, no hell and therefore no guilt.” (Florida Baptist Witness, August 28, 2008).

Preparation for the Coming Judgment:

God’s people must be prepared to proclaim the judgment when the message is unwanted, in order that many will be enabled to avoid facing it. How do we make such preparations?

Step One: Let’s get our facts straight. We must take our information from God’s Word and not popular culture! (3:1-2).

To introduce the idea, Peter wrote:

2 Peter 3:1 This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior [spoken] by your apostles.

Peter essentially noted that believers need their MINDS engaged in the words made known in the Scripture and from Jesus and His Apostles. Here he promoted the need to identify the proper source of truth.

In an internet age where we “Google” anything we don’t know, this warning is even more necessary to carefully heed! The source of truth is not irrelevant, since most “news” outlets represent a point of view. Thus, Peter began with a simple warning: “Truth can be found in a more careful consideration of God’s revealed Word.”

Have you ever wondered why so many believers don’t take their understanding of the spiritual truths from the Word? I have wondered a good bit about that over the years. Perhaps it is because they have forgotten the clarity of the Word as it was presented, either by fuzzy, feeling-filled teachers, or by those who had only a marginal grasp on the text. Yet, the more I examine it, the more I believe many are unaware of some accepted maxims concerning our belief system:

First, there are many sources from which we take information we assume to be true, and many of them are unreliable. There is no one who relies on news received over a computer that hasn’t experienced this in the past decade. We have all seen, believed and been moved by hoaxes of some kind. There are the “Babylon Bee” type posts that are intended as satire, but get frequently passed as news items. There are deliberate lies that are fabricated to get people enraged, then “Snoped” to look stupid and shut down their message. These things abound, and they trick even the most sophisticated news organizations, who end up reporting false statements as assumed truths.

Second, truly understanding the truth, even when it is placed in our hands, is not a simple matter. The right map held upside down gets us to the wrong location. It requires time, investment and energy to read and understand truth properly. Right answers on critical issues don’t come easily – so one must be committed to go beyond the surface to get to the truth is many issues.

Third, a flawed map is worse than no map at all, because it provides undue confidence. The words God left us are not cryptic moral platitudes shrouded in mythology, but straightforward warnings of the coming days.

Let me take a moment to illustrate how a lie can change a society and become an assumption. Crisis Magazine reported in 2012:

“Alfred C. Kinsey had a secret. The Indiana University zoologist and “father of the sexual revolution” almost single-handedly redefined the sexual mores of everyday Americans. The problem was, he had to lie to do it. The weight of this point must not be underestimated. The science that launched the sexual revolution has been used for the past 50 years to sway court decisions, pass legislation, introduce sex education into our schools, and even push for a redefinition of marriage. Kinseyism was the very foundation of this effort. If his science was flawed — or worse yet, an outright deception — then our culture’s attitudes about sex are not just wrong morally but scientifically as well.

Let’s consider the facts. When Kinsey and his coworkers published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948 and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female in 1953, they turned middle-class values upside down. Many traditionally forbidden sexual practices, Kinsey and his colleagues proclaimed, were surprisingly commonplace;

• 85 percent of men and 48 percent of women said they’d had premarital sex,

• 50 percent of men and 40 percent of women had been unfaithful after marriage. Incredibly, 71 percent of women claimed their affair hadn’t hurt their marriage, and a few even said it had helped.

• What’s more, 69 percent of men had been with prostitutes, 10 percent had been homosexual for at least three years, and 17 percent of farm boys had experienced sex with animals.

Implicit in Kinsey’s report was the notion that these behaviors were biologically “normal” and hurt no one. Therefore, people should act on their impulses with no inhibition or guilt.

The 1948 report on men came out to rave reviews and sold an astonishing 200,000 copies in two months. Kinsey’s name was everywhere from the titles of pop songs (“Ooh, Dr. Kinsey”) to the pages of Life, Time, Newsweek, and the New Yorker. Kinsey was “presenting facts,” Look magazine proclaimed. He was “revealing not what should be but what is.” Dubbed “Dr. Sex” and applauded for his personal courage, the researcher was compared to Darwin, Galileo, and Freud.

But beneath the popular approbation, many astute scientists were warning that Kinsey’s research was gravely flawed. The list of critics … included …Distinguished British anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer [who] put it well when he called the reports propaganda masquerading as science… what were the issues the world’s best scientists had with Kinsey’s work? The criticism can be condensed into three troublesome points.

Problem #1: Humans as Animals

… Trained as a zoologist, he saw sex purely as a physiological “animal” response. Throughout his books, he continually refers to the “human animal.” In fact, in Kinsey’s opinion, there was no moral difference between one sexual outlet and any other. … In his 842-page volume on female sexuality, motherhood wasn’t mentioned once.

Problem #2: Skewed Samples

Kinsey often presented his statistics as if they applied to average moms, dads, sisters, and brothers… in reality, Kinsey’s reports never applied to average people in the general population. In fact, many of the men Kinsey surveyed were actually prison inmates. … the team had taken sexual histories from about 1,400 imprisoned sex offenders. ..In short, Kinsey’s team researched … from sexual deviants — and then passed off the behavior as sexually “normal,” “natural;” and “average” (and hence socially and morally acceptable).

Problem #3: Faulty Statistics

Given all this, it’s hardly surprising that Kinsey’s statistics were so deeply flawed that no reputable scientific survey has ever been able to duplicate them. …Not surprisingly, Kinsey’s numbers showing marital infidelity to be harmless also never held up. In one Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy study of infidelity, 85 percent of marriages were damaged as a result, and 34 percent ended in divorce. Even spouses who stayed together usually described their marriages afterwards as unhappy. Atlanta psychiatrist Frank Pittman, M.D., estimates that among couples who have been married for a long time and then divorce, “over 90 percent of the divorces involve infidelities.”

Speaking at a 1955 conference sponsored by Planned Parenthood, Kinsey pulled another statistical bombshell out of his hat. He claimed that of all pregnant women, roughly 95 percent of singles and 25 percent of those who were married secretly aborted their babies. A whopping 87 percent of these abortions, he claimed, were performed by bona fide doctors. Thus he gave scientific authority to the notion that abortion was already a common medical procedure — and should thus be legal… Bad statistics are significant for many reasons: “They can be used to stir up public outrage or fear, they can distort our understanding of our world, and they can lead us to make poor policy choices.”

• In a 1951 Journal of Social Psychology study, psychology students at the University of California, Los Angeles, were divided into three groups: Some students took an intensive nine-week course on Kinsey’s findings, while the other two groups received no formal Kinsey instruction. Afterward, the students took a quiz testing their attitudes about sex. Compared with those who received no Kinsey training, those steeped in Kinseyism were seven times as likely to view premarital sex more favorably than they did before and twice as likely to look more favorably on adultery. After Kinsey, the percentage of students open to a homosexual experience soared from 0 to 15 percent. Students taught Kinseyism were also less likely to let religion influence their sexual behavior and less apt to follow sexual rules taught by their parents.

Influencing Court Decisions

• …The U.S. Supreme Court’s historic 2003 decision striking down sodomy laws was the offshoot of a long string of court cases won largely on the basis of Kinsey’s research.

• Inspired by the first Kinsey report, Hugh Hefner founded Playboy in 1953.

• A decade later, Helen Gurley Brown turned Cosmopolitan into a sex magazine for women.

• In his book The End of Sex, an obituary of the sexual revolution, Esquire contributor George Leonard accurately observed that “wherever we have split ‘sex’ from love, creation, and the rest of life . . . we have trivialized and depersonalized the act of love itself.” Treasuring others solely for their sexuality strips them of their humanity. When Kinsey tore the mystery of love from human sexuality, he abandoned us all to a sexually broken world.

That is a long illustration, I admit. The problem is, the lie became an assumption and the culture was changed by it, and is still being changed by it.

Step Two: While fact finding, don’t expect the crowd to join you. Expect the notion of judgment to become a laughing matter (3:3-7).

Thankfully, the Bible offers truth – even if many will be carefully weaned from recognizing it…

2 Peter 3:3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with [their] mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For [ever] since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” 5 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God [the] heavens existed long ago and [the] earth was formed out of water and by water, 6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. 7 But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

Peter said people will walk away from truth for one reason: they want to do what they want to do. They want to follow their own fallen inclinations – period. Kinsey may have lied, but people bought what they wanted to buy, and P.T. Barnum (“A sucker is born every minute”) rolled in his grave to smile. The specific truth Peter referred to was not about sexuality, but about accountability.

Obviously, Peter made clear that in identifying the truth concerning the destiny of mankind, we cannot look to the popular voices in our culture. God has promised they will rise in an anthem against the truth, and that should not surprise us. Lies will be planted, nurtured and eventually widely assumed. In a culture sculpted to believe that everyone should get a prize so that no one feels badly, where does Divine judgment fit it? It doesn’t – and that point shouldn’t be overlooked. A tailor-made morality will slowly replace the truth, and make judgment seem, not only unlikely, but entirely untenable as part of the Christian message.

The other night I saw a short clip from a drama that illustrated the point well. A woman was in anguish about her life and some terrible events that transpired. She ran into a storm and cried out to God. She said: “God, where are you? Why are you taking me through this hell? I haven’t done anything to deserve such a life! I have tried to be good. Much of my life I have helped others, and I have never done things that were cruel or harsh.”

Can you hear her? Can you imagine yourself sympathizing with her plight in the midst of a movie or play. When you watched her play her role, wouldn’t you find yourself thinking: “Wow, what terrible things happened to her. She doesn’t deserve that kind of treatment. She is so nice. She has been incredibly kind. That just doesn’t seem right!

Now step back. Would such a nice person with such a good heart deserve judgment by God? Wouldn’t you think a God that would judge her would sound cruel and heartless?

Here is the problem. The woman may deserve our human sympathies for her plight. She may evoke in us a deep sense of care for her, and that would be a good thing. What we must admit, however, is that we don’t see what God sees. He sees a heart hardened to His love. He sees a woman who chooses to do “good things” while snubbing the gift of His Son for her sin. He sees a woman speaking of her goodness, but not of her need. He sees depravity – the very act of self-trusting and earned righteousness – and not kneeling and surrender.

Here is the way the lie is constructed in us:

First, people will wholly believe (including many in the church) that man is basically good. A baby is born innocent.

Second, an offshoot belief that must be eventually assumed is that people who haven’t committed heinous acts barely deserve any kind of judgment.

A third lie that will be grasped by most is this: It is action of sin that make a person a sinner.

I believe the greatest accepted lie of our time is this: “Man is basically good.” It is found in the musings over the “innocence” of a little child. It tugs at even the toughest heartstrings. Yet, it ignores the Biblical view of each of us as we are born, and makes any judgment by God seem both highly unlikely and fully unwarranted… It is essential that Jesus followers recognize that man is not condemned simply because of some terrible acts we commit, but rather because our default state is one of rebellion.

Let’s be honest. Since the Garden of Eden, even the most tenderhearted of us have few moments that are truly and fully surrendered to God. The default setting of our heart is selfish rebellion. The argument of Scripture is not that man is condemned apart from salvation because of what we do, but because we are depraved in our state of rebellion alone. Depravity, in the Bible sense, doesn’t mean we do something the world considers terrible; it means our self-reliance IS considered a heinous act by God as we reject the headship of our Creator in favor of following self. It is Eve’s choice revisited in daily action.

Our guilt, then, isn’t primarily about horrible treatment of others, it is about horrible treatment of God Himself. In our lost state we continuously reject God’s right to rule our lives in favor of self-leadership. We reject the sacrifice of His Son on our behalf in favor of our own striving. We tell God that He should want was we want to give, not what He has demanded.

In truth, even those who know and follow God struggle to yield, while those who do not know Him do not even understand that state as a problem. In that way, depravity has become a hidden state or normality. Lost man can judge himself by his acts and ignore a rebellious heart that is at the center of the problem. The point is this: It is a lie that we are not depraved. It is a lie that depravity is about action – it is about rebellion.

Even implied innocence erodes that necessity of judgment. If man isn’t “that bad” then they don’t deserve judgment.

Step Three: Don’t be disheartened by God’s delay. Remember this creates an opportunity!

In light of the lies that permeate our culture, don’t get discouraged about God’s lack of enthusiasm to judge quickly. In fact, it is to our advantage. Peter reminded:

2 Peter 3:8 But do not let this one [fact] escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 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. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.

The point of this passage is not to suggest that God’s watch is set in thousand year increments, but rather that God is not subject to time – for He is the author of time. He, by definition, doesn’t “rush” anything. He has a plan and He works that plan – but He is telling a story. The temptation to jump to the end is not something He faces. He knows what He wants to do – and He will do it when and how He chooses.

Step Four: We should be changed by a knowledge of His promise and not need to see more.

We need to walk carefully, and keep our eyes fixed on enduring things! Peter said it this way:

2 Peter 3:11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.

Since all this is coming, how should a believer behave? We ought to live for God and walk distinctly from others (3:11) as we keep in mind the swiftness of judgment. We should measure our surroundings as those things that will not last, (3:12) and keep our eyes on the coming ever-enduring world promised us (3:13)!

God has set the time and terms of judgment. They are not mean, but just. They are not harsh but deserved. He doesn’t want to judge you. The choice is yours.

As a body of Jesus followers we have a choice. We can decide that what God said is true, whether popular or not. We can follow His Word and open our hearts to allow Him to change us…or not. We can play church, and few will know.

Back in January of last year, Francis Chan traveled to Hawaii and spoke to a church where some friends of mine work on the staff. He opened his message explaining how many people were telling him in his travels that they followed him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and his words really helped him in their daily walk. He was very flattered, but he had a big problem. He wasn’t on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. He didn’t post a word of what they read. His staff did some digging. They discovered the whole thing was put up by well-meaning believers who posted only quotes from his sermons or books, and put up pictures of his wife and things he did that they found in other places. He didn’t post them, but he was the author of the words. How incredibly awkward! Yet, Francis took a lesson from this that we need to recall. Today, across the world, people will meet in the name of Jesus. They will quote Him, and they will share pictures of what He has done. Yet, many of them, will not really be a part of His family. They are faking their identity and hoping for belonging. They aren’t part of the Body of Christ. They haven’t surrendered their heart to Jesus. The pictures are real and the quotes are accurate, but the identity is fake. One day, sadly, they will hear the voice of the One they have played before and quoted.

Connecting with God: “Spiritual Espionage” – 2 Peter 2

William MelvilleLong before there was an “Agent 007” there was a man named William Melville. He wasn’t a film star, but rather a talented man who helped to establish the first independent intelligence agency, the British Secret Service, and became its first chief. His rise into the office came after 1903, in the steady spiraling toward the First World War when relations between Britain and Germany gradually cooled. Melville lobbied his government to create a counter-espionage service. By 1906 he “obtained” several pieces of deeply troubling German plans as he hired a Courage Brewery representative in Hamburg to supply intelligence for him. Eventually, in 1909 Melville went to Germany himself to recruit more agents. In October 1909 the British War Office authorized the creation of the Secret Service Bureau, and nineteen military intelligence departments—MI1 to MI19 were created. Today, MI5 and MI6 are the most recognized because they remain active to this day. Melville worked in a separate “Special Section” and concentrated on spy-hunting. By August 1914, Melville had uncovered the barbershop of Karl Gustav Ernst at the center of an important German spy ring. With the outbreak of World War I, funding increased dramatically, and Melville recruited more personnel and was attached to the “G-section” that concentrated on investigating suspected spies, while he founded a “spy school” opposite the War Office at Whitehall Court. Adept in the world of espionage, William Melville eventually became too ill to work and died of kidney failure in February 1918.

I mention William Melville because he was a man of incredible technique in the spy craft, but excelled particularly because he didn’t look much like a spy. He looked like an administrator or local mortgage officer. In short, he blended in very well with work-a-day people in the context of his time. It would be easy to become his friend and confidant, and never realize you were speaking with a spy master. The best people working in the spy craft are the ones who seem to have nothing special going on. You need to look deeper to find them. Things that “don’t add up” need to be more carefully scrutinized. Yet, that is rude and uncomfortable – and that is what spies count on.

I don’t want to simply talk about spies today, but our lesson leans into the idea that our spiritual enemy DOES send infiltrators to come into the midst of God’s people to disrupt and destroy the work. Nehemiah had them. Ezra faced them. It is a well-established Biblical truth that God’s work will constantly face the infiltration work of both ill-informed and deliberately dangerous people – and they will present themselves as qualified to lead and teach.

To set the context, you may recall that one of the ways ancient Israelites discovered those who were infiltrating among them in Judges 12 was to make them use a “password” that was pronounced “Shibboleth” to stop people from invading their lines. The writer of Judges reminds:

Judges 12:5 And it happened when [any of] the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he said, “No,” 6 then they would say to him, “Say now, ‘Shibboleth.'” But he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it correctly.

The word they spoke was wholly unimportant. The pronunciation was the thing that exposed the false and confirmed the true. In our lesson, Peter effectively offers us a short course in “catching” the infiltrator, creating a kind of “Shibboleth” test that helps us to recognize a false teacher if we encounter one. Following a tough lesson in 2 Peter 1 where we suggested there are deliberate and measurable growth marks for a believer, Peter offered a second truth – there will be opposition. Just as you can see growth in the process of 2 Peter 1, careful observation will allow us to see “marks” of false teaching. Here is the truth of the passage…

Key Principle: God unmasked false teachers and exposed their specific and measurable qualities in order that we would know them when we encounter them. Knowledge from the Word concerning false teachers is essential to walk in maturity.

• In the first chapter, knowledge of God’s processes for our growth promised a sense of peace and security to the people of God.

• In the second chapter, knowledge of the enemy’s work encourages vigilance among God’s people.

Peter opened with “The Fact of False Teachers”: They would be a part of the landscape of the church.

The church was called to anticipate attacks on the truth of the Word, and some of them would come from within the church. Note how the passage opened:

2 Peter 2:1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you,

Peter noted in this passage there WILL be false teachers in our churches, the workers of the enemy of God. It isn’t a possibility but rather a warning. Just as God allowed the enemy in the Garden of Eden in the beginning, so He allows the enemy in the sanctuary of the church. Just as God allowed the serpent’s hissing to fall into the ears of Eve, so He openly acknowledges the enemy may don religious garb and stand behind a cross-affixed lectern. The question is: Will the warned leaders of the church do a better job as guardian to the flock than a warned Adam did for his wife?

Have you ever picked up an apple off of a tree, polished it on your shirt and taken a big bite out of it – and then promptly discovered it had a huge rotten area or, even worse, was worm infested? Near Cape May, New Jersey, there was an old farm where I worked during the summer that had a big apple tree, but the farmer didn’t spray the trees for insects. He didn’t like the stuff and that meant that when the apples were finally ripe for picking, it was often hard to find a good one! Many had worms or “bad spots” clearly visible. On occasion, even after a close inspection, it was possible to take a big bite, only to find you had a mouth full of rotten yuck! Instinctively, I spit out the bite. Eventually, I discovered a secret. The farmer noted many of these apples didn’t get rotten by worms boring a hole from the outside at all! Essentially the worms would lay their eggs on the blossoms before the apple even began to form! When they hatched, the larvae were already inside the apple, with a constant food supply readily available. Eventually, they would eat their way out of the apple and that was when the worm holes would appear! Worms crept in unnoticed and unobtrusively, but their secret left behind what would bring about destruction.

When we talk about false teachers, we are talking about a process. Sometimes the teacher was under-trained or poorly trained, and the “seed” of the disruptive and ungodly behavior was allowed to grow unnoticed. At an early stage, a church is still “in bloom” when Satan places some deceptive eggs of destruction. By the time Peter wrote this warning, there were already signs of spiritual worm damage.

It is true that some false teachers are just poorly trained in Biblical thinking, but increasingly I am seeing people who are deliberately out to destroy the faith of our young in the name of “education” balance and “anti-bigotry training”. They aren’t hiding, but many of us are being tempted to hide and let them have their say. We need to take action – not against them – but toward our own. The day will come when we will face them. Today we need to get our house in order and train, train, train our own. “Why?” you may ask. The answer is simple…Even those who claim to be Born Again are not necessarily firmly grounded in the truths of the Bible. Knowing Jesus and knowing what God said in the 1189 chapters of the Bible are very different. Even further, knowing the Bible and understanding the content in the context of God’s work is also very different.

George Barna’s book What Americans Believe cites statistics based on a national survey concerning religious beliefs in our country. In chapter four he states, “The Devil, or Satan, is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” Then asking that segment of his survey respondents who have identified themselves at being Born Again, he states, “Do you agree strongly, agree somewhat, disagree somewhat, or disagree strongly with that statement?” The Born Again population reply with 32 percent agreeing strongly, 11 percent agreeing somewhat and 5 percent did not know. Thus, of the total number responding, 48 percent either agreed that Satan is only symbolic or did not know! A few pages later, Barna asked: “Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and others all pray to the same God, even though they use different names for that God.” Again, the respondents were asked to agree strongly, agree somewhat, disagree somewhat or disagree strongly. Of that population surveyed who identified themselves as Born Again, 30 percent agreed strongly, 18 percent agreed somewhat and 12 percent did not know. That is a total of 60 percent! (What Americans Believe, pp. 206-212). What we are seeing in our time is this: people don’t know the Bible even when they have claimed to have surrendered to Jesus. That is a problem, and will continue to be a problem.

Adam’s greatest problem in the Garden was that he didn’t take God’s warnings seriously. The church must see the problem and address it, or we are simply letting Eve have a “snake conversation.” Parents need to recognize that an occasional hour of Sunday School or Vacation Bible School is no match for the hundreds of hours of social experimentation going on at many a local school, daycare or local club designed for your child. I am not trying to make school teachers the enemy – they aren’t. Yet, even the most Godly among them will tell you they cannot say many true things and remain employed as teachers. The fact is that we have sacrificed truth on the altar of pluralism for my entire life in America – and many believers think their children are going to be invited to think Biblically from their education. The higher in the ranks of that education you follow the trial, the more the Bible will be denigrated or even openly tossed aside. Here is my point: If the Bible isn’t valued to the point where we will deliberately press our children to know it – they will be easy targets for the enemy – and he IS at work prowling to get them.

Peter continued with the Description of False Teachers:

We cannot spot what we do not recognize in false teachers. For that reason Peter wrote:

2 Peter 2:1b …who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.

Don’t bypass the details, but rather notice the technique of what the enemy does to plant false teachers – it will help you to spot them before the damage is too great. They will…

• “secretly introduce”: (paraisago: bring beside) they will come in through conventional teaching and “bring along” some other false teachings. When they are predators, they will be deliberately deceptive and they can smell simple-minded and gullible people like a wolf can detect a crippled rabbit from a quarter of a mile away.

I don’t want to get lost in this, but I was surprised at how the Charlotte NC reporters gave a “pass” to checking on the people who backed the recent “bathroom bill” in the city that caused such a controversy. The bill provided for people to use restrooms that differed from their assigned biological sex. One of the chief sponsors of the bill was Charlotte’s “LGBT Chamber of Commerce”. Though now exposed and ousted, Chad Sevearance-Turner was the president of the chamber while pressing for the bill. No one I can find in the press, while touting his passion and care for the oppressed, thought to publish his past public arrest record. He had been arrested in 1998 (at age 20) and charged in Cherokee County, S.C., with a “lewd act, committing or attempting a lewd act upon a child under 16.” A careful look at the case clearly shows the man has a history of voyeurism. Let me ask you something: Do you honestly believe there would have been such an omission if the man opposed the bill but had a public arrest record? I believe people often get duped because they want what they want and won’t be wise to recognize the sources of coming trouble.

That is in our modern community. Peter warned that in the church, these teachers will bring…

• “destructive heresies”: (hah’-ee-res-is + ap-o’-li-a: heresies of ruin), the nature of the teachings will be of significance to cause ruin to the faith of the hearers.

• “denying the Master who bought them”: (ar-neh’-om-ahee: to refuse the rights of the Master), they will teach that God does not have full rights to demand surrender of all areas to His Lordship. The false teachers don’t always come across as plaid-wearing clowns trying to wow you with on-stage miracles. Sometimes they just want you to think they are going to help you renovate yourself so you can be a better person. They don’t offer spiritual life; they don’t hold up Jesus as the One who gives new birth from above and makes a new creation. They want you to feel better about yourself so you will feel grateful and reward them for lifting you up.

• “bringing swift destruction” (pulling to themselves ruin – the word translated destructive above…), their actions will fragment and destroy bodies of believers. They will be destroyed in the process. They may make a fortune, but they will still face death and judgment prescribed for all others in this life.

Peter moved to Describing the Followers of False Teachers:

The false teachers will be marked in specific areas that are able to be discerned when looking closely, but so will their followers…

2 Peter 2:2 Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned;

The teachers will have in view a publicly known sensuality (as-elg’-i-a: license to do wrong or impure deeds). The term is familiar: Galatians 5:19 “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality…”

The point of this verse is not to identify the teachers, but the type of people that seek and follow after them. These followers will be people who do not desire to surrender to the Lord, but prefer to expand the number of things they can be “licensed” to do that are not of the nature of surrendered believers. Consider this story:

Once the Devil was walking along with one of his cohorts. They saw a man ahead of them pick up something shiny. “What did he find?” asked the cohort. “A piece of the truth,” the Devil replied. “Doesn’t it bother you that he found a piece of the truth?” asked the cohort. “No,” said the Devil, “I will see to it that he makes a religion out of it.” Klyne Snodgrass, Between Two Truths – Living with Biblical Tensions, 1990, Zondervan Publishing House, p. 35.

Here is the point: There IS freedom in Christ – but it is freedom to follow Him and please Him. There is no WORK that saves you – but that doesn’t mean real faith does not have telltale signs in life change. We need to be careful not to allow a “piece of truth” to cover the other pieces that balance it.

Peter then moved on the the Motive of False Teachers:

It isn’t essential we know why people do what they do, but it can be helpful. The teachers are clearly marked by a desire to live the good life here on earth, and greed is easy to spot. I know that because he wrote:

2 Peter 2:3 “…and in their greed they will exploit you with false words;”

The teacher wants FORTUNE, and is willing to teach things that are not true in order to gain personally in the fortune or fame departments. The term “false words” is literally “plas-tos’”: or artificially molded. The word envisions a study room where they sculpt words that will cause people to part with their cash in favor of sending it in an envelope to the teacher. These are people who teach a plastic faith, and we need to see the difference between the authentic and the plastic. Allan Bloom American philosopher, classicist, and academic who died in 1992 wrote:

Openness – and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and various ways of life and kinds of human beings — is the great insight of our times. The true believer is the real danger. The study of history and of culture teaches that all of the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism and chauvinism. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.” – Charles Colson, Against the Night, p. 84.

Dear ones; hear my words very carefully. I believe I can make the case that our children will not be openly taught to believe we are wrong in our faith (in most cases) as much as they will be indoctrinated to become emotionally offended at the notion that you could even think you were right about the most basic issues of truth.

Skepticism has handily replaced real learning in the heart of many of America’s most prestigious educational centers, bearing cynical children without a goal of reaching truth at all.

We must not rant, but we must not be ignorant. Our children are being led away from truth in far too many places while we act as though it is inevitable. It is not. We can answer lies with truth. We can answer false education with real education. We can sit down and look carefully at what they are learning and turn it back on itself. We not only can do this, we must do this – or we have given up our post as guardians.

I thank God for godly men and women who take on the work of training children, both in the public education system and in the church. They are to be commended and cherished for the work they do!

Peter then shared the End of False Teachers:

The destination of the false teacher is judgment, and it will come upon all too swiftly!

2 Peter 2:3b …their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. 2:4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; 7and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men 8 (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment,

The issue of defense against heresy is ultimately about God defending His own work through the church.

Look at the Seven Marks of the False Teachers:

First, they are Indulgent of flesh and Rebellious in spirit:

2 Peter 2:10 and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority.

Second they are presumptuously disrespectful:

2 Peter 2:10b…Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, 11 whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord.

Third, they project expertise in things they do not even understand.

2 Peter 2:12 But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed,

A story is told of two men who worked in the audit department of a large bank. They made an overnight trip to a distant branch of the bank, and were dining in a local restaurant. The chief auditor told the other man, “First we’ll hit the tellers, and then get the vault.” They arrived at the bank the next morning, only to be promptly arrested by the state police. Upon inquiry, they discovered that a police captain had eaten at the same restaurant and had overheard the conversation about “hitting the tellers and getting the vault.” The police captain had made a very good assumption about the situation, based on the information as he had overheard it, but his assumption was also very wrong.

Fourth, they mix and mingle among the people of God carousing in their deceptions.

2 Peter 2:13 “…suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, 14 having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children;

Fifth, they love the wages of unrighteousness.

2 Peter 2:15 “…forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness…

Peter used Balaam as an example of those who ‘love the wages of unrighteousness’. What does that mean? Just what it says! They follow the path of unrighteousness for the very reason that it pays more – if you are using the values of the fallen world! Balak, king of Moab, saw the wandering Israelites as a military threat. So he hired Balaam, already known as a prophet for hire, to put a curse on them. “Have curse. Will travel”

Sixth, they talk big and allure others through the lusts of the flesh and lewdness:

2 Peter 2:17 These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. 18 For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error,

Seventh, they promise freedom but on closer inspection you can see they are slaves themselves. Some years ago Clark Tanner wrote these words:

2 Peter 2:19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. …

Our Assignment

I don’t want to end this lesson with THEM. I want you to see that God offers more than doom and gloom ranting. There are ways to grow in discernment and spot someone exhibiting the traits of a false prophet or teacher. Your assignment is to grow by:

1. Identifying the SOURCE of truth: Ask often of those sharing religious sounding material: “Do they practice sound Biblical hermeneutics in sourcing their truth accurately according to the scriptures?” Paul wrote, “Study to show yourself approved of God. A workman who does not need to be ashamed. Handling accurately the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15) Preach the word, be ready in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction.” (2 Tim. 4:1,2)

2. Recognize the call to SANCTIFICATION – Jesus said, “Sanctify them in your word, your word is truth.” (John 17:17) If Holiness is what we need, are they leading people toward that, or toward indulgence?

3. Listen closely to their main SUBJECT – You can tell a lot about a person by the main subject of their conversations. Paul said it best. “I am crucified with Christ nevertheless I live yet not I but Christ who lives within me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20) Let our teaching be about Christ, His love, His purpose, His priorities and His will for the lives of people.

4. Examine their words about SALVATION – False prophets distort the true gospel of salvation. Paul made it clear in Eph. 2:8,9 when he wrote, “It is by grace we are saved through faith and not of ourselves. It is a gift from God not as a result of works that anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Let everyone be disavowed of any notion that they can earn their salvation through works of righteousness which we have done instead of by His own mercy and grace whereby we receive our regeneration. (Titus 3:5)

5. Look closely at their attitude concerning SERVICE – False prophets and teachers have a sinister way of being self-serving. Paul wrote, “We preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Cor 4:5) Let us make our theme song, “Make me a servant, humble and meek. Lord let me lift up those who are weak. And may the prayer of my heart always be. Make me a servant today.”

6. Guard against hoarders and look for SENDERS – If someone is not involved in the sending out of workers into Christ’s harvest fields in evangelism, service ministries and mission ministries for the sake of the great commission they are living in disobedience to God. Jesus gave the great commission six times in the New Testament to give emphasis and dimension to His key commandment. Jesus taught, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send forth workers into His harvest fields.” (Matt. 9:36-38)

Remember: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” – C.S. Lewis. We must be diligent about learning, in order that we can discern truth. Every mother knows to check the temperature of the food before the child takes a bite, to save the child from pain and injury. We need to do the same with spiritual food.

God unmasked false teachers and exposed their specific and measurable qualities in order that we would know them when we encounter them. Knowledge from the Word concerning false teachers is essential to walk in maturity.

Connecting with God: “Blessed Assurance” – 2 Peter 1

come to jesusOne of the great hymns of the faith began with the words: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh what a foretaste of glory divine!” At different points in the past of our faith, assurance was emphasized, and the desire to be assured of eternal salvation seems like it was particularly important.

I have known a number of people in my life over the years who have come to a crisis point in their lives and have asked: “Am I truly a believer?” Usually, they have related to me, it is because they admitted they seemed very weak in their faith, and expressed things like: “I must be the worst follower Jesus ever had!” In some cases, I suspect they were real followers who were facing depression issues. In other cases, like what Zechariah saw of his partner in Temple rebuilding, the High Priest named Joshua, the problem was actually an attack of the wicked one that was driving the man toward defeating discouragement. Still in others, as I spoke with them, I became concerned that they may have never truly understood the message of Jesus Christ, and never truly were saved. Their question wasn’t from discouragement, but rather because they recognized Jesus was not living within them!

It IS possible to know Jesus and be assured of eternity with Him when I die. The Apostle Paul made it clear in his second letter to Timothy when he told Tim to stop being embarrassed about the fact that Paul had been arrested. He warned Tim not to allow that fact to make him shy away from the Gospel, and its absolute assurance of peace with God. He wrote:

2 Timothy 1:12 For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. 13 Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to [you].

Do you notice how assured Paul was of the truth of his relationship with God through Christ? He used words like “not ashamed” and “believed” and “convinced” – all because he trusted Christ and counted on that for an eternity with Him.

While is IS possible to get past the “I hope I will go to Heaven when I die,” it is also equally possible to not know Jesus but think I will be with Him when I die because of some distant memory of praying a prayer or raising a hand at a church meeting, a camp or some other place where a response to the message of Jesus was requested. There is more to coming to Christ than simply agreeing that what He did at Calvary was good and right. There is more to being a Christian than simply saying “yes” to Jesus. Hear the Master Himself explain it in His first major sermon captured in the Gospel of Matthew, the so-called “Sermon on the Mount”:

Matthew 7:21″Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven [will enter]. 22 “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’

Look carefully at what Jesus said. He made the following points clear:

• First, some people think they know Jesus and will presume the Lord has saved them, but they will be rejected (Matthew 7:21).

• Second, the basis of their access to the Kingdom won’t simply be their words. The terms Jesus used were “does the will of My Father”.

• Third, it won’t be the type of work that ensures entrance to the Kingdom, since those rejected will have been involved in endeavors like “prophesying in the Lord’s name, casting out demons, and working miracles.”

• Finally, the command to depart from Jesus was based on the singular characteristic: “You work lawlessness.” Remember, the term “anomia” translated “lawless” doesn’t simply mean without any rules – it means they MAKE UP THEIR OWN RULES.

The simple issue of the Gospel, then, is surrender of the life and will.

It isn’t what you SAID that got you into the Kingdom. It isn’t how much you SERVED in churches or Christian ministries. It isn’t which areas you served in as part of ministry. The issue is whether we “do the will of the Father” – period. Certainly part of that will is to call on Christ for salvation – but that isn’t all of the story. Another part of that will is to be busy in service to Jesus – but that isn’t the key either. The clear key in the teaching of Jesus was this: Either My Father is at the center of your choices and behaviors, or you are making up your own rules about what life is to become.

Key Principle: A Christian is sure of his faith because of his surrendered walk. His walk isn’t his faith, but rather the product of it that assures him that his faith is genuine.

I can hear the theological objections swarming over this lesson. Some will say: “He is promoting ‘works salvation’ and not salvation by the blood of Jesus alone.” I am not; I am quoting Jesus. He said people would appear before Him and think they should be allowed into the Kingdom based on words or works alone – and neither of them, yes even BOTH of them were insufficient. The only issue I can discern out of what Jesus said on that hillside long ago to people who wanted to become disciples was this: “Is My Father at the helm of your choices.”

Now I expect to hear from some objectors who will cry: “You are teaching ‘Lordship salvation’” – as if a label will somehow move us from the words recorded by Matthew that Jesus uttered long ago. Let me be clear: I have no interest in finding a theological camp to join. My pure interest is in the clarity of the text. I must ask this: “Where, oh theologian, did God set up a theology whereby you could make up your own behaviors, control your own choices, and yet be assured of Heaven?” Please, show me such a clear text. I cannot find such a word; but I do have the clarity of what Jesus said – and it is clearly about those who theologically presumed they were acceptable to God, and found they were not.

I also have what the Spirit gave us through the Apostles like Peter. Look for a few moments into the opening chapter of Peter’s second epistle (2 Peter 1). To save us some time in the lesson, let’s note that when I passed through this letter on my previous teaching opportunity with you, we looked together at five thoughts that shape the basic truths of the verses. I want to remind you of these and then look more deeply at how to establish life patterns that will help us realize what God truly says about His work in each of our lives.

The five parts of 2 Peter 1 are five descriptions of God-revealed truths about following Him.

• First, the passage opened with “Describing the God-given Parameters of those Following Him” (1-2). Here Peter shows who he is writing to, and what it took to be included in the promises he would unfold.

• Second, the text continued with “Describing the God-given Provisions for us in Following Him” (3-4). If they were part of the group the letter was written concerning, they could expect God to provide specific aid to them.

• Third, the letter pressed forward “Describing the God-given Process for us in Following Him” (5-7). This is at the heart of the teaching – how God works in and through us if we truly know Him.

• Fourth, the writer made clear “Describing the God-given Promises for us in Following Him” (8-11). God has some things He will give us if we surrender to His work in and through us.

• Finally, Peter unfolded in brief form “Describing some God-given Privileges for us in Following Him” (12-21). God’s children have some unique privileges, and you can experience them!

Look more closely…

Describing the God-given Parameters of those included in “Following” Him:

Parameters are simply fences placed around things to identify who is “in” the set and who is “outside” the set. Let’s begin with “WHO” Peter addressed in the letter as “inside”…

2 Peter 1:1 Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord;

Note the fence Peter placed around the recipients to define whether they are part of the group he addressed in the letter. The letter is for those who received the faith: (1:1 “Peter, to those who received what we did”). God has special objectives for those who first received the faith conveyed by the Apostles, then recognized it was by faith and work of Jesus and not of themselves they had been saved. The point is this: I must accept the Gospel is God’s work, not mine. I can’t adjust it and still call it the message of God. Jesus came and died in my place to pay for my sin. If I don’t believe that, I don’t believe what the Apostolic Gospel taught.

Now note that people who received the faith were eligible for yet more grace and peace which came from a more intimate experience with the Father in daily life. (I.e. 1:2 “Grace and peace by knowing God intimately”). God’s goals include blessings in this life – not only in Heaven! The blessings include both favor (grace) and a measure of inner rest (peace) as well as a growing experience with God daily. It is clear that God never meant for His children to go through the Christian life uncertain of His desire for us or His work in us. He wants us to be assured and steadily growing.

In short, the work of God is limited in the passage to those who deliberately received the message preached by the Apostles, and who desire to grow in a rich and sure walk with God. Next, Peter offers another description.

Describing the God-given Provisions for us in Following Him:

God doesn’t simply tell us He wants us to surrender our choices to Him; He made clear some provisions He offers to help us do it. Peter wrote:

2 Peter 1:3 “…seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

I count two specific provisions of God in these verses. First there is an empowering knowledge: (I.e. 1:3 “His power gave us all we need to live a godly life, out of His glory and goodness, through knowing Him”). A growing knowledge of Him (as He reveals Himself through His Word and Spirit) affords us something special – empowering to accomplish His will. When we truly know and experience the God Who called us, we can access His power to accomplish what He wants done.

I don’t know if you have ever seen the History Channel’s series called “Mountain Men,” but my wife and I have really enjoyed it on Amazon Instant Video. We have followed these men through snowstorms and deep freezes as they trap animals I never even heard of for their pelts and meat. That may not sound interesting, but the part I found particularly helpful was when they showed these men using natural things to solve problems. They could build a cabin in the wilderness with very few tools, and their knowledge empowered them to be able to live where the less informed (like me) could not. Knowledge that can keep you alive is valuable knowledge. Peter spoke of knowledge even greater – knowledge that will give you the ability to live victoriously in God’s power.

Second, God provides beyond empowering knowledge some precious promises: (1:4 “His glory and goodness offers us great promises”). God makes us partakers in His own spiritual nature or: “allows us to walk in His nature” – an experience off limits to fallen and unredeemed people. He even offers us an escape from the trap of the fallen world! His salvation allowed us to escape the trap – “affords us ability to overcome the power of evil desires”. We have something in Christ we did not have before we knew Him – a new nature and an escape hatch from the lust and moral decay that traps the lost around us. God provided it. You don’t have to serve sin anymore. You don’t have to succumb to temptation, because you have empowering knowledge that God is at work in you, and will help you get away from the temptation. You must follow His nudge when He gives it.

That may set off a question in your mind. “How can I stand against the defeating push of my past life, the present situation I am in that hold me back from walking with God, or perhaps my natural lazy personality, or the people in my life that pull me backward, or even the principalities (the enemy’s hoards at work)?” Rest easy. God has a plan and He shared it with us. Start where He said to start, and add each step in the order He specified.

Describing the God-given Process for us in Following Him:

Look at the recipe and add each ingredient in the right sequence:

2 Peter 1:5 “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.”

In 2 Peter 1:5-7, the writer essentially said this: “In light of this provision, deliberately work at the process for sustained growth”. What steps should take? Don’t miss these; they are vitally important for all of us!

• First, my walk starts with Faith (pistis) the vision of what God says is true. I must conform my opinions and ideas to what God says in His Word, or I will be tossed about and not able to build on that foundation. These ideas form a new “world view” that is Biblical. I get a Biblical world view from knowing the Bible.

• Second, to the Biblical world view, I must add a lifestyle that is filled with chosen acts of moral excellence (areetay) a word from metallurgy that was commonly used for purity. My Biblically shaped world view must show in my moral choices and acts of truth and purity. If I learn the Bible but don’t live the Bible, I am not growing well. A Bible that is learned by not lived is fodder for the enemy to create guilt inside me, pushing me from Christ.

• Third, to the choices I must next focus on adding knowledge, (gnosis: add learning strategies and life experiences that enhance specifics of God’s teachings and wise experience). The experience of the Christian life is to be a shared and developed experience. I can’t accomplish God’s desire for me if I don’t spend time with those who know more about how to be successful in the walk.

• Fourth, when I have surrounded myself with others who encourage me in walking inside a Biblical world view, I need to focus on the constant discipline of self-control, (eng-kratia: one who masters his impulses) I must learn strategies to control impulses for God. Even though I will increasingly shape a more Biblical world view, it will be constantly challenged by my rebellious and undisciplined nature. I need to learn how to address that part of me as well.

• Fifth, when dealing with my disciplines, I will be ever challenged by life’s difficulties. For these I must learn to persevere, (hupo-meno: stand by the difficult and remain under rather than try to escape the uncomfortable). I will want to quit, but I must stand under the load and not abandon my post.

• Sixth, while I stand at my post and pass through troubles, I should learn to deepen in reverence under God’s gentle and powerful hand. I will learn to see God and revere Him in a deeper way, (godliness: eusebace; reverence and worship). It takes experience with God to really appreciate Who He is and what He has done.

• Seventh, when I really am experiencing God’s grace and worshipping His presence in my life, I will have endurance and grace in my striving with others. (Phildelphos: brotherly kindness, operate in grace to pull others up). How I treat others is a reflection of my walk with God. Bad relationships are a symptom of a deeper problem, not the key problem.

• Eighth, when I am experiencing God’s power and grace, and I am reflecting His attitudes in my life, I am able to give myself away to love. (agape: unconditional and whole love; wholly caring for others before self). Right love comes from a whole and complete lover. My maturity has everything to do with my ability to truly love another.

Describing God-given Promises for us in Following Him

Peter outlined WHO God would work within (those who accepted the message of the Apostles). He then made clear WHAT God provided to lead us to victory. Next he described HOW the process was prescribed. Yet, that wasn’t the end. He also made clear WHY we should deeply hunger to follow God… and that is rooted in some promises. The promises are outlined in…

2 Peter 1:8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.

The first promise is one of productivity: (1:8 “you will avoid the traps of ineffective and unproductive behavior that frustrate your walk”. If we focus on practicing the steps he outlined and constantly give them greater attention they will lead to a productive and meaningful life!

The second promise is clarity. We will see clearly what others do not. (I.e.1:9 “Conversely, if I don’t persist in these truths, I will lose my direction or “sight” and will forget the cleansing (katharismos) and rescue I have experienced). We have a continual choice to go back to the trap in which we were caught, of move toward assurance of heart! The passage doesn’t claim that if we aren’t growing we lose our salvation – but it does say we lose clear sight that we are His.

The third promise is certainty: (I.e. 1:10-11 “Do these things and you will be secure in your assurance!”). The work we have just seen is like picking up and organizing my room. When I do it I do not trip or stumble on my way through the room. When I don’t, I create false obstacles that cause me to condemn myself when God says I am UNDER NO CONDEMNATION because I am IN CHRIST. (Romans 8:1). You won’t know for sure while you are living in compromise, because you aren’t designed to see it when you aren’t living it. Like a natural apprehension when in a high place, God built into our hearts the need to be walk with Him or feel like something is missing.

Describing God-given Privileges for us in Following Him

The chapter ends with God making clear the promises come with specific privileges. Peter wrote:

We can build on things that are eternal in view and value:

2 Peter 1:12 Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things… 14 knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind.

God’s work is bigger than our time on the planet, and we are a tiny part of His huge work. That doesn’t make me feel small, it makes my life’s work feel incredibly significant. To use a football analogy: running my pattern places me where I need to be when God wants the “ball” to come to me.

We can handle the actual truths of the Creator of the universe and pass on actual verified events.

We aren’t offering platitudes and empty promises. Peter reminded:

2 Peter 1:16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— 18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.

Beyond giving out God’s Word, we also get an opportunity to see God work in others and change lives!

Peter made clear in: 2 Peter 1:19 So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.

In the end, we pass on truths that came from God that He made known, so there can be no work of greater value!

God wanted us to know Him and hear Him. Peter wrote: 2 Peter 2:20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

I guess the best question to ask, having grappled with the words of this lesson is this: “Where are YOU in the process of following? Are you certain you have begun?” It all starts with knowing the TRUTH!

A Christian is sure of his faith because of his walk. His walk isn’t his faith, but rather the product of it that assures him that his faith is genuine.

I want to close these words with something written by another pastor. “The Agonizing Problem of the Assurance of Salvation” contains the words of Pastor John Piper who wrote:

The most agonizing problem about the assurance of salvation is not the problem of whether the objective facts of Christianity are true (God exists, Christ is God, Christ died for sinners, Christ rose from the dead, Christ saves forever all who believe, etc.). Those facts are the utterly crucial bedrock of our faith. But the really agonizing problem of assurance is whether I personally am saved by those facts. This boils down to whether I have saving faith. What makes this agonizing – for many in the history of the church and today – is that there are people who think they have saving faith but don’t. For example, in Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’”

So the agonizing question for some is: do I really have saving faith? Is my faith real? Am I self-deceived? Some well-intentioned people try to lessen the problem by making faith a mere decision to affirm certain truths, like the truth: Jesus is God, and he died for my sins. Instead of minimizing the miraculous, deep, transforming nature of faith, and instead of denying that there are necessary life-changes that show the reality of faith, we should tackle the problem of assurance another way. We should begin by realizing that there is an objective warrant for resting in God’s forgiveness of my sins, and there is a subjective warrant for God’s forgiveness of my sins. The objective warrant is the finished work of Christ on the cross that “has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). The subjective warrant is our faith which is expressed in “being sanctified.”

John went on to suggest that Biblically speaking saving faith has two parts.

• First, in 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul said that what Satan hinders in the minds of unbelievers is the “seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” For faith to be real there must be a supernatural “light” that God shines into the heart to show us that Christ is glorious and wonderful (2 Corinthians 4:6). This happens as a work of the Spirit of God through the preaching of the gospel.

• Second, faith becomes a practice in our lives of seeing Jesus and His glory more important than our own. We are motivated, not simply by seeing an escape hatch from hell, but by desiring to become what we were made to be – one whose life can bring glory to our Majestic God!

Let me close with a sobering word that I hope will prompt all of us to look more seriously at where we are in our walk.

In his book, Fuzzy Memories, Jack Handey wrote, “There used to be this bully who would demand my lunch money every day. Since I was smaller, I would give it to him. “Then I decided to fight back. I started taking karate lessons, but the instructor wanted $5 a lesson. That was a lot of money. I found that it was cheaper to pay the bully, so I gave up karate.”

Dear ones, I am concerned that far too many of us have concluded it is much easier to pay the bully than learn how to stand up and defend truth, and ultimately defeat him. The place we live is not always difficult, for God is standing with us – but at the end of the day we were saved into a BATTLEFIELD and not a PLAYGROUND! It is time for us to take our stand – and to do that we must know we are part of the team.

Connecting with God: The “Not So Secret” Recipe – 1 Peter 5

jayandduke575Do you know the dog in this picture beside Jay Bush of the “Bush’s Baked Beans” Company? I was shocked at some news I received recently. Let me gently share it with you. Regardless of the number of years you have been watching Bush’ Baked Bean commercials, the fact is that you have never actually seen on screen Jay Bush’s real dog, “Duke”. From an authoritative source known on the net as the “Dogington Post” comes this word:

When the time came for Jay Bush to appear in commercials as the spokesman for his family’s brand of baked beans, he turned to his Golden Retriever, Duketo, for comfort. At a meeting to discuss commercial ideas in 1996, someone at the table suggested Jay tell Duke the secret family recipe for the delicious beans. At first, the idea seemed silly, but Jay whispered in his dog’s ear and the famous Bush’s Baked Beans series of commercials was born. The real Duke Bush wasn’t a fan of the spotlight, however, so a look-alike professional dog actor was brought in to play the role.”

Can you believe they fooled us with an “impostor dog” like that? What is even WORSE than the fact that the dog was replaced by an actor was another shocking truth… THE DOG’S VOICE WAS THAT OF A HUMAN! That is right; the dog couldn’t speak even one line of dialogue. The whole thing is voiced over. What a charade! As you allow the shock of these truths to sink in, think for a moment about that dog himself. The actor pup that played “Duke” seemed on every commercial destined to give up the secret recipe for the beans, or as the Bush’s people would say: “He was going to ‘spill the beans on their secret bean recipe’! Each time he was thwarted from divulging the family’s precious secret, but he tries again on the next commercial.

This morning, I want to successfully play Duke’s role, and offer you an important recipe. I am neither a dog nor an actor, but for every believer that desires to hear it, the New Testament offers something much more precious than the herbs and spices added to beans. It exposes the ingredients for a thriving group of Jesus followers and warns them away from distracting temptations. This recipe comes from an Epistle, an old letter of the Apostle Peter to first century believers. When its warnings are heeded, it supplies a neighborhood with a solid group of believers that represent well the church of Jesus Christ; and I believe we want to become such a group.

You see, in His Word, God clearly expressed the nature and behaviors of people that truly honor and please Him. He has made clear what specific traits should mark Jesus followers, and He offered them to and through a group of people who were undergoing persecution and troubles from the world around them. Let’s be clear about the Word’s warning: When trouble comes without, we must become even more diligent about the display of character from within the body. One simple way to capture the idea of 1 Peter 5 is this…

Key Principle: Christians are to be known by their love for Jesus seen primarily in their behavior in the world and their relationships to one another.

In order to understand what God said to the church about relationships, we need to divide the passage into the three groups addressed in this passage, and then examine warnings to each concerning temptation areas that will draw them from the place of a testimony.

• The first group are leaders, and they are addressed in 1 Peter 5:1-4.
• The second group are called “young men” and are found in 1 Peter 5:5a.
• The final group is “the rest of you” in 1 Peter 5:5b-11. That last group included all the rest of those who named Christ as Savior among the churches.

By the look of the list, it appears that leaders were being tempted, young men were hesitant to follow, and the rest of the body needed fresh direction. The suffering, persecution and trouble they experienced was hindering their growth, while their behavior compromises were hurting their testimony. Here is the truth: Troubles will come to the people of God, both individually and collectively. We need to be strengthened and prepared, but we also need to be diligent to face temptations to relax our walk in the face of troubles.

Group One: Elders of congregations (5:1-4): Shepherd the flock among you.

Look for a few minutes at 1 Peter 5 as we deal with the writings to each of the three groups of people who were instructed to show Jesus by avoiding temptations specific to their position in the Body of Christ. The letter begins with the leadership.

1 Peter 5:1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as [your] fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed,

Peter said he wanted to “exhort” the elders as one of them (5:1). The word exhort isn’t necessarily only used in the sense of “correct” nor is it to “tell them something they don’t already know.” The idea of exhorting is to come alongside and encourage. The word exhort is parakaleo means to call to one’s side, to address, to admonish, to strengthen. It’s almost like a coach or a fellow athlete coming alongside a runner who is struggling and encouraging them as they run hard the race.

Note that Peter identified himself in three ways:

First, he said he was a fellow elder: In effect, he said: “I do the job as you do!” He claimed that he understood the experience in the trenches and that surely helped his perspective! Talking down is never as effective as reaching across!

Second, he claimed he was a “first hand witness” of Jesus’ suffering, as the Gospel’s shared. He made the point that he was a qualified overseer with intimate experiences from hours with Jesus. Sharing Jesus requires knowing Jesus – and he could show that he truly did!

Third, he claimed to be a “witness to Jesus’ glory” (Mk. 8, Mt. 16 i.e. The Transfiguration). He said: “I have seen the Lord as few have and heard the Father’s voice from above affirming Him!” Peter made clear that he had already experienced the view of the glorious Jesus we will all later see!

“In other words,” Peter said, “I understand the struggles, I have seen real suffering and I know God’s power! I recognize the weight and responsibilities of the work, and I know intimately the source of the work.” Then he continued with the command to them…

1 Peter 5:2 “…shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to [the will of] God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

Leaders were to TEND GOD’S FLOCK. Isn’t it significant that the Lord’s final instructions to Peter included: “Do you love me? Shepherd my sheep?” (cp. John 21). Peter learned to leave the nets and begin to tend the flocks. At the point where Peter made clear the command, he felt it necessary to spend a few moment cautioning leaders about seven temptations they would likely face as they led. This is the heart of the first four verses:

First, he warned of the temptation to be popular:

He told them to “exercise oversight“ (5:2a). With the term “episkopeo” he employed an apprenticeship term, which meant to inspect or watch over with a view toward correcting poor skills. This may not seem tough, but in my experience, it is one of the deepest tugs on the heart – to let matters go uncorrected because of the desire to be liked by others. When I take a moment and scroll down through Facebook, and someone has an article posted and liked that is rooted in falsehood and expresses terrible thinking, am I supposed to ‘message’ that person? Let me ask you: “How many of those a week should I be working on?” If I see someone in a church hallway speak badly to their spouse, should I be calling on them to discuss the matter? How many do you think I should call upon before people pull back from any relationship with me? It isn’t a joke. It is a real struggle for any leader to be careful about correction.

One of the reasons it is a struggle is the obvious: we who serve are all flawed. I make all sorts of mistakes myself. How am I supposed to be busy correcting others when I am still struggling with my own stupidity every day? Yet, that isn’t the only reason leaders are tempted to abandon oversight. Another reason is the reality that we don’t want to be held at arm’s length from people – and that is what inevitably happens when people think you may be paying attention to what they are doing wrong, and evaluating them – even when the leader isn’t. Servants of Jesus have always suffered from the desire to be a part of the group they lead, and that can be a temptation that will keep them from exercising oversight. Every leader should be warned that our work is measured. In the home, the parent must live with times of unpopularity. In the office, the leader must not be so much the friend to the workers that he allows the work to be shoddy.

With that in mind, the second temptation was to feel forced into leading:

Peter wrote: “Not under compulsion, but willingly (1 Peter 5:2b).” Bible students recall Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 3:1, where he says the man must aspire to do the job of leading. It is not a work to be taken because you feel like the need is there and no one can fill it. The only other use of the word “willingly” is:

Hebrews 10:26 “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…”

It is important to hit hard on this, since leaders in the congregation could easily approach the shepherding task with the wrong spirit. Peter made clear: “No one twisted your arm to force you to lead! You were not drafted, but a volunteer! It is hard to do the work in the flock well when you don’t have a call from God to do it – and that is something you should experience firsthand before being in the position.

Note Peter also qualifies it with “according to God’s desire”. The elder must show a desire, but have the stamp of God’s approval. People can’t just WANT to lead; they must be called by God to do so in His church.

Third, Peter warned of the temptation to control people.

He wrote to them they must not be “lording over the flock” (1 Peter 5:3a).

Some guys want to control outcomes: A preacher quit the ministry after 20 years and became a funeral director. When asked why he changed, he said: “I spent 3 years trying to straighten out John; but John’s still an alcoholic, then I spent 6 months trying to straighten out Susan’s marriage; but she filed for divorce, then I spent 2 1/2 years trying to straighten out Bob’s drug problem and he’s still an addict. Now at the funeral home when I straighten them out — they stay straight!” Leaders must recognize that faithfulness to the task is our call before God, but outcomes are not ours to control.

I want to say this with an honest heart. It is heartbreaking to watch people choose to do something that will hurt them, their family and their walk with God when you feel you have instructed them correctly in God’s Word. People do what they choose to do, and you cannot allow the pain of those moments to stop you or slow you from the call to shepherd… but it will be a temptation.

Fourth, you will face a temptation to gain in this world when your eyes should be on the next world:

Peter simply wrote they were to work, but “Not for gain” (1 Peter 5:2b).

Philip Parham tells the story of a rich industrialist who was disturbed to find a fisherman sitting lazily beside his boat. “Why aren’t you out there fishing?” he asked. “Because I’ve caught enough fish for today,” said the fisherman. “Why don’t you catch more fish than you need?’ the rich man asked. “What would I do with them?” “You could earn more money,” came the impatient reply, “and buy a better boat so you could go deeper and catch more fish. You could purchase nylon nets, catch even more fish, and make more money. Soon you’d have a fleet of boats and be rich like me.” The fisherman asked, “Then what would I do?” “You could sit down and enjoy life,” said the industrialist. “What do you think I’m doing now?” the fisherman replied as he looked placidly out to sea. Our Daily Bread, May 18, 1994

When I am instructing young servants of Jesus I express it this way: “Get your joy from the Lord about the labors you do, and don’t look to be paid what you think is commensurate with the labor. Most people won’t know the hours of pain and labor you spent – but Jesus saw them all. He won’t forget. In the end, He is the One you labor FOR, and it is His measure that matters. Train yourself to want to make Him smile! Work for Him is wonderful, it just doesn’t always feel like that at the moment. In a sense, shepherding is very much like parenting.”

The fifth temptation Peter warned concerning was the pull toward laziness.

The Apostle told the leaders to be “eager” and not to get lazy or lax in the service of the King (1 Peter 5:2b). To want to do it when people are responding and lives appear to be changing is ONE THING. To stay at the task when they are dulled by their own bad choices can make you want to put less into the work – but that isn’t the time when you should. Evaluate why things aren’t going well, and then get back in for another solid round by working, preparing and caring for them. Ask God to clear the log jam that is holding back the flow, but don’t give up or back down to the challenge!

The sixth temptation was to live differently than we teach others to live – or to “talk and not walk” (1 Peter 5:3b).

Peter called the leaders to be “examples” to the flock. We aren’t free to make all the same choices of others – people are watching leaders. If you don’t want to be watched, don’t seek to lead… period.

The seventh and final temptation mentioned is that of losing sight of the goal (1 Peter 5:4).

We are to serve anticipating inspection of the Master concerning each of the temptations we have mentioned.

Note the Chief Shepherd is going to appear one day (5:4). This word is archipoimen (ar-khee-poy’mane) and is only used once in the New Testament and here only of Jesus. It’s something that refers to the fact that Jesus is the leader and overseer of the church. He is the head of the church as in Colossians 1:18. In fact, if you notice Peter refers to the church not as the elder’s flock, but as God’s flock.

The metaphor that Peter chose was of a “crown of glory.” Such a crown or “stephanos” (literally a “victor crown”) represented the eternal satisfaction given to true servant-leaders of Christ who avoid the siren calls and keep moving the flock to its pasture. The call to the coming of the Chief Shepherd wasn’t haphazard, but essential. People who lose track of the goal will be lulled to quit before the work is done. Consider this story:

It was a fog-shrouded morning, July 4, 1952, when a young woman named Florence Chadwick waded into the water off Catalina Island. She intended to swim the channel from the island to the California coast. Long-distance swimming was not new to her; she had been the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions. The water was numbing cold that day. The fog was so thick she could hardly see the boats in her party. Several times sharks had to be driven away with rifle fire. She swam more than 15 hours before she asked to be taken out of the water. Her trainer tried to encourage her to swim on since they were so close to land, but when Florence looked, all she saw was fog. So she quit. . . only one-mile from her goal. Later she said, “I’m not excusing myself, but if I could have seen the land I might have made it.” It wasn’t the cold or fear or exhaustion that caused Florence Chadwick to fail. It was the fog.

Group Two: Younger men of the fellowship (5:5a): Temptation to Rebel – Be subject to your elders.

The second group has by a singular command offered by the elder to them. He wrote:

1 Peter 5:5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to [your] elders;

Every time I see the term hupotasso in Scripture, I recall the same idea. The word means “I place under, I subject myself to.” The operative part of the command is that it is something I MUST DO. No one can MAKE you be subject – it must be your choice.

I have noticed over time that problems I once would have acted quickly upon as a younger man, I will take more time to consider now. My age has convinced me that many of my younger actions were too rash, too hasty and too costly. I am certain that makes some who are younger on the team feel like I am putting off what must be done. At times, faster action proves to be better – but not always. It isn’t always easier for the younger to choose to be subject when they don’t think there is a need for delay. I understand. At the same time, this is God’s call to them.

Group Three: The whole congregation (5:5b-11):

The final group was that of the whole congregation. Listen to the words to them as a body that hungers to follow Jesus:

1 Peter 5:5b “…and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE. 6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. 8 Be of sober [spirit], be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 But resist him, firm in [your] faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. 10 After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen [and] establish you. 11 To Him [be] dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Can you spot six temptations for the followers of Jesus here?

The first is the temptation to gain power or recognition instead of growing in sincere servant-hood (1 Peter 5:5b-6).

Peter told them to “Clothe yourselves with humility.” What a great expression. Our default suit will be self-oriented, but we can apply deliberate clothing of humility. Over my life I have learned something about clothing: you must make the effort to put it on! A good look takes work. This story made me smile:

An admirer of Leonard Bernstein, the famous orchestra conductor, came to him on one occasion and said, “Mr. Bernstein, what is the most difficult instrument to play?” He responded, “Second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with enthusiasm, or second French horn, or second flute, now that’s a problem. And if no one plays second, we have no harmony.” I think of that often: No harmony is heard when everyone wants to be first.

Listen to what humility sounds like:

Martin Luther was a man mightily used of God to bring revival to many people trapped in the stone-cold church of his time. Though God was working through him to bring new hope to multitudes, Luther recognized that God was the source of the new life, and not himself. The Papal Bull of 1521, which excommunicated him, called his followers ‘Lutherans.’ This horrified him. ’Please do not use my name,’ he wrote. ’Do not call yourselves Lutherans, but Christians…. Why should I, a miserable bag of worms, give my meaningless name to Christ’s children?’

A second temptation Peter warned them about was “worry” (1 Peter 5:7).

How famous are the words of the verse: “Cast your anxiety on the Lord”. As famous the words, so rare is their observance!

The Greek understanding of anxiety was to have a divided mind or to lose focus while attempting to focus on too many things. When we think we are called to control the outcomes, we worry. When we make ourselves too important in the process, we worry. When we won’t give God the situation, we worry. Beloved, there are many causes to worry, but only one solution. We must learn to deliberately give the problem and the process to God. There simply is no other way to regain our focus on our task. When we are busy playing Holy Spirit, we aren’t busy playing the role assigned to us!

A third temptation, like that experienced by leaders, is to become lazy about the enemy’s advancement in our lives (1 Peter 5:8).

Peter wrote: “Be of sober [spirit]” (the word nḗphō means to “be sober and unintoxicated” having clear presence of mind and judgment which enables one to be temperate and self-controlled)

He continued: “…be on the alert” watching for the adversary. That term grēgoreúō means literally to “stay awake”. You must understand the greatest deception the enemy has pulled off in the world is the one where he can stand unabashedly in our public square in all his evil regalia and not be noticed at all. The modern mind struggles even with the notion of evil. They keep thinking those who perform the most heinous acts can simply be reasoned with to gain a more acceptable outcome. They don’t get it: there truly is evil in the world – and it has a source.

A fourth temptation appears as a lulling to simply “give in” (1 Peter 5:8):

Believers don’t need to fear the enemy; they need to resist his advance in their lives. They need to resist his attempts to gain a hold in their anger, a fortress in their comic laughter, and a castle in their entertainment life. They need to watch out. He doesn’t want to harm us – he wants to shred our lives. He prowls and waits and watches while men and women stagger and slumber without a sense of the danger near them.

We remain on “lion alert “when we remove anything that hampers good judgment. If our mind is cluttered with lustful thoughts we won’t be prepared to flee from temptation as Joseph did when Potiphar’s wife asked him to sleep with her. If our mind is muddled with materialism it will be hard to offer our first fruits to God. If our mind is packed with pride it will be hard to keep from putting other people down so we look good.

A wise man once said: “The Devil climbs over the fence where it is the lowest.”

Therefore, if stealing is a weakness don’t stay in a room where another’s money is placed unattended. If gossip is your weakness, distance yourself from those friends with whom you are quick to spread the latest rumors. If you live in the lion’s den, it will only be a matter of time before you are devoured.

The enemy has several attack points you should become familiar with:

• DECEPTION for those not grounded in the Word of God!
• DELUSION for those who can be easily pressed into a mold of the world!
• DISSATISFACTION with things like your possessions; your positions; or your partner
• DEPRESSION over unresolved difficulties.
• DISAPPOINTMENT with how things are working out. This was how Satan got Judas. It wasn’t until he realized that Jesus wasn’t going to overthrow the Roman government and give him his place in the kingdom that disappointment took over.

A fifth temptation is the one where we feel uniquely picked on (1 Peter 5:9-10):

After Peter told the believers to resist the devil in verse 9, he told them to recognize they were not alone in persecution and trouble. This was not an uncommon experience. It appears that believers are consistently surprised that God both loves us and yet lets harm come to some of our number… but it is the truth.

In the end it is easy for us to forget the big picture of what God is doing. We easily forget God is doing a work in us and through us.

In 1502, when the Church of Santa Maria in Florence hired an artist and architect, they thought he would be perfect for the works of art they planned. A large and expensive block of marble was given to the church for the purposes of a sculpture, but the man drilled a large hole right at the bottom causing a crack that seemingly destroyed this magnificent piece of marble. The church released the artist from his contract and simply draped a sheet over the lost block. Michelangelo heard about it out of curiosity went to check it out. After a short time he began to work that hidden piece and sculpt what has come to be considered one of the greatest statues of David ever built.

When troubles come in our lives, we can feel like we want to hide under a sheet. We are broken. We didn’t become what we thought we would have. Never forget, in the capable hands of the Master, you can be molded into all that Jesus has made you to be!

Christians are to be known by their love for Jesus seen primarily in their behavior in the world and their relationships to one another.

It isn’t complicated; it is just hard.

Life in Plan B: “The Biopsy of A Bad Decision” – Esther 1

king ahasOnce there was a king who was both powerful and reputable. He lived in the largest palace ever built, filled with a lavish display of riches. He threw the wildest, longest, and most expensive party ever recorded in ancient history. With a room full of advisers, the wisest men of his kingdom, he managed to create a crisis through a series of poor choices. In short order, he was reduced to a mere puppet of wrong people making self centered decisions. He did irreparable harm to his kingdom and his reputation by personal stupidity. He created a national disgrace. Yes, it involved a woman – but this one was his WIFE! His poor decisions undercut his confidence and marked his life. He couldn’t “re-do” them, but they were given to us as an example! How did something like this happen?

When we take out the decision that the King made – a terrible choice that left him empty and sad – we are left with a primer on how he got into the mess to begin with. There were essentially four component ingredients that drove the events from riches to ruin.

Key Principle: Bad decisions come from wrong focus. When we focus on ourselves – our fortune, fame, power and pleasure – we lose long term perspective, and end up in regret.

Component One: Personal Pride (1:1-6).

King Ahasuerus (in Persian: Khsha-yarsha or in Greek “Xerxes”) self aggrandized over his:

Position (focused on Fame): 1:1 Now it took place in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces,

Without a doubt there was no one that was more famous in his day. The problem with focusing on fame is that life is short, and memories are even shorter. It will not satisfy. When the lights are off and the stage is empty and the janitor is mopping up the dressing room – the crowd has left, and the emptiness returns. Positions don’t last, and putting one’s hope in them is a fool’s errand.

Property (focused on Power): 1:2 in those days as King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne which was at the citadel in Susa, 3 in the third year of his reign (484 BCE) he gave a banquet for all his princes and attendants, the army officers of Persia and Media, the nobles and the princes of his provinces being in his presence. 4 And he displayed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor of his great majesty for many days, 180 days.

Words like “glory” and “majesty” were essentially rooted in military might. Surrounded by the commanders of his army, the King was planning the assault that would later be found in history books as the Battle of Thermopylae. Hollywood would recall 300 Spartans who fell, but the power of Xerxes would become a footnote in human history. No general is really powerful. He is one heartbeat from loss. Even more, the humiliation of defeat can erode a career full of power in seconds.

Powerful people are vulnerable for two reasons – much of their power is based on the actions of others that can fail, and power is ascribed by others – and they can decide to take it away for reasons that do not necessarily relate to your behavior. If those “under” the powerful one fail, his power is diminished. If people choose to see his power as irrelevant, and enough agree – his power becomes marginalized. Power is effective only when widely recognized and affirmed. Our President has power because “we the people” recognize that authority. Marie Antoinette discovered what happened when the masses no longer deemed the position of power as relevant. A life focused on power is a life spent for something that cannot be secure and will not last.

Philanthropy (focused on Fortune): 1:5 When these days were completed, the king gave a banquet lasting seven days for all the people who were present at the citadel in Susa, from the greatest to the least, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace.

Xerxes no doubt felt himself to be a benevolent king – taking care of all the “little people” in life. Special notation is made in the text that “even the least” gained access to “the garden” of the palace – a place normally reserved for intimate exchanges of the most trusted friends. People came INTO the palace, and saw all that it had to offer. The king was able to show them a good time, and impress them with all that they in the kingdom paid for! By the second day of free food and wine, I doubt that anyone noticed that much – but the king could not count on their long term support either. The problem with buying friends is that they will constantly need another installment paid!

Prosperity (focused on Pleasure): 1:6 There were hangings of fine white and violet linen held by cords of fine purple linen on silver rings and marble columns, and couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and precious stones. 7 Drinks were served in golden vessels of various kinds, and the royal wine was plentiful according to the king’s bounty.

Think of it! Simple farmers and merchants walking in the palace, surrounded by bleached linen fabrics wrapped in cords of expensive purple. Impressed by the size and workmanship of the fine marble columns, they “oo-ed and ah-ed” as they saw precious stones – all that set the atmosphere of the great party. Finding an open place on a couch, they lay back and waited for the wine steward to serve them. A little more food, a little more wine. A lovely dance performance by a scantily clothed performer. Laughing, singing, music, grapes fed from a vine by beautiful women and handsome men. Nothing lacked – but nothing was real. The focus on pleasure is a focus on the wrong world. It makes NOW more important than any other time. The problem is, NOW focus usually ends badly. It can be as simple as a hangover, or it can be the damage of an uncontrolled argument. Pleasure is a god that is never satisfied. He will always want more than you can give him.

Sin is a blasting presence, and every fine power shrinks and withers in the destructive heat. Every spiritual delicacy succumbs to its malignant touch… Sin impairs the sight, and works toward blindness. Sin benumbs the hearing and tends to make men deaf. Sin perverts the taste, causing men to confound the sweet with the bitter, and the bitter with the sweet. Sin hardens the touch, and eventually renders a man “past feeling.” All these are Scriptural analogies, and their common significance appears to be this–sin blocks and chokes the fine senses of the spirit; by sin we are desensitized, rendered imperceptive, and the range of our correspondence is diminished. Sin creates callosity. It hoofs the spirit, and so reduces the area of our exposure to pain. – John Henry Jowett in The Grace Awakening.

Component Two: Poor Perception (1:8-11).

The King and Queen badly misread the moment because they:

Dropped Restraints (1:8) “The drinking was done according to the law, there was no compulsion (the word is “Onas” and is akin to the Latin term “onus” meaning responsible burden), for so the king had given orders to each official of his household that he should do according to the desires of each person.”

Here’s a great idea: Get a large palace and fill it with people – many of them poor people – give them all the alcohol they want and don’t hold them responsible for their actions. That’s bound to end well! The issue is that restraints are placed in our lives to help us make better decisions. The removal of the restraints can lead to disaster – and often does!

Don’t skip over this too quickly: We need to spot removed restraints early! It’s like a World Series of weeds, a Hula Bowl of herbicides, with agriculture students from U.S. and Canadian universities competing to identify problems in farm fields. This year, Iowa State took top honors in the Collegiate Weed Science Contest, which tests students’ abilities to identify weeds and the right chemical to kill them and diagnose herbicide failure. “They need to be able to recognize weeds when they are tiny,” said James Worthington of Western Kentucky University, president of the North Central Weed Science Society. “When they get big enough that anybody can recognize them, it’s too late to do anything about them.” Spokesman Review, July 27, 1989, p. A9.

Deserted Roles (1:9) Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the palace which belonged to King Ahasuerus.

While both the king and queen were attending, night after night, banquets and schmooze sessions they were NOT attending to their other role – husband and wife. I recognize in the story the roles were likely much different than the post-Victorian understanding of family, but permit me for a moment to bring the narrative to us in a way that will enlighten our own decision making: It is possible to get too caught up in other lesser roles of life and lose the primary one you should be focused on! The good is often the enemy of the best.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan was a Democratic U.S. Senator, a former cabinet member from the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, and a sociologist. Before Senator Moynihan died in 2003 from complications of an appendectomy at age 76, he published a disturbing essay entitled “Defining Deviancy Down.” In the Nov 22 issue of The New Republic, Commentator Charles Krauthammer writes that “Moynihan’s powerful point is that with the moral deregulation of the 1960s, we have had an explosion of deviancy in family life, criminal behavior and public displays of psychosis. And we have dealt with it in the only way possible: by redefining deviancy down so as to explain away and make ‘normal’ what a more civilized, ordered and healthy society long ago would have labeled–and long ago did label–deviant.” Christian Research Institute letter, December 6, 1993.

Diminished Respect (1:10-12a)

By the King: 1:10 On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, 11 to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown in order to display her beauty to the people and the princes, for she was beautiful.

By the Queen: 1:12 But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command delivered by the eunuchs….

Could it be that parading your wife in front of a drunken palace is not a good idea to get people to respect her? Could simply turning the king down flat be a bruise to his public ego? How about a private communication of respect. Timing is everything. You can embarrass your spouse into anger and humiliation – but where do you go from there?

• Diluted Reasoning (1:12b) 1:12b…”Then the king became very angry and his wrath burned within him.

Here’s an important tip for men: When your ego has been bruised and you are really angry and embarrassed, you may want some alone time. We get more blustery and powerful when we are surrounded by our drunk and “overly loyal” (read: you are picking up the check) friends. Anger is a bad guide to any destination but disaster!

When John Belushi died in the spring of 1983 of an overdose of cocaine and heroin, a variety of articles appeared, including one in U.S. News and World Report, on the seductive dangers of cocaine: “It can do you no harm and it can drive you insane; it can give you status in society and it can wreck your career; it can make you the life of the party and it can turn you into a loner; it can be an elixir for high living and a potion for death.” Like all sin, there’s a difference between the appearance and the reality, between the momentary feeling and the lasting effect.– Daniel Hans.

Component Three: Problematic Partners (1:13-19).

The King’s mistake was aided by bringing the problem before the wrong “friends”. He had:

A Mistaken Forum: 13 Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times—for it was the custom of the king so to speak before all who knew law and justice.

Settle private matters privately. People who have a vested interest in you can offer quiet and helpful counsel, but a room full of experts is probably not needed for most marital issues. If you want to find a way to fix the problem – quiet down. If you want to blow it up – call in the experts.

A Misplaced Trust: 14 and were close to him: Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media who had access to the king’s presence and sat in the first place in the kingdom

There is a special danger to those who are in positions of authority and perceived power: people may not tell you the truth even if they know it. There are many other possible motivations behind their words beside your best interest.

• A Mischaracterized Problem: 15 “According to law, what is to be done with Queen Vashti, because she did not obey the command of King Ahasuerus delivered by the eunuchs?” 16 In the presence of the king and the princes, Memucan said, “Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king but also all the princes and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. 17“For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women causing them to look with contempt on their husbands by saying, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in to his presence, but she did not come.’ 18“This day the ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s conduct will speak in the same way to all the king’s princes, and there will be plenty of contempt and anger.

One of the ways people make themselves seem more important is by ratcheting up the problem through exaggeration. If the problem seems intractable, then you MUST have their help. If you MUST have their help, then they are INDISPENSABLE to you. If you are in a position of power, they draw significance, affirmation and security from your problem. Even for those of us that are not in powerful positions, we must understand that many people offer to help because they need to offer assistance for self affirmation more than we need to receive their assistance. In the end, their characterization of the problem is less based on the facts than their need to be essential.

Component Four: Permanent Pronouncement (1:19-2:1).

Sensing an opportunity, some near the king proposed something that produced:

Quick Reaction: 19 “If it pleases the king, let a royal edict be issued by him and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media so that it cannot be repealed, that Vashti may no longer come into the presence of King Ahasuerus, and let the king give her royal position to another who is more worthy than she. 20 “When the king’s edict which he will make is heard throughout all his kingdom, great as it is, then all women will give honor to their husbands, great and small.” 21 This word pleased the king and the princes, and the king did as Memucan proposed. 22 So he sent letters to all the king’s provinces, to each province according to its script and to every people according to their language, that every man should be the master in his own house and the one who speaks in the language of his own people.

Practice this phrase: “I will not make a long term decision quickly!” In the case of the king, his rule was permanent, and it was probable that he would never be able to undo the damage he could create with the stroke of the pen. Real problems should be handled with real forethought. As Elvis used to remind us: “Wise men say only fools rush in!”

It is better to sleep on what you plan to do than to be kept awake by what you’ve done.

Lasting Regret: 2:1 After these things when the anger of King Ahasuerus had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her.

There is a certain tenderness in the verse when the king remembered “Vashti”. Earlier in his anger he did not think of her PERSON, only his EGO. He reacted out of selfishness. Now he recalled HER – her beauty, they times they spent together. Unfortunately, not everything in life is a do over. She lived with the harsh sentence, and he lived with his own self caused exile. Long after the rooms of the palace were cleaned up and the wine was no longer flowing, the King found himself alone and a bit ashamed.

Bad decisions come from wrong focus. When we focus on ourselves – our fortune, fame, power and pleasure – we lose long term perspective, and end up in regret. Worse yet, we simply let our lives pass in sinful behaviors, dithering away the life God gave us to tell His story.

When I stand at the judgment seat of Christ – And He shows me His plan for me; The plan of my life as it might have been – Had He had His way, and I see How I blocked Him here and I checked Him there – And I would not yield my will, Shall I see grief in my Savior’s eyes; Grief though He loves me still?

Oh, He’d have me rich, and I stand there poor, Stripped of all but His grace, While my memory runs like a hunted thing – Down the paths I can’t retrace. Then my desolate heart will well-nigh break – With tears that I cannot shed. I’ll cover my face with my empty hands – And bow my uncrowned head.

No. Lord of the years that are left to me – I yield them to Thy hand.
Take me, make me, mold me – To the pattern Thou hast planned. (Source Unknown)

Confident Christianity: “The Foundation” – 1 Corinthians 15, Part One

Glenn-BeckRadio personality Glenn Beck recently told a story about a hypothetical TV series he would like to make in order to drive home an important point. He set the opening scene like this:

Every episode would begin with a man doing something heinous. For instance, Beck said, “the man would appear closing a heavy metal door to a sealed gas chamber. He would then pull a lever and peer through a small peek hole into that gas filled room while watching people inside die horribly. That would be the opening 45 second. The scene after, Beck posited, the camera would find that same man playing with his children on the carpet of their living room. The entire episode he would be a fine, upstanding citizen, and a good husband and father. He would be scripted so as to win the audience. If you were watching him, you would like him! At the end of the episode, when you found yourself enjoying this man’s humor, attitude about life and basic mind frame – he would do another heinous deed. The entire series would agitate you with the contrast between the man’s normal life and his awful deeds. In the end, the story would beg you to ask yourself a question: “How could such a good man do such horrible things?” The answer is simple: He surrendered, little by little, his core beliefs to compromise for some seemingly good reason. Beck then closed his little parable with these words: “So it is when we think we should surrender some small part of our value system to make people happy. In the end, the price will be horrible.

I am not a regular listener to Beck. In fact, I don’t think I have actually ever listened to a program he produced before in my life. At the same time, when I was driving down the road the other day and this story passed by me quickly – its details stuck with me. Why? I suspect it is because of the passage I want to talk about in this lesson on 1 Corinthians 15. The passage is well known to be about the Resurrection of Jesus.

In fact, it is true to say the passage under consideration is as famous (among Bible students) for the theme of the Resurrection of Jesus as the notion that chapter 13 is known as a “love chapter”. The passage answers probing questions concerning the Resurrection of Jesus and even what is prophetically promised for believers – but that is not the MAIN POINT Paul made in the chapter. His point was closer to the idea Beck presented. It was this…

Key Principle: When Christianity surrenders the central truths of the message of Jesus, we begin to destroy the work Jesus left for us to build.

If you go back and study antiquity, you will find the issue of the Resurrection was hotly disputed in ancient Jews, but it was also on the minds of several important Roman celebrity thinkers. When the Christian message spread, the notion came under fire across the Roman Empire. Let’s say it this way:

As Christianity grew it encountered the ideas of Seneca the Stoic philosopher and tutor of Emperor Nero in his youth, as well as the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (who taught the body was inherently degraded but soul was, in essence a good thing). Add to that, in Corinth the believers of that city appeared to feel the spreading influence of some of Nazarene Judaism (literally some Jews from a Sadducean background joined the congregation at Corinth). Since Sadducees did not believe the Hebrew Scriptures taught a body resurrection of individuals, they therefore could not accept that Jesus’ resurrection was part of the justification message. Because of their knowledge of the Law, they were confusing the congregants by saying the Good News message of Jesus did not have to include the Resurrection.

Think of it this way: since (strictly speaking by the standards of old Atonement Law) men and women were rescued from wrath by the death of an animal – Jesus’ death was all that was necessary for the solution for sin. (15:12). According to that line of argument, the Resurrection would eventually be made to seem less important, and it would eventually fall from being an “essential of the faith” to being a mere appendage.

Watch this line of argument, because it is rampant in our day. People will say: “Stick to the essentials and don’t get bogged down in the details!” On the surface that sounds both well-reasoned and reasonable. On closer inspection, though, it is harder and harder to pin down what people think is included in the essential teaching of the faith.

Let me ask you frankly: “Do you think Paul would think defining marriage as strictly between a man and a woman was essential? In his writings, as we have seen in the study of this letter earlier, he maintained those who would not restrict the marriage bed to those who are monogamously married to one of the opposite sex were to be ejected from the church. He noted in chapter 6 that such activities were part of the past life of some believers, but never the present – for participants in such things are “not part of the Kingdom of God.” Does that sound to you like a “marginal issue” or one essential to the practices of believers? Yet you will be repeatedly told (even by other believers) it is “majoring on minors” to insist that such behaviors remain immovably in the category of sinful practice.

Do you believe Paul would have been willing to surrender the literal Creation of the physical world as an optional belief? How about the notion that Adam and Eve were literal creations of the Living God? What would happen to the Gospel if that was a mere story in light of Paul’s writing of these words from 1 Corinthians 15:21 “For since by a man [came] death, by a man also [came] the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”?

Let’s just lay it out so that every college student can understand what is at stake in swallowing the compromise of “keeping it simple” when it comes to sharing our faith. If Peter would have been willing to surrender the literal flooding of the earth by the Lord God, what would his words about future judgment come to mean when he wrote about literal Bible history in 2 Peter 2:4:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 and [if] He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing [them] to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly [lives] thereafter; 7 and [if] He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men 8 (for by what he saw and heard [that] righteous man, while living among them, felt [his] righteous soul tormented day after day by [their] lawless deeds), 9 [then] the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment…”

Beloved, don’t be silenced by others who want to embrace practices long forbidden to gain acceptance to the world. The fathers of our faith would tell us to stand our ground and speak truth even when truth is not popular or widely accepted. The siren call to compromise is not new to this generation – it has beckoned believers ever since truth was written down for us in God’s Word. Paul faced that in this passage, and his test case was the veracity of the Resurrection account from the Word in 1 Corinthians 15. His problem may have been a different one, but his commitment was the same that I am calling out for you and I to make. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 15:1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the Apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11 Whether then [it was] I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Paul argued the truth of the Resurrection was five things:

1. It was a timeless truth: The Gospel he preached was unchanged from what they heard when he came to them (15:1-2).

2. It was prophetically sound: The Gospel he preached was fully rooted in Holy Scripture, and included the following facts:

a. Messiah died as a penalty to pay for the sins of those who believe on Him (15:3) and that was promised in the Word (cp. Isa. 53:5-12; John 1:29).
b. Messiah was physically buried and bodily raised from death to life (15:4) and that was promised in the Word (cp. Ps. 16:8ff).

3. It was historically verified: Messiah was seen by His followers many times in many settings (15:5-7) and those who saw Him continually testified of this (15:7b).

4. It was a part of the writer’s personal experience: Paul was not boasting when he claimed that he saw and spoke with the Risen Savior and was commissioned by Jesus as the others who brought the message to the world (15:9-11).

5. It was a matter of the message’s integrity: If Messiah hasn’t risen, we have misled you and lied (15:13-16) and you are not God’s people (15:17) and those who died believing this are lost (15:18). We are all pathetic liars (15:19).

Our message is based on very specific reported facts of history that define the family of faith. They aren’t opinions of sages; they are facts of history.

The Apostle says these events caused the formation of a body of “believers”. Don’t get fuzzy on what we are taught in Christ! The truth is some that was announced by God and is a revealed set of truths. Move in on verse one again:

15:1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand

You will see that our message was brought in content and ANNOUNCED (euangellion – cp.1). It was found in a message OF GOOD NEWS that can be verbally communicated. The Gospel isn’t a harsh message that brings condemnation – but a liberating message of full payment. We aren’t sharing RULES with people – we are declaring their bondage ended!

You can also note the hearer had to CHOOSE to “take it along with them” (receive is the term “paralambano” – 1b). It was obtained by a deliberate reception. The Gospel requires response and grasping. It is not a passive reception of a baby in a baptismal font, but the decision of a thoughtful mind. No one gets to Heaven by accident, stumbling in the pearly gate. They must decide to receive the message.

Note the end of verse one. The choice of receiving Christ caused the recipient to “take their stand” or “FIX THEIR HOLD” on it (stand is the term “histemi” – 1b). The Gospel impacted the person who came to Christ and changed the recipient in future action. Having decided on the veracity of the message, they clung to that message. The life perspective changed.

Step back, then, for a moment. The Good News of Jesus has to be individually accepted and makes a change in the life of one who truly embraces Jesus. Is that YOU? Do you recall making the message of Jesus – that He came and died in your place for your sin – your chosen belief? Did that belief change your life choices and behaviors?

Paul continued talking about the Gospel, our essential message, and made clear some other important truths about it. He wrote:

15:2 [the Gospel] “…by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.”

Here Paul made clear the choice to receive Jesus and fix hold on Him alone for our spiritual life SAVES the recipient (save is “sozo” – from to rescue or cure – v.2a). If sin is the sickness, the Gospel is the cure. One must understand that without the Gospel a man or woman is not simply “impaired” but utterly LOST. The lost condition is greater than a simple “brokenness within” – -it is a condition whereby they are utterly separated from God. It is to that condition Jesus referred when He said in John 14:6 – “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” The issue of SAVED and LOST is technically separation from the Father in Heaven.

Notice Paul said at the end of verse two the “salvific effect” occurs only for those who POSSESS the Gospel (the terms “hold fast” are a translation of “katecho” – to firmly bind to). This must be more than a casual nod to the concept – it requires a binding of Jesus and His work to the life of the recipient. A second emphasis of the BINDING nature of the recipient (after his statement in verse one) should help to clarify that it must be a serious and real choice to be effective. It is more than knowing the facts of the Gospel; it is surrendering control of life to Jesus.

We preached the Resurrection this past Sunday, as we have done since this church body began to meet in the early 1980’s. Yet, it is easy for us to lose track of how important this message is to our body. Look at verse 3:

15:3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…

Did you notice the Gospel was the HIGHEST PRIORITY message for the Apostle to bring to the Corinthian people (the term “protos” is translated “of first importance” – 3a). He taught them much over the one and one half years he was with them – but nothing was of higher importance in the public ministry.

The message of the church is and always was rooted in the salvation message. Jesus came to set us free from sin and open a way to God that was closed to most and temporary to the Jews of antiquity. The Temple provided a temporary covering over of the problem, but Jesus fixed the problem once and for all time.

Paul RECEIVED the message. He POSSESSED the Gospel before he shared it with them (the term “received” is again the term from verse one – “paralambano” – or choose). He was not unsure of its truth, or uncommitted to its details. In fact, he continued, the message included DEFINED HISTORICAL FACTS. Note the verses:

15:3b “…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the Apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

The Apostle could not be more clear. Jesus died as my substitute for SIN (not for sime mere political posturing or a life example for men to learn from). He was here, and He was killed. His physical body was buried in a tomb and that same body came back to life from its dead state (15:5,6). A message without the components is a different message.

These facts were PROPHESIED from the Scriptures – the very Word of God (15:5). The narrative of Jesus’ ministry was drawn from the Prophets of old – and not some contrived story. In fact, without an understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, one could not grasp the judicial terms of sin’s separation, and a sacrifice’s valuable nature to bring justification.

Paul wanted to be very clear that the whole message hangs together or falls together! He continued the teaching to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 15:12 “Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

To make the argument even clearer, Paul shared that NO COMPONENT of the message of the Gospel can be extracted without collapsing the whole – because the veracity of the account hangs together. A truth shrouded in lies is not the source you can trust for your eternal destiny.

In the case of the Corinthians, it is clear that some were struggling with the notion of the life after death for the BODY. They may have believed in HEAVEN, but saw no reason to elevate the physical body to a place that required literal resurrection. Paul rejected this out of hand. Look at his reasoning:

• If there is no resurrection – the message we told you of Christ included a claim that was not true! 1 Corinthians 15:13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised;

Can you really trust a message that is embedded with lies and half-truths? Following a flawed Bible is more senseless than living beneath a cracked dam! Either the Bible is true or it is a waste of your Sunday morning to learn from it.

• If there is no resurrection and the claim concerning Jesus was fabricated, you have believed an empty story of corrupt liars in the place of real faith! 1 Corinthians 15:14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found [to be] false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.

If Paul was a liar and the other Apostles charlatans, we have no hope in Christ at all. He was a good man who died an untimely and unfortunate death – and nothing more. His moral teachings were those of a flawed man to be set beside other greats of human history. He is not alive and offers nothing for sure. Martyrs like Stephen were NOT men of God if Christ is not Risen, but deceivers justly killed for promotion delusion and deception.

• If there is no resurrection, we are not God’s people – but are still separated from God! We will be persecuted throughout history, only to die for lies! 1 Corinthians 15:16 “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.”

The point is that if the elements of the Gospel are not all present and true, then the message is not the good news at all! The message of the Bible is either TRUE or it is a terrible book of deception that has offered false hope to billions.

One cannot simply argue that the text has “elements of truth” with occasional “misstatements” and “fabrications” without thereby implying the faith of Christ to be BOGUS.

The argument applies even more broadly! Consider for a moment how many other teachings hinge on the truth of this one. One such teaching is the place and work of Jesus now (John 14; Rev. 4 and 5). Either Jesus is our advocate, or He was a relic of history and nothing more.

Ah, but Christ IS RISEN.

It was long before promised in predictive prophecy. The Gospel is not just a story made by men – it was revealed truth by God Himself.

Not long ago two young ladies sat in our church for a sermon and came to a day of classes at GCBI. They were struggling with the idea that we can know if the Bible is true, and know that Jesus was Who He said He is. They asked: “How can we know it is not one of the other religions of the world?” It was a thoughtful question from true searching hearts. I replied as I will to you in this lesson: “The Bible is the only one of the ancient texts that is so thoroughly historically attested. Walk the lands of the Bible. Stick a shovel in their soils. You will uncover evidence after evidence of the Bible’s veracity in historical detail. Scholars do all possible to punch holes in the ancient record. Yet, consistently, one find after another silences their claims.

That isn’t all, but that was the beginning of my quest to know…Because God made promises, and God keeps His promises, and the Bible contains His promises – we can see that Jesus fulfilled God’s promises. No Bible – no salvation. Yet, our world is FULL of evidence concerning God’s existence and we are trained to look past it!

Let me take a moment and offer you a few straightforward reasons to believe that God is really there. Don’t forget to consider the fact the Bible claims that people have seen sufficient evidence, but they have suppressed the truth about God in Romans 1. God appears to be hiding in plain sight.

Is there any “hard evidence” that God exists? I think there is.

Start for a moment by considering the complexity of our planet, and how that design points to an Intelligent Designer who both created our universe, and sustains it today. There are countless examples demonstrating God’s design, but we are limited in time, so let us consider a small sampling of the evidence…

Our planet

Consider for a moment the unique planet on which we live. Did you know the size and position of earth have both been calculated by scientists to be ideal for its purposes? Consider this: the planetary size and position accounts for its exacting gravity. Its hold on the thin layer of gases extends a mere fifty miles above the Earth’s surface. A smaller planet, like the planet Mercury, would not be able to hold such an atmosphere, even if one could be produced there. Earth appears, at least so far, to be the only known planet equipped with an atmosphere of the right mixture of gases to sustain flora and fauna, as well as animal and human life.

The Earth is located an idea distance from the sun for our living systems. The temperature variance the planet encounters (about -30 degrees to +120 degrees) is ideal for all its systems. Further from the sun, the earth could sustain no life, and all living materials would freeze. Closer to the sun and the surface would become a fireball and all life would be consumed. A slight fractional variance in the earth’s position to the sun would kill everything here. Yet, the Earth remains a perfect distance from the sun rotating around the sun at a speed of nearly 67,000 mph and allowing the entire surface of the Earth to be warmed and cooled with the turning. Earth has only one moon, but it is the perfect size and distance from the Earth to balance its gravitational pull. The moon pulls our ocean tides so our life waters do not stagnate, and pulls them out so that oceans do not spill over the continents.

The Simplest Component of Life

Consider for a moment something as ubiquitous as water…It is largely without color, odor or taste, and yet it is essential to most all living things on earth. Our plant life, our animal life and our human existence depend on water, because our very bodies consist of about two-thirds water. Water as a substance is uniquely suited to life: With a wide margin between a boiling and freezing point. Water is one of the primary ways we have been outfitted to live in an environment of fluctuating temperatures while maintaining a steady 98.6 degrees. It acts as a universal solvent for necessary chemicals, minerals and nutrients to be carried through our bodies. It is chemically neutral, and does not affect the makeup of the substances it carries. It enables substances to be absorbed and used by our body. Its unique surface tension allows water in plants to flow upward against gravity, pulling internal water and nutrients to the top of even the tallest trees. It freezes from the top down and floats, allowing fish to live beneath the surface of frozen regions. Since ninety-seven percent of the Earth’s water is in the oceans, the earth was designed with the ability to remove salt from the water and distributes fresh water beneath the planet’s surface. The massive oceans evaporate and leaving their salts, forming clouds moved by the wind to disperse water over the land. This is a purification system supplying and sustaining life.

The Operation of Our Brain

Consider for a moment the design involved in your brain. You are, in this very moment, simultaneously processing information of many types from a variety of sources using a number of senses. You observe colors and objects, subconsciously note the temperature of your surroundings, regard the pressure of your feet against the floor, sort out automatically the variety of sounds around you, and even detect unusual dryness in your mouth. You are designed with an onboard system to store processes and emotions, thoughts and memories, sensory warnings and comnforts. Simultaneously, your brain tracks and paces functions throughout your body. Your hypothalamus sends messages to maintain your breathing pattern, eyelid movement, hunger sensor and movement of the steadying muscles to keep you upright. Even the slowest thinking human brain is processing more than a million messages a second, while sorting the varied importance of all the accessed data. Without effort, you are filtering out the unimportant, and screening information while you focus effectively. You were constructed with an ability to reason, to emotionally feel, to envision and plan and relate to other people. Your eye has “auto focus” and is able to distinguish among seven million colors handling an astounding 1.5 million messages — simultaneously. While evolutionary theory focuses on mutation, adaptation and incremental, the theory alone has been unable to explain the initial source of the eye or the brain’s development – for it is the start of living organisms, separating them from nonliving matter.

The Cause of our Starting Place

Consider our beginnings. Our scientists tell us there is cause and effect. Where there is an effect, a cause should be sought to be real science. While our research has overwhelmingly concluded that our universe began with one enormous explosion of energy and light as the singular beginning to everything – we are also told there should be no reason sought for in that event – all began as a random activity with not purposeful beginning. Scientists offer no explanation for the explosion of light and matter in which they say all things had a beginning.

Our Uniform Codes

Consider the intelligent codes from which life replicates itself and upon which it all depends. Our world operates by uniform laws of nature. One obvious question is: “Why?” Every day you have learned to count on the effects of gravity, the cooling of hot food, the constant motion of the earth which rotates uniformly in 24 cycles, and recognition that the speed of light doesn’t change How exactly did random forces create stable laws that remain consistent? There is no logical necessity for a random universe to obey consistent rules or abide by mathematically precise designs.

A closer examination of our own DNA code allows us to confirm that information provides a cell within us the required knowledge to determine its own behavior. We have an internal instruction manual so that in every cell of our bodies there exists a complex instruction code, made up of four chemicals that scientists abbreviate as A, T, G, and C. Using these four chemicals, there are three billion letters in unique order for each human cell!! The code, or DNA, instructs the cell to act in a certain way. Is it beyond reason to ask: “How did this information programming get introduced to each human cell?” These chemicals uniquely instruct in sequential code every detail of how a person’s body should develop. Natural causes presume no purposeful code, but our biological systems yield extensive evidence of encoding. If we had a random beginning, this is the only example of such precise instruction that has no one intentionally constructing it.

Turn our attention for a moment to a final question. How do we know Jesus is truly the way, and not another world religion?

Survey the major world religions and you will discover that Buddha, Muhammad, Confucius and Moses all identified themselves as teachers or prophets. Uniquely and surprisingly, Jesus made much more than that claim, actually stating that He was “One with God” according to the Bible. That alone sets Jesus apart from all the others. Jesus said God exists and looking at Jesus was seeing God Himself expressed in human form. He claimed attributes belonging only to God like the ability to forgive people of their sin, free people from enslaving habits, and offer people an abundant life here, as well as eternal life in heaven. He did not say, “follow my words and you will find truth.” He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.”

Did Jesus offer evidence for the claims?

In short, in His time on earth people followed because He did what people can’t do. He was widely reported to have performed miracles. He healed people…blind, crippled, deaf, even raised a couple of people from the dead. He demonstrated power over objects…created food out of thin air, enough to feed crowds of several thousand people, walked on top of a lake, commanded a raging storm to stop for some friends. He told people, “If you do not want to believe what I’m telling you, you should at least believe in me based on the miracles you’re seeing.” They followed in huge numbers for the time and place in which He lived.

The final act of His life on earth before leaving us was to be given life after death. He conquered death itself. It is not an incidental action – it was an evidence of Who He claimed to be. It is THAT act that caused even the most reluctant disciple to believe, change his life to follow, and die if necessary for the truth of Jesus. His Resurrection was the single irrefutable evidence that changed the first followers.

Though God does not force us to believe in him, He has provided sufficient evidence of His existence and then made Himself evident in the power of the Risen Son. It is not a side issue – the veracity of the message hangs on the historical events.

When Christianity surrenders the central truths of the message of Jesus, we begin to destroy the work Jesus left for us to build.

Christ is Risen. He has taken the sting of death…

A man and his were riding along in the car with the passenger side window down on a beautiful Spring morning. The little boy panicked when a small bee flew into the car, because he was allergic to bees and one sting could mean terrible pain and even death. His father saw the boy’s panic as he reached over and grabbed the bee. A moment later he released the bee back into the car. The little boy cried, “Dad, get it out!” The father replied: “Hush, son! He cannot hurt you. I took his sting so that he cannot harm you!” That is what Jesus did to death. His Resurrection proved the Father’s satisfaction. It is essential to the message, and it is true.