Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Matthew Series, Week 16 - Willing God

  When I was in construction, there were times when we had to do some weird stuff to get the job done. We did a Sisco distribution center where we had to build an enclosure with 1” sheet rock for the oven hood, that went from the first floor through the second story roof. Tweaking our bodies this way and that to get the job done. There were times when we had to work our in the pouring rain to get a facade to a grocery store built. Then there was the time we had to work from 10pm to 6am on a facade for a Toys-R-Us. Now, there was times when the environment of the job was so hard, or hot, or cold, or whatever, that I wanted to quit, but of course I didn’t. I needed to get paid, and so I pushed through.

But there was one job that I absolute hated. I’ve been handing Sheetrock with my Dad since I was twelve. I’ve been helping him pick up scraps since I was eight, and I have been on jobs sites since I can remember. There’s been a lot of jobs, but the one that I almost lost it on was a demising wall in some no name warehouse.

The majority of the time I would work with my Dad, especially when I was older, was framing metal studs. When there were no metal stud jobs, the companies we worked for would have us hang sheet rock. Now sheet rock isn’t so bad if you do it consistently and it’s simple stuff, like eight foot walls. But this wasn’t. If you don’t know, a demising wall is a wall that separates two areas from each other. Usually two business from each other. 

In the case of this warehouse, the wall was two hundred feet long, and about thirty feet high. The first several rows had already been hung, so we were put on a scissor lift to hand the higher rows. Now, I’ve been on all types of lifts, handing off of them and everything. After my initial hesitation with lifts, I got over it. This particular lift was a massive thing. Long enough to hold 12’ sheets of rock, and wide enough to where I could lay down. Now these things are pretty stable, unless you get them rocking pretty good. Well, we started handing these 12’ sheets, and with the momentum we were building, that thing started to rock. We lift a sheet up, slam it on the wall, tack it on, and slam the next one. It was like a boat in the ocean and the waves were beating it. 

I got sick and couldn’t keep going. With every sheet, the ground got further, and my hands got slippery. My Dad laughed; he had done this stuff hundreds of times. Me? That was my last time. The height coupled with the sway, I couldn’t do it. We probably hung ten, maybe twelve sheets that day. I’m sure the boss ate the cost on that one. But the next morning, I was back out to another job, hoping that it wouldn’t be like that again. The reason, I needed the work. I needed the income to live. I wasn’t out there because I wanted to be, I was out there because I had to be.

But I was willing. I was willing to to do it, and deal with all the crummy jobs that awaited me. One of the greatest lessons my Dad ever taught me was to be willing to do the work that  was necessary.

And it’s this idea of willingness that bring us back into our Matthew series, where we will be picking up in chapter 8, starting in verse 1. And as we get into verse 1 of Matthew 8, let’s look back at where we are in our summer series so far.

We talked about how the first 7 chapters of Matthew can be summed up in one idea: Jesus’ identity encompasses the identity of his disciples. Jesus’ identity is established in the first four chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, and then in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus wraps his disciples’ identity into his own. In other words, were shown and told, that if we are to be Jesus’ disciples, we must understand that who we are is only found in Jesus. Therefore, our salvation is in Jesus and no one else. Our good deeds are in Jesus and not from ourselves. And our beliefs must be built on Jesus and nothing else. Everything a disciple is, has its beginning and end in Jesus himself.

Then last week, we looked at the overarching themes of chapters 8 and 9. We looked at the three-fold, three part structure that Matthew uses to help us get a deeper understanding of the mission of a disciple.  This we saw could be summarized like this: Like Jesus, a disciple must view their home as being with Jesus and not in this world. Like Jesus was, a disciple cannot be biased against anyone with the Gospel message. And as we see Jesus at work, a disciple must work diligently for Christ in the harvest fields.

Now, it’s within chapters 8-9 that we return to look at each of the parts that make up this greater whole. Let’s begin in Matthew chapter 8, starting in verse 1, where instead of reading the whole section together, we’re going to read them in three parts. That way we continue to see the three-fold structure we’ve already talked about.

Matthew 8:1-4 reads, “When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.' 3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. 4 Then Jesus said to him, ‘See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’”

As Jesus leaves the mountain where he was giving the Sermon on the Mount, we see a man with leprosy coming to him for a healing. Now there’s a lot in this small passage, but we need to see two major aspects to this interaction. First, this is the first miraculous act of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. That’s extremely significant, because the other Gospels give us two different miracles of Jesus as the first one they mention. Mark and Luke both give us a cleansing of a demon possessed man, while John gives us the water into wine sign. The purpose of Matthew giving us the cleansing of the leper, isn’t to give us a chronological time frame of the first miraculous work of Jesus, but rather to help us understand Jesus more. 

Up to this point, the divinity of Jesus has been emphasized, through God the Father’s proclamation, Jesus’ own words of “You have head it said…but I say,” and how we are to build our lives on Jesus’ word. That would place Jesus as divine, and therefore beyond the creation. Yet, by the Holy Spirit directing Matthew to show us this moment right after an emphasis on Jesus’ divinity, it brings greater emphasis to Jesus’ words. Look at what the leper’s says, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” The leper has accepted the identity of Jesus, and because of that doesn’t say, “if you are powerful enough”, but rather
“are you willing”. This interaction is important because it shows us that people do have an understanding of who Jesus is at this point in this ministry. He is God come down. The question then begs to be answered is he willing to actually enter into the hurt of the creation he’s step into. 

To this Jesus replies, “I am willing…” Jesus being the God come down, makes his willingness to act in human lives all the more wonderful. And the fact that a leper, an outcast of outcasts is the one Jesus is willing to heal, is amazing. And so, we need to recognize Jesus’ willingness to act in human lives even to ones that would be lowliest of humanity.

But not only is Jesus willing, but we must notice that it says that, “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.” The physical act of touch, coupled by Jesus’ verbal willingness gives us a clear understanding that Jesus will reach down to the lowliest in all of society. The final scene, shows Jesus sending that man off to be presented to the priests and offer sacrifices as was prescribed in the book of Leviticus (14:4-7). Thus fulfilling the Old Testament law.

Now, let’s drop down to verse 5 of chapter 8.

“5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.’

“7 Jesus said to him, ‘Shall I come and heal him?’

“8 The centurion replied, ‘Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, “Go,” and he goes; and that one, “Come,” and he comes. I say to my servant, “Do this," and he does it.’

“10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.’ And his servant was healed at that moment.”

From one end in the social structure in the leper, we swing to the other side of the sociality in the Roman Centurion. Instead of the outcast and untouchable leper, we get a captain in the Roman military. And there’s a couple things that we need to notice from this situation. First, from a Jewish perspective, the leper was an outcast, but so was the centurion. Sure the Roman was highly respected in society and allowed in the public square, unlike the leper, but the centurion was a Roman and a Gentile. These were things that a good Jew would try to avoid. 

Yet, this man comes to Jesus, and Jesus responds. And its Jesus’ response which is interesting. It's Jesus who asks if he should come to heal the servant who is suffering. The centurion doesn’t request Jesus’ presence, and when given the chance for Jesus to come, the centurion does something that’s strange. The centurion uses his own understanding of his authority to understand Jesus’ authority. 

It’s here that the Holy Spirit through Matthew helps us understand a key detail of Jesus. Whereas Jesus’ first healing was done through a physical touch of an untouchable person, this healing is done solely on the word of Jesus. By following up the leper’s healing with that of the centurion’s servant, we can better understand that it’s by Jesus’ command, which we are to build our lives upon, that healing occurs.

But not only this, but we are given a short monologue by Jesus commending the faith of the centurion, because unlike the Jewish people, this Gentile got it. With these comments, us as the reader are to begin to understand not just the power of Jesus, but also the scope of Jesus’ work. This will carry over into the second set of Matthew’s three-fold structure. From here we must realize that it’s not by Jesus’ physical presence that people are healed, but rather because of Jesus’ authority, that they are healed. 

The centurion’s story helps us realize that Jesus is beyond our finite understanding of God’s power. Whether by touch or not, Jesus’ ability to heal doesn’t come from sorcery, but from authority. In fact, this authority concept can be seen in the people’s reaction to Jesus Sermon on the Mount, and is an apologetic to when the Jewish leadership will eventually equate Jesus’ power to that of satan. Here, Matthew helps us see that it’s Jesus’ authority which is one of the keys in the ministry of Jesus.

We end with then Jesus’ proclamation that the servant is healed, though Jesus has not seen him. Pointing us to Jesus’ fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that a light to the Gentiles would come from Galilee (8:23-9:1).

Let’s look at the three-fold passage of this section. Dropping down to verse 14 we read, “14 When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. 15 He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.

“16 When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 'He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.’”

From the lowly of the leper, to the high ranking centurion, we are taken to the fevered mother-in-law (Insert mother-in-law joke here). Now, Matthew is trying to get us to realize a few things by giving us Peter’s mother-in-law. First, Jesus doesn’t just heal or respond only to men for healing; no, even women are healed by Jesus. Jesus doesn’t discriminate due to social status, ethnic background, and now sex. Jesus heals those that are in need and who recognize Jesus as the healer. But whereas the first two men come to Jesus for that healing, this third one, a woman, is approached by Jesus. He comes to her. There’s no dialogue in this interaction, just a simple understanding that Jesus healed her. But we are to notice how her interaction with Jesus ends. She gets up and serves him.

The God come down who is willing to heal, the God who’s authority it is to heal, is deserving of our service. The mother-in-law responds with a correct action, without prompting of any kind from Jesus. He heals, she serves. Is there are greater response that we could have? To serve the God who is willingly at work?

Matthew goes on to say that many come to Jesus to be healed of all sorts of afflictions. This caps off the understanding that it didn’t end here but that Jesus kept healing. And where each of the other situations that are presented in this three-fold structure point us to the Old Testament, this final one ends with a clear proclamation of the fulfillment of Isaiah 53 (v.4-5).

These three stories bring us back to who Jesus is. His identity as the Almighty God, who willingly comes to us, who has the authority to act in human affairs, and who is worthy of our submission in service.

This leads up to Jesus’ words about understanding what it means to follow him. Let’s read in verse 18.

“18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’

“20 Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’

“21 Another disciple said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’

22 But Jesus told him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’

Matthew follows the stories of the leper, centurion, and mother-in-law, by setting them before a time when Jesus was alongside the sea of Galilee. We’re not given that teaching the accompanies this setting, but rather a quick connection from the previous stories to this moment sets them together as to make a point. It was at that shore line, that Jesus is told by one person, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And by another “…first let me go and bury my father.”

Both seem like innocuous statements. One is a proclamation of devotion, the other a sign of a perceived fulfillment of the Law, in respecting parents. But through both we see the teaching that is being linked together by Matthew.

The God come down who is willing to heal, who’s authority it is to heal, and who is deserving of our service, is not a part of this world. In fact, this world rejects him. John writes this in his first chapter of his Gospel, “10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him; but the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him (John 1:10-11).”

This is why Jesus’ has no “den” or “nest”. He has no, “place to lay his head,” because his creation is going to reject him. Even though he is willing to heal, he has the authority, and is worthy of our service, this world will reject him, because it seeks its own wide path away from its Creator. If we are to follow Jesus, we must reject this world as our home, so that it cannot have any sway over us. 

And though the man looks to be fulfilling the law of God, he is placing something in front of his following of Jesus. There will always be a reason why I can’t follow right now. There will always be something in this world that draws us back. But we must follow as God leads, leaving behind the dead things of this world for the life that is only found in Jesus. It’s a hard path, it’s a narrow path, but it’s Jesus’ path, and all those that follow him, must walk it.

This week I want to challenge you to think through these three points. Do you question the willingness of Jesus to work in your life? Do you think that Jesus’ only worked back then and doesn’t today? Or maybe he does work, but only in those that have the strongest faith, but not for you? Jesus is willing, but we must be submissive, bowing to his will in all things.

Maybe it’s not the willingness of Jesus you question, but more base than that. Maybe you’re struggling with the power of Jesus. Can Jesus actually do what he says? Can he actually save me from my sins? Can he actually bring me peace? Can he actually fix my broken relationships? Can he actually heal? This week go before God and seek him to move in a way that will show you that he’s at work. That he would open your eyes to the things that he is doing right now.

Finally, this week, you must be willing to serve. Whether that’s in the service of the Gospel being presented, like we talked about last week, or praying for others in their pains and hurts, like our prayer tree does. We must be willing to respond to Jesus’ work, with service to him. We are not to be idle in our relationship, but active and willing to do what he has called us to do.

We must follow Jesus, the God who came down willingly to work in the lives of people, who has the authority to do so, and who is worthy of our service. Let us reject this world as our home, and let nothing tether us to. Let us follow Jesus as he wills, until the day when we are called home. Amen.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Matthew Series, Week 15 - Accepting the Terms

  During our first Student Ministries Pastor search, I would get all sorts of resumes and applications from all sorts of people. I had new graduates that were looking for their first ministry position, and people that had been ministers for years. I had people with no schooling and people with doctorates. But the one that stood out at first was a guy that emailed me questions about the position. The questions were good, pretty straightforward, and I answered each of them. And I thought, this might be the guy, because he was thorough in understanding the position. But then I got a response from him that turned me sour. 

The position of Student Ministries Pastor is a position that oversees all people under the age of 18. That means that the teen group is the primary responsibility of the position, but they also watch over the children’s Sunday school and Hideaway Street program. It was concerning the Hideaway Street program that this young man followed up with an email. He told me that he didn’t think that program should be under the Student Ministries Pastor. I emailed him back, that it was a part of what was required and that we would be rejecting his application for the position.

Now whether that program should or shouldn’t be under the purview of the Student Ministries Pastor is not really the point. The point of the matter is, that it was one of the requirements of the position, which was clearly outlined, and it didn’t matter what this applicant thought, it was what was required. This young man didn’t want to have that responsibility, but it was a responsibility that we required the position to have. Therefore, he wouldn’t be a good fit for us, because he wouldn’t be performing the role, as it had been laid out by the leadership of the church. And we all know, that if you’re not on board with what is expected of you, we tend to not give our all. 

And it’s this idea of understanding the requirements of the position and accepting them, that brings us back to our Matthew series where we will be picking it back up in Matthew chapter 8. And as we do, let’s review really quick where we are in our summer series. 

We’re coming out of the first of several of Jesus’ sermons that Matthew records, which we call the Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon, Jesus revealed that his disciples’ identity is wrapped up in his own. This means that his disciples are those people who realize that they cannot meet God’s standard on their own. That any goodness they have flows from them is the goodness of God given to them. That they are to give up the illusion of control, and trust in the control of God. And that his disciples are to walk the narrow path by building their lives on the Word of Jesus, and nothing else. 

We can sum up the first seven chapters of Matthew like this, Jesus’ identity encompasses the identity of his disciples. Therefore when we know who Jesus is, we can understand who we are in him.

As we’ll see, Matthew sets these sermons to introduce a series of narratives that then lead to another sermon, which is then followed by another series of narratives, to which Matthew repeats this cycle several times. This first sermon leads into a three-fold narrative structure that points us to one main point: Jesus’ power is revealed through his own hand and through those he calls. 

But, before we get into the nitty gritty of these individual passages, we need to step back and see how this three-fold structure points to an overarching theme. Next week, we will return to chapter 8 and make our way through the actual events, but for this week, we need to see how all of it works together. 

Starting in chapter 8, we see the beginning of this three-fold narrative structure. We’re given the healing of the Leper, this is followed by the faith of the Centurion, then we’re told of Peter’s mother-in-law and the healing of many others. If we break down each of these as they fit in Matthew’s Gospel, we’ll see that the leper gives us insight into Jesus willingness to do this work. We’ll then see that the Centurion shows us the scope of Jesus’ work. And that the healing of many shows us how it all fulfills the Word of God spoken through the prophets.

We’re given these three narratives that reveal Jesus’ purpose and power, and then we get to chapter 8 verse 18. There, Jesus explains in this verse the cost of following him. How he has no home on this earth, and how those that follow him must come to the same reality. Jesus has counted the cost of coming to earth, now he is calling people to follow, counting the cost themselves as he has done. 

One of those people was Peter, who’s mother-in-law Jesus healed. Later in his life Peter wrote this in his first letter,  “18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God (v.1:18-21).”

What Peter is telling us here is that before Genesis 1, Jesus already knew he was coming to save humanity from its sin. When God steps down into the creation, taking on the flesh of humanity and all the restrictions he had, and bearing the name of Jesus, he knew that his own creation would reject their Creator. Why? Because the Creator was calling his creation back to their original design; a design that we reject every time we engage in sin, those rebellious acts that go against the Creator’s perfect design.

The way in which creation is right now, full of sin, gives no room for the Creator. In Genesis 3, we’re told that God walked in the garden, this is because God had a creation that welcomed him in. But after the fall of humanity, and sin’s infection of creation, there is no place for the Creator. In the nation of Israel, God’s presence rested in the middle of the encampment and later in the temple, but only with the Jewish people, who eventually rejected him. God’s presence depends in the person of Jesus to the world, but again the creation rejects him and crucifies him. In the Church age, the Holy Spirit indwells each believer, but the world continues to reject. Jesus understands that there is no place for him in the creation and calls his disciples to realize the same thing. As long as sin runs rampant, there is no room for God among his creation. Yet, there will be. Eventually, Jesus will dwell with humanity, which is what we see in the last chapters of the book of Revelation. But until that time, God wants us to understand that if we follow him, our home is not here, but with him. 

Therefore this section reveals Jesus’ power over the creation, and his calling of disciples to not see this world as their home.

Out of this, we move into verse 23 of chapter 8, where we’re told that Jesus calms the sea, he then heals two men that are possessed by demons, then Matthew tells us that Jesus heals a paralyzed man. If we break down these, as they are presented to us in Matthew’s Gospel, we’ll see the calming of the storm shows us that Jesus has power over the natural elements of the creation, and we hear the question of the disciples, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” Because at this point, they haven’t realized that the Creator is with his creation. Then we see that the casting out of the demons from the two demon possessed men show us that Jesus has authority over the spiritual enemies of creation. To which he commands the demons where they must reside. Finally, in the paralyzed man’s story, Jesus not only heals the man but forgives his sin, showing that he has authority over the the payment and judgment of sin. In each of these, we see the mighty God over his creation yet again.

This second set of three ends with Matthew’s own calling. Matthew, that tax collector, that Jew who is a disgrace to his people, and who is hated by them. But through Matthew’s calling, we are being told that, if Jesus has authority over nature, over enemies, and over our eternal destinies, he can call anyone he wishes to be his disciple. The calling of Matthew shows us that Jesus’ disciples are not from the “good and righteous” leaders of the people, but from those that are hated and cast out of society, and who realize their own deficiency in their relationship with God.

Again Peter sees this, and eventually says in Acts 10:34 when the Holy Spirit reveals that he is calling Gentiles into the Church, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”

Peter saw the Creator exercise his authority over all aspects of the created order, and called who he willed to be a part of his people. Peter then realized that anyone who would accept Jesus, is accepted by him. Your skin color, social or economic background play no part in Jesus accepting you. No struggle in sin, no hurt, or feeling of worthlessness will keep anyone from the love of God and the salvation Jesus offers. Anyone who seeks Jesus and him alone, will be granted entrance into God’s presence, and will become a disciple of Jesus. So, in this section of the three-fold structure, we see that Jesus alone chooses who will come to him, showing his disciples the they are to reach out to all types of people.

From here we continue in verse 14 of chapter nine. At the beginning of this set of three, Jesus does’t perform a healing or a miracle, but rather is questioned about fasting. In this, he points to his identity as a groom and how it is a time of celebration and not time of mourning. This is followed by two sets of healing, of two. The first is the dead girl and the hemorrhaging woman. The second set of two is the blind men and the mute man. 

If we break these down, we see that Jesus reveals that while he is there, the disciples are to celebrate as during a wedding feast. And they are to seek him as the groom, at the feast. We then see a father come to Jesus seeking him to save his daughter. While Jesus is on his way to see the girl, a woman touches him, seeking Jesus’ healing in her own life. Both the woman and the girl receive their healing, because they have sought the groom. 

We then see two blind men understand Jesus identify as the Messiah from the line of David, the Son of David who is willing to heal. This is followed by a man who is mute because of a demon. These people who seek out Jesus, emphasize how there are those out there who are seeking him.

This third set of threes ends with Jesus revealing the need for workers to meet those who are seeking. Jesus shows that there is a harvest, but few answer his call to work the field. This parallels Jesus final words from his first sermon, pertaining to the narrow road. This call for the message of Jesus to reach far and wide, is something that Paul asks for the church at Thessalonica to pray for when he writes, “As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. 2 And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. 4 We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance (v3:1-5).”

If we have been called by Christ, it’s not simply to be saved from sin, but also to be workers in the harvest fields. We must carry the Gospel of Christ, both on our lips and in our actions because there will come a day when the harvest will be done, and the threshing will begin. In fact, in the chapter 26 of Matthew this very idea is what Jesus talks about. So it is in this third section that we see Jesus revealing that people are seeking him, and that his disciples must be at work in the harvest field. 

Through Matthew’s three sets of three-fold structure God is revealing how Jesus came to us to bring us back to himself, that he alone decides who may come to him, and that each of his disciples must be working in the harvest fields. If we are Jesus’ disciple, then we also need to work into the harvest fields. We must recognize our calling to not sit back and wait until the threshing begins, but be right in the thick of the harvest, following wherever the Holy Spirit cuts the grain. 

Everything we just went through, is wrapped up in Jesus’ own work, that we are to follow. We see that Jesus prepared his disciples with his words, he showed them his power, directed into his mission, and released them to accomplish his goal. We must wake up to that same pattern in our own lives. 

We must build on Jesus’ words; see his power at work in the past and in today. We must allow him to direct us into the missions fields he has for us, and we must follow through by walking the path to accomplish his goal.

We must view our home as being with Jesus and not in this world. We cannot be biased against anyone with the Gospel message. And we must work diligently for Christ in the harvest fields.

My challenge for you this week is to walk through each of these three ideas from this three-fold structure in Matthew 8 and 9. 

How do you view this world? Do you view it as a place to put down roots, or as a stop on the way to Jesus’ home? 

How do you view the people that God is calling? Do you have a sense that you can pick who to reach out to? Those that are easy and won’t push you too much out of your comfort zone? Wrestle with God to push you beyond your comfort zone with those he wants to come to him.

How do you view the mission? Is it for the evangelist, the pastor, the one who’s job it is? Or do you realize that it’s for all believers, for all disciples of Jesus?

Let us take some time this week, and go before God, so that he might prepare us for the work that he has been doing since before the creation of the world. This work will continue until the day when Jesus returns to this world, for those that have turn from their sins and embraced his salvation work.

Let us be those who are diligently at work, for the Kingdom that will one day be fully revealed and for the Savior who will reign over all. Amen.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Matthew Series, Week 14 - Narrow Minded

  Several weeks ago I had, what ended up to be, a heated conversation with a man in my office. The reason he came to speak with me, was to get my involvement in a prayer group for the town. Something I was open to, but there was something that was off. The man put forth that he was a Christian and that something I said one week got him thinking that I knew a lot about Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Alon. This led into a conversation about the uniqueness of the biblical God.

Now what I am about to say isn’t a dig at A.A., but rather the reality that the Bible puts forth compared to the teachings of A.A. Steps 3 and 11 of Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12 Steps, read like this, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him…Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out (https://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/smf-121_en.pdf).” 

A.A. teaches that in order to overcome alcoholism, one must seek after and believe in some sort of higher power. This god, is a god of our own understanding. In an article by A.A. entitled, “Many Paths of Spirituality,” there are some excerpts from it that I believe are important. One excerpt reads, “As we became more familiar with A.A., we began to realize the deep significance in the phrasing of A.A.’s Twelve Steps, which emphasize ‘a Power greater than ourselves,’ and ‘God, as we understood Him.’” Later on, in a different section, one can read where it states, “Many of us came to rely on a ‘Higher Power,’ whether it was the collective power of A.A., the A.A. group itself, or some other entity, concept or being that helped us to stay sober.” (https://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/p-84_manypathstospirituality.pdf)

Now I haven’t had a lot of interaction with Alcoholics Anonymous as an organization, but I have known several A.A. participants. One was my boss, who, when I would speak on spiritual matters to share the Gospel with him, would tell me that A.A. didn’t care who or what you believed in, as long as you had belief in something. He had struggled with alcohol for years, and A.A. was how he overcame that addiction, so, he wouldn’t hear anything about the Gospel of Jesus.

This teaching is very different than what is put forth in the Bible. In Isaiah 43:10, God states, “‘You are my witnesses…and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.’” This is why the first command of God in Exodus 20:3 is stated as, “You shall have no other gods before (or beside) me.” And this is why Jesus famously states in the Gospel of John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The God of the Bible is very clear that pursing any other god beside him is not okay. And because of the basis of the conversation, I pressed this gentleman on this particular issue. Is this prayer group going to be praying to the God of the Bible, or is it open to any prayer to any god? 

This is where we came into conflict. I shared with him that the Bible is clear, using the verses I shared with you today, that there is only one God, and that I cannot stand beside someone and act like we’re praying to the same thing, because we’re not, that would be disingenuous for me to do. At the end of the conversation, of which I did get heated and had to call him and apologize for my gruffness, I stated that there is only one Almighty God, and there is none beside him. He called me narrow minded, and that I can’t base everything on the Bible. 

And that’s really the problem. See, we tend to think that the Bible is a suggestion by God, that we can use as we see fit; picking and choosing from it as we so desire. And it’s that very idea that brings us back into our Matthew series, where we will be picking back up in chapter 7, starting in verse 13.

As we open to Matthew 7:13, let’s refresh our memory of where we are in this summer series. Leading up to what is called the Sermon on the Mount, we noticed that the first four chapters all dealt with identifying Jesus. In fact, even in the the description of where Jesus gave his sermon, we saw his identity on display. It was in Jesus’ introduction where we saw his description of what his disciples’ were to looked like. And that the identity of a disciple was wrapped up in his own identity. That means a true disciple of Jesus, must be conformed and transformed by who Jesus is. This isn’t just a religious system to believe, but a living transformational relationship to be lived in.

It was then that we saw how Jesus makes two additional points of a disciple’s identity. One is that we must rely on God’s righteousness and not our own for our salvation. Jesus makes it clear that all of our good deeds cannot make us right with God, therefore we have no other choice but to rely on God’s righteousness. 

From that reliance on God’s righteousness, goodness then flows from his disciples. In other words, we must first receive salvation from God, this is a free gift that we cannot earn, but from that free gift of salvation, God’s right acts come out of his people. These two points give us an understanding of our relationship with God himself. In fact, it’s these two points that lead us into passages such as Mark 12, where we are given the two greatest commands of loving God and loving people.

The second section of Jesus’ sermon, a section that deals with his disciple’s and the world, teach us to trust in God’s control, rather than us trying to control the world. Whether that be through our worry or through our misguided judgments. When we try to control the world, we become reliant on ourselves, which hinders God’s work in our lives. 

It’s here that we come to the close of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, with Jesus’ words on what we are to build our lives on. Let’s read through this closing in Matthew, chapter 7, starting in verse 13.

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

In his closing, Jesus gives a clear dichotomy for our lives, and he directs our attention to where we need to get our information from. He tells us that there are two paths. The first, is the narrow path that leads to a narrow gate, while the second is the wide path that leads to a wide gate. Jesus tells us that the many people will follow the wide path to the wide gate, whereas his way is the narrow one. Interestingly, in the conversation I had with this gentleman, I was called narrow-minded; something I took as a compliment, because I was studying this very passage at the time. The dichotomy that Jesus presents has to do with the narrowness of his own teaching compared to the wide open teaching of the world. To put this into perspective, in general, the Romans didn’t care what you believed in, as long as you paid some sort of worship to their gods, and eventually to the Emperor. In our own culture today, the idea that all paths lead to God is one that is pushed in all types of media. This belief that all paths are equal, is the exact opposite of Jesus way. Jesus calls us to a narrow way, that follows only his teaching and no other.

It is here that Jesus’ gives us some examples of those who are on the wide path and who are entering through the wide gate. The examples are false Prophets and false Disciples. In speaking about the false prophets, Jesus say that they, “come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” This brings to my mind imagery of a wolf covered in sheep skin. The wolf comes into and befriends the sheep, all the while plotting a way to devour them. Jesus tells us that you can know these wolves, by their actions. Remember when we talked about judging earlier in Jesus’ sermon? When we are judging or distinguishing between two things in a righteous way, then we will be able to receive God’s correction willing, we will be able to give grace to each other generously, and we will be able to see through the deceptions of false prophets. How will we? Because we will see their actions, both their teachings and how they carry themselves. These fruits, as Jesus calls them, will not be in keeping with the Word of God. We can see this in the pastors who seek after wealth, who commit abuses, and do the very things that God rejects.

But’s there’s not just the false prophets, there are false disciples as well. And the way Jesus describes these false disciples is telling. Jesus reveals that at his return, there will be people that will point to what they have done as a sign of their salvation. In fact, look at what Jesus says the false disciples do: they prophesy in Jesus’ name, they drive out demons in Jesus’ name, they do miracles in Jesus’ name. What Jesus is revealing, is that supernatural wonders are not the signs of a true disciple. In fact, in Revelation 13:13, we are told that the second beast, that makes the inhabitants of the world worship the first beast, will be able to perform miraculous signs. In the conversation I was having, it was signs that the man pointed to as evidence for his faith in Christ, claiming to have cast out demons. But Jesus reveals that though they do these things, he “never knew” them. Now I’m not saying this man isn’t a believer; that he is not saved, no, rather what the Word of God is saying, is that miraculous works are not the basis for salvation and we cannot point to the ability to perform them as a way of codifying it. No, instead it's the knowing of Jesus that is the basis for salvation.

And so, how do we “know” Jesus. It’s walking the narrow path. What’s the narrow path? Well, Jesus gives us a mini-parable in the wise and foolish builders. Jesus starts out the parable with, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice…”

This is Old Testament wisdom literature type stuff. Those who walk the narrow path take seriously the words of Jesus and do them. They don’t fix the words when they don’t like them, they don’t choose which words to follow because of social changes, and they don’t reinterpret his words to fit a human understanding. No, they learn and implement them into their lives. They are a wise man building his home on a foundation that is solid rock. 

But those who do change the Word of God to fit their interpretation, to fit social changes, or who pick and choose what they will follow, are like the foolish man who builds on ever shifting sand. And when the real storms of the world come their foundation will be gone. In the opening of the Gospel of John, Jesus is called the Word of God (John 1:1). In Revelation 19 listen to how Jesus is described, “11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations…”

John is describing Jesus here. He is the Word, and all of Scripture comes from him. The sword coming out of Jesus’ mouth is God’s word being spoken. In Hebrew 4:12 the writer has a similar description when they write, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Therefore we must seek out understanding and the application of the whole of God’s Word if we are going to be Jesus’ disciples, if we are going to be the “known” of Jesus.

It’s here that Jesus ends his Sermon on the Mount, and we’re told by Matthew, “28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

People were astounded at Jesus. Why? Because he didn’t leave any wiggle room. Jesus just wrapped his disciples’ identity into his own. Jesus just called them to the righteousness that he could only give them. He called them to a life that relied on the grace of God, to give out that grace freely to others, and to let loose their control to God. Then Jesus didn’t just call people to God’s Word, but called them to his narrow path where they were to rely solely on Jesus’ Word. In this Jesus is equating following God, with following him, basically calling himself God overall, and the people were amazed by this, because no one spoke with such authority as Jesus did.

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we can see that he doesn’t allow for any god’s beside himself. There are no other paths to God, no other interpretations as to who God is, no other higher powers, or anything else. Jesus gives us no wiggle room here, and if someone claims the opposite of what Jesus is stating clearly, they are a false prophet, or a false disciple. 

I know that sounds harsh, and I’m not saying that things like A.A. have not benefited people all over the world, I believe God uses a lot of different things to bring people to himself. But we must be clear that though something can be beneficial in the short term of this world, if it stands against the clear teaching of Jesus’ Word, then it has no eternal benefit. And as disciples we must see the clear difference that Jesus makes, because, if we don’t, we will be swept away as the foolish man was. 

This doesn’t mean that we can’t love people. This doesn’t mean, we shun the non-believer, that we do not share the Gospel with people. No, in fact it is because of this very teaching, that Jesus is the only way to gain salvation, that should drive us to love people. To reach out to the non-believer, to share the Gospel with people, to do good for our neighbors. Not just with our words, but actions. And not just with our actions, but our words as well. 

So, though the world wants to have gods beside the God of the Bible, he will not allow his disciples to do that. And no matter the amount of miraculous works, whether they be as spectacular as casting out demons or a change in a person’s habits, will change God’s clear Word on the subject. 

This week, I want to challenge all of us to wrestle with the question, do I put other things up against God and his Word? Do I allow for other paths to be just as valid? Do I confuse the God of the Bible, with the gods of other religions? Do I confuse the narrow path of Christ, with the wide range of philosophies of man? 

God is calling us to his narrow path, which means, there is a narrow application of Jesus’ Word. God is calling us to one God, not many higher powers, which means, there is a narrow application of worship. And that means that if we are to be his disciples, those who are known by Jesus, we must reject all other paths that put themselves up against him and his Word.

So this week, wrestle with God asking the question, do I set up anything as a god as equal to the true God of the Bible. And if you do, there needs to be repentance and a change, because, “13 For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Let us walk the path of Jesus’ narrow way, and be a people who, at his return, know the One true Almighty God. Amen.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Living in Light of the Apocalypse

  It was sometime after the war of 1812. A man by the name of William Miller is returning home after serving his country and witnessing the Battle of Plattsburg, where outnumbered American forces overcame the British. Millar was born into a Baptist home right at the end of the Revolutionary War. As he grew up, he studied the Enlightenment philosophers, and eventually turned away from his Baptist upbringing and began to believe that God was not interested in the world, but had left it to run on its own. Miller had become a Deist. Yet in the Battle of Plattsburg, Miller saw the hand of God at work in the, as he said, “hailstorm” of the enemy’s weapons. God had given the outnumbered Americans victory in the battle, and Miller began questioning his deist beliefs. 

After the war, Miller retuned to his family, and reconnected to his Baptist roots. The reality of the shortness life, death, and the afterlife held heavy over his head. Through many hours of study, Miller became a minister of the Gospel, refuting his old Deist beliefs and clinging to the return of Jesus as a soon to be physical event. Through Daniel chapters 8 and 9, Miller became convinced that Jesus’ return was soon, giving the date to be some time “on or before 1843.” Though Miller was hesitant to give a solid date for this return, he shared that it could be between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. 

Fervor swept throughout the U.S., and tens of thousands prepared. A great many sold all their possessions and stood on hillsides waiting for Jesus to come back. But the dates passed without anything happening. Another date of April 18th was given, but that too passed without a return. Then dates in August, then October, but both saw no return of Jesus.

The first date saw tens of thousands of people gathered, the second saw several hundreds, the next a few hundred, and the fourth a few dozen. Each failed prediction was a blow to the morale of the people, and Miller himself gave up the belief that Jesus was even going to return at all.

The end is nigh, is a rallying cry from people as the world descends into chaos and depravity. The anticipation of Jesus’ return is heighten and many people have come forward to make predictions of when that glorious day will arrive. But every one of them has failed, and many dedicated believers have lost faith in Christ, because of the error of man. 

I believe that there will be a day when Jesus will return to this world. As the Scriptures tell us in 1st Thessalonians 4, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever (v. 16-17).”

And I believe that this day is drawing nearer. Yet the question that the Bible seeks us to ask is not, will Jesus return, nor is it, when will Jesus return? Rather the question that the Bible wants us to ask is, what will I be doing at the return of Jesus?

Last week, in our Matthew series we talked a little about worry. We talked about how at the base of worry is the need to be in control. And how God calls us to give up worry, by giving up the illusion that we have control, and instead leave the things that worry us, in the control of God.

I want us to take a step back and apply this where we are right now in our world. In 2008 the housing bubble popped, and hurled us into a recession. And we limped forward slowly for several years. Then, in 2017, the economy came roaring back. Then in late 2019 a series of events hit. Covid-19 began spreading, and by early 2020 it seemed to be rampant, this led to a shortage of goods everywhere. Food, toilet paper, cleaning chemicals all flew off the shelves. Then George Floyd was killed, and riots became the daily news. A spike in gun sales followed, with ammo disappearing. A pandemic coupled by civil unrest, made people grasp at whatever they could to find security and control in the midst of all of it. The religious centers, where people used to go in times of chaos, were closed. True you could still view them online, but the disconnect from human care, made the whole thing feel distant for many. Suicides and drug use spiked. Murders and domestic violence soared. And then at the end of 2020, a chaotic election occurred, throwing the very foundations of U.S. government into question.

And just as the world seemed to be getting back to the way it was, inflation began to spike; jobs, though out there, have few willing to work them. Coupled with that, new lockdowns, and shortages beginning again, and all around us the call for worry is heightened.

But that is just some of what is happening. Critical Race Theory, where the basis of a person’s worth is based on their skin, has formed the basis for a lot of the educational systems from pre-school to graduate studies. Children as young as kindergarten are being exposed to sexual fetishes in library book readings and elementary school assemblies. A confusion of gender types, that goes beyond the debate of roles, to a blending of the sexes is being seen on a scale the defies statistical evidence. 

It seems like there is a bombardment from every facet of society that seeks to destroy the pillars on which a functioning world can stand. And the worry of what will happen can feel insurmountable. With all of it taken together, it seems to point towards a moment of time when all of it will come crashing down, and the world will end. Even those who are not believers see a boiling point coming. Whispers of a civil war ring through both side of the political isle.

And I’ll tell you that if you think, oh no everything’s fine, then you haven’t been paying close enough attention, and haven’t done your do-diligence in both understating history and what is going on in current events.

For believers in Christ, that means the end of all things, and the return of Jesus. And though there is pain in it, there is also hope of what Jesus brings. Yet, for those outside that solid relationship with Jesus, it just seems chaotic and maybe at times hopeless.

But here’s the thing, as we move closer to that end, to the return of Jesus, the Bible tells us that things will get bad. No matter where you land on debates such as pre, mid, or post-rapture. Or debates on pre-mill, post-mill, or a-millenium. The Bible is clear that the world will become darker and more depraved in its sin and rebellion against God. And the natural reaction, even for believers, is to either lash out in fear, or worry and become isolated from others.

I have seen and heard these reactions from believing Christians. The worry and uncertainty of what is happening can easily overtake us, because the world is full of worry and uncertainty right now. 

Yet, I want to give you hope with this one sentence: it has always been like this. The world has always been full of worry, and uncertainty. Since Adam and Eve left the garden, to the food supplies slowing down today, the world has always been a place of worry and uncertainty. That’s why Jesus words in John 16 are so important. In a chapter 16 of John, Jesus tells his disciples that he will soon leave them and that the enemies of God, “…will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God (v.2).”  And Jesus tells them that the reason he told them these things was, “…so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (v.33).”

Trouble is a part of this world, and it’s only going to get worse. And that’s why we must cling to God’s Word ever tighter, because within it, we are pointed back to Christ, the one who has overcome the world. 

People tend to read the book of Daniel chapters 7-12, the Gospel of Matthew 24-26, and the book of Revelation to figure out the details of when, where, and how the end will happen. Miller did just that and fell into error. He’s not the only one, many have done the same, and are still doing it today. Looking at numbers, reinterpreting imagery, all to fit the landscape of today. And failing time and time again. 

Now I’m not saying that we should’t study these books, in fact the opposite, because there is great information that God reveals to us about the last days. But we must take a step back and realize why God gives us this information. Why does God sprinkle throughout the Bible information about the end? Is so we can figure it out? So we can sale all our things and get ready? No, it’s found in Jesus’ words, “so that in me you may have peace.”

Isn’t that odd? Jesus tells us about how the world will get worse, so that we may have peace? Yes! In fact, if we take a step back from each of the “end time” books of the Bible and the many passages that relate to it, we will find that the purpose is to bring peace to our lives, by revealing God’s control. Daniel is given his visions at a time when the people of God are in exiled with no hope of returning to the land God had given them. 

Jesus’ words in Matthew are given on the eve of his arrest and crucifixion. More obscure places like 2 Peter 3, were given on the eve of when the church was about to enter persecution. Even the Apocalyptic book of Revelation was given during a time when persecution of the church was becoming national in the Roman Empire.

We are given information about the last days of this world, so that we, “may have peace,” and so that we “take heart.”

And so, the question needs to be, as a believer, what do I need to be doing as the days of this world seem to be coming to an end? Should I sale all that I have, and go up on a mountainside? Should I horde and live in a cave away from everyone? What should I do?

I want to take us briefly to a passage at the end of the book of Revelation. In Revelation chapter 22, starting in verse 12 we read what Jesus says, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. 14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

These are Jesus’ words that he is coming in judgment. These are Jesus’ words that he is the Almighty God, and he will give his verdict out on the world. And in these words, Jesus revels a dichotomy. On one side are those “who wash their robes,” these “may go through the gates into the city.” On the other side are those outside the city gates and walls. These are, “those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”

In every case of apocalyptic writings in the Scriptures, the call for God’s people to trust in his control, to live holy lives, and to the share the Gospel is revealed. There’s no call to sale everything, there’s no call to become fearful, or hermits. The call is always to be out in front, standing firm on God’s promises, living holy lives because God is holy (1 Peter 1:16).

So what must I as a believer do right now? First, be prepared. There will come a day when supply chains will get ever slimmer, are you ready for that day? If there is a pre-rapture, then what you leave behind could help a tribulation saint get through what is to come. If the rapture is after the fact, then God has supplied your needs. He has told us it will come, why not trust in that and prepare? Yet, as we prepare, let us not look to those preparations as idols. They are gifts from God, not gods unto themselves. They will not save, but are from the Savior. As we work our way through Matthew will come to chapter 10, verse 16. There Jesus tells us, "16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” The application of this verse is from the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. We must be wise in how we deal with the world and the resources that God gives us, and innocent in the application of it. In reality they will not sustain us, only God can do that. We must be like his sparrows and flowers, that we talked about last week. Not trying to take control, but being wise about what God has given us. In our day and age, God has given us the ability to store food for decades, how wonderful is that, that as we draw closer to the end, he has given us ways to prepare?

Secondly, we must take seriously the call to live holy lives. We must seek God to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). That the world around us may see God’s people living holy, peaceful, generous, and trusting lives as a worship back to God. As Jesus called us to in Matthew 5, we must live as salt and light in this world. Pointing others back to him with our actions. Every apocalyptic writing in the Scriptures call us to this very act. To live holy as the world falls further from God, is one of the highest callings on the believer’s life. In the opening chapter to Peter’s first letter, a letter written as persecution was beginning in Rome, he quotes from the Old Testament, “16 for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy (v.16).’” This holy living is a calling that will shine greater and greater, as the world plunges further and further into darkness.

Finally, we must be speaking the Gospel. People live moral lives all the time. Atheist can be moral people. Buddhists can be moral people. Muslims, Neo-pagans, Jehovah Witnesses and a host of other groups can live moral lives. It is the Gospel and the proclamation of it, that makes the Christian different. This is why Paul writes in Romans 10:14, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” If we can not speak the life giving message of Jesus being the only way to the Father, even if our death is what comes from it, then are message is no different than those that are outside the salvation of God. We must come to terms with our fate. To live in service of the Gospel is to see Jesus at work, to die in service of the Gospel is gain him in his fulness (Philippians 1:21). Therefore, let the Gospel be ever present on our lips, even if it means that we must suffer for it.

We tend to lose sight of God in the chaos of the world. But he has overcome the world, and wants us to be prepared and at peace in a world of chaos. It’s in the chaos and adversity of this world, that the people of God have always endure. Whether that be Israel in the desert, Israel through the times of the Judges, Israel in the time of the exile, or the Church under persecution. The people of God, who trust in the control of God, will always come through in the power of God.

So my challenge to you this week is to look at these three areas: Preparedness, holy living, and Gospel speaking, which one are you strongest in? Which one do you worry in the most? Which one do you do the least? Are you taking advantage of the resources God has given you? Can it be said that you live a holy life? Do people know why you live the way you do, because you’ve told them? This week take time and seek God in each of these areas. Seeking him to take out any worry, any control, you may have and fill it with confidence in his control. 

Let us be a people, prepared for, living rightly, and speaking God’s life as the world marches towards that glorious day, when its King and Creator returns. Amen.