Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mid-Week Lessons

Mid-week lessons are now available in MP3 format. They may be accessed on the right column under - appropriately enough - Mid-Week Lessons. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Audio Sermons

Some have asked for regular access to audio recordings of the Sunday messages. That feature is now available, and will be updated weekly (at least by Saturday evening).

On the right hand column (you might need to scroll down just a bit) is a gadget called Sermons. The most recent message will always be at the top of the list. You may either click on it to begin listening to the recording, or right-click on it and hit Save As to download it to your computer for future listening.

The link has been checked on the PC as well as the iPhone. If anyone has a problem with the sound file - or with accessing it - please let me know.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The People of Lawlessness

Most of the people calling themselves Christians with whom I have been associated all of my life would be considered politically as conservatives. I have heard much talk over the last several years about the wave of liberalism that is sweeping the country. They show frustration that are nation is being subverted before their eyes. They are angry because of the impotence of our national leaders. What they do not see is that they – the so-called church – have become exactly what they claim to despise within their nation.

One of the most terrifying passages of Scripture for the church today should be 2 Thessalonians 2. It speaks of an “apostasy” in which “the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction” (v. 3). We are warned of one “who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God” (v. 4).

Wait! I haven't gotten to the scary part yet. I'm not worried about “that lawless one,” because v. 8 tells us “the Lord will slay [him] with the breath of His mouth and bring [him] to an end by the appearance of His coming.” I'm more concerned about the PEOPLE of lawlessness that have subsequently been produced.

The contemporary church has become the very thing that they claim to hate. They have become spiritual liberals who have traded facts for feelings. Education and edification have been shelved for the more pleasant commodities of emotions and entertainment. What Paul is describing in our text is not just some future event, according to v. 7, “The mystery of lawlessness is already at work!”

Unfortunately, that “mystery” is a mystery no longer. Paul warned, “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, [4] and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). That day has already come. It is “the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world” (1 John 4:3).

“But how can you say that such evil exists within the church? Our preacher only preaches from the Bible!”

This is the answer I fully expect. What church would ever raise her hand and say, “It's us! We're preaching false doctrine!” What congregation is going to admit to having an evil minister or satanic leaders? This is why that 2 Thessalonians 2 passage is so terrifying! The people of lawlessness are completely deluded!

“... they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. [11] For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, [12] in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness” (vs. 10-12).

The problem isn't that they haven't at some point received “the truth,” but that they haven't loved it. David says, “O how I love Your law!” (Psalm 119:97) … “I love Your testimonies” (Psalm 119:119) … “I love Your commandments above gold, yes, above fine gold” (Psalm 119:127) … “Consider how I love Your precepts” (Psalm 119:159) … “I hate and despise falsehood, but I love Your law” (Psalm 119:163) … “Those who love Your law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble” (Psalm 119:165).

This is why I am able to say with certainty that the people of lawlessness are occupying the membership rolls of the modern church, because there is no love of the truth! There are none who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). Today's ministers, leaders and members are like men who have built their spiritual house upon the sand. They are not hearing the word of Christ, nor are they acting upon it (Matthew 7:26). What foolishness!

“Oh, but our church is growing! It must be the Lord!”

Our text spoke of what is occurring among the people of lawlessness. “The activity of Satan” is accompanied “with all power and signs and false wonders, [10] and with all the deception of wickedness” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10). This is what Jesus warned us about,“False Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24).

“But I don't see anyone like that in my church!”

Of course you don't! “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light [15] Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).

“But how could I have known if they deceived me?”

You allowed yourself to be deceived, because you “did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10). And if someone did try to warn you … if they did point you back to the word of God … if they did plead with you to open your eyes … the “deluding influence” (2 Thessalonians 2:11) was too strong … you “did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness” (2 Thessalonians 2:12).

“Aren't you taking all of this just a bit too seriously?”

How seriously do you take salvation? Isn't that the topic of our text? “... they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.” If you want to be saved, then you must love the truth as did the Christians of Thessalonica. Paul wrote in his first letter, “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Stop accepting preaching that is more “the word of men” than “the word of God!” Stop following leaders who are not leading you along “the Highway of Holiness” (Isaiah 35:8)! Stop attending congregations whose sole purpose is to entertain you and make you feel good! The people of lawlessness are not your friends, but your enemies!

“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! [2] But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. [3] He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers. [4] The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away. [5] Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. [6] For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1).

Sunday, October 20, 2013

1 Peter 1, "A Living Hope"

Introduction: Last week from John 21, Jesus gave Peter his life’s mission, to shepherd and feed the flock of God. Then – following a clear warning of his impending death – the command of Christ is simply, “Follow Me.” We still saw glimpses of Peter’s impetuous nature. We also saw that his maturity was lacking. He still did not have a complete and compelling love for Christ. But all of that changed.

Peter’s first and second epistles were written over thirty years later, shortly before the Roman emperor Nero's persecution of the church in AD 64. Both of these letters were written to Christians in Asia Minor who were suffering under many trials and persecutions. They were written to encourage believers to expect and endure the hardships that Peter knows – from personal experience – will come as a result of their commitment to the Christian faith.

He begins his first letter by pointing to a …

I. Future Hope vs. 1-5

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen [2] according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure. [3] Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, [4] to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, [5] who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

God’s People are clearly identified in v. 1 as “aliens” who are “scattered” among the nations. This is a reminder that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). Too many have become too comfortable in this world. It is the “aliens” … the ones who have separated themselves from this world … who have been “chosen,” and it's been that way since the beginning. Back in Deuteronomy 14:2, Moses said, “you are a holy people to the LORD your God; and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”

We who are Christians are that people. In the next chapter, Peter will tell us, “You are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). The Lord's choice was made according to His “foreknowledge.” It was accomplished “by the sanctifying work of the Spirit.”

And God’s Purpose is made clear in v. 2. We are “to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood.” He wants us to be saved. Paul said that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Those whom He has chosen are those who have – by decision and action – accepted Christ as their Savior and Lord, and have received the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. And our primary work as Christians is to be obedient to Jesus Christ.

This is a major theme within Peter’s letter. Constantly he will remind his readers what God has done for them, and then direct them to be obedient on that basis. This is why Peter brings up the Old Testament illustration of being sprinkled with blood. Listen to Exodus 24:7-8, Moses “took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!" 8 So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, "Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words."”

Peter is using such an event to illustrate our new covenant with Christ. If we have submitted to Jesus in full obedience, then we have entered into an eternal covenant. And if we will honor that covenant, then – as Peter says in v. 3 – God’s “grace and peace [will] be yours in the fullest measure.”

Even though our eyes are on a future hope, we recognize God’s Provision in vs. 3-4. Praise God for what He's done for us! It is by “His great mercy” that we have been “born again.” It is because of “the resurrection of Jesus Christ” that we have “a living hope.” “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast” (Hebrews 6:19). This is the hope of eternal salvation!

And if you will look forward to the last few verses of the chapter, you will see how this new birth is brought about – by "the living and enduring word of God." God is the One who has fully provided for our salvation. Peter begins his second epistle by telling us that “[God’s] divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).

Thus in our text Peter reminds us that it is God has provided. He has given us not only the hope of eternal life, but an inheritance as well. That inheritance is “imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.” It is not subject to doubt! God Himself is protecting it in heaven. And He is also protecting you!

God’s Protection is revealed in v. 5. He would not leave the church unprotected in the midst of a hostile world! Such protection is “by the power of God,” but it comes about “through faith” … which means we are involved. We must trust the Lord. We must be obedient and faithful to Him. He will guard us until Christ comes again and our future hope is fulfilled.

But there will be …

II. Present Testing vs. 6-9

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, [7] so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; [8] and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, [9] obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”

Peter says, "In this you greatly rejoice." In what? In a living hope … in an imperishable inheritance … in the protection of God … in eternal salvation. What a selfish, self-centered world in which we live. People rejoice when they get a raise at work, or when their child gets a scholarship, or when they win the lottery. Such physical things are only temporary. Real joy is focused upon eternal and lasting things, such as eternal life and a divine inheritance.

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.” We are only putting up with the temporary to get to the permanent. And those same people who rejoice in the temporary will be weeping when the trials and persecutions come. They will not be prepared when their faith is tested.

God tests each and every person. Peter’s faith was certainly tested … and on several occasions. The only way to expose the pure gold is to subject it to fire and burn away the dross. In the same way, it is necessary for our faith to be exposed to trials in order that all the counterfeit and impure earthly elements may be removed.

Thus the proof of which the apostle speaks is not that you physically survive the trials, but that you become more pure in your Christian lifestyle. And the end result of a genuine faith is that God will be praised, glorified and honored for what He has done through Christ.

“And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.”

The Bible tells us that as long we are in this body “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). But if we truly believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God … if we love Him more than we love the things of this world … we will be able to rejoice even in the midst of the trials.

This statement is made looking forward to the time when Christ will be revealed and we will see Him as He is. At that time, we will receive the reward of faith according to v. 9, which is “the salvation of your souls.”

Paul says in Philippians 3:13-14 says, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” In Revelation 2:10, John says something similar, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

We cannot rest and take a vacation from Christianity. We cannot stop making forward progress toward heaven. There is no early retirement plan in the kingdom of Christ. We are in the process of being saved. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” That process will be made complete when we die or when Christ returns. But for now, we will have to endure an evil world and the present testing of our faith.

So we have a future hope, but presently live in a world of testing. Others did, too, though! This is Peter's encouragement in vs. 10-12, reminding us of the Old Testament prophets and their ...

III. Past Predictions vs. 10-12

“As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, [11] seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. [12] It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look.”

The prophets who received God’s word did not always understand the future implications of their prophecies. They simply spoke what God told them to speak. But that does not mean they were not intensely curious as to the meaning of those prophecies. The prophets prayed and studied. They wanted to know what these things meant, especially concerning the hope of a future Redeemer.

They never did receive a full understanding of their prophecies. If they understood it all, where would be the need for faith? But the Holy Spirit did reveal to them that this good news was for a future age – an age to which we now belong.

But this is the gospel of Jesus Christ we’re talking about! This is the good news of eternal salvation! No wonder the prophets wanted to badly to know these things. Even the angels of heaven want to know everything they can about such an important and eternal subject. Which leads to a very important question: If these things were so important that the prophets studied extensively to know the truth – and even angels wanted to bend down and look into it – then how is it that Christians … members and ministers … shepherds, as well as the flock … treat all of this so casually?

Peter is telling us that we can’t. We shouldn't. This is a matter of life and death. In light of the evidence of prophecy … in view of the reality of present trials and persecutions … in anticipation and full hope of a future inheritance … a Christian needs to be different than everyone else … and not just one Sundays, but every day of the week, every hour of the day. Thus Peter speaks of our …

IV. Constant Conduct vs. 13-21

“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. [14] As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, [15] but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; [16] because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.””

Our salvation is so great that prophets and even angels have desired to know about it. Our inheritance is so sure that we can even rejoice in the midst of suffering. But the place in which our salvation – our inheritance – is being reserved is so pure that a new and different kind of life is expected.

If you really want to reach heaven, then you must "prepare your minds for action." The apostle says it's time to get serious about the work of God. The world wants you to lose yourself in emotion, exciting experiences, and excessive confusion, but Peter says, “keep sober in spirit.” As v. 14 tells us, too much time has already been spent in living in ignorant, uncontrolled sin. The hard truth is, the lives of a majority of mankind are shaped and molded – not by God, but – by their own fleshly desires. Peter says, now is the time for self-control as we prepare for the purity of heaven.

As children obedient to our heavenly Parent, we will demonstrate two responses: 1) A negative response to the desires of the flesh, and 2) a positive response to the will of God. To be a child of God is to bear a family resemblance. God is by nature holy. He has separated Himself from sin. Since our Father then is holy, we His children are to be holy.

Verse 2 spoke of the sanctifying work of the Spirit. To be sanctified is to be set apart from sin, even as God is set apart from sin. It is for this reason that we have been “called … out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

The apostle Paul puts it this way, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). A holy God only produces holy children. Purity of thought and action are godly qualities that should be ours and increasing from the very first day we enter into Christ Jesus.

If such holiness … such godliness … is NOT evident within a person … well … then perhaps such people belong to the other father! But Peter says in v. 17, “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; [18] knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, [19] but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”

Peter is continuing his appeal for a holy lifestyle. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven …” (Matthew 6:9). But the apostle is cautioning us not to presume upon that relationship. Yes, God is our Father, but that does not make Him blind to our sin. He judges each man's work impartially. Peter first came to this realization in Acts 10:34-35, saying, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, 35 but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him.” He understood then – and is teaching us now – that God demands holiness in every aspect of His children’s daily lives. If we truly fear God … if we have reverence for His name … then we will do as He asks in our limited time here on this temporary earth.

Verse 19 of our text reminds us that Jesus paid the ransom for our sins with His own blood. In so doing, He released us from bondage to sin and secured our permanent citizenship in heaven. So why are so many continuing to live a “futile way of life”?

“But that's the way I was raised!”

So what? Loyalty to your earthly family traditions won’t save you. Your earthly father may leave you plenty of inheritance for living an extravagant earthly life. But only submission to the will of an eternal Father will result in a permanent inheritance and eternal life.

Also, we must consider the legacy we will leave to our children and grandchildren. Is a “futile way of life” what we're teaching them? You may not have one earthly possession to leave to your children as an inheritance; but if you have given them Christ, you have given them everything they need to truly survive this world! In fact, that's why Jesus was sent in the first place, says Peter in v. 20 ...

“For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you [21] who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”

The cross of Calvary was not an alternate plan of action because man sinned and messed up God’s original plan; Jesus' sacrifice was THE plan, even before man was created. Case in point, 1 John 3:8, “The one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” Thus when man was finally created, God – knowing Satan’s influence – had already prepared His Son to counter the work of the devil. That’s why Jesus came to earth in the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4). That’s why He lived a righteous and holy life, as an example for those of us who would follow Him (1 Peter 2:21). That’s why He had to die on the cross and be raised from the dead. That we “may come to [our] senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:26).

Knowing the cost – the blood of His Son – and knowing that man would rebel against Him, it is a wonder that God created us at all. Amazing grace, indeed – which is exactly what Peter wants us to remember. Everything that God has done, according to the apostle, was in order that we might be “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” We must let that fact change us completely and affect our conduct constantly.

Conclusion, vs. 22-25: “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, [23] for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. [24] For, “ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS, AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS. THE GRASS WITHERS, AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF, [25] BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER.” And this is the word which was preached to you.”
We purify ourselves by obeying the truth of God’s word, and that purity will naturally affect the body of Christ. Some, lacking in maturity as Peter once was, will only offer their brothers and sisters a phileo love – a friendly, neighborly love. But the truth is, we must express the same motivating agape love to our Christian brothers as we do to God Himself. The old saying is, “Blood is thicker than water.” The implication is that the family relationship is stronger than a friendly relationship. But Christianity takes us one step further, saying that the blood of Christ is stronger far than even the blood of family.

Unlike a natural birth that results from perishable seed, spiritual birth is accomplished by the living and abiding word of God. Peter quotes from the prophet Isaiah (40:6-8) to emphasize that natural life is only temporary; but spiritual life endures forever. Everything in the world around us may change and fade away, but God's word is eternal. This should be our greatest source of hope as we live in a world of shifting loyalties and progressive traditions … God has provided us with a source of stability and permanency in His word.

How many church leaders don't know enough of that word to capably feed or protect the flock? How many ministers search constantly for stories, jokes, illustrations … anything that will capture the attention of the the worldly-minded? Why aren't our so-called spiritual leaders pointing us to the real foundation, which comes “by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17)? Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24).

1 Peter 1 ends with the apostle reminding us that the message preached by Christ and His apostles were not the words of men, but the very word of God. Knowing that should cause us to respond in belief, in obedience, in purity, and in brotherly love. If we will prepare ourselves in such a fashion – separating ourselves from sin and looking always forward in eternal hope – then there is nothing in this life that will “separate us from the love of Christ” – not “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword” (Romans 8:35).