UNITY AND SEPARATION

There isn’t any question God wants His people to have unity.  Jesus prayed that those who live for him would be one, as He and the Father are one so the world would believe that God sent him into the world.  The Psalmist declared, “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”  Paul pleaded with the church in Corinth to “Let there be no divisions among you but to be perfectly joined together of the same mind and judgment.”  He pointed to their immaturity in Christ as the reason they were divided in what they were doing.  He challenged the Ephesian church to “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Yet in Acts 15 immediately after Paul and Barnabas had gone to Jerusalem to plead for the Jewish Christians not to bind things in the Law on the Gentile converts to Christ, there is a separation of Paul and Barnabas.  Some of the Jewish brothers had gone out from the church in Jerusalem to the places where Gentile churches had been established trying to convince all these new converts that if they really wanted to be Christians they had to be circumcised and follow the Old Law.  In this meeting to solve the problem Peter, James, Paul, and Barnabas had all pleaded with the church to not put this burden on the backs of these new converts that was so heavy they hadn’t been able to bear it themselves.  Even as these apostles and elders made their plea many of those Jews who had turned to Christ were arguing with all their power that it was necessary for these Gentiles to become Jews to be right with the Lord.  Ultimately they agreed to send a letter to the Gentile churches that they were not under the Law and instead needed to agree to abstain from fornication, from things strangled, from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and not to worry about all the other things that had been mentioned to them.  They even agreed to send representatives from the Jerusalem church to travel with Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch to confirm this message to the church.

It was a tremendous victory for them and for the Gentile congregations.  But immediately after all that, Paul and Barnabas got into a huge disagreement.  Paul suggested they go back and visit the churches that had been established and Barnabas agreed but wanted to take John Mark along with them.  Paul was totally opposed to Mark going along since he had started with them on the first missionary journey and turned back.  That disagreement became so strong they parted ways and Barnabas took Mark and went in one direction and Paul took Silas and headed in the other direction.  Why did God choose to have this story to be part of the Book of Acts?  Why not just end the story with the agreement?

Perhaps the Spirit of God was making a point for us to grasp about unity and separation.  When it was a matter of teaching what was true to the gospel it was vital to have the church reach an agreement to not bind things on other people that God hadn’t bound.  But when it comes to matters of opinion and personal differences that lead to people not being able to stay together as partners in preaching the gospel, He wasn’t concerned.  After all, they would both remain loyal to God and to the gospel and both would actually take another person with them to preach and their efforts were doubled because of the separation.  Whether or not their separation was according to God’s will, there is no question both men continued to speak well of each other and both kept on preaching the gospel of Christ.  There is no question but that God used the situation to reach more people for him than would have been reached if they had stayed together.

Think of the reality of how many churches have been started around the world because of a disagreement with someone at the place where they were both worshiping before.  The truth is there have been more congregations started in most cities in the South because of some disagreement between brethren than any other reason.  Most of the time these disagreements had nothing to do with doctrine but with the fact they had trouble getting along with each other.  Many times the result is that both the congregation that was left and the new one started to grow and reach people that neither of them would have had they stayed together.

Who was right and who was wrong in this disagreement?  If you look down the line it seems that Barnabas was right because John Mark became a great and faithful disciple from this point on.  Even Paul wrote that Mark was profitable to him for the ministry.  But it was about what they thought, felt and believed, not about anything God had told them to do.  Unity in Christ doesn’t always mean people agree on everything.  In Romans 14 Paul pleaded with the church to accept those who had disputes over doubtful things but not to allow them to bind those ideas on the church.  The weak brother was never intended to become the standard for the church so that they could hold the church hostage from doing anything since it bothered their conscience.  Instead, Paul pleaded with them in areas like that to not judge each other.  You can’t know another person’s heart.  Leave the judgment to God who does know the heart.  The kingdom of God isn’t about things like food and drink but about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit so we ought to strive to live by our conscience but not try to bind that conscience on others that believe differently from us.

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CLOSED EYES

How many times in life have you observed things going on in a family that made it obvious that something was very wrong and that there were things going on that were headed in all the wrong directions?  But then as you watched you thought to yourself, “Are they totally oblivious to what is going on?  Can’t they see all the signs that something is not right?”  Truthfully, there are times when I’ve observed the same kind of thing going on in a church.  It was obvious there were serious problems and that things were headed in the wrong direction but the leaders seemed to be totally in the dark about the situation.

It reminds me of when Jesus started speaking to the people in parables.  Matthew records in Matthew 13:1-23 the parable of the sower, seed and soils.  When he finished telling the story the disciples came to him with two questions.  First, Why are you speaking in parables?  Second, What does this parable mean?  Jesus answered the first question with a quotation form Isaiah 69.  “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see wiht their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.”  Jesus told the disciples it was given to them to understand the stories he was telling but not to others.  He then proceded to explain the story that the seed was God’s word and the soils represented the different kinds of hearts that people have who hear his word.

But focus with me on the explanation of why speak in parables.  He spoke in stories or parables so that some could see and some couldn’t see.  Those who wanted to hear and understand would be able to see the point and learn from it.  Those who didn’t want to see would go away confused thinking it was just a story that he told and wondering why he told it to begin with.  I can imagine some walking away saying, “Well he is a good story teller, but so is my grandpa and I think grandpa’s are more entertaining.”  Let’s face it there are tons of things in life we will never see simply because we have closed our eyes to the topic and are determined we aren’t going to learn better.  It happens all the time.  We can become so ingrained in any topic or notion that we refuse to learn anything that is different or doesn’t fit what we already think.  We can even close our eyes to things going on all around us so that we never learn anything different.

Why would we close our eyes on anything?  I think of how often someone says, “I got tired of hearing all the bad things in the news, so I quit watching the news.”  Or, “I only watch the news in this one place because they tell it the way I believe.”  Think of the person who says, “I’ve been visiting all the different churches in the city looking for one that teaches everything the way I believe it.”  Or, what about the parent that looks at their son or daughter that is 16 or 17 years old but all they can see is that they are still their little boy or little girl and so they treat them like they did when they were in elementary school.  Picture the parent whose child comes home in tears and tries hard to tell them what is going on in their life only to be told “I don’t want to hear that stuff.  It just kid stuff and you will grow out of it.”  Sometimes parents find it near impossible to correct anything their child is doing wrong because they did all the same things themselves.  It makes you wonder when in the world they will grow up and act like a parent rather than another teenager.  Sometimes the best thing I can do is be open with the young person of the crazy mistakes I made when I was their age and all the problems and hurts it brought into my life.  You could easily say to them, “I am praying you make better choices than I did.  You have wonderful opportunities to choose the better way and live a better life.”

The fact I close my eyes to what is going on around me doesn’t change a single thing of what is going on.  It is like the kid watching a horror scene on TV or the movie who puts their hands over their eyes so they won’t see it.  But the whole thing is still happening and most of the time they will peek through their hands to get some glimpse of the horror anyway.  Far too often even after closing one’s eyes what they imagine as happening during that time is as bad as what was shown on the screen.

Picture yourself in a situation where opinions are being expressed that are different from what you believe to be true or right.  How do you handle it?  Do you listen intently to try to fully understand where they other person is coming from and use it to examine and rethink what you have believed on the topic?  Or do you clam up and refuse to listen to a thing that is said since you know it isn’t what you think is right already?  Or do you spend the whole time the other person is talking figuring out what you are going to say in response to the degree you seldom hear anything they said because you mind is on how to answer what you think they are going to say?

Think of Jesus and how he dealt with people around him.  Can you think of a time when the Bible records him butting in on what another person is saying to correct them?  Can you remember anytime he refused to listen to what people were saying?  I can think of times when he listened intently even though what was being said didn’t agree with what he said or did.  Think of John 11 when Jesus returned to Bethany when Lazarus had died.  First, Martha came to meet him and immediatly challenged him with the statement, “If you had been here my brother would not have died.”  Notice Jesus didn’t start trying to defend himself.  Instead he told her that he would be raised from the dead.  When Mary came with the same words, but fell at his feet to say them, Jesus wept and groaned in his spirit or agonized from the inside.  Neither time did he get on to the sisters for what they said or accuse them of making wrong judgments.  He offered no defence but wept with them about the death of their brother.  He then took them out to the cemetary and raised Lazarus from the dead.

I want to be like Jesus and walk through this world with my eyes wide open, seeing what is there and hearing what is said around me.  I want to listen closely to those who have opinions and ideas that are different from mine, knowing they may be right and I may be wrong.  I want the heart and attitude that says, “If I see I’ve been wrong about a thing I will change immediately rather than trying to defend the status quo or stay with what I have always thought.  God doesn’t change.  His word doesn’t change.  But as a human I change all the time and may well change my mind even on what God has said.

David prayed in the 119th Psalms, “Lord open my eyes that I might see the wonderous things of your word.”  I want always for that to be my prayer from the heart to God.”

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WHEN DEATH INVADES OUR CIRCLE

Life is filled with events.  Some of those are expected and can be planned for while others come as a surprise and are either very difficult or impossible to prepare for.  Birth in the family can be somewhat surprising even though we know it is near and usually know the sex of the child.  Still, it has many surprise elements to it.  Sicknesses, pains, accidents all happen in life and often come as a huge surprise.  But there isn’t anything else in life that is like death.  We all know it is coming to us and everyone around.  Yet it isn’t something we like to think about or talk about.

Strangely, God’s view of death is very different from ours, most of the time.  In Psalms 116:15 it says “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”  But our view of death even of the Christian doesn’t normally run along that same line.  Think of the time when Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha died.  They sent word to Jesus when he became ill.  But Jesus didn’t arrive back in Bethany until after he had been dead for four days.  They spoke of Lazarus as one that Jesus loved.  Every indication is that he was a godly man who died faithful to the Lord and prepared to spend eternity with God in heaven.  Yet, when Jesus arrived at the home of Mary and Martha, they each came out to meet him.  Martha was first and her charge immediately was, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  After Jesus assured her that Lazarus would be raised from the dead she went back to Mary and told her that the Master had come and was calling for her.  When she went out to meet Jesus, she fell at his feet, weeping and declared, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”  It seems obvious they had been talking about the topic from the moment Lazarus became sick and died.  Jesus was so moved by the tears of Mary that he wept with her and groaned in his spirit.

Later in Acts 9, Luke tells the story of a disciple named Dorcas who died and since Peter was nearby visiting they sent word to him to come to them.   When he arrived and went to the upper room where the body lay, he found several of her friends gathered around her, weeping and looking at the garments she had made while she was still alive.

Why is it the case that God looks at a Christian’s death and declares it to be precious in his sight while we look at the same death and feel broken, hurting and even that the Lord wasn’t there or the person wouldn’t have died?  In that story of Lazarus death as Jesus and the family and friends went out to the place where they had laid the body it says that Jesus groaned in his spirit and the phrase in the original Greek text literally means, “He snorted like a horse.”  It is the idea that he was angry or frustrated with what he was seeing in the death of his friend.  He knew he was about to raise him from the dead.  The agony and the frustration evidently had to do with all the hurt the family was going through in the loss of their brother.

God looks at the death of a Christian and sees deliverance and newness of life.  In 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 Paul described a Christian dying and leaving the body behind to be clothed upon in heaven.  He said we live in earnest longing for that home in heaven that God has prepared for us at home all along.

But we look at death from our standpoint and see the unknown.  We face the fear of what lies ahead since we can only imagine that deliverance, the change that happens at death.  We see funerals, lifeless bodies, a grave, and loneliness.  God looks at the death of one of His children and sees a homecoming, a reunion, and celebration.  Just about every Christian longs to have the heart of God with regard to the death of those they love.  We would love to rejoice and know they are in far better shape now than ever before.  We want to see them enjoying being with God and with the redeemed of the ages when they leave this world.  But it is extremely difficult for us to get past our own sense of loss and feeling empty because we don’t have them with us anymore.

The closer we draw to God and the frailer the physical body becomes the easier it becomes to at least begin to take on the divine point of view.  But it seems to me that it is always easier to see that side of things when thinking of yourself than when thinking of those you love dearly as family and friends.

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JESUS’ CHALLENGE

There was always one command from Jesus that stood out above all the rest.  It is the single command given most often by Him.  It wasn’t the one that he called the greatest or even the one he referred to as second.  That was to love God with all our being and love our neighbor as ourselves.  It wasn’t even the command to have faith in him as the Son of God.  That one command that seemed to be constant was, “Follow me!”  It is the imperative of discipleship.  Let’s face it we can obey tons of the commands that Jesus gave and never look like or act like Jesus at all.  Some of the biggest sticklers for obeying the Bible I’ve ever met were also some of the most arrogant, difficult and unlikeable people I’ve ever known.  They were intent on doing what they understood God to say, but never picked up on the heart of Jesus.  You can’t follow Jesus and act like a Pharisee at the same time.  They head in exactly the opposite directions.

Why does it matter so much that we follow Jesus?  First, it is vital because Jesus demonstrates to us what God the Father is really like.  He came to give us a clear explanation or exegesis of the Father.  In John 1:14-18 Jesus is declared to be the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us.  “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  He gives us grace on top of grace.  “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”  Jesus is the Son of God, the Word that became flesh, and is God.  He possesses the exact nature of the Father and thus gives us a clear picture of what the Father is really like.  We can learn tons of things about God from looking at his creation.  Paul said the creation demonstrated his eternal power and divine nature in Romans 1:20.  We can learn a tremendous amount about God by reading the Old Testament and looking at all the different names and descriptions that are given about God.  We can there learn of his being Almighty, all knowing, everywhere at the same time and that he cares for his people.  But there was never a picture of God that was such a clear presentation of him and his nature until Jesus came into the world as a man to show us the Father.  In John 14:6-9 Jesus declared that he was the way, truth and life and no one could come to the Father except through him.  Philip asked him in response to “Show us the Father and that will be enough.”  Jesus response to Philip was, “Have I been with you for such a long time and do you not know who I am?  He that has seen me has seen the Father.”  Jesus is the clear picture of the heart and nature of God.

Second, it is vital to follow Jesus because he is the example and pattern of what godly living is all about.  The very word “disciple” means to be a learner or apprentice of Jesus that is learning both what he says and how he lived among us.  When we use the word “Christian” we are talking about being like Jesus.  When we use the words, disciple or Christian to simply refer to someone who believes in Jesus but who doesn’t act like or look like Jesus in any way we are misusing the words.  When Jesus gave the beatitudes that were at the heart of the sermon on the mount he was laying out the heart necessary to look like and be like him.  It starts with the poverty of spirit that recognizes we need God and can’t be what we are called to be on our own.  It moves to being broken or mourning over the sin and failure of our life.  Such mourning over sin leads to turning from sin to God in repentance.  It moves to gentleness or being tamed by God.  We yield our control to the Lord rather than trying to live the way we want to live.  When someone sings, “I did it my way” it is shouting the message I’m not a follower of Jesus.  My way and God’s way are not the same thing.  When we hunger and thirst for righteousness, it leads to submitting to God’s will in obedience in everything.  At that point we learn to be merciful toward others since we desperately need mercy ourselves.  It leads to a pure, unmixed heart that is fully devoted to Jesus.  It leads from that to being peacemakers in the world.  When we are peacemaker others recognize we are God’s children since we look like him.  There has never been a true disciple of Jesus that is a troublemaker.  Now when we have that heart, it leads to others persecuting us just like they did Jesus.  We don’t tend to like those whose lives convict us of sin in our life so we begin to try to take them down anyway we can.  Yet it is that very person that is being persecuted that is the salt of the earth and the light of the world to lead others to God and His salvation.

Third to follow Jesus means we become servants of others.  When Jesus began to talk to the twelve about his coming death it brought out in them the discussion of which one of them would be the greatest.  James and John even brought their mother to plead with Jesus to have them sit on his right and left side when he entered his kingdom.  Of course, it frustrated and aggravated the other apostles to learn that these two went to such lengths to get in the front of the line.  But Jesus challenged the whole attitude by saying the gentiles had those who lorded it over them but it wouldn’t be that way among them.  He that is greatest among you will be the servant of all.  “For even the son of man didn’t come into the world to be served but to serve and give his life a ransom for many.”  Just before Jesus would head to the cross to give his life for us, he laid aside his garments, took a towel and wrapped it around his waist and began washing the feet of the twelve.  They didn’t understand.  Peter even tried to stop him.  But Jesus told them he had left them an example and they should follow him and wash one another’s feet and so be his disciples.

Fourth, Jesus is the pattern not only for the disciples life but for the church as a whole.  People often declare that we should look at the early church as the pattern for us as the church, but the Bible never says that.  Instead it constantly points at Jesus saying that he is the one we are to follow.  When we follow a church we are following one who is trying to follow Jesus.  The right thing to do is simply hold Jesus us as the pattern for us and strive to imitate him in everything we do.  “Christ has left us an example that we should follow in his footsteps” (I Peter 2:21).  Let’s never forget this simple command and always notice it is the single command given more often by Jesus than any other.  No other command even gets close to being given as often.  What an amazing pattern he is!

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ASHAMED

Being ashamed is a common feeling.  I would doubt that anyone has lived long without feeling some sense of shame either for things they have done wrong or right things they failed to do.  There are certainly things in life that are horrible enough mistakes that they deserve to bring on a feeling of shame in us.  But, something that so often seems strange is when we feel desperately ashamed of things that shouldn’t produce any shame.  Think of the child at school who is ashamed because they don’t have the clothes to wear that others in the class are wearing or picture the student a little older who is ashamed of their inability to understand or do the work in class that others may be able to accomplish.  It is far from unusual for a person to be ashamed that they aren’t as athletically capable as some others are around them.  It is amazing that in such times we all tend to compare ourselves with those who are the most capable rather than with some who have even less ability than we do.  As adults the feelings of shame don’t go away.  It is then that people often feel ashamed of their appearance, their inabilities and even their physical problems.  I wonder how many times through the years I’ve had young adults who were ashamed of their parents for all kinds of reasons.

In the short letter of 2 Timothy Paul was in a Roman prison.  This was his last letter and it is very personal to his young friend and mentee, Timothy.  From the very beginning of the letter Paul focuses on being ashamed.  He reminded Timothy of his great heritage with his mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois who were great women of faith and Paul declared that the same faith was in him.  He challenged him to fan into flame the gift of God he had received through the laying on of his hands and said, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:7-9).

There isn’t anyone in Paul’s life about which he has said more positive things even saying that he had no one like him who thought first of the others before himself.  But Timothy seems to have struggled with being somewhat timid.  When Paul was re-arrested in Rome and put into a far more harsh situation, it was likely because he had been accused of being an enemy of the state.  In his first imprisonment he had freedom to live in his own rented home with soldiers chained to him all the time.  But he could bring in people to teach them and show them the way of the Lord.  Now the situation had changed.  Being the friend of one charged as an enemy of the state could be dangerous and might lead to your own imprisonment.  Later in this book he will say that at his first answer before Nero, all men forsook him, no one stood with him, but the Lord stood with him and strengthened him in that hour.  Fear and shame had caused many good friends and brothers and sisters in Christ to turn their backs on him.  Paul must have felt that Timothy might be leaning in that direction as well so he pleads with him to not be ashamed of either the message of the Lord or of him as the Lord’s prisoner.

Think about it for a moment.  Try to put yourself in Timothy’s place.  He will say shortly that all who are in Asia have turned away from him.  He named Phygelus and Hermogenes who were likely leaders in the church, perhaps in Ephesus where Paul had preached for three years and had left Timothy to carry on the work, as ones who had deserted him.  It was one thing to have these men and Demas to forsake him.  But to think of Timothy whom he loved as a son to turn would have been extremely difficult.  So he pleads with him not to be ashamed.  A few verses further he will say, “For which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do.  But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me” (Verses 11-12).

He turned then to give two illustrations.  The first was of Phygelus and Hermogenes who like others in Asia had turned away from him.  Then in verses 16-18 he gave a very positive illustration of the heart he wanted Timothy to have.  “May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me – may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day! – and you will know all the service he rendered to me at Ephesus.”  We really know nothing of any of these three people other than what is revealed here.  But Timothy knew them.  He knew their place in the church in Asia and probably in Ephesus.  He could either be like those who turned their back to him when he was arrested again or he could be like the one who came to Rome and searched until he found Paul and wasn’t ashamed of the chains he had.  This good man refreshed Paul even in the prison.  Maybe it was simply encouraging words or prayer with him. He may have brought him food or some clothes, but his visit made a difference in Paul that he wouldn’t forget.  Think of how much it affected him that he prayed for mercy for him and his family in the day of judgment.

In chapter two and verse 15 he offered this challenge to Timothy: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”  To do that he needed to avoid irreverent babble that leads to more ungodliness.  He then named two more men who had gone astray in their teaching, Hymenaeus and Philetus who swerved from the truth saying that the resurrection had already happened.  They were upsetting the faith of some.  Don’t be like these men.  They are shaming the gospel of Christ and hurting people instead of building them up. He challenged Timothy to tie himself to the Scriptures which he had known from his youth and which furnish the man of God completely unto every good work.  “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke and exhort with complete patience and teaching.

Then he came to the very personal conclusion of the book by pointing to his coming death.  He knew the time was short and his departure from this life was close.  He knew his second appearing before Nero would come soon and he fully expected it to end with his death.  His plea to Timothy was “Do your best to come to me soon.  For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica, Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.  Luke alone is with me.  Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.  Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus.  When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books and above all the parchments.”  In verse 21 he will add, “Do your best to come before winter.”  Instead of shame for what was going on in Paul’s life and the end of his ministry, Paul pleaded with Timothy to have the courage to come, to be with him, to stand by him even in the trial and to be there with him in death.  He knew the Lord would be with him.  But he longed for the touch of his young friend and the encouragement that he could bring.  You can easily imagine him in the Roman dungeon, cold, lonely and without the word of God available to read and study.  So, when you come bring the coat, the books and the parchments.

Two questions should concern us as we look at this whole book.  First, have you ever been forsaken in a tough time and situation?  How did it feel to you when it happened?  Second, has shame ever kept you from being by the side of someone who loves or loved you and needed your presence in an hour of trial?  Never allow shame to keep you from being or doing what God calls you to do as his child.

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BUT GROW

Challenges are all around us.  Some are to do good and others would pull us in the wrong direction entirely.  In the short book of 2 Peter the writer laid out all the wrong things that were going on among the people of God.  Many hadn’t grown up the way they should have in Christ and the result was they were short sighted and blind, barren in their life for God and in grave danger of falling away from him.  In chapter two he described those who were false teachers who were leading away disciples from the truth of God’s word to go in their own ways.  He calls them wells without water, clouds that give no rain.  They spoke great swelling words but there was nothing of substance behind it all.  In verses 20-22 of chapter two he said, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.  For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them: The dog returns to its own vomit and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”

In chapter three he described how scoffers had arisen saying, “Where is the promise of his coming?  Since our father’s fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning.”  He reminded them of the days of Noah and the flood that destroyed the world at that time and the scoffers who doubted the message Noah preached right up to the time that the door was shut on the ark and the rains began to fall.  He pointed out that God wasn’t slow to carry out his promise to come again but was patiently waiting, wanting all to come to repentance.  But that day was coming and it would bring dire results for those who now scoffed at the will of the Lord and his promises. As he reached the conclusion of the book in 3:14 he pleaded with them, “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.  And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him.”  He warned that some were twisting the things written by Paul that were sometimes hard to understand to their own destruction.  In verse 17  he said, “You therefore beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.”

It is then that he reached the final conclusion of the book and the greatest plea of the whole thing.  “BUT GROW IN THE GRACE AND KNOWLEDGE OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST. To him be the gory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”  Think about this final exhortation.  It is the one we need so desperately today and every day.  Troubles are all around you.  People are turning from the truth into gross error.  Many are now lost that were once right with God.  Some have gone so far away that it would have been better for them to have never known the truth at all.  In such a time, what should we do as the people of God?  BUT GROW!

We could stand alongside Peter and discuss all the problems in our own time.  We could point to all the wrong teaching and twisting of the truth going on now.  We could talk about the fussing and complaining that is so prevalent in the world.  We could point to the reality that people seem almost to hate anyone who disagrees with them on just about anything.  I was driving home from our Bible classes last Wednesday night when I entered an intersection and pulled out in front of a guy that evidently thought I had cut him off in some way and the anger he demonstrated would have made you think I had really done him wrong.  Most of us even who have lived for quite a while have never seen so much distrust and questioning of motives as is obvious today.  Even in churches folks are ready to divide and leave over things that seem pretty small.  So what should a Christian do in such times?

BUT GROW!  Peter’s whole point is that no matter what the troubles may be around you, whether in a world that was then persecuting the church on every side and fusses inside the church because of some disagreements often over minor issues or in a time of peace our obligation is the same.   His response was that in such times the right thing for us to do is grow.  Grow in grace.  We are saved by the undeserved favor and blessing of God that comes to us through his amazing grace.  He offers us salvation that we can’t possibly earn or deserve.  His challenge to us is to grow in that same heart toward others.  If we wish to claim grace for salvation from God but aren’t willing to extend grace to others around us in the name of God, we have missed something that is vital in living for the Lord.  Grace isn’t just a means of salvation, but it is to be a way of life.  We ought to become more and more graceful in our dealings with others all the time.  Grace always leads to mercy in our actions.

Notice he tied growing in grace to also growing in the knowledge of Jesus.  No one better lived out grace in his actions than Jesus.  He constantly offered love, forgiveness and acceptance to people that they didn’t deserve.  He healed their sicknesses, raised their dead, gave sight to the blind and caused the deaf to hear.  He cleansed lepers and made the cripple able to walk again.  He looked at those possessed of demons and drove them out.  He took tax collectors who had cheated the people and made godly people of them.  He lived by grace and extended to all whom he met.  When we grow in our knowledge of Jesus we will obviously grow in our understanding of grace and if we understand grace better we should also be motivated to extend it more freely to others.

When we grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus it leads to glory to Him forevermore.  So grow in his grace and knowledge of Jesus all the time.

 

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WHEN YOU ARE OLD

I realize any conversation about being old can bring negative thoughts to people.  But this is a phrase taken directly from Jesus in John 21.  It was after the death and resurrection of Jesus and before he ascended back to the Father.  He had met with a group of disciples beside the Sea of Galilee where they had gone fishing for the night.  Early in the morning he was on the shore and called out to them to ask if they had caught anything.  They hadn’t and that would be frustrating in itself.  He told them to cast their nets on the other side and they would have a good catch.  They did it and caught 153 big fish.  When they reached shore Jesus had breakfast waiting for them.  He had them bring some of the fish they had caught to add to the meal.  It was then he took Peter aside to ask three times, “Do you love me?”  At first it was a comparative question, “Do you love me more than these?”  But then it was just “Do you love me?”  Peter assured him he did love him and each time Jesus responded with the charge to “Feed my lambs” or “Tend my sheep”.

But Jesus didn’t end the conversation there.  Listen to what he said then to Peter. “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”  We might have read this many times and wondered exactly what it was saying but John adds a short commentary to it saying (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) After saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me.”  Peter turned around and saw John and asked Jesus, “What about him?”  Jesus said to Peter if it is my will that he remain until I come what is that to you, you come and follow me.”  Of course the rumor then spread that Jesus had said that John wouldn’t have to die but that wasn’t what he had said.

Evidently Peter understood what was involved since years later he would refer to this statement and note that his death was drawing near.  One thing is true generally of us, and that is that we are able when we are young to do many things and go many places according to our own will that changes as we become old.  Suddenly there are limits based on ability, strength or circumstances in life.  For a time at least our wisdom attained through a lifetime of experience and study tend to make up for the loss of physical abilities.  But no matter how many vitamins we take or treatments we undergo, age will begin to have its affects on us.  We will begin to have definite limits on our abilities.

For Peter it would come before he would have been considered by most as really old.  It was during the lifetime of preaching and teaching the word of God.  He was still very active in the church and serving the Lord.  But the Roman emperor had him arrested and he was delivered to be crucified.  If our traditions are correct, he refused to be crucified like Jesus and asked to be crucified upside down.  When he was young he felt sure that if he were faced with death for Jesus he would be ready to do it.  But when the real trial came instead of facing death he denied being his disciple to save his life.  When he faced what he had done it broke his heart.  But Jesus forgave him fully and gave him the responsibility of preaching the sermon of the gospel before the multitudes on Pentecost where 3,000 people gave their lives to Jesus and were baptized.  From that day on he stood tall every time he was tried.  In Acts 12 when it looked like Herod would have him executed he was sleeping soundly the night before his intended death.

But when he was old things would change.  He would be led where he didn’t want to go and face a death he didn’t wish to die.  But in that process he would glorify God by his death.  It seems somewhat strange to us to talk about a person glorifying God through some kind of awful death at the hands of evil people.  It would have felt that Satan was winning and that the cause of Christ was losing the battle when he was put to death.  But God’s point of view was that his death would be a means of glorifying God.  Think about how the church must of felt when they heard the news that Peter had been executed.  I suspect many felt the church had gone through a horrible loss.  Likely there were many who wondered how they would be able to go on without him.  But the truth is that God’s work never rises or falls on the actions or life of a single person.  God used Peter in a mighty way.  But there are always those ready and waiting to serve and probably reach some people those like Peter would never be able to reach.

I remember visiting one day with a man who had been a leader in the church for many years and it was obvious even to him that death wasn’t far off.  As we sat and talked about the church and the future he said, “I just wonder how the church will survive when I’m gone.  I feel like I have carried it on my shoulders for a long time.”  He was a good man but the church went on just fine after his death.  People moved into leadership roles that wouldn’t have been considered in the past.  In many ways it actually did better.

Many years ago Brother Gus Nichols was visiting with a group of preachers and was talking about how we get those feelings that everything hangs on us.  He had a bucket of water sitting upon the stage and he asked each of us to walk up and put our hands down into the water and pull them out again.  It seemed like a strange exercise but we respected him and did it.  When we sat down he asked, “Now how big a dent did you leave in the water when you pulled your hand out?”  The point was made.  In life we may get those feelings of self-importance that everything will fall apart without us, but the Lord holds it all in his hands.  Our job is to follow Jesus and glorify God by life or death.

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