Strategies for Last Days Living

Please read 2 Peter 3:11-18 in your Bible.  I used the NIV for my research, but there is no compulsory choice.

As if he’d received a diagnosis of terminal cancer, the Apostle Peter dealt with the question, “How would I live if I knew today were my last day?”  In our time, people have answered this question by writing “Bucket Lists.”  It’s become so common we all know that a “Bucket List” is the things you want to do before you “kick the bucket.”

There’s even a website where members can explore over SIX MILLION ideas of things to add to their Bucket List.  You can not only get ideas there, but you can share your own Bucket List items and your experiences crossing them off.

Have you seen the TV commercial where they guy is driving his elderly dog all over, crossing items off the dog’s Bucket List?  Do you remember the product they were selling?  HINT: a dog can’t use it.

Notice that most of the items that make Bucket Lists are possessing worldly items or doing things that excite or please the flesh.  Many are taking advantage of the fact that you won’t be held responsible for some mean-spirited or illegal acts.

How many Bucket Lists have you seen that include something like GROW IN THE GRACE AND KNOWLEDGE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST?  How about you?  If it became clear your time was drawing to an end, would this make your Bucket List?  Would it be a priority?

REVIEW (See the previous two posts.)

  1. We are called to be Saints among Scoffers (3:1-7).
  2. God’s timing is not your timing (3:8-10).

NEW

  1. Last Days Living (3:11-18).

Number One Last days Living Strategy = Live like it matters (vs. 11-13).  Knowing that this reality will end in fire could just as easily become Nihilism or some other excuse for ungodliness, saying, “The end is near and clear, so it doesn’t matter what I do.”

Peter wants to deny the SCOFFERS this excuse by asking the pertinent question: “Since the end is coming some day, how should we live today?” (11)  And then he immediately answers it; “We should live HOLY AND GODLY LIVES.”

The word HOLY describes a spiritual condition.  It means that my existence is set apart to God.  I no longer live for myself, but for God’s will.  The word GODLY describes a moral condition.  It means that with God’s help I am going to do the right thing with all the days given me.

Peter gave two good reasons for living HOLY AND GODLY LIVES in v. 12.  Firstly, AS YOU LOOK FORWARD TO THE DAY OF GOD. The Second Coming of Jesus is an event only His followers will anticipate with relish, because it is the day on which all the promises of God are realized, our faith is vindicated, and we go to our eternal home in new bodies, heavenly versions of our bodies.  Verse thirteen elaborates on this PROMISE God, adding that we have a new HOME to which we can look forward.  It is nothing less than a new reality (a NEW HEAVEN AND EARTH).  It is a place characterized by RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Secondly, in the phrase AND SPEED ITS COMING.  He didn’t need to, but God has chosen to partner with us in bringing about the DAY OF GOD!  We learned last Sunday that the Second Coming was being held back to give everyone every opportunity to repent and be saved.  As you and I participate with God in helping people come to faith, then we move God’s timetable ahead if the people who are going to be saved are saved sooner.  If anyone who claims to follow Christ but has never had the experience of leading someone to Christ, then they have not participated in speeding the Day of the Lord and need to be serious about their claim.

Number Two Last Days Living Strategy = Live blamelessly and biblically (vs. 14-16).  The phrase SO THEN in v. 14 might be paraphrased, “Now that you’re properly motivated, here’s where your part comes in.”  What will be true of people who are headed for heaven is their daily choice to MAKE EVERY EFFORT to live the HOLY AND GODLY LIVES mentioned in verse eleven.

Heaven-bound believers will MAKE EVERY EFFORT to live that way beyond all accusations of falsehood or hypocrisy.  Peter describes this EFFORT in terms of the EFFORT put into our relationships.

SPOTLESS and BLAMELESS refer to our relationships with one another.  We want our moral and spiritual life to give evidence that our claims of faith are true and give form to our witness to those who’ve not yet believed.

AT PEACE WITH HIM refers to our relationship with God, that we have accepted His gift of salvation and been forgiven our sins.

Verse fifteen reminds us of what we learned earlier; the “delay” of the Second Coming is a demonstration of God’s PATIENCE.  As we are the beneficiaries of God’s PATIENCE, it is fitting that we patiently await the fulfillment of all God’s promises.

In verses fifteen and sixteen, Peter supports this teaching by referencing the writings of his fellow Apostle, Paul, noting how the two of them were in agreement on this issue.  This is interesting, because Peter and Paul weren’t always on the same side of issues and Peter had to bear Paul’s rebuke at least once.  What Peter does in these verses is also important because it is Scripture verifying itself as the word of God, His revelation to us in written form.

Peter wants to protect the truth, especially the truth about the Second Coming, from the SCOFFERS.  One way he goes about that is to say, “Paul’s had to deal with his own scoffers and we are both in agreement about this teaching concerning the Second Coming to refute their false teaching that it’s not going to happen or has already happened.”

Number Three Last Days Living Strategy = Live guardedly, growing in Christ (vs. 17+18).  The word THEREFORE warns us that a summary and/or application of the previous teaching is about to occur.  In this case, we’ve been served notice: a WARNING has been given.  Peter warned his readers that this reality and all the people who have – by rejecting God – declared their allegiance to it, will be destroyed by fire.

Part of what makes this teaching so crucial is that it is a warning we all need to hear repeatedly.  Unbelieving people need to hear it so they will repent and be saved.  Believers need to hear it to renew our commitment to follow Jesus in the days we have left.

Peter’s warning is to the people in the church, as indicated by his salutation – DEAR FRIENDS – in verse fourteen.  That church people can be believers and unbelievers may come as a shock to some.  As much as we try to honor the doctrine of regenerate church membership, experience, reason, and Scripture combine to demonstrate that every local church has some degenerate members.

First, he warned the unbelieving church folk (the degenerates) that they need to be on GUARD lest the false teaching of the SCOFFERS cause them to fall away from what otherwise looked like a SECURE POSITION.

Second, he warned the believing church folk (the regenerates) to confirm their true standing in Christ by GROWING IN THE GRACE AND KNOWLEDGE OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST.  Science teaches that growth is part of the definition of life; things that are alive grow.  Peter sets forth two signs that we can use to judge whether we are alive in Christ or just faking it.

First, the phrase GROWING IN GRACE means that the temperament and character of a true disciple will be in the process of becoming more like Jesus.  We need to acknowledge that aging and maturing are two different things.  In fact, it may be observed that the majority of people “freeze” at a point of maturity and though they continue to age, they do not mature.

Second, the phrase GROWING IN KNOWLEDGE means that a true disciple is always a learner, always humble about what they know.  Humble people know in their hearts and say aloud that the more they learn, the more they realize they have more to learn.  Humble people acknowledge the biggest “room” in their home is “room for improvement.”

So believers and unbelievers are both being warned, but to different ends.  Peter is NOT warning the believers that they can forfeit their salvation.  Instead, he is giving church folk (both believers and unbelievers) a warning that simply claiming faith is not enough.  A genuine faith is not merely assumed or claimed; it is proven by how we live in these LAST DAYS.  Since God already knows our hearts, we are proving our faith to ourselves and others by the maturing of our character into Christ-likeness.

Believers are NOT given this warning to undermine our confidence in our salvation, but to give us signs we can see on our own, to verify our confidence.  This warning was given to humble us and cast us back on the grace of God and stand on that alone.  In this understanding Peter was again in agreement with Paul, who wrote; SO IF YOU THINK YOU ARE STANDING FIRM, BE CAREFUL THAT YOU DON’T FALL! (1 Corinthians 10:12)

Peter ends this letter giving GLORY to OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST, which is the happy task of all His followers and the best use of our LAST DAYS on earth.

In his book, The Quest For Character, Charles Swindoll wrote about a little blue box held in the Library of Congress.  A label on the box reads: CONTENTS OF THE PRESIDENT’S POCKETS ON THE NIGHT OF APRIL 14, 1865.  Here’s what was in Abraham Lincoln’s pockets on the night he died:

  • A handkerchief, embroidered “A. Lincoln.”
  • A country boy’s pen knife.
  • A spectacles case repaired with string.
  • A purse containing a $5 bill — in Confederate currency!
  • Some old and worn newspaper clippings.

The clippings were concerned with the great deeds of Abraham Lincoln. One of them reported a speech by John Bright which said Abraham Lincoln was “one of the greatest men of all times.”

John Bright was a British statesman who was quite right in his assessment of Lincoln, but in 1865 many others had a contrary opinion. The President had fierce critics.   It is touchingly pathetic to imagine this great leader seeking comfort from a few newspaper clippings.

<See https://bible.org/illustration/little-blue-box.&gt;

True believers will, like Lincoln, face adversity in this life.  God promised that following Him would be worth it, but He did not promise it would be easy.  Peter faced his SCOFFERS and Paul opposed false teachers in the churches he founded.  Without bowing to opposition or compromising to the world, the promises and the warnings will be held dear by those who are true.  It is worth it.

E.Q.

(Note to the reader: This is the first time in my almost-three decades of preaching that I’ve had a convergence of what I’ve preached on and a secular source.  In the morning paper the very next day I read an op-ed piece by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, writing for USA Today, that said essentially the same thing I was saying in the sermon below.  Of course this validates neither my message nor MacDonald’s article, but is, at least, a happy agreement between myself and Mr. MacDonald that forgetting one’s emotions is perilous, even ludicrous advice.  We are far better served to be sensitive to our feelings and make decisions based on this information as part of our set of data.  Unfortunately the Stoics and Evangelicals have insisted on the opposite.)

Please read Proverbs 4:20-27.

Message: Emotions are part of the Image of God, an aspect of our inner life that we ignore at our own peril.

It is believed that the most secure place in the world is said to be the United States Reserve at Fort Knox.  Fort Knox is located close to Louisville, Ky. and is home to much of the nation’s gold reserve. Let me share with you how this reserve is protected.

Our nations gold reserve is housed in a two story building constructed of granite, steel, and concrete. It is 105 ft by 121 ft, and is 42 ft above ground level. Within this building is a two level steel and concrete vault that is divided into compartments. The vault door weighs more than 20 tons. No one person is entrusted with the combination. Various members of the staff must dial separate combinations known only to them. The vault casing is constructed of steel plates, steel I-beams and steel cylinders laced with hoop bands, and encased in concrete. The outer wall of the depository is constructed of granite lined with concrete. Construction materials used on the bldg included 16,500 cubic feet of granite, 4,200 cubic yards of concrete, 750 tons of reinforcing steel and 670 tons of structural steel.

At each corner of the structure on the outside, but connected with it, are four guard boxes. Sentry boxes. Sentry boxes, similar to the guard boxes at the corners of the Depository, are located at the entrance gate. A driveway encircles the building and a steel fence marks the boundaries of the site.             The building is equipped with the most modern security devices. The nearby Army Post provides additional protection. The Depository is equipped with its own emergency power plant, water system and other facilities.

There is another place which needs to be well guarded. We need to make certain of its security because it is the most important place in the world. That place is our heart ! Why is the heart so important? Why does it need to be guarded with such diligence?  That’s what we’ll find out today.

(Quoted from a sermon entitled “Guarding Our Hearts” by Mike Turner, retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/guarding-our-hearts-mike-turner-sermon-on-lordship-of-christ-66178.asp  on 5/15/15.)

Context: Near the end of a lengthy teaching on the supreme worth of wisdom, the writer identifies one particularly important aspect of wisdom: guarding the source of our inner life.

Comment:

  1. What is the “heart?”

The HEART is the center of one’s inner life.

As a pre-scientific culture, the writers of Proverbs and did not share our understanding of the internal organs.  For example, the word “brain” is not used at all in the Bible.  I don’t know what they thought it was for.  The word heart is found 963 times in the Bible.  Just as the organs are typically unseen – lying beneath the surface just as thoughts and feelings do – it was believed that the inner life was conducted in the organs.  Also, Bible writers had a holistic view of personhood, so the thoughts and feelings together found their origin in the organs.  The differentiation between head (reason) and heart (emotion) came centuries later.  So the word HEART is the way modern translations render the biblical word for the focus of a person’s inner life.

The HEART can be either soft or hard.  Hard-heartedness is condemned as a vice.  It is stubbornness, resistance to God, and an unloving attitude toward one’s neighbor.  Soft-heartedness is commended as a virtue.  It is characterized as graciousness, being receptive to God, and compassionate to one’s neighbor.

God alone knows every person’s heart.  Oftentimes, we don’t know our own hearts, living in a willful ignorance that is manifest in our disobedience of God.  God works to change our hearts.

  1. How is the heart the WELLSPRING OF LIFE?

It is our point of connection to God, the life-giver.  It is the overlap of physical and spiritual.  The spiritual side of life is the MOST real side.  It is the WELLSPRING OF LIFE because it is our point of connection with God.

We mistakenly place a greater value on the physical and pragmatic aspects of life.  Physical things are only temporary; spiritual things are eternal.  They are also limited in space.  God is a spirit and He is the most real thing that can be known.  The outer life is generally superficial; the inner life is generally more profound and permanent.

The HEART is the means by which we perceive and participate in spiritual life.  It is partly understood by our physical senses and developed by our knowledge.  However, it is also sensed by intuition, measured by emotion, and defined by imagination.  We need both material and non-material information to truly appreciate our inner life.

The heart is the WELLSPRING OF LIFE because it helps us appreciate things that are not necessary for survival, but make life better, more joyous.  Sometimes we take a simplistic approach and devalue things that are abstract, emotional, subjective, or otherwise difficult to “get a handle on.”  But when Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone,” He affirmed that life is more than surviving and that attention needs to be paid to the spiritual side of life too.

The heart is the WELLSPRING OF LIFE because it is the motivator of our attitudes and actions.  It’s hard to argue for love, joy, and grace when duty, order, and obligation are so much easier and offer greater control over others.  However, the Bible makes clear that love is the highest and best and most godly motive.  It’s easier and quicker to motivate others with physical treats and threats, but more lasting and profound motivations are the ones that appeal to the emotional and spiritual parts of who we are.

Therefore it’s worth the extra work to achieve a change of heart than it is to change someone’s actions instead.   It’s like the old proverb of teaching a man to fish: “If you change a person’s actions, you’ve changed him for today.  If God changes a person’s heart, he’s changed for life.

  1. How are we to GUARD our heart?

Guard your heart by keeping your heart simple.  “Simple” is not simplistic or ignorant.  It means “undivided,” or “honest,” or “WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get).”  A person’s heart becomes complicated by dishonesty, discontentment, unresolved emotional situations and by being manipulated by others.  A person’s heart becomes simplified by honesty, contentment, standing firm in the truth and testing the spirits to avoid manipulation, and by resolving emotion-laden situations.

Guard your heart by keeping your motives pure.  “Integrity” is the cultural buzzword for the biblical word “purity.” Integrity is an honesty of character that is found in a person whose claims and actions match.  But purity aims higher still; it is found in a person whose actions match God’s standard.  We don’t dumb down or reduce God’s standards in order to make it easier to comply.  The Church has been guilty of that far too often in recent generations.  Instead, we study the Bible to learn God’s standards.  We have the Holy Spirit to empower us to keep those standards.  We have forgiveness when we fail.  It’s a system designed for our success.  Failure is on us.

We maintain God’s gracious purity by resisting temptation.  Temptation is unavoidable;  giving into it is inexcusable, but fortunately, God’s grace restores us perfectly.  Temptation is resistible; God has promised we will never be tempted beyond our power to say no and walk away from it.

We resist temptation by doing t following:

– Replace worldly priorities with godly ones (see Matthew 6:3).

– Seek the “door of escape” promised in 1 Corinthains 10:13.

Keep your focus on Jesus.  Make it your ambition to do what Jesus would do: reproduce His character in you.  Read a portion of the Gospels every day.  Look t/t clouds; be mindful of Jesus’ 2nd Coming.

Claim the promise of God’s word: in Philippians 4:7 it is written, AND THE PEACE OF GOD, WHICH TRANSCENDS ALL UNDERSTANDING, WILL GUARD YOUR HEARTS AND MINDS IN CHRIST JESUS.

Perhaps you’ve been wondering about the term “E.Q.” in the title of this message.  If so, it would be fair to ask where you’ve been for the last 20 years.  In 1994 Daniel Goleman published a book that popularized the notion of “E.Q.” or “Emotional Quotient,” as a measure of a person’s knowledge and capability to understand and make use of one’s emotional states.  His best-selling book was Emotional Intelligence, and while it did not present new research into understand human emotional nature, it presented the subject in a way that made it useful to the broader spectrum of people in our culture.  In the two decades since its publication, the concepts Goleman presented in Emotional Intelligence have become part of our language.

Here’s how Goleman defined the titular term as “self-control, zeal and persistence, and the ability to motivate oneself.”  (Goleman, p. xxii.)  This is a field of study that proposes to do what the writer of Proverbs urged the wise person to do.  (This is yet another example of the keen insight into human nature we can glean from a study of the Bible.  God’s Word is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago!)

John Chrysostom, the “golden-throated” preacher and archbishop of Constantinople (349-407 A.D.) wrote, “Find the door of your heart, you will discover it is the door of the kingdom of God.”  (Quoted from Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero, p. 80.)  Chrysostom wrote truthfully, for God has been revealed in the Bible as an emotional being.  Scazzero provides us with some examples of God’s emotional states on pages 70-71.

– Delight or at least satisfaction in Genesis 1:25, 31.

– Grief in Genesis 6:6.

– Jealousy in Exodus 20:5.

– Pain in Isaiah 42:14.

– Anger in Jeremiah 30:24.

– His love is explained everywhere in the Bible, but look at Jeremiah 31:3 as an example.

– Compassion in Hosea 11:8.

– Sorrow in Matthew 36:37-38.

– Distress in Mark 3:5.

– Joy in Luke 10:21.

These divine emotions are NOT found in Scripture because the authors are trying to anthropomorphize God.  They are writing under God’s inspiration to explain to us that part of God’s nature – and, by way of the Image of God (see Genesis 1:26) – our nature too.  Therefore, an important but neglected aspect of discipleship is learning how to live within our emotions.  We can receive divine guidance through our feelings.  In these and many ways, we ignore our hearts in violation of God’s revealed will and at our own peril.

Friend, why continue to suffer from your own heart?  Why be merely reactive, blown back and forth by the winds of emotional change?  Why not begin today to learn and master your emotions?  It is God’s will for your life as a disciple.

Goleman, Daniel, Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter more than IQ, Bantam Dell, New York, NY, 2006.

Scazzero, Peter, Emotionally Mature Spirituality, Integrity, Franklin, TN, 2006.