Love Without Limits

(Please read Matthew 18:21-35 in your favorite version of the Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

Those of us of a certain age will recognize the name W.C. Fields, the rest of you will have to google it.  A famous comic actor in the black and white era of motion pictures, Fields played mostly grumpy old men in his movies.  It turns out that off-screen, he was a grumpy old man and a drunken rascal.

W.C. Fields was also a notorious atheist.  That’s why a friend of his was astonished to discover Fields, at the end of his life, reading the Bible.  He asked Fields, “Why in the world are you reading the Bible?  Are you looking for answers?”

The comedian replied, “No, I’m looking for loopholes.”

Looking for loopholes.  That pretty well describes human nature doesn’t it?  We want maximum gain with minimal effort.  We expect to be rewarded above and beyond our lukewarm commitment and selfishly motivated actions.  Justice and mercy are things we want when they benefit us, but are far less concerned about them for the sake of others.  Particularly for people whom we do not happen to like.

The last time I preached on this passage was 20 years ago.  At that time, God was using a peculiar method to teach me about mercy.  God used Woofie to give me daily opportunities to show forgiveness.

Woofie came into our lives as “Wolfie;”  we changed her name to make her sound less aggressive.  The change of name had no effect on her nature, however.

Woofie was the poster dog of the local Humane Society.  Really.  She was a stray who’d been hanging around a cemetery, barely eking out a living, in bad shape when she was caught.  Life on her own did not prepare Woofie to be a house dog.

She loved everyone in the family and hated all other life forms.  She was a barker.  A jumper.  She bolted every chance she could get, so we had to devise an elaborate and strong pulley system to let her outdoors.  One of her favorite tricks was to walk up next to Melanie and bump her with her backside, sending Melanie, then a toddler, sprawling and bawling on the floor.  When we watched a movie and ate popcorn, she would bark angrily if you didn’t frequently flip a kernel her way.

The story has a happy ending.  Woofie lived with us for more than a decade.  She peacefully lay down to sleep one day and never awoke again.

What eventually made the difference was love.  And forgiveness.  Lots and lots of forgiveness of her canine sins.

Now, twenty years later, we find ourselves in a similar situation.  We adopted Rue from the Sioux Falls Humane Society just before Christmas and her list of doggie offenses is growing.  I must be a slow learner to have to go through this again!

  1. The occasion: Peter asked a question.

Rabbis (Jewish teachers) are and were tasked with applying the Law of Moses to everyday life.  When they did so, they tended to use a very legalistic approach.  They taught that a person might be forgiven three times for a repeated sin.  On the fourth occasion, however, no one was required to  forgive something a fourth time.

It’s possible that when Peter offered the number SEVEN, he was surpassing the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees as Jesus had commanded in 5:20. (“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”)  Or Peter may’ve settled on SEVEN since that was seen as “the perfect number,” the number for God.  (Six is the number for man; always one short.)  In either case, Jesus had just been talking about the steps in restoring fellow church members from sin to forgiveness and this sparked Peter’s questioning mind.  He wanted to know if there were any loopholes in this matter of forgiveness and restoration.

In the first part of His answer, Jesus one-ups Peter and adds a second seven.  (In some texts it’s plus seventy, in others, it times seventy.  Since we’re NOT dealing with a legalism here, the difference makes no difference.)  Jesus sometimes uses humor and exaggeration to make His point and I believe that’s what’s happening here.  SEVENTY-SEVEN and 490 are both ridiculous numbers if you intend to make it a law.  Who would have the capacity to keep such a command?  How would keeping an exhaustive count of offenses make anyone feel better or make you more godly?

No, SEVENTY-SEVEN is obviously a metaphor for a limitless number.  Once they’ve had a chuckle over the first part of His answer, Jesus goes on to tell them a story that will justify effectively limitless forgiveness.

  1. The one main point of the parable: “Forgive one another as you have been forgiven by God the Father.”

We will show how Jesus’ parable develops this truth in just a moment.  For now, we note the large strokes.

The KING is God the Father.  Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, He forgives the massive, impossible-for-us-to-fix debt of our sin.

We are the unforgiving servant when we take out our petty anger on the people around us, who are represented by the FELLOW SERVANT.

The unforgiving servant had no mercy, so he received justice instead; justice in the form of judgment.  The warning in v. 35 could not be clearer: people who are unwilling to forgive will miss out on God’s forgiveness.

  1. The sub-points of the parable:

One: The debt the king forgave was impossible to repay.  In Jesus’ world, it was possible for servants of a KING to amass a debt in the course of their service to the king.  They were tasked with managing their master’s assets and logically their management wasn’t always successful.  In such cases, the master didn’t write a loss off, but held the manager accountable, counting the loss as a debt owed him.  (This system sounds a bit like riding a tiger; choose carefully which end you face!)

Even so, this amount is another purposeful exaggeration: Jesus used an impossibly large amount of money to create the impression that the debt was impossible to repay.  For context, I refer you to a 2010 article by Philip Massey who calculated the debt to require 200,000 YEARS of labor to repay.  The 2010 equivalent, his math said, was $7.04 billion.

– OR, the net worth of Bill Gates.

– OR, more than the national debt… in 1917!!

<Retrieved from http://chimes.biola.edu/story/2010/oct/27/parable-two-debtors/ on 1/6/17.>

The king did the math and realized that even if he sold this man’s entire family into slavery (as he did in v. 25), it would not make a dent in his losses.  His original motive must’ve been to get what he could and make an example of this servant and his horrible mismanagement of the king’s funds.

He orders the servant and all his family and possessions seized for the debt.  Our sympathy may naturally go to the servant, but think about it: if the indebted servant realized the debt was impossible to pay, his pleading with the king to be PATIENT, promising to repay all, was a lie.

Let’s note the character of the KING on the basis of his response to his servant’s plea.  His character is substantiated in v. 27: it was PITY, not the empty promise of repayment that motivated the king to cancel the servant’s debt.  Let there be no doubt this king is a figure symbolizing God the Father.

– Each person’s sin is an insurmountable debt, a problem we can’t fix.

– Not because of our empty promises to be good, or anything else we can do, the debt is cancelled.

– Does this help you understand the incredible seriousness of your sins AND the depth of God’s forgiveness?

– Remember, the money is a metaphor; the actual situation is even more dire, for the wages of sin are DEATH (RMS 6:23).

Two, the debt the servant did not forgive was tiny in comparison.  The modern value of A HUNDRED SILVER COINS would be up to $45,000.  That is a princely sum for most of us, I would guess, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to $7.04 billion.

This is a third exaggeration, a sum chosen carefully by Jesus.            On the one hand, it is not so small a sum of money that a person could easily forgive the debt and not miss it.  A needy or greedy person would be motivated to insist on repayment.  On the other hand, it is not so large a sum that it compares at all with the debt this servant’s master had JUST CANCELLED.

In v. 29, the second servant’s plea reads almost exactly the same as the plea the unforgiving servant has just made with the king.  Here Jesus is using irony to make sure that we connect the unforgiving servant with the one who owed him money.  The unforgiving servant takes the place of the KING and the second servant takes his place.  Though the debts are very much different, the situation, through the wording, is very much the same.  What is different is the outcome.

It is a terrible, immoral deed that the unforgiving servant does to his peer, throwing him in prison over this comparatively tiny debt after he has been forgiven so much (30).  What he did was as illegal as it was immoral.  According to the law of the land, you could not sell a person into slavery for a debt that was worth less than the person’s life.  In other words, the unforgiving servant was trying to not only recover his debt, but make a profit too.  This detail exposes the unforgiving servant as greedy, not needy.

Three, the king’s justice is an example of God’s justice.  The injustice of the unforgiving servant’s actions was not lost on his peers.  Jesus says they were GREATLY DISTRESSED (31).  Probably at some personal risk, they went to the KING and told him what had happened.  This makes even more sense if the actions of the unforgiving servant are illegal AND immoral.

In vs. 32-34 we are pleased to see that this KING, who was so good-natured as to forgive such a massive debt, also had a good sense of justice.  He was indignant at the unforgiving servant’s actions and rebuked him for his pettiness, his unwillingness to demonstrate the same kind of mercy as he had recently received.

In righteous anger, the KING delivered a just condemnation of the unforgiving servant.  The word translated in the NIV as JAILERS is really too tame a choice of words.  It should read “torturers.”  The justice and mercy of the KING are a stark contrast to the greed and injustice of the unforgiving servant.

Four, let unforgiving folk be warned (35).  God’s justice is perfect; He knows who is guilty and the punishment always fits the crime.

This warning could not be more clear.  Unforgiving people betray the true status of their soul as themselves being unforgiven.  There is a cause and effect relationship between being shown mercy and giving mercy.

This warning could be more serious.  Our eternal destination is at stake.  Just as the unforgiving servant was handed over to the “torturers,” so can an unmerciful person expect only the wrath of God.

This warning could not be any more certain.  The unforgiving servant was exposed and justice was rendered.  He may have gone away from his first encounter thinking he’d fooled the king but his true nature emerged and he was dealt with justly.

Several years ago, on a beautiful spring day a man walked along a country lane to enjoy the sun.  He chanced upon a farmer plowing his field with a mule.  He was having a tough time of it.  The mule was not very responsive.

The visitor waved to the farmer and motioned for him to come over to the fence.  The farmer mopped his sweaty brow as he came over to the fence to greet his friendly visitor.

“Say,” the visitor said, “I’m not one to tell a man how to do his business, but I think that mule would be more cooperative if you’d say ‘Gee’ and ‘Haw’ to him when you wanted him to turn.”

The farmer considered this advice for but a moment and replied, “Reckon that’s so, but that mule kicked me five years ago and I haven’t talked to it since.”

Holding a grudge against people makes about as much sense, doesn’t it?  As this parable makes plain, grudge-holding and all forms of being unforgiving and unmerciful have no place in the life of a follower of Jesus.

Instead, just the opposite is true.  A claim to faith by a person or a church is proven by a character of mercy.  This quality of a fellowship (church) is also necessary to attract and retain new people in a church.

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Be Good, Even to the GFN

Please read Luke 6:32-36 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV for my remarks.

Goodness is a Fruit of the Spirit to be shown to all people.

“Abijah Powers felt moderately sure nobody would recognize him when he registered under an assumed name at the little inn. It was more than twenty years since he had left the town–a hard, reckless boy, running away from a good father and a devoted mother because he hated goodness and loved lawlessness and his own way.

“For years he had led the life of a vagabond. Then the spirit of adventure was aroused in him by the stories of the wealth of the Klondike. He joined one of the earliest parties, in that hazardous search for gold, and succeeded beyond his dreams. Now he had come back, with his old instincts, but with the wealth of a millionaire, and some strange compulsion led him to the village where he first drew breath.

“He did not even know whether his parents were living or dead. It was altogether likely they were dead. With that conviction and without asking a question, he made his way in the August twilight to the graveyard, and to the spot where for three generations his ancestors had been laid.

“Yes, there were new stones placed since he had been there. The sight moved him strangely. He bent to read the inscription on the first one. It was to the memory of his father, ‘Died, 1884.  Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.’

“The date cut the man to the heart. His father had died a year after the only son had run away! And his mother had been left alone! But perhaps she had followed her husband mercifully soon. Again he bent to read, this time with tear-filled eyes, ‘Died, 1902.  And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.’

“His mother had been alone for eighteen years! She was but just dead — in poverty, perhaps; certainly in loneliness. He drew himself up as if to shake off a hideous dream.             “But the other stone – whose grave could that mark? They had no relatives except some distant cousins. Perhaps some one of them had done for his mother what he ought to have done in her long, desolate years. Again he stooped to read – his own name. ‘Abijah Powers. Born 1870; died–.  The only son of his mother, and she was a widow.’

“It was his own gravestone, set up by his mother when her hope of his return was dead. Out of the depth of his memory there flashed up the story of the widow of Nain, and the gracious presence which spoke the word of life to her dead son. How many times his mother must have read and re-read the page, and how frequently she must have prayed that her boy, bone of her bone, and flesh of her flesh, might be given back to her arms!

“The thought was anguish to the graceless son, and it brought him to his knees beside his own empty grave. With his hand resting over his mother’s head he wept as he had not wept since he was a child. They were gracious drops. Out of the mother’s love, which had found its cold comfort in the words of scripture for the grave that was no grave, there came, indeed, the resurrection of the real, living soul.

“The widow’s son went out of the graveyard that night a new man. The world wondered what had happened to him. Money did not often make a man over from a devil to a saint; but that miracle seemed to have been worked in Abijah Powers. Nobody knew that the transformation did not come from the touch of Klondike gold, but from the power of love — reaching from beyond the vale, and speaking from the cold marble of a gravestone.” –Youth’s Companion  <Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-michael-mccartney-stories-confessionofsin-repentance-15006.asp  on 6/24/16.>

  1. God’s four-fold standard for how to treat everyone,

including the Good For Nothin’.

First: Show them LOVE (32).  It is not a display of godly love to love people who have already declared their love for you.  Jesus said even “SINNERS” do that.

The word SINNERS is in quotation marks in your Bible to show that Jesus is using that word with more than a bit of irony.  The Jewish religious leaders would have used that word with disdain to refer to pagans, tax collectors, prostitutes, and other “low-lifes” they had decided weren’t really worth it.  Worse than that, they believed that merely associating with the GFNs corrupted a good person and made them unclean.

This was one of their complaints about Jesus: He hung out with the GFNs.  Jesus’ message here is don’t just be loving, good, generous and merciful to the people whom you know have been or will be loving, good, generous, and merciful to you.

Do the right thing without any strings attached.  Do not be motivated by what you hope to gain in this life, but by the REWARD only God can give: in this life and/or in the next.  True love is unconditional.  Achieving that is impossible apart from God, so when we act with this kind of love, we demonstrate we are God’s people.

Second: Treat them with GOODNESS (33).  Goodness is our Fruit of the Spirit for the month of June.  Remember, this is the Year of Jubilee so we’ve been highlighting a different Fruit each month.  Goodness is an active state; we don’t wait for the other person to express a need, we look for opportunities to do good and act when they present themselves.

Claiming faith is easy (which is why most people do it) but enacting it is more difficult.  This is because goodness requires sacrifice.

– Sacrifice of time/my schedule/convenience.

– Getting outside comfort zone.

– Sacrifice of money, goods.

– Sacrifice of prejudices.

Third: Show them GENEROSITY (34).  Generosity does not make much sense financially; it is primarily an investment of earthly goods in order to realize heavenly dividends.

For example, consider the difference between a bank and a church.  A bank loans money to people after they’re assured they can pay it back.  AND they charge them interest for the privilege. A church gives to those in need, not expecting or even wanting a repayment.  We may take steps to verify the need, but we give without strings attached.

Fourth: Forgive and forbear: show MERCY (36).  The justification for being merciful is that we have been shown mercy by our heavenly Father.  We are to gratefully follow His example.

Mercy is the virtue of giving kindness in return for cruelty.  It is NOT insisting on one’s rights or on punishment or getting even.  Mercy is not getting what you deserve, but instead getting what you don’t deserve.  For most people, mercy is not our first reaction when we have been hurt.  But our first reaction is not often the most godly one either, is it?  As with all virtues, doing mercy takes time & practice.  Whether society calls you a SINNER or not, mercy is what God has shown to all people.

  1. What’s in it for you: a GREAT REWARD. (35)

All four of the virtues presented here can be described as different forms of grace.  Jesus taught that showing grace to people who are ungracious to you is to your CREDIT.  That is the Greek word for “grace.”  In our worldly frame of mind, in our human nature, we want to insist on fairness, especially when the big ME is left holding the bag.  This is backwards to God’s economy.  We are promised that showing grace merits us eternal rewards.  God will make justice happen, but not in your timing or in the way I might prefer.  1 Peter 3:19-21 also talks about CREDIT with God being earned by enduring suffering we experience as a result of doing God’s will.

What kind of reward are we talking about?  Is it worth all the trouble of being good?

It’s not an earthly reward.  I say that because in v. 35 Jesus commands us to LOVE, DO GOOD, and LEND WITHOUT EXPECTING ANYTHING BACK.  The word ANYTHING means precisely that.  We are not to be motivated by any expectation of earthly reward, including recognition (like a “thank you”) or even gratitude.  Remember, this standard includes the GFN folk some of whom will not be polite or even think about repaying you.

The adjective GREAT makes me think the reward will be heavenly.  The Greek word for REWARD more often refers to the wage given to workers.  So there is a real sense that these rewards have been earned, or at least, are given in response to sacrifices made.

It is rewarding to be named SONS [children] OF THE MOST HIGH.  We are adopted into the family of God (see Romans 8:23).  We need to act in ways that honor our family name and are in accord with our family character.  We stand for something great.  Our family character has been acted out in Jesus Christ.  We seek to speak and act in ways that would be in accord with Him.

Your reward will be in proportion to your sacrifice. See Luke 18:28-30, where Jesus makes this promise to His 12 disciples who left so much to follow Him.

We are rewarded for being like God – for acting in ways consistent with His character and will.  In this passage, that means God who is KIND TO THE UNGRATEFUL AND WICKED.  Since God is KIND to people who are not KIND to Him, we must be too.

What SHOULD BE our motive for doing good?

– God said so: His commands are perfect and our delight

– Jesus’ Golden Rule (v. 31): Treat others as you want to be treated. Whether you ever get it back or not!

– Sensitivity to need. People need the Lord and have material needs too.  Love motivates us to help.

– Heavenly reward: what’s promised here.

The biggest impediment to our showing the goodness of God is our own goodness.  All around us every day there are people who have no more interest in God than an insurance policy.

They go about their daily lives without prayer or the word, assuming that their goodness alone will be good enough to get them into heaven.  The problem is, that our goodness is never good enough to merit eternal life.  People are condemning themselves to hellfire with their bland, misplaced trust in their own goodness.

Let me be clear – and this is good news, by the way – none of us is good enough.  Salvation is only by grace, it is the gift of God.  But the gifts of God do not stop at salvation.  He commands us to live our daily life doing good works and gives us all the resources we need to do it.  And on top of all that, God forgives us when we fail to do good and repent!

What’s required to receive all these gifts is to accept them by faith.  We can be good if we get ourselves out of the way and let God’s goodness be expressed in our daily living.

“A Native American and a white man were deeply moved by the same sermon. That very night the Native American received Jesus as his Savior, but for days the white man refused to accept Christ. At last he, too, repented and enjoyed the sweet peace of having his sins forgiven. Later he asked his Native American friend, ‘Why did it take me so long, while you responded right away?’

“’My brother,’ he replied, ‘I can best explain it by this little story: At one time a rich prince wished to give each of us a new coat. You shook your head and replied, “I don’t think so; mine looks good enough.” When he made the same offer to me, I looked at my old blanket and said, “This is good for nothing (GFN!),” and gratefully accepted the beautiful garment. You wouldn’t give up your own righteousness. But knowing I had no goodness of my own, I immediately received the Lord Jesus Christ and His righteousness.”’”

<Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-clyde-grimes-stories-confessionofsin-becomingachristian-11404.asp on 6/24/16.>

In his commentary, Darrell L. Bock wrote, “The call of the disciple is to a greater love, a distinct love, a love that is unique in the world.” (The New International Version Application Commentary, p. 194.)  Again, the point is that we stop trying to do it on our own.

This requires that we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit God gives to all people of faith.  We are sensitive to opportunities to do good and selfless enough to make the sacrifices of our resources of time, convenience, and pride.

(If you’d like to see and hear this message, go to YouTube.com and look up “EBCSF.”)

Wait Gain

(This is a topical message on patience.  I will be citing the NLT in the article below, but please read your favorite version of the Bible.)

Continuing our celebration of a Year of Jubilee, we turn in April to the Spiritual Fruit of Patience.  I suppose I could give you an opportunity to demonstrate patience by giving 40 minute sermons…  Instead, let’s examine what the Bible teaches about this virtue and assume that life will hand you opportunities to exercise patience.

            (Newser) – “At New Zealand’s National Aquarium, workers thought Inky the octopus had settled in nicely after he was brought in by a fisherman who found him in a lobster pot in 2014. Turns out he was just biding his time. Staff at the Napier aquarium believe that after the lid of Inky’s tank was left slightly ajar one night, he climbed out, slid across the wet floor, and escaped through a drainpipe that led to the sea, reports Stuff.co.nz. The football-sized, freedom-loving cephalopod would have had to squeeze through a pipe six inches diameter for more than 150 feet to make his escape.

“’Octopuses are famous escape artists,’ aquarium manager Rob Yarrell tells the Guardian. ‘But Inky really tested the waters here.’ He says Inky—who had games, toys, and three hand-fed meals of fish a week at the aquarium—is an ‘unusually intelligent’ octopus who was ‘very friendly, very inquisitive, and a popular attraction here,’ with more personality than Blotchy, the other resident octopus. After the amazing escape, ‘the staff and I have been pretty sad,’ Yarrell says. ‘But then, this is Inky, and he’s always been a bit of a surprise octopus.’”

(Retrieved from http://www.newser.com/story/223515/octopus-breaks-out-of-national-aquarium.html on 4/14/16.)

Inky was such a smart octopus, in fact, that he learned to unlock a box to get at the shrimp treat hidden inside.  If an octopus can be patient, why can’t beings with a backbone – like you and I – be patient too?

            Patience is a virtue commanded and commended throughout the Bible.  As is the case with all virtues, you will find that the practice of patience will make your life more enjoyable! This is the case because impatience creates crankiness and ruptures relationships.

Today we’ll see that patience is a virtue that God has shown to us in abundance.  He commands His people everywhere to follow His example and be patient.  Next Sunday we’ll examine how patience works in our relationships with one another.

  1. Wait upon the Lord to deliver you from trials (Psalm 27:14).

CONTEXT: Psalm 27 is arguably one of the most hopeful, upbeat psalms attributed to King David.  V. 14 ends this psalm with a realistic note that some time may pass between promise and fulfillment; we must be prepared to wait patiently for the Lord to act.

COMMENT: Two phrases stand out.

The first is WAIT PATIENTLY FOR THE LORD.  To WAIT for the LORD to act is to exercise faith; it is to demonstrate trust in God.  It is easier to WAIT PATIENTLY if you are certain the Lord’s promise will be fulfilled.  Patience and certainty are two sides of the same coin.

– Certainty comes from experience – try God and you will find Him faithful.

– Certainty comes from knowledge of the Bible. The more you know God’s word, the more certain you are.

– Certainty comes from a personal relationship with God. The more you pray, the easier it is to trust Him.

The second is BE BRAVE AND COURAGEOUS.  Circumstances and emotions will sometimes conspire to test our patience.  Fear can set in and make us impatient.  This is why bravery and courage are so important.  The world and the Enemy will try to distract, discourage, and destroy your faith – don’t allow it!  Waiting on the Lord requires resisting temptation and fighting discouragement. The Lord’s promises are worth the wait!

  1. Wait upon the Lord for strength to endure trials (Isaiah 40:28-31).

CONTEXT: Isaiah 40 emphasizes the divine power of God at work on behalf of His people.  It was a comfort in the trying time of their captivity in Babylon.

COMMENT: We’ve already talked about fear, but during the time between promise and fulfillment, when faithful waiting is required, weariness can also set in. All four of these verses mention the weariness of life in one way or another.

These verses encourage us to depend on strength from God to empower our patience. After all, the LORD never GROWS FAINT OR WEARY (28); He is perfectly dependable.  He gives POWER and STRENGTH to people who find their circumstances exhausting (29).  In this life, even young & vital people experience weariness in body and soul (30), so depending on your own strength is not a good idea.  Promises of restoration are made to those who WAIT on the LORD (31).

– NEW STRENGTH

– We find three encouragements to keep moving forward:

— FLY HIGH ON THE WINGS OF EAGLES

— RUN AND NOT GROW WEARY.

— WALK AND NOT GROW FAINT.

As this encouragement was first given to the Jews who’d been held captive in Babylon, it seems likely that the movement motif is to lift up the hopes of the returnees.  God is saying, “The journey is long and a lot of work awaits those who return.  But don’t quit; I will strengthen you for every step of the journey back and for every stone lifted to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem and the temple within.”

These promises remind us that patience is not merely a version of endurance; there is more to waiting than passively standing by until something happens.  Patience is the virtue in which we surrender the illusion of control.  We learn by experience to depend on God for the strength we need to wait upon Him.  If we fail to be patient, it is a failure to be faithful.

  1. Wait upon the Lord as He waited upon you (1 Peter 3:9).

CONTEXT: Peter’s second letter attempts to provide some perspective.  He’s trying to show us WHY these things are important.  What we believe and what we do based on those beliefs have eternal consequences, which is as important as things get.

COMMENT: In v. 8, Peter tells us something important about God – He is eternal.  That means He is not stuck in any one moment in time like we are. Because that is so, He is not SLOW about keeping His promises just because we perceive a long time between promise and fulfillment.

Peter wrote that SOME PEOPLE (v. 9) use this as an excuse to be antitheists.  He had earlier (v. 3) identified them as SCOFFERS.  People will find lots of excuses to reject and mock the truth, and to persecute the faithful: the seeming slowness of God is one of them.

God is not SLOW.  Instead, He is being PATIENT with the human race.  He is giving everyone MORE TIME to REPENT.

Why?  Because, at this moment, the love of God moderates the holiness of God: HE DOES NOT WANT ANYONE TO PERISH.  It is never God’s will for anyone to go to hell.  That outcome is the product of their will, not His.  It is God’s will that everyone should REPENT and live eternally (see Ezekiel 18:23 and 1 Timothy 2:4). Rather than being evidence of God’s non-existence, impotence, or indifference, it is yet another sign of His mercy.  The point is, God is PATIENT (see Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Psalms 86:15; Jeremiah 15:15; Romans 2:4; 9:22) and His children are identified by patience.

At a time of His choosing, the Father’s holiness will take precedence over His love and judgment will be served (10).  Because we don’t know when that time will be, TODAY is the appropriate time to be saved.

Vernon McGee tells of a southern pastor who preached a powerful sermon on Isaiah 40 and concluded it in this way; “Brethren, this church, it needs to walk.” This comment was met with a chorus of “amens” from the deacons’ bench.

Encouraged, the preacher continued, “Brethren, this church, it needs to run!”  This comment was met with an even larger number of affirmative “amens.”

His voice reaching a crescendo, the preacher said, “Brethren, this church, it needs to fly!!”  Several people said, “amen and hallelujah.”

Then the preacher said, “Well, it’s going to cost money to make this church fly.”  One of trustees said loudly, “Let her walk, brother, let her walk!”  (Through The Bible, Vol. III, p. 287.)

Let me introduce you to what may be a new word:            ENNUI.  It is defined as a” lack of spirit, enthusiasm, or interest:  a feeling of weariness and dissatisfaction.

“The French loanword ennui comes from the very same Late Latin word that gave us ‘annoy’ – ‘inodiare’ (‘to make loathsome’). We borrowed ‘ennui’ several centuries after absorbing “annoy” into the language. ‘Ennui’ deals more with boredom than irritation – and a somewhat specific sort of boredom at that. It generally refers to the feeling of jadedness that can result from living a life of too much ease.”

(Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ennui on 4/14/16.)

I believe the word “ennui” sizes up one of our problems in the American Church.  We’ve been complacent, bored, and asleep at the wheel.  We’ve allowed secularists to define our culture and push us to the margins of political and public consciousness.         Then, ironically, our complacency turns to impatience with one another and petty differences cause deep divisions.  This does not honor God and is properly understood as SIN.  God has been patient with you and I, so we should exercise the same patience toward one another.

Patience is a virtue commanded and commended throughout the Bible.  Hasty words are as destructive as hasty actions; they both make life unpleasant. To sum it up, we’ll be happier and more holy if we remember to slow down and be patient.

High Altitude Attitudes – The Beatitudes (2 of 3)

(Please read Matthew 5:1-12, NIV.)

Message: The “Beatitudes” are Jesus’ plan for a happy and blessed life after major adjustments have been made.

In his book Daddy’s Home, Greg Johnson told this story:

“The first day of family vacation on the Oregon coast, we slept in and headed down to the beach around 9:00 am, looking for washed-up treasure: a perfect sand dollar, one with no chips or cracks.  Though we searched hard, we were skunked.  The next day the same thing happened – nada.

“On the third day, I saw a woman with a bag full of shells – many whole sand dollars – waling up the beach.

‘Where’d you find all those shells?’

‘Down the beach a mile or two.’

“Aha!  I wasn’t going far enough!  Then I realized, Someone’s already beat me to the good shells.  But if I get up earlier, I’ll find the treasure.

“Next morning, we arose at the crack of dawn.  After walking almost a mile down the beach, we’d found only one or two.  But a hundred yards farther on, we hit the mother lode: a dozen whole sand dollars in one 30-foot patch.  We continued on, eyes fixed on the sand – and collected more than 125 perfect sand dollars!

“Later, during my quiet time, the lesson hit me: We wanted treasure.  We got up earlier and traveled farther – and exceeded our goals beyond our wildest dreams.”

<Quoted from “Men of Integrity,” July/August 2002 edition, August 18th devotion.>

We’re continuing today on the subject of blessing, something we all want to experience.  We have often prayed for the Lord’s blessing, but do we often consider how we must work to be a blessing.  It is grace, but grace is not without effort on our part.

REVIEW

  1. High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Spiritual Poverty (3).
  2. High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Mourning (4).
  3. High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Meekness (5).

NEW

  1. High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Righteous Ambition (6).

Our attitude is selfish ambition.  The sin nature causes us to crave things for selfish reasons.  Though that part of us is crucified with Christ after we’re saved, our human nature

can cause us to fail to have righteous ambition.

We can fail by giving up too soon: Jesus appreciated those who showed their faith by not giving up at the first setback.  In Luke 5:18-26 we see how the friends of the paralyzed man broke a hole in the roof to lower their friend to Jesus.  He commended their faith and healed their friend.  In Luke 11:5-13 Jesus illustrated the benefit of perseverance with the parable of the man who banged on the door until his friend answered.

We can fail by accepting false ideas of what God’s will is.  When we are physically hungry and thirsty we don’t always seek food & drink that is good for us.  Likewise, when we have a craving to do God’s will we sometimes accept things as true which are not.

We can fail by not holding out for all the blessings God planned to give us.  Sometimes we’re too easily satisfied; our motivation is lost though there is work yet to be done for the king (see Isaiah 55:2).

The Jesus beatitude is righteous ambition.  RIGHTEOUSNESS is a huge biblical concept that includes moral purity, justice, equity, obedience to God, holiness, wholeness, consecrated to God.  Remember these beatitudes are God-given in grace, not by human effort; so RIGHTEOUSNESS must not be according to a merely human standard.  It must not be a legalism.

The adjustment is the experience of hungering and thirsting for righteousness.  This describes a state of spiritual maturity that is so integral and so intense that it becomes as regular and real a craving as physical HUNGER and THIRST. This is a powerful analogy because HUNGER AND THIRST are some of our strongest motivations.  When you truly feel these, you can think of little else until they are satisfied.  We may have rarely felt this urgency, but it’s real.

Jesus is our example of this level of maturity.  He said, “MY FOOD IS TO DO THE WILL OF HIM WHO SENT ME AND TO FINISH HIS WORK.” (John 4:34)

The reward is being filled with righteousness.  One symbol Jesus used for the Kingdom of God is that of a feast; the ultimate experience of getting HUNGER and THIRST satisfied.  (See Matthew 8:11; 22:1-10; Luke 22:30; John 6:26-59 for examples.) Biblically, to be FILLED is to be satisfied but not exhausting the unlimited resources of God.  As we do with natural hunger and thirst, we do not stay satisfied, but regain our appetite.  There should likewise be cycles of satisfaction and appetite in our spiritual life.  In order to receive a satisfying level of righteousness, we must trust God fully & exclusively.

  1. High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Mercy (7).

Our attitude is vengeance.  We can couch it in legal and moral-sounding terms, but revenge is never a God-approved motive.  The urge to avenge is most often a product of a person’s sin or human natures.  It’s a worldly solution that simply leads to more problems (i.e., the death penalty.)  Rules are not made to be broken, but real justice demands the possibility of exceptions and adjustments.  The most important thing is that the punishment fits the crime. The most important source of information is the context in which the offense occurred: are there any extenuating circumstances.  This is NOT making excuses!

When we are hurt, feel wronged, or experience loss, we naturally want someone to blame and someone to join us in our hurt.  The sinful nature can cause us to overreact vengefully, escalating the conflict.

The Jesus beatitude is mercy.  In these situations we are keen to talk about “rights,” especially when we’re looking out for ourselves, but there’s more at stake here than that.  Mercy is not getting what we deserve, but what we need.  The law and mercy are not opposites, but two sides of the same coin.  Indeed, it is impossible to have one without the other.  The law moderates acts of vengeance (distorted sense of justice), but mercy moderates them even further.   The desire for mercy is a motive for keeping the law and encouraging others to do likewise.

The adjustment is empathy.  Mercy is possible only by taking the other person’s place.  It is sympathy and empathy; an emotional exercise of imagination.  Since mercy is not usually part of our human nature, it must be built into our spiritual nature by God’s Holy Spirit and a study of the word; it is also God’s gift.

The reward is the experience of being shown mercy.  Let’s face it – we are all going to be in a situation where we need to receive mercy.  Despite all our plans and good intentions, circumstances change and we make a mistake or somehow find ourselves in the wrong.  In that moment we don’t need to have the book thrown at us, we need people who understand and are willing to forgive.  Being shown mercy helps us move toward forgiveness and restoration; closure of the offense.

All of that is on a human scale – how much more we need mercy from God!  Fortunately, He has acted in mercy toward us in Jesus Christ & forgiveness of our sins.

6. High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Purity (8).

            Our attitude is impurity.  God’s standard is simple: “Be holy even as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).  Unfortunately, it’s also impossible: “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” (1 Samuel 2:2).

If God were to leave us there it would be a very unjust situation.  Instead, He has provided us a means to become pure again; the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

The Jesus beatitude is ­­purity in heart.  Purity is obviously a moral state; to be free from sin.  When God forgives us, He cleanses us from all sin.  He restores our purity.  (See 1 John 1:9.)

Jesus attaches a qualifier to this: IN HEART.  What does that mean?  One Bible scholar, named Wheeler Robinson, counted 851 uses of the word HEART in the Old Testament.  One-third of these referred to the personality as a whole, the remainder to the emotions.  This acknowledges the fact that purity also speaks to our motives, our priorities.  When God is truly first in our daily living, we can be said to be pure.

As well as moral and spiritual blamelessness, purity also means to be singularly devoted to God, not allowing sin or self or the world to distract us.  James 1:6-9 identifies the peril of allowing doubt to distract us from being whole-heartedly devoted to God.

The adjustment is repentance.  In this life we are going to make mistakes.  We do not think or behave perfectly.  What’s necessary is a means of restoring an offender when an offense has been made.  The means of restoration God has provided is repentance.  When we are guilty of sin, we confess it to God and ask for His forgiveness.  As we’ve seen, God shows us MERCY and forgives us completely.  This leads to a cleansing of the guilt of that sin, restoring our purity.

So when we say, “Nobody’s perfect,” that’s only true in a practical sense.  When God forgives us, He makes us perfect in His eyes.  And who are you to argue with God?  Purity is a gift from God and we need to see it as precious, guarding it by resisting temptation and doing right.

The reward is the experience of seeing God.  Seeing God is a very big topic in the Bible.  After crossing the Red Sea, the Hebrews were afraid to see God because He is so holy, so pure, that they were sure He would destroy them on sight.  To see God was to be granted a special honor.  Since holiness is part of God’s nature, He will not tolerate any unholy or impure thing in His presence.  That means he must purify us, making us holy before we can live with Him in heaven.

The ultimate outcome to this matter of purity and of life in general is to SEE GOD.  This means to be invited into His presence, to live with Him for all eternity.  In this life we also SEE GOD, but our vision of Him is veiled, indirect.  We see or sense God in nature, in the Bible, in the Church, and in prayer; all through the Holy Spirit.  This is what the PURE IN HEART wanted all along! Psalm 24:3-4 expresses this truth beautifully: WHO MAY ASCEND THE HILL OF THE LORD?  WHO MAY STAND IN HIS HOLY PLACE?  HE WHO HAS CLEAN HANDS AND A PURE HEART.

In her book, Teacher’s Touch, Marlene LeFever told a story that I think illustrates how blessings can sometimes emerge from difficult times.  They are completely invisible in the moment and may take time to unfold, but they are God’s gifts just the same.

Fifty years ago a church in Philadelphia watched as three nine-year old boys were baptized and joined the church.  Not long after that, unable to continue because of dwindling membership, the church sold their building and disbanded.

Years later, one of the three boys was doing research on the church and looked up the record of his baptism in the denominational archives.  Near the record of his baptism someone had written, “It has not been a good year for your church.  We have lost 27 members.  Three joined and they were only children.”

Let’s pause for a moment and imagine how the person who wrote that note felt at that moment.  He certainly sounds discouraged doesn’t he?  Ready to give up?  Remember, the church folded shortly after this note was written.  The writer must’ve voted for quitting.

What happened to those three boys?  Here’s where we see the blessing in disguise.  One of them was Dick White, who became a missionary.  Another was Bart Newman, who became a professor of theology at a seminary in Africa.  The third was Rev. Dr. Tony Campolo, a professor at Eastern College and seminary, a man of legendary proportions in American Baptist life.

<”Men of Integrity,” July/August issue, July 9 devotion.>

This is an example of a delayed, but great blessing.  Can we trust God to bring blessing to our lives even when we can’t see in the moment what He is doing?