Friday, May 26, 2017

Romans 13:11-14 - 'Last Days' Living

Besides this - you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand.

So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Would you do anything any differently if you KNEW today was your last day on earth?
  • Call your friends and family? 
  • Pray?
  • Mend a broken relationship?
I have NO DOUBT that our lives would take a decidedly DIFFERENT direction if we knew TODAY was our last day on earth.

On his deathbed and reflecting on his last moments on earth, John Bacon, eminent 18th-century artist, said, "What I was as an artist seemed to be of some importance while I lived, but what I am as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is the only thing of importance to me now."

Indeed. The only thing that matters in these “Last Days” is knowing Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

Regarding the Last Days, both the Old and New Testaments are filled with scores of prophecies of the 2nd Coming of Christ. There are 1,845 references in the OT that speak of it, and a total of 17 OT books give it prominence.

Of the 260 chapters in the entire NT, there are 318 references to the second coming of Christ – that’s one out of every 30 verses. 23 of the 27 NT books refer to this event. For every prophecy of His 1st coming, there are 8 that speak of his 2nd.

  • He is described as coming back PERSONALLY in 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 
  • He’s coming LITERALLY and VISIBLY according to Acts 1, John 3, and Revelation 1. 
  • He is coming in GREAT GLORY according to three chapters of Matthew (16, 24, and 25.) 
  • In POWER, Matthew 24; 
  • He is coming QUICKLY, Revelation 22 and Matthew 28; 
IF the Bible is true – and we believe it is – then the 2nd coming of Christ IS an UNDENIABLE FACT.

We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He came the first time – history proves it. History confirms that the hundreds of prophecies of the OT predicting His 1st coming came true that night 2000 years ago in a lonely Bethlehem cattle stall. With such trustworthy testimony as that offered by the Bible, when it describes the 2nd Coming with 8 times the number of verses, then it’s a pretty safe bet, Jesus IS coming again!

Does it really matter?

Should it make any difference in us knowing that Christ is coming again??

What impact would it have on each of us if it was the burning conviction of our hearts that Jesus was coming soon?

Would it affect our worship, choices, or attitudes?? Would it change our relationships and priorities??

I believe so… and so does Paul. In fact, Paul tells us there are 4 things we will do IF we truly believe Jesus is coming again.

1. First, according to verse 11, if we TRULY believe Jesus is coming again, we will Watch Vigilantly. Watch vigilantly. Notice v. 11, “you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us NOW than when we first believed.”
Repeatedly Jesus told His disciples to ‘watch.’ Paul is impressing us with the need for discernment. We need to be AWARE of the times. We need to be FILLED WITH URGENCY - realizing the desperate need to prepare those we love for eternity.

Saints of all ages have looked for the Lord to return in their lifetime. In most of church history there have been events that have caused people to believe that THEIRS was the generation when Jesus would return.

For those who lived during Napoleon’s meteoric rise to power – I’m sure many wondered if THAT was a sign.

When ungodly and hateful men like Hitler, Mussolini, and Pol Pot stole the headlines, I am SURE Christians everywhere wondered if THIS was “it.”

But with each of those evil personalities, there were pieces of the puzzle that were missing.

My, how things have changed?!? There is probably no prophetic truth that is not flashing out its warning lights to our generation. Take, for example, the return of the Jews to the Promised Land. Or the hostilities between the Arab nations and Israel and the worldwide sympathy being shown those Muslim nations.

Consider the spread of post-modernism and the rising hostility of unbelievers towards Christians in the West.

Consider the apostasy of the modern church… and how the crystal-clear message of the gospel has been blurred by popular-entertainment-driven mega-churches insisting on a non-confrontational gospel.

Consider the fact that science is exploring ways to genetically engineer babies so parents can choose the sex of their child - even hair and eye color.

It would behoove us to WATCH VIGILANTLY for the coming of the Lord!

Paul is describing a church that is asleep. He says, “the hour has come for you to wake from sleep!” What does a sleeping church look like??

  • When warnings of judgment go unheeded by those who claim to believe, THAT church is asleep. 
  • When family and friends are going to hell and we do nothing to stop it – THAT church is asleep. 
  • When there is little to no difference between the world and the average Christian– THAT church is asleep. 
The church is sluggish because it is more concerned with entertainment than evangelism. Buildings, programs, and being liked by the world are the things that matter today. We don’t want to hear about the need to be ready for eternity – we want to feel good! We want sermons that improve our self-image. We want to be COMFORTABLE. We want to go to “the Big SHOW” at church on Sunday without it having any bearing on how we live Monday through Saturday.

Yeah - I said it. It’s time we WOKE UP!

2. But not only are we to Watch Vigilantly, Paul tells us to War Valiantly. Paul says, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

Given the lateness of the hour, we are to rise up and engage the enemy – but the only way to be ready for that battle is to have on the armor of light. TWO things are to be done simultaneously according to Paul.

We must CAST OFF the works of darkness – anything that identified us with our old lifestyle, the old habits, the old passions and desires – we are to get rid of it.

THEN we are to PUT ON the ‘armor of light.’ In ONE decisive act, we are to put away the old life and take up the new.

That requires a definite commitment on our part. A commitment MOST aren’t willing to make. And what’s sad is the fact that we don’t think we HAVE to.

Paul is speaking to a problem that has been around as long as the church. The problem of duplicity – of wanting the benefits that come from being saved – wanting heaven – wanting God’s blessing and peace – but NOT wanting to turn away from the things associated with the OLD life. We can’t have it both ways. If we are going to be ready for the return of Christ, we must make a break with the old life. It’s time that we gave our whole heart to living for the Lord.

Imagine a young man who has joined the military and has reported for duty. He comes in wearing civilian clothes. But once he signs the necessary papers, he is told to take OFF those things that identified him as a civilian – everything – right down to his socks and shoes.

THEN he is told to PUT ON a uniform that identifies him as a member of the military. He is NOW the property of the US GOVERNMENT… he is to clothe himself appropriately – and the next day he must be ready for an inspection.

Imagine all the recruits loitering around, some laughing, others struggling to be ready, when in comes the company commander for their first inspection.

  • All of the soldiers stand at attention. 
  • Hats on their heads, boots spit-shined, 
  • unis starched and pressed. 
But one guy is there still in his sport-coat and khakis.

What do you think would happen to him?? The commander would eat his lunch, THAT’S what would happen!!

He must put off the rudiments of civilian life – he has a NEW Commander!

That’s exactly what Paul is describing here. When a person becomes a Child of God, he must put off deliberately and decisively the “works of darkness.” With the help of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, he is to distance himself from those things he used to do. He is to put on the armor of God – he is to do the things that identify him as a follower of Christ.

Part of the problem facing the modern church and ONE of the reasons we have become so ineffective is that we AREN’T convinced we have to make a clean break with our former lives to serve the Lord. We have a “come as you are, LEAVE as you are” attitude. We’ve led people to believe that it doesn’t really matter how you live once you go out those doors. But I’ve got news for you – it ABSOLUTELY matters. And if you are one of those who thinks it doesn’t, you aren’t ready for the second coming of Christ.

3. But not only are we to Watch Vigilantly and War Valiantly, we must also WALK VIRTUOUSLY if we would be ready for the 2nd coming. Paul says, “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.”

There is a right way and a wrong way to walk according to Paul. Obviously, he is referring to your outward life – the things you do - the way you live. And the RIGHT way to walk is “properly, as in the daytime.”

He said something similar to the Thessalonians when he wrote, “You are the children of light, and the children of the day: we are NOT of the night, nor of darkness.” People use the cover of darkness to keep others from seeing the bad things they are doing.

But the CHRISTIAN is to live in such a way that he has nothing to hide ⇒ not from the church … not even from the Lord.

We shouldn’t be doing ANYTHING that would make us look over our shoulder in fear that someone might see us. Our lives should be an open book!

The word “properly,” literally means “becomingly.” We are to live in a way that doesn’t discredit our testimonies. Should we share the gospel with a friend, should we offer biblical advice, there ought not be ANYTHING in our lives that would cause them to think we are hypocrites.

  • At work? Our words and actions should reflect our love for Christ. 
  • At home? Our words and actions should reflect our love for Christ.
  • Privately and publicly – our actions should reflect our love for Christ.
Does THAT describe YOU?? There are times in our lives when we are timid about sharing our faith. Maybe we are afraid of saying the wrong thing – of making a person feel like we are judging them. But how often is our fear of sharing based on our hypocrisy?? Are we afraid that if we say something about Jesus, that they will mock us for not living the life ourselves??

Paul describes the sins of our former lives and tells us that we can’t keep reaching back to those things.

When you look back over your life, if you are honest with yourself, you can see a lot of things you are ashamed of.

Things you did BEFORE you were saved…

And yes, things you’ve done AFTER you were saved.

You are ashamed of those failures. But hopefully you can say, “I don’t do those things any longer.” And the further you get FROM those things, the more meaningful and powerful your testimony becomes.

Walk virtuously. Live in such a way that your testimony has credibility.

4. And then finally, not only are we to watch vigilantly, war valiantly, and walk virtuously, Paul tells us to Wait - WAIT Victoriously. Notice v. 14, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
In Discipleship Journal, Carole Mayhall tells of a woman who went to a gym and hired a personal trainer to help her lose weight.

The trainer made her stand in front of a full-length mirror. On the mirror he drew an outline of her body that was much slimmer… fit… and told her, "This is what I want you to look like by the end of this program."

Days of intense dieting and exercise followed, and every week the woman would stand in front of the mirror discouraged because her bulging outline didn't fit the trainer’s ideal.

But she kept at it, and finally one day she conformed to the vision her trainer had for her.

Paul is OUR personal trainer. He is standing us in front of the mirror of God’s Word. In this mirror we see Jesus in all his perfection. We get discouraged when we are confronted with the reality of how much WE don’t resemble the Lord. But then he challenges us to live the life… to into His Word, pray, serve, be faithful, love and forgive. And before you know it, you see progress.

Salvation is only the beginning. Every day we need to strive to look a little more like Christ. Waiting for the Lord to come back doesn’t imply that we sit down and do nothing. NOT AT ALL! Every day we are to surrender to the Spirit’s control, forsake the world and the things in it, live out our faith as if we have nothing to hide. And in time, we will look like Him!

I wonder, friend, are you living as if Jesus Christ is coming again?? Can people SEE God at work in your life – the change that has come over you?

OR have you been one of those who hasn’t taken it seriously? Do they see someone whose life doesn’t match his words? Right now, you feel convicted. Right now, you know there are some things – some attitudes and activities you should forsake.

Why not pray about it right now?

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Matthew 18:21-22 – Forgiveness

Then came Peter to him, and said, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?”

Jesus said unto him, “I say NOT unto you, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”


Lisa sat on the floor of her old room, staring at the box that lay in front of her. It was an old shoe box that she had made into a “memory box” many years before. Stickers and penciled flowers covered the top and sides.
It had been three years since she last opened the box. A sudden move to Boston had kept her from packing it. But now that she was back home, she took time to contemplate its memories.  

  • There was a picture of their family trip to the Grand Canyon
  • a note from her friend telling her that Nick Bicotti liked her
  • an old arrowhead
One by one, she remembered the items in the box, lingering over the sweetest, until she came to the last and only painful memory: a single sheet of paper upon which lines had been drawn to form boxes, 490 of them to be exact. And each box contained a check mark.

The story behind it...
"How many times must I forgive my brother?" the disciple Peter had asked Jesus. "Seven times?"

Lisa's Sunday school teacher read Jesus' surprise answer to the class. "Seventy times seven."
Lisa leaned over to her brother Brent as the teacher continued reading. "How many times is that?" she whispered. Brent, though two years younger, was smarter than she was.  "Four hundred-ninety," he answered. Lisa nodded, and sat back in her chair.
She watched her brother as the lesson continued. He was small for his age, his glasses were too large for his face, and he was kind of a nerd, but his incredible skills at everything, especially music, made him popular with his classmates. Brent had learned to play several instruments at an early age… his music teachers said he'd be a famous musician some day.
There was only one thing Lisa was better at than
Brent ⇒ basketball. They played it almost every afternoon. Brent could have refused to play, but he knew that it was Lisa's only joy in the midst of her struggles to get C's and D's in school.
Lisa's attention came back to her Sunday school teacher as the woman finished the lesson and closed with prayer.

That afternoon they played basketball in the driveway. It was then that the counting had begun. Brent was guarding Lisa as she dribbled toward the basket. She elbowed him on the chin and made her shot. "Ow!", he cried out and turned away.
She gloated over her success but stopped when she saw Brent. "Are you okay?" she asked. Brent shrugged his shoulders. "I’m sorry… it was a cheap shot" she said. "It's alright. I forgive you," he said. A thin smile then formed on his face. "Just 489 more times though."
"Whaddaya mean?" Lisa asked.
"You know...what we learned in Sunday school today. You're supposed to forgive someone 490 times. I just forgave you, so now you have 489 left," he kidded.

The two of them laughed at the thought of keeping track of every time Lisa did something to Brent.  But the more she thought about it, the better the idea seemed.
Brent's forgiving spirit gripped Lisa, and she wanted him to know how sorry she was. So that evening she made a chart with 490 boxes. She showed it to him before he went to bed.
"We can keep track of every time I mess up and you forgive me," she said. "See, I'll put a check in each box--like this." She placed a check-mark for hurting him earlier that day.  "This is for today."
Brent raised his hands to protest. "You don't need to keep--"  "Yes I do!" Lisa interrupted. "You're always forgiving me, and I want to keep track. Just let me do this!" She went back to her room and tacked the chart to her bulletin board.
Over the years, she kept track of his forgiving spirit.  As time went by, more and more boxes were checked.
Once the chart was completely filled, they had a small ceremony.  She checked the 490th box with a gold pen, had Brent sign the chart, and then placed it in her memory box.  "That's IT!," she said. "No more mistakes from me anymore!"  Brent just laughed. "Yeah, right."

Number 491 was just another of Lisa's careless mistakes, but its hurt --- would last a lifetime.
Brent had become all that his music teachers said he would. Few could play the oboe better than he. In his fourth year at the best music school in the United States, he received the opportunity of a lifetime-- a chance to try out for New York City's great Philharmonic.
The tryout would be held sometime during the following two weeks. It would be the fulfillment of his young dreams. But he never got the chance.
Brent had been out when the call about the tryout came to the house. Lisa was the only one home and on her way out the door, eager to get to work on time.  "Two-thirty on the tenth," the secretary said on the phone. Lisa didn’t have a pen, but she told herself that she could remember it.  "Got it. Thanks." “I can remember that,” she thought.

But she didn’t. It was a week later around the dinner table that Lisa realized her terrible mistake.
"So, Brent," his mom asked, "When do you try out?"  "Don't know yet. They're supposed to call." Lisa froze in her seat.
"Oh, no!" she blurted out. "What's today's date?"
"It's the 12th," her dad answered. "Why?"  A terrible pain ripped through her heart. She buried her face in her hands, crying. "Lisa, what's the matter?" her mother asked.  Through sobs she explained what had happened. "It was two days ago...the tryout...two-thirty...the call came...last week." Brent sat back in his chair, not believing Lisa.
"Is this one of your jokes, sis?" he asked, though he could tell her misery was real. She shook her head, still unable to look at him.  "Then I really missed it????" She nodded.  Brent ran out of the kitchen without a word. He didn’t come out of his room the rest of the night.
Lisa tried once to knock on his door, but she could not face him. She went to her room where she cried bitterly.
Suddenly she knew what she had to do. She had ruined Brent's life. He could never forgive her for that. She had failed her family, and there was nothing to do but leave home. Lisa packed her car in the middle of the night and left a note, telling her folks she'd be all right.  She wanted to write her brother… but she didn’t know what to say.
Two days later she got a job as a waitress in Boston. She found an apartment not too far from the restaurant.

Her parents tried many times over the following weeks to reach her, but Lisa ignored their letters.  "It's too late," she once wrote them. "I've ruined Brent's life, and I'm not coming back."  

She thought she would never go home again.
But one day in the restaurant where she worked she saw a familiar face. "Lisa!  What a surprise!"  The woman was a friend of the family back home. "I was so sorry to hear about your brother," she said softly. "Such a terrible accident. But we can be thankful he didn't suffer." Lisa stared at the woman in shock.
"Wh-hat," she finally stammered.  It couldn't be! Her brother? Dead? Lisa caught the first bus home that afternoon.
Now she found herself in her room thinking about her brother as she held her memory box.  And the memory that broke her heart was Brent's chart. He had made a new one after she left.  It read:
Dear Lisa,
It was you who kept count, not me.  But if you're stubborn enough to keep count, use this new chart I've made for you.
Love, Brent
There was only ONE check mark in the upper left- hand corner. Written in red felt tip pen over the entire page were the words: "Number 491. Forgiven, forever."

If we could put our finger on the ONE THING that keeps most churches from experiencing revival – it would probably be Unforgiveness.  

If you considered all the divorces and family conflicts in this country and narrowed the problem down to ONE common denominator – it would be Unforgiveness.  

Those times we have been wronged… from little slights… to deep wounds – we dwell on those things. And in time, they take on a life of their own.  They sour our spirits. Unforgiveness.
Many church people will never grow in their walk with the Lord because they prefer the prison of bitterness to the freedom of forgiveness.  Many will never know the richness of relationship with Christ AND with others, because their soul is consumed with unforgiveness.

The boy in our story, did something that was hard… something his sister didn’t deserve.  And in the process, he set them BOTH free.

Who are YOU holding hostage right now?  Who do YOU need to forgive?

Peter didn’t know how practical his question was.  When he brought up the subject of forgiveness, he probably didn’t know it was something ALL of us struggle with.

The Pharisees and Scribes were thought to be THE authority on all things spiritual and THEY taught that it was perfectly reasonable to limit one’s grace.  In THEIR minds, God wanted them to turn the other cheek, but after THAT, all bets were off!  So when Peter suggested 7 times, in HIS mind he was being MORE than generous.

But the Lord’s answer overwhelmed Peter – and continues to overwhelm us still today.  

What can we learn about grace from this Q & A with the Master??  4 points:

1.  First - there is a Probability found in this text. The very fact that Jesus commanded us to forgive illustrates the fact that people will often NEED it.  You are going to be HURT - alot!  Sometimes the injury will be known…  other times they won’t even realize what they’ve done.  

Even the fact that Peter asked about forgiving his “brother,” illustrates that those we love the most, those we give ourselves to and are vulnerable with, will do things that break our hearts and demand grace.  

Life is filled with hurts.  Yes, even the Christian life.  In fact, we may suffer even MORE than others BECAUSE of our love for Christ:
  • people taking advantage of our kindnesses or work ethic
  • being belittled for our faith
  • people failing to keep their word
  • Those we respect and hold in such high regard… only to disappoint us.  

Life isn’t fair

and the more you expect that, the harder your life will be.  

Again and again you will be disappointed.  Again and again you will be wounded.

2.  Secondly, we find a PRINCIPLE in this text. We should forgive, not just once or twice, or even 490 times.  The point IS there should be NO LIMIT to our grace.
Is that unfair?  Is it unreasonable to expect humans to be so gracious??  Truth is, it is THE VERY FACT THAT WE ARE HUMAN that serves as the BASIS of His command.  The fact that God has forgiven US AGAIN and AGAIN is the very reason WE should forgive.  

Repeatedly we are taught in the scriptures to extend the same grace to others that God has bestowed upon us.

That’s humbling, isn’t it?  I mean, wow… I have failed God so many times.  Daily.  How often I must break His heart and do those VERY THINGS that nailed Him to the cross.  Even STILL, He forgives me.  

And you know what, when we forgive others, it isn’t just for THEM – it’s for US too.  Bitterness, anger, vengeance… these things destroy us.  Like a cancer sucking the life out of our spirit... it will ruin our relationships.  It will harden our hearts.  It will destroy our testimonies.  

Forgiveness - - - it isn’t just for THEM… it is for US!  Maybe an example would help…

SAY you get a splinter in your hand.  When it first happened, it hurt.  You winced.  But after a while, you don't notice it anymore.  

Is the problem gone?  Not by a long shot.  If you don’t get that thing out, you might have an infection develop that causes even BIGGER problems.

The Lord knows this about the injuries we suffer in life.  He knows that the pain we experience in the beginning of a wrong is often ignored… but then becomes infected, feverish, sensitive to the touch.  He doesn’t want that thing to fester.  So He challenges us to forgive to keep our spiritual lives from becoming infected.

3.  But after learning that I will be wounded repeatedly… AND that I am to respond in grace to those who hurt me…THIRD I learn that Forgiveness isn’t just a one-time act – it’s a PROCESS.  

SOME of the injuries we suffer are small.  We can easily dismiss those things and move on and honestly never give it another thought.  But SOME things aren’t so easy to let go.  SOME of our injuries run DEEP and we wonder if we’ll EVER get over them.  

One trip to the altar, one handshake or embrace – is not enough to turn back the flood of emotion we experience when something triggers a long forgotten memory.  

And when that happens, we will need to forgive - - again.

We tell ourselves that we have ALREADY forgiven them and REALLY mean it.  But something will happen in the future, we will see them or hear their name in conversation and we will be hit with a wave of emotion, remembering the pain as if it happened yesterday.

When we feel that way, the devil will use it as an opportunity to create GUILT - and - DIVISION.  It's what he does.  His whole MISSION is to rob us of peace and mar the image of Christ in us.  

So I'm​ telling right you now: forgiveness is a process. When I suffer an injury:

I must forgive it immediately.  And every time that thing comes up, I need to face it with grace and forgive it again. Each time I need to pray that God would heal my hurt and give me the strength to show grace EVEN when I don’t FEEL like it.

“How long do I have to do this?” Peter asked.  In essence, Jesus answered, “forever.”

4.  But there is MORE here than a probability, a principle, and a process.  We also find A purpose.  There is a PURPOSE for this lesson.

As you read further into the text, Jesus offers His disciples a story of a servant who owed his king an incalculable debt.  On his day of reckoning, the servant begged for more time - - but the King, filled with grace, forgave the tremendous debt.  

We LOVE that - don’t we?? We love it because we know that servant - is US!

But immediately after leaving the presence of his King, the servant finds a fellow servant who owed him mere pocket change in comparison to the debt he had owed his king.  He grabbed the servant and threw him into prison to work off his debt.

We DON'T like THAT, because we know that servant is us!

Interesting, don't you think? In comparison to all that he owed his king, the debt of his fellow was miniscule.  But TO HIM, it was anything BUT.  

It is easy for us to see other’s problems as SMALL, but when it is US - we go to great lengths to JUSTIFY our bitterness.

The King found out and was angry with his ungracious servant, and commanded he be sent to debtor’s prison.

Seems fair, doesn’t it??  Seems poetic...  until you remember - - He’s talking about - - US!!

When those of us who have been forgiven of SO MUCH refuse to extend grace to those who offend US – well, that’s when we have a HUGE problem.

The purpose of God’s grace at work in YOUR LIFE is so that you might extend grace to those who wound YOU.

Who do YOU need to forgive?  I know…
  • you THINK you have it covered up.  
  • You THINK it isn’t harming anybody.  
  • You try to excuse it by saying you are ‘only human.’
But in reality, it is
  • eating away at your relationships,
  • robbing you of joy,
  • and hurting your ability to serve God,

  • not to mention the damage it is doing to the family of God as WE suffer the consequences of bitterness WITH you.

Paul the Apostle said, “I can do ALL THINGS through Christ Who strengthens me.”  In your OWN strength you CAN’T do this.  But in HIS, you can!

Why not open your heart and pour all that bitterness out before the Lord in prayer and ask God to give you the STRENGTH to forgive?  As MANY TIMES as it takes.  Will you do that?