Pay Attention to the Word (2 Peter 1:16-21)

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (New International Version)

The Bible is a set of living documents. It breathes with a revitalizing and reliable message about Jesus Christ.

Rather than being merely an ancient book to be displayed as some sort of museum artifact on a coffee table, Holy Scripture has demonstrated amazing resilience of use and pertinence throughout the ages.

Millions of people have discovered it’s riches; and have found the Bible’s message of knowing Christ and him crucified, died, risen, and coming again as their hope and salvation. Indeed, God’s Word to people is a gracious revealing of God to humanity so that all persons may reconnect with divinity.

The earthly ministry of Christ had eyewitnesses and earwitnesses. The witness above all witnesses was the Most High who audibly affirmed Jesus with a voice from heaven:

“This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” (Matthew 3:17, NLT)

Baptism of Christ, by Vitaly Melnichuk, 2009

Christianity is a religion of the book. Scripture unites us with believers across the world and throughout history. The Bible is to the Christian what weights and barbells are to a bodybuilder. 

The people of God need Holy Scripture, God’s Word, in order to spiritually grow and become mature. Christian character formation cannot truly occur apart from the continuous repetitions of reading the text of Scripture, and letting it build strength into the muscles of the soul.

Scripture is a powerful unifying force within the life of God’s people. We may not all explain every Bible verse in exactly the same way (hence the many different Christian traditions) but believers share a common desire to honor, apply, and obey God’s Word. Ultimately, a passion to listen, talk about, and apply God’s Word brings believers in Jesus together, rather than separates us. 

Perhaps because the average American household today has at least three or four Bibles, we take for granted the availability of God’s Word. It is always at our fingertips, on our smartphones and computers. Yet, because it is always present and available, we may let the busyness and business of life keep us from paying attention to it. 

A commitment to reading and listening to Holy Scripture ought not be done quickly or mechanically, and certainly not half-heartedly. For the Word to penetrate and seep into our souls, we must take the time to listen carefully and slowly.

A first century rabbi, Akiva, once noticed a tiny stream trickling down a hillside, dripping over a ledge on its way toward the river below. Below was a massive boulder. The rock bore a deep impression. The drip, drip, drip of water over the centuries had hollowed away the stone. Rabbi Akiva commented, “If mere water can do this to hard rock, how much more can God’s Word carve a way into my heart of flesh?”

Water flowing over a rock, all at once, leaves it unchanged. It is the slow but steady impact of each small droplet, year after year, decade after decade, that completely reforms the stone.

O how we desire quick answers to our questions! Yet we must take the time to prayerfully listen and reflect on God’s Word and allow it to do it’s work on us and in us. Truth is revealed over many days, months, and years. Big splashes aren’t usually God’s way of doing things. Instead, the slow drip of careful study, contemplative prayer, and meditative reflection, day after day, year after year, shapes us and spiritually forms us into the likeness of Christ.

Thus, a patient, humble, and teachable spirit is necessary. Sometimes the Bible is not apparently relevant. We oftentimes need others to help us and to encourage one another to stick with reading and learning, even when we aren’t sure about what it is saying. 

Rightly interpreting Scripture happens in community, both in present local churches and small groups and in the community of saints who have gone before us. It doesn’t occur in isolation.

Always an appropriate response to hearing God’s Word is to address and the problems of others and the issues of our day. That’s because God is not just concerned about you and me, but about other people, as well. 

What do you suppose would happen if we all committed to carefully reading and listening and meditating, even memorizing God’s Word on a daily basis? Would it transform our worship? Make a difference in our relationships? Change how we do life together?

Attention, people of God and of the Book! God is our God, the One and only!

Love the Lord your God with your whole heart:

Love God with all that is in you; love the Lord with all you’ve got! 

Write these foundational commands I’ve given you on your hearts. Get them inside of you. Then, get them inside your children. 

For this to happen, talk about God’s Word at home when you are eating supper together and when you are working or playing with each other. Start your day with God’s Word when you get up in the morning and end your day with God’s Word when you go to bed at night. 

Put God’s Word on your refrigerator and your car’s dashboard; have it on your smartphones and let it be available to you anywhere and anytime. Use every opportunity you have to incessantly chatter about God’s Holy Word.

(Deuteronomy 6:4-9, contemporary paraphrase)

Pay attention to the Word made flesh and the written Word proclaimed. It makes all the difference.

Our Great Physician, Your Word is like alcohol – when poured on an infected wound, it burns and stings, but only then can it kill germs. If it doesn’t burn, it doesn’t do any good. 

Father, we are all hungry baby birds this morning. Our heart-mouths are gaping wide, waiting for you to fill us. A cold wind seems to have chilled us. Wrap us in the blanket of your Word and warm us up. 

Lord, we find your Word like cabbage. As we pull down the leaves, we get closer to the heart. And as we get closer to the heart, it is sweeter.

–Daily Prayers of Haitian Christians, translated by Eleanor Turnbull (1924-2020) missionary to Haiti for over 50 years

The Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8)

“The Persistent Widow” by Ronnie Farmer, Jr.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (New International Version)

“God desires of us nothing more ardently than that we ask many and great things of him, and he is displeased if we do not confidently ask and entreat.”

Martin Luther

God wants us to pray! Prayer happens from a place of faith because to pray, one must believe that God is good and answers prayer. Conversely, prayerlessness is faithlessness. A person of little faith prays only a little. A person full of faith cannot stop praying.

Today’s Gospel lesson is a parable about not losing heart, about justice, and ultimately about faith.

Be Persistent In Prayer

For the Gospel writer, Luke, the widow, along with orphans, the diseased, and the handicapped, represent those who are dependent and vulnerable. And so, Jesus took a particular interest in them. (Luke 20:47, 21:3)

Widows are also presented by Luke as prophetic, active, and faithful. The widow in Christ’s parable, much like the other widows mentioned by Luke, is persistent and persuasive enough to get the justice she demands – even from an unjust judge. Her persistent petitioning is held up as a lesson in prayer.

Don’t lose heart and give up praying when your prayers are not answered as quickly as you want. No matter the prayer, we typically hope for and even expect them to be answered quickly. And if they don’t, we may get upset or discouraged.

“We must patiently, believingly, continue in prayer until we obtain an answer… Most frequently we fail in not continuing in prayer until the blessing is obtained, and in not expecting the blessing.”

George Müller

We pray daily for a variety of situations as individuals and as a congregation. Not all those prayers get answered in the ways we expect. Many times, it can seem like nothing is changing, or things are just getting worse. It is possible for us to despair in those moments and give up.

Yet, even if we do not immediately see an answer to our prayers, we need to keep praying. Even if we are suffering and seeing darkness all around us, we should not stop crying out to the Lord. And the content of those prayers is important.

Be Persistent In Justice

The parable is like a sandwich. The two pieces of rye bread are prayer and faith, with justice being the ham and cheese between them. The meat of the parable is in the ingredients of the prayers.

The widow is the vulnerable justice-seeker, and the powerholder is the unjust judge. The powerful and just God replaces the unjust authority’s reluctance, granting justice to vulnerable people who cry out to him day and night.

We are to persistently and passionately pray as Jesus instructed us:

“Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
    for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation….”

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:2-4, 9-10, NIV)

Jesus said, “Seek his kingdom, and these things [food, clothing, basic necessities] will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near, and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:31-34, NIV)

Be Persistent In Faith

Christ’s parable ends with a question: When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? In Luke’s Gospel, there are several folks whom Jesus commended for their faith:

  • A Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant, being confident that Christ could do so without even being present to do it. Jesus commented, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith, even in Israel.” (Luke 7:1-10)
  • A “sinful” woman anointed the feet of Jesus with perfume and her tears, loving the Lord despite the judgmental people around her. Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50)
  • Friends of a paralyzed man dug through a roof to get him access to Jesus, knowing that Christ could heal. When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 5:17-26)
  • An unclean woman, because of a chronic issue of bleeding, touched the edge of Christ’s cloak, believing that even this small touch will heal her. Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” (Luke 8:43-48)
  • A Samaritan leper cried out for mercy, recognizing that Jesus is the Christ who could heal him; and then fell at his feet in profound gratitude. Jesus said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19)
  • A blind beggar called out to Jesus, seeing with spiritual eyes who Jesus really is. Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” (Luke 18:35-43)

So, will Jesus find faith on the earth when he returns?  Yes, he will, but it may likely be in unexpected places — not among the religious professionals or the ones certain of their own righteousness, but among the outsiders, the unlovely, the unclean, the ones certain of their sinfulness.

Perhaps the best sign of faith is a willingness to persist in prayer, like widow who persisted against all odds in her struggle for justice with the powerful judge.

Conclusion

We must have faith in Christ, and not in faith itself.

If we are honest, every one of us who has made a difficult prayer request, mustering-up all the faith we can, and then being disappointed when it did not happen, has been hurt. The unstable person vacillates when this happens, playing the “God-loves-me, God-loves-me-not” game. The person of faith, however, believes God answers prayer, and that if it is not answered when I want, God knows what’s up and will answer it in God’s own good time and grace.

None of this is about the amount of faith. Maybe you have told yourself, or somebody else has said to you, that you don’t have enough faith, and that’s why your prayer was not answered.

“The value of persistent prayer is not that God will hear us, but that we will finally hear God.”

William McGill

Know this: positive thinking is not the same as Christian faith. Faith is neither a matter of optimism nor of sending $19.95 to some hack preacher who promises to give you the secret of answered prayer, along with a free gold cross.

Taking a lesson from Christ’s parable about the persistent widow, we can put aside tepid, milquetoast, mumbling prayers with hunched shoulders (i.e. “Well, God, if it is your will, could you help me?”) and instead, because of our union with Jesus Christ and our redemption in him, pray confidently and boldly. In Christ, we have the privilege and authority to do so.

Blessed heavenly Father, we praise you for the grace we possess through the Lord Jesus Christ. We rejoice in Christ’s teaching, the gift of faith, the privilege to approach your throne with boldness, and the victory you have provided for us through Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. 

We pray your mercy over our sins, the sins of other believers, and the sins of our world. We confess the sin of prayerlessness, faithlessness, apathy, complacency, and indifference to your concerns for righteousness and justice. We acknowledge the wickedness of our world through injustice, oppression, and exploitation of others.

We recognize that the kingdom of darkness has laid strategies against us, trying to keep your people from faith and prayer. So, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we claim our place as children of God. We smash and pull down all the strongholds which Satan has erected against humanity – and pray that the power of Christ’s resurrection would hinder and frustrate the plans formed against us. 

We, your people, accept the role of standing in the gap for others in prayer. In Christ, we are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. So, we bring all the work of the Lord Jesus Christ – his incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and glorification directly against all of Satan’s power in their lives.

By faith we pray for fruitful lives of spiritual abundance, social justice, and sanctified relationships in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

A Divine Perspective of Time (2 Peter 3:8-13)

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (New International Version)

We are invited, through today’s New Testament lesson, to see the moving of history as God sees it.

The Apostle Peter addressed two questions and concerns the people had about the Lord’s coming:

  1. Will this coming be worth the wait?
  2. What should I be doing in the meantime, now, while I wait?

The Christians, for whom Peter wrote his letter, were impatient. They saw time from a mere human perspective. The believers needed a bigger and fuller understanding of God’s purposes. We must come to grips with the reality that God’s timing is different than ours.

There are two words for “time” in the New Testament: chronos and kairos

Chronos is where we get our English word “chronological.” This is time measured by the clock. It’s the way much of our lives are governed.

Kairos is seasonal time. It’s not determined by the clock but is event oriented. 

God is not time-oriented in the same sense that we are. The Lord is not ruled and controlled by the clock but is above all time. God is event-oriented, which is why the Lord’s understanding of time is that a thousand years are like a day, and a day like a thousand years.

In other words, God measures time differently than most Westerners do. When the Bible says Christ is coming soon, it means there are no events left in the course of history except the Day of the Lord, the return of Jesus, to judge the living and the dead.

I admit to being a clock-oriented guy. I also confess that my wife and girls are not. They are much more event oriented than me. So, I suppose when it comes to time, they are the godly ones. After all, the seasons will continue to come and go but a clock will eventually die when its “time is up.”

I cannot begin to count how many hours of my life have been spent waiting on my wife and girls. I used to get frustrated and impatient because I thought they should be clock-oriented, like me.

Yet, over the years, I have learned to accept this reality. Now I take the time of waiting and read. I have read a lot of books over the years through my waiting. I used to want to time travel because of wasted time, but that is all in the past now.

A clock-oriented guy like me needs to grasp that God has all the time in the world. God serves no clock. Clocks are merely playthings for the Lord.

When God wants a hot time, he just puts a clock in the oven. I, however, tend to get antsy, impatient, and frustrated, believing that God must operate on my time schedule. Yet, what seems to me is divine tardiness, is really something else.

God seems slow in keeping divine promises. But the truth is, the Lord takes all the time in the world because of divine mercy. While I am beating my chest trying to get everyone on my time deadlines, God beats up the clock, just to kill time.

In the face of so much that is not right with the world, we might wonder why God is not just stepping in and taking care of all the evil and unjust situations on this earth.

But what we view as a lack of mercy is, in fact, sheer grace on God’s part – patiently waiting for all kinds of people to confess their guilt and shame and come to Jesus. God is waiting for that lost soul to make their way to forgiveness. You cannot bear your secrets with a clock around because time will tell.

Whereas I tend to think I am waiting on God, God is waiting for me, too.

What should I be doing in the meantime while I wait? We ought to be living holy and godly lives as we look forward to Christ’s coming and speed its coming. Yes, God is the One who is waiting on us. Do you know the time of the Second Coming? No, me neither; we have not met yet.

The holiness and peace of God’s people will influence the timing of the Christ’s return. When God upends our current situations, it’s time to get a new set of circumstances. Since God is an event-oriented God, the Lord has all the time in the world to wait on us to be the kind of people we need to be.

The fact that we are two-thousand years removed from the first Advent of Christ probably does not speak very well to the church in general. It will do no good to sit on our watches so that we can be on time. God is still waiting for a lot of folks to come to repentance, as well as the church to take up her mandate of making disciples.

God is gracious and does not bully us or strike us with lightning when we disobey. Rather, God is patient, wanting us to approach and receive mercy. The Lord is waiting for us to avail ourselves of divine help to live holy and godly lives.

Holiness simply means to be separated from evil and connected to God. Godliness means to live a worshipful and spiritually disciplined life.  Our Lord’s patience means deliverance from all that detaches us from Jesus so that we might rightly attach ourselves to him.

Robby Robins was an Air Force pilot during the first Iraq war. After his 300th mission, he was given permission to immediately pull his crew together and fly his plane home. They flew across the ocean to Massachusetts and then had a long drive to western Pennsylvania. They drove all night, and when his buddies dropped him off at his driveway just after sun-up, there was a big banner across the garage—”Welcome Home!”  How did his wife know? No one had called her, and the crew themselves had not expected to leave so quickly.

Robins relates, “When I walked into the house, my wife came running down the hall—she looked terrific—hair fixed, make-up on, and a crisp yellow dress. ‘How did you know?’ I asked.  ‘I didn’t,’ she answered through tears of joy. ‘Once I knew the war was over, I knew you’d be home one of these days. I knew you would try to surprise me, so I was ready every day.'”

In the history of redemption, the war has been won. There is only one event left on God’s calendar: The return of Jesus.

When a clock stops ticking, it just hangs around. That’s not what the Lord wants.

Throwing the watch across the room will not make time fly; Jesus will come when he comes. Meanwhile, our focus is on living holy and godly lives as we wait….

Even so, come Lord Jesus.

2 Peter 2:1-10a – Beware of Spiritual Predators

But there were also lying prophets among the people then, just as there will be lying religious teachers among you. They’ll smuggle in destructive divisions, pitting you against each other—biting the hand of the One who gave them a chance to have their lives back! They’ve put themselves on a fast downhill slide to destruction, but not before they recruit a crowd of mixed-up followers who can’t tell right from wrong.

They give the way of truth a bad name. They’re only out for themselves. They’ll say anything, anything, that sounds good to exploit you. They won’t, of course, get by with it. They’ll come to a bad end, for God has never just stood by and let that kind of thing go on.

God didn’t let the rebel angels off the hook but jailed them in hell till Judgment Day. Neither did he let the ancient ungodly world off. He wiped it out with a flood, rescuing only eight people—Noah, the sole voice of righteousness, was one of them.

God decreed destruction for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. A mound of ashes was all that was left—grim warning to anyone bent on an ungodly life. But that good man Lot, driven nearly out of his mind by the sexual filth and perversity, was rescued. Surrounded by moral rot day after day after day, that righteous man was in constant torment.

So, God knows how to rescue the godly from evil trials. And he knows how to hold the feet of the wicked to the fire until Judgment Day.

God is especially incensed against these “teachers” who live by lust, addicted to a filthy existence. They despise interference from true authority, preferring to indulge in self-rule. (The Message)

I wish everyone who claims the name of Christ was safe to talk to, interact with, and share life together. However, not everyone is. *Sigh*

Unfortunately, there exists spiritual predators who create chaos, keep others off-balance, and speak and act in ways that benefit their own consolidation of authority. They are like Sith Lords who come-off as well-meaning but always have a secret agenda for more power and control. *Sigh*

So-called teachers and leaders are not all trustworthy. Like mosquitoes drawn to warm blood, they seek to feast on the godly, taking advantage of their good nature – slowly, carefully, and insidiously draining the life out of them. All the while, the true believer doesn’t know what’s going on until it is too late. *Sigh*

Some are even more sinister. Like tarantulas, they immobilize their victims and slowly suck out their insides with the prey’s full awareness. Unable to scream or seek help, they lie in silent pain wishing for a miracle. *Sigh*

Yet, at the same time, none of those false teachers, emotional manipulators, and spiritual charlatans are putting anything over God. The Lord sees it all – and is incensed about it. The ungodly, masking as benevolent authorities, will not be able to carry-on with their hidden agenda of evil forever. Their time will run out. Judgment Day is coming.

The Lord knows how to deliver victims from their victimization. It rarely comes fast enough for us. Nevertheless, the destruction of all injustice is just around the corner. But how do we deal with all the unethical and immoral behavior now!?

We stay the course. Do not give-in to the temptation to play another’s Machiavellian game. The Christian life begins with humility, is sustained by a gentle spirit, embraces right ways of being with others, and typically results in trouble, even persecution. (Matthew 5:1-12)

We strive to always live into personal peace and be peacemakers. We understand that he who is within us is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

We choose to love and pray for our enemies, all the while being wise as serpents and gentle as doves. (Matthew 5:44, 10:16)

We embrace patience and persevere through each frustratingly mad situation, knowing that the Lord has promised to be with us, even until the very end of the age. (James 5:7-12; Matthew 28:20)

We give no one a reason to speak ill of us, blessing others and not cursing them. (Titus 3:2; James 4:11; Romans 12:14)

We trust God in all things, while being careful not to put a pearl necklace around a pig. (Proverbs 3:5-6; Matthew 7:6)

We keep encouraging and affirming others, even when we don’t get encouragement and affirmation ourselves. (Ephesians 4:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13)

We stick to a community of people with like-minded values and refuse to withdraw into isolation. (Galatians 6:2; Philippians 1:27-30)

We follow Christ, our true Teacher and Lord, one day at a time, one step at a time – focusing continually on his words and ways as our polestar through the morass of confusion and iniquity. (Matthew 16:24; John 8:12, 10:27, 12:26; 1 Peter 2:21)

Jesus knew the sobering truth of spiritual predators acting as godly when he said:

Not everyone who calls me their Lord will get into the kingdom of heaven. Only the ones who obey my Father in heaven will get in. On the day of judgment many will call me their Lord. They will say, “We preached in your name, and in your name we forced out demons and worked many miracles.” But I will tell them, “I will have nothing to do with you! Get out of my sight, you evil people!” (Matthew 7:21-23, CEV)

May you remain encouraged in faith, steadfast in hope, and forever in love with the Savior who has loved you and given himself to you.

Christ, light of light, brightness indescribable, the wisdom, power and glory of God, the Word made flesh: you overcame the forces of Satan, redeemed the world, then ascended again to the Father. Grant me, I pray, in this tarnished world, the shining of your splendor. Send your holy angels to defend me, to guard my going out and coming in, and to bring me safely to your presence, where you reign in the one holy and undivided Trinity, now and forever. Amen.