A LOOK AT WHO YOU ARE
Dear Christian friends,
There is a big percentage of people who feel we as a nation are on the wrong path. Between six out of ten don’t feel good about the direction of our nation. People give different reasons. Some are upset by the stagnant economy. Some blame the government for expensive rules and regulations and taxes imposed. Some feel that our national security is being compromised. I personally believe that our nation’s respect and fear of the Lord and God pleasing morals has eroded. Our nation has established laws that challenge the Lord. We know who is going to win that battle. History repeats itself. The United States is doing what Israel did in the Bible. When Israel strayed from the Lord, the Lord puts nations through tests to bring about repentance. But are we listening?
Prospects for the future don’t sound too good. One of our frontrunners for president says an unborn baby has no rights. So if a baby is one day from being born and the mother and the father decide they don’t want the baby and abort it, it’s okay because the baby has no rights. Is God going to bless a president who thinks like that? The other presidential front runner is not much better. He said his favorite passage in the Bible is, “An eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, and life for life.” Isn’t that something! But then, he also said he didn’t think he ever needed forgiveness either. Is this really the best we have?
Dear Christians, the world needs God. The world needs God’s people, his church. Jesus said that his people are the salt of the earth. Salt was used as a preservative to dry food and keep it from decay. He wants us to be that in this world. Remember when God said about Sodom and Gomorrah that if they had ten godly people there he would have spared the city. Ten could not be found. Christians, see the important role you have in this world. “Take a Look at Who You Are.” 1) In view of how God views you; 2) In view of how you view others.
Who are you? The new NIV version of the Bible says that Peter addresses his readers as “dear friends.” The word is really stronger than that. It means “loved ones” or “beloved.” The Greek word is from “agape” as its root. That’s the highest kind of love. It is the word that is always used with God when God loves. You are loved by Peter, by your brothers and sisters in Christ, but most of all by Jesus Christ himself. He is the Good Shepherd. He is the one who laid down his life for the sheep.
Love starts with Jesus. His sacrificial love that comes from his heart changes ours. It came to us from the cross where he exclaimed “It is finished,” your sins are paid for. All is done. It is applied to us at the baptismal fount where we are connected with Jesus and clothed in his righteousness. His love is shown us in the Lord’s Supper where he gives himself to us to personally guarantee to us forgiveness of sin. connected himself. While we were outside of a relationship with God, by his Spirit we are brought into a relationship with him. We are God’s beloved.
We are also loved by his church to love his church. We pray regularly for the brother of our member, Tom Beckman. Tom’s brother is Pastor David Beckman. He was a missionary to India for eight years and recently retired. He did a presentation in our church a few years ago about his work in India. He just returned from India and was diagnosed with cancer on his lung and liver. He is being treated. While he has retired in Milwaukee, his first treatments were in Seattle. The rest are occurring in Madison, Wisconsin, obviously closer to home. Pastor Beckman is sending out a series of devotions written from the perspective of a cancer victim enduring the struggle. We get to see someone who is on the inside looking out. This week he wrote a devotion and I believe it really emphasizes being loved. “We came home a few days ago. We spent nearly six weeks in Seattle getting treatment. Our son and his wife and other friends and relatives made us feel very much at home. We met other Christians. As we talked to them about life’s struggles we felt “at home.” We read encouraging emails from dozens of people. Others sent cards and notes of encouragement. They too made us feel “at home.” We worshipped and communed together as a family. We were at home. Home is where Jesus dwells. Our hearts are his home. Hearts united in Christian faith share a common home on this lonely planet.” That’s what beloved in the Lord entails. It is more than just “dear friends” at the beginning of a letter. It is beloved, loved by God and loved by his people to love God and his people. That’s what you are.
Peter identifies who we are in more detail. We are strangers and exiles in this world. “We are strangers and pilgrims in this world as we press on toward our heavenly home. It isn’t a dream. It’s real. No longer held captive by sin, we will share loud laughter, we will sing for joy, we will praise Jesus for the great things he has done. And the joy will never end. We’ll be home with the Savior, his angels, and all of his people. It will indeed be home, sweet home!” Those too were the words of Pastor Beckman. Someone needs to remind me to call Pastor Beckman and tell him thank you for helping me write my sermon this morning. We are here but waiting to be there. We are passing through the now to be in heaven then. The years here are a blink of the eye compared to our future.
A man was on a journey during medieval times. He stopped at a castle at dusk and asked if he could spend the night. The man at the door said that the castle was not for pilgrims and was ready to close the huge and heavy wooden door. But the traveler said, “Are you the owner of this castle?” The castle dweller said, “I am.” “Who owned it before you?” asked the traveler. “My father” was the reply.” “Who will own it after you are gone?” “My Son.” “How can you say this castle is not for pilgrims?” inquired the traveler. We need to be reminded of who we are once in a while, don’t you think. Not only does Peter, but the writer to Hebrews says, “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. We are God’s beloved. That’s who we are, but we are also pilgrims passing through this world on our way to heaven.
Who we are also says a lot about how we view others. There is a road in Colorado that is extraordinary if you want to go to Aspen from Denver. It is only open during the spring, fall and summer and closes during the winter. In some spots it is only a lane and a half wide. While our time here is short compared to eternity in this world, the time we have is not easy. It’s a challenge. Peter says, “I urge you, as, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” Life is a hard road to live for the Lord. Our sinful core and Satan’s taunts make it tough. Every step along the way, we need the Lord’s forgiveness and the Lord’s power to overcome sin. Not only for our sake to not fall away from the Lord, but for the sake of others who may see us as a good example or possibly a bad example.
We are here, as Peter says, to “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Frederick the Great, the King of Prussia once said, “The more I get to know people, the more I love my dog.” That might make us smile a bit and perhaps make us wish we had said that. Yet that is not the way God’s people ought to look at others. Remember God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. It is our job to testify to people about that. One thing we certainly don’t want to do is to live life in such a way to damage someone’s faith by beings so ungodly they turn away from him because of what they see from us.
I saw this the other day and think it is worth sharing. Remember these four words when it comes to the souls of others. 1) Care: show concern for people and how you portray the Christian life. 2) Dare: it takes courage to witness--courage when the person is a stranger, and even more if the person is a close friend or relative. 3) Share: If you want to make a lasting impression, share Jesus and share yourself with the person. Get involved in his/her interests, get your shoulder under his/her burden, and be genuinely glad when he/she has a success. 4) Prayer: Don't discount the effectiveness of prayer in the preparation of people's hearts for the Good News. Let the resurrected Savior show within you. Peter promises that is powerful so “they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
Be ready to serve others as Jesus did. He came to seek and to save those who were lost. He came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. I have noticed more than just a few times over the past years. You go to a restaurant when you say to someone thank you and they reply, “my pleasure” you can tell that person has worked at Chik-Fil-A at one time. We were at a restaurant this week and someone topped off my glass of water. I said, “thank you” and she replied, “My pleasure.” I asked her, “And how long did you work at Chik-Fil-A?” She smiled and said, “Nine years!” They taught me well, she said. That ought to be true of Christ’s church too. We have been served in the ultimate way by our great Savior to serve others with pleasure.
That includes those who are over us. “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.” Do we ever need that reminder in the political season we are in! The leaders whom Peter was urging his readers to submit to were far worse than we have. Those same leaders killed Peter and Paul and all the apostles except John. What they could use and probably don’t get are prayers said for them. That’s our fault for which we need forgiveness.
I can say this about myself and I think I am speaking for you too, I gripe about them a lot. They are not Superman or Wonder Woman, but they do need superhuman help. We need to ask God to help them and do less complaining. God gives a promise, “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.”
Peter makes an interesting point when he says that we are free people but slaves of God. Jesus has indeed made us free, from sin’s eternal consequences. We are free from guilt of sin all because of Jesus. Our sin no longer exists in our Heavenly Father’s mind. We are free from the burden of thinking that we have to work our way into heaven. Jesus is the way. Yet he says we are God’s slave at the same time. We have been bought and paid for, but don’t we want to follow the one who has given us freedom? Our master is truly benevolent and kind. His love never fails.
Peter speaks about the slaves in Rome. They were a big presence in the Roman Empire. That was a fact of life. They were also urged to remember that they could do far more by showing their kindness and loyalty to their master than to be rebellious and hateful. “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” That’s the goal of every Christian, no matter what position we have in life.
I do believe that many think of Christianity as something for one day a week, an hour on Sunday. That’s not true, is it? Jesus needs to be on display in us 24/7. That’s our great goal in life. That’s how we need to look at our lives.