God’s standards, not our standards
The sermon went well. Thanks for asking. For those of you who could not attend Sunday’s services, the following is a print version of the sermon.
2 Peter 3
The Preacher’s Gone to Meddlin’-
You know, there was a time when I thought I would use my very expensive education to become a pastor. After all, that was how I was trained. But my parents got sick, and it became my job to be here, not looking to move to another community in which to serve. So I gave up my dream, and settled into this specific community of believers.
All of you are a great bunch of people, kind of like the church I had hoped to pastor someday. I like it here. But I always wondered what kind of a pastor I would have been, had that door opened.
There was a young man who was just starting out as a preacher. His first church was in the northwest in a small town close to a huge logging company. The folks were kind of like you, all friendly and welcoming. And the young preacher began to feel right at home from the beginning.
As the weeks extended into months, he found that there sure was a lot of construction going on. He thought it meant his community thriving and therefore his congregation was growing.
But then he noticed something disturbing. All the new construction was happening because townsfolk were snagging logs as the lumber company floated them downriver to the sawmill.
Some in his congregation were thieves! Alarmed, he preached a sermon on “Thou Shalt Not Steal.”
It was a huge success. Everyone shook his hand and congratulated him on such an inspiring sermon. Pleased, he went about his business feeling satisfied that he had made a difference in the lives of his people.
Until he noticed that the theft of logs from the lumber company had not stopped.
So he preached another sermon on the wrongness of theft, what it does to your soul and your relationships with others, the effects it has on your children, and so on. Once again he was congratulated for his passionate delivery and how this sermon had been even more inspiring than the last one on the ills of stealing.
But the community continued to snag logs as they floated downriver to the sawmill, and the new pastor realized he was not a great preacher after all, because the message hadn’t gotten through.
So he preached a third sermon: “Thou Shalt Not Steal Logs From The Lumber Company.”
And they ran him out of town.
You see, the preacher had gone from preaching to meddling. And people don’t like to be confronted with their sin.
But if a pastor isn’t making us say, “Ouch!” at least occasionally, his messages just aren’t getting through. Let’s take Pastor Keith, for example. How many times have we heard, “Invite more people! You have a great church here. You’re extremely welcoming, but you’re the best kept secret in Grand Junction. Let folks know!”?
I said, “Ouch!” I wanted to shake him by the shoulders and tell him I had been inviting people, but they weren’t coming! What did he mean I wasn’t inviting enough?
I said, “Ouch!” another time too when he talked about this being the first church he had attended without a choir, and that all we needed was one person with a passion to begin one, and that people would jump on board. Well, phooey! It wasn’t for lack of trying that we didn’t have a choir. We did keep a quartet going, always with the hopes that more people would want to sing and jump on board, but that hasn’t happened yet. And we always try to have special music each Sunday. What did he expect?
And then there were the protests I heard about the church not being this building, but WE being the church. What was that all about?
Well, folks, unfortunately, Pastor Keith has been right all along. Pastors will come and go from this community of believers, but WE are the church. WE set the tone, WE welcome, WE grow up into mature Christians so that WE are the Christian leaders this community needs. Or we refuse to grow up and continue to live our lives as we want to, not as God tells us. No pastor does these things. WE DO!
So this takes us to the Peter passage. Peter was concerned for his church because he wanted them ready for Christ’s return. “So then, dear friends since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless blameless and at peace with him.” Nothing has changed. We still must be ready for Christ’s return, be found living the kind of lives that are Christ-centered, not centered on the values of our culture, but on God’s values.
So how do we do that? First we need to recognize where we are. What did Jesus come to do? He came to restore us to the Father. Now why would we need restoration? Because we are in sin. Jesus came to deliver us from our wrongful thoughts and actions and forgive us so that we could be with our creator forever. It’s a wonderful message, and it’s a message that I’m sure each one of you understands.
What we may not understand is what sin is. What is sin? Well, there is a list of sins in I Corinthians 6:10, “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral or idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
The subject here refers to those who will not inherit the kingdom of God. All these things are sins that will keep us out of God’s kingdom. This passage continues with, “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed. You were sanctified. You were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ by the Spirit of God.” What this says is that when we accepted Jesus as our Savior, those things that we used to do that kept us out of God’s kingdom are sins from which we have been forgiven.
That’s the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, which is different from being sexually immoral, male prostitutes, homosexual offenders, that means practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers. It’s a good list, it’s not a complete list. I’m sure you can think of a few more. And we would do good to take note.
You see, Jesus came with a plan. He would take our sins on his shoulders, take them right to the cross, receive the penalty, our penalty, for sin, which is death, the death we deserved, and ask one thing in return, that we believe that he came to do exactly this. That’s the salvation message. And we get it.
Our next step – and yes, there is a next step. I’m not saying we need to do more to accept salvation. I am saying that our next step is to grow in the faith, learn how to avoid sin, learn to depend on Jesus for our strength, and teach others to do the same. This is where we mess up. We are a congregation filled with baby Christians singing, “Jesus Loves Me,” but we’re not changing anything about how we live.
I’ve heard it said that once we became Christians, we gave Jesus the right to tell us what to do. And what he tells us to do is avoid sin.
So our next step is to grow in the faith, learn how to avoid sin, and teach others to do the same. We also need to learn to depend on Jesus for strength, but we undermine what he could teach us because we do not let go of our sins.
We let our culture define what is right for us. We do not turn to the Bible for instructions on what sin is, and how God strengthens us to avoid sin. As a result, we are not ready for Christ’s return at all. We’re still going on our merry way singing “Jesus Loves Me,” and then we do what everyone else in our culture does.
We are to be in this world, yes, but no OF it. What does this mean? It means that we are to live right here where God placed us, but our standard of behavior is God’s not ours. But because we don’t read our Bibles, or take any Bible classes, we don’t even know what God says. We let TV, movies, friends, neighbors, songs, even our feelings tell us what is right and good. WE DO NOT TURN TO GOD. That’s why we don’t even know what sin is.
Worse, we teach our children that it’s all right to do these things: be sexually immoral or an idolater or an adulterers or a homosexual offender or a thief or a liar or a drunkard or a slanderer or a swindler.
I wish that were the end of that, but there’s more. Look at Luke 17:1-2. “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.”
Are we causing our children to sin? We are when we teach our children that sin really isn’t sin, that in some circumstances it’s all right, WE ARE GUILTY OF THIS, and God takes a VERY dim view of our actions. He died to rescue us from sin, not to pass it on to our children.
God’s standards are different.
Don’t you trust God to see you through life? Why settle for second best? Don’t you trust God? Don’t you trust God to get you through the hard times as well as the good times? Don’t you believe that God would never set you up for failure, that he has the answer for whatever questions come up in your marriage? Are you still singing, “Jesus Loves Me” rather than growing in trust with him?
The same message goes to the greedy and the swindlers. “Thou shalt NOT steal logs from the lumber company.” I don’t care if there are logs to spare, they are not YOUR logs. Those who practice such things do not trust God for their livelihood. Just like the others in the list of sins, they have not accepted God’s standards.
There are two kinds of temptations.
When the enemy, Satan, tempts us, it is for our destruction. We will do what seems to be right, what our feelings tell us are right but are far from holy, and will lead to us falling away. Then when we fall, the enemy is right there accusing us, making us feel horrible. It’s like he’s just waiting to say, “See, I knew you were only pretending to be Christian. Look at your life, what a mess it is.” We can feel the accusation and the failure. Satan’s plan has worked, because we feel very far from God, which is what he wants.
The second kind of temptation is more like a test. We’ve been trusting God. We’ve stumbled around a bit, maybe quite a bit. And here comes the temptation again. But this time we make a different decision. We decide to live this time by God’s standards. And what happens? God says, “I knew you could do it! I’ve told everyone to watch how my precious child would grow through this one, and she did. And he did.” God tests us for success, not failure. We can pass God’s tests, because we can do all things when Christ strengthens us.
It’s like the new pastor in the small town near the lumber company. The standard is right here in God’s word. The pastor was not guilty of being judgmental. He was just stating what God already said. “Thou shalt not steal logs from the lumber company!”
God’s word says, Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral, which is simply sex outside of marriage, nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders, that means active homosexuality, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
The Bible is not politically correct. God doesn’t have to be and neither do we. We can adopt God’s standards as our own. In fact, that’s what is expected. God never gives us instructions or prohibitions to harm us. God has a better way, a way that feeds us, gives us joy, gives us a sense of completeness, and fellowship with him. God gives us even more. He gives us entrance into his very own kingdom, sits us at his table, and calls us family. When Christ returns, what will he find? People not ready to receive him, or the prepared and ready and living for him kind of people.
What the world will tell you and what God says are not the same. The world will tell you that lying is all right in some circumstances. The world will tell you that sex outside of marriage is all right. The world will tell you that homosexuality is genetic. The world will tell you that gossip is fun.
But Jesus says, “Why do you call me Lord, but you don’t do what I tell you to?”
When we welcome people into our congregation, what kind of a church are we welcoming them to? Are we welcoming them to a baby church still singing, “Jesus loves me?”
Or, my family, are we welcoming them to a church filled with victorious, vibrant, alive and living in the kind of abundance that only God can provide? Are we welcoming people into a fellowship filled with people who are learning to abide by God’s standards instead of the world’s standards?