In The Pig Pen

2 Peter 2:22 “But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.’”

A few years ago I was in northern Ghana with a group of people from our church. Our purpose for being there was to bring the Gospel to remote villages that had yet to be reached for Christ. Just as Paul developed a custom of going first to the synagogue, then to the market squares, we too, had developed our own custom. Because of the practices of their culture, it is customary, when a traveler arrives at their home, to gather the family, offer the traveler a drink and ask “What brings you here and do you have a message for us?” As you can imagine, this provides a wide open door to share Christ. On one particular day as we were walking through a village, going from hut to hut with the gospel, I turned a corner and startled a large pig. He immediately arose from his mud hole and walked off. When he stirred up the mud, the stink was so strong it almost knocked me over. I continued down the path, then turned back, thinking of this verse in 2 Peter 2, wondering what would happen next. Sure enough, as soon as he thought it was safe, the pig walked back to the mire and plopped down.

Peter explains, while it is expected for a pig to return to its mire, you are not a pig. Once you have come to Christ, it is unnatural for you to turn back to the sins from which He saved you. He writes that returning to our past lives, results in being in a worse condition than we were prior to being saved. That worse condition is caused by the hardening of our hearts. Each time we take a step away from the Lord, the Holy Spirit convicts us, reminding us of the promises of the Word, and the danger of that course of action. When we ignore His warnings and continue to move toward sin and away from God, our hearts become just a little harder. Soon we are able to sin without feelings of guilt or remorse. That is in no way a sign of freedom, but of extreme bondage. When sin no longer shames us, we are shackled by its deadly grip.

A good application from this text would be to take inventory. Are you allowing things back into your life that might lead you away from the Lord and back into your old life style? Turn those things back over to the Lord before you find yourself neck-deep in the mire.

Pastor Jim

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Pardon The Preserved

Jeremiah 50:20
“‘In those days and in that time,’  says the Lord,
‘The iniquity of Israel shall be sought, but there shall be none;
And the sins of Judah, but they shall not be found;
For I will pardon those whom I preserve.'”

One of the greatest benefits of being in a relationship with God is the forgiveness of sin. God explains that although we have transgressed His laws, the covenant provides pardon. In Israel’s case, it was through temple sacrifice, in ours, it is through the blood Christ shed at Calvary. The forgiveness He offers is complete. All sin, and it’s penalties, are washed away in the priceless blood of Christ. When God forgives, nothing will ever be brought up again.

I am captivated by the statement in this verse where sins are sought but cannot be found. It is not saying that we cannot find a way to sin, but rather that the sins of the past have been completely pardoned. Whoever might bring a charge against the child of God, the answer will remain the same, “What sin, I don’t remember it.”

Guilt is one of the strongest anchors which holds us back from accomplishing great things for The Lord, but it is not God who is filling our minds with guilt from past failures. Those things have been forgiven and we can move on to a life which brings glory, honor and praise to God. I have often thought how little Paul would have ever accomplished if he let his past failures hold him back from pursuing and serving Christ.

If you are feeling guilty about present sin, turn from it and to The Lord, but if you are plagued by past failures, it is time to look past them and at the cross, where all sin was washed in the blood of God.

Pastor Jim

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Add To Your…Faith

2 Peter 1:5-7 “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.”

Building a healthy relationship with the Lord is made up of a number of elements, the first of which is faith. In Hebrews 11 we are told that without faith it is impossible to please God. We might say faith is the currency of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the means by which we receive from God.  The gift of eternal life, the promises of the Word, and the work of the Spirit are all received by faith. For anyone to begin a relationship with God, it must start by entrusting your life to Christ, and becoming His follower. Just like Matthew rose from his tax office and began to follow after Jesus, we must leave our old life behind and trust our lives into the care of Jesus. When that is done, a relationship with God begins. But notice, Peter makes it clear that receiving Christ is not the finish line, but the starting gate. He exhorts us to add to our faith. His list is not exhaustive, there are certainly other things that can be added to our relationship with Christ, that will ensure our spiritual growth, but these seven things are a great place to start.

To faith add virtue – Virtue was defined in ancient times by Socrates as “doing something as well as it can be done”. Paul wrote, we should “do all things heartily as unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). The Christian should seek to do all things well as a testimony to the world, and as an offering of worship to the Lord.

To virtue add knowledge – Knowledge is both information and experience. As Christians, we should be good students of the Bible, seeking to get to know the Word of God. This does not mean, we are searching for hidden meanings in the Bible, but we are learning to take the Bible at face value, and apply the truths to our lives. This word ‘knowledge’ also carries the idea of experience. It is not just information about the Lord that is important, but that we are getting to know Him better, by walking with Him day-to-day.

To knowledge add self-control – To exercise self-control, the Christian must learn to deny or say no to himself. Not everything we desire is healthy for us, or helpful in walking with the Lord. There are times when the flesh is tempted toward things that will lead us away from Christ. We must resist the devil and draw near to God.

To self-control add perseverance – This means simply to press on. Wherever you are currently in you relationship with Christ, it is not the end. Paul reminds us, there is a day when we will complete the race and be in the presence of God, but until that day we must keep pressing forward.

To perseverance add godliness – There are many aspects to godliness, one of which is the idea of reverence. This is a word which has sadly lost its place, not only in our vocabularies, but in our culture. It is rare to see people acting with proper reverence. The word carries the idea of having a healthy fear. When people enter the ocean without proper fear, they are often swept away by large surf or caught in rip tides. When we do not have a healthy fear of God, we will toy with sins that should have been cast aside long ago.

To godliness add brotherly kindness – It always amuses me when the New Testament writers have to encourage Christians to be nice to each other. You would think we would realize we are all saved by grace, all are adopted into the family of Christ, and we should be kind to each other. But just as a parent has to break up the bickering between siblings, we must be reminded to be kind to one another. Don’t forget the world is watching how we treat each other.

Finally, to brotherly kindness add love – As faith is the starting point of a relationship with the Lord, love is the chief evidence. Paul stated, upon receiving Christ, the love of God would be shed abroad in our hearts. As Christians, our lives should be marked by love, and that love should be categorized properly. First, love is toward God. We are to love Him with our heart, soul, mind and strength. Second, love is to be toward others, Finally, we are to fall in love with the things that God loves.

Pastor Jim

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Throw It All Away

1 Peter 5:7 “. . .casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”

Cares, concerns, worries, and anxiety are all relatively synonymous terms. They speak of the things in life that fill us with fear, rob us of peace, overwhelm us, and stress us out. There are numerous things that create this kind of anxiety, some of them are real and others irrational but all of them seem to have the same effect upon us. Peter tells us the solution to dealing with the cares of life.

“. . .casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”

The word ‘casting’ is a translation of a compound word in Greek meaning ‘to throw upon’. It was used in the book of Acts when Paul was traveling by ship to Rome. In the midst of the sea, they experienced a great storm similar to a hurricane. In addition to being tossed around by the large waves and driven off course by the high winds, they had lost all sense of where they were, because for many days they were unable to see the stars to navigate. As the ship was being beat up by the storm and taking on water, the crew began to realize, they may not survive. Suddenly, the precious cargo they were transporting meant little to them, and they began to toss it overboard to lighten the ship, and increase their chances of survival. When the storm continued, they reached the point where they even began throwing the ship’s tackle overboard.

This is an apt illustration of what it means to cast our cares upon Christ. Sometimes, the storms of life cause us to realize that much of what we are living for, or hold dear, matters little in light of eternity. In the storm, we, like those sailors of old, evaluate what is truly precious and we cast all the rest at the feet of Jesus. Maybe now would be a good time to cast some of those cares at His feet. Perhaps there are things you have allowed back into your life that should be left behind, as you press toward the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

As the storm continued they cast the ship’s tackle overboard. Tackle, unlike cargo is necessary to the sailors. They could not hoist the sails without it. When the storm began, they relied upon their own strength and experience to get them through. As the storm raged on, they reached a point where they realized it was too much for them. All they were accustomed to trusting in proved faulty, and as a last resort they threw the tackle overboard and listened to the instructions, not of the captain, but of the Apostle. Sometimes, life’s storms are allowed so we will stop trusting in our own strength, instead turning to the Lord for direction. It may be that the care that you need to cast at His feet is the idea that you can get through this without Heaven’s help.

Whatever you are facing, cast those cares at His feet. Peter promises that Jesus cares for us.

Pastor Jim

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Nobody’s Got Time For That!

Jeremiah 45:4-5
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up… And do you seek great things for yourself?'”

As the nation teeters on the brink of collapse, Jeremiah is given a prophetic message for one man, Baruch. Baruch was an assistant to Jeremiah. One of his main roles was that of a scribe. He was responsible for writing down Jeremiah’s messages in book form and delivering them to the kings. We have every reason to believe that Baruch served Jeremiah, and the Lord, faithfully. But even faithful men are in need of correction from time to time.

Often Christian service goes unnoticed, especially when we are in a support role in ministry. We might labor intensely to help accomplish a goal and someone else receives all the accolades. I think pastors’ wives are particularly susceptible to this. They are at the side of their husbands serving, supporting, encouraging, and no doubt feeding, but it is the pastor who gets all the attention come Sunday’s service.

Baruch seemed to grow weary in his support role, and as time moved on, wanted to make a name for himself in ministry. Perhaps since he was a writer, he was toying with the idea of having a Bible book with his name on it. Whatever the case, the message he heard was clear.

“Now is not the time to seek great things for yourself”

The nation needed men and women who would seek to promote the Lord. Yet, Baruch was seeking to promote only himself. While there is nothing wrong with working for a nicer car, bigger house, or better retirement, we need to keep in mind that the current condition of things calls us to focus on the service of the Lord. We should seek to be doing our part in the furtherance of His kingdom, rather than seeking only the things that are best for ourself.

Time is short, life will soon pass, only what is done for Christ will last.

Pastor Jim

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Self Inflicted

Jeremiah 44:7
Now therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel:‘Why do you commit this great evil against yourselves…”

God warned the people not to flee to Egypt for help. He knew the Babylonians would soon defeat Egypt and any who were In allegiance with her. Despite these warnings, many of the people chose to depart from Jerusalem and Judah, making their way to Egypt. When questioned by Jeremiah as to why they chose to disobey the clear commands of God, they responded that life was easier when they worshipped the “queen of heaven.” The real reason they fled the commands of the Lord was they wanted to worship other things.

Often, an unbeliever or backslidden Christian will bring accusations against God and His Word. They will claim the Bible is difficult to understand or that there are many interpretations. While there are some Biblical texts that require careful study in order to rightly understand, most texts are plain, clear and simple. The real reason for abandoning them is not because we are not sure what they say, but because of what they clearly say.

God’s word is abundantly clear; worshipping other things is forbidden. His word is also clear that the lifestyles connected with these pagan worship practices are sinful and not pleasing to The Lord. The people did not worship false gods because they thought they were more believable than God, but because these false systems allowed them to behave in ways God had forbidden.

It is important that we do not follow the pattern set by those of Judah. These men and women chose to walk outside the parameters of Scripture, only to find they were sinning against their own souls. It would not be long before they found their sin had cost them their freedom, their lives, and their families.

Pastor Jim

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The End Is Near

1 Peter 4:7-10
“But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another.”

Peter gives a series of exhortations, all predicated upon the fact that the end is near. When the Bible refers to the end of all things, it does so, not out of fear or despair, but out of joy and anticipation. For the believer, the end of all things means Christ will call His church home, and ultimately return to set up His earthly kingdom, where He will reign and rule in righteousness. This end was the anticipation of the prophets of old, who spoke of things like righteousness covering the earth, as the waters cover the sea; or the lion and the lamb lying down together; and weapons of war being turned into instruments of agriculture; and men learning war no more. Peter is reminding us that Christ will come back and make things right.

In addition to filling us with hope, the reality of His return should stir us to proper behavior. Peter lists four areas of life that should be impacted by the expectation of Christ’s return. First, we must be watchful in prayer. I think there are two very important things we must watch for in prayer. One, we must watch that we are praying. Too often, prayer becomes our last resort, instead of our first instinct. If we want to see God accomplish the things He promises, we must be men and women of prayer. James said we have not, because we ask not (James 4:2). Two, we must watch that we are praying according to the Word of God. The Bible is filled with promises predicated upon asking. James went on to explain, the reason we do not see God accomplish what He promises is that we ask amiss (James 4:3). In other words, we are asking for things He has no intention of doing, while neglecting to ask Him to do what He promised.

Second, Peter exhorts us to love one another. Love is the greatest of all the commandments. Jesus said our first love must be directed to God. If we truly love God, it will be expressed in love for each other. John asked, how you can love God whom you cannot see, if you do not love others who you do see (1 John 4:20). One way this love is expressed is through covering the faults of another. Peter is not suggesting that we condone sin. The Bible clearly teaches, if a Christian is in sin, we must confront him, to help rescue him from impending danger. What we are exhorted to do is look beyond the failures of one another, and love each other. This is where forgiveness is a huge expression of love. The proper way to have a relationship is to be willing to forgive and press forward.

Third, Peter speaks of being hospitable. The Greek word translated hospitable is a compound word literally meaning “to love strangers.” As we are to love each other, we are also to love those who do not yet know Christ. One of the great ministries of the early church was breaking bread from house to house. They turned their homes into places where others were welcome to come and learn about Jesus. We should be those who are always looking for ways to express the love of Christ to those who have not yet come to Christ.

Finally, Peter declares that as we await the arrival of Jesus, we must be involved in ministry. Sadly, many Christians think ministry is to be done by the professionals; when the Bible clearly teaches that every Christian has been called to ministry. The church was designed by Jesus as a place where the Bible would be taught so the Christian could grow and impact others. It was also to be a place where the Gospel would be declared, so Christians can bring their friends and family to hear about Jesus and be saved. As we await Christ’s return, let’s be busy serving the Lord.

Pastor Jim

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