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God's Great Love

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Sometimes, I run into people online who want to separate the grace of God from the good works that we are called to do.  We are saved by grace, they say, so the things we do don’t matter much either way.  We don’t get to judge anybody as being outside of grace.

These convictions simply don’t square with the both-and nature of the gospel.  Yes, we are saved by God’s love and grace.  No, we can’t save ourselves. 

However, our encounter with God is supposed to transform us.  We aren’t supposed to love wickedness anymore.  We are supposed to love righteousness and spend the rest of our lives showing gratitude for our salvation.  If, on the other hand, we are more drawn to the pleasures of sin than to our Savior, something has gone terribly wrong.

This is the distinction that John draws in 1 John 2:28-3:10.  We’re children of God, but if we don’t make our parentage evident in several different ways, we prove that our true father is somebody else.  Let’s see how this works out as we consider the implications of God’s great love.

First, John discusses ABIDING IN HIM.  Let’s read from John 2:28-29.  The idea here is simple.  As God is supposed to dwell in us, we are supposed to abide in Him.  If we do, we can confidently welcome Him at His return.  If we don’t, we will have to cringe back in shame.  In other words, the way we live has eternal consequences.

Abiding in God is vital, and we can know what we need to do by considering His nature.  God is righteous.  He loves even those who hate Him.  He sends His mercy on the just and the unjust.  However, He Himself never does evil.  He is perfectly holy.

If we abide in God, or, to use John’s alternate formulation, we have been born of God, that same behavior ought to show up in us.  The people who knew me when I was 10 would have no trouble recognizing Marky as my son.  He looks like I did, and he has the same smart mouth that I had!  Likewise, people can tell that we are God’s children when we look and act like Him.  They see the resemblance when we practice righteousness.

This doesn’t mean that we live perfectly and never sin.  Instead, it means that we habitually do good instead of evil.  Sin is the exception in our lives, not the rule.  If sin is the rule rather than the exception, we need to mend our ways before we become ashamed on the day of judgment.

From here, John explores the meaning of being CHILDREN OF GOD.  Look at 1 John 3:1-3.  Notice that we don’t become children of God by working really hard or being really good.  Instead, we are His children because His love has made us His children.  We had no part in His family, but He adopted us into it. 

Now, we are children of God, but when He appears, we will become something else.  When we see Him, we will be made like Him.  To use Paul’s language in Philippians 3, He will bring our bodies into conformity with the body of His glory. 

This is deeply meaningful to me.  Every day, I encounter the limitations of my body and feel the ways that it is failing.  Many of you are in the same position.  However, in the resurrection, we will have a body that is literally like Christ’s:  perfect, indestructible, and magnificent.  Oh, what a hope we have!

As John observes, this hope should lead us now to imitate His purity.  Wanting to be like God means wanting to be like God in everything.  We can’t seek conformity with His eternal, glorious body while rejecting conformity with His holy spirit.  It’s an all-or-nothing deal.

This means, then, that the resurrection should shape every spiritual decision we make.  Do we want to become like God, or are we catering to the desires of our flesh, which is frail, corruptible, and doomed?  In either case, whatever we are seeking is what we will end up with.

Next, John exposes the ugliness of PRACTICING SIN.  This appears in 1 John 3:4-6.  Notice the ways that he describes people like this.  They practice lawlessness.  They defeat the purpose of Him who came to take away sin.  They do not abide in Him.  They have not seen Him.  They do not know Him.

These are horrible things to say about anyone who claims to be a Christian, but we must soberly ask ourselves if they apply to us.  Most people who assemble on Sundays aren’t openly practicing sin, but the secret practice of sin is another matter altogether.  I’ve known Christians who showed up for services three times a week while they were cheating on their spouses.  I hope that nobody here this morning is doing that, but I also know that appearances can be deceiving and somebody here might be. 

Of course, adultery is not the only possible sin to practice, and in the Bible, there’s no such thing as a venial sin.  Even the sins that seem smallest and least to us will cost us our souls if we make a habit of them.  They will show that we don’t belong to God.

Now, if I were here in the crowd today, and I were practicing sin, all this would leave me feeling pretty low!  If that’s you, though, I’m not here to shame you.  I’m here to plead with you. 

Don’t be the person we finished reading about.  Nobody wants that for you, least of all God.  Recognize where you are, recognize how much is at stake, and make the change you need to make.

Finally, John calls us to ask, “WHOSE CHILDREN ARE WE?”  Let’s conclude our reading with 1 John 3:7-10.  Our analysis of this must begin with John’s first words.  He is warning us not to be deceived in these matters because it is so easy to be deceived.

Indeed, this is Satan’s goal for all of us.  He wants us to believe we’re good enough to inherit eternal life when really we’ve been serving ourselves for years.  To this end, he loves to get us focused on the things we’re doing right.  He wants us to say, “Yeah, I know this thing I keep doing is wrong, but look at all that I do for God!  Surely my good works will outweigh my sin in His eyes!” 

This argument is powerfully deceptive.  Two of those adulterers I mentioned above were deacons of the church, and I’m sure they minimized their sin to themselves in light of all they did for the kingdom.  The problem is, though, that when we think like this, we are treating our good works like something extra we’re doing for God when He already is entitled to our perfect obedience.

John’s words are unambiguous.  If we practice righteousness, we are righteous and children of God.  If we practice sin, we are wicked and the children of the devil.  The lives we live determine whether our initial salvation is of any account at all.

A First-Century Memory Verse

Friday, February 25, 2022

One of the interesting features of modern translations is the formatting they use for the text.  The King James Bibles of 100 years ago set every portion of Scripture in verse-by-verse mini-paragraphs.  By contrast, more recent translations often employ poetic formatting, even in cases where most of the book is prose.

We find an example of this practice in 2 Timothy 2:11-13.  When we see this, our antennae should go up because the translators are telling us that something different is happening.  In this case, I think the translators are right.  This three-verse chunk uses a rigid parallel structure, which makes it extremely easy to memorize. 

My guess is that this snippet is not original to 2 Timothy.  Instead, I think it is an example of Christian oral teaching that predates the New Testament.  Early converts were taught this so they could carry around the essentials of the faith even though they didn’t have Bibles. 

Today, this is valuable to us for the same reason.  We may have Bibles in our pockets everywhere we go nowadays, but more important still is the word in our hearts.  This passage still is easy to memorize, and it offers four priceless spiritual reminders.  Tonight, then, let’s examine this first-century memory verse.

All four of these statements are in if-then form, and the first begins with “IF WE DIED WITH HIM”.  The best Biblical explanation of this appears in Romans 6:3-5.  There are other passages that talk about dying daily with Jesus, but 2 Timothy 2:11 refers to an event from the past.  The only death-and-life event like that in Scripture is baptism.

Notice, in fact, that Paul says that baptism is a death that leads to two different kinds of life.  The first is rising from the burial of baptism to walk in newness of life.  Romans 6:5, though, is talking about something different.  We already have been raised to walk in newness of life, but we will be raised in the likeness of His resurrection.

Thus, even though it never uses the word, 2 Timothy 2:11 affirms the necessity of baptism.  Unless we have died with Christ, we will not live with Christ.  Apart from baptism, we cannot enter eternal life. 

If you find yourself talking to someone who doesn’t believe that baptism is essential to salvation, ask them when they died with Christ.  The sinner’s prayer isn’t a death.  Neither is infant baptism.  Only the baptism of the Bible, the burial in water of the believer, makes the metaphor work.

Our second if is “IF WE ENDURE”.  We get a deeper appreciation of what this means from James 1:12.  James makes explicit an element that is implied in 2 Timothy—the endurance under discussion is endurance through trial.  This doesn’t mean merely that we keep showing up for services for 50 years.  It means that we remain faithful even when faithfulness is difficult.

In the first century, this particularly was about persecution, but for us today, this can be anything that humbles us, anytime when life isn’t going our way.  We’re suffering like the folks on the bottom instead of riding high like the folks on the top.  However, if we keep going, our circumstances will be profoundly reversed.  We will receive the crown of life, and we will spend eternity living like kings with Jesus. 

When I read this passage, I can’t help but be reminded of the hymnal Sacred Selections.  The editor of Sacred Selections, Ellis Crum, was death on premillennialism.  In his hymnal, he deleted every reference to reigning with Jesus because he thought it was premillennial.  However, as we see, the concept of reigning with Jesus is explicitly Scriptural, and it gives us hope in the darkest moments of our lives.

With our third if-then, we move from positive to negative with “IF WE DENY HIM”.  Here, of course, we must go to Matthew 10:32-33.  Sometimes, we use this passage to affirm the importance of confessing Christ as Lord as part of our initial salvation, but that’s not really what it’s about.  Jesus here isn’t talking about acknowledging that He is the Messiah before a friendly audience.  He’s talking about claiming Him as Lord before an audience that isn’t.

Again, this particularly is about reacting to persecution.  It was hard to make the good confession when imprisonment or death would result!  However, Paul offers a stern warning.  Those who deny Christ will be denied by Christ.

In fact, this was a burning issue in the second and third centuries.  What happened to Christians who denied Jesus to the Roman authorities and later repented?  Because of this verse, many argued that they could not be received back into fellowship and were doomed no matter what they did.

Today, we usually aren’t threatened with persecution, but there are times when we are tempted not to acknowledge Christ because of social awkwardness.  However, we must remember that our salvation depends on our willingness to lift up our Lord.  Only if we will share in His shame will we share in His glory.

Finally, this statement explores the consequences “IF WE ARE FAITHLESS”.  This statement reminds me of the warning in Hebrews 12:25.  In both of these verses, notice the “we”.  In 2 Timothy, the “we” has died with Christ.  In Hebrews 12, the “we” has come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, and all the blessings it contains. 

This warning is not for outsiders nor for sham Christians.  It is for those who genuinely have been saved and just as genuinely can fall away.  In the face of such faithlessness, God will be faithful, just as He was faithful in the time of the Old Testament.  He set before His people life and death, blessing and cursing.  When they rejected Him, they received death and cursing, just as He had warned them they would.

This has two applications.  The first is for our discussions with those who believe in eternal security, otherwise known as once-saved-always-saved.  It is entirely possible for Christians to be faithless, and as soon as we deny that, we open the door for the devil.

Second, we must acknowledge its application to us.  Every one of us, no matter how wise or mature, still can fall away.  Bit by bit, we can drift from serving the Lord to serving ourselves, and the consequences of doing so are disastrous!  Always, we must resolve to be faithful and cling ever more closely to Him.

Faith in the Storm

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Our lives often are hard.  Indeed, I believe that without God, they are unbearably hard.  However, our heavenly Father comforts us through His direct intervention, the love of our brethren, and His witness in the word.  The Bible contains numerous stories of God’s people enduring suffering and trial.  When they overcome those things through God, it reveals His faithfulness and gives us confidence that we can overcome too.

We often gain such inspiration from the life of the apostle Paul.  He had a downright miserable life by earthly standards, but with God’s help, he made it through.  This evening, let’s consider his perseverance through the perils of Acts 27 to see what we can learn from his faith in the storm.

Because this is such a long story, I’m not going to follow a conventional outline.  Instead, I’m going to read the chapter, pausing from time to time to make application.  Our first chunk of narrative is Acts 27:1-12.  From this, we should learn that SOMETIMES OUR TROUBLES ARE OF OUR OWN MAKING.

In this, I’m not talking about Paul and his companions, but rather about the centurion.  By the time they reached the south coast of Crete, it was too late in the year for safe sailing.  Paul was an experienced seafarer.  He warned the centurion that continuing on likely would lead to the loss of the ship and their own lives. 

However, the captain and the owner knew that staying where they were would be hard on the ship, so they advocated for one more short voyage that would lead to a better harbor.  The centurion listened to them, and off they sailed into disaster.

The same often is true for us.  We end up in trouble not because of bad luck or the wickedness of others, but because of our own foolishness and evil.  I’ve known people who never have had a problem that was their own fault, and they invariably live horrible lives because they never take responsibility for their own actions.

Instead, we must make a habit of relentless self-honesty.  We have to look straight at ourselves in the mirror and ask how we are contributing to difficulties in our families, problems at work, or struggles at church.  Rarely are we guiltless, and only when we own our own share of culpability can we progress toward greater wisdom and godliness.

Let’s keep going through Acts 27:13-20.  Here, we see that GOD CAN GIVE US MORE THAN WE CAN HANDLE.  We’re dealing with competent sailors here.  They do everything they can think of to make it through the storm.  However, the last thing they do is to throw the ship’s tackle overboard.  They’ve given up hope of being able to control the ship’s movement anymore, and everyone on board has lost hope of survival.

All of us have heard the saying, “God never gives us more than we can handle,” but this is one of the many places in Scripture that proves the saying is untrue.  There was no way for anyone on that ship to handle the fix they were in!  The lesson is not for us to rely harder on ourselves; it is to stop trusting in ourselves and start trusting in God.

Our next reading is Acts 27:21-26, and it teaches us that WHEN WE ARE FEARFUL, WE SHOULD PRAY FOR OTHERS.  I’ve been talking about this one for several months like I figured something out, and I have to admit that when I was studying for this sermon and realized what Paul was doing, I was chagrined.  I could have saved myself a lot of misery if I’d been a better Bible student!

Look at the evidence.  First, note that the angel tells Paul not to be afraid.  I like Clay’s rule of thumb here—whenever God tells somebody not to be afraid, it’s because they are afraid.  Likewise, notice that the angel says that God has graciously given Paul the lives of everyone on the ship.  What can that mean except that Paul has been asking for the lives of everyone on the ship?

Praying for others when I’m afraid is something that I do regularly these days, especially when I wake up in the middle of the night with ALS on the brain.  Frankly, I love everything about it.  It calms my spirit, and it gets me focused on my love for others instead of on my fear for myself.  The next time you find yourself being anxious, fearful, or depressed, try it, and keep trying it.  I think you’ll be amazed at how well it works.

After this, we come to Acts 27:27-38, which shows us that FAITH SHINES IN TIMES OF CRISIS.  This affects not only brethren but also unbelievers.  Before, the centurion ignored Paul’s advice.  Now, he listens to everything Paul says.  When Paul tells the ship’s crew that they all will survive, they are encouraged and eat for the first time in two weeks.  They can tell that he has a Rock that they don’t.

This is no less true today.  Over the past few months, Lauren and I have gotten to know my home-care nurse pretty well.  She’s good to us, and we like her a lot, but she’s not a religious woman. 

However, last Thursday, before we got to the alcohol-swabs and poking-with-needles part, she made a little speech about how impressed with and inspired by me she was.  She sees a lot of terminally ill patients, and she said that usually they just curl up and die, but I’m not like that.

Of course, we know that the credit doesn’t go to me.  It goes to the God who strengthens and sustains me.  Through Him, we can bear up under anything, and when we do, we shine to those who don’t have what we have.

Let’s finish up with Acts 27:39-44.  It reveals that GOD CAN DO MORE THAN WE CAN IMAGINE.  Let’s think for a moment about what a ridiculous story this is.  The storm wrecks their ship on an offshore sandbar.  There are 276 people on the ship, many of whom can’t swim.  Nonetheless, every one of them makes it safely through the storm-tossed surf to land.  That only can be explained by providence verging on miracle!

So too, we can face every crisis in our lives secure in the knowledge that God will deliver us.  It might not be our preferred deliverance on our preferred timetable.  It might be safe deliverance to His heavenly kingdom.  In no case, though, does God forsake His people.  If we put our trust in Him, at the end, we will have no complaints.

Devoted to the Teaching of the Apostles

Friday, February 11, 2022

As hopefully everybody is aware by now, our theme for the year is “Devoted”, and we will spend the year in extended contemplation of Acts 2:42.  The first topic of the four in the verse is “devoted to the apostles’ teaching”, and over the past couple of weeks Clay has done a fine job of highlighting examples of apostolic teaching.

This morning, though, I wanted to return to our keynote verse in an attempt to broaden our understanding of our subject.  “Devoted”, “teaching”, and “apostles” all have dictionary definitions, but all three concepts appear frequently in Scripture, and a study of these Scriptural uses will help us with everything else we study for the rest of the quarter.

It's not enough for the Jackson Heights church to have the theme of “Devoted”.  I applaud the elders’ decision in selecting that theme, but that decision pales in comparison with the decision to be devoted that each of us must make.  Devotion is personal, and if you personally are not devoted, the devotion of the congregation will not help you at all.  Let’s consider, then, what devotion to the teaching of the apostles means.

Naturally, the first idea we examine will be DEVOTION.  Let’s start with Acts 18:1-5.  Here, we learn that when Paul first came to Corinth, he met up with Aquila and Priscilla and started making tents with them.  This wasn’t because Paul wanted to make a fortune with his tentmaking; instead, he was out of money and needed a job to keep body and soul together.  This affected his preaching and teaching.  He was limited to proclaiming the gospel on Saturdays because he was working the rest of the time.

However, in v. 5, Silas and Timothy show up.  We know from Philippians 4 that they brought money with them from the church in Philippi.  Because of this gift, Paul was able to devote himself to preaching.   He was out there preaching that Jesus was the Christ seven days a week.

From this, there’s a simple conclusion that we can draw about the nature of devotion.  If you aren’t devoted to something, you only will do it part of the time.  If you are devoted to it, you will do it all the time.

At this point, brethren, it’s time for me to bring up a sensitive subject.  Let’s talk about how the attendance patterns of this church have changed since COVID.  Sunday morning numbers are closer to where they used to be.  Sunday and Wednesday evening numbers are not.

If devoted is full-time and not-devoted is part-time, what does the record of your attendance say about you?  If you’re not sure about how you’ve attended, talk to Dave Ledford.  He keeps records for every member here, and he would be happy to show you yours.  Can you personally look down at your sheet and say, “This is the way a devoted Christian would have attended?”

I don’t say these things to shame you.  I say them because I love you and believe in you, and I think that for many of you, those numbers are not who you want to be.  I think you want to be devoted because you know this is most important, but since the pandemic, it’s been easy to lose the habit.  It’s time to go back to that habit.  I’m not going to lie to you.  A positive change is going to take a lot of time and effort, but isn’t God worth it?

Next, let’s explore the concept of TEACHING.  Our text this time will be 1 Timothy 4:13-16.  Note that other translations here will say “doctrine”, and both “doctrine” and “teaching” come from the same Greek word.  For some reason, doctrine has gotten a bad rap among many Christians today.  They’ll try to make a distinction between gospel and doctrine, or they’ll say that they care about Jesus, not doctrine.

Frankly, this baffles me.  I don’t know where they’re getting it, but they’re not getting it from the Bible.  The Scriptures do distinguish between sound and unsound doctrine, but they don’t distinguish between gospel and doctrine.  Everything we know about Jesus or the gospel is doctrine.

Look at what Paul says about the importance of teaching here.  Timothy is supposed to give his attention to teaching.  He’s supposed to practice it, be committed to it, and progress in it.  He’s supposed to persevere in it.  Though the text doesn’t use the word, it’s entirely justified to say that Timothy is to be devoted to doctrine.

Paul justifies this emphasis at the end of v. 16.  This devotion to doctrine will save Timothy and those who listen to him.  This is how important teaching is.  It’s life-and-death important.  It’s heaven-and-hell important.  Devotion to teaching will save us.  Indifference to teaching will cost us our souls.

All other things being equal, then, the more doctrine we have in our lives, the better off we will be.  What kind of doctrine?  Any kind, as long as it’s sound.  It’s possible to emphasize one part of sound teaching to the detriment of other parts, but the more teaching we consume, the more we protect ourselves from this problem.  Our assemblies are a great place to hear teaching, but for the rest of the time, all of us have Bibles and Internet connections at home.  “Too much doctrine” simply is not intelligible as a spiritual problem.

Finally, let’s ponder what it means that this teaching is from the APOSTLES.  As a starting point, let’s read 2 Thessalonians 2:13-16.  This passage begins by describing what God has done for Christians.  He has chosen us for salvation through the Spirit and the word.  He has called us to glory through the gospel.  However, if we want to receive these blessings, we must do two things.  We must stand firm and hold fast to the traditions.

“Traditions” here is interesting.  Usually in Scripture, traditions are negative.  Jesus frequently warned against exalting human tradition.  Here, though, “traditions” is positive.  Paul is talking about the traditions handed down by the apostles and their closest followers through the Spirit, the things they said and wrote.

Today, everything we know about apostolic tradition is contained in the word of God.  We know what Paul said to the Ephesian elders on his way to Jerusalem because of the Bible.  We know what Peter wrote to Christians in the Diaspora because of the Bible.  At this point, 2000 years later, there is no other reliable record of apostolic teaching.

This answers a question some of you may have noticed in the last point.  Sound doctrine is vital, but how do we know whether doctrine is sound or not?  Simple.  Doctrine is sound if it’s apostolic and unsound if it isn’t.  If we are holding fast to apostolic tradition, we are holding fast to the things in the Bible and only those things.

Why does this matter so much?  Why are we such sticklers for following the Scriptural pattern?  Why are we devoted to the doctrine of the apostles?  The answer is in the text.  Holding firm to the traditions is the only way to ensure that we hold fast to the salvation to which God called and chose us.  If we let go, we’re letting go of God too.

How We Should Walk

Thursday, January 13, 2022

All of us know Christians who have fallen away.  Even though they committed their lives to Christ, they broke the covenant that they had made and now are living the doomed life of the people of the world.  Usually, they didn’t make this change all at once.  Instead, the devil used subtle temptations to lure them away from the Lord bit by bit.

These tragic stories are more than just a source of grief to us.  They also are a warning.  None of those Christians who have fallen from grace obeyed the gospel intending to abandon Jesus.  They all thought they were going to stay faithful and inherit eternal life—just like we do.  However, the devil enticed them away, and he would love nothing more than to do the same to us.

It’s vital, then, for each of us to hold the line against worldliness.  All of us are constantly tempted, and without constant determination and vigilance, Satan will get us where he wants us.  The grace of Christ will do us no good if we turn our backs on it.  With this in mind, let’s examine a text from Ephesians that tells us how we should walk.

The first portion of this context instructs us in PRESERVING OUR INHERITANCE.  Let’s read from Ephesians 5:3-7.  Paul warns us about two classes of spiritual problems here.  The first is a familiar list of sins:  sexual immorality, impurity, and greed.  The second is speaking crudely about or joking about sexual immorality and impurity.

I understand the latter temptation all too well.  I love words, and I love joking.  I know that if I were not a Christian, I would have a potty mouth and make lots of dirty jokes.  However, we must recognize the great spiritual danger that comes with so doing.  Once we start talking about sex and sexual sin in careless, ungodly ways, we open the door to careless sexual sin.  What is on our lips is in our hearts and soon will be in our lives.

This could not be more consequential.  Paul tells us plainly that if we give in to the sins he discusses, we will lose our inheritance in the kingdom of God.  We must remember how deceitful the devil is here.  On the one hand, he is working as hard as he can to get us to spend eternity in hell.  On the other hand, he constantly is whispering in our ears that it’s never going to happen to us. 

If he can keep us fooled until our lives end, he’s got us.  Sadly, there are going to be lots of surprises on the day of judgment, and none of them will be good.  There are going to be countless millions of people who believed Satan when he told them that their sins weren’t a big deal, and they will find out too late just how strongly God disagrees.  We must not let that happen to us!

As part of our vigilance, we must beware of the empty, deceitful arguments that the world around us makes.  The worldly redefine sin as love and then ask how love can be wrong.  They suggest that shacking up is a great way to prepare for marriage.  They tell us that more money and more stuff will make us happy.  All of those and many others are lies, and if we believe them, they will cost us more than we can afford.

Additionally, Paul tells us that we must live AS CHILDREN OF LIGHT.  Let’s keep going with Ephesians 5:8-14.  The first thing that Paul tells us is that this involves a walk.  Here, as elsewhere in Scripture, we are confronted with the difference between walking in the light and walking in darkness. 

This isn’t about any one action or any one choice.  It’s about the total of all the choices we make.  Either we are walking with Christ and sharing in the benefits of His grace, or we aren’t.  We’re not supposed to see how close to that line we can get.  We’re supposed to do our best to make sure we aren’t anywhere near it.

If we are walking in the light, it will produce fruit in our lives, fruit like goodness, righteousness, and truth.  As is true throughout this lesson, this passage calls us to relentless self-honesty.  Everybody wants to believe that their lives bear this kind of fruit.  Do ours really?  Or, instead, do we justify our apathy and sin by pointing to the few exceptions? 

One of the best tells here is our willingness to expose the unfruitful works of darkness.  This doesn’t mean pointing to the enemies of the gospel and decrying their sin.  It means exposing sin among our own.

Sad to say, Christians have had a hard time with this since the days of Ananias and Sapphira.  Maybe the sinner is a family member, so we turn a blind eye to their misdeeds.  Maybe the sinner is a church leader, a preacher or elder engaged in sexual sin, so we try to deal with the sin quietly or maybe even ignore the accusation altogether.

In all these instances, Satan is trying to use fear of the consequences to manipulate us.  We worry what will happen to our families, our churches, or even to us if the truth comes out.  Brethren, God is not pleased with those who condone sin out of fear.  Whatever we fear the consequences of telling the truth will be, the consequences of hiding the truth will be even worse.

Finally, our walk should involve MAKING THE MOST OF THE TIME.  Our reading concludes with Ephesians 5:15-17.  Notice that this reading begins with another appearance of a theme from the context:  the importance of walking carefully instead of carelessly.  People who walk carelessly don’t pay attention to what they’re doing or where they’re headed; people who walk carefully pay a great deal of attention to both.  The latter is obviously harder, but we must remember that nobody goes to heaven by accident.

Second, Paul urges us to make the most of our time.  If I remember correctly, the first sermon I ever preached in the Dowlen Rd. preacher-training program was about this verse, so I’ve been familiar with it for a long time.  However, I will say that since my diagnosis, it has taken on a whole new importance.  I know that my time is limited, so I want to use the time I have left as effectively as I can for the Lord and the people I love.

Really, though, isn’t that the way that every Christian should be living all the time?  We all have limited time, even though we usually don’t know how limited.  God and others are most important in all of our lives, even if circumstances haven’t brought that fact to our attention yet.  If we live with those priorities and that sense of urgency, we never will regret it.  The times we will regret are the times we don’t.

Last, Paul tells us that wisdom entails not only walking carefully but also understanding the Lord’s will.  No matter how carefully we drive, unless we have a road map that tells us where we’re going, we’re going to get lost.  In this case, God isn’t going to drop the road map into our minds for us.  We have to seek that map for ourselves through study and prayer if we want to understand His will.

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