As many of you know, this past Tuesday, November 16 would have been Bekah’s 17th birthday. The milestone was a reminder of the loss we all felt that evil Saturday morning in early May. And yes…I did call it an "evil morning"–God never intended that death would enter this world–that it would take a daughter from her mother, a sister from her siblings, or a child of God from her brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul has advised us to make "best use of the time, because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:16)…and is there anyone here…realizing how Bekah’s melodic voice is no longer heard as we sing hymns…that can disagree with his assessment?
But let’s not all forget that our Lord was not caught unaware by what transpired between the snake and our original parents in the Garden. The King James Version speaks of "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8b), and although the English Standard Version might be more accurate in translating it as discussing names that were not "written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain"–in either case we know that God had provided the solution before the problem arose. We also know that solution included penning Bekah’s name in that "book of life of the Lamb that was slain."
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the “extras” that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
And although death, for now remains, we are reminded by Peter that:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed (2 Peter 3:9-10).
Then those of use who, like Bekah have our names written in the book of life, will join her in an eternity where:
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).
And as we head toward Thanksgiving this coming Thursday, isn’t that something we can be thankful about? Does it not make us agree with David?:
1 I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the humble hear and be glad.
3 Oh, magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together!
4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
6 This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them (Psalm 34:1-7).
The angel of the Lord encamps around you…and if you feel pain during this holiday period, please look beyond your loss…to what you still have…and to the new gifts God has given to you since then.
They are manifold if only you’ll take the time to look for them…
When I last preached two weeks ago I titled my sermon "Doubt in a Triad." The genesis of that talk was two verses in Jude:
22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh (Jude 22-23).
During that sermon we dealt with verse 22, learned just how patient our compassionate God is with our doubt, and got some great advice from Walt Allmand when he said, "Doubt your doubts before you doubt your beliefs."1 The same God who provided a path to heaven for Bekah, you, and me can be trusted enough that we should doubt our doubts…and thank Him for His equanimity as we continue, too often, to be thick as a brick. Like the father of the demon-possessed boy, we cry out, "[We] believe; help [our] unbelief!" (Mark 9:24b).
But what about the two other categories Jude discusses in verse 23? Those we need to "snatch out of the fire" or "show mercy with fear?" What can we learn from the Bible when it comes to people who are more than simply doubting?
Just like last time when I shared a disconcerting verse from James about doubting (James 1:5-8), let’s look at the "worst case scenario" in today’s discussion by visiting Hebrews:
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. 7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned (Hebrews 6:4-8).
For those of us who have gone beyond doubt and actually backslidden, have those words worried you before? Do they worry you now?
Let’s read the very next verse:
Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation (Hebrews 6:9).
If you are quick to apply verses 4-8 to yourself, then you should do the same with verse 9. Obviously, I cannot know each of your hearts…but I feel pretty comfortable in saying that none sitting before me here today has committed the "unpardonable sin" (see Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-30; Luke 12:10; and Hebrews 10:26).
Instead, beloved, I "feel sure of better things–things that belong to salvation."
Two weeks ago I quoted Thomas Schreiner as we discussed whether these two verses in Jude were a triad…let’s join him for some additional thoughts:
The exhortation is threefold. First, those who were wavering under the influence of the false teachers should not be rejected or ignored. By showing mercy to them, as they struggle with doubts, such people could be reclaimed. Second, others were close to being captured by the teaching and behavior of the opponents. Believers must not give up on them. Their lives could still be salvaged, and they could be snatched from the fire that threatened to destroy them. Third, others had already been defiled by the false teachers. Perhaps Jude even spoke here about the false teachers themselves, although this seems less likely. Probably Jude spoke of those who had fallen into the libertinism of the false teachers. Even in this case mercy should still be extended. But the readers should be extremely careful, avoiding the danger of being stained by the sin of these opponents.2
Merciful…long-suffering…it sounds like God is asking us to be…just like Himself! Even when it could be dangerous to our own salvation we aren’t to give up on our wayward brother or sister.
But why? Why should we take the chance? Let’s look in Ephesians:
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:31:32).
We take the chance because God took a chance on us…each one of us…and at such great cost and sacrifice.
Yesterday, as I was walking from T-Bird to the Post Office with Augie…and considering this sermon…the word that most jumped out at me was "restoration." As we wrap up this sermon, let’s find out why…first with something Paul wrote to Timothy:
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
We should patiently endure evil and correct our opponents with gentleness because in that way God "may perhaps grant them repentance." God wants them…wants us…restored.
Even when Paul was harsh in his advice—for instance, when he told the Corinthians to disfellowship the man who had his father’s wife, it was "so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 5:5b)…and…praise God…we know it worked! (See 2 Corinthians 2:5-11).
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:1-2).
We are to try to restore our wayward brothers and sisters…although Paul gives the same advice as Jude…we need to make sure that we are drawing them back into the fold instead of visa versa.
Thanksgiving in Discipline
Having said all this, does anyone enjoy discipline? On Thursday morning when you climb out of bed and start the holiday thanking God for your myriad blessings, are you going to put discipline at the top of the list? Will you quote Chip from "Animal House" during his Omega initiation and exclaim, "Thank you, sir! May I have another?"3
I suspect not. Maybe you should––well, not the quoting from "Animal House" part :-):
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
"My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives."
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:5-11)
You are disciplined by God because He loves you and you are His children…and if you are every disciplined by the church or someone in the church it’s because you are their brother or sister in the Body of Christ. And, instead of reacting with anger…or angst…you should listen to the next two verses in Hebrews:
12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed (Hebrews 11:12-13).
This Thanksgiving you should praise God for His discipline…whether directly by Him or through His agents in your life…because it shows that you have been adopted by God and can call Him "Abba! Father!" (see Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6). Or would you rather be "illegitimate children" and not sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty? (See 2 Corinthians 6:18)
We can be thankful…
Now I know I’ve jumped around a bit in this sermon…even after getting to the main subject…so let’s quickly reflect on the major points:
- We can be thankful that Bekah was in our lives
- We can be thankful that, before the earth was created, God planned for us to spend an eternity with Bekah and us in heaven
- We can be thankful that Jesus has overcome death…both for Himself and for us
- We can be thankful that even in loss we still have so much…and that God continues to add blessings
- We can be thankful for brothers and sisters who will help us stay on the straight and narrow
- We can be thankful we are given advice on how to gently restore our brothers and sisters…and that God wants us restored
- We can be thankful for the Lord’s discipline because it means He loves us
But most of all we can be thankful because we are children of God who can cry out, "Abba! Father!"
1Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 illustrations : A treasury of illustrations, anecdotes, facts and quotations for pastors, teachers and Christian workers. Garland TX: Bible Communications.
2Schreiner, T. R. (2007). Vol. 37: 1, 2 Peter, Jude (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (487). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
3http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077975/quotes (viewed 11/20/2010)