Do you think it every crossed Noah’s mind, “I can’t be right, because there is no way that only 8 people could be right on a planet with 8 billion people on it?” I know there were doubts with Baruch, the assistant to Jeremiah, when they were opposed and thrown into a pit, because Baruch was complaining about the situation, wondering out loud how that doing right like this could be such a mess. God told him, “And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not: for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the LORD: but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest.” In the end, we don’t want to be ripped off, following after something that isn’t true and yet unpopular at the same time. However, it is true, that might be the most redeeming quality. You believe it, because it’s true. You persevere because it’s true. More than that, you do better or do your best because it’s true. If it’s true, which it is, you should rejoice in it. God wants joy. It’s like when I was a child and my parents, I knew, not only wanted my obedience, but they wanted a smile on my face when I did it. That instinct comes from God. God wants you to like what He wants you to do. He doesn’t want you doing it like you think you are ripped off. He wants your best. As you think about that, get a smile on our face, and put in more effort. Stop acting like you’re ripped.
Bethel Baptist Church ~ El Sobrante, CA
The Apostle Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:5, “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge.” At the end of a section of commands or imperatives, he uses four verses, vv. 8-11, to say that the people who are adding are the ones who are making their calling and election sure, that is, they are getting assurance of salvation. Why? People who are saved will grow, which is why 2 Peter ends with the command to grow, 3:18, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” It’s essentially what Peter started with – add to your faith – or grow. Are you adding to your faith? Are you growing? People, I think, want assurance of salvation. They would like to be sure about their salvation, but the way you get that is not by someone telling you that you have it, but by growing. Things that are alive will grow and reproduce. You should be concerned if you are not growing and reproducing spiritually. In the end, if you are not saved, because you really do not believe, that is the worst possible outcome for your life. The worst. I don’t want that. I would like to give you a guarantee. Salvation itself is guaranteed for believers. That’s not the question. The question is, “Do you believe?” If you do, you will add to that faith and keep growing. That is a believer. In general, I think you do believe, but let’s be sure.
There is tremendous, amazing, plenteous evidence that there is a God. We can and should know Who He is based upon what people accept and believe as proof. However, what evidence is there that there is not a God? What I’m asking is for the evidence that God does not exist. Of course, there is no evidence that God does not exist. The only evidence atheists or anti-theists claim is that there is an absence of evidence or at least unsuitable evidence that God does exist. They take their position based upon theists not proving to them that God does exist, that He is real. Do atheists and anti-theists then live like God does not exist? Not entirely. They want to do what they want, but they still function in a world according to natural laws without which they could not operate like they do. They live only selectively their atheism or theism. In many different ways, they behave as though God exists where it is convenient to them. They borrow a Christian worldview to function in a world where God exists, at the same time rebelling against God. What I’m saying is that they know God, but they just don’t glorify Him as God, just like Romans 1 says about these people. Their behavior itself gives evidence of God, because it buttresses what God says about them in His Word. People know God but they rebel against Him, because they don’t want Him in charge.
In an attempt to reduce everything to a very simple concept, Satan wishes to dethrone God, where God is no longer in charge or in authority. That will never happen. Satan does not have the ability to do it, but He can succeed in the lives of people, even as He did with other angels. People think they are getting their way, starting with Eve in the Garden, but the truth is that they are getting the way of Satan, which is a way of destruction. People are still not in charge even when they opt to be in charge, because they are in bondage. They want to do what they want to do, to make their own choices, but in the end, they don’t get the results they want out of that. They are not better off and incalculably worse off. To be saved, believers are rejecting self rule and self will. They turn everything over to Jesus to do what He wants them to do. They receive the power of eternal bliss. Even in the short term, where there is still the battle against the flesh, they succeed in a characteristic way to fulfill their purpose of existence, for which God created them. The kingdom and the eternal state is where you can’t even compare. Someone would lose in argument about short term value of being charge of his own life, but it becomes no argument with the consideration of eternity. God is good, and we are worse off dethroning Him, even if impossible to do.
I often say to students at the beginning of a new six weeks that the pages are blank on the grade book. We don’t have grade books anymore but you get the point. Every new section of the school year is there ready to be filled up with new grades. Nothing is there. Everything is to look forward to. This is how life is. Whatever you have left hasn’t been spent. Everyone is given a certain number of minutes that each person gets to invest. How will you use them? The goal is to invest them in something more valuable than them. In other words, you can get more out of your life than your life itself, depending on how you invest it. You do that by investing in something eternal. To do that, you’ve got to believe it. You’ll know if you believe it by what you do with that time. If you invest in the eternal, you know that you believe in the eternal. If you invest in the temporal, what is just of this world alone, of merely this time you possess on earth alone, then that’s what you believe in. God knows for sure. Sometimes people may not know. They deceive themselves. You should consider whether you believe or not. How will you know? It’s what you invest in. The boxes and the pages of 2016 are blank for you. What will you do with them? As a believer, you know what it will be about. You know because it is what you believe.
I’m not going to preach a goal sermon this year on Goal Sunday, so here’s a Goal Pastor’s Desk that will summarize what I would have said if I had preached about it. Certainly any sermon I preach could relate to goals, because everything the Bible teaches should be our goal. However, to deal with goals, I see the best passage as Philippians 3:12-14: “12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” One, face-up – you haven’t already attained in practice what you have in position (vv. 12-13a). Two, forget – forget the good and the bad, that is, don’t live on yesterday’s victories or defeats (v. 13b). Three, focus – focus on what is in front of you, reaching to what it is that you believe should be the goal (v. 13c). Four, forge – press toward whatever the goal is that you have set (v. 14). If you follow this prescription, it will help you in numbers of ways. You won’t be too up or too down, will not get proud or discouraged. You will look long term and then short term and accomplish more for God.
Some years, I think, I’m just going to forget about Christmas preaching altogether, because I don’t think I should allow this tradition to effect what I’m going to preach. I don’t have to preach Christmas messages. I don’t feel pressure coming from our congregation to do that. So why do I go ahead and preach them every year? I may have not preached them one or two years out of twenty-eight, but why so infrequently? I preach every year on Christmas for several reasons. One, I like the theme. It’s a great theme that is worth preaching on every year. Something about the incarnation is found in big chunks of the Bible. Two, at Christmas time, I want our church to be thinking right about Christmas. If I don’t preach a Christmas sermon, I think it is more likely that we won’t think the correct way about Christmas. There are many different distractions from the right thinking, even more than there are in other parts of the year. Three, because I am thinking about Christmas, as a result of it being Christmas time, I think of Christmas sermons I would like to preach and it is easy. Four, I do think that we might have someone extra come in to our church at this time, so I preach it with them in mind. The last is not a main reason for doing it, but it comes to mind, because I would want a visitor to hear it.
I’m appreciative of the work our musicians put into music about the birth of Christ. I know people do this because they believe in it. The incarnation of Christ is a fitting theme for music. It is worthwhile reason for worship. It is traditional as well. The three major events in Jesus earthly life as told in the gospels, a true historical account, and events that were prophesied in the Old Testament, are the birth of Christ, the death of Christ, and the resurrection of Christ. We might add the ascension, but it is right there at the same time as His death and resurrection. We have no ascension celebration. We have the birth, the death, and the resurrection. We sing special numbers about the first at one time, because it was a wholly different time in Jesus’ life, 33 years from the time of His death and resurrection, which is the theme of the second occasion of musical emphasis. Churches have also done this for awhile. Perhaps a church could feel obligated to do this, as though, if it did not have the contata or concert, it wasn’t functioning fully as a church, or, that is, people expect it. Churches take advantage of people’s expectations, and have done more and more to lure people for the event. Our church isn’t doing that. We are doing it because this does deserve special effort for the Lord. For that I am thankful today to give God something unique.
Why should we start thinking about the birth of Christ at December, when so many say we shouldn’t? First, even if we don’t know the month or day of Jesus’ birth, we do know He was born, so His birth should be celebrated at some time. The angels celebrated it, the shepherds did, Joseph and Mary did, Simeon did, Anna did, Zacharias and Elizabeth did, so would we not? It is tradition to celebrate Christ’s birth in December. We don’t have to break tradition to make a point about the accuracy of a date that those in opposition say we don’t know. They don’t give us a time. They just tell us when it isn’t, satisfied that they are right about that, and either offended or somewhat offended now if people celebrate it at a time they say it didn’t occur. We don’t have to believe that Jesus was born in December to celebrate His birth in December, because this has been when people have traditionally celebrated it. Second, not only should we celebrate Christ’s birth because He was born, but also because of the importance of the birth, which is closely related to number one. The coming of Christ was the greatest event in the history of mankind. One could argue about what in His life was most important, but His actual coming was the most important event. This time of the year gives us an opportunity to imagine the long-awaited coming of the Messiah, who was promised thousands of years.
As human beings, we do what at least one thing that no other living creature does, that being, we think about what we think. We can think about what we’re thinking. We can examine our own thoughts as to whether those thoughts are right. What do you think of your thinking about God? Is it accurate? Does God receive the amount of thoughts that we ought to think about Him? Do your other thoughts line up with Him? We can judge as to whether our thinking is correct or not and then change that. This would be part of what the Apostle Paul addressed in 2 Corinthians when he instructed to cast down imaginations that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God. Imaginations are thoughts, under a bigger category of thinking. When we think, we can imagine. An image in our minds is a construct, what we construct in our minds about who God is. We can just dismiss God, leave Him out of our thinking, as if He doesn’t exist, even though that were not to be true. God can take a smaller place in our minds than Who He actually is, because we want to do what we want to do. The person who does not think of God in a bigger and better way than he does himself will consistently do what he wants and then not what God wants. That is thinking a lie and then acting upon that lie. It is a thought that is deceptive, what Jonah calls a lying vanity.