Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, November 14, 2018
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Living for the Things That Last

2nd Peter 3:8-15a
            From the very beginning, there have been people who say, “If Christ is coming back, then where is he?” I guess from our perspective, 2000 years after the resurrection and ascension, it’s kind of amusing to read the New Testament and see that only 30 years after, which is about the time of Peter’s writing, there were already people saying, “Where is he?” But of course, if people said it then, they are sure to say it now. If Christ is coming back, where is he?
            How does our message sound? How do people respond when we say, Christ is coming back? It probably makes us sound strange. It probably makes us seem “out of touch” with the modern world. Maybe it makes us seem antiquated, like we’re holding on to an idea that the rest of the world has given up on as silly and out-dated.
            I saw a bumper sticker one time that I really liked. It read: “Jesus is coming back: Look busy!” I laughed at it. But maybe that’s the attitude of the world about the return of Christ: It’s a joke. Maybe we’re a joke for thinking that a man who died 2000 years ago is coming back. 
            That’s okay. The Bible says the wisdom of God is foolishness to the world. So if I look foolish, I’m okay with it. Because no matter how silly, how antiquated, how strange it sounds, I believe firmly that Christ is coming back. 
            And even if it doesn’t happen soon, I believe that one way or another, God will break into every life. In one way or another, we will all encounter the Living God. It may not be till the day we die, but nothing could convince me that there is not a God, and I think every person will eventually be convinced as well. 
            Do you believe there is a God? I assume you do. And a lot of people who are not here or in any other church this morning or any Sunday morning believe there is a God. And I think if we believe that, then there is only one logical step to take: Live so you will be prepared to meet God. And if we as Christians believe Christ is coming back, we should live accordingly. If there is a God, if he did come to as Jesus Christ, if he is coming back, how then shall we live? 
            Let’s look at our text. Don’t forget: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord and a thousand years is like a day. This is a quote from Psalm 90, and it tells us that God’s perception of time is different than ours. One of the things we learn about the nature of God is that time is not the same for God as it is for us. For us, time is relentless. It keeps coming, and once a moment is passed, we can never have it back. We can’t see the future, we can only imagine it, and often our imagination is wrong. We can only remember the past, and often our memory isn’t so great either. 
            But time is different for God. He stands outside of time, as the Creator of time. Someone once said that the best way to understand time for God is that in his view of time, everything happens at the same time. Maybe that’s confusing. Maybe a better way to say it is that God is present in every time at the same time. We say that God is omnipresent: equally present in every place at the same time. We could also say that God is omnitemporal: equally present in every time at the same place. I’m pretty sure omnitemporal isn’t a real word, but we’ll run with it. 
            Well the point of all this philosophical talk is to say that the return of Christ is only taking a long time from our perspective, not from God’s. God is not slow about his promise. It’s certainly not because he is unable to intervene into our history. God is waiting for his time, not for ours. 
            And in the meantime, what time we have we have because God is patient. The Greek word patient means “slow to anger.” God is slow to anger. He is not impatient and quick to lash out at the sins of the world. His mercy is holding back his judgment. Because when Christ returns, that will be the beginning of God’s judgment on this world. And God is holding back his judgment because he wants everyone to repent. He is giving us time to repent. 
            Maybe that would really change our understanding of time if we thought it out: Every day, every hour, every minute of your life is yours because of the mercy of God. It is only because of his mercy that you have one more day. If God treated the world as our sins deserve, it would have been over a long time ago. But God desires every person to know his saving grace, and he’s holding back the judgment in the hopes that more people will seek his grace.
            In the Old Testament, the prophets came along and predicted the exile of the people from the Promised Land if they did not repent of their evil and their idolatry and turn back to God. They announced that message for hundreds of years before it happened. And I think most people ignored it, thinking it would never happen. But finally, it did. God was not slow in his judgment because he was unable to do it. He was slow to give every possible chance for repentance. And it’s the same today.
            But one day, that day will come. Unexpectedly, it will come like a thief in the night. And the heavens will pass away with a roar. In the Hebrew understanding of the universe, there was the earth and then there were two heavens: the lower heaven that is the air and the upper heaven that is the stars and sun and moon. That’s why the word heavens is always plural in the Bible, because there are two heavens that God created. Beyond them is the “third heaven,” the dwelling place of God. These two heavens will disappear with a roar. And the elements, the building blocks of creation, will disappear.  Today we understand elements to mean hydrogen, helium, oxygen, and such. In the mind of the first century, the elements were earth, air, water, and fire. Whatever they are, they will disappear. Some people think this means the end will come in nuclear war. Maybe, but that’s also an example of us reading modern life back into the Bible.
            Fire is obviously a picture of judgment. But fire is also a picture of purification and renewal. For example, in some parts of the world there are trees and plants that only grow after a fire has burned over the area. They are “programmed” to know that after a fire is the best chance of growing successfully. The present creation will not just be destroyed; it will be purified and renewed to make way for the new heavens and the new earth. Everything in this world deserves judgment, so it will be purified by fire so that it may be renewed. 
            “Since everything around us is going to be destroyed,” what kind of lives should we be living? How shall we live in the light of a coming judgment on everything material in this world? It only makes sense that we live for the things that last. What things that will last? 
            First, we should live holy and godly lives. 
            Holy means “separate” or “set aside.” We should consider ourselves separate from this world and set aside for God. We should be in the world but not of the world. We should see ourselves belonging to the new creation that is coming, not the old that is passing away. We should have different hopes, different aspirations, different values and ideals than the world around us. 
            Godly means becoming like God. It means we should be pious; seeking God and to become like God. It means we should engage in acts of seeking God: Prayer, worship, the reading of Scripture, Christ-like service. To become godly means to seek to be like Christ and to have the mind of Christ formed in us.
            We should live lives filled with righteousness. Peter reminds us that the new creation will be filled with the righteousness of God, so if we want to be fit and ready for the new creation, righteousness should fill our lives now. We should seek to live rightly before God and before our neighbors every day.
            We should live lives filled with purity. Peter instructs us to be pure and blameless in the sight of God. In 1st Peter, those same two words are applied to Jesus himself. To be pure means to be free from the corrupting influence of the world. And that is not an easy task for us. Everywhere we go, the influence of the world is there. Our kids like watching videos on YouTube, and one of the things I’ve noticed is how often I type in something innocent in the search line and something inappropriate will come up in the list of results. I’m not even looking for something inappropriate, it just comes my way. And everywhere we go, everywhere we look, we are assaulted with impure messages.
            Obviously, perfect purity, perfect righteousness, these are not things that we can achieve in this life. But we can certainly strive for them and come closer to the purity and righteousness God desires.
            And we should live lives filled with peace. We should seek peace with God and also peace with our neighbors. If the new creation will be a place of perfect peace, we should be seeking that now in this life. One of the things that I find myself saying to folks over and over again at funerals, which is when I most often have the chance to speak to unchurched people, is that we should seek to live at peace. We should seek to have peace with God through Jesus Christ, and then we should also seek to live at peace with each other. I find that appropriate since funerals are often a time when family comes together that may not be talking to each other the rest of the time. 
            And finally, as we look forward to the day of the Lord, we should hurry it along. How do we hurry along the return of Christ? Well, one of the things we know about the timing of Christ’s return from Matthew 24 is that he will not return until the gospel has been proclaimed throughout the world. What exactly does that mean? I don’t know. It’s up to God to determine when the message has been spread sufficiently. But it’s our task to spread it. And the fruits of the gospel will last forever. 
            Talking about the return of Christ is only really beneficial if we talk about its implications for the present. Christ is coming back is a wonderful promise, but it’s a promise with a challenge for us today: What are you doing today to prepare your life and your world for the return of Christ? What are you doing today that will last for all eternity? 

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