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Be Sober, Be Vigilant

Allen Pirness | 2024 LLC Summer Services - Speakers’ and Board Members’ Meeting – July 5 --


Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”  – 1 Peter 5:8

 

Introduction

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He gave His disciples the “Mission Command” that was for their generation as well as for all succeeding generations, identifying the clear purpose of God’s kingdom. He told them, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matt 28:18-20).

 

These words of Jesus help to frame the parameters of where to approach this topic from. This command teaches us that the place and purpose for God’s kingdom in the world is for preaching the gospel, baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and then instructing and living in the way of Jesus among the believers, rejecting ungodliness and worldly passions (Titus 2:12).

 

We are comforted in the same promises Jesus gave to His disciples. Firstly, He assured them that all power is given unto Him in heaven and in earth. He then promised that He will be with His own until the end of time wherever God’s kingdom is. Jesus had won the victory over sin and death already when He gave this mission command. Our battle remains the internal struggle against temptation brought to us by the three-fold enemy; Satan, our flesh and the world. Jesus has promised that He will never leave us. When we fall into sin there is still power in the Gospel to wash away all our sins. The temporal realm is not our battle ground as it was for the 12th century Crusaders who attempted to restore Christ’s kingdom in Jerusalem by force, rather it is the spiritual realm in which Christ’s kingdom calls sinners to Him and sends us to preach the gospel.

 

The Early Christian Church

Our theme for this introduction comes from the first Epistle of Peter. Much of Peter’s life is well noted in the New Testament. We relate to Peter as a brother in faith and as a servant in God’s kingdom. We experience the same adversary, The devil, trying to snare us away from God. I think we would all have to admit that our workday is quite uneventful and peaceful when we consider Peter’s workday. He, like us, didn’t do the work with His own strength. He needed to be uplifted and encouraged with the same gospel that he preached. He experienced many things in his apostleship, including Jesus’ transfiguration, his own denial of Jesus, Jesus’ death and resurrection, his own repentance, walking a few steps on the surface of the water, Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the shedding of the Holy Spirit, the gospel being opened to Gentiles, the persecution of Christians, and many other things that are recorded in Scripture. He experienced that his adversary was the devil. Peter wanted to encourage those early Christians that nothing was more important than possessing the name of a child of God. A martyr’s death was experienced by many believers in that time. The encouragement among the Christians was to accept this kind of death if it came entrusting themselves into the resurrection victory that Jesus had accomplished.

 

The Acts of the Apostles records the martyrdom of Stephen. When the stones continued to strike his broken body, he said “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:59-60) He was forgiving of his murderers as he slipped away into the sleep of the righteous. We don’t have these kinds of examples in our lived memory. There have been anecdotes from the former Soviet Union believers who faced the reality that their confession of faith might lead to this level of persecution. Many, if not most, countries today protect religious freedom. We pray that it would always be so, but if it isn’t God’s plan, we ask for faith to endure unto the end. Not only do we ask for faith, but even as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, we would ask for a forgiving heart toward those who would persecute us, as Stephen did. The spread of the gospel has not been slowed in times of persecution. It moves as God wills.

 

The Gospel spread to the cities where the believers lived. Those who were granted grace to believe their sins forgiven, brought the message of the gospel home with them. We know that even at the time of the shedding of the Holy Spirit during the Pentecost festival in Jerusalem there were believers from many different lands who heard the gospel in their own tongue. The gospel quickly traveled home with them. The apostles soon began to travel to these areas to teach and baptize.

 

God Guides His Kingdom through Changing Times

It is important to keep the correct and scriptural understanding of the believer’s place in society. We live in a time that the humility becoming of a child of God is despised. Meekness is considered to be weakness. In Jesus’ mission command, we see the clear purpose for believers in society. We experience that the intent of God, in establishing His kingdom here on earth, through His Son our Lord Jesus, is to bring the gospel to all people. We have witnessed the spread of the gospel in our time. We marvel and rejoice over the continued spread of the gospel around the globe. Much of the focus of current discussions among those who serve our central organizations is in how we can fulfill all the requests for services and support those who wish to endeavor in faith. The proclamation of the forgiveness of sins is yet done with the same power and authority that Jesus gave the disciples. It still has free course from heart to heart. Nothing can prevent someone from believing if God has opened their heart as a sinner and granted grace to believe their sins forgiven. Conversely, we also see that unless God can open the heart, it is impossible for someone to believe. We experience these things when we are at the frontier of the spreading of the gospel. It has given me considerable comfort to witness these things and to also witness the peaceful reality that Jesus truly won the victory. The earth and all creation are His. The times and eras of humanity are His. The proverb instructs us, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” (Prov 9:10). It is a timeless truth.

 

In the spread of the gospel, we see how everything is possible for God. We also see how nothing is possible with man, unless God blesses it. This holds true for all areas of life. Technological breakthroughs often bring progress to humanity, and we experience the benefits that God provides through this. These periods can also bring societal shifts that are not all positive. We see, for example, the mixed blessing of the Internet after its 30 years of existence. Times of change also bring upheaval and push against previously accepted ideas that have later been proved inaccurate. Consider the relatively recent hesitations over the correct use of Internet technology in our church. It wasn’t a quick and easy discussion to decide that we should have a church website. There was much caution and prayerful discussion.

 

Consider how God has allowed this technology to serve the work of His kingdom. There were many hundreds of repentances around the world during the global shutdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Travel stopped abruptly and gathering together became almost impossible. God had a plan to use that time and technology to bring the gospel to many people. English language WhatsApp sermons were sent weekly to various places in Africa and Asia and were forwarded on by those who received them. Many people heard and believed. Now they travel with us as brothers and sisters in faith. Spanish language services by Zoom gathered the believers in South America together, strengthening the bond of Christian love among them. These efforts have continued post-pandemic, and we experience how God continues to bless this work.

 

I remember listening to a sermon from the 1970s where the minister spoke about how impressive it was, because of the advances in modern communication, to be connected via telephone to the other side of the world in only a few minutes. He then went on to remind how this is very insignificant when we consider how God’s word assures us that the sighs of His children are instantly heard in His ears. I remembered the above-mentioned sermon as I was standing on a roadside in 2019 above the city of Badou, Togo sending video clips to my co-workers in Canada and answering their questions in real-time about what I was experiencing on my trip. There are really no bounds on our Heavenly Father’s possibilities!

 

Technological innovation, scientific discovery, and encounters with new cultures can often raise difficult and challenging questions. These don’t have to trouble a believer so deeply that they are rejected as workings of the devil. God’s Word and experience show us that God’s Spirit helps and guides His congregation to a correct understanding, one in harmony with His Word.

 

In the first years of the New Testament God opened the hearts of non-Jewish people to believe that Jesus died for their sins also. Remember Cornelius the Roman Centurion whose heart was invited to call Peter from Joppa to hear what God would say to him. When Apostle Peter was in Joppa, God prepared him to go to the home of the Cornelius, a Gentile. This presented a cultural barrier to Peter. This was a new and unexpected development in the work of the gospel. God gave Peter a vision. In it he saw a sheet lowered from heaven. On that sheet were all manner of animals and he was given instruction to take any of them as food. Since Peter was a Jew, he resisted eating anything ceremonially unclean. He was informed that he should not call that which God has cleansed unclean. Peter did not understand the vision but when the Spirit directed him to go to the house of Cornelius he went. There Peter was shown the meaning of the vision when salvation was opened to the Gentiles, such as Cornelius and his household. They believed when Peter preached the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit came upon them. They were baptized with the same baptism that the Jewish Christians had been baptized with. When word of this spread, Peter was asked of it when he returned to Jerusalem. The brothers who met with him and heard his account peacefully concluded that the same Holy Spirit was with the Gentile believers as it was with the Jewish believers.

 

Jewish believers in Christ and Gentile believers in Christ received each other as brothers and sisters in faith. They came together and worshipped together. The accounts in the Acts of the Apostles and the New Testament letters relate how they marveled at the power of the Holy Spirit and witnessed God’s grace through the gospel of Jesus. Peter and the other apostles experienced the same matter that Jesus expounded on to the woman at Jacob’s well some years earlier when He explained to her that God is a Spirit and must be worshipped in spirit and in truth. Peter experienced that the way was also opened for the Gentiles if they believed their sins forgiven in Jesus’ name and blood. God was able to be worshipped in spirit and in truth, or in other words, in the gospel of Jesus. The enemy of souls did not leave them in this blessed unity of spirit. The temporal differences between them were sometimes successfully used by the enemy to create division and discord.

 

The Dangers of Fundamentalism

One issue that has troubled Christianity from time to time in recent decades, and is a concern again today, is the influence of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism arose out of a proper concern about the teachings of liberal theology. It started from a right concern but soon veered into wrong teachings. One of the main causes of fundamentalism’s errors is its view of the nature and message of God’s Word.

 

The traditional Christian view of the Bible has been the salvation history view. This view acknowledges that the Bible has both human and divine aspects. Men wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21). The human aspect may appear, for example, in the Bible’s descriptions of historical events and explanations of the natural world. Those descriptions and explanations are shaped by the knowledge and view of the natural world that existed during the writers’ time. The view of fundamentalism is different. It does not recognize a human element in the writing of Scripture. It insists that the written word cannot have errors of any kind in it because the writers were only “scribes of the Holy Spirit”, and their humanness was not involved. This leads fundamentalists to view the Bible as a divine document even in matters that are not its purpose and message. Fundamentalists don’t read the Bible centered around its core message of salvation history, but rather read it as the source of divine arguments and make it a handbook for life rather than the message of salvation history.

 

This view of the Bible is not enlightened by the Holy Spirit, and it steals peace. One is, for example, faced with a constant struggle between his or her interpretation of God’s Word and new discoveries that increase our knowledge of the natural world which God has created. Our knowledge and understanding of the natural world is constantly growing and changing. Science presents some theories which are with time proven to be true and others which are proven to be false. These do not change our understanding of God’s salvation plan and salvation history. When we acknowledge the human element in God’s Word, we recognize that when God’s Word speaks of the natural world in a different way than new discoveries have illuminated, it simply shows us that the author’s understanding of the natural world wasn’t complete. We recognize as well that our own knowledge of the natural world is incomplete. It makes us curious about other discoveries that God might allow before the end of time. This gives us peace and comfort and reminds us that the Bible is not a science book and should not be used as one.

 

Because fundamentalists don’t read the Bible centered around its core message of salvation history, but rather as the source of divine arguments in all things, it becomes a handbook for life rather than the message of salvation history. It confuses the roles of the spiritual and temporal realms. Fundamentalist ideology also easily leads to legalism and to the “third function of the Law,” which wrongly teaches that God’s Law belongs to a Christian as a moral guideline. God’s kingdom recognizes but two functions of the Law. The first function is its civil law, which is to preserve order and peace in society. The second is its spiritual function, which is to be a “schoolmaster” to give man knowledge of sin and drive him to Christ. But, as Paul writes, “after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Gal. 3:25).

 

Humility of a Child of God

We have noticed, especially in the last 10-15 years that politics is particularly polarizing. In reality it has moved beyond polarizing all the way to demonizing. Those with different political views, shaped by their world views and experiences, are viewed as “the enemy.” It’s a good thing to remember that in politics as in other areas of life, people may have different views of how to solve problems and administer finite resources. Likewise believers freely vote in different ways for any number of reasons. God has protected His children in the endeavor of faith regardless of the political situation in the country He has placed them. It’s not useful to consider that somehow another believer is your enemy because of their views on world affairs, for example. We need the care of God’s children, regardless of how they vote in elections. We may not know the political views of the servant of the Word who is preaching from the pulpit, yet we hear and believe the proclamation of the gospel as though we are hearing it from our Lord Jesus himself.

 

Consider the reality in Jesus’ time. Jesus called His disciples from a spectrum of political beliefs. On one end of the spectrum there was Matthew the publican who loyally collected taxes for the Roman Empire. On the other end there was Simon the Zealot. His title indicates that he belonged to the Zealots, a party that held to the view of expelling the Roman Empire from the Holy Land. Yet God gave them grace to believe, and Jesus called them both to be apostles. How did Jesus teach the disciples to care for each other? Jesus took a basin of water and a towel and proceeded to wash their feet. His instruction was to continue to wash each other’s feet.

 

I experienced how impossible it became during the time of the pandemic for those who were of a fundamentalist persuasion whom I interacted with in my former workplace, to accept the doctrine of the two regiments. They could not accept Luther’s teaching that the earthly regiment is God’s, and it is our duty to obey temporal authority. It became their mission to wrestle away the God-given authority of temporal governments, all the while pointing to God’s Word as their guide. We encounter the same sentiments from podcasters and pundits. In recent times, we have seen that if our political views, whatever they may be, become the prism through which we interpret God’s Words we can soon become frustrated, angry, and lost. We are drawn into a mindset that pits us against authority. It forces the hypothetical thought of how oppressive it must get before we resist authority. These are not edifying places for us to go. The Mission Command of Christ reminds us that Jesus is the Lord of both Heaven and Earth. We err if we think we are doing Christ’s work by rebelling against temporal authority. We err further if we try use God’s Word as a defense of our rebelliousness.

 

There are examples in God’s Word that tell us how we ought to behave and what our attitude toward those who are in power should be. A very familiar example is Jesus, especially in his final hours when he rebuked Peter for cutting off the soldier’s ear in the garden. He reminded Peter that he was subject to the temporal law pertaining to the injury or death of his fellow man (Matt 21:51-52). Several hours later we again observe Jesus’ quiet submission to the temporal authority before Pilate. Consider also the example of the Hebrew lads in Babylon.

 

When Daniel and his friends wanted to remain obedient to God and avoid the royal diet, they respectfully made their request to the king’s servant. He granted a trial period to compare results of the diets of the other boys and the Hebrew boys. God blessed the believing boys, and contrary to reason they fared better than the other boys. The king’s servant accepted their diet. God blessed the believing boys’ studies and granted them wisdom that exceeded everyone else’s, so they were placed into the king’s service. Later, Daniel quietly, yet openly, prayed to God during the time that was decreed to only pray to King Darius. As a result, he was put into the lions’ den. When he was released unharmed, he honored the king. “O king, live for ever. My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt.” (Dan 6:21-22).

 

What was the example for us in the attitude of Daniel? He was a humble servant of the king of Babylon while he lived in this foreign land. He prayed that God would bless the king and the country he was in. He did not rebel against the king, yet he did not stop quietly and humbly worshipping God alone. God blessed his obedience and humility. God showed the kings of Babylon, in Daniel’s time, that He was the only one true God. Daniel didn’t show the kings anything but respect and honor. Daniel believed that even the kings of strange lands were not hidden from God. It was never in his heart to disobey the rulers that God appointed. In our time we yet truly live in a time of unprecedented religious freedom. We can only thank God for this time and do our part to live obediently and humbly in accordance with the laws of the land.

 

Love in Truth

We read in the mission command that God gave the authority for the kingdom of heaven to Jesus also. The kingdom of heaven is here on earth as a spiritual kingdom, the kingdom of grace. Jesus is with the kingdom of grace, His body, as His church. We experience the continued work of Jesus in His congregation through the power of the Holy Spirit. In His mission command, Jesus promised to be with His own until the end of the world. If one wishes to find Christ, he or she must not look for Him in the “desert” or the “secret chambers” or anywhere other than in His congregation, for as Jesus said, “Wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together” (Matt. 24:28).

 

Two years ago, the discussion at the LLC Annual Meeting, openly recognized that a heresy had formed in our midst. As an effect of this heresy, many personal relationships were changed with the recognition that the Holy Spirit is no longer with the other person. This has affected spousal relationships, parent/child relationships, sibling relationships and many other relationships. The “wall of salvation,” as Isaiah called it, has now been placed between us and them (Isa 26:1, 60:18). God’s Word very clearly warns against trying to continue spiritual fellowship where there is no longer the same spirit. Paul wrote to Titus “A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself” (Titus 3:8). We have had to allow these relationships to change to avoid being drawn away in our own weakness. This hasn’t meant that we wouldn’t continue to be civil towards those who have departed in heresy or try to maintain respectful family ties. We don’t want to lose hope for their undying souls. It has made us consider that the most fervent prayers on their behalf are now that God could grant repentance and living faith could be theirs again.

 

We can only marvel that somehow God has preserved each of us in faith. It certainly hasn’t been because we have been less sinful or that we have been more wise. In our conversations about the realities of this heresy, we may sometimes be judgmental. In our desire for clarity, we may sometimes be impatient. It is good that we can freely continue to visit about how it has affected us with our believing friends and receive the encouragement to continue on the narrow way. When questions linger whether someone is with the believers or not, it’s good that we have the mind of Christ to love our neighbors as ourselves. In this, we desire to love in truth because we recognize that, without truth, leniency is close. All matters will be made known in God’s time.

 

The Threefold Enemy

The enemy of souls approaches us today with temptations of today’s world. We are no different than our predecessors, in that they were also tempted in the day they lived. We may no longer covet our neighbor’s ox or donkey, yet we are still told by the enemy of souls that we don’t quite have enough. We might look longingly at the boat in our neighbor’s driveway and begin to wonder if we are getting our share of blessings. It is tempting to love money, even though God’s Word clearly tells us that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils.

 

It would be tempting for a person interested in following sports to begin to click the advertisement links when checking the sports news and start to bet on the games. It’s not only the lust for excitement that can tempt us. It may be somehow satisfying for our flesh to see a black tire burnout mark through the rainbow crosswalk, when we are feeling troubled by the celebration of shameless sexual freedom in our community. It might easily be tempting to a person who is worried about human-caused effects on climate change to think that it would be irresponsible to get married and have a family.

 

For young adults and older single adults there are pressures to conform to worldly thinking, especially when there is much time alone. It’s easy to begin to follow and attach to the world in a variety of interests that draw one into the world. With less of an expectation to interact with other believers and encouragement from the world to be independent in thought and action, it’s easy to be drawn away from God’s kingdom by today’s temptations.

 

For parents of young and growing families, especially where the ages range broadly, the stress and immediacy of the pressures of the world are felt closely. Technology has brought temptation to busy fathers and mothers as well. It’s tempting for a busy mother with an app that monitors her monthly cycles right on her smartwatch to deliberately deny her husband when the likelihood of conception is at its highest. A busy father can also be tempted to try plan the family. God’s Word teaches husbands and wives to not “defraud” one another and rejection of each other in disobedience causes hurt. Hurt causes distance. Distance makes it easier to hide things from each other. Sin begets more sin. Unbelief is the mother of all sin and sin wars against faith. Unbelief eventually overcomes faith if sin isn’t put away from the conscience.

 

The enemy wants to steal our peace through worry about the current issues in the world. When we lose our peace and become restless about fears of the world, Satan wants us to start to look for peace in other ways. He tempts us to seek how the world around us looks for peace. We begin to research the answers for our questions in the world. We become tempted by the solutions that the world has for inner peace, and we spiral away from the care of God in His congregation. The believers start to look and sound too out of touch, too simple and too old fashioned. One begins to reject the congregation mother and her care.

 

We face an enemy that is causing us to be quiet about our struggles and put on an appearance that everything is fine. It is sometimes hard to think that our friends would love us anymore if they knew how big of a mess we’re making in our life. It begins to feel like the easiest thing to do is to keep it all bottled up inside and not share our lives. We need to be able to open our messy homes and imperfect lives to our brothers and sisters in faith so we can find the strength and encouragement to continue traveling on the narrow way that leads us securely home.

 

The Final Leg of Our Journey

Jesus has promised that there isn’t peace in the world, only tribulation. Yet He has also promised that He has overcome the world (John 16:33). While the world rages outside, a child of God is invited to securely believe. Can we put it all aside and just believe that Jesus sacrificial death and victorious resurrection is all that we need to make it home?

 

It does not matter if the earth is 4.5 billion years old or if the fossil record reveals creatures that are not specifically mentioned in the Bible. It just doesn’t matter! We can remain secure in Jesus’ promise that He made to His own before he departed. “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3).

 

Dear brothers and sisters don’t be troubled by the state of the world. Our travel in this land is as a stranger and a pilgrim who increasingly feels at odds with the mindset around us, whether it is the coldness of legalistic fundamentalism or the chaotic acceptance of all manner of sin. Remember the instructions of Jesus when He related of all the trouble in the world before the end will come. “And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:28).

 

Jesus will come again! God’s Word assures us that His reward will be with Him. One day, when we least expect it, the sky will brighten in a way that hasn’t happened before; in a way that announces to all people that Jesus is coming again to gather His own. Nothing will matter anymore. In an instant, time will be meaningless, questions will no longer be asked, answers will no longer be offered. The only thing that will matter is faith of the heart. Continue yet for a little while!



Be sober Be Vigilant
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