Game On

This week we took a break from our series, Hard Sayings.  With our Vacation Bible School starting last night, we took a few minutes to get a preview of what the kids will be studying all week long.  When it comes to the task of advancing the kingdom of God in this world, our Lord does not leave us unequipped for the work.  He has provided us everything we need and then some.  Keep reading to learn how.

 

Game On

Well, this morning we are taking a brief break from our series, Hard Sayings, to talk about something else.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  First, I don’t know about you, but the past three weeks have been a bit bruising.  Not only that, but we’ve got some more challenging stuff in the weeks ahead of us.  Taking a bit of a breather will leave us refreshed and ready to engage further with some of the other hard things Jesus said.  There’s an even more pressing reason than that, though.  Tonight, begins our week-long marathon that is Vacation Bible School.  I’ve got to tell you: I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.  I love VBS.  It gives me a chance every year to be a big kid…not that I’m not a big kid for most of the rest of the year, it just gives me a better excuse.  This week I get the pleasure of teaching the Bible study lessons to some of the older kids.  There’s just something fun about engaging with these guys and helping them understand the life-changing teachings of Jesus.  As fun as the Bible study lessons are this year, though, most of you are not going to get to be in on the action.  So, I wanted to give you a sneak-peak at what the kids are going to be learning in the days ahead.

But, even though we are taking a break from our series, what we’re going to talk about this morning actually fits right in the little gap we’re creating.  It is in many ways the perfect accoutrement to the last three weeks.  Through our series, Hard Sayings, thus far, we have been emphasizing just how hard it is to be a follower of Jesus.  This morning, I am going to remind you that even though it is hard, God hasn’t left us unequipped for the challenges we will face.  He’s never distracted by something else while the battle rages around us.  Through His word, His Spirit, and His body the church, He has left us with more than enough tools to get the job done.  And in a particularly powerful way, the theme verse for this week bears out this truth.

The verse is found in 2 Peter 1:3.  Second Peter, like its twin, was written to a group of believers who were living in a hostile culture.  We’re more familiar with that nowadays than we used to be.  But, unlike the first letter, 2 Peter, written near the end of Peter’s life, is not so much focused on offering advice on how to bear up under the strain of the hostilities that come along with being a follower of Jesus in such a culture.  Instead, Peter changes his tone a bit to one of warning and encouragement.  He warns the believers to be faithful in spite of the challenges because of the soon-coming arrival of our Lord.  He encourages them to remain on track by using some of the tools God has given them for that purpose.

Check out what Peter has to say here: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.”  Now, there is a bunch of good and important stuff going on here.  Peter is talking about the ways in which God equips us for the task of serving Him.  Look at what he says.  For starters, if we are going to be equipped for kingdom work, it’s not going to come primarily from us or anything else in this world.  Too many individual followers of Jesus and even whole churches set out to serve the Lord, but forget to involve the Lord in their movement.  That’s a lost cause every time.  Any apparent success we might achieve following that path is only and ever going to be apparent.  We cannot do real and meaningful kingdom work unless we involve the King in it.  It is by Christ’s divine power that we are made ready.  And when Jesus provides this for us, He doesn’t go in halfway.  By His divine power we have been given all things that pertain to life and godliness.  In other words, there is no tool we will need to live out the life of Christ, to mirror the character of God, that we have not already been given.  When you set about the work of Jesus in the world around you, there isn’t anything you need that you don’t have available in Him.

But, how do we gain access to these tools?  That’s a pretty natural question, right?  Peter tells us.  Access comes “through the knowledge of him who called us.”  While I have a decent collection of tools for many of the basic tasks you might have to do around the house, there is way more I don’t have than I do.  This is okay, though, because the secret here is not necessarily to have lots of tools, but to know the folks who do.  I’ve spoken before about doing woodworking in the basement workshop of my friend Rod.  Rod has basically every tool known to man.  If you need and he doesn’t have it, you’re probably looking for the wrong tool.  In ten years of knowing Rod, I can’t think of a time I needed something to complete a job around the house, and he didn’t have what I needed.  There’s a secret to gaining access to this great storehouse of tools: You have to know Rod.  Once you know him—even only a little bit—you’re in.  It’s the same kind of thing here.  Once you know Jesus—even only a little bit; once you profess a mustard seed-sized faith in His divine identity and resurrection from the dead—you’re in.  You have access by His divine power to everything you might need for the journey of following Him.

And there’s one more thing here.  The goal, the end of this journey is Jesus Himself.  He’s the one who calls us, He’s the one who equips us, and at the end of the journey, He’s our reward as well.  Or, as Peter puts it, He calls us to His own glory and excellence.  In other words, our journey to be more like Jesus and to do the things Jesus did doesn’t result merely in our being like Him, it results in our being with Him.  He’s the initiator, the outfitter, the guide, and the goal.  This thing is all about Jesus from start to finish.

That all sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?  It’s going to be a fun week.  But, you’re not nine.  You don’t want just the kid version of what God has done to equip us in Christ.  You want to get a look at the full image, the grown-up version.  Well, as it just so happens, v. 3 here, does not stand alone.  It’s part of a longer sentence that runs through v. 4, which itself is part of a longer idea that runs all the way through v. 11.  Let’s take a look together at the fuller picture of Peter’s argument here.

Listen to this: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.  For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.  Therefore, brothers [and sisters], be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.  For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Now, that’s a mouthful, but look how much richer it makes the picture painted in just v. 3.  Not only do we get Jesus as our prize when He equips us for the task of kingdom work, but in Him we gain access to what Peter describes as “his precious and very great promises.”  What are those?  Are they not life and forgiveness and grace and presence and justification?  Are they not righteousness and joy and peace and hope that doesn’t fade?  Are they not this very equipping for service and the promise of the Holy Spirit and love that exists entirely without condition?  Do a Google search when you get home for “the promises of God.”  You’ll find multiple pages detailing them from lists of the top five to a book-by-book presentation of more than 3,000.

But then, look at what Peter says next.  Through these promises—when we claim them as our own through Christ—we become partakers of the divine nature.  Now, this isn’t Peter making some kind of a mystical declaration that we become divine somehow, but rather that when we live out of these incredible assurances, we come to more fully reflect the character and nature of the God who made them.  And this last part of v. 4 may be the most exciting: Through these promises which come out of the presence of Christ in our lives we escape the sin-caused brokenness of the world.  That doesn’t mean we are somehow shielded from the consequences of the sins of others, but rather that our own sinful nature is overcome.

Do you see just how thoroughly equipped our heavenly Father makes sure we are to do the work to which we have been called?  He doesn’t simply give us the tools that we need, He helps us prune away the things inside of us that can keep us from being as effective as we desire to be.  The bottom line here is this: God has equipped us to follow Jesus.  He has equipped us inside and out.  There is nothing we might need that He hasn’t already made sure is available should the moment arise.  God has equipped us to follow Jesus.

So then, what do we need to do?  You already know this.  We need to lean into what He has made available to us.  Okay, but how?  Peter tells us.  Look again starting at v. 5.  If you have faith in God, that’s great.  But it’s not enough on its own if you want to experience the full riches of the life available in Him.  If you have faith, make that faith real by pursuing virtue.  And if you’re curious where to begin pursuing virtue, start with the classical virtues: temperance (being self-controlled in all things), prudence (making wise decisions), courage (being committed to doing what’s right regardless of the consequences), and justice (advocating for the good of those who are powerless).  To virtue, add knowledge (an awareness and commitment to what is true), self-control (the ability to say no to you for the sake of someone else), steadfastness (being unmovably committed to the path of Christ), godliness (reflecting more and more fully the character of Christ), brotherly affection (showing compassion, care, and kindness for members of the body of Christ), and finally, love (intentionally working to see someone else become more fully who God designed them to be).

And look at what he says about these things.  If you practice these and get better at them, they’ll keep you from being “ineffective or unfruitful” in your life-giving knowledge of Jesus.  Do you see what he’s done here?  God has equipped us to follow Jesus.  He has equipped us and called us through Peter to pursue these character traits as a function of this equipping.  But, when we pursue these traits, they will themselves further equip us in pursuing the path of Christ.  They flow both from and to a greater commitment to the life of Christ.

Think about it like this.  In any profession there is a set of tools you need in order to get the job done.  Without all the right equipment, you can’t be as successful as you might otherwise be.  But, over time, as you use those tools, you begin to understand them better.  You can use them more effectively.  You become more competent with them.  You become more competent in that profession generally.  As this happens you gradually go from needing these tools to do the job to actually becoming the primary tool for doing the job.

If you are going to become an able cook, for instance, there are a set of tools you need.  You need good pots and pans.  You need some tongs and spatulas.  You need a good set of knives, and so on and so forth.  As you use these tools and even add to them over time, though, you become part of the equipment yourself.  Your knowledge and experience become a tool that someone else could use to become a better chef themselves.  In this way, your knowledge becomes fruitful.  If someone else wants to grow in your profession they can benefit from your accumulated wisdom and experience and advance more quickly than they could simply by buying the physical tools.

Well, when we use these tools God has given us, these things begin to radiate from our lives, enabling us to be more effective in the kingdom work we are doing, namely, making disciples out of the people around us.  God has equipped us to follow Jesus and a part of that equipping is that we go on to equip others.  In this, our knowledge of Jesus is fruitful and effective.

On the other hand, though, if we don’t use the equipment God has given us, Peter makes clear that we are more than just under-equipped.  We would be like a carpenter who has a hammer hanging in his tool belt which is strapped around his waist, but who routinely uses his screwdriver to pound in nails.  This isn’t merely wrong, it’s embarrassingly silly.  People would look at such a person and laugh to themselves, wondering what this impostor is doing posing as a carpenter.  Switch contexts and perhaps they might look at us and wonder what this impostor is doing posing as someone who has been cleansed from his former sins.  If you’re not only not using the equipment you need to do the job you’ve been given, but growing in your expertise with them, then what are you doing?  It’s little more than playing a game you can’t win all the while missing out on the rewards for actually being a part of the action.  God has equipped us to follow Jesus, but if we don’t use the equipment He’s provided, we’re wasting everybody’s time.

Well, all of that is well and good, but it’s still kind of abstract.  I mean, we’ve been talking about the equipment God has provided us for the task of kingdom work all morning, but we haven’t yet been terribly specific as to what some of this equipment is.  Let me give you, then, five very specific pieces of basic equipment God gives to enable us to follow Him well.  These are actually the things the kids are going to be talking about each night this week.

The first piece of equipment is that God cares for us.  If we are going to follow God well, this is going to come out of a place of being confident that He actually cares for us.  I read the story the other day of a young woman who was raised in church and still active in her community who was wooed almost to the point of joining ISIS.  How?  She posted a judging comment on an internet message board and one of ISIS’s skilled recruiters responded.  What followed was a long conversation over the span of several months in which, while subtly filling her head with ISIS propaganda, he convinced her that he cared for her in a way no one else in her life did.  She wasn’t getting that from her family or her church.  If we don’t believe God actually cares for us, while we may give Him some kind of lip service because such a thing is expected in the community of which we are a part, we’re not going to go very far in terms of truly following Him.  We’ll stick with the folks whose care we trust.  The truth is, though, that God does care for us.  His care, Jesus said, is like that of a shepherd who has a hundred sheep, but loses one, and puts his life on hold until he finds this one lost sheep and then throws a party with all the rest.  God equips us to follow Jesus and that’s a piece of equipment we need.

Far from only caring about us, though, Jesus gives us hope.  As I said to a family mourning the loss of their mom and grandma this past week, He gives us hope by giving us a picture of a future so far beyond what we are currently facing that we are willing to keep walking through it in order to get there.  And what could be sufficiently attractive to keep us moving forward in spite of the challenges we face here and now?  Life.  Specifically, eternal life that stretches beyond the grave.  We get this image, this key piece of equipment from the resurrection.  Jesus gave us a glimpse of this when He raised Lazarus from the dead, and then the complete picture came when He Himself did.  Because Jesus rose from the dead, we have hope that there is life after this one no matter how it is currently going.  The kingdom is coming so we can keep pursuing it no matter how hard it gets.  God has equipped us to follow Jesus and this is a particularly important piece.

As grand a picture of the future as the resurrection offers us, though, it’s a bit of a hard pill to swallow because in our whole experience, dead people stay dead.  I’ve never seen anyone rise from the grave and I don’t suppose you have either—and no, The Walking Dead doesn’t count.  Because God equips us to follow Him, Jesus comes to help us believe.  Our God left historical evidence and clues that are convincing enough to turn the heart of even the most hardened skeptic.  Like with Thomas, Jesus patiently shepherds us through our doubt when we stick with Him, and brings us the assurance we need to keep moving forward.

He does this, because He loves us.  He is absolutely committed to seeing us become fully who He designed us to be.  This is the fourth basic piece of equipment God provides for us.  When we wrap ourselves in the love of Jesus, moving forward in the kingdom work He has given us is easy.  Because of His love we can move forward in the kingdom work to which we have been called with confidence.  He wants the best for us.  Not only that, but He has the power to bring that best to life.  That’s His love.  And the thing about this love is that it is always oriented outwardly.  When Jesus pours out His love on us, it is for the purpose of our pouring that love out on others.  God has equipped us with His love to follow Jesus and to create more followers in our wake.

When we live in this love, we will find the final basic piece of equipment: Joy.  Jesus brings us joy.  Joy is a deep-seated contentment about life that is unaffected by our present circumstances.  When we commit to following in the footsteps of Jesus, we receive in us the joy of the Holy Spirit.  This joy enables us to keep walking forward toward the kingdom, not as an act of drudgery, but as an act of gladness and rejoicing.  We see this joy on display in the lives of the apostles when, for instance, Paul and Silas in Acts 16 sang and praised the Lord with joy in spite of being in chains in prison.  And as they used this tool, they became its heralds as well and the joy spread throughout the prison as various other prisoners and guards gave their lives to Christ.  God has equipped us to follow Jesus and when we use the tools He has given, the people around us will be equipped as well.  And when we stay on this path, as Peter said in v. 11, “there will be richly provided for [us] an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  In other words: We will get there.

All this next week, then, these are the ideas the kids are going to be talking about.  God has equipped us to follow Jesus; to get into the game, the action, of kingdom work in the world around us.  Here’s, then, what you can do with this.  First, make sure you are using all of this equipment yourself.  As Peter said, to do otherwise and still claim the name of Jesus is to commit an act of fantasy and to forget your fundamental identity.  If you are going to follow Jesus well, you’ve got to use the tools God has provided.  God has equipped us to follow Jesus.  The second thing you can do is to pray for the kids who will be learning about the ways God has equipped us this week.  There are likely to be a number of kids here who have not yet been equipped.  Pray for them that they will come to understand more who God is, what He’s done for them, and what they need to do in light of this.  God has indeed equipped us to follow Jesus.  Let us use what He’s given and follow faithfully.

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