WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE...?

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1 If you re at all like me, you ve probably discovered it can be really hard to make lasting changes in your life. Here we are in July, six months into 2014; six months since those new year s resolutions some of us are inclined to make; a good time to reflect on our progress. At the start of a new year, and at other times, we typically set out to change some of the lifestyle habits we ve maybe drifted into. Here s a sample: this year, I m going to lose some weight; watch less television so I can read more; get more sleep, get more exercise, worry less, read my Bible more, see things more positively, eat more healthy food, spend less time on social media and more time with real people, be nicer to my family, smile more, grumble less, take on less and finish more, be more patient, become a better listener... (If I haven t included your favourite project on my list, feel free to add it here!) It s not hard to make a start with changes like these. It s much harder to see them through to completion. Psychologists who study these things tell us it takes eleven weeks to break a bad habit, or form a new one. I doubt if we ever reach a place from which it s impossible to slip easily and comfortably back into our old ways. That s not to say we never change! But how many of us are secretly disappointed with the way some things are, and wish we could realise the more disciplined, easier to live with, slimmer version of who we are? From our readings and our text this morning, the Apostle Peter asks, What kind of people ought we to be? I m sure he isn t suggesting a stereotype; or asking us to abandon our individual temperaments or God-given personalities. He certainly is advocating a lifestyle and characteristics he expects to define God s people. Peter begins to answer his own question by telling us we should be I. People Who Live Holy and Godly Lives. Last Sunday we considered four principles foundational to an evangelical understanding of our Christian faith; and seven things that characterise our Wesleyan Methodist Church. I want to return this week to one of those seven, central to Wesley s own ministry and the movement which came after him; and that is 1 A. Transforming Grace. Peter, who asked the question we re considering, and then proceeds to answer it, stands as a testament himself to the transforming power of the grace of God. The Peter we meet on the shores of Galilee, and follow as he stumbles through the gospels, is not the same man we see in Acts, or whose letters challenge and encourage us. Grace has transformed him. So too John. Do you remember John, and his brother, James the so-called Sons of Thunder who wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village that refused them hospitality? A far cry from the Apostle of Love we see, again, in his New Testament letters. Grace has transformed John, too.

2 John Wesley was the son of an Anglican clergyman and a godly mother. He was a good student at Oxford, and after graduating, was ordained into the ministry. He was sincere and conscientious, and set out as a missionary to the Indians in Georgia, America. Here s how one historian described that venture: Wesley s missionary service was intensely diligent, devoted and self-denying, but deplorably bigoted and tactless. 1 Wesley s own admission was not much better. On his return voyage to England, he wrote in his journal I went to America to convert the Indians; but oh, who shall convert me? A later biographer described the change which transformed Wesley from a restless, intolerant, and poor-tempered clergyman, too sincere to be satisfied with anything short of truth, and too earnest to dismiss the fierce questionings that arose within him, into a radiant, confident, and supremely happy evangelist. 2 It s a great story, and part of our denomination s history. All we have time to note this morning is that it s another triumph of God s grace over fallen and flawed human nature. I note these three examples for obvious reasons: there s hope for us yet! God has not saved us, and left us to struggle on as best we can. Right back in Old Testament times, God spoke of his desire to transform the lives of his people. Through Ezekiel, he offers his people B. New Hearts, Soft Hearts. Right back then, God identified the true source of our problem: we are not by nature holy; we are not naturally inclined to godliness. And God does more than urge us to change our behaviour; he offers us new hearts. I m old enough to remember when Dr Christiaan Barnard performed the world s first heart transplant. On 3 rd December, 1967, Louis Washkansky received his new heart; a real breakthrough at the time, which involved the use of drugs to control the body s natural tendency to reject foreign tissue. Washkansky was able to talk and walk on occasions, but sadly lived only another eighteen days before succumbing to pneumonia. 3 The new heart God offers us is different of course. It s not a literal heart; but it s no less amazing. It represents a new start; a clean slate; a different orientation; a soft, compliant heart that wants to please God and seek his will. This new heart is indispensable; a prerequisite if we want to become the kind of people God wants us to be. Our old hearts easily grow hardened with time. I wonder if some of us could use a heart transplant this morning! Peter lists some qualities he urges us, as God s people, to adopt. He writes, Make every effort (it seems these things don t just happen) to be found 1 The Burning Heart A. Skevington Wood, p Ibid; p Source: Internet: South African History Online 2

3 C. Spotless, Blameless, at Peace with God. Is this just one of those airy-fairy, over the top, wishful thinking kind of idealistic statements Peter knows we have no hope of attaining? It doesn t read like that! Either Peter is an absolute hypocrite, or he s describing his own transformation, and urging his friends (and all who will later read his letter) not to settle for anything less than what God has provided through Jesus. If you and I have to concede this morning to a life that falls somewhere short of spotless, blameless and at peace with God, is this quality of life worth pursuing, as Peter urges us to do? What kind of people ought we to be? Peter describes II. People Who Look Forward to Jesus Return. It s there in our text; and this too may be something of a challenge to us; and A. A Challenge to Our Priorities. As I thought about it again this week, I have to confess to some mixed feelings about Jesus return. In my head, I know his return will usher in a whole new era, a quality of life for all God s people hitherto unknown, and beyond our capacity to imagine. It s going to be great! My heart tells me I quite like some things in life as they are now; there are some things I d like to see finished; some things I d be reluctant to let go. How about you? The reality is, I spend a lot of time living in the here and now, dealing with life and its situations as I find them, enjoying the moment. Perhaps I need to realign my priorities! Now we ve all heard Christians described as being so heavenly minded, they are no earthly use! God has placed us in the here and now, and given us a task to perform. Part of that task is preparing ourselves, and being ready for his return. Do we give this the attention it deserves? This morning I want to call it B. Living as We d Choose to be Found. If we knew Jesus was going to return tomorrow, how would we spend the rest of today? Are there some cupboards we d want to clean out? Are there some people we d want to talk to, while there s still time? Are there some lifestyle changes to make? If you could choose exactly what you were doing when Jesus returned, what would it be? Reading your Bible? Sharing the gospel with a friend? Baking someone a cake? Going about your normal day s activities, confident Jesus would be pleased to find you doing these? I find it helpful to reflect on Jesus return, and the chances I would be happy for him to find me doing what I m doing. (It would be nice if I m preparing a sermon. What if I was watching the footy?) 3

4 We are to be people who look forward to Jesus return... C....And Speed Its Coming! Did we read that right? Can we really, by the way we live and conduct ourselves, have some influence on the actual date of Jesus return? What a remarkable teaching! Last week, in the verses just prior to our reading from Peter this morning, we read of God s patience, and his desire that every person has an opportunity to come to salvation. By co-operating with God s plan, by taking up the challenge of the Great Commission, we can actually bring forward the date of Jesus return! What we do on earth today has an impact on God s timetable in heaven. That s amazing! Is our impact a positive or a negative one? What kind of people ought we to be? I think this last one is the best of all. We should be III. People Like Jesus. Our last reading, from 1 John 3:1-3, is among my favourite passages from the Bible. Here John speaks of God lavishing his love on us. What is the evidence of this love from God, poured out on us? We are entitled to be called, A. Children of God! And not just called this; that is what we actually are. Amazing! God has made us his sons and daughters! How does that make us feel? How should that make us want to behave? Knowing we ve been made in the image of God, chosen to reflect his likeness, called and identified as God s own children; what kind of people ought we to be? Have you ever said to a child not behaving the way you think he or she should, That s not the way we do things in our family! Or you may prefer to express more positively the values and conduct you expect to see your children reflecting. We are children of God, members of his family! It s our privilege to uphold the family values. As God s children, we have an older brother God s only begotten Son, Jesus, who has travelled before us and becomes our role model. Incredibly, John tells us, B. We Will Be Like Him! Let me read verse two for you again: Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be 4

5 like him, for we shall see him as he is. 4 What an amazing insight John shares with his readers. I have a question to ask: If we are not like Jesus now (and some of us can identify ways we fall well short of this); if we will be like him when he appears; then when, between these times, does this amazing transformation take place? Let me ask you another question. If you could choose the timing of this transformation, when would you like it to happen? I reckon yesterday would have been good! I love the examples of the Christian life we see in the Bible, through men like Peter, and Paul. But I have some reservations about modelling my life on theirs. Then I look at the life of Jesus, as we see and hear him, in the gospels. What a beautiful life. What a beautiful man! There is nothing in his character, his attitude, his words, his actions, I wouldn t love to see in my own life. We follow Jesus through the gospels, and we see Jesus lived his life for his Father s kingdom. Am I prepared to do that? We see that Jesus sacrificially laid down his life for his Father s kingdom. Are we ready for that? When will my life be changed to become like his life? Do I have to wait until the time of his return? Surely Peter, and John, and Paul, in their writings imply that much, if not all the changes required are available to us now, in this life. I have another question. (I seem to be full of questions this morning!) C. Who Makes the Changes? We see an obvious need for some change to happen. We have the promise we will, one day, be like Jesus. We d love to see these changes sooner, rather than later. Who is responsible for bringing them about? You ought to live holy and godly lives, Peter tells us. We know he s describing lives and a lifestyle beyond our own, unaided abilities to achieve. Then it has to be God who initiates them. But then Peter tells us to make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him! That sounds like our responsibility! John reinforces this, in the last verse of our reading. Everyone who has this hope in him (this hope of being like Jesus when he returns) purifies himself, just as he is pure. 5 It s an established, Scriptural fact that God doesn t do for us what he expects us to do for ourselves. But when we reach the outer edges of our limitations, God s work is just beginning. Let s never offer as our excuse, This is just the way I am. God made me this way. I can t help it! Rather, let s submit to the changes we know God wants to see in our lives, and play our part by co-operating, by welcoming the opportunity to change, and looking forward to becoming increasingly like Jesus. 4 1 John 3:2 5 1 John 3:3 5

6 When do these changes come? Who makes them? Who knows if God, by his grace will make some of them instantly, when we ask him to? I m convinced God always has another level he wants to call each one of us to; that we never reach a point in life where we can confidently say, I ve arrived! It s our privilege to live in a state of becoming, as God draws us into the life he has prepared for us, in the here and now, and into eternity. Perhaps the Apostle Paul says it best. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 6 Let s embrace this wonderful privilege! 6 2 Corinthians 3:18 6

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