I’ll give you some clues and you guess what year it is.
Only about 10% of Americans profess membership in a church of any kind.
A famous church has been renamed The Temple of Reason.
1400 streets have been renamed to eliminate references to famous people from history.
A university, originally established to train ministers of the gospel is now almost entirely non-Christian in both student body and faculty.
What year is it?
English writer Matthew Arnold wrote a famous poem some years later entitled “Dover Beach” which likened the fate of traditional Christianity to the moonlit spectacle of a tide receding at night from a great beach.
But as Arnold anticipated the end of Christianity and many cheered the coming of the age of reason…
The 19th century was in fact experiencing the greatest number of Christian believers worldwide than at any time in 1400 years.
That college, that had turned largely non-Christian was Yale, the new President, Timothy Dwight…a brilliant evangelical scholar…was used by God to turn it around, and to send out “Single-story” believers into society, many of who became a part of what is called the Second Great Awakening…that helped turn America around.
Some may not know America needed “turning around” in 1789…but it did.
When you look around and see what appears to be an “unprecedented” attack on faith in the public square…there are many stories that tell of a nation turning against God.
You are not in fact seeing what is “unprecedented”…you are seeing what has been cycles since the earliest days of our nation and in other nations as well.
The gospel, was mocked and disbelieved in the first century, and in the 18th century…and in the 21st century…and in every century
The gospel was proclaimed and believed in the first century and the 18th and the 21st…and in every century.
I’m not denying that this is a difficult time in history…I’m simply saying there has never been a time in history that didn’t have its own difficulties…or its opportunities.
We can sometimes give ourselves a “break” by thinking… “Well, it’s uniquely hard for me…now”
-I have this type of spouse, job, physical issues, personality
-My family situation is this, my personal struggles are such that…
-I live in the hardest time…social unrest, COVID, internet
-People don’t believe the gospel, or the Bible, Jesus is not popular now
The fact is…we really shouldn’t be looking to give ourselves reasons “why not”…at every time in history, from the first century till now…there have been reasons “why not”
It was difficult to live and proclaim the gospel in the first century under Roman persecution.
Likewise in the Soviet Union in the 20th century, or Iran right now…but many did so and are doing so.
It was difficult to live and proclaim the gospel during the Black Plaque, or the Great Flu…but many did.
It was difficult to live with faith during the rise of the age of reason and the French revolution…that was in fact a time of insanity(not reason) and murder and mayhem…but many did.
The University can be a tough place for Christians in 2021…it was not otherwise in 1979…I remember being mocked on Campus for my faith.
But the same things happened in Universities in 1779
These past 15 months there has been a temptation to give ourselves reasons “why not”
Why we can’t faithfully pursue God and others…proclaim the gospel…enter boldly in any way possible into the world and make Christ known.
We must become people who stop looking for reasons “why not”…they are always going to be there.
But the reasons for Knowing and Loving Christ and making his love known are likewise always going to be there.
My dad had his 90th birthday last week.
He has always lived looking for opportunities to go and make Christ known…not reasons “why not”
He was hit with Covid and other illnesses that set him back this year…and there was some concern from our family as to whether he would become overly exhausted, or become ill from the festivities surrounding his party.
We decided “What are we saving him for?”
He is 90! He is living his life fully like he always has.
I told my dad as we discussed this…if we go straight from your party to your funeral…okay…either way is a celebration.
He laughed and agreed.
I’m not making light of Covid health concerns or questioning valid decisions made this past year…
I am challenging the prevailing view, and Covid is simply a current example, that we exist to “save our lives”…for what? For When?
No one gets out of life…alive…no one saves their life.
We either spend them or waste them…but we don’t save them.
Our life patterns or seasons also provide plenty of reasons “why not”
-I’m young…this is a time for fun and to experience life…maybe later
-I’m busy…My career and kids are demanding all of my life…not now
-I’m old…I’m tired, worn out leave it for the next generation
-I’m single…and lonely…if only.
-I’m married…and unhappy…if only
My dad is 90, he is nearer the end than I am…statistically.
But we are not statistics are we?
I may, in fact, be closer to death that he is…God only knows.
But 90 years or 9…either is just not that long to live, not really.
And whatever years God gives you…he doesn’t intend for you to attempt to save your life…that is just not going to happen.
He wants you; he wants me…to spend our lives for the gospel
He wants us to move through life seeing opportunity not just threat.
Today we are in 2 Corinthians 5
Chapter 4 ended with this:
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
We don’t lose heart…because what we see is light and passing, what is unseen is weighty and eternal.
This doesn’t mean that this life doesn’t matter
But what is to come gives weighty perspective to life now.
If this life was all there is…then this life ultimately would not matter.
The fact is…because of the truth of the gospel…because this is not everything…then everything we do now matters.
“Now…” Paul goes on…
Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.
Paul was a tent maker by trade…he made portable booths for travel or business.
He calls the human body an earthly tent…it is temporary…but that’s not the end of the story.
God will make us a “building” to replace this tent.
This is the continuation of the idea of “light and temporary” like a tent…versus “weighty and permanent” like a building.
2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
Meanwhile…right now, in this life…we groan.
“Groan”…is a deep, inarticulate sound…it signifies pain or longing.
Buildings are said to “groan”…they make a creaking sound when the pressure of wind stresses them.
What a great description of life now.
“We have a building from God…this is sure…but meanwhile, before then…under the pressures of life…we groan.”
Life runs on these twin tracks…a sure future hope and a constant pressure of life now.
The inability to live on twin tracks, a desire to make life more simplistic, one single track…has confused and disillusioned many over the years.
To try live on a single rail…is to become derailed.
A single rail of “already:”
Life is all pleasure and promise now…this life is supposed to be all victory and success, heaven is now.
A single rail of “not yet”:
Life is all despair and pain…just survive to the end, keep your head down and make it to heaven.
Neither of these views is complete…they are a monorail life…we must live on two tracks.
We live the “Already, not yet” life
“We have a building from God” (track one)…we have reason to hope and live to the fullest, because our labor is not in vain.
“Meanwhile we groan” (track two)…of course this life will not provide all that our hearts desire.
What is interesting is that God will build our eternal home (our resurrected bodies) Jesus was the first to resurrect…there are more to come.
And God is providing the down payment.
The general contractor, the builder of our home…is our dad.
He builds our home and generously pays the down payment…and then when it is finished…pays it off in full.
The Holy Spirit in us is our promise of the future…the down payment…this is going to happen.
6 Therefore we are always confident (or of good courage) and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 We live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.
Therefore, or because of the reality of our future hope…we are always of good courage (confident)…he says it twice in this paragraph for good measure.
We live by faith not by sight…this is our reason for confidence, our courage.
Not faith as “I hope so, but can’t really know”
Faith as in confidence…we live by what we know, even when our eyes tell us otherwise.
We live seeing opportunity not just threat…no matter what happens in life.
We would prefer to be at home with the Lord…but bottom line…our goal is to please him now.
As Paul wrote in 1 Cor…. “To be found faithful”
10 FOR we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
Our goal is to be found faithful…because how we live our lives will be revealed on that day.
One of the most popular hymns in the English language was written not long before the madness of the French Revolution broke out.
It is, “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name.”
In just a few years after it was published…France’s great church, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, in use at that time for over 600 years as a place of the worship of God…was renamed “The Temple of Reason”
“Liberty” played by a female opera singer dressed in white…bowed to the flame of human Reason…in this church.
This inverted worship…human liberty worshipping human reason led to the loss of both liberty and reason…as what was to be called “The Terror” a mass movement of insanity that led to the murder of thousands.
We do not deny reason as Christians…we just acknowledge where it comes from…the mind of God to the minds of man.
Contrast “All hail the power of Jesus name…let angels prostrate fall…bring forth the royal crown and crown him Lord of all.”
With “All hail human reason…let liberty before it fall…and human freedom and love and truth will fall as well.”
We will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ…the “bema” in the Greek.
Paul was brought before this “Bema seat”…a human tribunal, the human seat of judgment in Corinth…as accusations were brought against him.
He uses this same word in writing to the Corinthians…I stood before a human judgment seat…we will all stand before Christ and our lives will be evaluated.
This is not, of course, Paul stating that our eternal destiny is determined by our deeds…we are saved, he wrote by “grace through faith.”
This is about a final estimation of the eternal impact of our lives.
But what does that mean for us…will we be eternally “sad” if we wasted our lives?
Is there a sort of “second” place heaven.
No…eternity is eternal joy for every believer.
This is not about a competition for rewards, or an attempt to maximize our own glory.
It is about our heart’s desire to maximize God’s glory now and forever.
Our joy will be complete…but this is a challenge to live for and to WANT to live for the glory of God to the fullest.
I don’t know how it all works…but in the end, all who have believed the gospel will be satisfied.
But in the end, some will have lived in ways that bring greater reward…the rewards of having gained more glory for God with how they lived
That will matter a lot then…it ought to matter more now.
I’m sure it will be surprising who has lived more fully for God’s glory…there will be a lot of “Who is that? Never read their book.”
Exactly…she just loved people and God. She wasn’t famous except in heaven.
**Let’s stop here (we are not done with this passage)…sing that hymn…as a way to contemplate this truth.
Pay attention to the words…consider that “We will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ”
Contrast the words of this song with the worship of reason…human ideas untethered from God’s word.
A worship that leads away from wisdom and freedom.
-SING: All hail the power of Jesus name (no instruments)
Look at verse 11, a shift from the foundation for what we believe, and value…to what we do, how we live.
11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.
*So, since all this is true…we seek to persuade others to believe it…how could we not, since it is true.
What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart.
Evidently some thought that Paul boasted about his experience, ability, gifting…for his own glory.
But he gave his credentials and experiences in order to validate his message…he had experienced the Messiah, he did know what he was talking about, he did live a sacrificial life.
We do try to persuade people to believe the gospel…we seek to be convincing…not to impress but in order to bless…because it is true.
13 If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.
When Paul was on trial before the Governor of Judea, Festus and the Roman appointed king of the Jewish people, Agrippa he defended himself by sharing the gospel.
The governor, Festus shouted “You are out of your mind, Paul!” “Your great learning is driving you insane.”
So, the disciples had been told as they shared the gospel that they were ignorant, uneducated…Paul is being told that is he too educated.
Paul replied, “I am not insane, what I am saying is reasonable and true.”
Then he turned to King Agrippa and asked him if he believed the prophets regarding Jesus.
Agrippa was taken back, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
“Well” Paul replied “Short time or long…basically ‘yes’ I do hope to persuade you.”
So, Paul’s mentality…we try to persuade people to believe the gospel…not as he has said, with manipulation or relying entirely on human ability.
But with courage, confidence, and reliance on God’s power…because it is true.
If people think we are crazy…okay…but we are not.
It is reasonable (not irrational) and it is true (it aligns with the facts)…and it is the power of God to save.
And not only is it true…it is truth about God’s love…and love is compelling.
14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
This is not a challenge to abandon whatever you are called to do and become overseas missionaries. (unless that is what God wants for you, then by all means do that)
This is simply a statement of the basic purpose of your life as a follower of Christ.
Whatever faithfulness looks like for you…teaching a child, working on computer, mowing grass…your life has been purchased by Christ…in all that you give your time and efforts to…you represent him now.
You died to the life that was once your own to live as you choose…you live now for his pleasure and his glory.
Paul would write in another letter…whether you eat or drink or whatever you do…do it to the glory of God.
Look at how this all impacts how we see one another (and ourselves)
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
24 years ago my wing commander was a handsome, articulate, confident fighter pilot…I was one of his chaplains but I thought he had no real needs…he was good to go…just seemed to be a very together guy.
He retired a general…a couple of years ago we were talking about his time as a commander and he said “I was really lonely.”
I had missed my opportunity to help him because I was so impressed by him.
I had regarded him from a worldly point of view…now, I know better.
No one is “good to go”…everyone needs Christ and the help of others.
Even the very confident…will come to the place when that confidence fails them.
And when you look in the mirror or look around…you must NOT see yourself and others like you used to…before you knew Christ.
There are no mere humans…there are eternal souls for whom Christ has died.
The people in your home, your group, your church…who have believed the gospel…they are entirely different beings now.
Those who have not believed the gospel…they are not okay…even if they believe that they are.
If someone has become a Christian they are an entirely different kind of being now…they have the seed of eternity, the seed of resurrection planted in them.
And now, this is your life purpose…you are to proclaim what Christ has done for you and he can do for others.
18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
God has made the way through Christ’s death for us to be reconciled, to have restored relationship, with him.
So does this theological idea have any proof of fact in real life?
Is there evidence, beyond some Bible verses that humans are in need of reconciliation with God?
What do you see in the long course of human history? What do you see as you look around the city and the nation and the world now?
What do you see in your own heart?
People fighting within themselves, between each other, against the natural world (storm, illness).
All this is in line with what the Bible teaches, beginning in Genesis 3…there was a break in relationship with God.
What we see in the world of our own hearts and lives…and the world at large confirms what the Bible says about a state of war existing between humans and God.
On December 8, 1941 President Roosevelt asked congress to make a declaration of war with Japan after they had attacked Pearl Harbor the preceding day.
It is interesting that he says “Because of the unprovoked attack…a state of war has existed between Japan and the United States.”
So he is saying, “We are, as of yesterday, at war with Japan (a state of war “has” existed)…it is in fact a reality…now recognize it as such…and declare war.”
We are, as of Adam’s sin, in a state of war with God himself…in order to have peace with God, we must recognize this reality first…we must acknowledge sin.
You could have walked around Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941…seen and smelled the smoke, seen the dead bodies, heard the cries of the wounded…all evidence that regardless of whether Congress called it such…the war was real.
People can deny sin, they can deny the gospel…they can refuse to say that humans, in their sin, declared war on God…but the smoke, the dead, the brokenness…the evidence is clear that what the Bible says is true.
The good news…is even though the war is real…peace with God through Jesus Christ is also real.
This is, in fact, humanities greatest need…the need to be reconciled to God.
He has made us his ambassadors…we go to people who knowingly or not…are in a state of war with God and offer them the terms of peace.
Unconditional surrender to the one who has made them…to accept the offer of Christ taking their sins on himself…in order that they might take Christ’s righteousness on themselves.
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
This, as Paul said, is “reasonable and true”…look inside you, look around you…it is true.
We are new creations…and we are in fact, different than we were.
You and I as followers of Christ are his ambassadors.
Now we should take every opportunity…to participate in the good of others in a variety of ways.
Volunteer, vote, work for justice, do good in your job, your neighborhoods, and of course in your homes…all good things.
But in all this…you are there, wherever there is…doing whatever you do…as an ambassador of Christ.
We must represent him in how we live our lives…this is crucial…but it is not enough.
We must open our mouths and implore people to be reconciled to God…we must share the gospel.
I don’t mean roaming the halls of your work place preaching…this would be ineffective and it would be wrong…you are being not paid for that.
I mean living looking for relationships…just because people are valuable…and then living in those relationships as an ambassador for Christ.
No guilt, no pressure…for them…or for you…this is about opportunit
No selling, just telling.
Don’t live with pressure…but don’t live deceived or confused: It is not harder for you than others. It is not less popular now than ever before in history.
Live with an opportunity mentality: The gospel is true now as it was then. The power of God is real now as it was then. You, can get in on what God is doing.
The Wesley brothers, John and Charles gave their lives tirelessly for the gospel.
They proclaimed the gospel as liberty in Christ…as human philosophers were proclaiming liberty apart from Christ…
Already…in the 18th century, not the 21st century…it was believed that…
-Basic reality had become “matter in motion”
-The highest good had become “the pursuit of human happiness”
-Human understanding depended ultimately on human reason.
Meanwhile, the Wesley brothers lived and proclaimed that God is ultimate reality, his glory our highest good, and God the source for human understanding.
John Wesley traveled 250,000 miles…mostly on horseback…to take the gospel to those far from God…this could not have been very convenient.
John’s last words were “The best of all, God is with us!”
He lifted his feeble arms, said it again “The best of all, God is with us!” Then he died.
Charles Wesley, his brother, wrote music and shared his faith in his own sphere of influence.
Charles had been 31 when he gave his heart to Christ (he grew up in the church, but had not yet understood the gospel)
That same year he wrote what is considered the best of his almost 7,000 hymns.
It is his personal testimony… “And can it be.”
We will sign it now…if you don’t know, just listen as Rodney sings…join when you are able.
This was written over 200 years ago…but Charles was not that different than you and me…his time was not that different than ours…
…and the gospel that set him free, it is not at all different now as then.