Out of Step with this World (2 Peter 3)

Many of you who are older like me (or who have seen old sit-com re-runs) may remember the trailer video for the late 60s program “Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.”  Sha-zam! You will recall how Gomer was trying to march in step with the rest of the Marines, but he just couldn’t pull it off properly, especially with Sergeant Vince Carter screaming into his ear.

I look around at the rest of the world and the broader culture and often feel like a Gomer Pyle in terms of understanding it or ever being in step with it … as if that is even any sort of worthy goal.

We see so much injustice on so many fronts, particularly of people who prosper in spite of their values systems, while others who are more honorable by moral and ethical standards are wrongly stepped upon and marginalized.

And as we have answered the question of the past week with a “yes” — that there is final justice and judgment — we live now as foreigners in a strange land. This is not our country; we are not at home here, not really.

If you have travelled to other countries, you know what I mean by how there are so many little things about the culture that are just very, very different.

The French (and other Europeans) do this greeting thing where you kiss right and then kiss left (at least I think it is right/left … or is it left/right?). When travelling there a couple years ago while our son Jesse was studying in Antibes, France, we went to a luncheon gathering of his young adult church friends. And I’ll say it was very awkward to do all this kissie thing with French college girls. I was so afraid I was going to get it wrong and end up with a meet-me-in-the-middle head butt!

So our Christian lives come down to having a sort of skill in living in a place that is decidedly foreign, a place that never quite feels like home, a place where you realize you are always just a bit out of step with the rest of the world, a world characterized by unresolved issues of justice / injustice. Living in such a place looks like this, in the words of Peter in 2 Peter chapter 3 …

3:3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming…  make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation

As we have said over the past week, the Lord will indeed return and a time of accounting and justice will ensue. But until then, what kind of people should we be? Well, spotless, blameless and at peace with God … in other words, confidently out of step with the rest of the crazy world.

And remember also that the patience of the Lord in not returning sooner, and thereby even allowing injustices to grow and expand, does have the positive benefit of the salvation of many and the growth of His Kingdom.

So it is OK to be out of step; there is a good reason for it. We make it work and endure it patiently, because we know we are going ultimately home to our real country and kingdom.

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Using Time in the Time We Live (2 Peter 3:1-18)

I think about time a lot – about the span of life and the budgetary use of the time any of us believe we have available in what we assume will be the years of our lives. And I am actually writing this devotional exactly one year – to the very hour – from going to the hospital with what was diagnosed as pulmonary emboli.

I did not realize until the situation had passed, that it was a potentially life-threatening episode. So at this very moment I am profoundly struck by God’s grace in giving me the time of an extended year of life; and I would trust for many more, even if I do have to limp through them with my gimpy knees.

In this final chapter of Peter’s New Testament writings, the idea of time comes up – a perspective on end times, the relative value of time to the Lord, and how to live in a certain time or age. So, I’m going to have some fun with the word “time” as we go through this chapter.

But first, the reason this text is in our Framework series has to do with just one verse in the chapter: verse 16. Here, Peter speaks of the Apostle Paul’s writings by saying, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

The significance of this is that Peter categorizes Paul’s writings as “Scripture.” This is, of course, not that terribly long after the time of Christ’s death and resurrection, so it is quite early in the church age. Paul’s epistles were circulated among the churches and had gained an authoritative status as Scripture = God’s revelation and truth. That is quite an assertion, and it helps us understand how the books of the New Testament came to be accepted as authoritative.

But now, let’s talk about “time” in several ways …

3:1 Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. 2 I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.

3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

I began the sermon yesterday by quoting one of the cultural icons of our age – a TV comedian who scoffed greatly at the notion of believing the Bible or in a God of judgment. It is not rare. Peter anticipated that people would scoff, particularly at the belief that Christ would come again and that a day of judgment would eventuate. “So, where is it?” is the attitude the world may have. “If it has been this long, well, can it really be true?”

But Peter says to expect this skeptical viewpoint… that these people choose to forget that God created it all, and that it was done by his word a long, long time ago. The one who made it will also end it. It will happen, and people will scoff.

A Perspective on Time

8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

As finite creatures, we are locked within time. God has no such encumbrance. A day and a millennium are the same to him; he won’t forget something just because a couple of thousand years go by.

I remember all the people I met yesterday, but don’t ask me to recall the names or faces of people I only knew briefly like 10 years ago. But for God, his memory of a thousand years ago is superior to our memory of 24 hours past. God will keep his appointments on his time schedule.

A Perspective on the Time to Come

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

When God does keep his promise of coming again and bringing a final judgment upon a sinful earth, it is going to happen quickly. Nobody expects a thief to show up; he does it without warning, and so will the day of God’s judgment be. We just passed a 9/11 anniversary. Were you expecting the sort of thing as the Twin Towers falling and the Pentagon being attacked to happen when you got up on 9/11/01?

The very practical question arising from this is related to what kind of lives we should live in the pending expectation as to how things could quickly end. Holy and godly – that’s the answer. And the final day is nothing to fear for those who are aligned with God’s promises, because on the other side is a new heaven and a new earth, where life is of a decidedly different character.

A Perspective on How to Use Time

14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

17 Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

The way to live until such time as the Lord returns is to be growing in greater understanding of God’s grace to us in all things, along with growing in our knowledge of Christ and our eternal life in the Lord.

How do you do that? I don’t know of any other way than to grow by a greater knowledge of and obedience to the Scriptures. There is no other way than the academic, hard-working pursuit of reading, studying, praying, applying, and obeying what God has written for us in the Scriptures. To simply sort of like it and dabble in it is certainly not what a passage like this, and dozens of others, picture about the Christian life.

So to you who took the time to read this… that is commendable. You are working at it and committing to it, as are many others around you in our family of faith. Even so, too many others choose not to … choosing to compartmentalize their faith into a narrow window or segment of their schedules so as to have larger chunks of time for the pursuit of personal interests.

But in Peter’s words … “Make every effort… Bear in mind… Be on your guard… Grow in grace.” Yep – you need a Bible to have a FRAMEWORK for that!