How does this make you feel? Many questions posed by the attacks of September 11, 2001 remain unanswered. Is air travel finally secure? What about ports, nuclear power plants, and water systems? Are American skyscrapers safe? Did the government grant enough power or too much to homeland security agencies? Will the Iraq war help or hurt the war against Al Qaida? Among these questions and many more, one in particular haunts senior policy makers like no other. Why hasn't Al Qaida struck again on American soil? It goes on with American travel in a state of virtual lockdown. The spotlight gyrated from crop dusters, to reservoirs, to truck bombs, to nuclear power plants, to suicide bombings in shopping malls. Spurned by Bin Laden's murderers, officials had a new national alert system jumping up and down like an electrocardiogram.
How does that make you feel? Does news like that help you? Is it constructive at all? Well, no. In fact, if you keep listening to it every day, every time you hear a report like that your heart probably looks like an electrocardiogram - going up and down, up and down, up and down. Our life can be the same way if that's our focus. The problem with the fear of impending doom is that it's largely out of our control, isn't it? Can any of us prevent doom from happening? No. It's in the hands of national leaders, and ultimately, it's in the hands of God.
How do we cope with something that is out of our control? There are a lot of passages that deal with impending doom. The Bible tells us all about it, there actually is a day of doom. You know, the end of time. It gives you some suggestions on how to prepare for that day, and it applies for any smaller tragedy. How do we cope with the smaller dooms, the smaller threats to our security that we encounter? There are a lot of passages: Luke 12:35-40, Luke 21, Matthew 24, Mark 13, the whole book of Revelations, and chapter 7 is particularly good. But what I think I will use today is I Peter 1:3-9.
I use it because Peter addressed the congregation who lived in exactly the same circumstances. They lived under Roman occupation, Roman oppression, and it was very dangerous for Christian people. It was so dangerous! What's interesting about this book is, it's written in cryptic language. There is no mention of Christian individual names. There is no location that is given. If you look at chapter 5, verse 13, it is addressed to those who live in Babylon. Where is Babylon? Babylon had been out of existence for a long time by then, but it was a cryptic way of addressing those who lived in Rome. It was said very cryptically because they knew that at any moment, and at any time, an edict could come down and the church could be persecuted again. At any moment the door could be burst in if they knew the church leaders or if they knew who other Christians were or where their worship location was. They could get the door kicked in and be hauled off to prison, or into slavery, or have their children put into government educational institutions. So, they were dangerous times. It is nothing like today. We are not quite under that kind of oppression. How do you deal with the possibility of bad things happening? Well, Peter had some great help for us.
Here's what it says. It sounds like a very surprising book because you do not expect this coming out of someone's mouth who is experiencing impending doom. Here is what it says, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!" Is he in denial or what?
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. I Peter 1:3-9
How do we do that? First, when you are faced with adversity like that, when you are faced with impending doom, there is something that is absolutely vital that we need to do. We need to take care of first things first. The California fires are a good example of this. When the fires are raging and coming for you, life becomes very clear. The essentials become very clear to you. Nothing else is important other than you. It was so dangerous, even if you thought about your neighbors, you were doomed. Ultimately, life became reduced to your need to save you. That is the secret behind Peter's tremendous joy. When life comes down to it, there is only one thing that is absolutely essential, and that is you take care of the spiritual business of your heart and life so that you are absolutely at peace with God, because until you are at peace with God, doom, or the threat of doom, will always haunt you. Because what if this is the end? What if I die today? Am I prepared for this? That is something you do not want to be unprepared for. So Peter and his congregation had prepared themselves.
They start with a wonderful praise. "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for in his mercy he has given to us a new birth into a living hope." Do you have that new birth in you? Do you have that living hope? So that whatever happens in the world, if tragedy should strike, God forbid, you are absolutely certain and absolutely confident that you are at peace with God, and does it matter? Because when I wake up, I'll be in his glorious kingdom, and what a day of rejoicing that will be. Do you have that confidence in your life? If so, than instead of doom being turned into losses, it has turned into gain. Instead of doom, it has turned into victory and death has turned into life. Instead of darkness, it has turned into light. Do you have that light in you? That sense of triumphant joy? If not, I encourage you to make Christ the head of your life.
Think of how all those people felt in California who were uninsured? Think about what it is like to drive without insurance? Don't drive without insurance. Why? Because you look around and at any moment you could get into a bang, and if I get into a bang, I am going to pay for it out of my own pocket, or I am getting hauled off to jail. That is the problem when you live a life that's uninsured, unprotected; spiritual life is like that too. Eternal life is the same thing. You cannot live in a context where anything can happen. Tragedy can strike you any day unless you are fully covered, fully insured.
So, do you have God's whole-life policy covering you so that no matter what happens, the premium has been paid and the payoff happens at the end of life or when God calls you home? Do you have the assurance that you are going to get the payout or not? Are you covered? Are you insured? Salvation is like insurance; kind of like fire insurance frankly. Insurance, that is good news, isn't it? The good news is that the premium has been paid for. All you have to do to receive the benefits of this policy is sign the contract and date it. Have you signed the contract and is it dated? If not, today is a good day. Don't live your life without being fully covered. It's dangerous, but there is great peace when you know you're covered.
Secondly, Peter says to those who are covered, those who have God's eternal life policy, his whole-life policy, here is what you need to know when you are in this context of doom. Know verse 5, who through faith are shielded by God's power, and how long are we shielded? Until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed. Now this is an important point to make, because I find there is a lot of bad teaching out there about the end times. A lot of movies that are about tribulation and all that stuff, and Christian people and the trials they go through, and it strikes fear into you. It doesn't strike faith, it doesn't strike victory, it strikes fear into you. And yet Peter is talking to the same exact crowd. There is no fear here. In fact, if you look at all the scripture passages on the end times, it calls God's people to not fear but to live in great triumphant faith. Why? Because God is shielding us. Instead of impending doom coming upon us, we have God's dome of protection.
You have seen a lot of movies -- Matrix and X-Men 2. Wonderful movies. I wish I had these powers. In X-Men 2 Dr. Gray protects the ship as it is going to get covered in water. Have you seen this movie? She gets out and holds back the water as the ship takes off and everyone is safe. The water goes over her - too bad for her - but the power there. You know in Matrix you see the advertising where Neo, the bullets are coming and he goes shhh and the bullets stop and they fall to the ground. This invisible protection, that's what God said he does for you. Around the Christian life there is an invisible shield of protection over you. Do you know that? If you know that, there is great peace and confidence and we can live with a sense of hope. Do you have this living hope in you? There is nothing to fear.
Revelation 7 - it is a great passage - read it. It gives you a Polaroid snapshot at the beginning of the passage that before bad times happen God puts a seal upon his people. The chapter ends with what happens after you go through tribulation, and the picture is of a church that is triumphant, that is joyful, that is not defeated. Why? Because during the whole time of tribulation, God's seal of protection is upon his people and that seal of protection is upon us. Are you shielded by God's power in your life?
Thirdly, another great help this passage gives to us in coping with this fear of impending doom is that in verses 6 and 7. It says, allow this fear to motivate you and give you energy to build a deeper faith. Now I disagree with movies like Thief in the Night and Left Behind . I'll be honest with you, but they have a value and here is the value. The Thief in the Night was the precursor to the Left Behind series. Thief in the Night was all about the end times and it posed for me, as a young Christian, a good question. If the ends times were now, and you became persecuted like the Roman Christians were, and if God called you to account for your faith, would you be able to stand up for him or would you deny him? Would you lose your faith or would you hold onto it? And to be honest, I couldn't see myself losing my life for my faith. There is no way. It troubled me then and it caused me to dig deeper into my faith and grow in it. As a result, I became confident in my faith. I would even be willing to give up my life for it, and the whole fear of that happening went away, as well as the fear of death and dying and disease and all the other stuff. When you grow in your faith, you grow in your confidence with God because you know he is watching over you, and if worse comes to worse, he is still going to be there to protect you and enable you if so be it. Also, by growing in your faith you become mature and there are some things you learn and there is one thing I've learned, and it is a phrase from the gospel passages that deal with the end times. Here is the phrase, but the end is not yet . But the end is not yet. I have lived long enough - I'm only 42 - to see people predict the end. I don't know, three or four times in my lifetime, and in the history of the church, thousands of times. Has it happened? No. Could it? Yes.
As a nation, we have gone through hundreds of predictions of doom and gloom haven't we? This is nothing new. Think about these events: September 11, the Cuban missile crisis, the cold war, the bomb, protect yourself, communist takeover, Hitler and the air raid practices they did in schools, the 1976 energy crisis, the recession of the 70's where you paid 13 to 21 percent on your housing, the great depression, the civil war, the American revolution. . . . Washington himself said, "I don't believe this union will hold past my lifetime." It did. Watergate, the end of the government system working in our country. It didn't collapse. Do you remember Y2K? Do you remember killer bees? Do you remember the threat of tuberculosis and polio, penicillin resistant germs, Ebola, SARS, and Anthrax? And where are we? We are still here. The church has been predicted to go out of existence dozens of times. Voltaire in the 1700's said "The church is going to disintegrate. It will be gone in my lifetime." And in his living room today bibles are being printed. There is a printing press in his living room printing out bibles.
Communist Russia said religion is an "opium of the people." Where is the Soviet Union today? It is gone. Where is the church? It is exploding in Russia. Mao Tse Tung was going to end this religion in China. Where is Mao Tse Tung? He's dead. How is the church doing? It is doing just gangbusters in China. What is the message? We have been here before and God has been faithful. He will be faithful now. All we have to do is trust in him. All we have to do is, instead of letting fear motivate us to become lax in our faith, it should actually motivate us to be faithful. He has been faithful to us, let's be faithful to him. Matthew 24 says this: you must also be ready. Jesus is talking now. Because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him, and know it is more likely for him to come for you than for him to end the world, but he will come for you either way. Who then is the wise and faithful servant? It is the servant who the master finds him doing when he returns. So are you being faithful to God? Not ten years ago, not a year ago, now . Are you faithful to God in your life now? Are you part of this worship now? Are you part of his work now? There is great peace when you know that when the master comes, whenever he comes, he finds you doing. It is our salvation.
So how do we deal with this fear of impending doom? Well, one, is put Christ as head of your life. Turn over the controls to him and, when you do, there is a dome of protection he puts over you. And as a result, you can live in great peace and triumph, and joyfully serve him and praise him for all of the wonderful things he has done. Have you done that? Do you have his protection over you? Give your heart to him today.
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