Navigating the Jungle
It's a Jungle Out There
When I sat down to study and write this sermon, I had a song running through my head that I quite simply couldn't get out of my head. Have you had that happen to you? A tune you just couldn’t shake. It happens to me often…this time it was the theme song to the USA TV show Monk, "It's a Jungle Out There". Keep in mind the original title of this sermon was "Encouragement Living in a Hostile World". However, I just couldn't get this song out of my head. Then it hit me. I realized God was telling me something...and it was hilarious. Monk has OCD…I’ve battled this in the past. Monk can’t go anywhere without ‘being contaminated’ by germs. To him, the world is literally a jungle out there. And he’s right…this world we live in is very hostile. It really is a jungle out there. So, the title of this sermon has changed to "Navigating the Jungle". God does have a sense of humor.
As I stated before, the world we live in is very hostile these days. We need only to look at the terrorism out there. 9/11, Boston, Paris, Belgium, the Middle East, and most recently, the Easter Sunday attacks on Christians in Pakistan. The trouble is that it isn't just terrorism. Christianity is illegal in 52 countries, give or take a few. Iran, Burma (also known as Myanmar), North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan are a few of the worst among many others. In China, if the church isn't state run, it's illegal. State run churches can only say what is approved by the government. Therefore, most Christian churches are underground.
Not only is the world hostile to Christians, we live in an increasingly hostile country. Our Christian values are coming under fire a lot lately; abortion and divorce are common, even among Christians. And more recently, marriage, religious freedom, and freedom of speech are under fire. The things of Christ are slowly becoming taboo while the taboo is slowly becoming accepted practice for many of the things we never thought would come to pass.
Now, on the local scene, things are a little more tolerant. However, they are in and of themselves becoming increasingly more hostile. I cannot tell you how many times I hear, “Oh, I believe in God, heaven, hell and all…but I don’t like or go to church.” James 2:19 says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe – and they shudder.” Believing in God isn’t enough folks. It’s about believing and accepting that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior. I also hear, “When I go to church, all I hear them talk about is giving money.” Well folks, if people went more often, they just might hear us talk about a little more than money. Granted…some congregations are solely focused on money. But most of us put things in perspective and priority.
With all of this said, it begs the question, “How did we get this way?” Well, the easy answer is that we live in the End Times. Ever since Christ ascended to heaven after the Resurrection and the Holy Spirit descended to Earth on Pentecost, we have been living in an age where we are expecting Christ to return. Take a look at 1 Timothy 4:1-2, 2 Timothy 4:3-4 and 2 Timothy 3:1-5. All will tell you that in the End Days, things like this should be expected.
The not-quite-so-easy-to-hear answer is that the American church has grown complacent and apathetic. I tackle this issue head on in my book, but suffice it to say that we have simply grown accustom to living in a country that is very Christian friendly. Persecution is limited and we’ve grown soft to evangelism and discipleship. Now, we have done well with evangelism, but we are seriously lacking in discipleship. We’ve lost the ability to grow Christians who grow Christians. We’ve taken an approach that screams ‘get them in and get them busy’ instead of teaching them properly the ways of a Christian.
The area in which Peter addresses his first letter
Navigating the Jungle
Today we are looking at 1 Peter 4:7-11 and in this book, Peter addresses churches in Asia Minor and surrounding areas. He begins his discourse on the new life Christians have and the behavior changes that take place and finishes with persecution that we should expect. In our Scripture for today, Peter gives 3 qualities for End Times living.
First off, in verse 7, Peter says in the End Times, communicate with God. Prayer is more than simply one way talking or giving a laundry list to God. Prayer involves listening too. There is nothing wrong with presenting requests to God. However, that shouldn’t be the only thing we do. It is right to give Him thanks and praise too. It is also imperative that we listen for that still small voice within too. Prayer is communication and in order to communicate, both parties must talk and listen actively.
Peter says that because of these End Times we live in, we must be ready for prayer. The two words Peter uses here in my version (HCSB) are clear-headed and disciplined. The two Greek words there are very close in meaning to one another and I had to do some digging in order to figure out the difference. Clear-headed means to be of sound mind. Disciplined means to be sober, emotionally calm and controlled, and avoiding behavior beyond what is normal, healthy and acceptable. We must have these qualities if we are going to be ready for prayer in the End Times.
Second, Peter says in verses 8 and 9 that above all, we must love intensely. This word ektene literally means to stretch or strain like an athlete straining to win a race. Think of a marathon runner. Mile 25.9. They’re tired…can’t imagine those few tenths of a mile left…yet, they dig down deep and finish stronger than anything because they are straining to finish the race. This is what our love should look like. Just when you think you can’t love someone any more, you dig down deep to love them stronger than you did before. That love, my friends, is a sacrificial love, like Christ. It’s not blind, yet it sees and accepts the faults of others. Now this doesn’t mean we tolerate sin, but build a relationship with them in order to encourage and teach. Love is shown through hospitality, i.e. food, lodging etc. We must be cautious in our culture of enabling people to continue in sin, but instead of handing cash over, we can give them the tools they need to improve themselves and the quality of life they live. Love God, Love others. We love God by loving others…ironic.
Lastly, Peter says in verses 10-11 that based on our gifts, we should use it to serve as good stewards of the grace of God. That phrase he uses, to serve is the Greek word diakonoutes where we usually translate it as deacon. However, we also translate it as minister. My friends, the minister isn’t the guy at the church who preaches on Sundays, weddings and funerals. Everyone is a minister. We simply have varied gifts. Paul gives specific gifts, but here Peter lumps them all into 2 categories. Speaking and serving. Speakers are evangelists and preachers, but it also includes teachers and tv/radio personnel; basically people who have been given the ‘gift of gab’ as my dad and grandpa always told me that I have. Those who are servers include anyone in retail, nurses, doctors, janitorial duties, farmers…those who do behind the scenes work. The difference between the Christian and those who aren’t is the fact that we recognize that God is our source of strength, so that He can be glorified through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, because ultimately it is Him we serve. All credit must go to Him.
Expect the Jungle to Fight Back
Now, because of the fact that we are living in the End Times, we need to expect persecution and suffering will come. These 3 qualities that Peter gives are the part of the base of discipleship. Discipleship essentially is picking up your cross and following Christ. Deny yourself so Christ may increase.
On the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35, we look at verse 32 where the disciples mention that their hearts were burning inside when He was teaching them. Likewise, in Jeremiah 20:9, he says that if he shuts up the Word of God inside and doesn’t speak about it, it becomes like a fire in his belly that he cannot quench. My question is this: where is that fire? Where is that passion in today’s church? It’s hard to maintain that high passion over long periods of time, but in an ever increasingly hostile world, shouldn’t our passion rise? My friends it’s a jungle out there. 2 Peter 3:1-7 says that doubters and scoffers will come. They are coming. We must not let our passion die out in despair. Instead we need to allow the jungle we face on a day to day basis encourage us to keep the fire and the passion of the Holy Spirit strong within us to reach the lost.
The Big Idea:
The jungle is cold and harsh and we must remember to rely on love, prayer and using our gifts in service to win people to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
It’s never too late to accept Christ as Lord and Savior. Many people think they are too far gone which is not the case at all. No one is too far gone. Eternity is a very long time and God didn’t let us simply rot away for eternity. He provided a way to live forever through His Son Jesus. Accept Him today and begin a new life with Him where hardship may still come, but this time you’ll have the only one who has overcome everything the world threw at Him…even death.