Good morning, church. Please go with me to 2 Peter, chapter 3, and we’re going to start in v.14. You’ll notice, as you arrive at the passage, that this is the last section of Peter’s letters, and so this is the last sermon I’ll preach in this series through the letters of Peter. This has been a really good study, at least for me, this year, as I’ve wrestle through these passages and these lessons, seeking to apply them in my life. I really appreciate your part in listening intently, responding, taking it home, really seeking the Lord in these times. I greatly appreciate the times, too, we’ve spent in small group going over these things, and thinking through them together.
I remember at the very beginning of this series back in early May, after Easter, when we were still confined to homes and hotel rooms, or wandering empty streets without the normal services or rhythms. I spent a day thinking through each book of the Bible, looking at what other churches were doing, and trying to decide which way to go.
I thought deeply about the book of Revelation, and its reminder over and again of the victory of Christ in the end. That we face trials and tribulations in this life, but in the end, Jesus wins, and with his coming kingdom he brings peace, hope, and joy. And I thought about the book of Isaiah, and the guidance of God’s people through the unimaginable: the fall of Jerusalem, and exile, and the way through to hope and the coming king to save his people, to remind us that our God is a God who is able to stand beside us, even carry us through the unimaginable, when everything seems like it’s falling apart.
But in the end I chose the letters of Peter, because I wanted to be able to tell you over and over again, that there is hope in Christ for whatever you’re going through, hope which grows in us through orientation, through thinking less of this world and kingdoms here, and thinking more of the kingdom to come. I wanted God to remind us in his word of the unity we have in the midst of separation and dispersion, unity brought by the Holy Spirit of God among us and the real presence of Christ in our midst. I wanted his gentle reminders of God’s perfect timing, of his holiness, and of his call to us to take part in his character and work.
So here, at the end of this series and this book, we have a chance, a call to decide which way we will go, whether toward the chaos of this world, or toward the peace of God. It’s a choice we make each day. Read with me, 2 Peter 3:14 through the end of the book. […] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly: Lord God, I pray you would show us your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free. Amen.
My first point from the text today, Peter’s first call to decision is this: decide what you will grow. Decide what you will grow.
I’ve been thinking a lot about trees lately, mainly because I’ve probably spent more time with trees this year than I ever have before in my life after a collective five weeks or so spent on disaster relief chainsaw crews during this insane year, pulling trees off of people’s houses and out of their yards. One of my coworkers, who is of Asian descent, told me that in Japanese there is a specific word for the beauty of how the light plays on the leaves of trees in the sunlight. And I’ve learned several fun new words in English this year to describe how a tree can fall into your house in a hurricane.
But like I said, I’ve never spent so much time considering trees before. Deciding how best to fell a tree, or whether or not I might severely injure myself if I try to climb this ladder and cut that branch. I’ve learned some things.
One thing I learned is that some kinds of trees stand up better in storms than others. I went on one job on the Westbank after Zeta where there was a big oak tree fallen across an elderly couple’s driveway so they couldn’t get out of their house, and one of the people I was with knew a great deal about trees. He told me it was a water oak, and he shook his head. Apparently water oaks grow quickly, and look nice, but they are infamous for not being able to last through a storm. “They break every time,” he told me. It’s best to plant something like a live oak which will take much longer to grow, but will be able to stand firm through almost any kind of wind or rain.
I also learned a good deal about termites. Apparently, when you have a large tree near your house, you need to remain diligent and check the tree regularly for termites or other kinds of diseases. I went on one job in River Ridge where there was a tree across a family’s fence, beautiful on the outside and seemingly full of life, but when we cut into it, it was hollow. It had fallen in the storm because it was completely eaten out by termites. I didn’t cut the stump of that tree down, because I was able to push it down by hand it was so rotted. A good number of the homes I worked on, the damage was caused by bad trees, or hollow ones.
So we, in our lives and in our homes, need to decide what we will grow. Peter ends his letter with an encouragement to his people to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, and this morning I want to give you that same encouragement. Choose, decide to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, because he is steadfast. Invest your time in the reading of his word, in worship, in the community of the church, in service of one another using the gifts he gives. Grow in him. The winds come, the rains fall down, and yet he remains.
Water oaks are apparently plentiful in New Orleans because for a while, in the fifties, as the urban center sprawled, they were all the rage, again, because they look nice and grow quickly, and it wasn’t until about twenty years ago that people started figuring out that these, now, nice big trees couldn’t ride out the storms. Those who were wise cut them down. Those who were unwise continued to let them grow. And there are some things in our religious landscape which have been popular and grown quickly over the past few decades which we would be wise to cut down and remove from our churches and lives.
Peter’s been talking throughout this letter of false teaching—things like poverty and social justice gospels, health/wealth teachings, intermingling religion and politics. You can grow quickly teaching these things, publish a book or two and get looking pretty good. There are many teachings today and in years past that have been wildly popular and very attractive, yet, whenever the wind picks up and the rain starts, they can’t stand. Eventually these churches and teachings break and they fall; sometimes they cause massive damage on the way down.
And one thing about life in our world, which is broken by sin: there’s always another storm coming. When you pick up the pieces of your life and seek to rebuild, build with things that last. If you’re wise, you won’t wait until the damage comes, until you hit some sort of rock bottom. Take time now, even today, to cut down the things in your life which you know will break when the storm comes.
A career, for example, is a flimsy thing to try to depend upon in difficult times. Money cannot replace the people you lose, or buy a life you’re proud of in the end. A reputation and legacy, as well, looks nice and can grow quickly, but whenever you hit hard times, say you run into a medical crisis, what does it matter if people are impressed by you, or not? Eventually you’ll grow old, God willing. You’ll die and your name will be forgotten. People come up to me all the time and tell me about their reputation, they’re some big businessman, or they’re on the street and no one messes with them, they tell crazy stories, they spout some philosophy they’ve come up with about religion to justify whatever sins they’s given their entire lives to, and all I see in these conversations, as people show me around the landscape of their lives trying to impress me, all I see are water oaks.
I’ve met others like the termite trees. They come to church, they look good, but on the inside they’re hollow, their unseen sin has eaten the core of their lives—the whole time they’re smiling, and they look great. And I think, if only we had known before the storm came that the tree had been eaten through, hollowed out. If only people would be honest about their sins and struggles, gather together to confess and pray for each other and develop those true gospel friendships that will carry them through. If you’re hiding yourself away, stop.
It’s better to plant something that will last through the ages of this earth, and not only last, but grow. Love is this way—love of God, and love which flows from him to family, friends, and neighbor. Love, if you plant it deep in the earth of your life and tend it well, grows slowly, but it’s able to survive through every hardship, dry season, poverty, mistakes. Above all else, keep loving one another earnestly for the sake of your prayers, Peter told us. Love the Lord your God with everything, Christ taught.
Grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, v.18, will last through a storm. Spend time seeking the truths of God. We say we don’t have time in our day to read the Bible and pray, but I say you don’t have the time in your brief life not to cut out time toseek knowledge of him and cry out for grace and forgiveness. There’s always another storm coming.
The kingdom of God will stand through everything, and God has invited us into his work of building it, welcoming others into it, praying for it, longing for his kingdom come, his will be done, in his life as in ours.
Decide what you will grow. We decide each day. Each small action we take grows, in our lives, one thing or another. Each choice we make can either grow us into worshippers of the Lord Jesus Christ or worshippers of the flimsy, hollow things of this world. Decide today what you will grow.
My second point is similar: decide how you’ll build. Decide how you’ll build. In v.16, Peter describes those who follow after their own ways as being unstable beacuse they’ve taken the structures of their faith and life, the scriptures, and they’ve twisted them. He counters it in v. 17 by saying that people who follow after God and depend upon his grace are able to stand steadfast; so we need to decide how we’ll build.
The only thing I’ve thought about more than trees over the past several months is houses, and their stability. More times than I can count this fall, I’ve studied, scrutinized a roof with a tree on it or a limb through it, trying to decide if the roof is still stable enough for me to stand on it. What I’m looking for when I do that is to see whether or not the rafters or the walls have become twisted or broken. If so, I can’t stand on it, and you can’t rebuild it. There’s nothing to do with a twisted rafter or stud but remove it and rebuild.
And I’ve noticed something. There’s a big difference between how a well-built, well-tended house and a poorly built, poorly tended house will weather a storm. We had a few churches in this last hurricane that had been putting off some repairs to their roofs; and so now, not only do they need a new roof, but they need new walls and floors as well, because they didn’t tend their house, and now the damage has multiplied.
And in our lives, we need to decide how we’ll build. A lot of times in our lives, we know that the roof needs to be repaired, some sin we’ve been told about, and we think, that’s going to be costly to repair, so we do nothing, which is fine—until the storm comes. Or we seek to build our lives with cheap materials. For example, knowing we need joy, we fill the need with cheap thrills. Knowing we need connection, we seek cheap sex. Knowing we need God, we seek a twitter religion that can be understood in a sentence or two that doesn’t challenge us or require us to change. Knowing we need to provide for ourselves and the people around us, we seek those safe things which we know we can get without ever having to try and fail. Knowing we need community, we settle for a Facebook group without having to look anyone in the eyes, forgive and be forgiven.
But building your life with cheap things doesn’t prepare you well for a storm. I’ve never had a picture on a screen hold me through some deep hurt or pain. And if the bottle were going to give you joy, shouldn’t you have found it by now? And twitter religions might get you a thumbs up on the internet, but they can’t give you meaning and purpose in life, hope in dark times, freedom from the things holding you. Only Christ can do that.
So, study your life like I’ve been studying houses. Look closely, to see if you’re able to stand the weight of life, or if you’ve become twisted, if you’re ignoring a thing that damages the rest of your life over and over again. Christ is a firm foundation. If you build your life with things like prayer, patience, spiritual discipline, membership in a church, devotion to scripture, confession, repentance, and regular worship, it’s going to take a little more investment, greater cost. In many ways it will cost you everything, but at least then you’ll be able to stand a storm.
So decide what you will grow, decide how you will build, and lastly, this: some things are difficult to understand. Some things are difficult to understand.
Peter writes in v.16 that some things Paul writes are difficult to understand, and instead of investing the time it would actually take to interpret Scripture expertly, people content themselves with cheap and twisted interpretations that go into the building of cheap and flashy lives, as we’ve been discussing. So I’m trying to tell you this morning, some things are difficult to understand. Don’t use a cheap alternative: invest in understanding the difficult things. Most things in the world that are worth doing are difficult.
There was one house I worked on in Lake Charles that took us several days to clear out all the damage. This was the trip Jonathan and Robert were with me. The house was on about a three-acre lot, and when we pulled up the front drive, we drove past about six giant pine trees that were down on the property, and we got to work clearing everything. I was talking to the homeowner, and told him how beautiful I thought his property was, and I asked him how long he had been living in the house. He told me he had been there for about sixty years. He was in his eighties. He had lived on that property for his entire adult life. Then he told me, those six giant pine trees we saw fallen on the way up the driveway, he had planted those trees as a young man and watched them grow, tended them and cared for them.
Honestly—I know they’re just trees, but—it broke my heart. I’m sure this man cared for those trees every day of his life, watered them, made sure to treat them for termites and other things that might kill them. When he looked out his window he was proud. They were strong and healthy, and still the wind was able to blow them over, and he told me, he teared up a bit. Just him. Definitely not me, too. But sometimes a tree falls when it was grown the right way, onto a house that was built the right way, and some things are just difficult to understand. Before we left, I asked him to promise me he would plant six new trees in his yard to start again.
Preaching this whole sermon series through Peter’s letters, I know I’ve made mistakes—misunderstood this or that, not focused on some part that would have been vital, focused on some things that were irrelevant. Some things that Peter writes have been difficult for me to understand. But I’ve studied each week, read commentaries, I’ve invested weeks of my life in seeking understanding to bring to you, years to gain the skills, a lifetime to be qualified to teach them. It was difficult, and I’ve failed in some ways, but here at the end, I’m glad for having done it, and I’m grateful to God for setting this task in front of me.
But beyond even what he says, some things the Lord does in this life are difficult to understand. I don’t know why God does most of the things he does or allows; I do know that he is good, and I have peace in that. I would encourage you, don’t despair, and don’t stop at easy answers. Take the time to grow and build good things, to do difficult things. Forgiveness is difficult when the wound is deep. Sobriety is difficult when you’ve lost it. Family, a strong marriage, a mature faith, a genuine conversation over a disagreement, avoiding both legalism and licentiousness, applying for jobs when you know you’ll be rejected, making the change you know you need to make when you’re comfortable where you are—all of these things are difficult. Deep friendship is difficult: one of Jesus’ first miracles was having twelve close friends in his thirties.
But one of the worst thing we can do with the gifts God gives us, the people he gives us, the words he speaks, and the things he does in the world, is try to take them and twist them into something easy, attractive, and quick. My invitation to you today is to do hard things. To depend, not on your own strength or initiative, but to allow him to lead you into difficult spaces and to follow him where he leads.
I invite you to cultivate things in your life that will grow slowly and last long, to build things in your life and in your community that will stand strong through this age and into the next. Don’t allow difficulty to dissuade you, to keep you from doing the things God is calling you to do. Look to Christ as your example, who for your sake left his place as king and came to live, even to die, alongside you so that he could rescue you from death and give you life.
Pray with me.