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The Slippery Rock Eagle

Texts of Jefferis Kent Peterson
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Fri. Feb 13, 1998

The Titanic!

by Jefferis Kent Peterson, Pastor Living Word Church of Butler Co.

The Titanic! Invincible! Unsinkable! A monument to human ingenuity!

So ran the newspaper headlines and stories about the largest ship ever built. But every time humanity breaks into a song of self congratulation, disaster seems to follow close behind. It is almost as if God is offended by our vanity.

It has been said that human beings have an edifice complex. We like to build the biggest and the best and to exult in our achievements. It is a source of pride in human accomplishment. We hope to make a name for ourselves. We want to have fame and achieve a type of immortality through our greatness.

Our pretensions to greatness began in a city named Babel {Genesis 11}. There, the whole world got together under one leader and decided to build a tower into heaven. The word "babel" means "the gate of God." The people were trying to build a tower so high that they could walk into heaven and find eternal life. Only they wanted to get into heaven by human strength - without God! They wanted to find security in each other and in things they could make with their own hands. They did not want to depend upon God for life.

Things haven't changed much. People still want security in this world. They fear death, and so try to escape it by achievement. But history is littered with the resulting failures. The empires of Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, Alexander, Caesar, and Genghis Khan all lie in ruins. The monuments to past moments of glory turn to dust under the fierce and steady winds of time. In our day, Donald Trump declared himself the king of finance, and soon found himself on the brink of financial collapse. Elvis, the King of Rock and Roll, died of self indulgence. The League of Nations was organized to end all wars, and WWII came a few short years later. The stock market rise that would never stop ended in the Great Depression.

The same is true of the church world. Ministries that build to glorify a ministry instead of God produce the same fruit. There is a tower of faith in Cuyahoga Falls that is a vacant embarrassment to a failed ministry. It is visible for miles, and it is an object of ridicule and scorn. There is a tower of prayer in Tulsa that almost bankrupted a ministry. The PTL's Christian version of Disneyland was sold on the auction block and cost a man his family as well as his position. No one is exempt. When we seek our security and our honor in the things we make instead of in God, then we are in trouble.

The claims of titanic invincibility once again cause me to shudder; for I fear the result of such boastfulness: "We are the Greatest Nation on the face of the Earth! America will never fall! We have put in place stop gaps so that the great stock market crashes of the past will never happen again! Our military is the mightiest in the world! God won't let anything happen to us." Everything seems to be going along fine. Things look secure on the surface. The band plays on deck, they are still serving drinks in the lounge, and the party goes on.

But below the water line, the ship is taking on water. It doesn't look serious at first. The ship is so big, it seems nothing can happen to it, but then, it starts to list just a little...

and soon, the screams of thousands who have no boat and no hope of rescue echo through the still night air. What hubris, what foolishness, to claim a ship unsinkable! How boastful and vain!

Yet how we are like a ship. We proudly sail off with the same blindness, thinking that our lives will not be cut short and that death will not take us! In our pretended invincibility, we refuse to take precautions and make provisions. We will not take Jesus as Lord. The price of our pride is a dark and watery deep that will silence our cries for rescue. We seek redemption at our convenience, but it is too late! Death approaches us, a nation takes on water, but the band plays on. Jesus is the lifeboat, large enough to take all on board.

"Ah... but not yet," say we. "Play us another song while we dance!"

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Friday, May 1, 1998

Gen-X

1998 by Jefferis Kent Peterson

"SURGE!" So goes the commercial that characterizes, or caricatures, the seventeen-to-thirty year old crowd, labeled Generation-X. Pictured as a generation that is "over-the-edge," without limits or restraints, this demographic is being targeted with hype and verve. By appealing to a sense of abandon, Madison Avenue is trying to capture the brand loyalty of those who refuse to give their loyalty to anything or anyone. It is a generation that has been cast off and is wary and suspicious of every thing. It has grown up with the high sensory overload of M-TV, and it is quick to spot market manipulation and phoniness.

Traditional "church" won't cut it because it is not radical enough. This generation is unlike the previous Boomers who rebelled against the standards of their elders. For Gen-X has no standards to rebel against. Their elders have removed God and commandments and morals from the schools and the laws of the land. Everything is relative and almost anything is okay. Their elders have said it is okay to abort children waiting to be born. The members of Generation-X are the survivors of this holocaust. One third of their brothers and sisters have already been cut down by the surgeons' blade or evacuated by a suction tube. What is the message this society is sending to them?

"You are inconvenient. You are unwanted. You are in the way. And you are disposable, like tissue paper."

It is no wonder this generation is not committed to anything, but are sold out to everything. If they are sold out to sin, they are 100% sold out. Why should they care when the world does not care about them? They are a radical group that does not want a polite "Church of the Whitewashed Tomb," where everyone is expected to look nice on the outside but is only conforming to the valueless culture in which they live. Traditional churches do not know how to handle these radicals who question the value of everything and are content with nothing. But Gen-X knows what it does not want. It does not want to be sold a bill of goods. It wants something real and genuine, not the phony social club environment most people call "church."

Jesus said, "no one can be my disciple unless he is willing to be executed as a criminal for my name's sake," [Matt. 10:34-38; 16:24-25]. Jesus said, if you want to be my follower, you have to be willing to be considered a social outcast, a criminal, and a misfit. Jesus demanded 100% radical commitment. And most of the church world settles for a dollar in the offering plate, and calls that "obedience."

No wonder the Generation of the X considers the "church" lame. It isn't the real thing Jesus promised. If you haven't yet faced death; if you haven't counted the cost; and if you aren't willing to die for Jesus, you are not His disciple. You are just playing church.

So how do you expect to reach a generation that can see right through you?

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July 23, 1998

The Crushing

by Jefferis Kent Peterson, I

It is only when you reach the point of despair that you are really fit to serve God. As human beings, one of our most common failings is that we think we can help God through our abilities. But God does not want our abilities, He wants to use His abilities through us. This is a hard lesson for us. The scriptures are full of countless examples of "heroes" who only became fit for the Master's use after they had been humiliated or failed greatly trying to fulfill their dreams through their own strength. Our pride makes us think we can serve God through our power. But this arrogance smells like a dead fish in God's nostrils. God is not as concerned that we do great things for Him as He is that we become like Jesus, in love and humility.

Look at these great "heroes of faith" - Abraham was promised a son and thought he could help God out by producing one with a slave girl [Gen. 16], Joseph had dreams of ruling over his brothers [Gen. 37], Moses killed an Egyptian because he wanted to liberate his fellow Jews [Exod. 2], Peter boasted he would follow Jesus anywhere, even to death if need be [Matt. 26:33], and Paul preached up such a storm in Jerusalem after his conversion that the whole city was in an uproar [Acts 9: 22-31]. Yet in each of these examples, God was more interested in developing the character of the person than He was in fulfilling their hopes and dreams. It is only after they had given up on their plans that God could move in them with His.

Look what these "heroes of faith" had to go through before they were finally ready to be used by God. Abraham's wife, Sarah, became so old that she couldn't bear children, but then God stepped in to do what she could not do by her natural strength. Sarah bore a miracle child when she was about 90 years of age.

Joseph spent 13 years in slavery and prison before his dreams began to come to pass.

Moses had been a prince in Egypt and a ruler of men. But after 40 years of exile, he lost all confidence in himself. He became a stammering shepherd in the desert and was so shy that he was afraid to speak in public! But that is when God finally called him to be His mouthpiece and to deliver the Jews from slavery!

Peter was humiliated by denying Jesus three times. Rather than being bold and courageous, Peter saw himself for what he truly was: a coward! And it was only after Peter's self-revelation that Jesus called him to be the shepherd of His flock. In his failure, Peter learned to have compassion and mercy towards others. Up to that time, Peter had no sympathy for others' weaknesses. But after denying Jesus, there was no way he could look down upon anyone else! He failed to follow Jesus, but he received mercy from God, and, what's more, he learned to have mercy. And he finally had the qualities he needed to be a pastor to others.

And look at Paul, the great apostle. After seeing Jesus in a vision on the road to Damascus, Paul spent 9 years in the desert doing next to nothing. He had this tremendous call from God! He had this great commission to reach the Gentiles! But he had to sit still for 9 years while he waited to be sent by God as a missionary evangelist. Why did God assign him to the desert? Because while Paul was full of zeal, he lacked love [see 1 Cor. 13!]. God was more interested in Paul than in Paul's mission. Only after spending years sitting on the back burner was Paul able to do the work God wanted him to do. For then Paul went out under God's strength, rather than in his own zeal.

Why is it necessary for us to be crushed to be fit to be used by God? Because God is not interested in our ability or in our strength. He does not want our testimony to be how great we are, but how great He is! When we are crushed, we see ourselves as we truly are: weak, frail, and helpless creatures. We see that our only hope is God, for only He can make a way where this is no way. Paul found this out, when he wrote this passage:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction... We do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Why, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead, (2 Corinthians 1: 3, 3-4, 8-9, RSV)

Being crushed makes us compassionate. And our faith is increased towards God when He moves on our behalf. It is only after we have failed to succeed by our own strength that we truly see the strength of God. And it is only then that we are fit for the Master's use.

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Oct 8, 1998.

Justice, Judgment, and the Popular Will.

1998 by Jefferis Kent Peterson, I

"He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge..." (Isaiah 11:3-4).

These words were spoken of Jesus. The people longed for a coming King who would himself be truly honest and who would judge others with fairness and truth. We all know how justice can be perverted with a bribe, but just as easily, it can be perverted by rumor, gossip, and the public opinion poll. Because of our human tendency to rush to judgment, the Scriptures caution us to deliberate and weigh issues before deciding them:

He who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. (Proverbs 18:17).

He who renders a decision before listening--that is his folly and his shame. (Proverbs 18:13).

Jesus, it says, was acclaimed by all the people, and they wanted to make him King [John 6:15], but he hid himself from them. It says he didn't trust popular opinion, because "He himself knew what was in man," [John 2:24-25]. Public opinion polls are not a reliable thing. The same populace who cried, "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!" on Sunday, were screaming "Crucify Him!" by Thursday. The public is a fickle thing, and dangerous is the tyranny of the popular will.

For this reason, we are not to be ruled by the whim of the day. The Republic was set up to protect us from ourselves! Rumor and gossip fill the airwaves, and we are swayed by those with the most effective spin. But truth is amassed in evidence, not in statements made in media shows. And judgment must come by weighing the facts, not by appealing to our sentiments.

Because of the pandering of the media to public opinion, we have become confused about how, as Christians, we should proceed. Should we forgive and forget? Or should we seek justice through the laws of the land? Our confusion arises because we do not understand the role of the State and then our role as the Church in dealing with Bill Clinton as an individual caught in sin.

The scriptures, in Romans 13, say that the State exists to suppress evil and govern in righteousness for the welfare and protection of ALL the people. The Christian is subjected to this "impartial" standard as much as anyone. If the law is corrupted so that it does not apply equally to those with money and power, the purpose of the State is perverted, from God's perspective, and injustice reigns through partiality.

For Clinton, as citizen and as a "brother" in Christ [I am not evaluating this claim, just taking it as his face value], there two different needs: One is for the State to enforce the law impartially, and the other is for the Church to offer counsel for repentance and reconciliation.

Gordon MacDonald, is one of the two pastors offering Bill Clinton face to face accountability over his past, sinful conduct. MacDonald said, after accepting the counseling role, he had been struck by Clinton's public expression of contrition at the Friday prayer breakfast, which MacDonald accepted as genuine.

``No one could have been present and retained a disbelieving, a cynical, a hardened attitude toward this man who opened his heart and acknowledged his realization of his sin,'' he said. He said he would not take any political stand on Clinton or impeachment, but said people of faith had an obligation to ''treat seriously any attempt by a self-proclaimed sinner who asks for forgiveness.''

``Have I worried about being used? Of course,'' he said. ``If the president's repentance is false or short-termed, that will show in time, and we will have to swallow hard and admit that we were taken in.''

There is a lot of wisdom in this stance. Some repentance is as the result of the moment. It is a surface response to the discomfort of being caught and it is an attempt to escape the consequences of pain. It can be genuine, but poorly motivated, and as soon as the pressure is off, a person will return to his old ways, because there was not true sorrow over the deed itself. In other words, the person in his heart is not convinced that the action is wrong, but is responding to the threat of punishment. Length of time and testing is needed to see if the depth of repentance is there and a true conversion has taken place. Wisdom and love demand no less. This was the mistake that Oral Roberts made when he pronounced Jimmy Swaggart 'clean' of demons after one session of deliverance when Jimmy first fell into public disgrace. Jimmy's denomination wanted to put him in counseling and set him down for a while, until they were sure that his repentance would hold. But Oral Roberts stepped in and short-circuited the process of restoration. He helped Jimmy escape from the consequences of accountability, which his denomination was trying to use to bring him to healing. In the end, Oral gave Jimmy an excuse to run from the discipline. Jimmy Swaggart then fell into greater destruction, and Oral helped all the way.

If we, as the Church want to be faithful to Bill Clinton, we need to take a cautious, long-term attitude towards his repentance. We can forgive him now, but wait for the change of his character to be demonstrated in new behavior before we bless him with favor. Also, we can and should let the State do its job, as God's instrument in dealing with him impartially. Remember - it was only this public exposure of his sin by the State's agency that finally caused him to deal with his behavior and ask for forgiveness. Let the State finish its work for Bill's betterment. And always lift him up in prayer, so that his healing and repentance will be genuine and complete in his conversion to Christ's righteousness.

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Dec. 25 1998

Kneeling before the Mystery

1998, by Jefferis Kent Peterson

(1 John 1:1; Luke 2:1-20)

There are times when words fail. There are times when familiar truths become stale because of our superficial acquaintance with the oft repeated story. Such a time is this: when we celebrate Christmas - the story of God becoming flesh in our midst. This is such a time when words cannot capture - when words cannot express - the glory and depth of the Mystery. At such times, sermons become difficult, and the best use of words is to point us to what we cannot understand nor fully comprehend, so that we may kneel before the mystery in awe and wonder, as did the shepherds coming in from the fields.

To see the Unseen wrapt in flesh, sweat, and rags - the Unseen made visible to human eyes! To touch the Uncreated - to lay hold of Life! How can this be?

If reason were able to explain God among us, and if we were able to reduce this truth to words, it would no longer be God that we describe.

Why?

Because if we could enclose God in our words, we would be pointing to the finite, not the Infinite. Reason can only point to the infinite, but it cannot grasp it or reduce it to logic and formula. The Mystery is greater than that!

And when we come to such a juncture, our minds do us best service when we recognize the limits of our ability to know. What we cannot comprehend in its "All and All" can yet, somehow, be held in our hands! The Infinite God has clothed himself in human flesh and walked among us.

At times like these, Reason must bow the knee and point beyond itself to what it can see but cannot reveal. Reason must say "There! There is God! But I cannot go there! Faith alone will allow you to be embraced by the Infinite!"

This child of flesh - this Jesus, this Immanuel, this God with us - is a contact point by which God allowed us to touch the Infinite and to be touched by His Love.

Before this Mystery, our only proper response is to find safety in humility before the majesty: to kneel, to worship, and to adore. All else is empty and vain.

Merry Christmas to you all! And may you kneel before the Mystery and be grasped by His Love in Jesus Christ!

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