Flee the Wrath to Come
February 16, 2015, 3:30 pm
Filed under: Church Stuff, God | Tags: , ,

John Wesley spoke about those who wanted to “Flee the wrath” to come. Those were the folks he wanted to bring into the Methodist Societies. These were people who knew the words of the Bible, they had heard preaching, they just did not believe it was for them. Of course there was a time when Wesley didn’t believe it either, not until his Aldersgate experience, when he became convinced that Christ had died for his sins did Wesley actually understand what faith was. It was then that he began to put together the idea that all needed to understand that the wrath of God was a terrible thing.

In the reading this morning in Numbers, we hear how the faith of the people of Israel had diminished to such a point that they were complaining about even the fact that God was providing their daily nourishment. Numbers 21:5 tells us: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” (NKJV)

The people of God forgot who they were, they forgot that without God they would indeed have died in the wilderness, but, more importantly, they would still be slaves in Egypt. When the plague of snakes comes upon them and they begin to die in their sin, they cry out, they do not want to suffer the wrath of God, we hear them then: “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. (NKJV) There is an important lesson for us here. It was the people of God, not some strangers outside the camp, it was the people of God who were rebellious, and who sinned against God and Moses. Please note too that although they asked for the snakes to be taken away, God instead gave them a way out, He did not take away the snakes.

God does not remove the obstacles from the path, instead He gives a way for His people to go through those obstacles, He asks that the people look to His method of salvation instead of their own merits, their own methods. Rabbi Harold Kushner tells of a time when he was speaking in a hospital, and an Episcopal priest who was dying of AIDS asked to see him. This priest told the Rabbi how much his books had helped, then observed that he wished he could preach just one more sermon. He would tell people, “I have to tell them that what I believed is true, really is.

God is there no matter what. God is present in the doctors, nurses and caregivers, and in the friends who come to be with me. When the hospital is quiet and the room is dark, God is here then too. It is really true.” (E. Carver McGriff, Lectionary Preaching Workbook, Series VI, Cycle B, 1999-2000).

In today’s gospel reading we find that God did not send Christ to condemn the world but rather to save it. Then it goes on to state the obvious, that Jesus did not need to condemn, we have already condemned ourselves. “John 3:18-20 (NKJV) “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. “

“The State of the Church 2011” one of the Barna Research statistical measures of Christianity in the US has this to say about church folk. Adult Sunday school attendance has diminished by eight percentage points over the past two decades. On any given Sunday, about 15% of adults can be expected to show up in a Sunday school class.
The most carefully watched church-related statistic is adult attendance. Since 1991, attendance has receded by nine percentage points, dropping from 49% in 1991 to 40% in 2011. Church volunteerism has dropped by eight percentage points since 1991. Presently, slightly less than one out of every five adults (19%) donates some of their time in a typical week to serving at a church. The most prolific change in religious behavior among those measured has been the increase in the percentage of adults categorized as unchurched. The Barna Group definition includes all adults who have not attended any religious events at a church, other than special ceremonies such as a wedding or funeral, during the prior six month period. In 1991, just one-quarter of adults (24%) were unchurched. That figure has ballooned by more than 50%, to 37% today.

The Barna summary included eight beliefs that have been tracked since 1991. Among those just three experienced statistically significant change.
The percentage of adults who can be classified as born again Christians, based on their belief that they will experience eternal salvation based on their commitment to Jesus Christ, personal confession of sins, and acceptance of Christ as their savior, has risen by five percentage points. In 1991, the national estimate was 35% of adults met those criteria. Currently, 40% of adults can be classified as born again.
When asked to choose one of several descriptions of God, the proportion who believe that God is “the all-knowing, all-powerful and perfect Creator of the universe who still rules the world today” currently stands at two-thirds of the public (67%). That represents a seven point drop from the 1991 level.

The biggest shift has been in people’s perceptions of the Bible. In 1991, 46% of adults strongly affirmed that “the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches.” That has slumped to just 38% who offer the same affirmation today.
The World Changers: Baby Boomers
No generation has been as widely chronicled as the Boomers, the post-war group born from 1946 through 1964. At every stage of their existence, this generation has redefined America’s ways of life – including its faith and spirituality. Four of their six religious behaviors and two of their eight religious beliefs tracked in this study have undergone statistically significant change since 1991.

The four religious behaviors that shifted included the following.
Church attendance plummeted by 12 percentage points, dipping to 38% in 2011.
Sunday school attendance by Boomers fell by nine points, from 23% in 1991 to just 14% in 2011.
Volunteering at churches was less likely among Boomers in 2011 than was the case twenty years ago, declining from 28% in 1991 to 18% in 2011.
While the Boomers have never been the generation most likely to attend church, during the past 20 years the percentage of unchurched Boomers has risen dramatically, jumping up 18 points! At 41%, they are now the generation most likely to be unchurched, surpassing the 39% level among Busters.

The pair of religious beliefs that have yielded substantial change in the last two decades are declines in those who hold an orthodox view of God (down six points, to 67%); and a reduction in those who are strongly convinced that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches (down seven points, to just 38%).
We have a problem with cheap grace, with the idea that we can just say we are saved and we are, then we don’t need to go to church nor do we need to read the Bible, or study with our brothers and sisters in the faith. In this nation of ours we don’t really want to flee the wrath to come, we want instead to be told that we are OK, so we can continue in our lifestyles.

We Christians just love to hear John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever would believe on Him, would not perish, but would have eternal life.” What we don’t want to hear, is that after God meets us where we are, He loves us too much to leave us there. That is the part of salvation that we don’t really like, we enjoy our sins, I have even been heard to say that “sin is fun.” It is, we like the positive reinforcement from our peers as we chug-a-lug another beer, or as we make that comment about the young woman walking by, or, the young man walking by. I’m sorry ladies but y’all are guilty too of looking at the opposite sex as something to be used, rather than as something or, better yet, someone who has worth in the eyes of God. We, beloved are all guilty, the Apostle Paul says it best, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” None of us is innocent, we have all been born into a sinful world, and we are all born in the image of Adam, not the image of God. There is a piece of us that is missing, it is a God piece that needs the Holy Spirit filling to bring us back to the image of God.

God abhors sin, in all its forms, the sooner we recognize ourselves in the people of Israel, the better off we will be. Matthew 7:21-23 (NKJV) 21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

Let us then hear these words and understand that we are called to a higher calling than we want to admit. I have to say also, that I would rather have 10 solid prayerful Christian persons, than 100 who never open the word, never bend the knee, and come to church only when they feel like it. The third reading today is found in Ephesians, and it speaks well to those of us who claim to be saved, just as those folks in Ephesus claimed to be saved in their day. It is by grace that you were saved, that is God’s wonderful grace, that we do not deserve. We are enemies of God, we are not God’s friends, not until we come on bended knee before the throne of grace and acknowledge our sinful state with a broken and contrite heart.

Because we are all sinners, we have the stain of sin on our lives. This stain cannot be removed by doing good in an attempt to make up for the bad we have done. All of the good works in the world won’t erase the stain of our sin. So stubborn is this stain, that there is only one substance in all the universe capable of removing it; The blood of Christ. Human effort cannot add anything to what God has already provided for the removal of our stain. When Christ said: It is Finished, He meant it! God had finished paying the price for the removal of our sin. How audacious we would be to think we could somehow improve upon what God has already finished in Christ.”

Verse 10 says the rest: For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Not only does God recreate you and I, but He has for us work to do. If we are truly His, we will hear His call upon us, we are truly created for good works that we might walk in His ways and be His people.
God loves us too much, to leave us in our sins and our trespasses. I read about this incident a few years ago: In 1992, a Los Angeles County parking control officer came upon a brown El Dorado Cadillac illegally parked next to the curb on street-sweeping day.

The officer dutifully wrote out a ticket. Ignoring the man seated at the driver’s wheel, the officer reached inside the open car window and placed the $30 citation on the dashboard. The driver of the car made no excuses. No argument ensued — and with good reason. The driver of the car had been shot in the head ten to twelve hours before but was sitting up, stiff as a board, slumped slightly forward, with blood on his face. He was dead.

The officer, preoccupied with ticket-writing, was unaware of anything out of the ordinary. He got back in his car and drove away. Many people around us are “dead in transgressions and sins.” What should catch our attention most is their need, not their offenses. They don’t need a citation; they need a Savior.

So let us all realize the wrath to come, and it will come, is for those who will not hear and obey the word of God. Whether you are a member of a church, or you don’t believe in church or God, really makes no difference, if the gospel has not changed your life, and the way you interact with your families and your neighbors, then the snakes are coming. The fiery serpents are out there, and unless we are willing to turn our eyes on Jesus Christ as savior, Lord, Brother, Redeemer, we will not escape the wrath. So, I urge you today, if your heart is not right with God, decide to “flee the wrath” decide to turn your eyes and your thoughts on Jesus, the author and perfector of your faith. Flee the wrath, accept the eternal life that is yours, by the death that was His. Let us together, walk into our future home in eternity, in the glory of God and the love of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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