Tag Cloud
: Mothers Abandonment Abomination of Desolation Abortion Abuse Accounting Activism Adultery Affection Affliction Afterlife Altar America Angels Anger Anointing Apologetics Apostasy Armor of God Ascension Ashamed Atonement Authority Baal Babylon Bad Baptism Betrayal Bible Bitterness Blasphemy Blessing Blessings Blindness Boasting Body of Christ Bondage Borders Born Again Bridegroom Calling Capital Punishment Celebration Character Children Children of God Chosen Christ Christian Life Christians Christmas Church Civil Disobedience Clay Cleansing Comfort Commands Communion Community Comparison Compassion Complacency Complaining Conception Condemnation Conduct Confidence Conflict Conformity Confrontation Confusion Connection Conscience Consequences Contentment Conviction Cornerstone Correction Cost Counsel Courage Covenant Creation Creator Crisis Cross Crowns Crucifixion Culture Curse Darkness David Day of the Lord Death Deception Defense Delegation Demon Demons Denial Dependency Design Desolation Destruction Devil Direction Disaster Discernment Disciple Disciples Discipleship Discipline Discontentment Discouragement Disease Disgrace Disputes Distraction Diversity Divine Division Doctrine Double Fulfillment Doubt Drought Drugs Duties Duty Earth Earthly Earthquakes Easter Edom Education Elders Elect Emmaus Emotions Employment Encouragement End Times Endurance Enemies Enemy Environmentalism Equality Equipped Eternal Eternal Life Evangelism Everlasting Life Evil Evolution Exaltation Exalted Exclusion Excuses Exorcism Expectations Eyes Failure Fairness Faith Faithful Faithful Servant Faithfulness False Christs False Doctrine False Gods False Religion False Religions Family Famine Fasting Father Fathers Favoritism Fear Fear of the Lord Feasts Fellowship Finances Fire First Coming Flesh Flock Folly Foolishness Foreigner Foreknown Forgiveness Fornication Forsaken Foundation Freedom Friends Friendship Fruit Fruitfulness Future Gentiles George Wood Giving Glory God God’s Word Godliness Godly Good Good Shepherd Good Works Gospel Gospels Government Grace Gratitude Great Commission Greatness Grief Growth Guilt Hardship Harvest Hate Hatred Healing Heart Heaven Heavenly Hedonism Hell Herod Hidden Holiness Holy Holy Spirit Homosexuality Honor Hope Hopelessness Humility Husband Hypocrisy Ignorance Image Immanuel Immigration Impossibility Incarnation Individuals Indulgences Inheritance Injustice Inner Battle Instructions Insults Integrity Intercession Israel Jerusalem Jesus Jewish Temple John the Baptist Joy Judas Judgment Judgments Justice Justification Justify Key Keys Kindness King Kingdom Kingdom of God Kingdom of Heaven Knowledge Lamp Law Lawlessness Leader Leaders Leadership Leftism Legalism Leprosy Lies Life Light Like-minded Lord Lost Love Loyalty Lust Lusts Luxury Malachi Manipulation Marriage Martyrdom Martyrs Mary Materialism Maturity Meditation Men Mentoring Mercy Messiah Millennium Mind Mind of Christ Ministry Miracle Miracles Mission Mocking Money Mothers Mystery Nations Natural Gifts Naturalism Nature Near-Far Fulfillment Necessities New Covenant New Man New Testament Obedience Obstacles Obstructions Offense Old Man Old Nature Old Testament One Mind Outcast Pagan Pain Palm Sunday Parable Parables Paranormal Parenting Passion Passover Patience Patriotism Peace Pentecost People of God Perception Perfect Persecution Perseverance Persistence Personal Testimonies Perspective Perversion Pestilence Peter Pharisees Piety Pilate Politics Poor Position Possession Possessions Posture Power Praise Prayer Preaching Preparation Pride Priority Privilege Prodigal Promise Proof Prophecy Prophet Prophets Protection Protestant Reformation Proverbs Providence Provision Punishment Purgatory Purpose Questions Racism Reason Rebellion Rebuke Reconciliation Redeemer Redemption Refuge Regeneration Rejection Rejoicing Relationship Relationships Reliability Religion Remember Remnant Renewal Repentance Reputation Resolve Rest Restoration Resurrection Revelation Revenge Revival Reward Rich Riches Righteous Righteousness Rights Riot Risk Rivalry Robbery Roman Catholic Church Rule Sabbath Sacred Sacrifice Saint Salvation Sanctification Satan Savior Schemes Science Scripture Seasons Second Coming Secret Seed Seek Self Self Control Self-centered Self-Control Selfish Ambition Self-Righteous Servant Servant-Leadership Serve Service Serving Sexual Immorality Sexual Sin Sexuality Shame Share Sharing Shepherd Sickness Signs Signs and Wonders Simplicity Sin Sincerity Singing Singleness Sinners Slavery Sober Society Sojourner Sojourners Son Son of God Son of Man Sons of God Sorrow Soul Source Sovereignty Speech Spirit Spirit Realm Spirits Spiritual Spiritual Battle Spiritual Birth Spiritual Gifts Spiritual Growth Spiritual Rulers Spiritual Warfare Stewardship Strength Stress Strife Stumbling Block Submission Suffering Supernatural Supper Surrender Syncretism Tags: Patience Taxes Teaching Tears Technology Temple Temptation Temptations Terminal Illness Test Testimony Testing Tests Thankfulness Thanksgiving The Curse The Day of The Lord The End The Fall The Holy Spirit The Law The Way The Word The World Theology Time of Visitation Times of the Gentiles Tithing Tongues Tradition Tragedy Transfiguration Transformation Traps Treachery Treasure Tree Trial Trials Tribulation Trifles Trinity Triumphal Trouble Trust Truth Uncertainty Unity Unpardonable Sin Utopia Value Victory Vigilance Vindication Virtue Virtues Voice of God Volunteer Warning Warnings Wars Watching Water Baptism Wicked Wickedness Widows Wife Wineskins Wisdom Witness Witnesses Women Word of God Word of the Lord Works World World View Worry Worship Worth Wrath Yahweh Yeast YHWH Zion

Weekly Word

Tuesday
Jan162018

Ready for the Call of God

1 Kings 19:19-21.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 14, 2018.

There is this situation that we see in professional sports on draft day.  There is a big pageantry about who is going to be picked and who is going to “get the call” saying that they have been chosen.  Typically those who have put their name in the draft and have a very good chance will be sitting at home with their family waiting for just such a call.  I am not knocking the process, but rather, using it as a glimpse at how Christians can sometimes fall into the trap of doing a similar thing with the call of God.  Spiritually we can fall into the rut of sitting on our backside with our friends and family around us and waiting for God to call us to something great.

Today we are going to see that this is not how things work in God’s kingdom.  Those who are called by God are those who weren’t expecting it and they were not sitting around waiting for it.  This is true whether we are talking about the call to salvation, or whether we are talking about God calling us to a specific ministry or station of life.  Let us see that God calls us to be faithful in whatever He has given us.  Instead of looking past our situation today towards the hope of some “other glory,” we must keep our eye on the ball and learn to serve the purposes of the Lord that are right in front of us.  Being ready for the call of God is not about moving to the next level.  Rather it is about having a heart of faithfulness in everything that we have been given in life; regardless of how “great” it may appear to us.

In our short passage today we see God calling Elisha to become a prophet.  In this story Elisha represents what we want to be, a person who is ready when God comes calling.  But, let’s first make clear what is meant by the “call of God.”  The calling of God or the call of God upon a person is used to refer to God’s invitation to an individual to serve a purpose for Him.  There are generally multiple layers of God’s call upon our life that begin with those that are general to most everyone up to those that are highly specific and even rare.  The most basic level of the calling of God on our life is to become a faithful believer in Jesus who is the Savior of the World that God has sent.  Almost synonymous with this is the basic call to live our lives as Jesus would have us live it, or to honor God in how we live.  Colossians 3:17 says, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”  Other general calls involve children heeding the authority of their parents, parents raising their kids for the Lord, and husbands and wives portraying the love between Christ and His Church.

However, there are times that God has a more specific calling that He gives to individuals.  In our story, Elijah had been the main prophet (not to say that he was the only one) and it is clear that he is reaching the end of his time on earth.  God calls Elisha to replace Elijah as a prophet to the nation of Israel in the 9th century B.C.  In real time, God speaks to Elijah, who then speaks to Elisha about God’s plan.  Yet, we should take notice of what Elisha is doing when Elijah shows up.

It is important to see that Elisha is not seeking to be a prophet.  He is not taking night classes on how to be a prophet, and neither is he following the prophet around like a groupie.  Elisha is clearly one of those 7,000 faithful believers that God had told Elijah about in verse 18 of this chapter.  He is not just faithful in that he refused to worship Baal and continued to worship the God of Israel.   He is also faithful to those general calls that God had put on his life.  We find him out in the field plowing with the oxen and eleven other teams.  It is enough for him to be a faithful servant of God within Israel, and faithfully serving on the family farm with his extended family.  It is also clear that Elisha comes from a wealthy family, in light of the previous drought and the large number of oxen plowing.  There are many who want to be a prophet so bad that they can taste it.  They study prophets and even seek them out and try to get them to notice them.   It is as if they are trying to call themselves.  This is a mistake and involves our flesh more than the Spirit of God.  It is our flesh that wants notoriety rather than faithfulness that gets no press.  Just as James warns people about seeking to be a teacher (because they will receive a stricter judgment), so we should recognize that desiring to be a prophet puts one in a similar position.  You do not want to be a prophet if God hasn’t called you to it.  “Calling ourselves” is not the proper way.  We must learn to be content with the calling that God has given to us, to simply live our life in honor to Jesus.  1 Corinthians 7:20 says, “Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called.”  Today, there is a general sense in which all who follow Jesus are prophets to this nation.  We are called to invite everyone to follow Jesus and receive God’s salvation.  We do this on behalf of God and for the benefit of the lost.  However, there are times when things come into our life out of the blue and we weren’t expecting them.  Yet, in those moments God may be calling us to serve in a different way, or at least an added way that is very specific and not general.

Technically Elijah doesn’t tell Elisha that he is called.  Instead he uses his mantle as a word picture that says it for him.  The mantle spoken of here would have been an outer cloak that typically still had the hair attached to it.  It was an article of clothing that was associated with kings and prophets, and was a symbol of their calling and authority.  When Elijah throws his mantle onto Elisha, Elisha knows immediately what Elijah means by it.  Now, as symbols go, we see in the Bible a tendency of humans (i.e. us) to be overly fascinated with the object rather than the truth that it represents.  Later, Elisha will be given the mantle of Elijah as Elijah is taken away from this earth.  But the mantle is not some kind of talisman that will ensure Elisha’s success, any more than the ark of the covenant could ensure the success of the wicked sons of Eli (see 1 Samuel 4).  Rather, the mantle points to the God of heaven who is calling a person and puts a heavy job upon them.  Those whom God calls, He has prepared spiritually.  He will also place His power and authority upon them in order to do the task at hand.  At this moment Elijah is still alive and the mantle still belongs to him.  But if Elisha will follow Elijah like the disciples followed Jesus, then the role of prophet will come to him in the proper time.  Thus Elisha has a decision to make.  He can keep the wealth of his family, the security of working a farm and not meddling in politics, or he can leave it all and follow Elijah onto Israel’s Top 10 Most Wanted list.

Elisha accepts the call, but wants to say goodbye to his family.  Note that no words have happened yet.  Elijah threw his mantle on Elisha and just kept on walking.  So Elisha runs to catch up with Elijah in order to explain that he will follow him.  Now this situation is somewhat reminiscent of a couple of verses in Luke 9:61-62.  This passage speaks of a person that was called to follow Jesus but said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”  Jesus replied by saying, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Typically the words of Jesus are presented in the sense of saying the guy failed for asking to say goodbye.  Thus Jesus is telling him he “failed the entrance test.”  We should be careful of jumping to that conclusion in light of our passage today.  Elisha is not rebuked and goes on to follow Elijah.  It is most likely that Jesus is not rejecting the guy, but rather warning him.  Family doesn’t always understand when God calls us to something out of the ordinary or general call of God.  Even family of Jesus thought that he was going crazy at first.  Yes, you can say goodbye.  But recognize that the pull on your heartstrings can put you in a situation of only half-heartedly serving God.  If you are going to go out into the field you need to plow looking forward.  Perhaps Jesus is even alluding to this passage.  God has nothing against family and saying goodbye.  However, good things can get in the way of a hard task that God calls us to.  Like Elijah, Elisha is about to become a hunted man that the Lord leads, who knows where, and for many years at a time.  Just as Israel followed Moses into the wilderness only to keep thinking about the things that they left behind in Egypt, and just as Lot’s wife looked back to the city of Sodom that she was leaving behind, so our hearts can get stuck looking backwards to things that we think were better.  The point is not about saying goodbye, but about where your heart is.  To follow god is not always easy, and is not always understood by others.  In the end we see that Jesus warns the man in Luke.  But Elijah let’s Elisha go back without any such warning.  In fact his retort is basically, “Do what you want, what have I done to you.”  Yet, even this phrase has a subtle and unsaid aspect to it.  It makes one think, just what has Elijah done to Elisha?  This subtle reminder points out what is at stake.  Do you want to be a prophet or not?

Elisha does go back.  But he slaughters the oxen that he plowed with and used their yoke and equipment as fuel to cook them.  In a sense he is burning his bridge behind him and sending a message to his family.  I’m done farming.  I will now follow the prophet of God.  Obviously with such expressions as “burn your bridge behind you,” the situation is glossed over.  The truth is that even when we “burn our bridges,” or as in Elisha’s case burn our oxen, there is a way back.  One can follow the river long enough to find another way to cross.  Elisha could return and his family would gladly receive him regardless of the oxen he slaughtered.  So with all symbolic gestures they are that, symbols.  The symbol has no meaning if the thing to which it points is not lived out.  Thus it says in verse 21, “Then he arose and followed Elijah, and became his servant.”

Becoming a prophet is not about having power and prestige in the presence of others.  The true prophets of God have always been hated by most of the people of their day.  It is only when they are dead that people tend to honor them and decorate their graves.  If we are to put the calling of God into a single word, it would have to be “servant, or service.”  A prophet served God as a voice to the people, and they served the people as a means of hearing what God thought about their life, king, nation, etc.  God does not call everyone to a specific task of being a prophet to their nation.  However, put aside what you think would be great.  Instead, focus on what God has given you in the present.  Jesus is inviting you to live your life for His purposes instead of your own.  Your relationships, job, etc. all can be a means of serving yourself, or a means of serving God.  When you are using these things to whole-heartedly serve Jesus, and you are content with the tasks that He has given you, then and only then are you truly ready to receive any further call from the Lord.  Let’s be a ready people.

Ready for the Call audio

Tuesday
Jan092018

When The Godly Are Discouraged II

1 Kings 19:9-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 7, 2018.

When we last left Elijah, he was in an extremely depressed and discouraged state.  He felt like a failure and wanted to die.  Instead of giving Elijah what he wanted, God sends an angel to strengthen Elijah and send him to Mt. Horeb, also known as Mt. Sinai, in order to meet with the Lord.  Today’s passage opens with Elijah’s arrival at the mountain, and what he finds there is what all of us need to find during the wilderness times of our life.  Yes, Elijah meets with God.  However, he also receives a revelation of just how God operates.  Have you ever felt like God wasn’t doing what He should be doing?  Have your expectations been one thing, but reality is quite another?  It is important to recognize that our human perceptions, of what is happening and how things are going, usually misunderstand God.  All people who want to be righteous in this world will have to face this reality and learn to let go of those thoughts that have caused us to want to quit living for the Lord, or at least quit living.  When we are discouraged, we need to get alone with God and seek Him until He gives us what we need to continue on the path that He has put before us.

God let’s Elijah vent

In verse 9 we see that Elijah has arrived at the mountain.  He goes up on it and finds a cave to shelter in for the night.  This is the same mountain where Moses met with God when Israel was coming out of Egypt.  Some have even speculated that this cave might be the same “cleft in the rock” that Moses hid in as God revealed Himself to him.  Regardless there is a clear parallel going on between the two accounts.  In part one of this passage we saw that God cares about the godly when they are discouraged.  He had sent an angel to minister to Elijah in body, and with instruction of what to do next.  Here we also see that God gives room for Elijah to continue venting his emotions.  Yes, Elijah feels like a failure and wants to quit, but there is more to it than that.

God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here?”  We could think of this as a silly question because it appears that the angel is the one who told Elijah to journey to Horeb.  However, the angel found Elijah over 115 miles south of Jezreel in the wilderness of Beersheba under a broom tree praying for God to kill him.  There is no indication in the text anywhere that God sent Elijah there.  Instead, every indication is that he is discouraged and afraid of the threat of Jezebel.  So God’s question is not silly, it is extremely important.  Elijah is not where he is supposed to be.  The prophet of the Lord, who had gone so long trusting the Lord and obeying His every word, now is struggling.  He seems to have run off to Horeb, much like Jonah jumped on the ship, although for very different reasons.  It is important for to stop and allow the Holy Spirit to ask us this question from time to time.  What am I doing here?  Am I where God wants me to be, doing what He wants me to do?  Or, have I become too discouraged and fled away from the work that He has called me to?  Some have abandoned spouses, children.  Some have abandoned churches and fellow believers.  We may even have abandoned the mission that Jesus has given us in our daily life.  In such cases, you need to understand that God confronts Elijah in order to get him back on track.  God cares about Elijah.

However, we don’t have to be in the wrong place doing the wrong things to ask this question.  Even those who are trying to be faithful to God need a reminder from time to time why God has them where they are and what they should be doing.  We get into ruts and run on auto-pilot at times.  This may keep things going, but it can also cause us to lose sight of what God’s call is for us.  May all we do be for God and to His glory.

This question opens the door for Elijah to explain just what is eating him inside.  His complaint to God begins with the contrast between his faithfulness to the God of Israel and the unfaithfulness of the other Israelites.  The children of Israel had abandoned God’s covenant (vs. 10).  This word translated as “forsaken” has the idea of being untied and let to go free.  Israel had made a covenant with God and thus they were obligated or tied to keeping the covenant.  However, most people in Israel in those days had cut off or broken those ties, whether externally or internally.  They had come to a point where they no longer felt obligated to keep the Law of Moses.  Now, for them to abandon the Law that God had given is to abandon God Himself.

Do we understand that at the heart of the Bible is the revelation that the Creator is an abandoned and forsaken being?  God understands the heart of the forsaken and abandoned person because He has been in that position for a very long time.  Jesus Himself represents the perfect picture of the Father, when he is executed in public as an outcast of His people.  In contrast to Israel’s abandonment of God is Elijah’s intentional zeal towards the Lord.  Elijah had bravely and zestfully followed the covenant of God and had stood with the God of Israel during His time of abandonment.  Do we not have such a condition in our nation today?  All across this nation, people are daily abandoning God.  Of course there are many who are being saved and taking a stand with Jesus.  Yet, my emphasis is this question.  Will you stand with God during His time of public abandonment and even public crucifixion?  It is not an easy thing to do and is very discouraging at times.  Indeed, we cannot do it in our flesh and by sheer will power alone.  We need the help of God Himself to enable us by His Spirit.

Elijah points out that they had not only abandoned the covenant, but they had also torn down God’s altars.  They weren’t content to quit worshipping the God of Israel.  They also had to tear down the altars to make it difficult for others to keep worshipping Him.  Altars represent the place where we meet with God and deal with sin, but also enter into intimate fellowship.  Today, we do not build up rocks and sacrifice animals to draw near to God.  However, by faith and through prayer, we approach God, confess our sins, and enter into intimacy with Him.  Don’t follow those who are tearing down the altars in their own life, and making it hard for others.  Be a person who is faithful to have your own altar of prayer before the Lord in your daily life.

Lastly, Elijah points out that they have killed the prophets of God and Elijah was the only one left.  On top of that they were trying to snuff out his life.  Even worse than their sin, they had killed the prophets of God.  All who seek to be righteous in a time when society is headed in the other direction will feel like a person who has been driven into the wilderness of society and then hunted like a fox on the run.  Whether metaphorically or literally, all who seek to follow the Lord will feel like society has released its hounds to seek them out and destroy their lives.  Sometimes these hounds have official titles, like Attorney General, and use the cover of law to hound those who are trying to serve God.  They hound little old ladies who have the audacity to try and run a business in a way that pleases God.  This is a discouraging place to get to.  But don’t forget that God cares about the righteous, especially when they are discouraged.  He has not abandoned you.  As God told Joshua, I will not leave you nor forsake you, so Jesus says to those who will follow Him, “I am with you , even to the end of the age.”  Friend, God knows it is hard.  He even shows us through Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane that this discouragement is a necessary part of following Him.  Lay down those fears and anger at His altar and take the nail-scarred hand of Jesus.  Let Him lead you forward.

God reveals Himself to Elijah

It is not that Elijah hasn’t known God.  Rather, he has some misperceptions about God that must be dispelled.   In verses 11-14 we are given a scene where the Lord tells Elijah to come out onto the side of the mountain before the Lord.  The text says that the “Lord passed by.”  As I said earlier there is an intentional parallel between this account and the account of Moses in Exodus 34.  In Exodus 34, Moses actually sees a receding glorious form.  But here, Elijah does not see a form.  Instead he sees all manner of natural forces coincidentally happening one after the other.  In the end Elijah only hears the voice of God, but that is enough.  There is a part of all of us that would demand that God come down from the heavens and show Himself to us all.  We can kick and scream that it isn’t fair that God doesn’t make it more obvious.  However, all throughout the Bible, we see that those who saw the greatest miracles and proofs of the greatness of God often didn’t serve him any better.  They were just as quick as we to get discouraged in the days and weeks after the amazing acts of God.  Woe to the person who needs God to come down out of the heaven because when He does come down, it will most likely be too late to get things right.  But, blessed is the person who doesn’t see and yet believes.  Such a person will find the Lord gracious in his time of need.

This scene teaches us something about God.  Elijah had expected something great to change the fortunes of Israel.  So God sends him a ferocious wind that is breaking rocks off the side of the hill.  Yet, it says God wasn’t in the wind.  Next an earthquake shakes the mountain, and yet, God is not in the earthquake.  Lastly a fire roars up the side of the mountain, and yet again, the Lord is not in the fire.  Now, on one hand it is clear that God is orchestrating these “natural” events.    However, each time Elijah thought, “Surely God will speak now.”  But God was silent in between each powerful event.  Elijah wanted God to keep doing big and great things, and these three signs symbolized what was in Elijah’s heart.  Yet, God wasn’t in those things. 

It seems that Elijah had gone back into the cave, probably in order to survive the natural disasters that kept striking.  Then it came, a still, small voice that Elijah could barely hear.  He goes out on the side of the mountain and there that still, small voice says the exact same thing that God said at first, “Elijah, what are you doing here?”   Elijah will answer in verse 14 exactly as he did back in verse 10.  But something is different now.  God has shown Elijah something that he didn’t see before.  Yes, God can bring down fire from heaven, He can send hurricanes, earthquakes, and great fires.  In fact, the Bible says that in the last days God will send such devastating things to those who dwell on the earth.  And in general, they won’t hear Him in it.  They won’t repent and turn back to God.  You see, if your heart is in the right place, you only need to hear a still, small voice, just a whisper to believe.  You only have to hear of the Son of God hanging on a cross at Mt. Calvary and in that moment a still, small voice is in your mind whispering, “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to Him.”  Yes, God can do big things.  But people who respond to such big things run out of devotion quick.  But, those who respond to the still, small voice are those who can walk through the fire with Jesus.

God gives Elijah the next tasks

Now that Elijah is listening and has a better understanding that God has His own way of doing things, and it isn’t always a cosmic display of power, God gives him the next mission.  Elijah has travelled over 300 miles to hear God tell Him to go back to where he was and go to work.  However, don’t be discouraged.  Sometimes we have to travel an extra 40 years in the wilderness in order to get our hearts in the right place.  God cares about His servants and works with us in our weakness.  He is willing to travel with us during those times when we are discouraged and have our hands hanging down, or even when we are going away from our place of duty.  May God help us to not run from our place of duty.  But, instead, may we learn to stop and retreat into our prayer closet.  We need not go to a particular place miles and miles away.  We only need to go to a particular being and wait upon Him to give us what we need.

The task that God gives Elijah is to anoint Hazael as King over Syria and to anoint Jehu as King over Israel.  Clearly God is letting Elijah know that the time for King Ahab’s rule is coming to an end.  Ahab and Jezebel have refused to repent and thus God will remove them in His perfect timing, not Elijah’s.  Lastly God tells Elijah to anoint Elisha as a prophet in his place.  This would have been a very encouraging word to Elijah.  All people who spend the strength of their life laboring in blood, sweat, and tears at the work of the Lord wonder, “Whose gonna take my place when I’m gone?”  Is this the last generation?  Is it all going to end with me?  Has it all been for nothing?  Ultimately, we are to trust the Lord.  He is always faithful to raise up workers in every generation who desire to be faithful to Him in fact let us notice verse 18.

God corrects Elijah’s perception that He is the only one left.  God tells him that He has reserved 7,000 who have not bowed down to the idol of Baal.  The word reserved is connected to the term remnant.  But it emphasizes an action of God.  God had left for Himself 7,000 people in Israel who had not abandoned Him.  Elijah wasn’t alone and his faithful service to the Lord was more encouraging to those 7,000 than he could know.  Throughout history the wicked have devised acts rebellion against God.  The righteous always refuse to join with them in their folly.  Like those who in the end times will refuse to take the mark of the beast, so God’s people of every generation have refused to take on the actions of the rebels.

May we recognize that we do not perceive things as they truly are.  We can only see the outside and that is often masked and pretended.  But God sees the heart.  Even today, He has way  more than 7,000 globally who are refusing to bow their knees to the spirit of this age.  Let us resolve to be just such a remnant that the Lord has reserved for Himself in our generation.

godly discouraged II

Monday
Jan012018

When The Godly Are Discouraged

1 Kings 19:1-8.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 31, 2017.

Here we are on the last day of 2017 facing the New Year.  Some of you may be excited and chomping at the bit, but chances are, there are many who are discouraged from what has happened in the past.  This is a normal experience for all human beings.  However, for believers in Jesus there is an added weight upon their shoulders and that is the call of God upon our lives.  Yes, Jesus said his burden in light and I believe that.  However, we must be honest about discouragement if we are going to overcome it. 

So part of my encouragement today is to remind you that, if you are discouraged, you are in good company.  All the godly men and women from every generation have felt this very same discouragement from time to time.  Now I am not saying that discouragement is a good thing, only that it is a normal thing.  Let’s be honest many times we get even more discouraged because we think that we shouldn’t be discouraged at all.  We can build up an inner cycle of despising ourselves, trying harder, being discouraged again, and despising ourselves. 

Today we will look at a time in the life of Elijah, the powerful prophet of God.  Here we will see that he too was discouraged, and even on the heels of a great success.  May God help us to lay our discouragements before Him and receive the strength and courage that we need to rise up and live for Him.

There is resistance to the move of God

Chapter 19 of 1 Kings opens up in the city of Jezreel.  Take time to remind yourselves of what had just happened up on the top of Mt. Carmel with fire coming down from heaven on Elijah’s sacrifice.  When Elijah enters Jezreel, he clearly believes that God is putting down Baal worship in Israel and lifting up the righteous.  Perhaps he even believes King Ahab, who witnessed the powerful display of Yahweh over the top of the impotence of Baal, will finally repent and start serving Yahweh, the God of Israel.  However, this sense of victory does not last long.  Yes, God is doing something in Israel.  He is on the move, but not everyone likes it.

Just as Elijah had been a strong leader towards serving the One, True God of Israel, so Jezebel is a strong leader for evil and worshipping Baal.  In contrast to these two individuals, King Ahab appears to be a weak leader who is like a deer in the headlights, frozen and not sure what to do.  He hadn’t been strong in worshipping Yahweh in his past, which eventually led to an alliance with Sidon and marriage to the daughter of the king of Sidon.  This opened the door to the worship of Baal.  It starts with building a temple for his wife to worship her god, and then little by little she convinces Ahab that Baal is a greater god.  At some point Ahab follows her lead and promotes Baal worship for all Israel, while hunting down and killing the prophets of the God of Israel.  There are always many different leaders in a nation that are vying for one direction or another.  We do not always have such clear contrast between a godly leader that fully leads in God’s directions versus an evil leader that fully leads in Satan’s direction.  That said, we have similar resistance to what God is trying to do in our country.  Like Jezebel, they are not impressed by the Word of God and the power of God that is displayed in His people.  They will continue to resist and fight against what God is trying to do.  Jezebel knows that this is about more than religion and whose god is stronger.  This is about power over a nation and Elijah is messing with her power over Ahab and the rest of Israel.  In the face of clear proof of just who is God, she becomes extremely brazen and seems not to flinch.  More than likely Jezebel is actually an atheist that uses religion as a cover and a means for power.  Even though Baal failed on Mt. Carmel, she doesn’t care.  She is going to use her position to protect her power.  Thus we see her threaten Elijah’s life.

Many have questioned why Jezebel would send word to Elijah that she was going to kill him within the next 24 hours.  Why not just do it?  Some suggest that she knew that Elijah’s new found popularity would not take his execution lightly.  It could backfire on her.  Perhaps the threat is an attempt to get Elijah to go back into the wilderness, as was his mode of operating so far.  His presence is meddling and will only force the issue.  She knows that if she can get him to leave, then she can start the damage control and spin everything back to her and Baal.  His leaving will also take the confidence out of those who saw the powerful work of Elijah, but don’t really know the God of Israel.  The absence of his strong faith will leave them alone with their weak faith.  This is a possibility and is definitely filled with speculation.  Regardless, Jezebel tells Elijah that she is going to have him killed. 

Now, resistance to what God is doing is not always so drastic.  It can be something as simple as a person being cynical, always putting the motivations of others in the worse possible light, and passive aggressively claiming the problem is all with the other side.  However it appears, resistance to what God is doing is always present in one form or another.  As Christians, it is important that we learn to fight against the very, human nature to be a sheep in the flock following the herd.  Just as shepherd use dogs to herd the sheep, so power players use problems in society to herd the majority towards a particular solution.  Also called the Hegelian dialectic, this tendency to avoid problems by looking for the easy solution, or most accessible solution, is a weakness within the race of humanity.  We must refuse to be a manipulated people by the leaders in our nation (whether liberal or conservative).  This does not mean that we should purposefully embrace “problematic things” in order to thwart the manipulators.  Often, this is part of the manipulation.  Instead of trying to be smarter and “out-fox” our manipulators, we must look to God as the leader from whom we take our cues.

Elijah flees for his life

In verses 3-4, we see that Elijah doesn’t take long to flee Jezreel.  We are told that Elijah flees to Beersheba in the southern border of the Kingdom of Judah.  In fact he leaves his servant in Beersheba and travels a day into the wilderness.  Clearly, Elijah is trying to put as much distance and political opposition in between him and Jezebel.  Here is a link to a map that will help visualize this trek.  Jezreel is in between the Kishon River and the Jordan River, just south of the Sea of Galilee.  Beeersheba is labeled and is around 115 miles from Jezreel (depending on his route).  Later he is going to journey to Mt. Horeb (which is another name for Mt. Sinai).  There is a dispute regarding the location of Mt. Sinai.  Some believe it is in the Sinai Peninsula and others believe it is on the Saudi Arabian Peninsula.  Regardless to which is correct, God will tell Elijah to go to Mt. Horeb/Mt. Sinai, which is another 200 plus miles south of Beersheba either way.

This brings up the question regarding persecution that has been an important one for the godly throughout all of history.  Is it wrong to run from persecution and threats?  We can be quick to say that a truly spiritual person would stand without fear in the face of the wicked.  Yet, the Scriptures reveal an answer that is more complicated than that.  The apostles of Jesus would go from one city to another depending on the resistance and persecution that they received there.  Jesus even told his disciples that if people did not receive them positively, they were to shake the dust off their feet and move on.  We see the Apostle Paul sneaking out of a city at night by being let out of the city wall through a window.  Jesus himself purposefully avoided Jerusalem throughout much of his ministry because it “wasn’t his time, yet.”    All of the apostles followed the example of Jesus.  As long as they believed God wanted them to keep spreading the gospel, they ran from persecution.  But when they knew it was God’s will for them to stand and give witness before the wicked, even to the point of death, they bravely stopped running.  Jesus marched into Jerusalem knowing that he would be arrested and crucified.  Yet, this was God’s plan.  Paul sailed from Asia Minor and walked into Jerusalem knowing that he would be arrested taken to Rome and eventually martyred.  Yet, he knew it was God’s will at that point in time.  The key is to recognize that the agenda is not set by man (whether the wicked or the righteous).  The agenda is set by God.  The question cannot be answered by a church official declaring the truth for all the godly at all times.  The question can only be answered by a believer who has taken the time to seek the face of God and hear from Him what He is asking of them.  When God says run, then run.  When God says stand still and see the deliverance of the Lord, then stand still.  But sometimes He says to stand still and lay down your life for me.  So the right question to ask is this, “Is God telling me to run or stand.”  We don’t see in the text any sense that Elijah has prayed about this.   In fact, when he gets to the wilderness south of Beersheba he cries out to God.

His prayer is in verse 4 and several things stick out.  He has had enough and asks God to take his life.  Yes, he could have died by staying in Jezreel, but clearly he would rather die at the hands of a merciful God than at the hands of wicked Jezebel.  Secondly, he reasons that he is no better than his fathers,  that is a failure.  Just as the fathers of Israel had failed to stop the country falling into Baal worship under wicked leadership, Elijah feels like a failure too.  He went into Jezreel thinking that the tide was turning and Israel would turn back to Yahweh.  But Jezebel’s threat awakened him to the reality that it wasn’t going to happen, at least as long as Ahab and her were on the throne.

On one hand we can see that this is not one of his famous prayers of faith.  In fact, God is going to deny his request.  On the other hand, have you ever felt this way?  “God I want to die because I am such a failure!”  Maybe it wasn’t that drastic.  Maybe it was simply, “I quit because I am such a failure.”  It is not up to us when we die or when we should quit.  In fact it is not up to us whether we are a failure or not.  Elijah feels like a failure because he failed to turn Israel back to Yahweh.  But that is his expectation and definition.  The real question is what is God’s expectation and definition.  Now there are times when we think we have failed because it is difficult and not going in the direction we hope.  However, there are times when we truly have failed.  In either case, God hears our prayer and will not abandon us, even if they are prayers that lack great faith. 

Elijah has fled the situation, but at least he is doing the right thing.  He is fleeing man in order to seek God.  A retreat can be good if we use it to refocus ourselves on God and seek His will.  It can be good if we regroup our thoughts and let God give us the courage to go back into the fray with His directions.  It is not how perfect our prayers our, but whether or not our heart looks to man (others or ourselves) or to God.

God still cares

In verses 5-8 the scene shows us that God cares about Elijah.  He doesn’t treat Elijah like He is a Marine drill sergeant.  Instead, God first sends an angel to minister to Elijah’s physical needs.  Though the passage doesn’t specify that this is an angel (messenger) from heaven, it seems the most logical explanation of what the writer intends.  Twice an angel wakes Elijah up out of a stress-induced sleep and makes him eat bread and drink water.  There is also an emotional side to this care as well.  In times of great stress and discouragement, we tend to isolate ourselves and pull away from others.  However, we still need physical care and touch in those times.  Discouraged people are horrible at taking care of themselves, which adds to their stress.  God sees Elijah’s condition and sends an angel to minister to him.  You are not alone.  God sees your situation.  Here, eat some bread and drink some water.  The angel tells him that he has a long journey ahead of him (apparently to Mt. Horeb/Mt. Sinai).  We don’t have to have a heavenly angel, though a part of us may desire that.  As fellow believers, we need to be listening to God enough that we can hear Him telling us to be such an angel (human messenger in this case) for one another.  We can be so focused on our own problems that we don’t see those in our life that God wants to use us to encourage.  Great encouragement can be found in looking beyond your own problems and seeing the problems of others.  In the end, discouraged people need to know that God still cares for them, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The angel says something very powerful in verse 7.  He says, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.”  Now there is a literal level in which it is true that going 200 miles to Mt. Horeb without food would be too great a journey for anyone.  In fact even the two meals themselves are not enough in the natural.  Yet, the journey to Horeb is also a metaphor for the call of God on Elijah’s life to be a prophet of the Lord in Israel.  When God puts a call on our life, He always calls us to something that is too great for us (alone or in our flesh).  The journey is always too great for us.  Our flesh is always excited about the call of God at the beginning.  Alright God, let’s do this, we say.  But eventually, down the road, our flesh will grow weary and we will be tempted to complain, rebel, or simply give up in to discouragement.  This will happen whether is something small like being a faithful spouse and raising a family, or something as great as being a prophet to a nation, or a political leader. 

The key in this passage is that God has a particular provision for Elijah.  The angel gives Elijah important information, go to Mt. Horeb.  The angel also gives him bread and water.  All of these things are themselves part of the metaphor of the journey.  If we attempt it on our own and with our own natural provisions (information=wisdom and bread/water=strength), we will always find ourselves in such a moment as Elijah does.  In fact, I think even knowing this is the case cannot spare us.  We are just too practiced in leaning on our natural abilities and provisions to do the will of God.  All godly people will experience such moments and generally at multiple times throughout your life.  It is a necessary growing pain in which we learn to let go of dependence on what we can do and to lean into dependence upon what God is doing.  God has made provision for us and we must depend upon it.  That provision comes in the Truth/Information of God’s Word in the Bible.  But, it also comes to us through spiritual bread and water that God supplies.  Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 4:13-14, “Whoever drinks this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.  But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”  The water of Jesus is the Truth about God and what He is doing.  To us it feels like He is slacking or even nonexistent at times.  But, the truth is that God loves us very much and has moved heaven and earth to make it possible for us to be with Him.  Like refreshing water to a thirsty man, this truth sets us free from the manipulations of the world and the manipulations of our own fleshly desires.  Jesus also said a couple of chapters later in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”  Drinking the water of Christ and eating the bread of life is the same thing.  It is a day by day, moment by moment, believing Jesus, trusting him.  When we are discouraged, we are tempted to give up hope and faith.  But, if we will cry out to God, He will give us provision for our journey.  We can do all things…through Christ who strengthens us (spiritually).

I encourage you to let go of the expectations of what you think should or is going to happen.  Simply be faithful to do what God has given you to do.  Be a faithful spouse, not because it is becoming everything you dream.  Be a faithful parent, not because your kids are perfect.  Rather, do it because God has called you to do it and will reward you for your faithfulness.  Trust Him and see what marvels He will do that you had no clue were in His plan.

Godly Discouraged

Tuesday
Dec262017

He Shall Be Called Emmanuel

Matthew 1:18-25.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 24, 2017.

We apologize that there is no audio for this sermon.

Today we are going to look at a passage in Matthew regarding the birth of Jesus.  His name tells us something about him through its meaning- the salvation of God.  Christians look to Jesus as God’s answer to their problems and those of the world.  No matter what is ailing you today, or bothering you about the world, God’s word tells us that Jesus has an answer for it. 

Yet, as we will see today, He is also called Immanuel, which means God with us.  Thus, no matter how alone we may feel today, whether Christian or not, God is as close as the mention of His name.  When we read the Scriptures about Jesus, we are being introduced to the one who is God’s presence with us, both personally and as a world.  I encourage you to not see just a story of peace and good times.  We must also recognize that it is a story of an answer from God that involves His presence with us in the midst of our difficulties and even our own failures.  Jesus is God with us, even when we don’t recognize him, or even when we think he is absent, or even when we may think that we have failed him completely.  Today we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Savior of the World, who is still with us, even though we may feel abandoned.

The Birth of Jesus

Jesus was born at a particular point in time.  His life was so monumental that much of the world has used his birth in their system of dating time.  Thus B.C. came to mean “before Christ” and A.D. is from a Latin phrase that is short for “in the year of our Lord.”  Lately it has become vogue and even proper within the sciences to use B.C.E. for “Before the Common Era” and C.E. for the “Common Era.”  Of course they still switch at a date that is roughly the birth of Jesus. [Note: There has been much study on exactly what year Jesus was born and many believing that Jesus may have been several years old at 1 A.D.  Regardless, for our purposes it is still pertinent to the point.]  Think of it, it is a blatant fact that the Jewish man named Jesus from the first century C.E./A.D. has impossibly affected this world.

So our story picks up with a crisis that has to do with two people who have been betrothed to each other, but not yet married.  Mary has become pregnant and her only explanation to Joseph is that an angel appeared to her and told her that she would become pregnant with a child by the power of the Holy Spirit of God.  Now it is easy to scoff at such a story.  Joseph did not immediately believe her, and neither did the society around her.  The Gospels record some harsh digs made towards Jesus by the Pharisees.  They saw him as an illegitimate child.  So this is not a problem that those backwards ancient people were easily duped because they didn’t understand science.  Everyone knew that if a girl is pregnant then there has been sperm inserted in her by a man.  Now if Jesus had grown up to be just a normal Jewish man then nothing more would have been said.  However, Jesus did not grow up to be a normal man.  Instead he became such an amazing figure that the whole world is marked by his life today.  So we can’t just toss this aside as mythology or propaganda.

Chastity has been a big issue in most cultures throughout history.  It appears that Mary has been unfaithful and Joseph is struggling over how to break off the marriage without doing too much harm to Mary.  Now our culture has gone from being one that prized chastity before marriage and fidelity during it, to tossing both into the garbage bin.  This culture encourages our sons and daughters to be promiscuous and faithful only to themselves and their own desire for pleasure.  If Mary were in our day, our society would tell her to go to the nearest Planned Parenthood Clinic and get an abortion.  This child will ruin your life if you have it.  But Mary is not a modern woman who is pregnant because of some guy she met in the market.  She was a virgin who had abstained from sex and was saving herself for her husband to be, Joseph.  Her pregnancy creates a problem for her, people will see her as unfaithful, but it also creates a problem for Joseph.  If he doesn’t break off the marriage people will see it as an admission of guilt, i.e. Mary and he had been sexually active before the wedding.  In such a situation you can imagine Mary telling God that it wasn’t fair.  However, previously Mary had stated to the angel, “Behold, the maidservant of the Lord.  Let it be unto me as you have said.”  No difficulty is too great if it is done for the Lord’s purposes.   As I said, in our culture this used to be a big thing.  However, it is probably hard for us to understand just how difficult a crisis this was.  Joseph doesn’t want to publicly humiliate Mary, but for his own honor, he must break off the marriage. 

Just as God had a job for Mary, so God has a job for Joseph.   An Angel appears to him in a dream, verifies Mary’s story, tells Joseph to take Mary as his wife, and to name the baby, Jesus.  The term angel is used in the bible in several ways.  It basically means messenger, whether human or heavenly.  So the context will determine which is intended.  It is easy to read the Bible and to think that angels were showing up all the time.  However, the truth is that they were few and far between.  But, at special times their activity would increase.  This was one of those special times.

Sometimes people make a big deal out of how the name Jesus should be printed and said.  Some say it must be the original version in Aramaic or a Hebrew equivalent, such as Yeshua.  Some will even claim that to use any name but some ancient form of Yeshua is the same as calling on a false God.  However, this just doesn’t make sense.  It is common throughout history and even today to recognize that names change from language to language.  Sometimes names are simply transliterated.  This is where you go sound by sound and choose which target-language letter mimics it closest.  However, this sometimes creates a name that is weird or strange sounding in the new language.  So it can also be translated.  The meaning in the first language is brought over into the new language and a new name is created.  The name Jesus in English has been transliterated from the Hebrew to Greek and then into English.  It is basically a transliteration with a modified ending to make it more Greek (and then eventually English).  Even the Hebrews in the Scriptures would use Hebraicized forms of the names from other countries.  It seems an overly dogmatic point to try and state that if you pray in the name of Jesus, that God will reject you.  He knows all along that who you are praying to and who you mean when you use that name.  Jesus is the one who is God’s salvation/solution for the world.  As Mary was a righteous girl asked to do something that would cause tongues to wag all over town, so too, Joseph is a righteous man who is asked to come alongside of her in this endeavor.  This is all because God needed to send a savior into the world.

In verses 22-25 we drop out of the story and Matthew, one of the disciples of Jesus, explains the critical importance of all of this.  The birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy and it becomes an important teaching or doctrine of all of his followers.  The prophets of the Old Testament had often pointed forward to a coming savior or Messiah, who would be God’s solution to the crisis of mankind’s rebellion against Him.  Our outline today speaks of Mary and Joseph’s crisis and God’s solution.  But it is parallel to a greater crisis of mankind’s rebellion and God’s solution.  We were created in perfect relationship with God until the crisis of sin in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3).  God initially tells them that He has a plan to solve this crisis, and slowly over the course of many years He reveals more and more what that solution will be.  Some have counted as many as 353 different prophecies regarding the first coming of Jesus.  Of course it comes down to how you count a prophecy.  Here is a link to a website that breaks it up by each individual new fact that is prophesied in the Old Testament and then gives the fulfillment in the New Testament.  Now the statistical chances of one person fulfilling 353 different prophecies are so close to zero that we can say it is nigh impossible.   Yet, Jesus did.  But here Matthew only points to one prophecy in Isaiah 7:14.  This prophecy says that a virgin would give birth to a son as a sign that God was going to help those who would trust Him.  In that prophecy, however, the baby is to be called Emmanuel.  Now the Old Testament spells it Immanuel.  This is the difference in the Hebrew spelling versus the Greek spelling.  So it refers to the same name.  The meaning of Emmanuel is “God is with us.”

Such a name brings to attention the ancient problem of the nearness of God.  In the technical sense God is omnipresent and thus always near even the worst of sinners.  He is everywhere at once because He is not a part of this material creation.  But don’t think that means He can’t interact with the universe.  Yet, when mankind rebelled against God, it created a relational separation.  The fractured relationship is what causes us to feel that He is so far away that He might as well not exist.  The name Emmanuel is intended to give the hope that God is fixing this separation in our relationship through Jesus.   On one hand Jesus is divine and thus “God with us.”  He came down from heaven and entered a human body that was especially made for Him to inhabit.  I won’t get into the complexities of what that could have looked like.  So in Jesus, God has come down to Earth in order to help us.  Now, most religions, whether false religions or Christian cults, are man’s attempt to be good enough.  Somehow they teach men how to climb up Mt. Olympus and take their place among the gods.  Like some kind of spiritual Hercules we hope to make it.  However, true Christianity recognizes that no one is good enough to climb into the heavens.  God’s solution is not to save the greatest of mankind, who can climb into His presence.  His plan is to come down to us, into the muck and the mire of the trenches in which we live.  He comes down into the ugliness of sin and lifts us up out of it one day at a time.  This emphasizes the other hand.  Yes, Jesus is divine, but He has come down to our level, “God with us.”  God wants to dwell with mankind, but in our rebellious condition He can’t.  So isn’t it ironic that Jesus, who is called Emmanuel, has ascended into heaven and we wait for Him again?  You have to see God as an artist to appreciate this touch.  Yes, Jesus is no longer physically near us.  But, He is near us through the Holy Spirit.  Just as the prophecy of His first coming was fulfilled, so the prophecies of His second coming will be fulfilled.  However, now we have the reality of Emmanuel and the countless thousands who saw his life and death.  Then we also see the reality of over 500 witnesses to His resurrection.  The testimony that has been given to us is that, regardless of how much it feels that God has abandoned us, or is far, far away, God is with us!  The birth of Jesus forever vanquishes the horrible thought that we might have been abandoned, and replaces it with the awe inspiring Truth that God will see us through.  This is the amazing gift of Jesus to mankind.  He is proof that God is with us and He is the One who has taken away the sins that have separated us from God.  Amen!