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Weekly Word

Monday
Jul172017

Water Baptism

Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 6:1-12.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 16, 2017.

Today we are preparing to have a water baptismal service as we celebrate the new life that God has given to believers.  There is a part of us that may wonder about the value of such an enactment, and whether or not we should continue doing it.  So today, I want to take some time to establish both its importance and significance in the life of a new believer.

It is the command of Jesus

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus not only gives his disciples a command, but he also emphasizes it by declaring his authority up front.  All authority, in heaven and on earth, had been given to him.  This is important because it establishes his authority to tell his disciples what to do, and it establishes his authority to send them to all the other nations in order to make new disciples.  He even states that this dynamic in which He spiritually is with them in this task, will continue until the end of the age.  So let’s break down the command or commission that Jesus gives to his followers.

The main thing in this command is to make new disciples.  They would do this by telling other people about the person, teachings, miracles, and work of Jesus and then extending to them the offer of Christ to become his disciple.  Thus it is the command of Christ that those who are already disciples are tasked with the mission of working to bring in new disciples.  Those who believe in Jesus and respond positively are to be those who are “discipled.”  Jesus mentions three other aspects of this task that are given to qualify or describe what that will look like and entail.

The first he mentions in verse 19 is going.  This mission requires us to go, whether it is across the street, the city, the state, the nation, or the world.  Not every disciple will do all of these things.  As God leads us, some may go to other nations, and many will be focusing on their homes and neighborhoods.  Regardless it is our task as a group to reach the ends of the earth with the offer of salvation and becoming Christ’s disciple.

The second aspect is that of baptism.  But I am going to come back to that since it is the main focus of today’s sermon.  The third aspect is teaching.  We make disciples by teaching people the commands of Jesus and His apostles.  Thus we have the Bible, which is the record of this teaching, and we have the influence of those who became disciples before us and are tasked with teaching us today.  Being a disciple of Christ is not about having a title, but about learning the ways of Jesus.

Now let’s go back to water baptism.  Jesus tells his disciples to baptize those who become new disciples.  Notice that as a command this is a matter of obedience upon those who are making disciples, but it also implies the obedience of those who are becoming new disciples.  There is really no way around the fact that Jesus commands us to baptize new believers and thus commands new believers to allow themselves to be baptized.  To ignore this would be to reject being a disciple of Jesus.  So with its necessity clearly established, let’s go to Romans chapter 6 in order to further flesh out what water baptism is and why Jesus commands us to do it.

The meaning of water baptism

Romans chapter 6 is not about water baptism per se.  It is actually about the conflict that can occur in people’s understanding of the grace of God.  So Paul deals with the person who would take the truth that God’s grace becomes greater in order to overcome our sin, and posits that a Christian should sin all the more in order to make God’s grace even greater.  This is a perverted sense of “glorifying God.”  If a person comes to believe that grace means that they should or could continue to sin then they are deceiving themselves and not paying attention to the Gospel that they received.  In verse2 Paul categorically rejects such an idea and goes on to use their experience of being baptized in water, when they first became a Christian, as his case for why they too should reject it.

In verse 3 Paul first points out that water baptism symbolizes being placed in Christ.  Thus the whole event of water baptism speaks of a person coming to Jesus and being place in Him.  They now have a place within the community of disciples, and an inheritance in Jesus.  The Holy Spirit has taken the person, made them spiritually alive, and connected them to Jesus.  We now belong to Him.  Another word we could use here is identification.  This identification with Jesus is important because it speaks to the Christian community that this person belongs to Christ and is a fellow brother or sister.  It also speaks to the world that this person is a believer in Jesus.  But even beyond this, it speaks to the spiritual powers and principalities that have held mankind and the nations in bondage under their deceptive lies.  It says to them that this person is under the authority and protection of Jesus.  “Hands off!”

Paul also points out that water baptism symbolizes joining Jesus in His death to this world and being raised to live a new life to God.  Before I came to Jesus I lived my life all for myself and this world.  But now I am following Jesus, both in His death and in His life.  I now live my life for Him and the glory of God the Father. 

Verses 5-12 give us a clearer picture of what Paul is saying in verses 3 and 4. Notice that in verse 12 Paul ends with a conclusion that we should all come to believe:  I must not let sin reign in my mortal body in order to obey its lusts.  The believer may fall into sin, but they should never think that this is what Jesus wants them to do.  We are called to the daily battle against sin and our fleshly desires, not so that we can be saved (under law), but because we have been saved (under grace).

In verses 5-12 Paul hits upon two different aspects of the symbolism within water baptism, one is present and the other is future.

The present aspect of water baptism is mainly spiritual and points to a spiritual transformation that is happening in my life.  It does not point to a physical death, but rather a spiritual one.  I had been a part of the rebellion against the Heavenly Father, but now I am at peace with Him.  So the old me is dying, but the new me (made alive by the Spirit) is living for God.  The old life dies the new lives.  In fact notice that verse 11 says that we are to “reckon” or “consider” ourselves to be dead to sin.  Thus, the Christian will still sense the old nature’s sensitivity to sin.  But by the Holy Spirit, we put that old nature to death and live out the righteousness of God.  The Christian can say “No,” to sin because of the power of the Holy Spirit in their life.  This new spiritual leadership is fueled by the Holy Spirit, but also carried out by the believer.

The future aspect of water baptism is mainly physical and points to a physical transformation that will happen in my life.  It is prophetic in that it declares what God will do in our life.  You see, Jesus had always lived “dead to sin” and alive to God, while he was on earth.  However, at a point in time, He died physically and then was physically resurrected.  Yes, the resurrection body is called a spiritual body elsewhere, but that is because it is different from the earthly bodies we are used to here.  Thus my baptism not only says to the heavens that I am going to live for Christ today, but that I no longer fear my physical death.  I know that just as Jesus physically died and was resurrected, so too will I be resurrected from the dead in order to live a new life with Jesus in the New Heavens and the New Earth.  Thus Jesus devises a ritual that reminds the believer of their future destiny, but also reminds Satan and his angels of theirs.  We are the overcomers of the world and water baptism shouts that to the cosmos.

If you are a believer today, take time to remember that day in which you were water baptized.  Remind yourself of the new life that you can live today because of the enabling presence of the Spirit of God.  But also remind yourself of the future life that God has for us in the age to come.  May God fill us with boldness to walk in the authority of Jesus and share the good news with others, so that they too may participate in this amazing statement to all that this one belongs to Jesus!

Water Baptism audio

Sunday
Jul092017

Our Great Joy in Jesus

1 Peter 1:3-9.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 09, 2017.

Today we will spend some time in a passage that focuses on the joy that we have as believers in Jesus Christ.  It is easy to let the things of the world around us drag our hearts down into a dreary drudgery.  We see individuals rejecting the gospel and plunging down the “wide way,” and we see the nations of the world rejecting the ways of God and pursuing their own ways.  In the midst of this is the onslaught of both individual and political evils that continue to tear the world apart and create massive suffering.  So I want us not to forget about the world’s plight, and yet not to be infected by a spirit of hopelessness.  The follower of Jesus has nothing to hang their head over.  We are never defeated or losers.  We are the true overcomers as we keep our eyes upon Jesus and the mission that He gave us.

We Give Thanks to God

In verses 3-5, Peter starts out by thanking God for His blessings and yet he is also reminding the believers of the blessings that they have.  And so, we do have much to be thankful for, and it all finds its source in God the Father.  He is the architect of creation, and the giver of life and all its wonderful aspects.  Am I thankful?  And, do I take time to thank God?  We should wake every morning and recount the amazing blessings with which God has surrounded us.  He has been good to us and grateful thanks should be the foundation of our daily life.

In fact Peter uses the phrase, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  It could also be translated as “Praise the God…”  Our praise is the proper acknowledgment that is actually due to God.  All creation should praise Him, but not all of creation does.  Of course giving God His due praise speaks to those who are not doing so.  But to us who do praise Him, it should not be about duty and obligation.  It should be about gratefulness and thanks.  Our thanks and praise rises up to God in the midst of a world that takes God’s goodness for granted, and a spiritual realm that has a rebellion against Him.  The devil and his angels believe that they can do better than God and are ungrateful for His decisions.    We are those who have rebelled against the rebellion, and have put our faith in Jesus.  We are not under the shadow of judgment, but can see and recognize the goodness of God.  Because of this, we are the recipients of the greater treasures that God is in the middle of giving to those who trust Him.

Peter particularly points out the “abundant mercy” of God.  He is not obligated by justice to give us mercy.  However, He is kind, loving, and merciful.  Salvation always begins with the mercy of God and we must never forget that.  His holiness and justice would come against our lives and bring us to account and to punishment.  But in His mercy, God makes a way for us to be saved from punishment.  He holds out the offer of eternal life to those who will trust Him.  So what are some of these mercies?  Peter lists some for us.

He uses the phrase, “He has begotten us again.”  This is very similar to the phrase used by Jesus in John 3:3, “You must be born again.”  We are all born physically and because of the will of two humans.  Yet, we are not spiritually alive.  Thus all humans are in need of being “born again,” but not physically.  This second birth is a spiritual birth and is because of the will of God, not man.  Even though we are alive to the world around us, we are spiritually unable to recognize and interact with the God who created us.  If we were to use the analogy of a still birth, we can think of it like this.  Though a still born physically exists, they cannot interact with the physical world around them.  Similarly, though we do have an inner spirit, it is still born towards the Holy Spirit of God.  It will never be able to sense and interact with God unless a spiritual miracle occurs. The analogy is not perfect, but it does help to see what the Bible is saying.  This is called being born again.  So to compare the two births we have this.  Physical birth is the first birth, caused by humans, in which we are able to interact with the physical world.  Being born again is Spiritual birth, a second birth, caused by God, in which we are able to interact with the Spirit of God.  What a blessing and mercy this is.  2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”  In John 1:12-13 we are told that such a birth makes us the children of God.  “But as many as received Him (Jesus), to them He gave the right to become the children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

So why has God made us spiritually alive?  Peter says it is for the purpose of receiving a “living hope.”  Regardless of what our lot is in life because of our physical birth, our spiritual birth leaves all of that in the dust.  All that we might hope for in this life will one day be taken away from us.  Thus it is a hope, but a dying one.  Our spiritual birth gives us hope of things that cannot be taken away, even in physical death.  If a person is born into royalty or a family of great power, that is nothing compared to being born again in Jesus.  Even, if I have been born into squalor and have little hope in the things of this world, in Christ I have a living hope that is so much greater than anything this world can offer.  Peter further describes this living hope.  It is a living hope because of “the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  It is living because it is based upon the living Jesus.  He is alive and can no longer die.  Similarly because our hope is in Him, even if we die physically our hope cannot die because it is in one who cannot die again.  Even more than this, we believers in Jesus are promised a day of Resurrection in which we will fully join Christ in that state of eternal life through a body that cannot die and a spirit that dwells in the presence of God every second.  Thus even our physical death because an entering into the presence of the Lord of Life.  What a living hope we have in Jesus!

Peter also describes this living hope as “incorruptible,” and “reserved in heaven” for us (vs. 4).  It is called an inheritance because there is a future aspect to what God is giving us.  Yes, I have eternal life already, but I have not received all that eternal life has to offer, yet.  Thus he uses the word “hope.”  We are already experiencing some of His promises now and thus the hope that is future is already “living” within us and blessing us.  Peter uses several words to show that this hope is secure for the ages.  It is incorruptible, and will not decay or go bad.  There is no expiration date on the promises of God.  It is also “undefiled.”  It is a hope that is untainted by the sin and rebellion of this world.  No matter how much the rebels of this world hope in a Utopia, it is a defiled hope.  They will continually slam up against the reality that the hope is tainted by the sin of mankind and the fallen angels.  Lastly, Peter says that it doesn’t “fade away.”  It is a hope that will not lose its luster and beauty.  This world fades and dims, but our hope does not.  It is reserved in heaven for us.  Thus it is safe in God’s hands, and guarded by none other than God Himself.  If God be for us who can be against us?  On this earth our inheritance and blessings are always in danger of others who may want to steal it, but the inheritance of God cannot be touched by any, not even the devil himself.

However, God does more than just guard our inheritance.  In verse 5 it says that we ourselves are guarded by the power of God.  The same God who guards our inheritance is also insuring that we can make it to that inheritance.  The word “kept” in verse 5 is similar to the word “reserved” in verse 4.  They both have the sense of guarding something.  However, the word in verse 5 adds the sense of a military guard.  It has a higher sense of protection to it.  Thus God stations His forces around us, to ensure that we make it to the day of inheritance, which is the completion of our salvation (notice the future sense of salvation in this verse- more on that later).  The only thing that can derail it is our own faith.  Satan cannot win by destroying us physically, financially, or emotionally.  But, he uses those things to try and destroy our trust in God.  Now, God doesn’t just put a carrot in front of us.  He also protects us along our way to make sure that we will be able to dine upon it.  All of this is “through faith,” our faith in Him.  This living hope and inheritance from God cannot be earned or purchased by the power of this world.  It can only be the gift of God to those who trust Him.

Our Thanks Endure Even Our Various Trials

In verses 6-9, Peter acknowledges that Christians go through difficult things, even though they have much to be joyful.  It is easy to be so focused on making people look happy that we can forget that there is a time to cry, and a time to mourn.  We must deal with the difficult things of life, not by shutting them down, but by overcoming them.  They devil is trying to disqualify us through those trials and tests of life.  But God allows them for the purpose of proving that we qualify and ultimately making us stronger.

So let’s look first at how the trials of life can grieve us for a little while.  Do not make light of the emotional side of trials.  They are difficult and tend to weigh us down with an internal heaviness.  God does not call us to be unfeeling automatons, or robots.  As we grieve and yet remind ourselves of the goodness of God, our faith in God can be deepened.  We can also understand the depths of God’s love towards us.  Trials also help us to see the depths to which our enemy will stoop in order to try and disqualify us.  If we shed tears in this life, then we can shed them knowing that God sees them and will keep a record of them.  He will right every wrong and then bring us to a place where we will cry no more and have pain no more.  And, on that day, He will reward us for those tears and pains of this life that we endured while hanging on to the promise of eternal life, our living hope.  The enemy, however, wants to drown us in our sorrows and difficulties.  He wants us to blame God for our pains, so that we will lose faith in God and walk away from our inheritance.

Peter reminds us in verse 7 that these tests prove our faith.  Have I really trusted in God?  If God stepped in and removed every difficult thing in our life then we would never truly know if our faith is founded on solid ground.  In a sense many people say, “God I trust you, if You keep everything from hurting me.”  This is not trust.  Yet, Job said, “Even if God slay me, yet I will trust Him!”  Some follow Jesus because of what they obtain in this life: people who care for you, and love you, among other comforts of life.  But what about when I lose all of those things?  Like John the Baptist sitting in prison about to lose his head, we can begin to question and waver in our faith in Jesus.  Thus the picture of trials being a refining fire is used by Peter.  The trials are called various because there are innumerable ways to be tried in this life.  Some are seductive, with hidden motives, and we can enjoy their presence to some degree.  Others are brutish, with the obvious motive to overwhelm and destroy us.  Typically we do not enjoy these.  But our faith, Peter says, is more precious than gold.  We are tempted by things that are really not as precious as we think.  The truth about our faith will be made clear at the “revelation of Jesus,” which is His Second Coming.  This will be our glory and honor in the day that He returns: we world will see that we belong to Him.

In verse 8 He commends them for their faith and love for Jesus.  They are keeping their eyes on Jesus even in the face of trials.  Peter had seen Jesus with his own eyes.  But then Jesus was taken into heaven and now Peter no longer can see Jesus.  He must use the eyes of faith, trust.  Even harder it is for those who had never seen Jesus in the flesh.  They are taking the witness of Peter, and the Holy Spirit.  They have come to love this Jesus that they have learned about.  They are not about to be scammed out of the inheritance they have in Jesus.  So also, keeping our eyes upon Jesus, we await that day when He will split the clouds and return to earth.  Even if I die, I do so keeping my trust upon the one who said, “He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live.”  Our love for Jesus is birthed in the love that He had for us.  He died in my place even while I was still a rebel against Him.  He did so to make an inheritance for me with Him.  He paid the price that I might sit with Him at the Father’s table.  He purchased us back from the place of slavery to which we had sold ourselves.  And, He does this to make us His beloved ones.  In the words of Paul, “[love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails. 

So this love that Jesus has for us and that we have for Him fills us with a joy that is inexpressible and full of glory.  In the face of our own death, His death and resurrection assures us that He loves us and will keep His word.  The daily joy that we have as a Christian should never be based upon the earthly joys and comforts that we have.  Yes, we should be thankful for any such things that we experience.  But they must never be the foundation of our joy.  The foundation of our joy is the relationship of love that Jesus has given to us.  As the old song says, “I’ve got something the world can’t give, and the world can’t take it away!”  It is called inexpressible or unspeakable because it goes beyond the ability of words to fully express.  Not that we don’t express our thanks, but that they too fall short.  “O, for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemers praise, the glories of our God and King, the triumphs of His grace.”  So we continue to describe to people that which can never be fully expressed.  Such is the joy of the believer.  It is also described as “full of glory” because it is given by God Himself.  Glory is often described as brilliant light in the spirit realm (within Scripture).    God has given us Himself and the glorious shining of God sits at the center of our heart and life like a blazing sun.  Thus our joy and faith in Him, which is set on fire by the blazing glory of God, cannot be extinguished by the devil. 

In the midst of such glorious joy, Peter says we are receiving the salvation of our souls.  In fact this is part of the joy.  I may endure a difficult trial, but it is part of me receiving something much better.  Verse 5 speaks of our salvation in the future, but verse 9 speaks of it as a present thing.  That is because we are in the process of receiving a salvation that will one day be completed at the second coming of Christ.  Thus we can look back to the day that we began receiving salvation, we can look around at our current salvation, and we can look forward to its completion at the Second Coming of Christ!  Amen!

Our Great Joy audio

Monday
Jul032017

The Potter's Wheel

Jeremiah 18:1-11.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 02, 2017.

As we approach Independence Day, we want to be careful to gratefully thank God for its blessings.  However, we want to also recognize the responsibility it brings us.  You see, in times past our forefathers could appeal to God and point to the sins of King George III of Great Britain.  But, once we have been granted independence by God, we are now responsible for what happens in our country.  There is a lesson to be learned here.  We can always look to the proverbial “authority over there” and complain that our life would be better without them, whether it is London, Washington D.C., Olympia, the county seat, or city hall.  Of course we don’t stop there.  On down to bosses and parents, we typically end at ourselves.  Yet, shouldn’t we go one step further?  Part of the problem of governance is that it is difficult to even govern ourselves.  My own life and heart has its own set of predilections, those sins that we are partial towards and have the disfavor of God as much as anyone else.  In fact, we often feel oppressed by the tyranny of those urges and desires of our flesh that lead to trouble.

In some ways I have painted a very dire picture.  However, this is precisely why the grace and mercy of our God is so powerful.  The Gospel is not some kind of mental exercise where we learn that we have always been free and just need to change our mindset.  Rather, it comes to each of us in the midst of our bondage to all the things listed above and says, “Come follow Jesus and receive His freedom.”  He loves us and is working for our good.  But He also works in response to our heart.  As an individual I am responsible for my response to God’s Word.  But as a citizen, I am responsible to be an advocate of God’s Word within this nation.

This passage that we will look at in Jeremiah 18, speaks to this area of God dealing with nations and their people.  May our nation hear God’s Word and change its rejection of Him and His King, Jesus.

The Illustration of the Potter

If pictures are worth a 1,000 words, then movies are worth an innumerable sum.  God tells Jeremiah to go down to the potter’s house and watch him for a while.  The scene, that Jeremiah witnesses, becomes the parable for God’s message to Israel and also to us.   In this parable it is clear that we are to see God in the potter.  The question is asked in verse 6, “Can I not do with you as this potter?”  At the heart of this question is our belief about God (His ability), but also our faith in God (His intentions).  What are God’s intentions and purposes?  A potter has a particular piece in mind when they sit down to the wheel.  They work the clay, regardless of its imperfections, and do everything in order to create that vision.  Even the punching down of the clay and starting over, which could be seen as something bad, is part of the process of working the clay and obtaining the purpose.  This picture is intended to provide hope that even now, when it seems like everything is falling apart, God can reshape us.  We are not alone to the forces of the world.  God is working in our life.  So regarding intention or purpose, God is working to do something good.  But also regarding His being, God is the molder and we are the ones who are molded.

If God is the potter, then we are the clay.  Like Adam who is physically formed from the earth, so there is a higher level on which God shapes and forms us.  Because we are created in God’s image, there are some ways in which we can be seen as “molders.”  Much of our life is spent trying to arrange things the way we want it and then trying to get it to stay that way.  However, we cannot escape the greater reality that we will always have things in which we are not in control, things that shape us and not we them.  Of course in the analogy, clay is inanimate and has no mind.  As humans we can cooperate or not cooperate with God’s purposes in our life.  In fact we should recognize that it is not just believers that are shaped by God.  Even sinners are on God’s potter wheel.  No matter how much we disbelieve in God and flee anything that smacks of Him, we cannot avoid the reality that we are creatures within His creation.  All of creation operating and moving around us, is part of the process by which God shapes us.  The events that happen in our generation, both great and small, and the decisions we make and those others make, all work together to shape what we are becoming.  So ask yourself today, “What am I becoming?”

Now in verses 7-11, God begins to speak to things that need to be learned by His people.    He is the Lord of the nations.  The fate of the nations is in His hands.  So in verses 7-8, He points to a situation in which He has spoken a prophetic Word to a nation that it is going to be torn down.  Yet, the fate can be avoided by the nation’s response to that prophecy.  If they turn from their evil ways, then God will turn from the destruction He had purposed to do.  Similarly in verses 9-10, He points to the reverse situation.  If He has spoken a prophetic Word to a nation that it is to be built up (like Israel had) and that nation responds by turning away from Him and towards evil ways, then God will respond by changing the good purpose that He had towards them.  Now we need to keep in mind that we are talking about nations as a political entity here.  God doesn’t just pick certain nations whimsically and obtusely bless them and curse all the others.  God works in relationship with the nations of the world.  Thus the destinies of nations are never set in stone.  They are always changeable, to the good or to the bad.  Thus we should not be arrogant when we think that God is favorable to our nation, and neither should we despair when we think it is bad.  Putting aside the fact that we can be wrong about which is true, we should always grasp hold of the hope that we are not at the mercy of an uncaring and unjust God. 

Even when God is against a nation, He still cares about the individuals within it.  Individuals should never be confused with the political entities that govern them.  Jesus Christ died to save individual people, not political entities.  In this sense nations cannot “get saved.”  As we recognized last week, people can receive the eternal life of God.  But nations can only be saved in a temporary sense.  The response of each generation affects the next chapter of their future.  Now regarding individuals, Jesus and His apostles made it clear that it all comes down to our faith and trust in God, especially in His Savior, Jesus.  If we put our trust in Jesus and follow Him (regardless of what nation we are in and God’s disposition towards it) then He will perfect our faith and make us to look like Jesus.  He is the master teacher and we are the disciple students.  He shows the way, we follow Him.  I say this to remind us that we cannot do enough good things to get God to work for our good.  We can only trust Him.  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  So it is not about my flaws and failures.  Rather, it is about my faith. 

This is precisely where Satan loves to attack us.  If my life seems to be imploding and falling apart, I am tempted to believe that God hates me and push Him away.  This is not trust in God.  But if I trust God and keep my eyes on Jesus, then I can trust that even these things that are broken down and taken away are just God punching me down into a ball so that He can start shaping again.  It is out of love that He allows these things or even causes some of them to happen.  Negative things do not always equate to God’s wrath or rejection.  So faith is the victory over the temptation and scheme of the evil one.  Put your faith in Jesus today if you are not a believer.  By doing so, you will go from being a vessel that is being shaped for dishonor and into a vessel that is being shaped for honor.

So what about our nation, The United States of America?  It is clear from history that God has both intended and accomplished some good things through our country.  But each generation has to face this issue for themselves.  In some ways we see that one of the greatest missions movements of all time has happened through the efforts of this nation.  The English language has become the second language of most of the world, enabling the Scriptures to be accessible to many.  On top of this is the amazing explosion of translating the Scriptures into the “heart language” of most of the world.  How many individuals have moved to other countries to learn their language and culture so that they could share the Gospel of Jesus?  Clearly God has been working in the past to shape us into a helpful vessel.  Yet, over time we also see evil things that seem to be increasing every day.  How much perversion do we pour out into the word in videos and magazines?  If God is to purpose good for America’s future then we need to change our ways as a nation.  We need to stop walking in pride and arrogance as if we cannot be touched.  We need to quit rejecting God’s Word and forging our own ways.  We must stop embracing false religions and mixing their teachings with those of Christ in order to make God’s Word more palatable.  We need to stop sacrificing our children on the altar of convenience and self-love.  We need to cease seeking ever new ways to try and erase His mark of design upon our body and life.  We will have to reject hatred, murder, all sexual perversions, and especially an overall lack of love towards one another while overflowing in love towards ourselves.  Ultimately we must repent.

So Christian, do not look at the world with the despair of one who says, “Good riddance.”  This is not the image of Christ.  Rather, pick up the mantle of hope for your nation and become an ambassador of God’s Word to the people around you.  We have lost this nation one person at a time, and thus we can only win it back one person at a time.  So, what about America?  Well that is up to us.

Potter's Wheel audio

Tuesday
Jun272017

Go and Sin No More

John 8:3-11.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on June 25, 2017.

Today, as I preach this sermon, the 43rd Annual Gay Pride Parade will begin in Seattle, WA.  Over the course of the last 43 years homosexuality has taken center stage as our society wrestles over how we should move forward.  What will be the laws that we will live by and by which individuals will be punished?  Of course churches and Christians are a part of this society and should speak the truth in love.  But even with this goal, we do not always agree.  Some have responded with acceptance to the degree that they have declared their approval for homosexuality, ordaining gay ministers and performing same-sex weddings.  Others have responded with rejection to the point of advocating the re-establishment of capital punishment for any such acts.

It is important to recognize that in the middle of this culture war individuals get chewed up and spit out, whether they are gay or a conservative Christian.  Christianity Today ran an article recently from a woman named Bekah Mason.  She is a Christian who has struggled with same-sex attraction throughout her life and tells her story.  She was raised in a very legalistic environment where even the idea that you would be attracted to the same sex was an “abomination” to God.  There was no room to talk about it and so she grew up holding it in and hiding it.  Later, when she entered college, she encountered a Christian group that was progressive.  This group told her that there was nothing wrong with homosexuality.  In fact, it was a gift from God.  She should completely embrace it and follow her “true self.”  This was too enticing not to embrace.  Thus she explored her true self and same sex relationships.  Over the course of time she realized that the progressive mentality was not the answer she had hoped.  She states, “Both legalistic condemnation and progressive license left me floundering.”  In one group she was rejected as an abomination before God and couldn’t even discuss it, and in the other she was encouraged to follow her “true self” rather than Jesus.  She could not resolve following self with the Gospel message.  Over time she came to embrace the gospel.  Though she was inclined to a sinful expression of sexuality, God loved her enough to help her lay it down and follow Jesus.  It didn’t matter whether her feelings ever changed.  If she needed to remain celibate then that was fine.  She was no longer under the tyranny of hiding her feelings, nor that of redefining sin.

Though the woman in this passage is not a homosexual, she too has a problem with sexual sin.  We find in it a reminder that it is not our job to sacrifice individuals in order to make a difference in society.  It is our job to be a redemptive influence in the lives of those whom we cross paths.

Love the Individual more than the Society

Do you love humans or humanity more?  I believe it was Dennis Prager who said that people who loved humanity more than humans scared him because they were capable of great evil towards the individual in the name of the group.  If we were to create an artificial intelligence (AI) how would it be different if we programmed it to work for the good of humanity rather than for the good of each person?  This mental exercise will help you to see that in order to save the system or the larger group, people are often sacrificed.  Individuals are crushed under the machinery of good for the many.  Now it is different if a person volunteers to lay down their life for the sake of others.  When our military men and women volunteer to put their lives in jeopardy in order to protect our society, it is a good thing.  But when people are forced into armies and sent to die for the sake of the empire or society of whatever size, then it is an evil. 

This is part of what we are seeing in this passage.  Only here it is not conscription into an army.  Rather a woman who has broken the law is used as an expendable tool in order to stop Jesus.  The religious leaders do not see an individual woman who has embraced sin and is lost.  They do not see someone in need of saving and help.  She doesn’t matter to them, but stopping Jesus does matter, at all costs.  He is going to mess up their society, and their position within it.  Thus the woman is merely a useful tool and this tactic is used to this day, whether in politics, business, or even in churches.  I’m reminded of Baronelle Stutzman, the florist from the Tri-Cities area of Washington State.  She would not do the floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding.  She had sold flowers to the gay individual for years.  But felt that going to the wedding venue and setting up the flowers would be too much of helping a person to sin.  Initially the man had no problem and went his way.  The two parted on friendly terms even though they disagreed.  It is when others get involved who could care less about keeping an amicable relationship that things turn to the bad.  All they see is a tool of leverage to reinterpret old laws and force social change upon others through new ones.  This was a golden opportunity to change society and send a message to all Christian business owners.  It is clear in the John 8 passage that Jesus refused to operate on that level.  If society was to be saved it would not be at the expense of a woman who was a sinner.  In fact, the heart of God displayed in Christ is very different from the heart of mankind.  Jesus would lay down his life for us rather than sacrificing any sinners.  The question for us as Christians is this, “Are we following the Pharisees' model or are we following the model of Jesus?”  We must learn to lay ourselves down in order to reach the lost and help them to reconcile to God the Father.

All of this begs the question, “Can a society be saved, and if so, in what way?”  When an individual is saved it can be in one of two ways.  Jesus saves this woman from dying that day.  However she would eventually die of old age.  The more important “saving” is that of her soul.  We don’t know what becomes of this woman’s life despite the speculation that has occurred throughout history.  But, Jesus is clearly concerned about her soul.  She is a sinner who is lost.  If she died that day then she would be without hope.  Salvation for her is the possibility of having eternal life.  Now when we look at a society, it can never be eternally saved.  Our founding fathers stated in many different ways that the constitution and laws they established would not be enough.  Each generation would have to engage the fight for freedom for themselves.  Societies can only be “saved” for a temporary time.  History bears this out.  Should people who can be saved eternally be sacrificed for the sake of a society, which can only be saved temporarily?  I think the answer is obvious.  No society will survive the Second Coming of Christ, or the White Throne Judgment.  So why would we sacrifice people to save them?  Society is important, but it is of secondary concern.  Individuals should always be our primary concern.  A Society that sacrifices individuals for its own sake is poor indeed.  If such a society is worthy then individuals will voluntarily lay down their lives in order to save it (whether they are judging rightly or wrongly).

Though the religious leaders are correct in their understanding of the Law of Moses and its punishment, they do not understand the heart of the God who gave it.  This woman was caught in the act of adultery.  There is no question about her guilt and the punishment.  But Jesus does not respond to them on that level.  He knows that they are correct in her guilt and the matter of the Law.  Yet, Jesus clarifies the problem by issuing the challenge for them to declare publically that they are without sin.  He who is without sin among you, should throw the first stone.  Of course, none of them are willing to make such a public statement.  Clearly only a sinless being can truly hold a sinner accountable for their sin.  One of the mistakes of modern thinking is that we think judging sin is bad.  No, sin itself is bad.  But it is bad form for a sinful person to carry out judgment on another sinful person.  Jesus takes time to remind them and us just who is the Judge of sinners and just when punishment should be given.  In Romans 2:16 Paul states, “God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my Gospel.”  You see the Pharisees had unwittingly brought the woman before the only one who could carry out punishment upon her.  Now, don’t be deceived, there is a day of judgment and the Lord Jesus will preside over that judgment.  However, it was not that day yet.  They have prematurely brought her before the heavenly court in order for punishment to be carried out.  Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto men to die once, but after this the judgment.”  Notice judgment before God follows death.  Yes, we do have to have some laws within this society of sinners so that we can live our lives.  But the punishment of sin is to be left to God once a person has died. 

When our focus is on condemning people and punishing them, we elevate the law over the top of the Grace of God.  Yes, God gave the law.  But He is not willing that any should perish.  He would even go to the extent of becoming a man himself and dying in our place in order to save us.  Or, as John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son, that whosoever would believe on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  This includes those who sin sexually.  As long as a person is a living breathing soul, they can still change.  It doesn’t matter how long this woman has been a slave to her sin of adultery.  She can change and Jesus knows that.  He is more concerned about her continuing to have a chance to change than he is about perfecting society by getting rid of her.  Notice his words to her at the end, “Go and sin no more.”  What she does with those words is an eternal decision that she will have a chance to make as long as she is alive.  For the rest of her life she would remember that strange man who saved her life physically and wonder if He could actually save her life spiritually.

Now this leads to my last point.  Jesus defends her physical life, without defending her morality.  He does not give some speech filled with moral pablum such as, “This woman has done nothing wrong.  Come into the First Century!”  He merely challenges their right to carry out such a punishment.  Christians should not advocate or give aid to the mentality that homosexuals should all be killed or jailed.  But we should neither give our aid to promote it.  Jesus is not promoting her adultery.  Rather, he is promoting her salvation.  He did it so that she would have a chance at redemption, whether that was immediately seized upon or later.  She would never be able to forget the man from Nazareth who saved her life and then told her to sin no more.  I would say that we clearly see Jesus defending her from her external attackers.  But, we may miss him coming to her defense against her internal attackers.  The inner life of our flesh and its sinful desires continually assail our mind and will.  This inner assault is even more insidious than that of the religious leaders.  When you tell someone that their sin is okay, you are refusing to help them against that inner onslaught.  You have actually left them to their worst enemy.  We cannot save people by protecting them to just keep on sinning.

So how can we maintain a faithful conviction regarding sin and also show love toward those who do not?  I guess my point is that we do so by keeping our focus on the soul of each individual we meet.  It is not my job to stop the Gay Pride Parade in Seattle next year.  But it is my job to care about the soul of each homosexual that I come in contact with, each and every day.  The gospel is that freedom which God gives to us, freedom from the self life and tyranny of our flesh.  We can embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior and know that regardless of our sins, He will accept us as we repent and follow Him.

Let’s love people more than we love America, or whatever society of which you are a part.

Go and Sin No More audio