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Weekly Word

Friday
Nov242017

The Lord of Life

1 Kings 17:17-24.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on November 19, 2017.

In today’s passage tragedy is going to strike.  As is always the case, when calamity comes, we go from cruising through life to crying out in desperation.  Some use the existence of tragedy as a reason to reject the Creator.  However, the Bible teaches us that the All-Wise God knows what He is doing.  Even in the midst of tragedy He is merciful to mankind and has a plan to bring us to a place where tragedy will never again be able to strike us.  We serve the God who has the power of life and reigns supreme over death.  And, though it is clearly His will that all men should die and then face judgment, it is also His will that the righteous be raised up to eternal life.

God is still in control when tragedy strikes

Last week we saw God’s great mercy to this widow who wasn’t a part of the nation of Israel.  He did not just send her a prophet to feed her physical bread, but also to give her the truth.  Thus as the woman eats the miraculous physical bread, she is also the recipient of a miraculous side seat of the prophet Elijah.  Thus the God that Israel served cared even about a gentile widow who was on the verge of dying.  She had proven herself by sharing her last meal with Elijah and now enjoys the happiness of not having to worry about where the next meal for her son will come from.  While she was in this amazing time of joy, things headed in the right direction, and learning about God, things go sideways.  What is God doing?  She was no different than we are today.  What in the world is God doing today?  Well, we know that He is sending out Christians to speak the truth of God’s love to all people and His forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus.  So, why does it look like everything is falling into Chaos?  It looks that way because men’s hearts are evil and create chaos by their actions and choices.  So why doesn’t God stop it?  He doesn’t stop it because if He did there would be no more chance for salvation for them.  This woman was on the good path and could feel that surely she was now immune from difficulties.  The tragedy catches her by surprise, but not God.

It is here and many other places that we see the fact that tragedy strikes both the wicked and the righteous.  The woman’s son comes down with a sickness that quickly takes his life.  The tragedy of famine was already hitting the evil and good alike.  It doesn’t seem fair that God’s punishment of King Ahab and the people of Israel who were going along with him would also affect righteous people.  But, God always takes care of those who put their trust in Him.  Yes, He could supernaturally cause it to rain on just the crops of the righteous, but in His wisdom He often chooses to let it strike both alike.  The wicked in this situation have no hope.  But the righteous can pray and call out for the help that God has promised He will give.  Jesus warned his disciples not to think that tragedy is sent only to destroy sinners.  In Luke 13 he points out two situations in which people tragically died (some at the hands of a wicked king, and others at the accident of a tower collapsing).  He asks the question, “Do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwell in Jerusalem?”  He then goes on to explain that, “I tell you no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”  We should not look on trying to figure out why it happened, but rather let it be a warning to us that our time could come just as unexpectedly.  Am I ready to meet my Maker?  Many people get no advance warning of their deaths.  They have no time to get ready for it.  We need to always be ready to face the Lord.  Now, when tragedy strikes it feels like there is no hope.  But in Christ there is always hope.  With God all things are possible, even life from the dead.

But the widow is not aware of this yet.  She can only see the despairing unfairness of her situation.  She thinks that she is being punished for some past sin.  It is also clear that Elijah the prophet doesn’t know what God is doing either.  Obviously, God had not told him what would happen.  So Elijah, in verse 20, asks God if He had done this.  But, he seems to be asking more of a “Why” question than anything.  Now the truth is that God is ultimately responsible.  He has either primarily caused it to happen, or He has secondarily allowed it to happen.  Either way, because God is a being with complete jurisdiction and power, He bears responsibility for what happens.  Those who try to blame the evil in the world on God only have a partial case.  Yes, it seems that God is failing in His duty even to allow evil to exist.  However, that is a very different then thinking that God does evil or makes people do evil things.  God is never directly or primarily responsible for evil, people and other created beings are.  Yet, even in the argument that He shouldn’t allow evil to occur, the premise is illogical.  Would we call a world where we didn’t have a true choice, good?  If God forced us to do good things, as He defines it, all the time, would we think it was good?  In His wisdom God has determined the best course and made the best decrees for giving mankind freedom and yet holding them accountable for their choices and actions.  We may disagree, but we cannot say He is the source of evil in the sense that He bears primary responsibility.  So is God sleeping at the wheel and doing a bad job of managing the universe?

As hard as it is for us within this world to see beyond it, God sees all.  When a person is going through a problem, they often become stuck in it.  If God directly causes a tragedy, then it is a rebuke to the wicked in order to humble them.  This “shot across the bow” gives them the mercy of rethinking their path.  Repentance becomes an open door before them regardless of whether or not they walk through it.  Sometimes the tragedy is to simply remove the wicked from the scene.  Their time is finished, much like Belshazzar and the mysterious hand, writing on the wall.  It can also be a test to the righteous, to see if they will still follow Him.  Or, sometimes it is merely to remove them from wicked circumstances.  Isaiah 57:1,2 says, “The righteous man perishes, and no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands.  For the righteous man is taken away from calamity, he enters into peace; they rest in their beds who walk in their uprightness.”  God also sometimes does so in order to display his glorious power through healing and deliverance.  Now all these things, and most likely more, can be the possible purpose when God directly causes tragedy.  In fact, it would seem that he often is doing many of them simultaneously in the lives the many different people affected.

Yet, many tragedies are not primarily caused by God, but rather simply allowed to take place by Him.  Whether it is a person simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or evil people preying on others, God has allowed mankind a certain space of freedom.  He is not instantaneous in His judgments and punishments.  He leaves room for people to repent and be saved from their sin.  Yet, if they do not repent, they will find that room to also be the rope by which they hang themselves.  They will be without excuse.  Though it is a grievous burden at times, we should not complain that God gives us such room.  The only other option would be a stifling dictatorship.  So God allows things to happen for much the same reasons as when He directly causes them to happen.  Ultimately He is giving mankind freedom to sin and yet freedom to choose righteousness.  If I only choose righteousness when God protects me in a safe cocoon, then I am not really choosing righteousness.  I am choosing safety, self-preservation.  But, if I choose righteousness even when suffering at the hands of evil, then I truly have chosen righteousness and such a choice truly is commendable.  God is not a dictator at heart.  He does not wish to control mankind, but to have a free relationship with mankind.  It is the devil, who accuses God at every turn, who is the dictator at heart.

The real question is how will I respond

Notice that God does not answer Elijah’s question about whether He did this or not, or why He might have allowed it to happen.  We should see this aspect also in the story of Job.  It is as if the Bible is telling us that even if we did have an answer it is not what is important in our life.  The problem isn’t that we don’t know what God is doing.  The problem is that we often fall to the temptation to doubt His love for us and go our own way.  This story is about how we respond to tragedy, and not why God allows it.  We don’t need to know, as much as we want it, but only what is next.  If the creator of the universe is good and working all things to our good, then we don’t need to understand His plan; only what we should do next. 

The reaction or next step for many people is bitterness, fear, and pushing God away.  This is the path that the widow starts to go down.  She regrets interacting with Elijah.  No matter how nice the miraculous bread was, it would be like gravel now that her son is dead.  You can almost hear her thinking in her mind, “I knew nothing good would come from letting a prophet stay in the house.”  She suspects that her son’s death is a punishment for a past sin.  If we imagine her life, we see a very difficult series of tragedies.  She lives in a pagan country with rampant immorality and abuse.  Her husband then died and left her poor and with a little child.  Then a famine comes and shuts off any hope she had of foraging and scraping out a living.  Yes, a prophet shows up, but now her child is dead.  Her heart begins to push away Elijah and the God that He represents.  They are to blame.  The isolation to which we retreat will wall us off from the goodness of God.  Of course, we should not blame this woman.  She is just a baby in the things of God.  Thus we should contrast her actions with those of Elijah’s.

Elijah is not a spiritual infant.  Yet, no amount of spiritual maturity can make life easy.  He does not respond in walking away from God and being fearful that God is rejecting him.  Rather, he responds in faith and begins fervently praying for God’s act of divine power to save the boy.  Is this how I respond?  Do we keep looking to God until we get an answer either way?  James uses Elijah as a model for believers in every generation.  He is a righteous man whose faith causes him to pray to God in the time of need.  Such prayers of faith accomplish much.  Let’s hear the verses.  James 5:13-18, “Is anyone among you suffering?  Let him pray.  Is anyone cheerful?  Let him sing psalms.  Is anyone among you sick?  Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.  And, if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.  The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.  And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.”  Though, James points to the prayers concerning the famine, he could have just as easily pointed to these prayers for God to bring the boy back to life.  We can also pray like Elijah did, with faith in God, and fervency.

Yet, this story is not about being able to get a miracle every time something bad happens.  Ultimately it is a reminder that our God has the power of life even in the face of death.  Even if He does not bring someone back from the dead, He still has the purpose of raising us all up from the dead at the Day of Resurrection.  This boy has not been dead for long and thus we could say he is technically resuscitated.  Now, later at the raising of Lazarus from the dead, it had been 4 days.  This is more than resuscitation.  This would involve a clear rejuvenation of tissue.  In either of these cases the boy and Lazarus would go on and live the rest of their lives and come to death’s door for the second time.  However, this time Elijah or Jesus would not show up.  They are only given mortal life.  Why?  God’s plan for all mankind is greater than keeping us from dying or suffering tragedy.  His plan is to overcome the suffering and tragedy that we may face in life, even death.  Phillips Brooks, an 18th century American, Episcopal clergyman once said, “Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger men.  Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks.  Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you will be a miracle.”  God can handle our many questions asking why.  But, recognize that more important than “why” is what will I do now.  Let’s choose to trust God and be a people who pray with the faith and knowledge of just how great our God is.

Lord of Life audio

Sunday
Nov122017

The Provision of the Lord

1 kings 17:18-16.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 12, 2017.

Today we continue looking at the prophet Elijah.  Last week we saw that Elijah had prophesied to King Ahab that a famine would come on the land and would not be broken until Elijah said so.  God had then provided for Elijah to retreat into the wilderness.  When we stopped at verse 7 last week, the stream by which Elijah was staying went dry.  Today we will see the new way that God had planned to care for Elijah and learn from it that we need not fear when things go sideways.  God is always looking out for us, whether we are someone as important as Elijah the prophet or a widow in a foreign land who has nothing.  However, He doesn’t always use the same things to provide for us.  Let’s look at the story.

The Lord is our source of provision

As I said earlier, Elijah has hit a transition point.  The way God had been taking care of him has now dried up.  What now?  Has God forgotten about me?  Has God failed or no longer cares about me?  These are the normal questions when such a time happens in our life.  We can begin to doubt God’s care and fear what lies ahead.  However, the same God who provided the stream of water and the food-bearing ravens now had a new plan.  This new plan involved a widow who lived in another country, the widow of Zarephath (Zair-uh-fath).  If we step back and think about Elijah’s life to this point we will recognize that God is not letting him get comfortable.  He presumably starts out at whatever his home was.  Then he ends up living in the wilderness next to the brook Cherith.   Now things are changing again and he is going to have to move again.  It is clear that God is testing Elijah to see if he will keep obeying and trust God.   However, He is also teaching Elijah that God is able to take care of him, no matter where he goes.  It is easy for us to think of God caring for Elijah, but not necessarily caring about us.  Who am I?  I am no great prophet.  Why would God even give a second thought about me?  Well, pay attention to how God is both taking care of Elijah and this widow from a foreign country, who no doubt is not a worshipper of Him.  When God has been using something or someone to help us, we must not look to those things desperately, as if they were the source of provision.  We must always recognize them as only the means of God’s provision.

On a side note, we have a good piece of information here.  Elijah is not some powerful guy who says whatever he wants and God backs him up.  If so, he could have just commanded the stones around him to be turned into bread (like the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness).  No, Elijah is a man under the direction and command of God.  Thus, that is not an option.  He could have tried to do so, but it wouldn’t work.  God had a different plan.  God then gives Elijah the instruction and the leading that he needed to get to the next channel of God’s provision.  Now in our lives, it seems that we don’t get clear and quick instruction from the Lord.  I would say, however, that we do not know how long Elijah was at the side of the dry stream bed praying and waiting for an answer.  Regardless, God can give us instructions quickly or after a time of waiting.  We must be faithful to seek His instructions and leading, by reading the Word and seeking Him through prayer.  It is part of trusting God, to keep looking to Him even though it seems to be taking a long time.  No matter how long we may need to wait, the answer of the Lord will always become clear eventually.

So let’s talk about God’s plan.  Why is he going to use a widow from Zarephath?  Zarephath was a village on the outskirts of Sidon and under its control or dominion.  Remember that King Ahab had married Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Sidon.  There are at least two ways to look at this plan.  In Luke 4, Jesus had been healing people in the area of Galilee and then had come home.  There was resistance and jealousy of him there.  In fact, Mark 6:3 says that they took offense at him.  They wondered why he didn’t do lots of miracles in Nazareth as well.  Jesus answers by reminding them of our story today.  He asks why God sent Elijah to a widow near Sidon.  Weren’t there enough widows in all of Israel to pick from?  At this point in time, northern Israel had fallen into idolatry, led by King Ahab.  God was not doing powerful things through Elijah for the material benefit of his hometown, or Israel, or perhaps for the churches today.  No the miracles are for God’s purposes and benefit those whom He chooses.  He sees the needs of everyone, and those who are full of themselves and quick to offense will typically not be His first choice.

Another aspect of this new plan has to do with Spiritual Warfare.  King Ahab of Israel had fallen into idolatry and an alliance with the enemies of God.  This was a blow to God’s work through Israel.  There is some irony that God sends Elijah into the backyard of King Ethbaal of Sidon.  This counter-attack is not of the same kind, but it is a spiritual advance into a territory under the dominion of darkness.  Here Elijah will plant the seeds of truth in the life of a woman and her child.  The God of Israel was the only god that cared for her, and even in a miraculous way.  These seeds would grow and bear fruit throughout that area.  I can imagine that later, when the apostles went through that area, they may have found some remnants of those seeds that were open to the Gospel.

Now we can also recognize that this new plan of God is very different from the previous.  In the previous, Elijah was by himself and the provision came from nature, at God’s command.  But, the new plan is to use a person who can provide for his physical needs.  God often uses other people in our life to care for us and to help us.  It is not always in material needs.  It might be someone who knows the Word of the Lord and can share it with us.  Or someone who understands what we are going through and can comfort us.  Regardless, all of our connections to others in life, especially within the Church, are used by God to provide something in our lives.  Sometimes we can be too stubborn to receive it.  Now, this works the other way as well.  God wants you to care for others even as they care for you.  Our gifting are not the same.  God intends that we help each other in different ways.  It can even be in the same way, but at different times.  I can help you today, and find I need your help in the same area tomorrow.  God can always cause something to come into our life without the help of another person.  But, He often chooses to use people and relationships with others.  He does so because relationship is what He wants most with us.  A relationship with an unseen God can be fraught with self-deception.  But a relationship with a flesh and blood person requires us to be real.  When we are constantly faced with reality by our relationships with others, it helps us to be real with God.

It is interesting that God tells Elijah in verse 9 that He has “commanded” the widow to provide for him.  It is clear from the story that the widow did not get the memo, as they say.  The word here most likely has the sense of an appointment.  God had decreed or appointed that Elijah would be helped through this woman, but He doesn’t tell her, except through Elijah.  Often, God has appointments for us that do not make sense at the time.  Imagine, this widow being asked for food and water by Elijah.  How insensitive that must has seemed to her at the time.  “You picked the wrong person, buddy.”  She was a widow and thus very poor.  Worse than that, a famine was upon the land, and so she couldn’t even forage for more food.  Worse than that, she was at the end of her food and fixing her last meal with just a handful of flour for her and her boy.  How heavy her heart must have been as she prepared to starve to death.  Yet, in the middle of all of this lack, God has a plan for her to be the one who takes care of the prophet Elijah.  He didn’t pick a widow from Elijah’s hometown, or from Israel.  Instead, God picked her.  She didn’t know that she would meet a prophet that day.  She did not know that her response to the prophet would be death or life for her.  Instead of being eaten up with bitterness and anger, even now she is gracious to the man who bothers her for some water and a small cake of bread.  Instead of anger she responds with brokenness.  She tells him her dire straits, but then goes and makes a small cake for Elijah.  Why would we choose to be stingy when we have little?  Some who have more than they need are stingy.  It is not really a matter of what you have.  It is a matter of your heart.  If I have nothing left than why not share it with another person?  Poor people can often be the most giving because they have empathy and know what it feels like to have nothing and no one.  Her sacrifice makes all the difference.  Don’t look to your circumstances to determine what God is doing with you.  Don’t get bitter and resentful.  Instead, keep doing the little that you can do and trust the Lord who has appointed you for His work (whether you know it or not).

Yet, we also see that Elijah doesn’t just ask for the bread.  He gives her a word of hope.  If she sacrifices in order to give Elijah some bread, then her bin of flour will not be used up, nor her jar of oil run dry until rain falls upon the ground.  God does test our faith, but He also gives us a word of hope.  Yes, pick up your cross and follow me (to die).  But if you do, you will gain eternal life.  When obeying God’s word isn’t easy, we are tempted to disobey and go our own way.  But our way leads to death, and God’s leads to eternal life.  There is always a blessing in doing it God’s way.  Whether in generosity, or obedience in another way such as honesty or sharing Christ with others, the word of God tests us to see if we are going to be offended and miss out on the blessing, or sacrifice our flesh and receive a blessing from the Lord.  The blessing is not always something like a bin of flour that doesn’t run empty for three years.  However, even our material provisions in life are truly from the Lord.  Yes, God has appointed this widow who has nothing to care for Elijah, but it was the Lord who was actually doing the providing.  She simply had to keep trusting the Lord.  Instead of creating a dam and storing up all the provision for herself, she shared it with Elijah and experienced a miracle unheard of by anyone in her country.  Today, we are being tested by the word of the Lord in our country.  Let’s trust God’s way and walk in the blessing that may not always feel like a blessing.  Yet, it always leads us to great things with God.

Yes, God cares about little old you.  Regardless of what you have been through in the past and may be suffering in the present, He has a plan through it, if you will only cry out to Him and wait in trust for the answer.  The Lord is our source and will provide for us though the whole world be under a famine.  Amen!

The Provision of the Lord audio

Friday
Nov102017

Elijah, the Prophet of the Lord

1 Kings 17:1-7.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 05, 2017.

Today we are beginning a series looking at the Old Testament prophet, Elijah.  Prophets in the Bible always appeared when God’s people needed instruction, or when they needed correction.  Always, they prophets would declare to the people what God was saying, whether about past, present, or future events.  That said, the prophets are most concerned about the present.  Knowing what God says about the past, present, and future, will you not walk in faith now, in the present?  We should never lose sight of this prophetic imperative.  It comes to us in the now in order to encourage or change our present activity.

Historically, this idea that God does speak through individuals to the greater body of believers has led to lots of abuse by false prophets who had not been sent by God.  Instead they are enamored with the idea of having power and wielding it over those around them.  Their inflated egos lead them to do what no normal person would do, pretend that they have a word from the Lord for other people.  That said, it would be easy to reject the idea of prophets altogether.  Some do this completely by rejecting the idea that any person has ever really had a “word from the Lord.”  Thus they view the Bible as a man-made document that is only worthy of respect as a specimen of literature.  Others will say that God no longer uses prophets.  Thus they accept the Bible as the proven Word of God, but reject the idea that God speaks through others today.  I would challenge you to recognize the spiritual maturity that we are called to.  The spiritually immature easily accept everyone who comes along with a “Word from the Lord.”  But to reject the idea of prophets out of hand is no great maturity itself.  It refuses to deal with the hard issues of spiritually mature individuals recognizing the Holy Spirit (or lack thereof) in another person’s words.  False prophets always have red flags that the spiritually mature will pick up on.  More than this, the words of a prophet of the Lord will always prove true in the end.  Otherwise they have not spoken from the Lord, but in presumption have made up words from their own mind and heart.

Elijah is one of the true prophets whose declarations of God’s Word proved to be true in the end.  As we will see throughout this character study, the prophets were rarely well received and respected by the people during their life time.  Instead we find them harassed and threatened, rejected by the powerful of their day, and often by the average person too.

As we walk through the ministry of Elijah, we want to focus on what God is telling us and not what our flesh wants to focus on.  In this way we will be led by the Spirit of God and not by our flesh.  Let’s look at our passage today.

Elijah confronts King Ahab

In verse 1 we find two characters, Elijah and Ahab.  Although we are jumping into a running account of the Kings of Judah and Israel, this is the first point that we see the prophet Elijah.  So let’s remind ourselves of the setting of this meeting between Elijah and Ahab.  Israel had existed as 12 (13 counting Levi) tribes under the help of judges whom God raised up for their help.  Until King Saul, Israel did not have a king.  Eventually, though, God allows them to have a king, but warns them that it will not lead to good things in the end.  So Saul became the first King of Israel, followed by David and then his son Solomon.  After Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam took the throne.  Through poor counsel and poor character, Rehoboam threatened to raise the heavy taxes that Solomon had levied, which led to the 10 northern tribes breaking off from the tribe of Judah (only the tribe of Benjamin remained with the tribe of Judah).  This split in Israel wasn’t healed over time.  Thus the two Kingdoms were referred to as Judah and Israel.  It is important in the Bible to pay attention to what is meant by Israel in the context.  Sometimes it refers to all 13 tribes and sometimes only to the northern 10 tribes that broke off from Judah.  This split happened roughly around 930/925 B.C.  Ahab is a king of Israel, as in the northern 10 tribes, about 70 years after this split.  Due to wickedness and power plots there have already been 6 kings and thus Ahab is the 7th king of northern Israel.  We are told in 1 Kings 16:31-33 that King Ahab was very wicked.  “And it came to pass, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat [the idolatry of the first Northern King], that [Ahab] took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians; and he went and served Baal and worshiped him.  Then he set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal, which he had built in Samaria.  And Ahab made a wooden image.  Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.”  Under Ahab, the northern tribes had not only mixed the worship of God with idols, but had now completely gone away from God; and had begun worshiping a foreign God called Baal (typically pronounced in English as the word “bail”).  It is in this context of a King of Israel who is leading the nation away from God and towards a false God that prophets like Elijah stepped forward on the scene.  God was not going to just lay down without confronting such betrayal.  However, we don’t see these prophets in league with each other like some kind of ancient “Occupy Samaria.” The prophets were not a human, conspiratorial group, but rather, a group of divinely instigated individuals who remained true to God as the One to whom all allegiance should be held.

Elijah does not rebuke Ahab for his idolatry at first, at least not as we see him in the Bible.  Rather he first establishes that he is a prophet of God by giving Ahab a powerful sign.  Elijah tells Ahab that the country will not have rain or dew until Elijah commands it to come.  Now this would be an incredibly arrogant statement to make, but it is also the type of thing that a false prophet would be very cautious about saying.  Who can control the weather?  Definitely, a person can’t do so.  Notice that Elijah warns him in advance and not after the fact.  So there is nothing right off the bat to make Ahab think there is anything to this.  However, over the years to follow (the famine would last over 3 years) Ahab would have to face the fact that Elijah claims to be able to make it stop.

Now we don’t typically think of famine as a miracle.  We tend to think of miracles as good things.  In this case the lack of rain would be a powerful sign to Ahab that God was backing up what Elijah was saying.  All this time their prayers for Baal to help them would be impotent.  Thus it is a miraculous work of grace to get Ahab’s attention and draw him back to repentance towards God.  Not every prophet of the Lord did powerful miracles, other than speak the truth and have it prove true.  There are no such stories of signs and wonders surrounding Jeremiah.  However, the Word of the Lord that he proclaimed proved very true and this is what is most important.  Elijah is what God has called him to be and Jeremiah was precisely what God called him to be.  In this case God gives a powerful witness of who is on the right side through a time of famine in the land that starts and stops at the command of his prophet Elijah.

 Now in case it looks to you like Elijah is just saying this and hoping God will back him up, notice the words, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand.”  To stand before the Lord was a clear term that is synonymous to being summoned before the king.  Elijah had been brought into the throne room of God surrounded by powerful spirit-beings.  This heavenly or divine council of God is what we see in places like Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4.  Most likely this would be in a dream or vision.    So was Elijah really entering into the divine council of God and hearing God’s words and decrees, or was this all in his head?  Though it sounds like the perfect con (anyone can claim to have been in God’s council chamber and have a word from him), it would also seem to be a dangerous thing to say that you speak on behalf of God.  Throughout the Scriptures the prophets would sometimes do something miraculous to prove that God was with them.  But always, the things they said that God said would always prove true.  It wasn’t enough to be right part of the time, or at least better than 50/50.  It wasn’t enough to be right over 75% of the time.  If God really spoke the words then they would be right 100% of the time.  Though a prophet can mature in how to be a better prophet, there is no maturing of how accurate the words will be.  You either are hearing from God, a deceiving spirit, or your own imagination.  You don’t mature in that.  When someone is actually led by God, the things they say will prove to be true.  Sure they might make a mistake like getting angry at the resistance of those you speak to and strike out in anger.  But the words themselves will prove 100% accurate.  Elijah didn’t just arrogantly assume God would back him up.  He is a man who has stood in the presence of the Lord, and is now confronting King Ahab with a powerful sign that only God could decree.  Now at first Ahab has no reason to fear Elijah.  Who does this guy think he is?  Don’t you know who you are talking to?  At this point in the story Elijah has only made a bold claim. 

Now regardless of whether you are a great prophet of the Lord or not, this is a thing that God is doing.  If He calls a prophet or many of them, it is for His purposes not ours.  We must recognize that the United States of America is not Israel and God is not giving us more Scripture in the present.  However, it is important to learn how to spend time in God’s presence and to be led by His Spirit and His counsel.  It is irrelevant whether we have had a dream or a vision of the throne room.  What is important is that by the Spirit of God we have entered into His presence and have received His word to us.  This isn’t just something intended for men like Elijah who are doing powerful things.  It is also for people like you and me who are just trying to raise our family for the Lord and be a witness to our friends and neighbors.  We must be led by God’s Spirit and not our own fleshly desires.

Now in verses 2-7 we see again the leading of the Spirit of God.  As the famine begins, Elijah is to go out into a wilderness place where God will take care of his physical needs.  Also, he will be out of touch of Ahab’s power and control.  When God makes things tough, He always has a plan for His people.  It may not be the plan you were hoping for and at the level that you were hoping, but it is His plan nonetheless.  He leads Elijah to a small brook that keeps running during the first part of the drought.  He is also miraculously fed by ravens that bring him bread and meat two times a day.  We are not told where they are getting this food, but I keep having this image of ravens descending on the table of Ahab and plucking food for Elijah.  However, where they got the food is immaterial.  This humbling means of being fed seems to be contradictory to the powerful prophet of God.  But Elijah knew that he had no power but what God gave him.  Elijah was not a superman.  He was a normal man who was called by God and also believed God.  It was God who was doing the heavy lifting of blocking the rain and dew for over three years.  Remember that no matter how greatly God works through you, in the end you are simply a servant.  It is God who is doing the hard work.  You are simply trusting and obeying.  That is nothing to get all high and mighty over.  A lack of humility is a red flag that a person is not as close to God as they are putting on.  Can I give thanks for God’s provision no matter how it comes?  All throughout the Bible God keeps trying to teach us that those who belong to the Lord will be fed though they are surrounded by a desert, and they will drink though there is no water in sight.  Yet, there is a spiritual lesson here as well.  Lack of water and dew is a symbol throughout the Bible for a lack of the word of God.  Amos 8:11 says, “’Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord God, ‘when I will send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the LORD.’”  Perhaps this is why Elijah doesn’t say anything other than announcing the famine.  It would be symbolic of God’s anger with Ahab and northern Israel.  God was pulling away from them as a discipline upon the people.  Even when a nation and its leaders are going the absolute opposite direction away from God, those who trust God will always find a place of grace in which He speaks to them and cares for them.  This is the place we need to be.

Yet, even with all that said, we find in verse 7 that the brook eventually dries up.  God does not always care for us the same way all the time.  We can get so used to God caring for us in a particular way that we freak out when that particular source of grace dries up.  God hasn’t forgotten about you and your needs.  You do not need to fret.  If one source dries up, God will provide another.  Just trust Him and listen to His Spirit. 

There are times when I wish we had such a prophet in our land.  However, as Christians we are called to something similar and yet different.  It is different in that we aren’t commanding it to quit raining or splitting red seas.  But it is similar in that our lives become the thing that the world around us can’t just ignore.  As much as the world plunges away from God and His Word and worships everything under the sun and in the heavens besides Him, God uses those who are in relationship with Him and receiving His word to be the stumbling block that brings the unbeliever up short.  God in His mercy always sends a person who speaks and lives out the word of God as a mercy to those who have either tossed it aside, or never knew it in the first place.  Let’s be a people who are standing before the Lord in prayer and meditation.  Let’s be a people who are being directed by the Spirit of God and not the spirit of this age.  The lives of others depend upon us.

Prophet of the Lord audio

Wednesday
Nov012017

Having Confidence at His Coming

1 John 2:24-29.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on October 29, 2017.

If Jesus were to return today would I be joyful without restraint, or would I be fearful with shame?  This is a powerful question.  The idea of facing Jesus (He who knows what is in a man) face to face can be intimidating.  Yet, it is important to recognize that God’s desire is not for this to be a scary and fearful thing.  Rather, He wants it to be a joyous event in which you can confidently come into the presence of Jesus, the One who paid the price for your sins.  He loves you and, whether it is at your death or the 2nd Coming, we need not fear that He will reject us.  The whole purpose of Jesus was to bring us into a close relationship with the Father, to make us a part of His family, and to cast out the fear of any rejection.  Now this is not a braggart’s confidence that we see in this world.  It is not a confidence built on our great self-attainment.  No, it is a confidence that is made of far stronger metal.  It is that which comes from an experience of the love of the Heavenly Father who as adopted us into His family.  I pray that you will allow the Holy Spirit to remove fear from your heart and replace it with a confidence in Him.

Let the Truth Abide in You

In verse 24 Paul has just finished warning believers of false teachers and even “antichrists” that would try to deceive them and lead them astray.  This verse is a conclusion to that section (“Therefore”).  Though John’s statement in verse 24 does not explicitly state what it is he wants them to have dwelling in them, the statements all around it leave no question that he is thinking of the truth they had received from the beginning.  It is interesting that believers are told to “let that (truth) abide in you…”  The truth of God comes into our hearts and naturally wants to dwell there and grow.  Thus Jesus used the parable of the seed of God’s Word being sown into the soil of people’s hearts.  Am I allowing that seed to take root and grow, as it will naturally do, or am I doing things that are adverse to this?  We can reject the Truth, but we can also displace it by filling our hearts and minds with the false-truths of this world.  Let us cling to the Truth of God.

John is writing to people of whom he is intimately aware of the Truth that they received “from the beginning.”  He knows that they received solid, undefiled truth.  However, over time they are being tempted by other so-called truths and twisting of what they knew.  Yet, Christianity is not just about receiving the Truth about life.  It is about receiving the revelation that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  He is the only way to the Father, and in Him Truth is a person, not just a statement of fact.  This connection between Jesus and the Truth must be understood by all His followers.  John sees this as so important that he ties our fellowship with Jesus and the Father to our holding on to the Truths about Him.  If the Truth of the Gospel (Who Jesus was and What He was doing) dwells in our hearts then we will abide in the Son and the Father.  The opposite is implied that if we let go of that Truth then we will no longer be dwelling in the Son and the Father.  To embrace the Gospel is more than embracing a set of propositions.  It is embracing a relationship with the only being of whom it can be said He is Truth.  To use another analogy that Jesus gave us in John 15, to believe the Truth of the Gospel is to connect to Jesus with a living relationship.  We draw life out of our relationship with Him.  You cannot have one without the other.  We cannot claim intimacy with the Son and Father, and yet toss aside the Truth which we received from the beginning.  As I said earlier, this statement is to people whom John knows well what it was they received.  The tragedy is that many in this world have received everything but the Truth.  Some are raised in atheism, and others in false religion, and others yet who are raised in perversions of Christianity.  These people should not hold on to what they received from the beginning.  The key is that we are holding on to the Truth that the Apostles of Jesus transmitted to us in voice and in writing, and refusing to be separated from them by any voices that have risen since then.  To remain in fellowship with Jesus is to hold fast to the teaching received from His apostles.  This cannot be avoided.

In verse 25 he reminds us that this is the promise that God gave us, eternal life.  Those who embrace the Truth about Jesus and the Truth of Jesus are now connected to eternal life.  When we speak of eternal life it is easy to focus solely on length of time.  It is true that eternal life is of unending duration.  However, if you read the passages of the Bible that speak of “eternal life” it will be clear that it is more about quality of life than it is about quantity.  We don’t just live, but we experience the very life of God (i.e. eternal life).  We live in a world that owes its existence to God and yet is separated from the eternal life of God.  It is dying even as it lives.  But in Christ we are living even as we die.  The eternal life that we are connected to is not intimidated by death, but in the end will swallow it up in victory.  This is the life that Christians can experience right now.  No, I won’t live forever in this mortal flesh, but I have a relationship with a kind of life that is greater than mortal death.  This life is extremely important and we need to live in Christ in order to experience it.  This world works daily to try and extend life, deferring the consequences of our fleshly desires.  Though we may open such a Pandora’s Box through technology, it will not give us the life that we desire.  It will only bring us to greater sin and sorrow.  Jesus is the only way to true life.  God’s plan will work, but man’s plan will only forge ever stronger chains for mankind.

Now verse 26 turns our attention back to those deceivers that would try to separate us from the Truth (i.e. the eternal life of the Son and the Father).  There are many deceivers today.  Some wear religious garb and give sermons on whatever day of the week they hold dear.  Others have websites that promise all manner of secret knowledge that will fill that sense of lacking that you have.  When I look at most of the TV and movie programming, the music, and books of this world, I see a continual onslaught of the idea that we can be good without having to believe in a God, Sin, and a Savior.  We are pointed to ourselves, or mankind as a whole, as the answer to fixing everything and having a great life.  We are encouraged to put our faith in mankind’s ability to achieve all this through the power of science and developing technologies.  Such deceivers, whether they know it or not, serve only one purpose: to separate us from the Truth, whether we have received it yet or not.  It is to separate us from a relationship with Jesus in which we experience eternal life in the now.  How are we to keep from falling to such deceptions?

John points to the anointing within all God’s children (vs. 27).  His main point is that you do not need some guru to come along and explain everything for you.  They already had Jesus and the Truth about Him.  They were not missing out on any special knowledge.  If you are a Christian, but feel that you are missing something, the answer is not to pursue information “out there.”  All you need to do is get back to the Truth and the Faith once and for all delivered unto the Saints, that is the Word of God.  When you are reading God’s Word and daily walking in a living relationship with Jesus, you are not missing anything.  Deceivers many claim to be Christ or to be from Christ, but none of them have come, riding on the clouds of heaven and descending to the Mt. of Olives.  Too many Christians are hungry for a miracle worker or a wise teacher, when we already have the anointing of God Himself, the Holy Spirit, dwelling within our life.  The metaphor of anointing reminds us of the special calling to which we are called.  “The anointing” points to the Holy Spirit coming into the life of a person in order to live for God and accomplish His business.  This Spirit dwells in believers and leads us to become more like Jesus. John’s point is not to say there should be no teachers.  They wouldn’t have come to know the Gospel without teachers and all churches had teachers in their midst.  But once you have come to know the Truth and have entered into relationship with Jesus through God’s Spirit, you have all that you need to be acceptable to God and live a full life.  You are not lacking anything.

When a person lives such a life they are ready for the return of Christ (vs. 28).  You can have confidence that you are ready for His return, a confidence born of the Holy Spirit and not the false spirit of this age.  The Pharisees had great confidence, but it was based upon their own ideas, and their own works.  Analyze your own confidence.  What is it based upon?  If it is something other than the witness of the Holy Spirit within you, and the Word of God, then you have a confidence that is like those Pharisees.  The Holy Spirit will lead us to put our confidence in Jesus and His work (past, present, and future) in our life.  That daily relationship of learning to take our feelings, desires, and hopes before Jesus, and learning to trust Him over them, is crucial to growing a proper confidence.  Those who are confident in Christ will rejoice at His coming.  But those who are confident in themselves and the things of this world will be ashamed.  Ashamed because they did not truly trust in Him, or ashamed because they deserted Him and lived for themselves.  Ashamed because they will be separated from Him and not have eternal life.  Now the words in verse 28 are literally, “and that we might not be made ashamed from Him.”  The preposition is often translated as before.  Though this is true, the preposition in the Greek actually emphasizes separation.  Such a person will not just be ashamed before Jesus, but also be separated from Jesus and His eternal life.

Are you ready for the return of Christ?  Will it be a time of rejoicing and celebration, or one of fear and shame?  If we have continued with Him through temptations, trials, and sufferings, then we will have nothing but a confident rejoicing when we come before Him.  It will be a final uniting with one who has helped us through all the good and the bad of this life, and more than that, the one who loved us enough to lay His life down for us.  Such a being you would never have to be afraid of unless you had deserted Him along the way.

Confidence at His Coming audio