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Entries in Christian Life (3)

Wednesday
Dec022015

Lessons of Christmas- The Goodness of It All

Titus 3:1-8.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 29, 2015.

As we enter the Christmas season, I want us to look at some of the lessons that it teaches us.  Of course, we do not want to confuse what the world wants us to learn with what God wants us to learn.  The world wants us to generalize Christmas into a time of feeling and doing good things towards others.  But, God wants us to learn far more than this because the first Christmas did not happen in a vacuum.  It happened after a long history of mankind’s rejection of God and the tragic consequences of our chosen paths, namely sin.

The history of mankind is that of casting off the truth of God and his dealings with us, and then following our own heart.  We are told that spiritual enemies have taken advantage of this to instigate false religions and ways of living among mankind.  Thus the nations of the world were lost and worshipping demonic spirits in the guise of gods.  In this context, God creates a nation from Abraham called Israel.  He gives them His Law as a witness to all the nations.  But 18 centuries later, Israel had become a nation that sidelined the Truth of God’s Law and had embraced the traditions of rabbis and “wise men.”  Instead of a complete rejection like the nations of the world, they kept up a form of obedience, but the powerful principles of God’s Word had been rejected.  Thus all of mankind was in the same condition: bound by the sin of rejecting the Truth of God and guilty before Him.  It was time for judgment and destruction.  It was time for another global judgment.  And yet, that is not what God did.  It is impossible to overemphasize the fact that mankind was totally guilty and deserving judgment before God when He surprised us with a supreme gift of love.  God sent us His own Son, not as a conquering, warrior king to destroy, but rather as a harmless child who would save.  Christmas is a story about the supreme goodness of God.  The message of Christmas is not about the goodness of humanity, but rather, the goodness of God despite the horrible sins of mankind.

The Christian Is Called To Goodness

In Titus 3, the first two verses may look like a list of duties.  However, the list itself flows out of a central principle that followers of Jesus are called to goodness in everything that they do.  The first area Paul points out is our goodness towards authority, specifically governmental.  Christians ought to act in a good manner towards governments and any authorities in their life for that matter.  There are many times when the wickedness within a person causes them to reject the virtues of self-subjection and obedience to authority.  In fact as you read this you may not see them as virtuous, but as problems.  Yet, there are fewer times when righteousness demands that we stand against authority.  In fact, it is important for Christians to note, that even when the apostles themselves disobeyed governmental authorities by continuing to preach Christ, they submitted to the punishments without raging against those who carried them out.  In fact, they demonstrated love even to those who were persecuting them.  Yes, there are many issues in this area.  Yet, this cannot be avoided.  Those who follow Jesus must do so in an attitude of subjection and obedience to governmental authorities, and not one of rage, anger, and rebellion.

Next Paul tells them to be ready for every good work.  This is a general statement that helps us to see that we are to do more than just be good in a passive sense.  We are to actively prepare for and execute those good works that opportunity affords us.  How can we ready ourselves?  Our readiness is that of a disciple who is listening to the Holy Spirit and living out what He teaches us.  We follow the Spirit of Christ rather than the Spirit of this Age.  It is our submission and obedience to the authority of the Lord Jesus that enables us to be ready for the good things we must do, and often to those who “don’t deserve it.”

Lastly Paul tells us to be good towards our fellow man.  Verse 2 demonstrates many different ways that we can do that.  “Speak evil of no one,” uses the word that is translated blasphemy when it is used of God.  Thus we are not to speak what is untrue or unsubstantiated about any one, period.  We are to be peaceable towards others.  That means we don’t start fights and further more we decline to fight with others when they start it.  Such bickering, quarreling, and outbursts are to stop at the decision of the believer to not reciprocate such things.  We are also told to be gentle.  This is not about how we touch one another, but is about our dealings.  We should be fair, equitable, mild, and loving even in times of correction.  Lastly we should be humble before all men.  In fact, especially before those whom we feel we are above.  This life of goodness is not easy to accept.  Our flesh comes up with innumerable excuses and “reasons” why Jesus can’t really mean this. 

It is easy to be good towards those who we think are good, but in verse 3 Paul reminds us that we were not always a person committed to being good.  It is important to identify with the person we see as evil.  Even if we have left that life behind, we used to be like them.  If we condemn them then we are condemning ourselves.  If they are unworthy of goodness then so are we.  Paul ends his list of what our past life was like with a picture of those who are selfish and scrapping with everyone around them, hateful and hating.  It is survival of the fittest and dog eat dog.  This is the world as it was in the days of the first Christmas.  Little hope, little light, and thick darkness all around. 

The Goodness of God Has Appeared in Jesus

In verses 4-8, Paul reminds us that Jesus came to us during this darkness.  His “appearance” is a reference to His incarnation, birth and life.  His light broke in upon the darkness and life sprang up among the dead.  Jesus broke in upon this sad condition of ours and gave us goodness.  This is what we are called to do.  We are to be the goodness of God breaking in upon the darkness of others in this world.

Jesus did not just merely exist, but he was the goodness of God towards people who didn’t deserve goodness.  He came not as a rebel against the government in order to take over, nor as a destroyer.  He was the gentleness and compassion of God as he healed people, set them free from demons, helped them to see the truths that they had lost, and simply helped them to believe in God again.  No matter what we experience in life, we must keep this as the bedrock of our understanding: God loves us all and has poured out benevolent kindness upon us despite our wickedness.

He did so not because He was obligated to do so.  He would have been perfectly justified to judge us as evil and either wall himself off from us, or destroy us.  No individual and no nation had done anything that would deserve the kindness of God to send mankind His Son as a savior.  It was simply mercy.  He gave us what we didn’t deserve.  This salvation was not the outward destruction of our enemies.  Otherwise He would have to destroy us all due to the fact that we are all someone’s enemy.  Rather, the salvation is of a spiritual and mental nature.  It is intended to change our way of dealing with the world around us.  We are to respond and live differently because that is who God is.

Part of this mercy is described as being regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  Though this term can refer to the Resurrection, here it is referring to the spiritual resurrection of our dead spirit.  Before Christ we were spiritually dead to God.  We could not hear and respond to Him.  Instead we only listened to and followed the flesh and the spirit of this age.  When a person puts their faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit does a real work of making their spirit alive to God.  This is also called “born again.”  The Spirit takes up residence within our heart and mind in order to help us connect with the heart of the Father.

We are also mercifully renewed by the Holy Spirit.  By following the spirit of this age and our own flesh, our mind and heart have become broken and scarred.  We have believed all manner of lies and deceptions.  The renewal of our mind and heart happens through the teaching of Jesus and his apostles.  The Word of God and our obedience to it washes and renews our mind and heart from the crud of this world.  Over time it is easy to give up and become discouraged with this process.  Yet, take heart.  We were told that it would be difficult to follow Jesus and that we would be tempted to quit.  When you run into things that discourage you, this is a sign that you are on the right path.  Some people give up at the very moment they are getting on to the right path.

Verse 8 brings us full circle.  Those who believe in the person and work of Jesus will be careful to maintain a life of good works.  This means we will be vigilant and watch over our life in order to keep doing the good things that God has for us to do.  Some people balk when we talk about good works because it sounds like we are trying to save ourselves with works.  It has been said that, “The theology of Christianity is based on grace, the ethics of Christianity are based on gratitude.”   We do not do good works because they will save us.  Rather we do them out of gratitude for the salvation we already have.  If God so loved us, while we were yet sinners, how much more ought we to act in love towards all men?  Don’t let this world rob you of the goodness of God.  Instead, be one who gives it freely everywhere you go.  No, we do not do good to others because of a foolish notion of humanity’s goodness.  Rather we do so because of the truth of God’s goodness and the ability of people to be redeemed.

Goodness of it all audio

Tuesday
Feb052013

Serving For God’s Glory

Today we continue in 1 Peter chapter 4 and deal with verses 7-11.  This section does not speak about suffering per se.  However, it does answer the question.  What should we be doing?  Peter does so by first reminding them of where they are in relation to God’s plan and gives them some practical things upon which to focus.

The End Of All Things Is At Hand

Verse 7 begins with an ominous statement that the end of all things is at hand.  Thus we need to deal with what Peter meant by “The End.”  There are some that believe the apostles taught that Jesus was returning within a matter of months maybe years and thus Peter’s statement reflects his mistaken belief that the coming of Jesus was going to happen shortly.  However this flies in the face of what the Bible says.  Jesus himself had told the apostles in Acts 1:7 that it was not for them to know the times or the seasons which the Father had kept to himself.  Also, many of the parables of Jesus emphasized a long departure of the King which would lead to many of his “managers” abusing their positions.  It is inconsistent to read into this statement that Peter means the Judgment of the nations was going to happen within years.

Others believe that “the end” refers to Israel under the Law of Moses.  In fact they take most if not all of the end times language of the New Testament to refer to the Judgment of Israel.  It is true that the judgment of Israel, which had already begun, would soon receive a “nail in the coffin,” as the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD.  The problem is that this doesn’t fit the context.  Peter is writing to Christians who have already left Israel behind. They were a remnant sent out into the world as a judgment to Israel.  They were scattered throughout the area of modern Turkey.  The final point would be the use of the phrase “all things.”  It would really be stretching the context to make “all things” only mean all things pertaining to Israel.  They live in Gentile lands and their need to be sober and watchful in prayer is because of the coming judgment upon the nations.

The apostles taught that Jesus could come at any time and was ready to bring judgment, but that they did not know the time.  Believers were to simply live a life of readiness for the Lord’s coming.  Thus the Church age or the time of Grace to the Gentiles is characterized by a people who are warning of looming judgment and are ready at all times for it to come.  Israel’s judgment is a warning that emphasizes the message of the Church. 

When we look at history from God’s perspective we will recognize that it has a clear purpose and a distinct destiny.  A football field does not go on forever.  It has a goal or end point that enables a team to place.  God has not put mankind on an infinite field.  The history of mankind is headed somewhere and is revealed in God’s Word.  God is reasoning with man and the angels regarding his nature and the nature of good and evil.  We went from Innocence in the Garden to Rebellion and then Judgment at the Flood.  However, in Noah we see the Grace of God who then furthers that grace by creating a nation Israel who would teach mankind regarding Legalism.  At the cross all mankind, whether rebellious heathens or sanctimonious “followers of God,” are judged as wicked and in need of God’s grace.  We now live in a period of Grace in which God allows that reasoning or message to go out to the world and save whosoever will receive it.  Thus mankind has a purpose that gives it a specific limit or end.

Lastly, regarding the end we need to deal with the phrase “at hand.”  This phrase is more a phrase of process than it is of chronology.  In other words it does not necessarily mean it is about to happen in a matter of months or years.  It means that the plan of God that has reasoned with mankind throughout history had reached its final point.  Now Judgment was looming and a time of grace was given for men to make up their mind.  Jesus is ready to judge, but God refrains from sending him because he is making room for more to be saved.  From a standpoint of the plan of God nothing new needs to happen.  God’s witness of himself is completed and the Church gives it to all those who it can.  Judgment of this world system is the next thing on the agenda.  In that sense it is at hand and ready for the Father’s directive.

How Then Should Believers Live?

This important point of where we are in God’s economy is to let those who are suffering know that not only does their suffering have purpose, but it also has an end.  So what do we do in the mean time?  Simply they need to do what Jesus told them to do. 

First they need to be sober-minded and self controlled.  The two words used here speak to the same idea, but one focuses on the mind whereas the other includes actions.  The world is pursuing the desires of the flesh in an ever maddening rush.  Like a drunken person who has lost all inhibitions and awareness, the world plunges forward into its judgment.  Believers are not to be a part of this.  We are to have “right thinking” and calm purposeful actions that are informed by God himself and thus, reality.  This world threatens to spiritually inebriate Christians, but we must refuse its intoxication.  Temptations can cause us to throw off inhibitions and make dangerous choices, which lead to dangerous actions.  Jesus is coming to judge the world.  Will he find you being faithful when he comes?

We should also be people of prayer.  We don’t just pray soberly.  Rather it is our sobriety that leads us into prayer.  The more we live for the flesh the less we will pray for the right things and eventually the less we will pray at all.  Whether worship and praise, or intercession and petition, the believer who lives in a world that rejects God will find themselves turning to God more and more often.  Between the goodness of God and the heaviness of the world we should not lack motivation to come to God in prayer.

In verse 8 he calls us to be people who love each other.  This is to be above all things.  That does not necessarily mean more important.  But rather our love for one another is the overall atmosphere in which we do all that we do.  We are to love fervently.  The word translated fervently literally means to stretch out.  Much like a football player who wants to make a touchdown stretches out and leaps for the catch, so too must believers stretch themselves out in love.  You may think to yourself, “But I don’t want to get hurt.”  The real question is this: How badly do you want to catch the ball?  Jesus calls us to want to love each other so strongly that we are willing to stretch ourselves out and risk a broken rib here and there.  In fact because each of us are sinners saved by grace, we need love to cover our own sins.  Cover here does not mean to cover up by pretending it doesn’t exist.  Rather, love overlooks those minor faults that we all have and yet confronts those major faults that we all need to change.  Love enables us to remain in community even though our sins would tear us all apart. 

In verse 9 he brings up the issue of hospitality.  This word means to be a friend to strangers.  Though it is hospitable to have your friends over for dinner, true hospitality is when you invite someone you don’t know over for dinner.  Not only that, but we need to do so without that inner complaining that can ruin our spirit.

Lastly, Peter tells us to minister God’s gifts to each other.  Though this can be seen as still a part of love, Peter spends 2 verses fleshing this out in particular.  God has blessed you with certain gifts and abilities.  But they are not for you to spend on yourself.  Rather we are to manage them and administer them to one another.  You are a manager of God’s stuff in your life.  Are you a stingy manager?  Lazy? Lavish? Diligent?  What kind of manager am I of God’s things?  Just as the prophets of old had a serious calling, so we must see ourselves called to bless others through the gifts and abilities that he has and is supplying.  Do not merely trust in yourself, but lean upon God’s supply.  Yes, you may not be able to do it.  But God can through you if you will trust him.

When we minister his gifts to each other we will bring glory to God because we have properly reflected the heart of Jesus.  This really is our ultimate purpose.  So do we really need to do something different as we see the end times come closer and closer?  Not really. The instructions remain the same, because they have always been the instructions of what to do under the looming threat of the end.

Final Thoughts

In these last days we see, on the one hand, how God has lengthened the day of grace in order to save more people.  Peter speaks to this in 2 Peter 3:9 when he says, “The Lord is not slow concerning his promise.”  On the other hand, as we approach the end God will need to shorten it.  Due to the wickedness of mankind and the wrath of God being poured out, no flesh would survive.  This is seen in Matthew 24:22.  We can trust God’s perfect supervision of these end times.  Whether we are suffering or persecuted, God is in control.  He is bringing us to something good.  Instead of fear let us pray for boldness to be sober-minded and self controlled as we love one another.  Maranatha!

Serving God's Glory Audio

Tuesday
Sep182012

Our Present Life

We continue our walk through the New Testament book of First Peter and will look at chapter one verses 13-15 today. 

After reminding believers of the testing trials of this life, Peter then moves to encourage them in their everyday life.  Starting in verse 13 we have three exhortations that appear to be commands.  However, only one of them is commanded, where the other two are put out as descriptions of how to do the main command.  Can you figure out which is which?  By consulting other versions you can discover that the main command has to do with our Hope.

We Must Hope To The End

Is that correct?  Is Peter really commanding them to Hope?  Is that possible?  It is just as possible as our other command to love.  We tend to think of love and hope as feelings.  Peter is not commanding them to have “hopeful” feelings.  Rather he is talking about an action that we can choose to do.  Thus, just as love is a decision, so Hope is a decision too. 

Hope always has a future thing for which it is waiting.  So the decision here is not even about deciding to feel.  Rather it is the decision to keep waiting for that promised grace that is to be revealed at the second coming of Jesus.  The object of our hope can change because of difficulties and trials in life.  We can give up and even place our hopes on other things (perhaps even things that are not godly).  That is the decision we have to make every day in the midst of tough times.  Will I keep hoping in the grace I will receive at Christ’s coming, or will I hope for something “realistic.”  Though we are daily receiving grace from God, it is still only a portion of the fuller grace that has been promised.  There is a wonderful day ahead of us where our status as children of God will be not just revealed, but we will also receive immortal bodies that are not tainted by the sin nature.  Peter commands them to not give up that hope.  The challenge is not just to fully hope in that grace as if we had a “hope-ometer” that needs to be pegged at 100% all the time.  Rather the picture is that of a finish line or a goal.  If we are going to obtain the grace then we need to keep our hope pinned on it until we reach it.

So how can we not lose hope in God’s amazing promise in the light of this world’s trials and reminders that we are not there yet?  This is where the phrases, girding up the loins of the mind, and being sober come into play.

Girding up the loins, or waist, of your mind is a strange phrase.  It is a picture of first century clothing.  The robes they wore would have a tie or belt that kept them held shut.  If you were going outside you would tie your robe shut.  Or if you were going to do some physical labor you might even need to hike up the robe and tie it off in a way that would not encumber your feet and legs.  When this is used of the mind it is clear that a mental issue is involved.  It speaks of preparation.  What mental preparations do I need to make so that I will not be tripped up and restricted in this challenge to hope to the end?  First I need to recognize that my own desires can pull me away from it.  Also, the schemes of our enemy, satan, are focused on aiding this.  Mentally I need to be aware of those things that would keep me from the grace God has for me and prepare for them.

The phrase “be sober” also points to preparation.  However, the issue is different.  In the first I need to make preparations.  In the other, I need to refrain from things that could affect my ability to hope adversely.  Think of how alcohol affects a person in the natural state.  It causes people to lose their inhibitions and self control.  It causes people to lose their awareness of things around them.  It can even eventually lead to losing consciousness and death.  Though the believer should stay away from drunkenness, Peter is speaking spiritually and mentally here.  We need to be sober in the sense that we are not “drunk” from drinking in the lusts of our flesh.  Those who live to please their flesh, will become spiritually drunk.  They will begin to lose inhibitions and eventually any control on their fleshly appetites.  This will lead to a loss of awareness of their true spiritual condition.  They will think everything is alright.  But to any sober minded person they will be clearly out of control.  Eventually a loss of spiritual consciousness can occur.  This is where a person is unable to receive any stimuli from the Lord, whether through the cautions of others, injunctions in the Scriptures, or the pressings of the Holy Spirit.  Such a person will lose sight of the hope and degenerate into only hoping for the “next fix” for their fleshly appetites.   Let’s face it.  Satan uses the love of our flesh for the desire of this world to get us spiritually drunk.  This tactic is quite effective on those who are not mentally prepared.

We Must Be Holy

The next two verses focus on how we need to be a reflection of the one we are following.  If God’s promised grace at the coming of Jesus is what we are hoping FOR, then Jesus himself is what we are IN or ON.  We can have hope for the future because of the one on whom our hopes are placed.  There is a relationship between faith and hope.  Whatever you are putting your faith in will affect what your hope is.  Yet Peter is more focused on how the enemy derails our faith and hope.  Satan uses the impure desires of our flesh for the things of this world.  Ife we are to truly follow Jesus then it will involve a focus on being holy.  So what does that mean?

The simplest understanding of holy is the idea that something has been set apart for a divine purpose.  It is not to be used for ordinary purposes even though it may be very ordinary.  It is not the inherent quality of the thing but the fact that it has been set apart that makes it holy.  If you have put your faith in Jesus then through him God has decreed that you are for His holy purposes.  In the Bible we see Belshazzar of Babylon using the holy cups and bowls of the temple for a drunken party.  This angers God and he loses his kingdom.  However, when it comes to people, we are not inanimate objects.  We can make choices to be involved in purposes that are contrary to God’s purposes.  We don’t pursue holiness as if we could attain it.  Rather we cooperate with the holiness that God has given to us in Jesus.  We can either walk in harmony with that holiness or we can fight against it.

This is why Peter gives the analogy of an obedient child.  A child doesn’t always understand why mom and dad won’t let it do whatever its little heart desires.  It has a choice.  Obedience is not a matter of becoming a son or daughter.  It is a matter of cooperating with the reality that I belong to God because I AM his child.  If we please ourselves then Satan will succeed in getting our hopes pinned on the lusts of this world and eventually robbing us of our heavenly inheritance.  Are you about your father’s business?  Or are you in the business of pleasing your flesh?

When Scripture says, “be holy for I am holy,” it is reminding us of our nature.  We were created to reflect God.  God is holy therefore our lives should reflect that holiness.   This is not out of some puritanical prudishness.  But rather out of protection against the spiritual unconsciousness that results in the life of those who pursue the lusts of the flesh.  Those are the things we pursued in our former ignorance, before we knew Jesus and God’s love for us.  But now that we know what he has done for us and is bringing us to we need to watch our lives guardedly and keep our hopes fixed on Jesus who brings the completion of God’s grace with him.  Maranatha!

Our Present Life Audio