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Weekly Word

Entries in Faith (38)

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

Tuesday
Sep052017

The Unshakable Kingdom

Hebrews 12:25-29.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on September 03, 2017.

Today we will finish this chapter as we look at the importance of believers in Jesus living each day by faith in Him.  Last week we were reminded of the heavenly city in which we have citizenship.  In this last passage, the Holy Spirit reminds us that we are receiving an unshakable kingdom.  As we close out this section, I pray that you are able to see both the wonderful grace of God that we have been given, and the amazing responsibility we have to keep trusting Jesus, no matter what we may face in this life.

Don’t refuse the voice of the Father

By itself, vs. 25 begs the question, “What voice is being referenced?”  However, as you move back through the passage it is clear that the voice of God is what we are talking about.  If we tie the Old Testament allusions to the earlier references that God disciplines us as a Heaven Father, then it becomes clear that Christians are being told not to ignore the voice of God.  Even today, we can be guilty of ignoring or refusing to obey the voice of God.  But, before we get into what that can look like, let’s first deal with this exhortation to obey God’s voice.

We are reminded of those who rejected God’s voice under the Old Covenant and how they did not escape His judgment.  They did hear an audible voice while they were at Mt. Sinai.  However, the majority of God’s Word was given to them by the prophet Moses and confirmed by the amazing signs and wonders that God did among them.  That first generation that came out of Egypt heard the voice of God and even embraced it by agreeing to a covenant with God at Sinai.  Yet, they did not follow God through the desert in faith.  Most of them perished in the wilderness, not because they lost faith one time or in an instance, but because they continually refused to trust God all along the way.  His judgment was sometimes a quick and instantaneous thing such as when Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were swallowed up in an earthquake’s rift, or the many that died from the fiery serpents, or those who perished in the deception of the Moabites.  The testimony of Scripture is that most of them did not walk by faith and complained with unbelief.  The majority perished by simply growing old and dying in their unbelief.  Later generations of Israel who were not at Sinai to hear “The Voice” had to make a choice.  Were they going to listen to the Word of God’s voice that had been recorded or were they going to refuse to listen to it?  We are in the same position.  Though we are not under the Law of Moses, we have heard the record of the New Covenant that God has made clear through His Son Jesus.  Jesus was the Voice of God and He guaranteed that His Holy Spirit would speak through His Apostles to direct His Church.  This has all been recorded faithfully for us.  We have a choice to make.  We either believe it, or refuse and go on in our disbelief.  All generations are accountable to the record of the God’s voice.  On top of all this, if we walk in faith and trust God’s Word, He speaks to our hearts by His Holy Spirit and leads us through the wilderness of this world.  So the point is clear.  Be like Moses, Joshua, and Caleb, rather than like those who refused to believe and perished.  Physically hearing God’s Word is not enough to save us.  We need to put our faith in what it says.

Verse 26 then reminds us that God is shaking the heavens and the earth with His New Covenant through Jesus.  Just as the voice of God shook Mt. Sinai, so the earth would be shaken by the Gospel.  But, more than that, God was also shaking the heavens.  The devil and his angels were being told that they would be cast down into the Lake of Fire, and the Church would be raised up in their place and even higher.  Now this part about shaking the heavens and the earth is a quote from Haggai 2:6.  Its point is that God would shake things to remove that which can be shaken and replace it with something that would be permanent.  It would be easy to see this shaking as something that started and ended in that first year as the disciples went out into the world.  However, when we think through what the Scriptures say about the removal of the old order, on earth and in the heavens, then we can recognize that the shaking started in the first century and will continue until Jesus comes back and concludes removing the old.  Yes, the Law of Moses and the nation of Israel passed away in that first century and the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church were set up.  But, this shaking is not over.  Throughout the New Testament we are given a sense that all that God has promised is both now, and not completely yet.  God has much more to do in this shaking that even involves the restored state of Israel and the Jewish people.  The key to this point is to recognize that in Jesus we are a part of what is going to remain.  Why would you try to go back to that which will not remain, the Law of Moses or the world, and refuse that which will remain?  The shaking has begun to knock down the shakable things of this world and that which cannot be shaken has begun to take its place, but it is not yet completed.

So we are told that believers in Jesus are receiving an unshakable kingdom.  By faith in Jesus we have a part in that kingdom that cannot be taken from us.  As Joshua and Caleb led the next generation into the Promised Land, so we can rejoice at the 2nd Coming of Christ and the inheritance that will be made manifest at that time.  When all the nations of this world have fallen, the Kingdom of Jesus will remain.  We should not be arrogant at such words because we stand by faith in God and by His grace, not by our own power.  So the unshakable kingdom is here, at least in our hearts, but not complete.  The book of Revelation is about the completing of the Kingdom of God.  Just as Israel could not survive its continual refusal to listen to God’s voice, the nations of the world today (America included) cannot survive their refusal.  Think about it.  Is there any nation on the earth today whose government makes every decision based upon what will please Jesus Christ and God the Father, based upon God’s Word?  None do so, not even the United States of America.  So I fear for our country as I watch the federal government, state governments, and local continuing to reject the leadership of Jesus and going their own way.

Let us walk in grace

Surrounded by this sea of unbelief, it would be easy to doubt God’s Word and seek compromises with the world and our own flesh.  The whole point of this chapter has been to strengthen our faith so that we can continue to walk in the grace of God (vs. 28).  It is called grace because we cannot obtain it by obeying a list of outward commands.  It truly is a gift of God to those who repent of their sins, and put their faith in Jesus.  It is also called grace because we give to others what God has given us, love, forgiveness, and the offer of salvation.

To those first century Jewish believers (the book is called Hebrews for a reason) the temptation was to quit following the grace of Jesus and go back under the Law of Moses.  However, there was no going back in God’s eyes.  The Old Covenant was fulfilled and had served its purpose.  It was time for the New Covenant and the faithful would hear the voice of God and leave the spiritual Egypt behind in order to follow Jesus, who is greater than Moses in every way.  Today many Jews continue to cling to the Old Covenant hoping to find salvation in it.  But salvation can only be found in God.  For most Christians the problem is not trying to go back to the Law of Moses, although some do struggle with this.  Instead we are often tempted to create a kind of Christian Law, by which we attempt to justify ourselves through outward conformity, rather than through inward transformation.  The point is not so much what you turn back towards, but what you are leaving behind in order to do so.  If God is going east and you turn back and go west, then you are headed away from life.  Don’t turn your back on God and His amazing grace.  Other Christians turn towards a kind of intellectual trick that says we can live anyway we want because we are under grace.  They turn grace into a license for immorality.  This too is a refusal to follow God.  The New Covenant has not removed the need for living out the righteousness of God.  Rather, it has provided a safe platform on which we can become more and more like Jesus as His Word transforms us from the inside to the outside.

Thus verse 28 mentions acceptable service.  Though some versions use the word “worship” it intends worship in the sense of everything we do to show God’s worth.  What makes our life acceptable?  I believe the Holy Spirit’s continual reminder in these passages of those who didn’t believe under the Old Covenant reveals it to us.  Acceptable worship is to do what God says to do.  It is to obey and to do so from a heart broken over its sin and overflowing with thanksgiving to God for His mercy.  Acceptable worship is to walk by faith in Jesus and trusting His Word.  No, not just the parts that we think He said.  Jesus guaranteed that the Holy Spirit would guide the Apostles into all truth.  They faithfully recorded what Jesus taught and what the Spirit taught them.  We are accountable to those words. 

It is also acceptable because it is done in reverence and godly fear.  Why does passage end with such a fierce verse?  “Our God is a consuming fire.”  At Mt. Sinai, Israel was instilled with the fear of a slave towards a master.  But at the cross we are instilled with the respect and healthy fear that a child should have towards their father.  We should always be aware that no matter how close God draws us to His side and no matter how much He loves us, He will not put up with rebellion, unbelief, and refusal to obey.  His very nature of being a consuming fire requires us to approach with understanding.  In fact, it is worth contemplating that the same fire that is able to burn up all our sin and make us a refined product that is 100% pure, can also consume us in judgment.  Faith is what makes the difference.  So let’s fully follow Jesus.  And let’s not do so as we imagine him or want him to be.  Let us hear the word of the Lord and say, “Yes, Father.  I hear and want to follow you!”  Let's not trade an unshakable kingdom for that which cannot last, and a heavenly birthright for the temporary pleasures of sin.

Unshakable Kingdom audio

Thursday
Aug242017

Faith in Action

Hebrews 12:12-17.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 20, 2017.  Today we will continue in looking at Hebrews 12 and the importance of faith in the life of a Christian.  We have looked at how faith is a long-distance, endurance race, which includes times of discipline from the Lord.  In the verses we will look at today, we are given instructions that will help us to keep living by faith and what that looks like.

Prepare yourself for God’s work

As the Holy Spirit instructs us to lay aside the weights and sins that would hold us down (vs. 1) and to keep our eyes on Jesus (vs. 2), here we are given further instructions in verse 12.  Before we get into what those instructions are, it is imperative to recognize that faith involves doing what God has for us to do.  These instructions are teaching us how to prepare ourselves so that we can do His work by faith.  Running the race of faith is a series of actions in life that flow from our confidence in Christ (his commands and direction), as opposed to doing our own thing. 

So we start with strengthening our hands and knees for the work.  Both of these aspects of our body are important to many tasks of life.  We use them to move, touch, and help others in so many ways.  Of course other body parts could be mentioned as well.  The point is really about strength to obey Jesus.  In fact the word for “feeble knees” could be translated as “paralyzed knees.”  Why would I have my hands hanging at my side and my knees paralyzed when Jesus has given me my marching orders?  It could be because of fear and discouragement, whether from past failures or present threats.  It could also be from the temptation of sin, its debilitating effects, and even deception.  The devil loves to get us in a position where we are neutralized from doing God’s will for any reason possible.  We need to first know what our Father’s business is, and then we must strengthen ourselves to do it.  I believe keeping our eyes on Jesus (vs. 2) and praying for the help of the Holy Spirit will go a long way to giving us the strength we need to obey Jesus.  However, don’t think that means you will feel strong.  The flesh often “feels” weak when you are exercising faith in God.  So trust God to help you as you step forward in faith.

Next we are told to straighten our path with others.  A straight path is an important image in the Bible.  In fact it reminds me of John the Baptist who quoted from Isaiah when he called himself, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight.”  This image of building a road could be seen as making a path for the Lord Himself to walk on.  However, it can also be seen as straightening our lives because they belong to Him.  We have been purchased by Jesus and our lives (the way we live them) should take on the same form as the Lord himself.  My flesh makes me want to go to the left and to the right.  My flesh doesn’t want to go through the hassle of tearing down the high and proud places in my life, or the hassle of letting him lift up the low places (humble or weak) in our life.  To build a life that walks straight with our fellow man and is flat before them and the Lord is not easy.  In fact, without God it is impossible.  Repentance is the first step in asking God to help us in this endeavor, and believe His Word, He will.  Don’t let your flesh, or the world, dictate how you live among others or for what purposes.  Instead focus upon Jesus and the path you walk will be straight (correct).  His way must become our way.

Pursue peace with others and holiness with God

The next steps come in verse 14.  We must pursue peace with others and holiness with God.  A common thing in the Bible is the three aspects of self, others, and Jesus.  In verses 12 through 13 the instruction is focused on what we should do in ourselves.  Here we deal with the other two aspects “others” and “God.” 

When we are told to pursue peace with all people, it assumes that it will be hard to achieve for both internal and external reasons.  It is easy to quit seeking peace with others.  But that door is not left open for us.  No matter what we are to pursue peace.  Yet, peace cannot be contrived.  It must be real.  On one hand it is God’s will for His people to dwell in peace together, and it is His will for us to live peacefully among unbelievers.  However, Romans 12:18 gives us more information on this command.  “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”  It even goes on to tell believers that they must refrain from seeking revenge for wrongs done to us.  Instead we are to trust God’s judgments.  So recognize that though peace is the goal, we must not become people pleasers in order to get it.  We are to remain God pleasers always.  Thus for our part we act peacefully towards others, even though they may reject us and act without peace back towards us.  In those cases, we pray for them and wait for God to bring them around.  One of the surest ways to snuff out faith in others is to seek your own revenge, or to be overly obsessed with peace.  Both extremes side step the power of the Gospel and replace it with human power.

Now the holiness part needs to be looked at.  Holiness with God cannot be skipped in our lives.  It is often the first thing to be jettisoned when dealing with others.  What do I mean by that?  The essence of “holiness” is that we are not just another person.  We belong to the Lord and thus are to use our lives for his purposes only.  This is a holy thing.  But hurt and anger tempt us to reject holiness and choose to use our lives as we please.  We cannot continually reject our Lord and think such a life will end in our salvation.  I am not saying that our works save us.  But I am saying that the Lord has saved us for us to follow Him.  If we say we are following Him, but do whatever we want, we are simply lying to ourselves and the world around us.  Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and faith involves learning to follow Jesus.  Praise God that He helps us and knows that we are weak.  Trust His love and His instructions and He will bring you through.

In verse 15 we are told to watch again.  In verse 2 it was to look to Jesus for direction and encouragement.  But here we are told to watch for those things that are hazardous to our faith, and pitfalls spiritually.  As a band of brothers and sisters we must not only watch out for ourselves, but for one another.  We don’t want anyone to fall short of the grace of God, that is, to quit the race for one reason or another.  One of those hazards is bitterness.  Bitterness is likened to a root that starts out deep in our heart.  Someone wronged us somehow.  It can even be bitterness at God for allowing something to happen in our life.  We become frustrated and angry of how things went and can hold on to grudges and anger.  Like the roots of a weed, the roots of bitterness can go deep quickly.  We must be ruthless in digging it out of our own lives.  We must be careful in helping others who are dealing with bitterness because trying to force them to do it can become another source of bitterness for them.  In fact the writer says that bitterness can grow up and come to the surface.  We can be defiled through the turmoil and dissension caused by it.  It is good to be able to recognize wrongs, but we must not let self-pity and fear have a place, or we will become another part of the problem.

In fact the writer brings up Esau as an example of what not to be.  He grew up in a home that worshipped and served God.  He was the eldest and thus stood to be the inheritor of the birthright and blessings of his father.  Now two words are used.  “Fornication” is any sex outside of a marriage between a man and a woman.  It is sometimes connected to food in a metaphorical sense because both are appetites of our flesh.  Proverbs says that those who go to a harlot have been reduced to bread.  Both by being the means of her obtaining the money to buy food, but also the sexual act itself is simply two people satisfying their fleshly appetites.  Sex is something far greater than a means of satisfying our libido.  The word “profane” means to treat or use something that is holy for common or selfish purposes.  Esau stood to inherit a great spiritual blessing, but He treated it as if it was merely a commodity that he could trade for a meal.  Later his repentance was only a physical repentance.  In other words, his flesh was sorry that he would not get the blessing.  His tears are not about his own sin, but the effect of that sin.  True repentance is not just sorry because of the effects of sin.  It is also sorry that it chose the wrong path in the first place.  Though he sought to blessed by his father Isaac with tears, Isaac would not repent of giving the blessing to Jacob.  We cannot obtain the blessing of God without a life of faith in Jesus and avoiding those materialistic pitfalls that find a place in our heart.

Take time today to examine your heart and life.  Have I become profane and am I using the life that God has given me simply to please my flesh?  The good news is that even now if we recognize it to be true, we can have true repentance.  May our lives be filled with strength, straightened, peaceful, and holy.  May we be the saints of God!

Faith in Action audio