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Weekly Word

Entries in Faith (30)

Saturday
Apr012017

Sharing Jesus Passionately

Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:7-8.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 26, 2017.

We have looked at three purposes of the people of God.  First we are to Connect to Jesus and each other in a living relationship.  If it is a living relationship then we will Grow spiritually to become more like Jesus.  Thirdly, if we are growing to be like Jesus then we will Serve one another selflessly.  This leads to the last purpose that we will look at, which is to Share Jesus passionately with those who are not connected to Him.  All of these “purposes” flow out of the first purpose and can be considered part of it.  Regardless, let’s look at this issue of sharing Jesus passionately.

There are many today who speak of a cultural arrogance of Christians.  What gives Christians the right to tell others that they do not have the truth, in any way?  For sure over the years Christians have sometimes confused spreading the Gospel with spreading a culture.  Still, the question is this.  Is it ever acceptable to teach someone else something that you believe to be truth?  It should immediately be evident that much of life could not happen without the concept of some teaching others truth.  A child that is born into the world is never left to discover truth all on its own.  They are taught what to eat, what to avoid, etc.  A person who wants to learn a profession goes to those who are already doing it, in order to learn the trade.  Once a person has grasped the collective learning to that point, then they are in a place to seek on their own what may not be understood up to now.  What I am saying is that we cannot intellectually reject the concept of telling others the truth.  We can only disagree with what they are promoting as truth.  As Christians we should not allow ourselves to fall prey to the idea that we should let others find the truth for themselves.  Those who promote such things firmly promote it as truth, which in itself is a type of hypocrisy.  No.  If you are Christian then do not apologize for believing God’s Word.  Instead, confidently take your place within the market of ideas, and share Jesus passionately.  You have as much right as the next person to speak your peace.

We will see today that there is another side to this matter.  Up to now we have been dealing with our relationship to other people.  Yet, there is also our relationship to God.  If God has given us truth that others lack, and He has told us to share it with them, then we would be rejecting His will not to share the truth with them.  Thus we would not be walking in faith, but in disobedience.

Today we will look at a passage that shares an interaction that Jesus had with his disciples after the resurrection, but before he ascended into heaven.  It serves as a transitional story from the works that Jesus did while he was on earth to the works that His Church did through his spiritual help.  If we understand anything today, I pray that we will see that we can confidently share the good news about Jesus with anyone we meet without feeling shame.

Jesus gives his disciples a mission

Though the disciples are not exactly clear what is going on, we know that Jesus is getting ready to leave earth.  He is going into the heavenly realm to stay at the right hand of the Father, until he is sent back to establish his reign over the whole earth.  This begs the question: What should his followers do while he is gone?  In this passage Jesus gives instructions for what his followers should be doing.  But, before we talk about the mission he is about to give, let’s look at the condition of the disciples.

Their understanding of who Jesus is and what he is doing had received a complete upheaval at the cross.  They are in a state of shock regarding his death, and yet another shock regarding his resurrection.  Thus Jesus is helping them to make the transition from all that they thought Jesus was to the truth about it.  In some ways they were right, but in very big areas they were also wrong.  Verse 17 shows us that though they worshipped the Lord, some still doubted.   If they are going to be able to do what Jesus is asking them to do then they are going to have to overcome their doubts and learn to worship Jesus as divine.  The same is true today.  What were these doubts they had?  Maybe they doubted that this was really Jesus because their mind just couldn’t accept it.  Maybe they doubted whether they wanted to continue to follow him.  Regardless of what their doubts were and what our doubt might be today we must face them.  Doubts are a very real part of faith.  You can’t have faith without there being some doubts over which to believe.  As we take our doubts and lay them before God in prayer, we will recognize that He has given us very real proof and evidence on which we can believe.  Ultimately doubt and faith is about whether we trust Jesus or not.  So read the Gospels over again and ask yourself if you trust the One who was willing to go to the cross for you, or the wisdom of those who have not.  Christians accept Jesus as more than a great teacher, or a great example of faithful suffering.  He is all that and yet more.  He is the One and Only unique Son of God, who is worthy of the worship of mankind.  He is unique in that he was never created, and in fact, all things that were created were created through him.  What the disciples did that day was considered blasphemy to the Jews.  They accepted the divinity of Jesus and gave worship to him.  To worship Jesus was to recognize his absolute value above all created things and equality with the Father.  Though he was truly human, he was also God.

Then in verse 18 Jesus preempts his instructions with an important truth.  He had been given all authority from the Father over all authorities in heaven and on earth (both the spirit world and the natural world).  This is important because the mission is going to require them to enter into the domain of earthly rulers and spiritual rulers, and promote Jesus as Lord.  This would be seen as an act of insurrection and treated as such by those same rulers.  Thus earthly rulers would challenge Christians on a very physical plane.  What gives you this authority?  In the same way wicked, spiritual rulers would resist.  They would have a better grasp on why Christians have authority to enter their areas of control.  But they would resist nonetheless.  Thus the existence of the Church becomes a means by which all authorities of earth are put on notice by the King of all kings that their time of judgment is rapidly approaching.  Our message to all the citizens of these domains is this: Flee the coming judgment on these rulers and their domains by renouncing them and join the kingdom of Jesus by pledging allegiance to him.  Christian you must understand that anyone who tells you to quit talking about Jesus, is themselves in rebellion to the highest authority of the entire cosmos.  We must not waver in the reality of who Jesus really is.  It is by his authority that we have the right to tell others the truth about their condition and situation.

So this leads us to verses 19 and 20.  These verses lay out the mission that Jesus has for his followers.  The heart of it is to disciple all nations.  So that starts with inviting people to become students of Jesus.  The emphasis of the word “nations” is meant to emphasize the individuals that comprise the nations, and not the geopolitical entities and their governments.  We are not called to Christianize all governments, but rather to “Christianize” all who want to become disciples of Jesus out of every nation that exists.  Now, I have taken time to make a rough diagram of the mission to make it easier to discuss.

Our command or imperative is to disciple all nations.  So we are to help others to become disciples of Jesus as we are.  Also, there is no biological, racial, or cultural boundary that we are limited by.  Christ has authority over all nations and thus authorizes us to make disciples from all nations.  All of this is not to be done forcefully.  All disciples must do so of their own choosing.  We are called by Jesus, “come follow me,” but not forced to do so.  Thus all Christians are volunteers in the service of Jesus. 

Now that we have the principle parts of the command, let’s look at the qualifiers.  The English version makes it look like our command is to go.  However, in the original language it is a verbal adjective that is describing the disciples.  The emphasis is not that everyone who claims to be a disciple must go to all the nations, but that the disciples are to be a “going” people.  Thus, whether we are doing our part by going across the street to our neighbor, or going to the ends of the earth, this is our collective responsibility.  Thus Christians who are not missionaries to other nations, are still “goers” because they are sharing Jesus within their own area and they help to support those that go to other nations through prayer and funds.  We cannot ever become a people who hide behind walls and wait for God to take the world away.  Rather we are called to advance into the most evil of environments and proclaim the judgment of God to those dark forces that rule them and proclaim deliverance to whosoever wants out of those kingdoms.  Christians must not be cowards who hide in fear.  Rather, we must be those who take our fears, much like our doubts, and place them before God, as we ask for courage to walk in faith.  We must have a going heart.

The next qualifying phrases refer to making disciples.  Although Matthew’s version does not explicitly mention this proclamation, Mark’s version says “go and preach the gospel.”  Thus we make disciples by first proclaiming freedom.  Then we baptize those who respond in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In other words, we introduce them into the new community with a symbolic act that represents what is happening in their life.  They are dying to the old life and being raised up to a new life in a new kingdom.  This basically represents a person switching allegiance.  What must those spiritual powers think every time a believer is baptized in the name of Jesus?  It must be salt to their wounds as they lose another person from their grip and come one step closer to their judgment.

The next part of making disciples is to teach them all that Jesus commanded.  Part of what Jesus taught was that his apostles would be enabled by the Holy Spirit to lay down the whole truth for the Church of Christ (John 16:12-13).  He didn’t have time to lay everything out for them.  But He would lead them by the Holy Spirit.  Thus the Bible speaks of the foundation of Christ and his Apostles.  The truth must be taught to these new believers so that they too can become teachers and disciplers.

Of course I have continued the diagram to include what Jesus says about himself.  Notice the parallel.  In a sense he says, “This is what you are supposed to be doing, and this is what I will do.”  He promises to be with his disciples always, even to the end of the age.  Thus the promise is not just for the first century and the first disciples.  It is in force as long as is given to the Church to proclaim the gospel and as many generations.  So how is Jesus with us?  Acts chapter 1:7-8 helps us to understand this.

In this passage the disciples wanted to know what would happen to Israel as a nation at this time.  But Jesus tells them to wait for an event in which the Holy Spirit of God would come upon the disciples of Jesus and help them to be the witnesses and teachers that they were called to be.  So, it is through the Holy Spirit that Jesus is with us.  In fact, in some places the Holy Spirit is actually called the Spirit of Christ.  Why?  He is called that because He is not acting on His own, but leading only in the direction that the Son of God desires.  So what is this age that Jesus refers to and when will it end?  The best way to describe it is to see it as a time of God’s gracious offer of citizenship in His coming kingdom to whosoever will.  Of course Satan fights hard to blind people to the truth and even to pull people back away from Christ.  He will never give up until he is completely removed by God (see Revelation 20:10).  Take time today first to pray for the help of the Holy Spirit.  You were never meant to do this alone.  Thus we have the Holy Spirit and we have a community of others who are in communion with the Holy Spirit.  Second, ask God for focus on how to be a witness of His love and His truth.  Ask Him for help to speak the truth in love and with passion.  Yes, you must become convinced that these things are true before you can worship Jesus and serve Him in this purpose of telling the whole world.  This Age of Grace has a point in which it will end.  We are not told a date or number of years.  We are simply told to be faithful.  May God help His Church to be awake and alert in these perilous times.

Sharing Jesus audio

Monday
Jan162017

The Heart of a Righteous Person 2

Psalm 10:1-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 15, 2017.

We continue today looking at some psalms in the Bible in order to understand the heart of those righteous individuals who have gone before us.  Last week we looked at how the heart of a righteous person: speaks to God, speaks to people, holds fast to the lessons learned by the righteous found in the Bible, and receives the blessing of God.  Today we will deal with the difficulty that presses on the heart of all who want to be godly in this world.

It has questions

In verse 1 we see that the writer of this psalm has questions for God.  It is common for leaders and those who have been Christians for a long time to give the impression that questions are bad.  This can be because they fear a young Christian falling into heresy, but it can also be a fear of losing control on what they believe.  We need to stop this fearful, knee-jerk response to questions.  There is nothing wrong with asking a question if we sincerely seek an answer.  We may not get an answer.  But God is not threatened with us asking tough questions.  It is not necessarily a sign of unfaithfulness.  That said, a questioning heart can make some mistakes.  We can make the mistake of tying our trust in God to getting an answer that our mind will accept.  In this sense we have quit seeking truth and have started putting God on trial.  The devil loves to stir up questions about God’s intentions and actions.  A mature Christian will learn to struggle with them without losing faith.  There are answers to many questions about God that can be learned in the Scriptures.  However, some things are left unanswered.  Can you trust God when He says, “I will not answer that?”  Clearly you can because countless millions have trusted God to the end of their life with those very same questions.  Lastly, questions can be the result of lacking any trust in God and perhaps even a despising of His ways.  It can be a form of rebellion that seeks to stir up trouble among Christians.  In this sense they have already judged God.  No answer will be enough to satisfy their intellectual judgments.  Thus, God can handle our sincere questions.  But, He will not satisfy the minds of those who have rebelled against Him and are seeking to put Him on trial.

The first question has to do with why it looks like God “hides” during times of trouble.  We sometimes refer to this as the “hiddenness of God.”  Here the psalmist is not questioning God’s existence.  Rather, he questions why God isn’t presently dealing with a situation.  It seems as if God is hiding.  There are many answers that have been gleaned from the Bible over the years.  Some have pointed out that it is more important for our faith to be strengthened then our mind to be satisfied.  There is no way around the strange reality regarding humans that our faith grows stronger in adversity.  If God were to give us every answer and protect us from every difficulty then our faith would not be stronger, but tremendously weak.  God gives us enough to believe, but not too much to weaken that faith.  Another point that has been brought up is that our sins and disobedience create a separation between us and God.  We are often concerned about everything but the sin that God is wanting for us to deal with.  Thus He isn’t hiding from us.  Instead He is waiting for us to deal with sin.  We must also recognize that God values the freedom of His sentient creations to choose their own path.  He influences enough to give us wisdom, but not too much to override our freedom to choose.  In fact, connected to this is that God has always worked in conjunction with angels and humanity.  It is not His desire to control and force everything to be His way.  He leaves room for us to respond freely.  When talking about the hiddenness of God, it is also instructive to remember that God could ask us, me, mankind the same question.  Why do you hide from me?  Perhaps He sometimes gives to us the same amount of relational attention that we are giving Him.  Clearly God is far more merciful to us than we have been to Him.  While we were still sinners, Christ Jesus died for us. (Romans 5:8).

Verse 2 ends with a cry for justice.  “Let them be caught in the plots which they have devised.”  This extends the question about God’s hiddenness to the question of why He allows the wicked to succeed.  It is a grievous thing to bear for a righteous heart to see the wicked person steam rolling the innocent and getting away with it.  At this point the psalmist from verse 3 to verse 11 makes the case for why God shouldn’t let the wicked get away with it.  So we will quickly work through these verses recognizing what makes a person wicked.  As a side-note, let me say that a wicked person can recognize their sin, repent, and be saved.  Some people object to the label “wicked” because it sounds like a person can’t change.  The Bible uses language that describes where people are at, not what they are stuck in.  Thus it has no problem calling people evil, where in our generation it is rare for society to let the term “evil” be acceptable for hardly anyone.

The wicked are boastful and proud (2, 3, 4).  They “boast in their desires” (fleshly ones) with a “proud countenance.”  This area of arrogant pride is not so easily dismissed.  I was listening to a radio program the other day where a commentator said, “I want a coach who is arrogant and cocky.”  Whether in sports, Hollywood, business, or politics, the world promotes those who are arrogant and cocky.  People often desire these traits because such people are so driven to obtain their desires that they will do anything.  Who doesn’t want to be on the winning side?  Well let me put the question another way.  Would you want to be on the winning side in Iraq today if that was to join ISIS and its proud leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?  Is winning so important to you that you would throw out biblical principles, or better the ways of God?  How we obtain success is even more important than the success itself.  In fact, this begs the question, “What is success?”  If getting what I want is success then that is a sad definition.  “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world (because he wants it) and lose his soul?”  Many “successful” people that we envy have lost their souls in the process.  No one will think that these ones have succeeded in eternity.

The psalmist recognizes that the wicked bless the greedy.  The word is more than just greedy.  They are greedy for what you have.  Thus covetous might be a better word.  Instead of being a blessing to those who are hurting they bless the wrong people because they themselves have become wrong in their hearts.

In verse 3 it says that they “renounce the LORD.”  It is more than just a statement.  Such statements come from a heart that has already renounced the Lord and His ways.  They reject what God says to them and despise what God asks of them to do.  Because they have rejected God, they never think about what God thinks in their plans.  However, a righteous person is always thinking about what the Lord would have them do.  They often agonize before God in prayer about the emotional difficulties with such decisions.  Let’s say a wicked person cuts a righteous person off on the freeway and the righteous person gets mad and hits the high beam on their lights for two seconds.  Now I am not saying all people who cut someone off on the freeway are wicked.  But I am using this as an illustration.  My point is this.  The wicked person will not give a second thought about their decision to cut-off another person.  The will just keep driving and curse the person who high-beamed them.  But the righteous person will feel bad about high-beaming the person who cut them off and spend time agonizing on whether they went too far before God.  They will even ask God for forgiveness for losing control of their anger.  Of course it is not our job to determine what the other person is.  It is our job to keep our hearts right before God, even when we fail.

Verses 5-6 repeat some of the same reasons.  The wicked couldn’t care less about the decisions or judgments of God in heaven.  Their pride causes them to sneer at all their enemies with the attitude that they can’t be moved or hurt.  “I shall not be moved!”  This attitude sometimes comes from tiring of being the good guy.  We can reject the path of the humble and chose the path of the pride because we never want to hurt again.   Of course this is often just trash talk.  We will all face adversity and difficulty, even those who do their best to avoid it.  What is interesting is that the righteous are actually able to say, “I shall not be moved.”  They can because they are trusting in God and, when the dust of this life settles, the righteous will be left standing with Christ and the wicked will be blown away as the chaff.  In this life the righteous have much adversity.  But none of it can move us if we keep our trust in Jesus.

In verse 7 the psalmist points out that the mouth of the wicked is full of all manner of evil.  They curse God and people.  They practice deceit in what they often say.  They speak oppression for others.  There is nothing to find in their mouth but trouble and iniquity.  It would be better off if they never spoke because of what happens when they do.

Verses 8-11 basically depict the wicked person secretly preying on the helpless of society.  This dog-eat-dog mentality is the logical conclusion of a materialistic, evolutionary world-view.  If there is no day of judgment to an all-powerful God, then why would I live my life by rules that seem to make me the prey to those who don’t?  Thus the wicked see the righteous as unbelievable fools.  Such people become their meal each day.  Yes, the righteous see the same problem, but refuse to join the ranks of the wicked in order to protect themselves.  There is something that holds them back.  So let’s read on.

It has faith

The rest of the psalm moves back to addressing God.  At the end of the day the righteous would rather trust God then trust the snake-oil that the wicked have purchased with their souls.  Yes, it may appear for a season to be working, but in the end the piper must be paid.  Though the righteous don’t have all the answers, and they don’t understand every why to God’s actions, or lack thereof, they still trust Him.

In verse 14 we see that the righteous trust that God is not hiding.  But rather He is keeping track of the actions of mankind.  Psalm 56:8 says, “You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your book?”  The Book of Revelation refers to books being opened at the great judgment, and that men will be judged by the things written in them.  It may feel like God doesn’t care and isn’t observing your situation, but in the end you can trust that He is intimately aware and even recording all that you do and all that has been done to you.  So don’t give up.

Not only is God keeping track, but He is also keeping track in order to repay people for their deeds.  He is going to repay the wicked.  Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.”  This is not just physical death, but spiritual death as well.  God doesn’t just repay the wicked, but He also repays the righteous.  “The gift of God is eternal life.”  Thus God will help the fatherless, who have no one to stand up on their behalf.  The same is true for the widow and the poor person.  We can know that God will make everything right in the end.

So verse 16 declares the faith that God is the King forever.  He is the ultimate authority, and no matter how great the wicked may succeed (even the devil), it will not remove Him from His place of authority and power.  He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  So, it may trouble us that God allows the wicked a time of power and authority, but He has set a day in which all things will be set right.  We must trust Him.  In fact, it is partly a tribute to His grace that He gives the wicked their moment in the limelight, for they will spend eternity in darkness, separated from any good thing of God’s.

Lastly the righteous have faith that God will help the humble, vs. 17.  God has heard the cries of the humble (notice it doesn’t say righteous).  Even the wicked think they are right in what they do.  But God will judge on the side of the humble.  This is a reminder to the righteous to avoid the path of pride and arrogance because it leads to destruction.  Yes, we can question God, but we must remain humble if we want to avoid destruction.  It doesn’t say that God will help the humble by answering their every question.  So what is the help God will give?  First He will strengthen their hearts.  Such difficulties of God’s hiddenness and the success of the wicked can cause our hearts to faint and give up.  But God has strength for the heart of those who trust Him without giving up.  By His Spirit He encourages us from time to time if we are listening.  The psalmist also says that God will help the humble by making Himself hear.  This is a humorous way to put it.  But it is also a way of making it absolute and concrete.  Yes, though it seems like God is deaf to our cries today, there is a day when He will make Himself hear.  We need to wait for that day in trust.  Don’t grow weary in waiting.  They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.  They will mount up on wings with eagles; they will run and not be weary; they will walk and not faint!”  Why?  We will do these things because the Lord our God is with us and will deliver us.  Amen!

Heart of a Righteous Person 2 audio

Thursday
Jan122017

The Heart of a Righteous Person

Psalm 4:1-8.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 08, 2017.

I want to look at this Psalm today in order to hear the heart of those righteous individuals who have gone before us.  It is easy to look at our modern technology and think that those believers before us have nothing to teach us.  However, this is a foolish idea.  If you take time to read about the righteous men and women of the Bible, you will find yourself being filled with encouragement, sometimes.  On the other hand, you may also find yourself being discouraged because you feel that you don’t measure up to them.  We can feel disqualified because we are not as good as they were.  Let me just take a moment to remind you that throughout the Bible we are shown the physical, emotional, and spiritual weaknesses of those who were called righteous.  They were not perfect individuals.  In fact, they sometimes failed God and disobeyed Him, only to have God’s discipline teach them wisdom.  They were just like you and I in their hearts.  But they learned that God could be trusted despite how difficult their situations became.  As we read this Psalm, I pray our hearts will be encouraged by what we hear.

They are moved to talk with God

Modern though likes to say that prayer was a part of our evolution.  When we were knuckle-dragging, cave-people, we were ignorant and afraid of the elements surrounding us.  Thus natural selection elevated those who developed a belief in a higher power.  This made them bolder and fearless.  To those who are so persuaded, a belief and praying to God is no longer necessary.  Our technology is quickly conquering the world around us.  We are now the higher power for which we have always longed.  Of course the Bible directly contradicts such modern conjectures.  We were not created in ignorance and insecurity.  Mankind began in a special relationship with the Creator Himself.  God taught the first pair to tend a garden that He had prepared for them.  Thus man was not at the mercy of the elements originally.  It was a result of their sin and the fractured relationship with the Creator that led man to a scary, fearful place.  Though this relationship has been adversely affected, we are still able to connect with the Creator through prayer because we were designed for communication with Him from the beginning.  Thus this psalm began as a prayer of David to the One who created us.

In verse 1 David asks the Lord to hear his cry.  He is clearly in a desperate situation, and desperate situations have a way of forcing us to get real with God.  A righteous person will not be content to go through a mere ritual of religion.  When push comes to push, they will cry out to God with a passion that is not generally present when things are going easy.  In Isaiah 64:7, the prophet complains that there is “no one who calls on Your name, who stirs himself up to take hold of You.”  Notice Isaiah’s desperation.  He feels alone.  He is calling on God’s name and stirring himself up to take hold of God.  This is a picture of holding on to God and not letting go until He answers you.  I pray that you are not content with just going through the motions.  I pray that you have learned the importance of stirring yourself up and passionately interacting with God like David is doing here.  Don’t settle for a dead faith and dead religion.  God reveals Himself to those who take hold of Him and don’t let go.

We also see in verse 1 that David prays to “the God of my righteousness.”  He recognizes that God is the source of his righteousness.  Of course, everyone thinks they are righteous.  Sometimes people use religion to justify their wicked deeds (name a religion, people have used them all).  Other times people use intellectual justifications that rely upon faulty logic.  David had been taught the Word of God, and had done his best to live by it.  It is to this One who has revealed the Way that the Israelites should live that David is appealing.  Of course our relationship with God has received far more revelation since then.  God has revealed The Way that all peoples on the earth should live.  The righteous are not those who appear to do all the right things.  The righteous are those who know that God is the source of their righteousness.  Without Him we would be trapped in ignorance.  Without Him we would still be trapped by our sins.  It is God who enables us to do and be anything that can be called good.

David has a present need, but he says, “You have relieved me in my distress.”  During present perils, it is easy to lose hope.  However, the righteous will remember past mercies to themselves and to others.  That memory becomes proof of future help.  God helps those who trust Him.  The Bible is filled with testimonies of God’s mercy to those who trusted Him.  If we discount God’s mercy in their lives and in our own then we are not being fair to God.  God has done too much for us to doubt Him.  Yes, your flesh does want Him to do more or something greater, but that is like a kid demanding ice cream and claiming their parents haven’t given them enough.  It is an immature and childish accusation.  In fact, the death and resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate act of mercy that should shake any doubt to its core.  Our future is sure, even though our present shouts that it is not.  This is the blessing of the righteous.

They are moved to talk with men

Now let’s look at verses 2 and 3.  It is easy to disconnect and go silent towards those who reject God and His Ways.  However, the righteous are moved to talk with the wicked as well.  Sure there may come a time when there is nothing more to be said.  But that does not discount that something must be said.  The unbelieving need a proper witness to the truth by those who do believe.  Part of that witness is to question the actions of the unrighteous.  David asks, “How long…”  It is partly a plea to repent and turn back to God.  However, it is also a warning.  How long will God allow you to get away with your rejection of Him and doing your own thing without His judgment?  Just as today is the day of salvation, so today is the day to proclaim the salvation of the Lord.  It is too easy to say nothing to people and pretend that we are okay.  But, the righteous through the ages have not been silent to those around them, at least at first.   David proclaims that the ungodly turn “my glory into shame.”  They were doing so by slandering any good thing that David had done.  We see the same thing done to Jesus and the early Christians.  But David may have also meant that they were shaming God by what they were doing to David.  In Psalm 3:3 David calls God, “my Glory.”  Either way, it is true that we shame God when we unjustly attack one another.  David recognizes that the ungodly seek after idols.  They have quit seeking God and given up on any help from Him.  Instead they turn to false answers, false truths.  If they are not caused to reconsider how can they then be saved?  They simply can’t.

David then turns to remind the ungodly of the faithfulness of the Lord.  He puts the point to them.  What side do you want to be on?  God is going to answer me, and in so doing you will be dealt with (of course, unless you repent).  Christians must be a prophetic voice to the world around us that God has set the godly apart for himself.  He will answer them when they call.  Why would you not want to be a part of such a group?  Yet, those who resist God and even take their stand against Him and His people are fighting a losing battle.  There are many today who reject the Bible and the Creator.  They work to diminish their affect upon this nation and world.  No matter how successful the ungodly appear, God is on the side of the godly and will answer their cries.  He is going to come in judgment against the wicked and for the righteous.

They hold fast to the lessons learned

In verses 4 and 5 David rehearses within himself, and now shares with others who are struggling with keeping the faith, those things that had been handed down by the righteous of ages past.  It is important to keep walking the right path even when we are waiting upon God to hear our prayer and answer us.  Thus David says, “Be angry and sin not.”  When you are mistreated it is natural to become angry.  Anger is a powerful motivator to do something.  Much like a reservoir of water behind a dam, the passion of our anger can break forth like an uncontrollable wave of water from a collapsing dam, or it can be released in controlled form through the proper channel of a spill gate.   Notice that it is not a sin to be angry.  It is what we do with anger that often is sin.  Thus anger is dangerous.  If it is not properly controlled and funneled into proper channels of action, it becomes destructive sin.  These words are repeated in Ephesians 4:26, and Paul adds the admonishment, “Do not let the sun go down on your wrath.”  The word translated “wrath” is talking about the ways in which anger turns into sin.  It starts internally with irritation, bitterness, exasperation, and vengefulness.  It then leads to the external action of sin.  Yes, there is much to be angry about in this world because there is much sin.  However, the believer must restrain themselves from the affect that anger can have on their fleshly heart, and funnel it into passionate prayer before God and a passionate witness before the ungodly.  That witness is both vocal and non-vocal, through the life of righteousness to which we faithfully cling.  We must walk the walk in the face of all threats against us, whether they come from others, or within ourselves.

David next reminds himself to Meditate.  The righteous build a habit of meditating on their life before God in private.  This is not the eastern form of meditation where one is trying to clear their mind of everything.  That kind of meditation only opens you up to spiritual deception.  Biblical meditation is to bring the issues of our life before God, think about what the Scriptures say, and to think about what God would have us do.  It lays all that before Him and asks for His Spirit’s leading.  All of this happens within our heart when we are alone.  Of course, this can be alone in the sense that it happens in your mind when no one is intruding.  However, David refers to his bed.  We need to seek out times alone, so that we can meditate before the Lord and grow in understanding.  Jesus often sought out times alone to pray before the Lord.

David then remembers, “Offer the sacrifices of righteousness.”  The righteous always continue in the religious service that God has asked of them and yet do not allow it to become only a form.  They refuse just to go through the motions without a real life of trust and faith backing it up.  Thus many times to do the right thing is itself a sacrifice.  Our flesh doesn’t want to do it, but we die to the desires of our flesh and live out the righteousness of God.  This is the sacrifice that is pleasing to God.

Lastly, David says, “Put your trust in the Lord.”  Ultimately the godly throughout history teach us that the only wise thing we can do is to put our trust in the Lord, even when it seems like He is silent.  It must be done even when it seems like He is letting the ungodly win.  We need each of these lessons in our life today.  It may not seem like much, and the devil will tell you it is not enough.  But, he knows that a person who does these things will become impervious to his assaults, and will ruin his work in the lives of others.

They are blessed by God

The psalm ends with recognition that the ungodly are often cynical about such a witness from the righteous.  “Who will show us anything good,” is actually a challenge.  The ungodly have been tempted into following the logic and the thing that brings them something they desire.  They have become enslaved by their fleshly desires.  This is a sad way to be.  Only God’s grace can break through such cynicism.  So, David recognizes that the righteous will continue to look to God.  The phrase, “the light of your countenance,” is an allusion to the priestly blessing in Numbers 6:24-26.  There it says, “The LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”  This is a picture that God not only is aware, but He is looking upon us and His face is shining with good-will towards us, rather than a dark and stormy face of judgment.

This leads to the recognition that God gives gladness and joy to the righteous.  His truth tempers our immaturity and folly.  It fills us with the joy of knowing that God is more powerful and wise than anything that stands against us.  Thus, we cannot lose.  He is going to answer at the proper time.  So what makes you glad?  Is it bumper crops, which is basically economic increase?  If your joy is based on such temporary things, then you will be increasingly saddened and driven to leave God’s ways behind and forge your own path of success.  But, if you make relationship with God your joy, then you will never lack its presence in your heart, even when you are in the valley of the shadow of death.

Thus David talks about how the righteous are given peace and sleep in God’s safety.  God is our protector.  Why should we fear?  David says that he can sleep at night because God is what gives him peace and safety.  Though the world around us rages, we can be at peace as long as God is pleased.  Similarly, if the whole world is singing our praises, we dare not be at peace if God is unpleased with our life. 

The word translated “alone” in the last verse makes it sound like God is the only thing that makes David safe.  That is true of course.  But the word might better be translated in this way.  “In solitude, You, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”  This reference to solitude is a reference to God’s place of safety, or refuge.  We always have such a place internally within our mind and heart.  We can enter into this refuge and commune with the Lord even in the presence of our enemies.  However, such a place of refuge is also literal at times.  David fled into the wilderness from Saul and there God gave him a refuge, and a place of solitude in which he was safe from Saul’s threats.  During that time God spoke to David and encouraged him, while David waited for God’s promises to come true.  God periodically gives us breaks from the onslaught of the battle in order to comfort and encourage us.  This is the blessing that the righteous have from the Lord.  May we live faithfully for Him to the end of our lives!

Heart of a righteous person audio

Thursday
Nov172016

Doubts & Fear

Matthew 27:45-51; Psalm 22:21-24.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 13, 2016.

We have been looking at the many ways in which our society is under siege by Satan and his cohorts, and we could continue.  But I want to stop and deal with the issue of doubt.  One of the reasons the enemy attacks from so many different angles and vantage points is in order to overcome our faith in Jesus.  He does so by making it increasingly difficult to stick with Jesus.  This can happen in several ways.  The first is the seductive attack.  When I am following Jesus, I am missing out on all those “pleasures” that Christ is taking me away from.  Satan clearly tempts and pulls on us to go his way rather than the Lord’s way.  The second attack is in-your-face intimidation.  When I am following Jesus, this bad thing and that bad thing happens to me.  Satan clearly persecutes those who want to follow Jesus and he generally does so through willing human accomplices.

Now when something impacts your life it is normal to ask questions.  Any honest question in a difficult situation will stir up doubts.  Whether you are talking about a career choice, marriage, large purchase, etc… everyone has felt those moments of buyer’s remorse after the fact (many times even when we know that we made the right choice).  So it is important for us to look to Jesus himself and recognize that he knows what it feels like to doubt.  In Hebrews 4:15 it says, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”  Let’s look at the moments leading up to the death of Jesus on the cross in Matthew 27:45-51.

Doubts are dredged up by our emotions

Of the things that Jesus said while he was on the cross, the statement, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” would seem to be the most troubling to Christianity.  It appears that Jesus is confessing that he was wrong and that God has abandoned him.  Yet, this seems strange in light of the fact that Jesus told his disciples that this not only would happen, but had to happen.  So there is something deeper going on.  Now traditionally, it has been explained that because Jesus was taking all of the sins of the world upon himself in that moment, God could not look upon him.  Thus the quote is a pointing out the breaking of that eternal communion that they have shared (something Jesus would have never felt before).  I think there is merit to this as a starting point.  However, I think there is more to see here.

It is interesting how our emotions toy with us in the middle of difficult and important times.  When Jesus is dying on the cross, he is not only paying for our sins.  He is also fulfilling what Old Testament prophecies said must happen.  The reason I say this is because everything that Jesus is experiencing is exactly what the Scriptures foretold, and exactly what Jesus said would happen. Normally when things go exactly as planned our faith is encouraged.  But Jesus appears to have doubts.  Now it is important to point out that Jesus is actually quoting from Psalm 22:1.  Whether or not people at the time recognized this is not important.  Eventually the disciples recognized this quote and were amazed by what they saw when they read Psalm 22.  It is normally treated as David complaining to God about his persecutions at the hands of Saul and his men.  But it is shocking how well it describes what happened to Jesus on the cross.  In fact we are told by the Apostle Paul that David was a prophet and many of his Psalms were prophecies about the Messiah (Acts 2:29 and following).  Now here is the main point I want to make about this.  If it is true, and it is, that Jesus is fulfilling prophecy and everything is going as planned then it must not be the facts of the situation that cause this doubt.  The doubt here comes specifically from his emotions.  Please know this: emotions will often mislead us in the face of all evidence to the contrary.  Have you ever done something you absolutely knew was right and yet were dogged by doubts because of your emotions?  The core of what Jesus taught is never more vindicated than in this exact moment, as the religious leaders reject him and execute him.  But it is not reason and facts that plague his mind.  In reality it is emotion and imagination that are the real enemies of our faith.  Here is an example.  The Bible says that in the last days people will become lovers of themselves and scoff at those who believe God.  This is clearly proven true.  Yet, the facts themselves don’t always encourage our faith.  Why not?  They often fail because of the power of our emotions at being rejected and scoffed at.

We need to recognize as we are going through life that our emotions and moods change with our experience.  Jesus is letting us know that he is not just acting out a charade.  He is letting us know how he actually felt in that moment of fulfilling all the Old Testament was pointing to.  He is letting us know, he is letting you know that he understands your doubts and your fears.  He understands how even in the very moment of God’s Word proving true, our emotions can rise up and rebel against it.  “I don’t want to keep following you, even though everything you said is coming true.”  Bill Bright in his famous tract, “The Four Spiritual Laws,” has a part in the back in which he deals with the subject of emotions.  He uses the image of a train and makes the point that emotions should never be the engine, but rather the caboose.  The caboose only follows the train wherever it goes.  Thus even when our emotions rebel and want to go a different direction than with Jesus, Christians refuse to let emotions direct them.  C.S. Lewis, a Christian writer, put it this way in his book Mere Christianity.

“Now faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.  For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes.  I know that by experience.  Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.  This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway.  That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of digestion.  Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.”

The truth is that God will never forsake you, but your mood is that He actually has.  This is what Jesus was feeling.  He knew that He was fulfilling the Father’s plan and that this would lead to great joy for Him and the Father.  But, he still felt like God had abandoned him.  He did not protect himself from the pain of the nails, nor the emotional pain of the injustice while God is silent.  The disciples that had reasoned in their minds that Jesus must be the messiah, allowed their faith to be temporarily derailed on the day of the crucifixion of Jesus.  In fact it was important for this to happen.  We, as much as them, need to recognize that our salvation is not based upon how great our following of Jesus is.  It is not based upon what others do to us.  It is based upon the fact that Jesus loved you so much that he was willing to die on your behalf.  It is also based upon the fact that the resurrection (which was witnessed by over 500 people) is proof that God the Father accepted the death of Jesus on our behalf.  This is what sustained those early disciples when their every emotion screamed, “Just give in, it’s not worth it!”  Even in the face of death, they kept their faith in Christ because their emotions could not change the facts.

In Psalm 22, the psalmist complains that God doesn’t hear his cry (vs. 2).  He goes on to complain that God hear others, but not him.  “I am a worm,” he says (vs. 6).  He goes on to describe how he is being put to death and God does nothing.  This is how he felt.  But God had not forsaken him.  This complaint completely changes in verse 21.  Let’s look at Psalm 22:21-24.

God always hears the honest cry

I actually think the phrase “You have answered me,” should stand by itself.  Something happens between “Save me from the horns of the wild oxen,” and “You have answered me.”  We are not told what it is.  There is a period of time between the complaint that God isn’t listening and the answer.  For Jesus that time was 3 days.  It is not the length of time that is important.  It is the reality that the disciples spent 3 days with their hopes shattered thinking God had forsaken them all.  But then came Resurrection Day.  So when Jesus is on the cross he is not just dying.  He is demonstrating that God always answers the cry of the afflicted, even when it looks like He doesn’t.

It is interesting how the mind of the psalmist felt like there was something different about him.  God helped others, but he felt like a worm because God wasn’t “doing anything.”  Listen, everything within our flesh rebels against having to endure difficulty, suffering, or injustice.  We don’t even like suffering the effects of our own choices that we know we deserve.  So we sometimes say to ourselves, “It works for others, but not for me.”  What, like Jesus is a car that you jumped in and it wouldn’t start?  Or every time you turned the wheel it didn’t drive where you wanted it?  There is a world of misunderstanding in those words, “didn’t work,” because in them we see that the problem was that we were trying to control things and get them to go in the direction we wanted.  Remember, Jesus is the Lord.  We are following Him.  He is the one that not only saves us, but leads us to the Father.  He will not settle for being a paint job on your car while you drive all over town doing what you want to do.  So in this regard, there is nothing different about you.  Your flesh doesn’t like where God takes us as much as anyone else.  Faith in Jesus is not an emotional decision.  It is a rational choice that is going to be challenged by your emotions many times on the road ahead.  Satan has worked hard through the many different facets of our society to dismantle the reasons for your faith.  He manipulates our emotions to get us to drop Jesus, to quit believing.  Let me tell you a secret.  All the godly people of the past felt like “it didn’t work for them.”  When you read all the great people of faith in the Bible, you find that they had all kinds of doubts and fears.  And yet, they held on to God, and He revealed more and more to them until we received the full revelation in Jesus Christ.  Through the Bible they are saying to you that they felt like quitting as well.  But, hang in there.  God isn’t finished yet.

In fact the difficulties we face do several good things within us.  They test our commitment to God and make us more like Jesus.  They change us for the good if we keep our faith in Christ.  Let me give an example.  The Bible teaches that our ultimate inheritance is not in this life, but in the life to come.  It is simple enough on the face of it.  However, this is easier to believe when you have something in this life.  But what about the person in Aleppo, Syria who has lost everything and whose life is being hunted by evil men?  Sometimes when people are in great grief the above promise may seem hollow.  And, yet it is still true none the less.  In fact, such a person has nothing to lose.  Why not trust Jesus? 

Psalm 22 highlights this problem.  The person writing the psalm points out in verse 24 that God has not hidden His face from the afflicted.  The whole psalm is the problem between the afflicted as a class of people in life and the afflictors or persecutors as a class.  Since the serpent afflicted Adam and Eve and brought death into their lives, or Cain went after his brother Abel and killed him, there has always been those who simply wanted to serve God and yet suffered because of it.  In those moments there is a part of us that gets angry and wants to throw the white, good-guy hat into the mud and put on the black, bad-guy hat (if you remember the old westerns).  This division within humanity shows that people make a decision in their life if they will follow the way of Jesus or of Satan, the way of the afflicted or of the oppressor.  Satan and his hordes are the oppressors of humanity.  Many humans throughout history have joined with them because they see it as the winning side.  Yet, the psalmist declares that God has not forsaken the afflicted.  You see Jesus could have stayed in heaven and simply destroyed the oppressors.  However, he chooses to come down and take his place among us as one of the afflicted.  If the God of heaven took on the badge of affliction and did not despise it, how much more ought we to hang in there and trust him?  When Jesus is crucified, he is not just saving us.  He is also condemning all wicked people and all wicked spirits of the heavens who have chosen the path of Satan.  The cross shows us the truth that Satan could care less about you.  He only wants God’s place.  So what will you choose?  Your mind and heart know that the right thing is to choose to suffer with the righteous.  But your emotions and imagination stir up all manner of fears and doubts.  This life is your test and your proving grounds.  Will you wait for the answer from the Lord, even if it comes after your death?  Or, will you grow tired of waiting and join the other side?  Choose this day whom you will serve. 

Let me also remind you of the man Moses in the Bible.  Moses was born to parents who were Israelite slaves in Egypt.  However, by the help of God he was adopted and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter.  In Hebrews 11:24-26 we are told, “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt, for he looked to the reward.”  So too you have a difficult choice to make.  Should I do all I can to enjoy the temporary pleasures of this life by joining the oppressors, or should I go for the greater riches and reward that God offers to all who will follow Jesus?  Don’t be tricked into identifying with Satan, the Pharaoh of this world, and rejecting your true identity.  God created you to become like Jesus and take your place among the Sons of God in the world to come.

Thus Psalm 22 ends with the psalmist rejoicing in the testimony of the afflicted.  It starts out dark and ghastly, but ends with rejoicing and exhortations to praise God.  I know that when you look at the world, or at your life, at times both will seem dark and headed towards no good.  But God has made a promise to those mankind and those who will follow Jesus.  He has promised that this story will end in great rejoicing for those who trust Him.  But those who trust in Satan and the path of self-will, self-strength, will only find suffering and punishment.

Doubts & Fears audio