Tag Cloud
: Mothers Abandonment Abomination of Desolation Abortion Abuse Accounting Activism Adultery Affection Affliction Afterlife Altar America Angels Anger Anointing Apologetics Apostasy Armor of God Ascension Ashamed Atonement Authority Baal Babylon Bad Baptism Betrayal Bible Bitterness Blasphemy Blessing Blessings Blindness Boasting Body of Christ Bondage Borders Born Again Bridegroom Calling Capital Punishment Celebration Character Children Children of God Chosen Christ Christian Life Christians Christmas Church Civil Disobedience Clay Cleansing Comfort Commands Communion Community Comparison Compassion Complacency Complaining Conception Condemnation Conduct Confidence Conflict Conformity Confrontation Confusion Connection Conscience Consequences Contentment Conviction Cornerstone Correction Cost Counsel Courage Covenant Creation Creator Cross Crowns Crucifixion Culture Curse Darkness David Day of the Lord Death Deception Defense Delegation Demon Demons Denial Dependency Design Desolation Destruction Devil Direction Disaster Discernment Disciple Disciples Discipleship Discipline Discontentment Discouragement Disease Disgrace Disputes Distraction Diversity Divine Division Doctrine Double Fulfillment Doubt Drought Drugs Duties Duty Earth Earthly Earthquakes Easter Edom Education Elders Elect Emmaus Emotions Employment Encouragement End Times Endurance Enemies Enemy Environmentalism Equality Equipped Eternal Eternal Life Evangelism Everlasting Life Evil Evolution Exaltation Exalted Exclusion Excuses Exorcism Expectations Eyes Failure Fairness Faith Faithful Faithful Servant Faithfulness False Christs False Doctrine False Gods False Religion False Religions Family Famine Fasting Father Fathers Favoritism Fear Fear of the Lord Feasts Fellowship Finances Fire First Coming Flesh Flock Folly Foolishness Foreigner Foreknown Forgiveness Fornication Forsaken Foundation Freedom Friends Friendship Fruit Fruitfulness Future Gentiles George Wood Giving Glory God God’s Word Godliness Godly Good Good Shepherd Good Works Gospel Gospels Government Grace Gratitude Great Commission Greatness Grief Growth Guilt Hardship Harvest Hate Hatred Healing Heart Heaven Heavenly Hedonism Hell Herod Hidden Holiness Holy Holy Spirit Homosexuality Honor Hope Hopelessness Humility Husband Hypocrisy Ignorance Image Immanuel Immigration Impossibility Incarnation Individuals Indulgences Inheritance Injustice Inner Battle Instructions Insults Integrity Intercession Israel Jerusalem Jesus Jewish Temple John the Baptist Joy Judas Judgment Judgments Justice Justification Justify Key Keys Kindness King Kingdom Kingdom of God Kingdom of Heaven Knowledge Lamp Law Lawlessness Leader Leaders Leadership Leftism Legalism Leprosy Lies Life Light Like-minded Lord Lost Love Loyalty Lust Lusts Luxury Malachi Manipulation Marriage Martyrdom Martyrs Mary Materialism Maturity Meditation Men Mentoring Mercy Messiah Millennium Mind Mind of Christ Ministry Miracle Miracles Mission Mocking Money Mothers Mystery Nations Natural Gifts Naturalism Nature Near-Far Fulfillment Necessities New Covenant New Man New Testament Obedience Obstacles Obstructions Offense Old Man Old Nature Old Testament One Mind Outcast Pagan Pain Palm Sunday Parable Parables Paranormal Parenting Passion Passover Patience Patriotism Peace Pentecost People of God Perfect Persecution Perseverance Persistence Personal Testimonies Perspective Perversion Pestilence Peter Pharisees Piety Pilate Politics Poor Position Possession Possessions Posture Power Praise Prayer Preaching Preparation Pride Priority Privilege Prodigal Promise Proof Prophecy Prophet Prophets Protection Protestant Reformation Proverbs Providence Provision Punishment Purgatory Purpose Questions Racism Reason Rebellion Rebuke Reconciliation Redeemer Redemption Refuge Regeneration Rejection Rejoicing Relationship Relationships Reliability Religion Remember Remnant Renewal Repentance Reputation Resolve Rest Restoration Resurrection Revelation Revenge Revival Reward Rich Riches Righteous Righteousness Rights Riot Risk Rivalry Robbery Roman Catholic Church Rule Sabbath Sacred Sacrifice Saint Salvation Sanctification Satan Savior Schemes Science Scripture Seasons Second Coming Secret Seed Seek Self Self Control Self-centered Self-Control Selfish Ambition Self-Righteous Servant Servant-Leadership Serve Service Serving Sexual Immorality Sexual Sin Sexuality Shame Share Sharing Shepherd Sickness Signs Signs and Wonders Simplicity Sin Sincerity Singing Singleness Sinners Slavery Sober Society Sojourner Sojourners Son Son of God Son of Man Sons of God Sorrow Soul Source Sovereignty Speech Spirit Spirit Realm Spirits Spiritual Spiritual Battle Spiritual Birth Spiritual Gifts Spiritual Growth Spiritual Rulers Spiritual Warfare Stewardship Strength Stress Strife Stumbling Block Submission Suffering Supernatural Supper Surrender Syncretism Tags: Patience Taxes Teaching Tears Technology Temple Temptation Temptations Terminal Illness Test Testimony Testing Tests Thankfulness Thanksgiving The Curse The Day of The Lord The End The Fall The Holy Spirit The Law The Way The Word The World Theology Time of Visitation Times of the Gentiles Tithing Tongues Tradition Tragedy Transfiguration Transformation Traps Treachery Treasure Tree Trial Trials Tribulation Trifles Trinity Triumphal Trouble Trust Truth Uncertainty Unity Unpardonable Sin Utopia Value Vigilance Vindication Virtue Virtues Volunteer Warning Warnings Wars Watching Water Baptism Wicked Wickedness Widows Wife Wineskins Wisdom Witness Witnesses Women Word of God Word of the Lord Works World World View Worry Worship Worth Wrath Yahweh Yeast YHWH Zion

Weekly Word

Entries in Fear (7)

Monday
Dec042017

Confrontation of a False God-I

1 Kings 18:20-29.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 3, 2017.

In our passage today, we will start to look at a powerful confrontation between Yahweh (or Jehovah), the God of the Israelites, and Baal, a false god of the Canaanites.  Now we are taught in the Bible that even though idols are not really representations of real gods, there are demons (evil spirits of some sort) that lie behind the worship of those idols.  These demons use the dedication and devotion of those who play their religious “games” to obtain permission or authority over those people’s lives.  So don’t be deceived.  Magic, the occult, Wicca, and any form of using spirits to manipulate the material world around you, is a system designed by evil spirits to manipulate the lust of mankind for power over others.  This game, as I have called it, is simply seeking your permission to operate in your life, even to the point of dominating your life totally.  As we will see today, such spirits should not be listened to.  In the face of the One, True, and Living God, they are impotent.

We have a tendency to mix religious ideas

Throughout history humans have proven to have the natural tendency to mix religious ideas.  Israel in the Bible is a classic example of this.  However, there are many more.  The Romans would not destroy the temples of those nations that they conquered.  Instead they would fix up the temple, even build new ones, and add their god to the growing pantheon they had accumulated.  The underlying premise is this: we will accept your god/s as long as you accept ours.  Now this tendency may seem to be good in some ways.  However, it is not a sign of wisdom to mix things that should not be mixed.  Many of the ancient religions had similar ideas and gods who differed only by the name used of them.  The world view was often the same.  So, such mixtures were not a big deal.  But the God of Israel and the world view of the Bible was a cosmic clash with these religions.  Thus to mix them was, and still is today, asking for trouble.

In our passage today the prophet Elijah is setting up a confrontation with Ahab and his prophets of Baal.  This confrontation is for the purpose of proving to the people of Israel that the God of Israel was greater than this foreign god Baal.  Elijah calls out to the people in verse 21.  They are faltering between worshipping the God of Israel and worshipping Baal.  So how had they come to such a situation?

It started when the northern 10 tribes broke free from Judah and the kings of Jerusalem.  Solomon’s son did not inherit his great wisdom and tried to increase taxes with an ungrateful attitude.  This created a civil fracture with the northern kingdom going by the name Israel and the southern going by Judah.  When this happened the King of Israel was afraid that if he let his people go to Jerusalem and offer sacrifices at the temple, they would switch allegiance back to Judah.  Because of this fear, the king decided to build two different shrines in the north and told the people not to go to Jerusalem, but to offer their sacrifices in Dan and Bethel.  This was in direct disobedience to what God had spoken through Moses.  Over time this was not enough.  King Ahab had married Jezebel, daughter of the King of Sidon, for a political alliance.  He built her temples for her God Baal, and then began to promote worship of Baal while stamping out those who worshipped the God of Israel.  Instead of listening to God, they had continued to walk as the masters of their own religion.  It is popular today for people to treat spirituality like a kind of stew that they create from the different ideas of all religions.  If it doesn’t taste good, then they throw this out and add that in.  The mixed or syncretic system that each creates becomes their own personal recipe.  Now I would agree that it is a bad thing for governments to force their people to observe a particular religion, but it is an equal folly for people to think that they can determine truth or error, in regard to spiritual things, by their own tastes.  God has proven His word throughout history and also tells us that people can only see the wisdom of His word by the help of the Holy Spirit.  Thus we see in this passage the end of a typical cycle.  It starts with fear, and then fear leads to compromise and disobedience.  Disobedience over time can lead to apostasy (falling away from the faith).  Once faith is undermined by fear, we become captive to a sea of intellectual quicksand and easy prey for the devil’s schemes.  This leads us to the next point.

Elijah challenges the people to quit playing both sides.  They have to get off the fence.  Now Ahab and Jezebel have made their decision clearly.  But the average person in Israel was still in doubt.  In fact, this whole event is more about the people then it is about Ahab or the prophets of Baal.  God is calling them to repentance.  In Matthew 6:24 Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to one and despise the other.”  Although Jesus is speaking about the choice between God and wealth, the principle applies here.  They could not stay on the fence forever.  Elijah is calling to them like Joshua did when he said, “Choose this day whom you will serve.  But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  If you are faltering in the valley of doubt and indecision, and you have a long past of compromising what God says with what the world / your flesh says, then hear the Holy Spirit calling to you today.  It is time for you to quit faltering between two opinions.  These things will not mix together.  Jesus Christ alone is God’s answer for the sin and wickedness of the world, and for your own too.

Yahweh puts Baal to the test

Throughout this passage, but especially in verse 21, you might notice that the word “lord” is in small caps, i.e. “Lord.”  You may also notice that back in verse 13 Obadiah refers to Elijah as lord, but it is in lowercase letters.  This is the interpreter’s way of showing us that two different words are being used in the Hebrew.  Lower case lord is the term adoniy and means one who rules or is in charge, regardless of the scope.  It could be used for the man of the house, a mayor, a king, or even of God.  The term is relative and contextual.  It is similar to the Spanish word “senor.”  They sometimes refer to God as El Senor, i.e. the Lord.  But, when the word is spelled in small caps, the word that lies behind it is the name of God that was given to Moses back in Exodus 3:13-14, when he met God on Mt. Sinai in the Burning Bush.  The children of Israel were slaves in Egypt.  Meanwhile they had turned to worshipping the gods of the Egyptians.  When God sends Moses to deliver them, Moses asks God what name he should use of God.  God’s reply was “I am who I am,” thus you shall tell them “I Am” sent you.  This shortened form was the letters YHWH.  Historically it has been spelled as Jehovah or Yahweh.  It is the name of God that delivered Israel from Egypt and gave them the Law.  He is the “I AM.” 

Elijah is not acting on his ideas.  It is Yahweh, the God of Israel that is putting Baal to the test and has told Elijah what to do.  He is following the orders of the Lord.  Thus, this story which appears to be a clash of humans, is even greater a clash of gods.  It is a confrontation between the God of Israel and the god of the Canaanites that Ahab and Jezebel were pushing on the people of Israel.  The test is simple.  They will both prepare sacrifices on an altar.  But, instead of lighting it on fire, as is usually done, they will each pray to their god and whichever god answers by fire will have proven that they are greater.  Fire has to come down out of the sky and light the sacrifice on fire.

What can be lost in this story is the fact that God does not give such dramatic proof on demand.  Imagine our success at evangelism, if God always responded with fire from heaven.  We could fill Safeco field in Seattle or any local ball field with the promise that they will see God answer with fire from heaven.  Atheists themselves can think that they are smart to use this against Christians.  Come on, let’s see if your God can do this!  Prove your God exists by doing it again.  Now we must recognize that God is not some kind of “dog on a leash” that does tricks on demand.  He is God and He chooses the timing and audience of the proofs of His power.  The truth is very few of the people alive on the earth in those days saw this proof.  Of those who saw this proof, it did precious little to stop Israel’s slide into idolatry and disobedience to God.  Sure, people who are scared to death by such events may be in church tomorrow.  But, over the long period of life in which God does not do this, over and over again, they will follow the same course of fear, doubt, compromise, disobedience, and apostasy.  Over time God has given many proofs of His existence and power, but it is too easy to say that we would believe if He would just do it for us.  We can miss the forest for the trees.  We want to see a particular tree, when we are surrounded every day by proofs of God’s existence and power.  The universe is crying out every day that such ordered power could not exist without a designer that is greater than it.  The spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into vastly different cultures shouts out the existence, truth, and power of God.  Also, in the hearts of individuals surrounding you, every day, is the testimony that God’s Spirit is speaking to their heart through these things and delivering them out of their own bondage to sin.  Yes, we ignore mountains of evidence everywhere around us and demand that God show us something that we dream up.  Such a person does not deserve a miraculous sign because they are not a person of faith.  So let’s look at the attempt of the prophets of Baal.

We get a glimpse into the ideas of the Canaanite religion.  They get to start first and it appears to be some time in the morning.  They begin calling on Baal to light the sacrifice on fire.  It is interesting to note that Baal was seen as not just a god of fertility, but also of storms.  So to cause lightning to fall from the sky is supposedly right in his wheelhouse.  They began leaping around the altar in some kind of ritual dance as they pray.  After hours have passed we reach noon.  At this point Elijah begins to mock the prophets of Baal.  He tells them to cry louder; surely Baal is really a god.  Maybe he is meditating, busy (a euphemism for going to the bathroom), or he went on a long journey.  He might be sleeping.  Cry louder so you can wake him up!  These taunts may seem to be in bad form for the servant of the Lord, but the taunts are not for the prophets of Baal.  Elijah is speaking for the benefit of the people who are watching.  He is trying to get them to think about what they are seeing and what possible explanation can be given for Baal’s impotency.  We don’t need to mock people’s religion, however, we do need to get people to think about what they are believing and the inability of the religions of this world to overcome the sin nature.  Only the gospel of Christ has shown itself to have the power to overcome the sin of an individual.  Yes, there are people who pretend to follow God, but this has never been the Gospel (Come, pretend to believe in Jesus!)  No, the Gospel is an invitation into a relationship with God, not a new set of rules.

At this point the prophets of Baal become more desperate.  We are told that they cut themselves with knives and pierced themselves with lances.  Surely, Baal will answer now that he sees how strong our devotion is to him.  Again we see the common belief among the ancient religions that if I cut myself, or sacrifice my child, then the gods will act on my behalf.  Such gods demand that people suffer and hurt themselves in order to receive good from them.  Though the One True God may allow us to suffer from time to time, it is no so that we can curry His favor.  He allows us to suffer so that we can identify with His suffering and that we can participate in His overcoming victory over all sin and suffering.  What a sweeter victory we shall have because of our difficulties and sufferings in this life.  God responds to us when we have a broken and contrite heart (repentant heart).  This is the heart he hears.  The volume of your prayers is irrelevant.  The sacrifices you make are irrelevant, if they do not come from a broken and repentant heart.

The prophets of Baal kept it for at least 3 more hours.  We are told that at the time of the “evening sacrifice” Elijah took his turn.  It is not the prophets of Baal who have failed.  It is Baal who has left his followers in the pinch.  The time of the “evening sacrifice” is not clear.  If you go by the words alone then you would think of it happening at twilight as the sun goes down.  However in the days of Christ we are told that the evening sacrifice happened around 3:30 in the afternoon.  Regardless, the prophets of Baal have used up most of the day without success.  Verse 29 is a sad verse.   I say that not because Baal fails, but because it demonstrates the plight of all who leave God behind in search of something better.  “There was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention.”    You see, they weren’t looking for a voice per se.  The “voice” is a metaphor for fire from heaven.  Just like pictures speak a thousand words, so fire coming from heaven and consuming the sacrifice would speak volumes to the people.  However, Baal was silent that day.  We will look at Elijah’s success next time.  But let us pause and analyze this failure.

There is a part of us (that modern, scientific part) that would think that gods are fictions of the mind.  Of course no fire fell from heaven.  But we need to recognize that the same Bible that records no fire falling that day warns us that Satan is capable of “lying signs and wonders.”  In Revelation 13:13 we are told that the False Prophet, who leads the world to worship the Antichrist, will have the power to call down fire from heaven in the sight of men.  Thus, we need to recognize that even though Baal is not a literal god, the evil spirits behind the worship of Baal do have the power to wow people.  So why did no fire fall that day?  It seems that would have been a perfect time to do so.  The biblical answer is as it always has been.  They were restrained by God.  They were told by the Lord of the Heavens to stand down.  Even today we are told that the Antichrist, or man of sin, would come forth if he could.  But God is restraining what the devil is able to do.  What a shock people will get in the days ahead.  After years of rejecting the truth and proofs of God, they will get a show from a deceiver who calls down fire from heaven.  In this sense we see that it isn’t about dramatic and miraculous proofs.  It really is about truth.  Jesus is Lord and no amount of great signs in the heavens and fire from the sky can change that.  The devil is a liar and is not leading the world to progress and godhood.  No, he leads them to destruction.

Christian, today, though we see evil all around us, we must recognize that the devil is being restrained by God, to some degree.  This is not the time for fear and doubts.  This is not the time for compromise and disobedience.  This is not the time for slack hands.  Today is a day to be sharing the Truth of God with the world around us.  Yes, many will mock and throw it back in our face.  However, the gods of this world are impotent in their lives.  And, there are some, knowing the impotence of that which they follow, who will believe, if we only stand for the Lord.

You know what, this world does not need fire from the heavens to fall in a stadium and burn a bunch of meat on some sticks and stone.  What it needs is a man or woman of God who will sacrifice their reputation and let the fire of the Holy Spirit come down upon them.  When we let the Spirit of God work through us, we become the proof that people are seeking (if they are honestly seeking).  Let’s be about our Father’s business, but not in our own strength, but in His strength and power.

Confrontation I audio

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

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

Tuesday
Jan262016

The Betrayal of Jesus

Luke 22:1-13.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 24, 2016.

Today we are going to return to our study through Luke of the True Jesus.  We left off at the beginning of Luke 22 and the last week of Jesus before his crucifixion.  Here we have a passage that begins to set up the betrayal of Jesus.

The Leaders Betrayed the Messiah

Although it is important to recognize the involvement of the Romans in the death of Jesus, it is the religious and political leaders of Israel that betrayed him.  Thus Jesus was betrayed by his own people.  This is not a statement against the Israeli people, but recognition of a horrible act.  Both Israelis and Gentiles are pronounced as sinners in need of salvation by the Law of Moses.  Just as the nations of the world had betrayed God by casting off the truth and embracing deceptions, so we see the nation of Israel officially betraying the messiah for whom they were waiting.  It should be no surprise to us today that these things are still true.  All nations insist that God bless their plans, but none have leadership that are totally submitted to God.

In verse 2 we are shown part of the source to their betrayal.  The leaders “feared the people.”  These leaders were playing politics.  They wanted to kill Jesus and yet his popularity made such a proposition particularly sensitive.  They wanted to figure out how they could get what they want and still have the people on their side.  This is at the heart of all wicked politics.  It is a manipulation that diminishes the people to being only a means to an end.  This is why ethics and morality are so important in our leaders.  If those who seek to be our leaders have betrayed people in their lives that they were supposed to love or were close to, then how much more will they betray the rest of the nation?  John 12:42 tells us that “even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue.”  This fear of people exists not just towards the populace, but also within the group of leaders itself.  When we treat our decisions as a type of scientific endeavor to get what I want without upsetting the applecart, we set ourselves and our nation up for disaster.  It was fear of one another that kept many good men from speaking up.  Instead they went along with a horrible travesty of justice as the Lord Jesus was crucified.

They also feared losing the power and authority that they held over the people.  We see this in John 11:48, “If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.”  You should take notice which comes first, “our place,” and then “nation.”  When we operate out of a fear of people we allow ourselves to become a tool of Satan.  However, the answer is not simply to refrain from fearing people.  If we only quit fearing people then we can become a tyrant who does not care for them.  Rather, we are to fear God in our dealings with those under our leadership.  We operate for their good, but not at their whim.  It is the fear of God’s judgment of our leadership that is a guardrail to a leader.  Even better than that is to love God’s ways.  When a leader loves the ways of God, they will lay themselves and their designs down in order to better serve the people.

Now the leaders of Israel are a warning to us and a picture of what we are like.  This is not about an us versus them, Gentile versus Jew, issue.  All humans have the same sinful nature.  No matter how much knowledge of God we have or how little, we are still corruptible.  Yet, the good news is that we are also still redeemable.  Picture if Jesus were to come to America today as the savior of America and the world.  Would our leaders really lay down their positions at his feet and invite him to rule?  Hardly!  He would be attacked in the press and legal system until he was removed from the situation.  Christ is the supreme challenge from heaven to all men and all nations.  He is also the sublime offer of grace to them as well.

Judas Betrayed Jesus

Within the larger betrayal of the nation’s leaders, is the individual betrayal of one of the close disciples of Jesus.  Judas is one of the top 12 disciples and was clearly picked by Jesus.  Yet, we see in verse 3 that Satan was involved in what Judas did.  Judas was not the real enemy of Jesus.  It was Satan all along.  Satan was working through the mind and heart of Judas.  Judas had somehow become a puppet under the manipulation of a spiritual enemy.  How had this happened?

It says that Satan entered Judas.  This isn’t the normal language of demonic possession.  However, Judas had left the door open for Satan to enter his mind and heart.  It is questionable whether Judas ever had a moment of repentance and true desire to be a disciple of the way of Jesus.  Most likely he saw Jesus as a means of getting into a powerful position.  Much like investing in a new company brings the ability to strike it rich, so he most likely saw Jesus as an investment.  If I get in early then I will have a powerful position later.  We are also told that Judas was put in charge of the money bag and that he would often steal money from it.  Clearly this was told to them by Jesus later.  Giving in to such fleshly appetites as power and money will open the door for spiritual forces to manipulate us.  Ephesians 4:26-27 warns, “Be angry, and do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.”  Notice that anger and our giving in to sin can “give place” or open the door to the devil.  Some versions translate it as giving a foothold to the devil.  When we reject the way of Jesus and instead think and act in ways to satisfy what our flesh wants, we will end up becoming a tool of Satan.  Don’t give him any space or a foothold in your life.

It was Matthew Henry, a Presbyterian minister of the late 1600’s who said that “it is hard to say whether more mischief is done by the power and policy of open enemies, or by the treachery and self-seeking of pretended friends.”  Here we see both, open enemies and a pretended friend, colluding together in order to take down Jesus the messiah, all along professing a desire for the messiah to come.  This is critical to see.  We often crucify the real Jesus while professing to want Jesus.  That is because the Jesus we want is false, a figment of our imagination.  These same dynamics continue today.  There are those who parade themselves as disciples of Christ, but they are enemies of the cross.  They only serve an idol of their own making and slap a “Jesus” label on it.  It is only those who stick with the true Jesus who will come out the other side of such betrayals.

The Betrayed Jesus Is Still in Control

In the midst of all this betrayal Jesus is still in control.  Verses 7-13 show us that Jesus has a plan that is not afraid of such betrayals.  He lays out exact details for his disciples to follow in order to prepare for his last supper with them.  Notice the phrase that they found it “just as he had said to them.”  Everything was just as Jesus had told them.  Jesus didn’t give them instructions on snuffing out Judas, or going public about the collusion of the leaders.  Rather, Jesus has an agenda for His disciples that has nothing to do with these betrayers.  This is a real challenge for us today.

We should not be surprised that things are just as our Lord told us they would be.  Chapter 21 of Luke involved the prophecies of our Lord regarding what the Church would experience in the first century, the centuries since, and at His Second Coming.  He told us that we would be hated by ALL nations for His sake.  He told us that all of mankind would betray the Lord.  The leaders of the world are following the script of Psalm 2 as they betray the one to whom all leadership belongs.  All the while, many professing Christians have betrayed the Lord.  This is not a question.  What is a question is what will you do?  Will you join the betrayal?  Or, will you be doing what Jesus has told you to do?  The world today is under the influence of Satan.  He has manipulated leaders by fear of people and fear of one another.  Christians are under great stresses that are intended to open doors for the devil in our hearts and mind.  We can only stand against such attacks and keep from giving entrance to Satan by trusting our Lord and keeping focused on what He has told us to do.  Let us proclaim the good news of the Kingdom.  And, let us grow in learning to love one another with the true love that is submitted to the ways of Jesus, as opposed to the false love that is submitted to the ways of the world.  Take heart.  The Lord Jesus is in control.  Those who betray Him will end up with nothing and those who remain faithful to Him will be brought through the fire that lies ahead.

Betrayal of Jesus Audio