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Entries in Fear (5)

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

Tuesday
May272014

Creation Obeys the Word of God

The underpinning of what we call science today is the simple idea that all of creation follows laws that were made by God.  God is not an author of confusion.  He does things in an ordered, well thought out, and logical way.  Thus it is He who sets the boundaries for the interactions of all things.

Though scientific discoveries have been made throughout history, the Christian ideas concerning God is what enabled a methodical search to understand the laws of nature to really take off.  Yet, not all of creation is the same.  Dirt, rocks, wind, storms, and solar flares are not sentient and have no choice of obeying God’s laws.  They simply follow the physical Laws God has created.  Animals have some form of thinking.  However, observation clearly shows that there is a clear difference between their thinking and man’s.  Animals operate on an instinctual level and on a base physical desire.  If they are hungry they eat what is available.  Man is the one creature that can make choices that are contrary to its nature.  We can analyze the past and project into the future and thereby act contrary to what our emotion and flesh tells us.  We can calculate the “oughtness” of an action and choose a path different from what we desire.

Today we are going to look at Luke 8:22-25.  Although this section may seem to be separate from what is going on before it, I think there is something deeper going on here.  Up to this point Jesus has been focusing on a theme which says, those who do God’s Word belong to Him and will be blessed.  So in this section the common tie is to see that in this arena most of creation does a better job than mankind.

When It Seems Like God Is Sleeping

Jesus often ministered to the point of exhaustion.  So in this story He tells the disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee and catches some sleep.  It is during this time that the disciples are piloting the boat and Jesus is sleeping that a strong storm comes upon them.  Now I don’t believe this storm is by accident.  Yet, Jesus is sleeping through it.  In this sense Jesus represents the righteous man who has perfect peace about his situation.  Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed upon You, because he trusts in You.”  As a righteous man, Jesus can sleep and not fear that a storm is going to destroy him before his time.

However, as God, Jesus appears to not care about their problem.  It is common for people to feel that God is not caring about their problem or that somehow he is asleep at the wheel.  Now, this storm is clearly a freak “perfect storm” because 4 of these disciples are seasoned fisherman and can handle a boat.  Yet, this time they are afraid that they are going to die.  They can’t keep up with bailing the water out of the boats and are in danger of sinking.  Is this a coincidence or is something else going on here?  God could have sent a perfect storm in order to allow Jesus to demonstrate that he is more than a man.  Or, the storm could be caused by Satan.  If you haven’t thought about this before then take time to remember the account of Job.  In Job we see Satan attacking his animals and family by causing fire to fall from heaven and burn up his servants and sheep.  He also caused a huge wind to destroy a house inside of which Job’s adult children were feasting.  It killed them all.  This is mentioned again in Revelation 13 when the False Prophet causes fire to come down from heaven in the sight of men in order to convince them to believe him.  Whether we know the source of difficult times or not doesn’t really matter.  In fact sometimes I might simply be encountering the results of my own poor choices.  Either way, we may feel like God is silent to our problem.

In our story things changed when they cried out to Jesus.  Jesus wasn’t a sailor.  They were the ones with the skills in this area.  This was one area where they were the experts and Jesus was the one in need.  Yet, after exhausting their own efforts and being at the end of their strength, they finally turn to Jesus and cry out for help.  They don’t expect him to start bailing.  Rather, they are turning to him as the one who has a connection to God that is miraculous.  Notice that this is the Gospel in a nutshell.  In some ways, God is reminding the disciples that no matter how hard they struggle against sin and the flesh, they are going to need God’s help.  None of us can be good enough in ourselves to overcome the storms of life.  We need to learn to cry out upon God for help, even when it seems like He is sleeping.

Jesus Has Power Over Nature

The next point is perhaps the most obvious.  Jesus has power over nature.  Now, all of creation came into being at the Word of the Lord.  In John 1:3, the disciple describes that this is Jesus.  “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.”  Thus, creation follows the laws of nature, or physics, that given to it at the beginning.  This is a general obedience that all creation has.  It was God’s design of atmosphere and temperature differences that gives rise to wind, weather, and even perfect storms.  Yet, there is also a specific obedience that happens here.  At the specific command of Christ, in a specific point in time, at a specific location, the storm stops immediately.  “Peace, be still!”  Those famous words actually come from the gospel of Mark, who gives us greater detail on what is said.  Now wind doesn’t have a will of its own in order to go or stop.  It is a force of nature’s own physics.  Thus the miracle is far greater than it appears, as if the storm could stop itself.  The truth is that all of the factors that came together to create such a perfect storm are being perfectly cancelled out by an opposite and perfectly balanced force at Christ’s command.  Thus God didn’t just cause weather in general by the design of the earth.  But has the power, if He so chooses, to specifically control weather if He wants to.  This shouldn’t surprise us since humans have been trying to manipulate weather over the last century, with various levels of success. 

This brings up several questions.  How can this happen, or, how is this possible?  The freak storm came to a freak ending.  They go from being freaked out about dying to being freaked out about what Jesus just did.  That also brings up the next question.  Who is this man?  No mere man can do what Jesus just did. 

His command over nature is often called a miracle.  However, the word “miracle,” to most people, has come to mean that the laws of nature are broken.  Yet, when you study into the “miracles” in the Bible, they seem less to be about broken natural laws and more about the power of the One who is intervening.  God can control His creation because He created it.  When you think about it, if God could create all of the universe and put it in motion, could He not operate within it?  Wouldn’t He be far greater than us in doing something that He wants through His understanding of natural laws?   Now what about mankind, should God control us in such a way?  Would we really want that?  Would that really be good?  Instead of commanding men along with controlling force, God gives man his command with the freedom to obey.  We can choose.

We Need Faith In God

When the storm is calmed Jesus speaks to the situation.  He asks, “Where is your faith?”  I don’t believe Jesus is chiding them for waking him up.  The emphasis is on their trust.  Jesus is the one who said to cross the lake.  He is the one leading them.  Don’t you trust me?  Many times following Jesus does not seem to be working out so well.  We encounter storms, which we struggle against as best we can.  They often bring us to the end of our physical, emotional, and spiritual resources.  Yet, Romans 8:28 says, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  Our prayers need not be as desperate as our situation if we are following God.   If Jesus is in our boat we need not fear.  Those who have put their faith in Jesus and are following His words belong to Him.  He is in them and they are in Him.  This is a relationship that cannot be severed by any storm that this earth has to offer.  If Jesus is in the boat we need not wake him with the words, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” [according to Mark]  Yes, he cares.  They don’t know it yet.  But, his caring goes so deep that he will hang on a cross for them to show it.  The beauty is that even when we are desperate and failing in our faith, He will still help those who are following Him.  We need to trust God.  But trusting God involves calling out to Him for help in our time of need.  And, at the same time, we can know that He will work all things to the good for us.  If Jesus would be willing to go through the cross for you, do you think He is going to fail you? 

This brings up the question of what I will call “The Martyr’s Storm.”  Jesus had a perfect relationship with God the Father and yet, on the night he is betrayed he goes through a storm that would claim his life the next day.  However, even here He knew that God would work it all to the good.  In fact, if Jesus had not died we could not be saved from our own sin.  No one understands the why and when behind the call to give the ultimate sacrifice to be a witness for God.  Yet, even this storm, ends when the martyr enters into God’s presence.

Thus Jesus brings up the issue of fear.  Fear undermines our faith and drives us to unbelieving actions.  We feel that we are losing and that God has failed us.  If left unchecked it will cause us to leave Christ at the very moment that we need Him most.  Somewhere Judas let fear of where Jesus was leading divert his course.  Thought they traveled together, somewhere their paths diverged and the two never came together again.  Don’t let this be you today.  No matter what storms have come in the past or you are experiencing today, God has a plan that you can trust.  As the Scriptures say, “Trust in the Lord forever, for in the LORD is everlasting strength!”  Trust God even if it requires you to lay your life down because He has your greatest good in mind.

Tuesday
Jun182013

Godly Men-Courageous Men

We live in a day and age where Christians need to be courageous, especially dads.  In fact the main place kids learn courage is from their parents when they are young.  In Joshua 1:9 God tells Joshua to “be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”  The key to Joshua’s fear is not in diminishing what he will face.  Rather, it lies in the fact that no matter what he faces God will be with him.  So it is not surprising to see Jesus saying the same things to His disciples, “behold I am with you, even to the very end of the age.”

It is easy to see courage when it is displayed on the battlefield in wars.  But God calls all men to a greater courage, a courage that takes place in our daily life.   It is a courage to follow Jesus in doing the right thing in each situation we face. 

Today we are going to look at Joseph, the husband of Mary.  Normally we only do this at Christmas, but Joseph displays great courage in something as simple as saying yes to God’s way.  Let’s look at Matthew 1:18-.

Courage To Be Kind When Hurt

In verses 18-19 we see that Joseph is engaged to Mary, which is generally a very high moment in the life of a man.  However, before they had come to be married, the news comes to Joseph that Mary is pregnant.  We are not told how he found out and whether the story of the angel and a conception by the Holy Spirit was also told to him.  Yet, we see him a man who has been hit by a ton of bricks.  What?  Mary is pregnant?  How?  I can’t believe it?  Yet it was true.  Mary was pregnant.  At a time when Joseph has been tremendously hurt, chooses to call off the wedding in a way that would be as quiet as possible.  In fact we see him being as kind as he can to Mary.

Joseph, no doubt, was emotionally hurt by Mary’s pregnancy, but he is also socially hurt.  Unless he publically sets things right, it will be assumed that he is the father and that he has broken the contract with Mary’s father.    If he publically goes before the elders and declares his innocence then Mary would be required to give a defense.  Since she would not be able to stand and say Joseph is the father, she would be unable to contest the public divorce.  Thus the righteousness of Joseph would be elevated or vindicated in the eyes of society and Mary would bear the full weight of the pregnancy.

Joseph clearly either doesn’t know about Mary’s story or he has heard it and finds it too hard to believe.  Thus he chooses a path that demonstrates kindness to Mary.  He will put her away secretly.  That way he is declaring the child isn’t his, but he is leaving room for questions.  No one will really know what happened and it will be the source of rumors for the rest of their lives.  It takes courage to not rush to vindicate yourself when you have been hurt.  Joseph is not the kind of man to be cruel and angry when he is hurt.  In a sense he chooses that his last act towards her would be one of love.  This reminds me of the passage in 1 Thessalonians 5:15, “Make sure nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everybody else.”  It takes courage to live in such a way.  In fact most people will look at you like you are strange when you try to live by this principle.

Joseph could also be hurt by God and His plan.  We are not told what kind of communication may or may not have happened between Mary and her family to Joseph.  But essentially he is being told that God is the one that is causing these problems in his life.  Yet, keep in mind that it is only a problem because of the sinfulness of people and society.  God didn’t cause that.  Thus even when God’s plan causes us pain, it is not truly His Fault or intention.  Men choose to be cruel, sinful, and hurt one another because they are cowards and lack the courage to follow God, or they are ignorant and lack the understanding to follow God.

Courage to Follow God’s Spirit Contrary to Society

In verses 20-25 we see that God gives Joseph a dream.  Now this dream could be psychoanalyzed and put aside as an effect of Joseph’s extreme stress.  However, Joseph was no dunderhead.  He knew that this dream was from God.  The dream basically verifies Mary’s story and clarifies his confusion over how it could have even happened.  None of it made sense to him.  God’s plan for our life is not about making it easier for us.  But He will give us the strength to walk it.   God was basically asking Joseph to complete the marriage with Mary.  This would be tantamount to confessing the baby was his.

Society would not be as kind to Joseph as he had planned to be with Mary.  They would not let it go quietly.  It would be trumpeted in many situations and caustic phrases, whether it was snide remarks to Joseph that made it clear he was less than other men, or to Mary as other women cruelly put her down, or how the child Jesus would be ridiculed, persecuted, and ostracized by the other children.

Yet, in the dream God’s message is this: “Do not be afraid.”  First of all he doesn’t need to fear that Mary has been unfaithful to him.  The boy was miraculously conceived.  Yet, second, he doesn’t need to fear the society that would not understand and would call him a sinner and the child illegitimate.  This society would, no doubt, constantly remind him and his family that they were failures and outcasts.

In some ways we haven’t seen anything yet, here in America.  As society becomes more evil the chances of God calling us to do something that causes us pain increase.  Prepare yourself for courage today, before it gets worse.  Like training for the day of battle, we need to treat our everyday life decisions as if they were preparations for the end of the world.

Our society is casting off God’s wisdom and God’s way.  Will you go with them?  Or will you stand strong with Jesus?  Joseph made the tough call that day and demonstrated courage.  It wasn’t easy.  It was no doubt very difficult.  But immediately after the dream confirmed everything, he went and “did as the angel commanded him and took to him his wife.”  Not only that, but, Joseph refrained from any sexual contact until after Jesus was born.  This was a courageous man.

Final Thoughts

Our society is not always to blame for our cowardice.  Often it is the desires of my own flesh that pull me away from doing the right thing.  In fact this is the default.  Society is just “piling on top” of what my flesh is already doing.  Yet, like Joseph, Joshua, and ultimately like Jesus we must choose to live our life by following God’s path rather than our own.  Let’s prepare for battle.  Let’s roll.

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