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Weekly Word

Entries in Freedom (9)

Tuesday
Apr032018

The Victory of the Cross

Mark 8:34-38.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Easter Sunday, April 01, 2018.

It is no secret that Christians see the cross of Jesus as a moment of incredible victory for Him and for us.  It is that moment of overturning what looks like sure defeat.  It is truly a snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat.  However, it is easier to get excited about His victory at the cross than it is to think about what that victory would mean in my life.

In this life it is ingrained into us by our own thoughts and desires that winning looks a particular way.  Young people who want a particular yummy item and continue to whine and beg for it are filled with the elation of victory when an adult finally surrenders and gives them what they want.  When that special someone agrees to go on a date, a young person feels that joy of success.  When our job application is accepted for that job we have wanted so badly, we are pumped and on cloud nine.  Marriage, children, cars and houses, all of these things are arenas in which our mind and body seek to be victorious and feel the joys of winning.  In all of these, we fall into the trap of believing that success is getting what our flesh desires and wants.  But Jesus taught us that to live for such a purpose, and to “win” by such a definition, is no victory at all.  It is only a deeper and deeper entrapment of our soul into a prison cell from which we will never escape, that is unless we take up our cross and follow Jesus.

This is why the Apostle Paul could rejoice when he said, “Now thanks to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.”  2 Corinthians 2:14.  When Christians actually pick up their cross and follow Jesus, it brings forth a different kind of victory that has little to do with how our flesh “feels” about things.  So as we think about the victory that Christ obtained at the cross during Easter weekend, let us recognize that Jesus is asking us to walk with him in this new, strange victory that He is giving us.

Jesus has called you to Himself.

Verse 34 opens with the phrase that Jesus called the people to Himself.  Now the story of Jesus and His coming into the world is a miraculous story all the way around.  But the biggest miracle is not the virgin birth, or a resurrection from the dead, although these are amazingly great.  The greatest miracle is that the Creator steps down into our world and comes to our side as someone that we can see and with whom we can identify.  Yes, I can’t identify with a virgin birth.  But, I can identify with a child who is under the threat of people who hate his existence and call him an illegitimate child.  I can’t identify with a resurrected Lord, but I can identify with the man who was hated, pilloried, and publicly crucified by those around him.  Maybe I cannot identify at the same level of experience, but definitely I can identify with the same level of vulnerability. 

Having stepped into our world, Jesus calls us to Himself.  He draws us to Himself.  This is the heart of God.  It may appear that He has not cared about you and has given all the gifts to others.  But the reality of Jesus and the cross forever calls us away from envy, jealousy, and the striving of this world.  In Jesus God is calling us to Himself.  But, why does He call us to Himself?

First we see Jesus giving those who came to him teaching or understanding.  God is a teacher at heart.  In Jesus He has stepped into a world of people who keep striving to win, but have little understanding about how to truly win in life.  He steps in and offers us teaching, understanding, and wisdom.  But God wants to do more than download information into our heads.  There are many who only see the teachings of Christ as a kind of ideological virus.  Yet, being a Christian is about more than a particular understanding about life.

Jesus calls us to Himself because He also wants to have a relationship with us.  We were not created by God to live in isolation of Him.  When we live our lives only to please ourselves, we become like a little child with our head down at Christmas playing with the toys and ignoring the parents who sacrificed to buy those toys.  God has created a world full of pleasures and joys.  But it is our selfishness and lack of relationship with The One who created it all that fills such a world with pain and suffering.  Come and have a relationship with The One who redefined what it means to win, The One who took the things of this life to a whole new level, a level that included The Creator who made it all.  You were not intended to go through life alone, and that is why The Creator is calling you to Himself.  He wants you to know His love for you.

Jesus has called you to follow Him.

Relationship is not just emotions and feelings.  It is also a continual, living connection.  Our relationship with God through Jesus is not intended to be a once a year thing at Easter, or a once a week thing on Sunday.  Jesus is calling us to become followers of Him, to follow Him to a particular destination.  Such a connection will affect the physical places to which you go throughout the week, but it is more than that.  Jesus is going on to victory, and he invites us to join Him on this journey.  Last week I said that Jesus offered Himself as the King of Israel, but not in a way that satisfied their fleshly desires.  The same is true in this situation.  Jesus offers Himself as a captain or leader who will take us on to victory, but not in a way that satisfies our fleshly desires.  He says that He will lead us to victory, but He marches towards a cross.  Can you trust such a leader?  Your flesh can’t and won’t.  Are you more than your fleshly desires?  It is as if Jesus walks through a cross-shaped doorway and then beckons you to follow Him through it.  Every part of your flesh shrinks back, not because it doesn’t want victory, but because it cannot conceive of such a doorway leading to any victory that it wants.

Jesus tells the people gathered that if they want to follow Him then they are going to have to do some things first.  They will have to deny themselves in order to follow Him.  It would be appropriate to use the situation where the disciple Peter denied Jesus to analyze this statement.  On the night that Jesus was arrested, Peter followed the soldiers to the High Priest’s compound.  He stayed out in the courtyard trying to find out what would happen to Jesus.  Someone recognizes Peter as a follower of Jesus, which leads him to declare that he did not know the man.  Remember that earlier Peter had boasted that if everyone left Jesus, Peter alone would stand beside him.  Here was his moment.  The moment where the dreams of Peter’s flesh (to be the faithful disciple that is better than all the rest) meets the hard reality of what it really takes to be such a person.  Such a person has to make a hard choice about what desire to satisfy.  Yes, the flesh wants fame and glory, but it doesn’t want suffering, hardship, and crucifixion.  Denying ourselves is seeing Jesus and the desire of our flesh side by side and choosing to stand with Jesus, not our fleshly desire.  Denying ourselves is to allow the desire that we want so badly to be drug off and crucified, instead of Jesus.  In life, when I encounter a problem in following Jesus, like when my flesh want to choose the easy path, but Jesus is telling me that victory lies on another path, precisely at that point is where I will either deny Jesus or myself.  It is not enough to agree with Jesus on 99 points, but refuse to follow on 1.  It is not a denial of our flesh to follow Jesus in the areas where we agree with Him.  No, it is only a denial when my flesh pulls the other direction and tempts me to say that we are done with the man Jesus.  I can’t have both Jesus and the desires of my flesh.  When Jesus says to love your enemy, my flesh laughs and calls such things foolishness.  My flesh says that I can’t win by going that direction.  To follow Jesus and live by His principles or mindset is to say no to ourselves and to say yes to Him.  It is to take our place beside Him and say, “Crucify me too.”

This is why Jesus adds that we will need to pick up our cross in order to follow Him.  This image was literal for Him and many disciples in that first century.  However, the cross is a metaphor for our own personal death to self.  Each person will have to pick up their personal cross (notice he does not say that we will need to pick up his cross).  Denying yourself is not some kind of asceticism where we remove all sensory pleasures from our life.  Rather, it is about picking up that particular cross that has our name on it.  It is about denying those things that are standing in the way of following Jesus and obeying Him.  So what was standing in the way of Jesus’ victory?  Perhaps the desire to raise up a mob and throw out the corrupt religious leaders.  He would also need to raise up an army and miraculously lead it to victory over the Romans so that Herod could be deposed, and Jesus take his place.  He had to die to taking over the world and becoming its emperor and forcing the world into His thinking underneath a boot to the face.  Jesus had crucified such fleshly desires internally before He was ever nailed to the cross.  He had to die to all those natural desires to stay alive, vindicate yourself, and strike down your enemies.  Instead he loved his enemies and blessed them even as He was dying (Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.)

But the real question for each one of us is this.  What is standing in the way of me following Jesus?  Clearly it is not a Roman oppression and worldly-minded Pharisees/Sadducees.  Perhaps it is your reputation that you will have to die to.  Perhaps the things that you know you will have to quit doing or even start doing that are standing in the way of following Him.  Is it forgiving someone who has hurt you deeply?  Your flesh tells you that victory in these areas cannot possibly be found in following the cross-path which Jesus has blazed.  If you are trying to hold on to both Jesus and these conflicting desires then you will find that the tension will increase until you are about to be pulled in two.  At some point you will choose one master and hate the other.  Which will you deny?  Can I choose the path that looks like losing, simply because Jesus is going there?  That is the challenge.

Jesus has called you to victory.

Even though we are called to follow Jesus to our own particular cross, the cross is not our final destination.  It is only a critical waypoint.  Jesus does have a real victory that He is offering us, both in this life and in the life to come.  Thus one of the favorite descriptions used of Christians in the book of Revelation is “overcomer.”  To deny ourselves, pick up our cross and persevere in following Jesus throughout this life is called overcoming the world.  Yes, our victory is mainly a spiritual victory over the lies of our flesh and the lies of this world.  However, it leads to something much more.

But, let’s look at the spiritual part first.  Jesus asked the question, “What will it profit a man to obtain the whole world and lose his own soul?”  Think about what he is implying.  Every time that a person chooses the path of pleasing the flesh over the top of pleasing our Creator, we lose a little piece of our soul.  We were not designed to have “pleasing the flesh” as our purpose in life.  The body was to be a tool that our soul used in this life, rather than our soul becoming a tool of the body.  When we live that way, we little by little give up a piece of our soul.  Something inside of us dies and we lose the freedom and authority that we had over ourselves.  We find ourselves, little by little, coming under the tyranny of this body that is slowly wasting away.

Another way to think of this is to remember the words of Jesus in Luke 21:19.  “By your perseverance, take possession of your souls.”  Jesus uses terminology that hints at Israel coming into the Promised Land.  It had giants that had taken over the territory.  If they wanted it, they would have to trust God to help them win the battles.  Similarly, we have lost territory in our souls by serving the flesh.  When we come to Christ, He challenges us to fight these giant strongholds of fleshly desires by His Spirit.  By persevering with our faith in Christ, we will have the victory, which is to have back our own soul.  The truth will set you free.  Now, even when the teacher has taught you how to win, it is not easy to follow through.   Perseverance is that part that keeps going when every other part wants to quit.  It is easy to start following Jesus, but it is difficult to stay with Him all the way.  Yet, in so doing, you will find that God gives you back your soul.  There will be a life within you that replaces the deadness inside.  This is a true victory that we can have in this life.

But the victory is not just a spiritual or unseen victory.  Jesus has called us to receive glory and honor at the day of Judgment.  Jesus actually rose up out of the grave, presented himself to over 500 people at various times over the course of 40 days, and then ascended into heaven in front of their eyes.  In verse 38 Jesus puts the stakes in a negative light.  If we choose to satisfy our flesh then there is a day of judgment when Jesus returns with His holy angels.  Those who lived for their flesh and denied Jesus will find shame and disgrace.  But those who picked up their cross and followed Him will find glory and victory.

The cynic will reply that Jesus hasn’t come back yet, and chances increasingly are that He never will.  But life teaches us that there is always a day of reckoning.  You can avoid it your whole life, but eventually the truth catches up with you.  Only a fool tells themselves that they can cut the corners, serve only their self, and get away with it (i.e. be victorious).  Jesus stands on the other side of the cross and beckons us to walk through it to victory.  This strange door causes our flesh to fear, but it is the path to true victory.

Victory of the Cross Audio

Wednesday
Jun142017

Living in the Spirit

Various passages.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on June 11, 2017.

Over the last several weeks we have looked at some Old Testament passages that promised the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and at the actual event on the Day of Pentecost when it began.  Today we will look at the next step.  What does it mean to live your life in the Spirit of God?  Get ready to thumb through the Bible because we will look at 4 different passages to get an overview of what it means to live in the Spirit.

Recognize His Presence

John 14:15-18.  As Jesus meets with His disciples, he points out a sequence that He desires.  They will obey his commandments because they love him, and he will send the Holy Spirit so that they will not be left alone.   Though it seems simple, we need to start at recognizing that Jesus always keeps his word.  If you have put your faith in Jesus then the Holy Spirit is present in your life.  In fact, in 1 Corinthians 3:16 we see the Apostle Paul reminding the Corinthian Christians of this truth.  “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”   It seems impossible that someone could become a follower of Jesus and not understand this essential truth.  However, more than likely the problem is not knowledge, but recognition.  It is the plan of Jesus that each of his followers have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them and filling their life.

To live a Christian life without relying on and listening to the Holy Spirit cannot last long.  It is more than forgetting that you have chains in your car when you are unable to get over a snowy pass in the winter.  The Holy Spirit is not some inanimate and impersonal tool that we can forget about.  Rather, it is like forgetting that the One who created snow is not only in your vehicle, but can also teach you how to drive in the snow properly.  He will even take over the controls if He has to do so in order to keep you safe.  So life in the Spirit begins by recognizing that Jesus has been faithful and the Holy Spirit dwells in me.  Though the Spirit dwells in us, He wants to fill our life.  For this to happen, there are some things to which we should pay attention.

We have to lose the idea that we can “go it alone,” or that we have to go it alone.  Jesus has a purpose in giving us the Holy Spirit.  The word in verse 16 that is translated “Helper” in the NKJV comes from the sense of one who comes alongside another.  Thus the help can take on many different forms: comforter, director, instructor, corrector, and defender.  If Jesus though his disciples needed the Holy Spirit, how can we think that we will fare any better?  Jesus didn’t just give us the Holy Spirit.  He also gave his disciples one another when he commanded, “Love one another as I have loved you.”  So clearly Jesus does not want us to do this all by ourselves.

So what tempts us to go it alone?  We are tempted to leave the Spirit behind because He often leads in a way that our flesh does not like.  The constant pull of our flesh away from the Spirit, and the constant pull of the world upon our flesh, makes it easy to say you are a Christian, but not rely upon the Holy Spirit.  We are also tempted to leave other believers behind because they are too much like us, not perfect yet.  Thus it seems to difficult to work out problems between one another.  Love challenges us on every front and we can walk out on that task.  Just as Eve was tempted by the things her flesh wanted, so we are tempted by things that our flesh want.  We must learn to say, “No,” to our flesh and “Yes,” to Jesus.

So recognizing that He is there should then turn to praying for His help every day.  The Holy Spirit will help you in many ways without you even asking.  However, there are some things that God, in His sovereignty, will not do unless we ask.  Recognizing His presence and purpose enables us to notice His help more often when we haven’t asked for it.  This is encouraging.  Also, praying for His help in both general and specific ways will open the door for Him to do more things in our life than if we didn’t pray.  So start your day with recognition of His help already, and with a heart of gratefulness ask for His help for today.  I am not saying to become some kind of greedy kid who wants everything.  But, rather to be a grateful child who is coming to a loving Father.  Holy Spirit, help me to face the difficult situation facing me.

We should also pray for a Spirit Baptism or Infilling.  As I said earlier, the presence of the Holy Spirit is a given when you are a believer in Jesus.  However, being filled with the Spirit is something that we need to seek for everyday.  These two words, baptism and filling, refer to two different metaphors.  Baptism refers to the picture of water and being completely immersed or dipped into the Spirit.  I am not just standing next to the water or ankle deep in it.  I am wholly surrounded by the Spirit.  There is no part of my life that is not impacted by the help of the Holy Spirit.  The second word “filling” refers to the metaphor of a house.  The human body is a house of sorts for the human spirit within that uses it to interact with the material world.  At salvation the Holy Spirit enters our “house” and lives with us.  However, there is a big difference between the Holy Spirit being in the house and filling the whole house.  The Holy Spirit wants to fill and influence every part of our life.  The truth is that this is not intended to be a onetime thing.  Our daily experience is that there are times that we are more open to the help of the Spirit than others.  Through prayer we are wrestling with our flesh and making room for the Holy Spirit to fill us.  Now some people historically have testified to a big, powerful experience.  Others have testified to a slow, growing influence in their life that began at salvation.  Regardless of how it looks, the focus should never be on what it looks like.  The focus is on the Holy Spirit actively working through us day by day.  Moses parted the Red Sea, but David didn’t.  David slew the giant Goliath, but Jeremiah didn’t.  So let go of what you think or others have told you it must look like and simply pray each day for the Spirit of God to come into every part of your life and fill you with Himself.  As you cooperate with the Holy Spirit, your life will present a unique and special witness of the power of God to the world around you.

Live Life for the Spirit’s Purpose

Romans 8:1-2; 5-10.  When I preached this on Sunday, I had this as my third point.  However, I now think it is more natural to be presented second.  Now that we know the Spirit is present and are daily inviting Him to fill our life, we must focus our life on the purpose of God.  In Romans 8 we see that there is a struggle within us between living for our own fleshly purposes and living for God’s spiritual purposes.  Jesus has a particular purpose that He wants us to accomplish by the help of the Holy Spirit.  So we should learn to focus upon it.  Now there will be some purposes that are specific to you and God will reveal them to you as you pray for the Spirit’s help.  However there are several purposes that He has for us all and they are a good foundation for our life in the Spirit.

This passage is pointing out that one of the purposes of the Spirit is to help us to be free from and have power over our flesh and sin.  Too many Christians think that Jesus has forgiven their sins, so it doesn’t matter how they live.  Whatever I do, it is okay because Jesus has covered it all.  But, this is just wrong-headed.  We need to learn to say, “No,” to sin.  Yes, we have been set free from the death that sin brings us, but Jesus also wants us to be free from its present tyranny in our life.  This is a spiritual battle, but it is not only unseen.  There is an outward and visible freedom that comes into the life of the person who has the Spirit of God helping them against sin.  The addict can become free from their addictions by the help of the Spirit of God, and the sinner can walk away from the sin that so easily ensnares him, by the help of the Spirit.  This is a battle that takes place over the course of our life and as the Holy Spirit directs us.  Now this passage not only points out the purpose of being free from the desires of our flesh, but also that our motivation must never give in to the flesh.  Our desire must be to walk in harmony with the Holy Spirit’s purpose and with the Holy Spirit’s help.  This is a daily battle of facing our flesh and its desires, and also listening to the Spirit instead.

Now let’s look at another passage in Galatians 5:19-26.  Here we see that another purpose of the Holy Spirit is to manifest evidence that He is inside of you.  If we do not follow the Spirit then our flesh leads us into being manipulated by the devil.  Paul makes it clear that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the works of the flesh.  He gives an extensive list, but not exhaustive.  The reality of the Holy Spirit within us works to make an inner difference.  But this inner difference will also have a surface expression within our life.  In the past, people have made the mistake of being to judgmental about what those exact changes should be.  But, they have also made the mistake of being to tolerant of things that should not continue in the life of someone following the Spirit.  It would be a tragedy if we had a single rose in the garden of our heart surrounded by weeds galore.  In this case we can use the old gardener joke, “the Garden of Weedin’.”  Our life is partly about weeding out those desires of the flesh and the things they have produced in our outer life.  Over time the fruit of the Spirit not only becomes visible, but also grows.  Just as the works of the flesh are obvious, so are the fruit of the Spirit.  I won’t go through the list, but I want to use several of them to recognize the difficulty of the day we live in.

You notice that Paul ends the list by saying, “against such there is no law.”  In other words, it is universal that you do not see laws in any society that say, “You must not love.”  That said, there are commands and laws that say, “You must not call that thing love.”  Thus societies have a tendency to redefine what they think is love, peace, kindness, etc…  Christians are to love, not as society dictates, but as the Spirit of God dictates.  So the world will tell a parent that they should not teach a child to worship Jesus only.  Rather, the child should be shown all the options and helped to make their own choice.  As nice as this may sound to some, it is a recipe for disaster and no true act of love.  So the parent who loves their child enough to teach them the truth about Jesus and this world, is seen as a child abuser and that is socially frowned upon.  Similarly, it is love that tells someone that God’s Word says their life of sin jeopardizes their future.  Yet, the world today increasingly calls this intolerance, and bigoted hate speech.  So the Christian has a tension of listening to the Spirit of God and producing fruit in their life that the world around them doesn’t always like.

It has been recognized by saints down through the ages that at the end of the day, I must be emptied of me and filled with Jesus.   Not in a way that erases my personality, but rather in a way that removes the works of my fleshly desires.  In order to fill something it must first be emptied.  Or, for those scientifically inclined people among us, when you fill a cup with a liquid, it will displace whatever is in it (including air).  Thus, to receive the wisdom of Christ, we must let go of the wisdom of ourselves, and the wisdom of this world.  To receive the life of Christ, I must first let go of the life I have created without Him.  This emptying and being filled is a daily part of life in the Spirit.  He will not conk you over the head and drag you somewhere.  He is not in our life as a tyrannical dictator, but rather, as a helper who cares about us.  In fact, He loves us.  As John the Baptizer once said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.  May God fill us with this attitude.

Live Life by the Way of the Spirit

Ephesians 6:10-18.  Now that we have a direction or the “what” of where we are headed, let’s talk about the “how.”  The Holy Spirit is not just taking us to a destination, but He travels in a particular way, that is the Way of the Lord.  We need to do life God’s Way as opposed to our way.  In Ephesians 6 Paul speaks about the spiritual warfare that is going on around us and how we need to be ready to participate in it.  If we are going to become more like Jesus then we are going to have to do so with recognition of the influence of the spirit realm.  Our battle is not against people, but those spiritual beings that are blinding and manipulating them.  Yes, the world is a bad place because people have trouble refraining from things that bring sorrow, pain, and suffering.  In this sense it is our fault.  However, we cannot ignore that the Bible makes it clear that these things are made worse by the work of these evil spirits.  They and their deceptions are the real problems.  So how do you fight against spiritual beings?  Of course you do so spiritually.

Paul speaks of putting on the Armor of God, which is: Truth, Righteousness, the Gospel of Peace, Faith, Salvation, the Word of God, and prayers.  We won’t extensively go through each of these.  But Paul takes the time to connect each of these spiritual things to a part of the equipment of a solder.  Thus he is emphasizing the importance of each one of these.  If we look at Truth, we should recognize that it is not only important to live based upon the Truth of God, but also to be a truthful person.  Similarly, we live based upon the righteousness of Christ, but also try to be a person who lives out that righteousness as well.  We are both prepared by the Gospel of Peace and prepared for helping others with it.  We also notice the protection that a soldier has for his brain, is spiritual in nature for the Christian.  In other words, the enemy often attacks our mind, through faith and trusting God’s salvation, we are able to resist and extinguish these attacks.  He ends with the offensive part of this list: that is the Sword of the Spirit (The Word of God) and prayer.  With the word of God we are able to recognize the work of our enemy and neutralize it.  In prayer we intercede with Heaven to overrule the work of these spirit-beings and take time to make sure that we are daily equipped with all that God has given us.

So Christian, take time to stop today and recognize that Jesus has made the Spirit of God available to you  in order to accomplish His purposes in the way that pleases the Father.  May God help us to start each day in prayer, inviting Him to fill us with God’s purposes and in His ways.  This is living by the Spirit.

Living in the Spirit audio

Tuesday
Mar142017

Serving Selflessly with our Natural Gifts

Several Passages.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 12, 2017.

Today we are going to look at the practical side of serving others.  When we have a firm grasp of why we should serve, and we are committed to do so, we still have to face the area of how we do that.  So today we will focus on serving others with our natural gifts, abilities, and the possessions that we have.  When you have a strong belief in the reality of spiritual gifts for today, it is easy to see natural gifts as something that is lesser and undesirable.  But, this cannot be any further from the truth.  Before we are ready to talk about spiritual gifts we need to learn to surrender our natural abilities to the Lord in service to others.  Now, when we talk about these things, there are some who secretly say in their mind, “I have nothing, and I am nothing.”  This simply is not true.  In fact some of the most generous people in the world are those who have very little in the eyes of the world.  So as we look into this area let’s try to avoid the tendency to focus merely on numbers.

Our first passage will focus on a woman from the city of Joppa in Israel.  Her name was Tabitha and her story is told in Acts 9:36-43.

Natural Gifts vs. Spiritual Gifts

The reason I chose this passage is because we can see both natural gifts and spiritual gifts working in the same story.  Before we get into the passage let’s focus on what I mean by natural gifts.  Natural gifts are those predispositions and abilities that we are genetically inclined towards, which then become skills that we naturally pick up and develop.  I would also include those possessions and wealth that we have acquired through our natural birth to a certain family and the use of our skills and abilities.  By calling them natural, I am not implying that God has nothing to do with them.  He is the creator of Nature and the particular nature of humans.  It is He who designed the abilities of mankind and the reality that over long periods of time our selectivity in breeding and environment would affect our DNA and how it is passed down.  Thus Spiritual gifts by contrast do not have such a natural explanation for their existence.  For example, a man studies the profession of medicine over a long period of time and does well as a doctor helping people to heal.  He should definitely give God thanks for the intellect and health to do what he has done.  But we would still consider this to be a natural event which God has made possible.  Spiritual gifts do not have a similar natural component, but more on that later.

Tabitha apparently had time, money, and skill that she used to serve others around her.  Verse 36 starts with a general description of her service.  She was “full of good works and charitable deeds which she did.”    In verse 39 we are shown a specific example of Tabitha’s service.  Many of the widows, who had gathered in mourning her death, held up the tunics and garments that Tabitha had made for them while she was still alive.  No doubt she did other good works and charitable deeds.  But this one is an example of them.  When Tabitha died it brought sorrow and grief to the people who knew her.  She was an outstanding believer and so the Christians there sent for the apostle Peter to come.  It would seem that they are hoping for a miracle.

Now, as Peter enters the story, we have one of the apostles of Jesus whom God used mightily to preach the Gospel, and also confirmed it with miracles of healing and exorcism.  When Peter is made aware of Tabitha’s death, he doesn’t grab his medical bag and medical reference books.  He is not healing Tabitha by any natural means.  In fact we could be technical and say that Peter isn’t healing her, God is.  But, that would be to press more into that phrase than the Bible does.  The spiritual gift of healing is not based upon genetics, IQ, or skills that one has honed over time.  They are purely a working of the Spirit of God through the faith and actions of his believers.  Peter’s first action is to pray.  Though we are not told, I would think that part of his prayer is asking God if He was willing to bring Tabitha back to life.  At some point when Peter believed that the answer to this was affirmative, he turns to her body and says, “Tabitha, arise.”  She then opens her eyes and sits up.  Peter then lifts her up and presents her to the believers.  Now notice that the natural gifts of Tabitha and the spiritual gift of Peter were very different from each other.  And yet, they are the same in this, both the natural gifts and the spiritual gifts are intended to be used for others.   Yes, they are different from each other, but they both come from the same God so that we can bless each other.

This leads to an invaluable point.  Natural gifts and spiritual gifts should not be in contention with each other, but instead, work together.  This is not just possible, but necessary.  It is possible because they come from the same God.  It is necessary because God intends to use both to help His people.  Do not neglect using your natural gifts for others because you want to be more spiritual.  However, do not neglect to seek spiritual gifts because you are more comfortable with the natural.  We are not choosing one over the other, or trying to get rid of one for the other.  Instead, God intends for them to work hand in hand within the life of an individual and also within the life of the body of believers.  The gifts of Tabitha and Peter are being used to bless believers and provide a witness to the unbelievers.  In fact, ask yourself.  How did Peter get to Joppa from Lydda?  Though God has given him spiritual gifts, Peter still exercises his natural gift of travel in order to get to Joppa (We are not told his method, walking or donkey).  Also, the passage ends with Simon the Tanner, a business man in Joppa, providing a place for Peter to stay.  Thus it is the natural gifts of Simon that allow for the spiritual gifts of God to work through Peter.  Just as our spirit and body are designed to work in harmony, so our natural gifts and spiritual gifts should work in harmony too.

We can fail to use our natural gifts for others

Let’s go to 1 Timothy 6:17-19 now.  I want to be careful to keep this from being all about money.  The use of our money is one area of resource in our life.  We have many others such as time, skills, experience, and knowledge.  However, wealth is one that can have a very strong leverage on our heart.  Thus the apostle Paul tells Timothy to command the rich to use their wealth for good works.  Now I purposefully picked this passage because it uses the word, “command.”  The Lord Jesus , in Matthew 19:21, teaches us to lay up treasure in heaven by using our earthly wealth to help others.  The point is that some of them were rich in wealth, but neglected to ask the question, “But am I rich in good works.”  Have I banked up treasure in heaven?  I have worked so hard to bank up money on this earth, but what about when I am gone here?  What if I lose it all tomorrow?  Thus the motives of the rich Christian are challenged.  They can neglect to use these natural gifts to serve others because they have become “haughty” ( a word that means high-minded).  An attitude that somehow I am the lucky one and you are not, can lead to stinginess and selfishness.  It is easy to forget that our abilities and placement in life are not all our own.  Much of it we were given.  Regardless, we will be held accountable for what we did with what we had.  The second reason given is that we can put our trust in our riches and abilities.  We can think that they will always hold us up.  Even if our money never fails as we live this life, the time will come for our death.  Our money will not be able to help us in that day.  When we stand before God, our amassing of money on earth will not impress God.  It will do the exact opposite.  Riches are often “here today and gone tomorrow.”  When I go to God will I go as a poor man (that is no heavenly treasure)?  Don’t let pride and false trust cause you to be stingy concerning others.  This is not about money only.  We can use our abilities and experience in life to help others who do not have them.  Even networking is a way of serving one another.  The reason for your gifts is not for you to consume them yourself.  They are not some kind of cosmic reward.  They are intended to enable you to take care of your family, friends and loved ones, and those who God brings to your attention.

God gives the believer freedom

Now let’s look at Galatians 5:13-15.  We finish this sermon with this passage precisely because it helps us understand the earlier word “command.”  The same apostle is writing both passages.  In 1 Timothy he tells Timothy to command the rich to be rich in good works.  But to the Galatians Paul emphasizes that God’s goal for his people is freedom.  Ultimately He wants us to choose to serve each other freely.  Thus we have a choice to make.  The first choice is whether or not we are going to follow Jesus or not.  It is to those who want to be his disciples that Jesus says, “lay up treasures in heaven.”  He is not trying to control us, but rather, he is trying to make it very clear that if we are really following him and growing to become like him, we will use our natural gifts to serve others.  Consequently, if we are not using our natural gifts to serve others, then we are not following Jesus and becoming like him.  This brings us to the second part of freedom.

Yes, we are free to choose, but we cannot choose the effects of that choice also.  Being free does not remove consequences.  Thus when you hear the idea that we should be free to “sin,” and that God is being judgmental to say that certain things are wrong, remember that God does not control choices.  We actually live in a world where people are free to sin.  When someone wants to steal, cheat, or murder, there is no angel of death that shows up and strikes them dead.  Yes, God could do this, but He doesn’t.  We are free to sin and free to do righteousness.  But they both have consequences in the natural and in the spiritual that you can’t control.  Let me give you a hypothetical situation.  Suppose tomorrow our society completely rejects the idea of marriage and an exclusive, sexual relationship.  It is done so strongly that those who promote exclusivity and marriage are seen as something worse than a pedophile is to us today.  Now fast forward in time 200, even 400 years later.  No one is alive who even remotely understands the concept of sexual exclusivity.  Picture a young man or woman who falls in love with someone for the first time.  It is reciprocated by the other and they are sexually intimate.  But, a month later, one or the other, decides they have had enough with you and leave you to be intimate with someone else.  Here’s the point.  You cannot tell me that the individual who is left behind won’t be hurt, and emotionally injured.  Of course they know that it is supposed to be okay.  But, that won’t make their heart hurt any less.  Thus they will eventually move on and a certain softness will die in their heart as they embrace the way of the world.  My point is that sin still hurts even when we try to define it out of existence.  Yes, you are free to sin.  But God knows that sin destroys us in every way.  It destroys relationships, and societies.  In fact sin touts itself as freedom, but in truth it is always chains.

Thus in verse 13, Paul gives the overarching principle that those who are following Jesus will, “serve one another in love.”  Now God is not going to tell you how much, how long, to whom, etc…  You are free to choose.  However, you are also free to pray about how much, how long, to whom you will serve.  The practicality is that you cannot be “God” to everyone.  He does not intend you to be the sole source for others.  You can only give so much, help so many people, and give so much of your time.  The point is serving, not the amount itself.  So a very biblical case can be made for a spherical understanding of our love.  Those in our immediate family are our primary point of service.  They are those whom God has given to us in order to serve.  The next circle is made of our friends, co-workers, and neighbors.  They are a secondary point of service.  The last circle takes in the whole world, but is best described as those whom God, in His mysterious ways, connects us to in one way or another. 

As I said earlier, we can pray and ask God for help and direction in how to use our natural gifts.  We must do this precisely because they are limited.  Thus even our natural gifts can be directed and led by the Holy Spirit to help us grow in serving others.  It is God who knows what they need and He can give us wisdom and skill in serving one another.

Let me close with sharing a verse from 1 Corinthians 10:13, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  When we only live for ourselves or our family, we fall short of the glory of God.  So take some inventory today of your natural gifts.  Quit saying that you don’t have anything.  In fact you might do better to work at it from the other side of the problem.  Instead of looking at your resources first, lift up your eyes and start seeing the need.  Then, out of love for God and them, ask yourself, “What can I do to help them?”  That is the best place to start because love always finds a way to serve others.

Serving with our natural gifts audio

Thursday
Oct062016

Society under Siege: Social Activism

Mt. 28:18-20; John 13:1-8.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on October 2, 2016.

What is social activism?  It is the tactic of creating social upheaval, and thereby pressuring the government into changing laws and policies.  Ultimately it is about changing society.  The idea of manipulating the people of a nation for political purposes has been around for ages.  However, in the last 2 centuries the fine tuning of changing society has led to books like the anti-Semitic, propaganda text in pre-revolution Russia called “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”  Another book would be “Rules for Radicals” by Saul Alinsky.  We have reached a point where multiple, competing agencies are trying to manipulate society to their own ends.  In the midst of this environment large parts of the Church have been seduced to employ this same tactic in order to achieve a “godly” purpose.  Is this what Jesus wants?  Is it our job to force society to adopt and live by the truth of God?

No godly person ever used this tactic

Technically this first point is made by the absence of Scripture.  I must give credit to the late Dave Hunt who made this point back in the 1980’s.  The absence of godly people organizing a community to cause social upheaval and the approval of God should be glaringly obvious.

We do see many cases of civil disobedience.   So let’s look at some of them.  In Exodus 1:15 and following we have the Pharaoh of Egypt telling two midwives to kill any Hebrew boys who are born.  These midwives were Hebrew themselves and in good conscience could not kill these baby boys.  Thus they lied to Pharaoh.  They basically claimed that the Hebrew women had their babies too quickly for the midwives to intervene.  Notice that in this case there is no organizing of a large group to create social upheaval.  These women aren’t even operating to change the laws of Egypt.  They simply refuse to kill the baby boys out of deference to the commands and nature of the One True God.

Several other cases are seen in the book of Daniel.  The three Hebrew boys refuse to bow down to an image when commanded to do so by the king.  Under threat of death they make the statement that they believed God would save them.  But if not, they still wouldn’t bow down to the idol.  Daniel himself faced a law that commanded the citizens to pray to no one but the king for a period of time.  Daniel refused to obey this law and prayed to the God of Heaven anyway.  Notice that none of them create riots and marches.  They make no attempts to change the laws of the land.  Rather, they obey the dictates of their conscience, regardless of what might happen to them.

Lastly, we see the same thing with the Apostles Peter and John.  They had been preaching about Jesus, when the Sanhedrin commands them to stop. Of course they make the statement that if they have to choose between obeying man or God, they would choose to obey God.

All of these examples are all about individual conscience before God.  The godly of every generation have not necessarily obeyed all the laws of mankind (basically the evil ones).  However, they are not leading protests and social upheaval in order to change society.  They are simply trying to please God over man.  So what should godly people be doing in our culture today?

Our mission is people not societies

This leads us to our first text.  In Matthew 28 we see Jesus explaining that he had been given power and authority over all nations and all heavenly principalities.  With this authority he could have commanded anything.  Yet, he does not give us the mission of taking over the nations of the world.  This may be what Islam teaches.  It may be what communism teaches, but it is not what Christ taught.

Instead he sends his disciples to all the nations in order to preach the Gospel of Jesus and disciple the individuals that respond to it.  We must never forget that our main aim is to disciple those who become Christians.  Our goal is not to take over the governments of this world and neither is it to build crystal cathedrals.  Rather we are called to build people.

So if we get caught up in trying to change or “save” societies we can be in danger of losing the individuals that we were sent to reach in the first place.  What do I mean by that?  When the church focuses on society and trying to change or perfect it, then our focus looks for those tools and things that “work” to change society.  When we focus upon the system instead of the people, then people will end up getting crushed.  The mistake is not just in trying to perfect society.  Even our churches can be guilty of trying to build little perfect societies within our church walls.  Evangelism typically ceases to be about discipling a new believer to become more like Jesus, and becomes about forcing an individual to fit into our system.  “Be a good cog.”  This path is dehumanizing, uncaring, and anti-Christ.  There are multiple generations of people who have been crushed by Churches and Christians who are more concerned about a perfect system (i.e. don’t rock the boat) then they are about following and obeying Jesus.  So what would Jesus do if he were here today?

Jesus shows us the way

In John 13:1-8 we see Jesus the night before he is crucified.  It is clear from his actions here that Jesus would not be rioting in the streets and leading a revolution against the government.  It is also clear that he would not be using millions of dollars to subvert the political process.

In these verses we see that Jesus knew that society had it out for him.  He knew that things were only going to get worse politically.  Instead of throwing a temper tantrum and using his power to force change in society, Jesus accepted the reality on the ground and focused on what really mattered.  Is it possible that we could learn to accept the reality that this world will give us difficulty if we want to follow God?  And, can we accept the reality that it will not give us justice?  If a nation dissolves and reforms, or is taken over by another nations, it is not the end of the world.  How many nations today have taken the place of others before them?  Most of the nations fit this parameter.  Now weigh this against the reality that if an individual goes into eternity lost, it is the end of their world.

Thus, we are told that Jesus loved them to the very end.  Can we choose to love people to the very end of our earthly life?  I know that this passage is about Jesus with his closest disciples.  Yet, one of them has surrendered to the devil and is about to betray him.  Jesus even loved Judas to the very end.  On top of this, it is impossible to see Jesus hanging on the cross and not recognize that he loved the world and paid the price for whosoever would believe.  If we sacrifice caring for individuals in order to build the perfect society (whether in the church or in the nation) then we are being foolish.  The Church was not established to create a perfect society.  It was established to provide a family for those who would respond to the call to believe on Jesus.  We are to be a family of imperfect people who have been redeemed and are being saved by Jesus.
Jesus said that the Truth will set you free.  Radicals like to talk about speaking truth to power.  But the truth is they are always heavy on power and light on truth.  Their methods look nothing like Jesus.  Jesus spoke truth into people’s lives.  He combated the lies of the enemy that held them spiritually captive with the love of God’s truth.  “Yes, if you remain in your sins you will die in them.  But, if you turn from your sins and believe me, then you will live eternally.”  Now this does not save everyone, but it is the only door to hope.  The only way to do what Jesus did is by getting down in the nitty gritty of a person’s life.  It takes time and investment to determine the lies a person has believed and counteract them with the truth of God’s word.  It isn’t a quick, easy, perfect process.

The problem with a pragmatic approach is that it rarely asks, “Should we do this.”  Yes, we could go to war against progressives and try to take our nation back for Jesus.  But should we?  At least should that be our focus?  If there is going to be another Spiritual Awakening in America, it will first start because Christians repent of being side-tracked and actually start following Jesus.  Even then, it will be because of the move of God.  It is He who raises up nations and He who puts nations down.  Let us start demonstrating such humility before God that even Jesus himself exercised.   He humbled himself and used his authority and power to accomplish what God asked.  If we will do this then we will hear from the Father the same words He says to His Son.  “Come, sit at my feet until I make your enemies your footstool.”  When Jesus comes back he will take up the governments of the world and hand them over to his saints.  Until then we must humble ourselves and focus on sharing the Gospel, and discipling those who respond in repentance.  Some tools may be powerful.  But at what cost do we use them?  Our country will be torn apart by these competing, social powers unless God has mercy on us.

Social Activism audio