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Weekly Word

Entries in God (9)

Friday
Dec282018

The Mind behind the Incarnation

Philippians 2:5-11.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 23, 2018.

It is easy for Christmas to be taken over by the things that our flesh likes.  We can become far too excited about the latest technological gadget that we are getting, or similar things.  We can bask in the nostalgia of family, big meals, and “magical moments.”  However, Jesus did not come to make us feel good about life and ourselves, although we will have those things from time to time.  Rather, Jesus came to save us.

Yes, God wants to save us from oppressive governance that sees itself as god.  Yes, God wants even to save us from those fellow citizens who seek to take advantage of us like a wolf does a chicken.   Yes, God wants even to save us from our own lower motivations and mistakes.  Yet, ultimately Jesus came to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21). 

Our sins affect our heart and our mind to the point that we can never feel or think our way out of their effects.  Yet, God so loved the world filled with humans that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes on him should not perish, but have eternal life.  Today we are going to focus on the mind of Christ and the mind of God the Father who sent him to earth.  We are going to talk about the kind of thinking that can save us from all those things I mentioned earlier. 

Let’s look at Philippians 2.

The mind of Christ

In verses 1-4, Paul describes several issues that go to the heart of how we tend to think.  In verse 3 he says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or deceit.”  In verse 4 he states, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests.”  Later he emphasizes this more in verse 14, “Do all things without complaining and disputing.”  Also he says in verse 21, “They all seek their own interests.”  All of these descriptions flow from a heart and mind that is twisted towards self.  This is every single person who has ever lived besides Jesus.  If it was not for him coming to earth and demonstrating a different heart, a different mind, we would still be lost and without hope.

So, when we think about the baby in the manger, let us also think about the mind, or the thinking, that was behind what was happening that day.  Let’s remember that Jesus represented not just a clash of thinking between God and 1st century Jewish religion and philosophy.  Rather, he represents a clash of thinking between God and every generation who has ever lived, including ours today.

Thus starting in verse 5 Paul tells us that we need to have the same mind or thinking that Jesus had when he left the throne of heaven to be born in a lowly stable.  We should question ourselves this morning.  What mind have I been using and living by?  Have I lived by the mind of Christ or the mind and rationale that comes naturally to me?

So what is it about the mind of Christ that we need?  First Jesus did not cling to being in the form of God (vs. 6).  The KJV and the NKJV translate this verse to say that Jesus didn’t think it robbery to be equal with God.  However, the flow of the argument is not towards Jesus being equal with God, but rather away from that state.  He is leaving heaven in order to take on that which is lesser than God.  Thus the point is not that he didn’t think that he had robbed God to be equal with Him, but that His equality with God was not something to cling to or snatch at.  Jesus was willing to lay that amazing, incredible place with the Father aside in order to come down and save us.  So what am I clinging to that I need to let go of in order to experience what God has for me and others in my life?  Jesus wasn’t climbing the ladder and clinging to his place.  He was descending the ladder in order to help us.

Another part about this mind of Christ is that he was willing to “empty himself” in order to become a servant, in human form.  We are not told exactly of what Christ emptied himself.  However, we know that at the very least he emptied himself of his position and the rights or privileges that go along with it.  His mind, which is the same mind as that of the Father, does not cling to power and position, but rather lays it aside in order to serve others, at least if need be.  For you and I, we only have to descend out of the high and loft position of our inflated ego in order to be of service to God, but for Jesus it was truly a humbling of epic proportions.  We should ask ourselves today.  What do I need to empty myself of in order to serve those that God has put in my life?

Lastly in verse 8, we are told that Jesus laid down his human life in order to obey God’s will.  It is easy to focus on the sacrifice of Christ and the love for us that compelled him, and yet overlook his love for God the Father.  He chooses to obey the Father’s will by laying down his life.  Our impulse is to throw God’s commands and plans back in his face and shout, “You expect too much!”  Yet, Jesus trusted the plan of the Father, even when it led him to become a servant to serve mankind, and even to be crucified on a cross.

It is not easy to trust God, but Jesus did.  He also asks us to trust him, pick up our own cross, and follow him.  Do I trust him that much?  Am I refusing to follow Jesus because it costs me something, even my life?

After Paul shows us the mind of Christ that we need in order to be what God wants us to be in each other’s life, he then turns to the effects of this selfless obedience to God the Father.

The reward of God the Father

In verses 9-11, we are shown the response of God the Father to the selfless actions of Jesus. 

First of all God highly exalts Jesus and, I will add here, at the proper time.  The actions of Jesus are all the opposite of self interest and exaltation.  Jesus actually is humbling himself and doing a humbling work that leads to death.  Nothing he does is about trying to lift himself.  We can get so consumed with trying to get ahead, whether secularly or spiritually, that we neglect to think about what we may be risking.  What will God think of my thinking and the actions that it led me to do in this life?  Were they all about self promotion and seeking to be higher?  Or were they similar to those of Christ?

We are told that Jesus is currently at the right hand of the Father awaiting the signal to come back to earth and take control of the governance of this world.  However, that is his experience after the Father chose to exalt him.  Before this exaltation, Jesus is humbling himself and rejecting the temptation to make those things happen on his own.  Even now Jesus is not exalting himself.  He only accepts the exaltation that the Father has given him. 

1 Peter 5:5-7 says, “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.  Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”  Notice that God opposes the proud.  When we humble ourselves, we put ourselves in a position for God to exalt us at the proper time.  I would put before you today that this life is not the time for exaltation.  Our flesh can’t handle it.

Verse 7 highlights the big problem.  When we are humble we get worried and anxious about all that we aren’t getting.  We are counseled to trust God and his care for us.  Our flesh doesn’t like such an answer, but God does.  You can exalt yourself in this life and be humbled by God at its end, or you can humble yourself in this life and be exalted by him at its end.

Part of Christ’s exaltation is that he is given a name above all others.  The emphasis is not on some new name that is really cool.  A person’s “name” is equivalent to their reputation and standing among others.  Jesus is given a reputation and standing that is above all others, both on earth and in heaven.  This position is similar to that which he had before because it is once again at the Father’s side, but now he has an even greater honor and standing.  He is now the Redeemer and Savior of humanity.  He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  If we will take on the same mind that Jesus had, and if we will live out this life as the Holy Spirit leads, we will also join him in attaining great honors and standing at his side.

We are told that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, whether in heaven, or on earth, or in the grave.  This is not just about the physical position of bowing, but about the submission it represents.  Eventually even the enemies of Christ will have to recognize his true standing.

In that moment we are told that they will also confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  What Jesus lost by not seeking his own selfish interests, is given back to him in even greater portion by the Father.  What the religious leaders of his day gained through their self seeking actions, was taken away from them by the Father. 

Knowing that God is bringing all beings of creation to a place where they will confess that Jesus is Lord, what should we do?  To double down on being a rebel only ensures that we would die in our sins and stand before God, confessing that Jesus is Lord, but to no avail for our future.  However, if we will confess him as Lord in this life, and take on the mind of Christ, if we will humble ourselves and live in obedience to his commands, then our confession will lead to the reward of God the Father, who gives us a place at the side of Jesus forever.

So let us contemplate this Christmas season.  Am I following the thinking of this world, the thinking of the devil, or am I letting the mind of Christ lead me?  Let’s live according to the mind of Christ and truly find life!

The Mind behind the Incarnation audio

Tuesday
Dec192017

The Results of Spiritual Victory

1 Kings 18:40-46.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 17, 2017.

Last week we saw how God had honored Elijah’s public display of faith by a miraculous fire from heaven coming down upon his sacrifice.  This was all in contrast to the pitiful failure of the prophets of Baal.  Today we will look at the fallout of that momentous event and talk about spiritual victory in our own lives. 

But before we get into that it might help if you familiarize yourself with the geography of this passage.  Click here for an online map from a great website called BibleAtlas.org.  Pay attention that we are in the northern part of Israel west of the Sea of Galilee.  The sacrifice has taken place on Mt. Carmel which is on the left of the map part way down (part of the name has been cut off).  Jezreel is basically in the middle of the map with the Kishon River (thin blue line) flowing from that area past Mt. Carmel and into the Mediterranean Sea (where modern day Haifa sits).

The enemies of God’s work are executed

When we read verse 40 the passage can be shocking to our modern, western sensibilities.  However, I would remind you right up front that we in the West are shocked by things that people in the East are not, and vice versa.  Just because it offends us does not mean it is wrong.  So try and get over the shock that the prophet of God Elijah orders the people to execute all the prophets of Baal and, instead of tossing God’s Word aside, take time to understand what God wants us to understand here.

A big question that often arises from passages such as vs. 40, is that of whether or not Christians are hypocrites when they proclaim peace and yet have such a thing in their “holy book.”    If fact, one of our recent presidents, who also claims to be a Christian, chided Christians about eating shellfish when it is forbidden in the Old Testament.  Others claim that Christians are hypocrites when they promote love for our fellow man because of passages that speak of the death penalty for sexual perversion.  Each of these statements or accusations has a problem in their logic.  They assume that the Bible itself, and more importantly God who is its author, teaches that Christians should obey the Old Testament Laws.  In fact, the Bible teaches the opposite.  You cannot point out one verse and ignore the context of the rest of the Bible and also hold the intellectual high-ground.  If we want to deal with the Bible honestly then we must recognize or determine what God’s purpose was in creating Israel as a nation.  He created then and made a covenant with them in which they promised to obey The Law that God had given them through Moses.  Clearly they did not do such a good job at that, but then we would be casting stones from a glass house.  God’s purpose with Israel and The Law of Moses was not to provide a positive template for all the nations of the world.  The salvation of the world is not found in converting the whole world over to follow the Law of Moses.  The whole purpose of The Law was to shut the mouths of those who claim to be righteous.  Israel had divine laws (i.e. better than the wisest minds of mankind could come up with at the same time period).  Yet, the people of Israel were not divine and there lies the problem.  The Law of Moses failed to save Israel for the same reasons that the Constitution of the United States cannot save us.  Nations are run by people who are weak and condemned by the very laws they claim to follow.

So let’s look back at this situation.  Ahab is completely stunned.  Only moments ago, he held all the power.  He would execute Elijah when this was over with and he would continue to lead Israel into worshipping Baal rather than the God who had created Israel, Yahweh/Jehovah.  Much like a jury nullification of the law, the powerful demonstration of Yahweh’s power nullifies Ahab’s command.  The people and even his soldiers have just seen for themselves the power of God.  Notice that Ahab does not speak until the next chapter.  Even if Ahab would have tried to command for Elijah to be executed, who would have dared to carry it out?  Ahab rolled the dice and they came up “snake eyes,” or “dogs” as the ancient Romans used to say.  The stakes were Ahab’s life against the lives of the prophets of Baal and they lost.

But, Elijah’s command could not come from a truly righteous person could it?  We need to understand that Elijah is not some murderous psychopath who loves killing people.  The Law that God had given Israel (i.e. their constitution) stated that any prophet who led Israel to worship foreign God’s was guilty of a capital crime.  Thus these prophets new they were breaking The Law and committing a capital crime.  However, they could care less because they were under the protection of Israel’s Law-breaking king.  Ahab had been leading Israel in a direction that was illegal and treasonous.  These men have been helping him to commit this treason.  If you want to verify this then read Deuteronomy 13, especially verse 5.  Several times in Deuteronomy 13, 17, and 18 God declares these things a capital crime.  So now that we have exonerated Elijah from the guilt of homicide, we must deal with God.  It was His Law.  Is it barbaric?

Whether or not we agree with such a punishment today, we must agree that this was Israel’s law.  Part of understanding why God commands the death of false prophets is to understand the difference between God’s purpose with Israel and God’s purpose with the Church of Jesus Christ.  Israel was given the task to bring forth the Messiah or Savior for the world.  But, they also modeled to the world the problem with trying to create a perfect society through legislation.  All societies have to have laws to function.  But, even with divine laws it becomes a bloody business filled with hypocrisy.  This is true whether you are looking at the government of Israel or Sidon in the 9th century B.C., or you are looking at the modern governments of The United States of America, Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, et. Al.  In the West we keep telling ourselves that if we just make better laws it will fix everything.  Yet, things keep getting worse and worse (yes, not everything is getting worse, but hear what I am saying).  We have to quit fooling ourselves.  Even divine laws, or laws created by an Artificial Intelligence, will fail to fix mankind because our problem is a spiritual one and is deep in each heart.  The best we can expect from laws is that they will slow down the evil nature of our hearts and give hope for people to see it and seek God’s help.  The only way to change a heart is repentance from our own dead works and turning towards belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  God’s laws of capital punishment on one hand teach us that some sins are worthy of death.  However, the cross teaches us that God does not want to execute us.  He is giving us a choice.  It is appointed unto a person once to live and then the judgment.   Through the Church God is warning the world of a coming judgment or execution.  Yet, He is also giving opportunity for people to make peace with Him by putting their faith in Jesus.  The Church is not about building a perfect kingdom, but rather, it is about calling people to become citizens who are being perfected by God.  Israel focused on a geographical place on earth that required capital punishment to keep it pure, and even that failed.  The Church focuses on the spiritual geography of our own heart.  Definitely Christians should obey the laws of the nation, as long as it doesn’t break God’s commands.  And, we should also work for better laws.  But laws are not our hope.  The return of Jesus our King is the hope that we hold out to the world.  This makes a big difference and makes the Gospel far more potent in light of Israel and The Law.  We await the Kingdom of Heaven to be brought down at the Second Coming of Jesus.  Until then, we do our best to live at peace with even those who disobey God.  Instead of executing those who break God’s command (as God told Israel), Christians speak the truth in love to them, while executing those things within our own heart and mind that would lead us astray from God’s Word.  That is why Christians should be restrained in the amount of laws that they promulgate.

A contrast of character

I spent a lot of time on verse 40 because the contents are important in our day and age.  In the rest of this chapter, we see a sharp contrast between the character of Elijah and that of Ahab.  Elijah is a wise leader and Ahab is a foolish one.  After the execution of the prophets of Baal, Elijah tells Ahab to go eat because of the sound of a great rain.  Now it is clear from the passage that there is no sound of rain at the moment.  What is Elijah talking about?  Elijah is speaking by faith.  Even though there is no outward sign, Elijah is confident that God will keep His word.  God had told him what would happen and we see him acting and speaking upon that.  As I said earlier, Ahab doesn’t speak here.  But his administration has been one, big lack of faith in God’s Word.  Now it is important to guard our heart, mind and our mouth.  We should be careful of our decisions and the way that we speak about things.  Am I trusting in God’s Word or doubting it?  Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  However, speaking by faith is not a matter of wish fulfillment, or only speaking “positive things.”  Christians should not fall into the error that tries to draw good things to us by acting and speaking positively.  Regardless of what you say and do, God is going to do certain things.  God is going to judge all the governments of the world in the future through the Second Coming of Christ.  It will be a great negative thing to those who are not on His side, but a great positive thing to those on the side of Jesus.  Speaking by faith is remembering what God has said and agreeing with it in our speech.  In other words we actually believe that God means what He says, and is not a liar.  May God help us to speak by faith in His word.

Although it is Elijah’s idea, Ahab is a king and can do what he wants.  Notice that King Ahab is feeding his belly while Elijah is praying for the rain to come.  Ahab is a man of the flesh, not because he eats food.  We all eat food and even Elijah ate food.  But something powerful and spiritual has just happened in Israel.  But one man is praying for God’s will and the other is satisfying the will of his stomach.  God’s people can enjoy the physical joys of life within godly boundaries.  However, we must not let our lives be only about them.  Though God has promised rain, Elijah will not rest until it comes.  He goes back up to Mt. Carmel and begins praying for God to fulfill His word.  Then we see a cycle of Elijah praying, and asking his servant to check and see if any rain is coming.  This goes on seven times until the servant notices a small cloud on the horizon of the Mediterranean Sea.  This seven times is intended to highlight that Elijah was not a man who would quit in prayer.  He persevered in prayer until God kept His word.  He waited upon the Lord completely and kept himself watchful through prayer.  We should be the same way concerning the Second Coming of Christ.  We should not be apathetic towards what God has said He will do with a kind of que sera, sera attitude (whatever will be, will be).  Jesus is not coming back for a people who have an intellectual assent that He will do so, but for those who have desired it and have spent their lives praying and watching for it (like Elijah).  When a cloud the size of a man’s hand is seen, then Elijah knows the fulfillment has come.  May God help us also to remain faithful even in the day of small things.  It may not seem like anything big, but God is in it and rejoices to make it happen.

In the end, it is God’s will working with Elijah’s faithfulness that brings rain to the land.  Elijah’s speech and life have been lived by faith in what God had said in the past and what He was personally telling Elijah.  In contrast, it was the unfaithfulness of Ahab and the people of Israel who followed him that led to the drought and famine, both naturally and spiritually.  We must be careful that we do not give up living lives faithful to God and His Word simply because the society around us does not pat us on the back for doing so.  Even in the face of active persecution, the hope of our land depends upon Christians living out lives faithful to Jesus.  We concern ourselves not with just physical rain and dry land, although that is important to people’s livelihood.  We concern ourselves more importantly on spreading the rain of God’s Word into the lives of those who are dry as deserts from years of rejecting or being ignorant of God’s Word.

Lastly we see that God’s power is upon those who are humble.  The power of God comes upon Elijah as the rain comes and he runs ahead of Ahab’s chariot to Jezreel.  Now in our competitive modern minds we would read this as God empowering Elijah to outrun the chariot of Ahab and to be the first to Jezreel.  Now this is no small feat.  Jezreel was about 10-15 miles away.  However, an ancient person reading this would see a servant running ahead of his master.  Elijah is running ahead of Ahab’s chariot, like a servant who is letting people know that the king is coming.  It is as if God is showing Ahab what could be.  God, and His servant Elijah, do not have to be enemies of Ahab.  Elijah was not seeking a crown, though he could have tried to take it after such a powerful display.  Who wouldn’t want a king who could call down fire from heaven?  Instead, Elijah’s run says to Ahab, I will take my place as your servant if you will take your place as God’s servant.  May the Lord help Christians today to have such a humility and empowerment from the Lord.   Instead of seeking to have the highest place, may we be the influence that those who have it need, to become what God wants them to be.

Spiritual Victory audio

Monday
Jul032017

The Potter's Wheel

Jeremiah 18:1-11.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 02, 2017.

As we approach Independence Day, we want to be careful to gratefully thank God for its blessings.  However, we want to also recognize the responsibility it brings us.  You see, in times past our forefathers could appeal to God and point to the sins of King George III of Great Britain.  But, once we have been granted independence by God, we are now responsible for what happens in our country.  There is a lesson to be learned here.  We can always look to the proverbial “authority over there” and complain that our life would be better without them, whether it is London, Washington D.C., Olympia, the county seat, or city hall.  Of course we don’t stop there.  On down to bosses and parents, we typically end at ourselves.  Yet, shouldn’t we go one step further?  Part of the problem of governance is that it is difficult to even govern ourselves.  My own life and heart has its own set of predilections, those sins that we are partial towards and have the disfavor of God as much as anyone else.  In fact, we often feel oppressed by the tyranny of those urges and desires of our flesh that lead to trouble.

In some ways I have painted a very dire picture.  However, this is precisely why the grace and mercy of our God is so powerful.  The Gospel is not some kind of mental exercise where we learn that we have always been free and just need to change our mindset.  Rather, it comes to each of us in the midst of our bondage to all the things listed above and says, “Come follow Jesus and receive His freedom.”  He loves us and is working for our good.  But He also works in response to our heart.  As an individual I am responsible for my response to God’s Word.  But as a citizen, I am responsible to be an advocate of God’s Word within this nation.

This passage that we will look at in Jeremiah 18, speaks to this area of God dealing with nations and their people.  May our nation hear God’s Word and change its rejection of Him and His King, Jesus.

The Illustration of the Potter

If pictures are worth a 1,000 words, then movies are worth an innumerable sum.  God tells Jeremiah to go down to the potter’s house and watch him for a while.  The scene, that Jeremiah witnesses, becomes the parable for God’s message to Israel and also to us.   In this parable it is clear that we are to see God in the potter.  The question is asked in verse 6, “Can I not do with you as this potter?”  At the heart of this question is our belief about God (His ability), but also our faith in God (His intentions).  What are God’s intentions and purposes?  A potter has a particular piece in mind when they sit down to the wheel.  They work the clay, regardless of its imperfections, and do everything in order to create that vision.  Even the punching down of the clay and starting over, which could be seen as something bad, is part of the process of working the clay and obtaining the purpose.  This picture is intended to provide hope that even now, when it seems like everything is falling apart, God can reshape us.  We are not alone to the forces of the world.  God is working in our life.  So regarding intention or purpose, God is working to do something good.  But also regarding His being, God is the molder and we are the ones who are molded.

If God is the potter, then we are the clay.  Like Adam who is physically formed from the earth, so there is a higher level on which God shapes and forms us.  Because we are created in God’s image, there are some ways in which we can be seen as “molders.”  Much of our life is spent trying to arrange things the way we want it and then trying to get it to stay that way.  However, we cannot escape the greater reality that we will always have things in which we are not in control, things that shape us and not we them.  Of course in the analogy, clay is inanimate and has no mind.  As humans we can cooperate or not cooperate with God’s purposes in our life.  In fact we should recognize that it is not just believers that are shaped by God.  Even sinners are on God’s potter wheel.  No matter how much we disbelieve in God and flee anything that smacks of Him, we cannot avoid the reality that we are creatures within His creation.  All of creation operating and moving around us, is part of the process by which God shapes us.  The events that happen in our generation, both great and small, and the decisions we make and those others make, all work together to shape what we are becoming.  So ask yourself today, “What am I becoming?”

Now in verses 7-11, God begins to speak to things that need to be learned by His people.    He is the Lord of the nations.  The fate of the nations is in His hands.  So in verses 7-8, He points to a situation in which He has spoken a prophetic Word to a nation that it is going to be torn down.  Yet, the fate can be avoided by the nation’s response to that prophecy.  If they turn from their evil ways, then God will turn from the destruction He had purposed to do.  Similarly in verses 9-10, He points to the reverse situation.  If He has spoken a prophetic Word to a nation that it is to be built up (like Israel had) and that nation responds by turning away from Him and towards evil ways, then God will respond by changing the good purpose that He had towards them.  Now we need to keep in mind that we are talking about nations as a political entity here.  God doesn’t just pick certain nations whimsically and obtusely bless them and curse all the others.  God works in relationship with the nations of the world.  Thus the destinies of nations are never set in stone.  They are always changeable, to the good or to the bad.  Thus we should not be arrogant when we think that God is favorable to our nation, and neither should we despair when we think it is bad.  Putting aside the fact that we can be wrong about which is true, we should always grasp hold of the hope that we are not at the mercy of an uncaring and unjust God. 

Even when God is against a nation, He still cares about the individuals within it.  Individuals should never be confused with the political entities that govern them.  Jesus Christ died to save individual people, not political entities.  In this sense nations cannot “get saved.”  As we recognized last week, people can receive the eternal life of God.  But nations can only be saved in a temporary sense.  The response of each generation affects the next chapter of their future.  Now regarding individuals, Jesus and His apostles made it clear that it all comes down to our faith and trust in God, especially in His Savior, Jesus.  If we put our trust in Jesus and follow Him (regardless of what nation we are in and God’s disposition towards it) then He will perfect our faith and make us to look like Jesus.  He is the master teacher and we are the disciple students.  He shows the way, we follow Him.  I say this to remind us that we cannot do enough good things to get God to work for our good.  We can only trust Him.  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  So it is not about my flaws and failures.  Rather, it is about my faith. 

This is precisely where Satan loves to attack us.  If my life seems to be imploding and falling apart, I am tempted to believe that God hates me and push Him away.  This is not trust in God.  But if I trust God and keep my eyes on Jesus, then I can trust that even these things that are broken down and taken away are just God punching me down into a ball so that He can start shaping again.  It is out of love that He allows these things or even causes some of them to happen.  Negative things do not always equate to God’s wrath or rejection.  So faith is the victory over the temptation and scheme of the evil one.  Put your faith in Jesus today if you are not a believer.  By doing so, you will go from being a vessel that is being shaped for dishonor and into a vessel that is being shaped for honor.

So what about our nation, The United States of America?  It is clear from history that God has both intended and accomplished some good things through our country.  But each generation has to face this issue for themselves.  In some ways we see that one of the greatest missions movements of all time has happened through the efforts of this nation.  The English language has become the second language of most of the world, enabling the Scriptures to be accessible to many.  On top of this is the amazing explosion of translating the Scriptures into the “heart language” of most of the world.  How many individuals have moved to other countries to learn their language and culture so that they could share the Gospel of Jesus?  Clearly God has been working in the past to shape us into a helpful vessel.  Yet, over time we also see evil things that seem to be increasing every day.  How much perversion do we pour out into the word in videos and magazines?  If God is to purpose good for America’s future then we need to change our ways as a nation.  We need to stop walking in pride and arrogance as if we cannot be touched.  We need to quit rejecting God’s Word and forging our own ways.  We must stop embracing false religions and mixing their teachings with those of Christ in order to make God’s Word more palatable.  We need to stop sacrificing our children on the altar of convenience and self-love.  We need to cease seeking ever new ways to try and erase His mark of design upon our body and life.  We will have to reject hatred, murder, all sexual perversions, and especially an overall lack of love towards one another while overflowing in love towards ourselves.  Ultimately we must repent.

So Christian, do not look at the world with the despair of one who says, “Good riddance.”  This is not the image of Christ.  Rather, pick up the mantle of hope for your nation and become an ambassador of God’s Word to the people around you.  We have lost this nation one person at a time, and thus we can only win it back one person at a time.  So, what about America?  Well that is up to us.

Potter's Wheel audio

Monday
Jun192017

Our Heavenly Father

Matthew 5:43-48.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Father’s Day, June 18, 2017.

This weekend I entered a new stage of life when my first child was married.  He begins that new stage of life for him in which he creates a new home of his own with the young woman whom he loves.  Whether you have seen either of these stages yet or not, our passage today speaks to us today about looking to our Heavenly Father and asking Him to teach us to be good, earthly fathers.

Father’s have a purpose

Verse 48 of this passage hits all of us like a ton of bricks and we will deal with it more as we go along.  However, I want us to notice that this whole section is about how those who want to follow the wisdom of Jesus will follow him in being like the Heavenly Father.  So, instead of starting with the impossible command to “be perfect,” let’s start with the sense of belonging and purpose that is the foundation of what Jesus has to say.  We have a Heavenly Father and we are meant to choose to be like Him in our actions.  This really is a wonderful thing.

In fact, Jesus points out in verse 43 that they had heard it said, “You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.”  Now the first part of this sentence comes from the Law of Moses.  Though Jesus doesn’t specifically point this out, it is worth recognizing that they heard this because the Heavenly Father had spoken to them through Moses and later through others.  God has not been silent, but has spoken some very clear things to mankind.  The Bible is the collection of those words throughout time.  With that said, you will not find a place in the Old Testament where they were commanded to hate their enemies.  God had not actually said this. They heard this part from those who thought they were safely speaking what God intends.  Perhaps the logic could go like this.  God is going to judge his enemies who hate him, so we should hate them.  So within this one statement Jesus reminds us of that mix of instructions that come to people, some from God and some from religious leaders that goes beyond God’s Word and even contrary to it.  There is only one Son of God that perfectly represents the Heavenly Father and speaks only what the Father told him to say, and that is Jesus.  Thus we can read the Word, but even more, we can hear what the One and Only Son of God, Jesus, who can help us perfectly understand what our Father is saying.  Now I would point out here that earthly fathers who want to be like the Heavenly Father should be faithful to speak to their kids in appropriate ways at appropriate times.  Be a good representative of our Heavenly Father to your children and properly point them to Him.  Be careful of inserting your own ideas without prefacing them with the fact that they are just that.  Kids need to know that as you speak to them, so has God.

In verse 45, Jesus goes beyond speaking.  He reminds us that God has given us examples.  We can look at all the goodness and provision of creation and recognize that it is given to the righteous and the unrighteous alike, without distinction.  Even those who make themselves enemies of God receive massive amounts of kindness from Him.  Thus Jesus points us to learn from the example of God.  Fathers, let’s not forget that our life and the way it is lived must be a good example for our kids.  Yes, they need to hear our words, but our actions often speak louder than words.  So pay attention to the example you are setting.

So with the Word of God and the example of God, it is our purpose to become “sons of our father in heaven.”  I believe that this is key to understanding what Jesus is driving at in verse 48.  It is in the context of being a son of the Heavenly Father that we are called to “be perfect, as your father in heaven is perfect.”  Now the word “perfect” in the original language has the sense of that which is complete, finished, or has come to maturity.  Since we are speaking of humans and their heavenly father, maturity is the concept which fits best.  And, we should note that spiritual maturity is clearly intended.  The emphasis is not a lack of error or sin, as the English may imply.  Rather it is on becoming what you are intended to be.  You were created to be like God, to bear His image in this life.  Of course that is a tall order and yet we are in good company.  The Apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:12-14,

“12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.”

The words that I have emboldened and underlined are translated differently but they come from the same Greek word.  Now my point is not to point out that they are translated wrong.  But that they are the same word used in Matthew 5:48 for “perfect.”  In Paul’s passage he uses the word in two different ways.  In verse 12 he is stating that even he, the Apostle Paul, had not been completely finished.  He was still in the flesh, and was not without sin.  Thus this first use is that which sees that he falls short of all that God has for him.  But in verse 15, he uses it to emphasize those who have spiritually grown up and are mature Christians.  He clearly sees himself as a part of this group.  Maturity is a funny thing.  When a child is 1 year old and they are starting to walk and talk, we might speak of them as being perfect.  They are exactly where they should be in their development for their age.  So an 18 year old has a far higher bar to reach in order to be considered mature.  Though Paul had room for improvement, he was a mature Christian, one who understood the Father’s purpose and walked in conformity with it.

Now back to Matthew 5:48.  If we see the word “perfect” in the first sense of which Paul speaks, then the verse is stating that we (in the future) will be perfect, which will mainly be God’s work in our life.  This is true, but doesn’t seem to fit the context well.  But the second sense that Paul uses fits perfectly.    When we look to our Heavenly Father’s example and listen to His words, our lives will grow to be like Him and we will become mature believers in this life (and sinless beings after the resurrection).  May we all press forward each day to be like our Father in Heaven.  Of course this is the joy of any father, to see their child grow up and become a mature adult (and to be like us in our best ways).

Fathers have a Heavenly Father

I have already made this clear.  But I want to push this part a bit further.  Earthly fathers don’t always live out this purpose that God has for them.  Our culture continually pumps a philosophy that promotes living life for yourself, and this contradicts God’s Word.  When we think about God it is important for us to understand that He is not just more mature than us.  He truly is without error and sin.  If there is something that we think He has done wrong, then we are the one in error.  More than likely we are missing information that God has.  However, it is quite possible that our judgment is not as wise and righteous as we think.  Even if you had the worst of earthly fathers, nothing can change the fact that you have a Heavenly Father who is good and perfect.  He has been working, and is even now working in your life just as a good father would do.  In fact, in many ways the best thing a father can do is to help their child to recognize that he and they are both children of the same Heavenly Father.  In that sense we are helping our kids to grow up and take their place side by side with us before God.

As Jesus mentioned in verse 46 and 47, it is not the presence of love that makes us like Him.  It is the prevalence of our love that makes us like Him.  Yes, we are going to mess up and fall down in trying to be like our Heavenly Father.  But He loves us no matter what.  Here is the logic.  If God even loves His enemies enough to provide for them even in their rebellion, how much will He love and provide for us who are His children?  Clearly, He will move Heaven and Earth to love and help us.  Thus, parents, do your best to demonstrate that kind of love and mercy to your children.  And, when you fail be quick to admit it and ask forgiveness.  This will help them to see God in a clearly light.  Yet, children don’t always agree with what a parent thinks is the loving thing to do.  When we talk about tough love, we recognize that sometimes love is difficult.  Even though a kid may think their parents hate them, generally as they mature they recognize that it wasn’t hate.  It was love and concern.  Perhaps we should think of this in regard to our Heavenly Father.  Yes, He may discipline us from time to time and we are often tempted to think that God hates us or has rejected us.  But the truth is that He loves us very much and only has a good goal in mind for us.

So we must learn to rest in His ability to help us.  As a Father, verse 48 is not being put in front of us as some impossible task.  Yes, it is tough, but we have a Heavenly Father that will help us to accomplish it.  We can rest in the fact that HE is not trying to disqualify us.  Rather, He will finish that good work which He has begun in us.  In fact, through our own death and resurrection, He will help us to even be without sin and error.  What a day that will be!

Father’s, don’t let yourself get discouraged to the point that you quit being a father.  Take it one day at a time and engage with your children at whatever stage they are in.  Daily take the time to look to your Heavenly Father for strength, wisdom, and direction.  And, learn to follow the Holy Spirit as He enables you to both overcome your own sin, and become more and more like Jesus.  God hasn’t left you alone to accomplish it all.  He has put His Spirit within you to help you fight the good fight.  So let’s cooperate with Him and, as Paul said in Philippians 3:13, “forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching forward…I press toward the goal.”  Let go of the mistakes and failures and reach forward to what He has for you.

Our Heavenly Father audio