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Entries in Good (3)

Wednesday
Dec022015

Lessons of Christmas- The Goodness of It All

Titus 3:1-8.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 29, 2015.

As we enter the Christmas season, I want us to look at some of the lessons that it teaches us.  Of course, we do not want to confuse what the world wants us to learn with what God wants us to learn.  The world wants us to generalize Christmas into a time of feeling and doing good things towards others.  But, God wants us to learn far more than this because the first Christmas did not happen in a vacuum.  It happened after a long history of mankind’s rejection of God and the tragic consequences of our chosen paths, namely sin.

The history of mankind is that of casting off the truth of God and his dealings with us, and then following our own heart.  We are told that spiritual enemies have taken advantage of this to instigate false religions and ways of living among mankind.  Thus the nations of the world were lost and worshipping demonic spirits in the guise of gods.  In this context, God creates a nation from Abraham called Israel.  He gives them His Law as a witness to all the nations.  But 18 centuries later, Israel had become a nation that sidelined the Truth of God’s Law and had embraced the traditions of rabbis and “wise men.”  Instead of a complete rejection like the nations of the world, they kept up a form of obedience, but the powerful principles of God’s Word had been rejected.  Thus all of mankind was in the same condition: bound by the sin of rejecting the Truth of God and guilty before Him.  It was time for judgment and destruction.  It was time for another global judgment.  And yet, that is not what God did.  It is impossible to overemphasize the fact that mankind was totally guilty and deserving judgment before God when He surprised us with a supreme gift of love.  God sent us His own Son, not as a conquering, warrior king to destroy, but rather as a harmless child who would save.  Christmas is a story about the supreme goodness of God.  The message of Christmas is not about the goodness of humanity, but rather, the goodness of God despite the horrible sins of mankind.

The Christian Is Called To Goodness

In Titus 3, the first two verses may look like a list of duties.  However, the list itself flows out of a central principle that followers of Jesus are called to goodness in everything that they do.  The first area Paul points out is our goodness towards authority, specifically governmental.  Christians ought to act in a good manner towards governments and any authorities in their life for that matter.  There are many times when the wickedness within a person causes them to reject the virtues of self-subjection and obedience to authority.  In fact as you read this you may not see them as virtuous, but as problems.  Yet, there are fewer times when righteousness demands that we stand against authority.  In fact, it is important for Christians to note, that even when the apostles themselves disobeyed governmental authorities by continuing to preach Christ, they submitted to the punishments without raging against those who carried them out.  In fact, they demonstrated love even to those who were persecuting them.  Yes, there are many issues in this area.  Yet, this cannot be avoided.  Those who follow Jesus must do so in an attitude of subjection and obedience to governmental authorities, and not one of rage, anger, and rebellion.

Next Paul tells them to be ready for every good work.  This is a general statement that helps us to see that we are to do more than just be good in a passive sense.  We are to actively prepare for and execute those good works that opportunity affords us.  How can we ready ourselves?  Our readiness is that of a disciple who is listening to the Holy Spirit and living out what He teaches us.  We follow the Spirit of Christ rather than the Spirit of this Age.  It is our submission and obedience to the authority of the Lord Jesus that enables us to be ready for the good things we must do, and often to those who “don’t deserve it.”

Lastly Paul tells us to be good towards our fellow man.  Verse 2 demonstrates many different ways that we can do that.  “Speak evil of no one,” uses the word that is translated blasphemy when it is used of God.  Thus we are not to speak what is untrue or unsubstantiated about any one, period.  We are to be peaceable towards others.  That means we don’t start fights and further more we decline to fight with others when they start it.  Such bickering, quarreling, and outbursts are to stop at the decision of the believer to not reciprocate such things.  We are also told to be gentle.  This is not about how we touch one another, but is about our dealings.  We should be fair, equitable, mild, and loving even in times of correction.  Lastly we should be humble before all men.  In fact, especially before those whom we feel we are above.  This life of goodness is not easy to accept.  Our flesh comes up with innumerable excuses and “reasons” why Jesus can’t really mean this. 

It is easy to be good towards those who we think are good, but in verse 3 Paul reminds us that we were not always a person committed to being good.  It is important to identify with the person we see as evil.  Even if we have left that life behind, we used to be like them.  If we condemn them then we are condemning ourselves.  If they are unworthy of goodness then so are we.  Paul ends his list of what our past life was like with a picture of those who are selfish and scrapping with everyone around them, hateful and hating.  It is survival of the fittest and dog eat dog.  This is the world as it was in the days of the first Christmas.  Little hope, little light, and thick darkness all around. 

The Goodness of God Has Appeared in Jesus

In verses 4-8, Paul reminds us that Jesus came to us during this darkness.  His “appearance” is a reference to His incarnation, birth and life.  His light broke in upon the darkness and life sprang up among the dead.  Jesus broke in upon this sad condition of ours and gave us goodness.  This is what we are called to do.  We are to be the goodness of God breaking in upon the darkness of others in this world.

Jesus did not just merely exist, but he was the goodness of God towards people who didn’t deserve goodness.  He came not as a rebel against the government in order to take over, nor as a destroyer.  He was the gentleness and compassion of God as he healed people, set them free from demons, helped them to see the truths that they had lost, and simply helped them to believe in God again.  No matter what we experience in life, we must keep this as the bedrock of our understanding: God loves us all and has poured out benevolent kindness upon us despite our wickedness.

He did so not because He was obligated to do so.  He would have been perfectly justified to judge us as evil and either wall himself off from us, or destroy us.  No individual and no nation had done anything that would deserve the kindness of God to send mankind His Son as a savior.  It was simply mercy.  He gave us what we didn’t deserve.  This salvation was not the outward destruction of our enemies.  Otherwise He would have to destroy us all due to the fact that we are all someone’s enemy.  Rather, the salvation is of a spiritual and mental nature.  It is intended to change our way of dealing with the world around us.  We are to respond and live differently because that is who God is.

Part of this mercy is described as being regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  Though this term can refer to the Resurrection, here it is referring to the spiritual resurrection of our dead spirit.  Before Christ we were spiritually dead to God.  We could not hear and respond to Him.  Instead we only listened to and followed the flesh and the spirit of this age.  When a person puts their faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit does a real work of making their spirit alive to God.  This is also called “born again.”  The Spirit takes up residence within our heart and mind in order to help us connect with the heart of the Father.

We are also mercifully renewed by the Holy Spirit.  By following the spirit of this age and our own flesh, our mind and heart have become broken and scarred.  We have believed all manner of lies and deceptions.  The renewal of our mind and heart happens through the teaching of Jesus and his apostles.  The Word of God and our obedience to it washes and renews our mind and heart from the crud of this world.  Over time it is easy to give up and become discouraged with this process.  Yet, take heart.  We were told that it would be difficult to follow Jesus and that we would be tempted to quit.  When you run into things that discourage you, this is a sign that you are on the right path.  Some people give up at the very moment they are getting on to the right path.

Verse 8 brings us full circle.  Those who believe in the person and work of Jesus will be careful to maintain a life of good works.  This means we will be vigilant and watch over our life in order to keep doing the good things that God has for us to do.  Some people balk when we talk about good works because it sounds like we are trying to save ourselves with works.  It has been said that, “The theology of Christianity is based on grace, the ethics of Christianity are based on gratitude.”   We do not do good works because they will save us.  Rather we do them out of gratitude for the salvation we already have.  If God so loved us, while we were yet sinners, how much more ought we to act in love towards all men?  Don’t let this world rob you of the goodness of God.  Instead, be one who gives it freely everywhere you go.  No, we do not do good to others because of a foolish notion of humanity’s goodness.  Rather we do so because of the truth of God’s goodness and the ability of people to be redeemed.

Goodness of it all audio

Tuesday
Nov172015

Giving Thanks in All Things

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 15, 2015.

Today we are going to turn to the subject of Thanksgiving.  Our generation has far more material and technological help in life and yet we are often less thankful than those that have gone before.  Don’t get me wrong.  Every generation has unthankful people.  However, my point is that the abundance of things or lack thereof is not really the problem that lies behind a lack of thankfulness.  In fact, many times when we express thankfulness, we do so more because it is the socially polite thing today, rather than out of sincere thankfulness.  If we could pull back the curtain that hides the true motivations that lie beneath even the good things that are done in our society, we would be surprised at the number of people who are doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.

God desires His people to have a deep-seated thankfulness that is not based upon improper motives, or on our material circumstances.  He wants us to be thankful people simply because we are loved and cared for by Him.

Give Thanks In Everything

In the passage today we will focus upon the last of 3 commands that the Holy Spirit gives to us, “in everything give thanks.”  The emphasis of this is upon the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  It would be nice to leave it at that, but in Ephesians 5:20 we are also told, “giving thanks for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Thus we are not just to be thankful in every circumstance, but we must also learn to be thankful for all the things we go through.  Is that possible?  In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul reminds us that these commands are not made up by him, but rather they are the will of God.  It is not His will in the sense that He is going to force it upon us.  But it is His will in the sense that this is what He is committed to producing within us.  He is building within us the Image of Christ, and Jesus was a thankful person.

So just what is thankfulness?  It is often the general response to the good things that we receive in life.  We are made happy by what another does and we give words back to that effect.  However, in the Bible it is more than this.  The word translated here literally means “to give good,” implying words of thanks.  The emphasis, however, is on what I am giving and not on why I am giving it.  Thus it is easy to fall into the poor habit of only being thankful to people and God when we get good things.  Yet, you can’t be a Christian long without having to deal with the fact that, though He loves us, God allows bad and difficult things to come into our life.  We are still supposed to be thankful people towards God.  Thanksgiving is about more than letting others know we are happy for giving us good.  It is something that resides in our heart despite what may be in our life.

So how can I give thanks in every situation and for everything?  Notice that the injunction to thanksgiving comes on the heels of Rejoicing and Prayer.  There is much in life that can rob us of thankfulness.  But if we make it a spiritual discipline to rejoice always, and to pray without ceasing, then we will be able to secure a heart of thankfulness regardless of what we may receive.  The preacher Spurgeon once said about this, “When joy and prayer are married their first born child is gratitude.”  Thus joy is the heart of praise and worship in our Lord.  It is recognizing His greatness and our relationship to Him.  It is not based upon the circumstances of this life, but our closeness to Him.  Think of it this way.  If you receive something bad in life or from another person, does it change anything about God and His love for you?  Yes, we can doubt God’s love.  But, the cross points out the truth of the matter.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Prayer becomes that arena where we wrestle with the Lord to understand the negatives in our life and ask for His aid.  But it is also where we learn to say, “Nevertheless, Your will be done.”  True thankfulness is a shift of our attitude and outlook on things.  That can only happen as we are transformed through the spiritual discipline of turning to God for everything we face, and rejoicing in His love for us.

We see this modeled by Paul in 2 Corinthian 6:4-10.   “But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”  At first he lists things singularly like: tribulations, needs, and distresses.  The he adds contrasting situations: honor and dishonor, evil report and good report.  But lastly he contrasts the material with the spiritual: poor (materially), but making many rich (spiritually), having nothing yet possessing all things.  You can almost feel the shifting of your own attitude as you read through this.  Our focus is moved from the thing I do not like, to those things that are far better and matter far more.  Paul knew that he was a minister on behalf of the Lord.  Therefore if we suffer we do so in the name of Jesus.  Though we may appear as lacking to the world, in Christ we lack nothing that we need.  Think of it.  If the God of the universe has guaranteed that He will take care of you, then you lack nothing you need and have everything at your disposal that He desires.  We may be tempted to complain and give “bad words” of complaining and grumbling to Him, but we must learn to trust the Lord and His discipline in our lives.

Discover Deeper Levels of Thanksgiving

It is good for us to see that there is a deeper thanksgiving that God wants to build within us.  The surface level of thanksgiving is learning to see what is good in your life over the top of what is bad.  This is important and should not be minimized.  It is Thanksgiving 101.  All of us have to learn to see beyond a difficulty and be thankful for the things we do have in our life that are good.  Have you ever noticed how certain things do not stick in our mind?  Illusionists will take advantage of this to trick our minds into seeing something that didn’t really happen.  It is common for our minds to give greater emphasis to the bad things that are happening.  They can overwhelm us to the point that we no longer see the good in our life.  Why must we only focus on the bad and not rejoice in the good even more?  The truth is that we allow our attitude to spoil because of the bad, and refuse to enjoy any good as long as the bad remains in our life.  It is a type of childish temper tantrum that we throw.  Many a person has ruined and destroyed the good things in their life because of something that they saw as bad.  A marriage can be ruined because of difficulties at work.  A family can be ruined because of the personal difficulties of those involved.  The many blessings of God can be ignored and in fact despised because I am resentful of certain things happening in my life.  This is not good.  Job reminds us of this when he told his wife that it was wrong to accept the good from God and not the bad.

However, on a deeper level, we also must learn to see how the bad is used for good in our life.  We are told in Romans 8:28-29, “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”  God is working the bad things in our life into a good goal.  Think about Jesus being crucified.  It is a bad thing to be put to death unjustly and horrifically.  Yet, the Father asks the Son to do so because of a greater good it will produce.  Of course the Son embraces the Father’s plan and suffers the difficulty by keeping his eye upon the good it was producing.  We don’t always know how God is going to bring good out of a particular bad thing in our life.  We are tempted to doubt, complain, even walk away in those times.  Remember, this verse is not given to us by a man who is not acquainted with suffering.  Paul had suffered many things that could have made him ungrateful and bitter towards God and men.  There is a mystery in life that we see.  Some who have had the worst of lives are often the most thankful, and others who have had the best of lives can be among the most unthankful.  It is not about what you got, but what you do with it.  A person who has been abused becomes a person who is keenly sensitive to the hurts and wounds of others.  They can relate with other individuals with a gentleness and wisdom that cannot be learned in a school.  It will be precisely because of the sufferings of this age, that we will be perfected and look like Jesus in the age to come.

The deepest level of Thanksgiving is to see the higher, spiritual things that are more important over the top of the lower, material things that are less important.  Thus Paul was poor in material things, but had the riches of the knowledge of God’s offer of salvation.  Paul had next to nothing in this life once he followed Jesus.  But he knew that Jesus would take care of Him.  He had learned to live with little or much.  It didn’t matter.  He had learned to go through good and bad, and all for the glory of Jesus.  The cross teaches us to look through the bad to the good that is on the other side.  Thus Romans 8:18 says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”  The glory of God Himself is being caused to shine out from us.  It is impossible for that to happen without having to deal with both good and bad things in this life.  May God teach us to shift our attitude and mindset out of reverse and into a forward gear.  May we see the things of our life through a heart and mind that are rejoicing in a good and great God, and are wrestling daily with Him in prayer.

Giving Thanks Audio

Wednesday
Mar052014

A Good Disciple Builds On The Rock

After Jesus had taught His disciples to love their enemies and to be merciful in their judgments, He then challenged them to build their lives upon His words.  In Luke 6 it is clear that this is no call to try to look like God, but rather to change and become like Him within.  It is the nature of God that leads Him to the kindness of giving room for repentance.  Thus the problem of “goodness and evil” lies in the very natures of men.

In Luke 6:43 and following Jesus points us to the reality that good works can only come from a good nature and He does this with the picture of trees in verses 43 to 45.

The Fruit Of A Tree

Jesus uses an illustration from nature to bring home his point about man’s sinful nature.  The Spirit of this Age promotes the idea that men are basically good in their natures and that it is bad influences from society (i.e. religion, superstition, ignorance) that cause evil.  People are basically good.  Of course this idea doesn’t even pass the smell test of our everyday experience.  But, we have a powerful desire for this to be true.  Yet, it begs the question.  If man if only made evil by society then how did society become evil?  Isn’t it made of “good” men?  Clearly there is some slight-of-hand going on with the definitions of good and evil here.  People who are basically good could only build societies that are basically good.  Something is missing.  The Bible would agree that mankind was originally created with a good nature.  But, man also has the power to choose evil.  Through choice man has twisted and perverted his original nature.  Man is bent towards sin (other than God).

Thus Jesus points out that a tree produces fruit after its own kind, or from its underlying nature.  God has designed the creation in such a way that what is seen has a direct connection to that which cannot be seen within it.  In the case of a tree, it is its underlying DNA.  However, Jesus is speaking spiritually here.

Now over time men have learned to distinguish those trees and the fruit that comes from them.  In this we see that some fruit looks good to the eye, but is bad for the body.  On the other hand, some fruit doesn’t look good, but is.  In this analogy the “bad” tree is the one that cannot be eaten by man without ill consequences.  This is a picture of bad teachers and false prophets.  If you eat of their teaching you will be poisoned.  No matter how good their fruit looks there will be death in it.  Spiritually we need to be good at identifying bad and good trees.  There are many trees across this nation offering nothing good and people are clamoring to eat it up.  Only Jesus is the Good Tree that we can trust to give us life.  He is the only Tree of Life.  Do not listen to those teachers who rail against those who “judge them.”  It is the foolish man who eats fruit first before asking if it is poisonous.  Jesus warned us against the teaching of these religious charlatans.  Jesus is the good tree.

Now when Jesus points out that good fruit can only come from a good tree it would be easy to think he is telling his disciples that they are good trees.  Here we have the fact that only a tree with a good nature can give good fruit.  In Luke 18:18-22, a rich young man came to Jesus seeking to know what he needed to do to be saved.  However, he greets Jesus as “Good Teacher.”  Now the man was not wrong to call Jesus “good teacher.”  However, he didn’t understand the importance of what he was saying.  So, Jesus pulls him up short in order to make him think about what he was saying.  “No one is good, but One, that is, God.”  Here Jesus disqualifies all men as a source of good fruit.  The rich young man wanted answers, but the only reason Jesus could help him was because Jesus was the Son of God.  To hear the words of Jesus are to hear the very words of the Father himself.  That is why Jesus ends this discussion by telling the man to sell all his goods and follow Him.  Yes, the rich man lacked treasure in heaven.  But more importantly he lacked The Treasure of Heaven; Jesus himself.  Jesus is good because by nature He is God.

The good news of the Gospel is not that we have a new and improved list of good things to do that are better and simpler than the old ones.  Rather, the good news of the Gospel is that in Jesus, God is now sharing His nature with mankind.  If I am going to be a good tree that produces good fruit, then I am going to need to have my nature changed from me to Him.  God does this not by making us all gods.  Rather, He puts His Spirit within us, which makes our spirit come alive to the “good things” of God.  We still have a fallen human nature that fights against this.  We see this in John 1:12, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.”  If I am going to truly love my enemy and be merciful then I am going to need a new nature working within me to produce such good things.  Trying to do this without inner change is not only futile, it will also become a twisted, perverted, and evil thing in the end.  Titus 1:15-16, “To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled.  They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.”

In the name of social justice, brotherly love, helping the poor, and unity, the world has been deceived into thinking that man can be good without being transformed by Jesus.  Even more insidious is the parallel working inside the Church to deceive believers into thinking that we can transform Jesus and His Teaching without affecting the fruit it will produce.  Thus the world thinks good can come without Jesus.  The false Church comes to believe that good can come with a new and improved Jesus (read that “another Jesus”).  This is the spirit of antichrist.  Just as the Spirit of God is preparing the chaste bride to be ready for the coming of Christ, so the spirit of this age is preparing the unchaste and adulterous bride for the coming of The Antichrist.  Have you been born again?  Has the Spirit of God taken up residence within you and is the transforming nature beneath what you do?  Don’t settle for a profession alone.  But, rather, believe in your heart upon the Jesus of Scripture and what He said.  In this you will be saved and changed.

The Good Foundation

In verses 46-49, Jesus challenges the notion that people who outwardly look like they are following Him, really are.  Those who call Him “Lord” or “Good Teacher” often do so without really knowing what that means or believing it.  Jesus uses the picture of building a house for the living of a life.  Both need a good foundation upon which to build.

The word “Lord” refers to one who is master.  Thus the disciple is put in the picture as a servant.  The wise servant of Jesus is the one who lives their life by what Jesus said.  This servant will have built a life that will survive the judgment of God.  Digging down to the rock in this parable represents getting down to God’s Word.  It alone is strong and solid enough to hold up our life.  Jesus is The Solid Rock.  Though it may seem like a lot of extra work, and there are plenty of others who offer us short cuts intellectually, the wise servant is the one who digs down to the real Jesus and the real words of Jesus, rather than rely on the words of others.  Your life and the way you have lived it will be tested.  It is tested periodically throughout our life and it is ultimately tested when we stand before God at the Judgment.  Those who actually listened to Jesus will be saved.  They will not be shaken or destroyed by divine judgment.

On the other hand, the foolish servant disobeys and perishes in judgment.  Notice that the foolish servant still builds a house.  In fact the house may look like the wise servant in many ways.  But what makes it a “good” house is not what it looks like.  It is a “bad” house because of the unseen underlying realities.  In this case the foundation is not on something solid.  It is built right on the ground.  We cannot just pick and choose what things of Jesus we want to follow.  Building on the ground is not good enough.  I know we are talking about “servants” of Jesus here, but the illustration works even with unbelievers and atheists.  They have a complete disregard for God and His Son Jesus.  Therefore they build upon a foundation of their own making and wisdom.  It does not matter what it looks like, in the end it will not be good enough to withstand the judgment of God.  However, complete disregard for God’s word is not the problem in this parable of Jesus.  The problem is a person who settles for building upon all the ideas of man that have accumulated over the years on top of Jesus (The Rock).  No matter how great and wise these people may be, their ideas and teachings are mere sand, gravel, and dirt compared to the rock of the words of Jesus.  Even though they are fine sounding religious ideas and traditions that are “based” upon Jesus, they will not hold us up.  We must dig down to Jesus and the testimony of His Apostles for ourselves and build upon that alone.  Though we can take the instruction and words of other disciples to heart, we can never let them come between us and Jesus.  Doing so is a recipe for disaster and ruin throughout this life and particularly at the Day of Judgment.

Thankfully, God part of God’s mercy is that He not only gives us time to repent, embrace Jesus and build our life upon Him, but He also sends periodic storms that will reveal our lack of a proper foundation.  Periodically throughout our lives He is faithful to test us and show us where we have been building upon something other than Him. In this mercy is the joy that we can repent and turn to Christ and be saved from ruin, whether in matters of this life or our ultimate salvation.  Yet, know this.  Like the Great Flood took the ancient world down in Judgment, but only Noah and his family survived, so there is a coming judgment that will expose the lack of foundation of many.  Only the life that is truly built upon Christ will be able to withstand the torrent of His judgment.

Today there is so much redefinition and deception regarding the things of Jesus that I would be remiss if I didn’t challenge all of us to make sure that we are building on the words of Christ and not someone who is twisting His words and misrepresenting His heart.

Good Disciple audio