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Entries in Grace (14)

Tuesday
Sep052017

The Unshakable Kingdom

Hebrews 12:25-29.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on September 03, 2017.

Today we will finish this chapter as we look at the importance of believers in Jesus living each day by faith in Him.  Last week we were reminded of the heavenly city in which we have citizenship.  In this last passage, the Holy Spirit reminds us that we are receiving an unshakable kingdom.  As we close out this section, I pray that you are able to see both the wonderful grace of God that we have been given, and the amazing responsibility we have to keep trusting Jesus, no matter what we may face in this life.

Don’t refuse the voice of the Father

By itself, vs. 25 begs the question, “What voice is being referenced?”  However, as you move back through the passage it is clear that the voice of God is what we are talking about.  If we tie the Old Testament allusions to the earlier references that God disciplines us as a Heaven Father, then it becomes clear that Christians are being told not to ignore the voice of God.  Even today, we can be guilty of ignoring or refusing to obey the voice of God.  But, before we get into what that can look like, let’s first deal with this exhortation to obey God’s voice.

We are reminded of those who rejected God’s voice under the Old Covenant and how they did not escape His judgment.  They did hear an audible voice while they were at Mt. Sinai.  However, the majority of God’s Word was given to them by the prophet Moses and confirmed by the amazing signs and wonders that God did among them.  That first generation that came out of Egypt heard the voice of God and even embraced it by agreeing to a covenant with God at Sinai.  Yet, they did not follow God through the desert in faith.  Most of them perished in the wilderness, not because they lost faith one time or in an instance, but because they continually refused to trust God all along the way.  His judgment was sometimes a quick and instantaneous thing such as when Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were swallowed up in an earthquake’s rift, or the many that died from the fiery serpents, or those who perished in the deception of the Moabites.  The testimony of Scripture is that most of them did not walk by faith and complained with unbelief.  The majority perished by simply growing old and dying in their unbelief.  Later generations of Israel who were not at Sinai to hear “The Voice” had to make a choice.  Were they going to listen to the Word of God’s voice that had been recorded or were they going to refuse to listen to it?  We are in the same position.  Though we are not under the Law of Moses, we have heard the record of the New Covenant that God has made clear through His Son Jesus.  Jesus was the Voice of God and He guaranteed that His Holy Spirit would speak through His Apostles to direct His Church.  This has all been recorded faithfully for us.  We have a choice to make.  We either believe it, or refuse and go on in our disbelief.  All generations are accountable to the record of the God’s voice.  On top of all this, if we walk in faith and trust God’s Word, He speaks to our hearts by His Holy Spirit and leads us through the wilderness of this world.  So the point is clear.  Be like Moses, Joshua, and Caleb, rather than like those who refused to believe and perished.  Physically hearing God’s Word is not enough to save us.  We need to put our faith in what it says.

Verse 26 then reminds us that God is shaking the heavens and the earth with His New Covenant through Jesus.  Just as the voice of God shook Mt. Sinai, so the earth would be shaken by the Gospel.  But, more than that, God was also shaking the heavens.  The devil and his angels were being told that they would be cast down into the Lake of Fire, and the Church would be raised up in their place and even higher.  Now this part about shaking the heavens and the earth is a quote from Haggai 2:6.  Its point is that God would shake things to remove that which can be shaken and replace it with something that would be permanent.  It would be easy to see this shaking as something that started and ended in that first year as the disciples went out into the world.  However, when we think through what the Scriptures say about the removal of the old order, on earth and in the heavens, then we can recognize that the shaking started in the first century and will continue until Jesus comes back and concludes removing the old.  Yes, the Law of Moses and the nation of Israel passed away in that first century and the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church were set up.  But, this shaking is not over.  Throughout the New Testament we are given a sense that all that God has promised is both now, and not completely yet.  God has much more to do in this shaking that even involves the restored state of Israel and the Jewish people.  The key to this point is to recognize that in Jesus we are a part of what is going to remain.  Why would you try to go back to that which will not remain, the Law of Moses or the world, and refuse that which will remain?  The shaking has begun to knock down the shakable things of this world and that which cannot be shaken has begun to take its place, but it is not yet completed.

So we are told that believers in Jesus are receiving an unshakable kingdom.  By faith in Jesus we have a part in that kingdom that cannot be taken from us.  As Joshua and Caleb led the next generation into the Promised Land, so we can rejoice at the 2nd Coming of Christ and the inheritance that will be made manifest at that time.  When all the nations of this world have fallen, the Kingdom of Jesus will remain.  We should not be arrogant at such words because we stand by faith in God and by His grace, not by our own power.  So the unshakable kingdom is here, at least in our hearts, but not complete.  The book of Revelation is about the completing of the Kingdom of God.  Just as Israel could not survive its continual refusal to listen to God’s voice, the nations of the world today (America included) cannot survive their refusal.  Think about it.  Is there any nation on the earth today whose government makes every decision based upon what will please Jesus Christ and God the Father, based upon God’s Word?  None do so, not even the United States of America.  So I fear for our country as I watch the federal government, state governments, and local continuing to reject the leadership of Jesus and going their own way.

Let us walk in grace

Surrounded by this sea of unbelief, it would be easy to doubt God’s Word and seek compromises with the world and our own flesh.  The whole point of this chapter has been to strengthen our faith so that we can continue to walk in the grace of God (vs. 28).  It is called grace because we cannot obtain it by obeying a list of outward commands.  It truly is a gift of God to those who repent of their sins, and put their faith in Jesus.  It is also called grace because we give to others what God has given us, love, forgiveness, and the offer of salvation.

To those first century Jewish believers (the book is called Hebrews for a reason) the temptation was to quit following the grace of Jesus and go back under the Law of Moses.  However, there was no going back in God’s eyes.  The Old Covenant was fulfilled and had served its purpose.  It was time for the New Covenant and the faithful would hear the voice of God and leave the spiritual Egypt behind in order to follow Jesus, who is greater than Moses in every way.  Today many Jews continue to cling to the Old Covenant hoping to find salvation in it.  But salvation can only be found in God.  For most Christians the problem is not trying to go back to the Law of Moses, although some do struggle with this.  Instead we are often tempted to create a kind of Christian Law, by which we attempt to justify ourselves through outward conformity, rather than through inward transformation.  The point is not so much what you turn back towards, but what you are leaving behind in order to do so.  If God is going east and you turn back and go west, then you are headed away from life.  Don’t turn your back on God and His amazing grace.  Other Christians turn towards a kind of intellectual trick that says we can live anyway we want because we are under grace.  They turn grace into a license for immorality.  This too is a refusal to follow God.  The New Covenant has not removed the need for living out the righteousness of God.  Rather, it has provided a safe platform on which we can become more and more like Jesus as His Word transforms us from the inside to the outside.

Thus verse 28 mentions acceptable service.  Though some versions use the word “worship” it intends worship in the sense of everything we do to show God’s worth.  What makes our life acceptable?  I believe the Holy Spirit’s continual reminder in these passages of those who didn’t believe under the Old Covenant reveals it to us.  Acceptable worship is to do what God says to do.  It is to obey and to do so from a heart broken over its sin and overflowing with thanksgiving to God for His mercy.  Acceptable worship is to walk by faith in Jesus and trusting His Word.  No, not just the parts that we think He said.  Jesus guaranteed that the Holy Spirit would guide the Apostles into all truth.  They faithfully recorded what Jesus taught and what the Spirit taught them.  We are accountable to those words. 

It is also acceptable because it is done in reverence and godly fear.  Why does passage end with such a fierce verse?  “Our God is a consuming fire.”  At Mt. Sinai, Israel was instilled with the fear of a slave towards a master.  But at the cross we are instilled with the respect and healthy fear that a child should have towards their father.  We should always be aware that no matter how close God draws us to His side and no matter how much He loves us, He will not put up with rebellion, unbelief, and refusal to obey.  His very nature of being a consuming fire requires us to approach with understanding.  In fact, it is worth contemplating that the same fire that is able to burn up all our sin and make us a refined product that is 100% pure, can also consume us in judgment.  Faith is what makes the difference.  So let’s fully follow Jesus.  And let’s not do so as we imagine him or want him to be.  Let us hear the word of the Lord and say, “Yes, Father.  I hear and want to follow you!”  Let's not trade an unshakable kingdom for that which cannot last, and a heavenly birthright for the temporary pleasures of sin.

Unshakable Kingdom audio

Monday
Apr102017

When God Calls Our Bluff

Luke 19:37-40.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 9, 2017.

Today is Palm Sunday.  In and of itself it looks like a good day in the life of Jesus, at least on the surface.  But as we did deeper into what is really going on here, we see that ultimately it is a very sad day that reveals exactly why the crucifixion and the resurrection are necessary components to the salvation of a human being.

The calling of someone’s bluff comes from gambling at poker.  Instead of only waiting until you have a good hand to bet large, a person will learn to play a more difficult game of pretense.  I may pretend I have a bad hand or pretend I have a good hand.  It makes it more difficult for others to tell if I am really bluffing.  Now, between humans, this simply comes down to who is best at bluffing.  However, you can always be wrong when you call someone’s bluff.  If you call you must be ready to pay the price if you are wrong.  At this point let’s switch to the topic at hand.

If God calls our bluff, there is no question.  He knows our thoughts and our heart better than we do.  Thus, for God the risk is not calling our bluff.  The risk is to let us continue pretending that we have a good hand when in reality we are living in a land of our own imagination.  People who try to live in reality based upon imaginary things and pretense ultimately will find their dream world turn into a nightmare as everything they think is good proves not to be so.  The point today is that God loves us too much to let us keep bluffing.  In reality this is exactly what Jesus is doing that day all those years ago.  Let’s look at the passage.

Jesus Presents Himself as Messiah and King

The larger context tells us that there is a Passover festival at hand in Jerusalem.  Many people are coming to Jerusalem to celebrate.  So, we find Jesus making his way to Jerusalem.  However, there are some unique things that he does.  He purposefully comes in such a way that the religious people of Israel will know that he is presenting himself as the Messiah.

The two terms, Messiah and Christ, have come to us from the first century.  Messiah is a Hebrew term that means “anointed one.”  Throughout Israel’s history God had progressively revealed to them that He would eventually send His Anointed One who would be King of Israel and would restore Israel and the even the world to righteousness.  He himself would be perfectly righteous.  Some passages to back this up are: Psalm 2, 1 Samuel 2:10, and Daniel 9:25.   During the time of David it was revealed that the Messiah would be of the line of David.  So they had a promise of a coming savior who would fix all that was wrong with Israel and take over the whole world.  So, if Jesus is presenting himself as Messiah, we might ask the question, “Why didn’t he do it?”  It has been said that Jesus came the first time to fix only our spiritual problem and that his Second Coming will be about fixing our natural and geo-political problems.  Though there is some truth to this, it is a gross simplification.  To fix a person’s unbelief and sin, is to transform their life in the natural.  Thus those who believed in Jesus and followed His ways discovered a transformed natural life, as well as a supernatural one.  Let’s look at the Second Coming.  Though Jesus will clearly remove the wicked kings and armies of this world and take over politically, it is also clear that he deals with our spiritual enemy, the devil.   By the time of Jesus, the Greek language was as prevalent in the near east as English is throughout the world today.  Thus the word Christ was used as a synonym for the Hebrew term Messiah.  It too meant an anointed one.

Throughout his ministry Jesus had asked people to keep the fact that he was the messiah under wraps.  He wasn’t ready to announce himself yet.  But on this day he is ready.  Before we look at how they would know that is what he is doing, let’s look at the timing issue first.  Throughout their history Israel had waited for the messiah.  Definitely since the prophet Isaiah who spoke of him throughout his book, but especially Isaiah 53.  That would be over 700 years.  But they had also been waiting since David and his many prophecies 950 years earlier.  In some ways we can even go back to Abraham and God’s promises to him, or Eve and God’s promise that one of her seed would crush the serpent’s head.  It is hard to keep positive about a promise that takes so long to keep.  God’s timing is clearly not our timing.  How many generations had been born, heard the promise, hoped in it, and then died without seeing it?  Of course no one person had to wait over a 1,000 or even 2,000 years.  Yet, intellectually they would recognize that it has been a long time.  This would raise the question, is it really going to happen?  Doubts, and even cynicism, easily creep in.  This is typically handled one of two ways.  We either outwardly reject it and live openly without that hope, or, we keep the doubt internal.  We keep up the bluff that we believe in order to get the best out of the system that such belief has built up.  So when Jesus presents himself that day, there are people in different categories.  There are some who have held out hope against all odds that the Messiah would still come someday even though it had been so long.  There were others who only pretended that they believed the Messiah would come.  They actually lived their lives based on other hopes.  Then there are those who had outwardly given up in believing.  The life of Jesus had stirred all of these different groups.  His miracles and powerful words shook them to the core.

I point all this out because we are in the same boat today.  We have been waiting for the Second Coming of Christ coming on 2,000 years.  In 2 Peter 3:3-4, the apostle warns us, “Knowing this first, that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?  For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning.’”  These same categories exist in our churches and across this world.  In our humanity and in our sinfulness we want, and even demand, God to do it now!  We want Him to operate on our timetable.  Since God has not cooperated, we cast Him aside and seek to make ourselves God: observing all things (omnipresent), knowing everything (omniscient), doing anything (omnipotent), and living as long as we want (immortal).  So the question today is this, do you trust God’s timing even though it has been so long?  Are you willing to wait, or are you only pretending to be waiting for Him.  One day He will call our bluff and Jesus will present himself to our surprise.  On that day the hidden hand that we really have will be laid on the table for all to see.  Don’t cast away the promise of God and forge your own way.  The siren call of the modern world and its technology is that we no longer need a God.  We can become the gods that we have always wanted.  The problem is that there really is a God and He really has asked us to wait for Him.  Future us will slam into that reality at light speed, just as Israel and Rome did all those years ago.

But it is not just God’s timing that bothers us.  It is also the way in which He does it.  There are parts of the plan that Israel liked (getting rid of the bad guys and ruling over the whole earth).  But clearly there were other parts that they didn’t like.  Jesus comes down the Mt. of Olives to the city of Jerusalem riding on the colt of a donkey as prophesied in Zechariah 9.  But, this gives a far different picture of God’s Anointed King than our flesh would like to dream up.  He does not come as the proud, flamboyant hero that our flesh desires.  Instead, he comes as the humble, peaceful, unpretentious leader who is not drunk on their own authority.  He did not have a sword, nor an army behind him, at least in the natural.  He came not to pat the people on the back and say good job.  But, instead he comes to save them from their sins, and those powers that used their sins to hold them in bondage.  He was not after geo-political boundaries that day, but rather to break down the boundaries and walls that they had built around their hearts (that we build around ours even today).  The heart of the matter is this, we want a leader who will not demand our hearts change, but rather will change the world around us.  We want things to change without us having to change.  Of course this is impossible.  Even progressives who say similar things, but in order to increase our faith in the intellectual elite that will lead us into the New Age of Mankind, do not recognize that the only change that matters is the one that must happen in our sinful and rebellious heart.  No.  Mankind cannot fix itself because to do so is to refuse to change in the one area that it must (in hearts and minds).  Thus our own hearts set us up for the betrayal of leaders who promise heaven and yet deliver hell, who look like Jesus but in the end they are a devil.  Jesus did not fit the profile that the religious leaders had in their mind.  All their lives they had said that they loved God and wanted His Messiah.  And yet, Jesus was the fulfillment of all of this.  God called their bluff and many of them were found wanting.

The History of the Church

There are two aspects to the history of the Church.  On one hand it may seem that it is no different from Israel and that God’s plan didn’t work.  Definitely, the Church as an institution of people is like Israel because it is made of people.  Yet, on the other hand, in the midst of it all, we do see people who believed God and refused to only honor Him with their lips.  They were not bluffing.  Just as Israel had her prophets and believers within the midst of many unbelievers, so too is the Church.  When the hard call came to them in their day and age, they rejected what the world was offering and followed Jesus.  Thus the early apostles did not create little kingdoms over which they all reigned as popes.  Instead, they each sacrificed their lives to give the Truth of Jesus the Christ to the world.  The reformers in Europe refused to shut up and obey man, but instead lost everything in order to follow Jesus.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said of Martin Luther that he thought he had left everything behind to enter the monastery.  But what he found in the monastery was that there was one more thing he needed to let go of, his pious, proud self-will.  Thus Luther had to leave this in the monastery and go back into the world, all the while being called a heretic and blasphemer by those who held the reins of power.  None of these people were perfect, only Jesus is perfect.  But they understood that to follow Jesus is to let go of everything that comes between us and him.  It is ours to simply say yes to his timing and to his way.  Yes, it will often be inconvenient and difficult.  But it always leads us away from destruction and towards life.

What is it that Jesus is calling us to do today?  Yes, in general, we are to be faithful to His Word and promote Jesus as savior and Lord.  But what is he specifically saying to you about your life.  Every time we read God’s Word, His Holy Spirit works in our hearts to call our bluff, or at least to get us to resist turning towards it.  He calls us to be real.  So what were the responses on that day?  There really are only two that are possible.

The Response to Jesus

Let us not kid ourselves.  Jesus was clearly presenting himself as God’s Messiah (The Anointed One) who was the rightful King of Israel.  As this gauntlet is thrown down those who believed that he was Messiah began to rejoice.  His ways had confused them because he wouldn’t do anything that looked like he was going to take over.  So on this day his followers are ecstatic because they think they know what will happen next.  Finally, he is ready to do what we have asked him to do.  Though they are in for a rude awakening as to what is next, it is still important to recognize their response to Jesus.  They quote from Psalm 118, which was a psalm predicting a coming Anointed King who would save Israel.  They believed in Jesus, and thus believed God who had sent Him.

All that said, even when we initially respond correctly, our faith is always going to be challenged.  Today when he rides down the hill on a donkey their faith is strong.  But what about later when he hangs on a cross and is buried, will they still believe?  When he is resurrected and yet ascends into heaven without fixing everything, will they still believe?  If we really trust God and His Anointed One, Jesus, then it is our duty to follow and accept that His way is perfect and mine is not.  You see even then their hearts were still their greatest enemies.  Would they be led astray by their wicked hearts?  Thus the reality is this, those who believe will do the actions of faith.  Their heart and their mind will protest a thousand times and yet, at the end of the day, they will choose to trust God over their own heart and mind.  We will be tested on this time and time again throughout our life, not because God is trying to disqualify us, but because He is perfecting us.  He is making us to be like Jesus, if we will let Him.

The Second response is simply to not believe.  Those who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah resisted and did the actions of unbelief.  Thus the religious leaders rebuke Jesus and tell him to rebuke his disciples.  Resisting can be open and heavy or hidden and slight.  Regardless it is of the same ilk, unbelief.  We are no different today.  We must all come to Jesus as both savior and Lord.  Yes, we want saved but we can’t dictate the terms of our salvation.  We must follow him, not because he is headed in the direction that we desire or does what we desire.  We must follow him because he is the Truth, and the Way, and the Life.  We must follow him because he is the only Righteous One.  Become a follower of Jesus today by walking away from the life that your flesh wants to create, whether religious or not, and letting him who alone has the words of life lead you forward no matter what that may look like.

When God calls your bluff audio

Tuesday
Dec272016

Truth

John 1:14-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 25, 2016.

The Bible tells us in Romans 5:6 this, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (NKJV).  The writer goes on to say, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  The timing and the way in which God loves us is not always the time and way that we want.  If it were up to us to pick the “when” of the incarnation we would choose our own time, and so would every other generation.  Also, none of us would choose the cross as the demonstration of God’s love.  In light of all of this we are told that Jesus came in “due time.”  The word translated here has the sense of a seasonal time.  So when the fruit is ripe, it is the season or right time to harvest it.  So spend some time thinking about how the 21st century is not better than the 1st century as a season for God’s greatest act of love.  If Jesus were to come in our day we would not be more inclined to accept him, and probably less.  Yes, our technology could spread his message quicker, but it could also cause it to be lost in a sea of counter-claims and conspiracy theories.  There would be just as much resistance to his message and to him.  The truth is that it would not make any of us any more likely to believe.  For every time that I have thought in my heart that I would believe if God would just prove it to me personally and right now, there are countless examples of those who did see and yet still didn’t believe.  This doesn’t mean Jesus wasn’t worth believing.  Rather, it points us to the stark reality that the logic we often lean on (God didn’t do it this way…) is very flimsy.  It cannot hold up to the truth that God has demonstrated His love toward us and in an incredible way.  All people who hear the truth are accountable to search it out for themselves because it is by this that we show ourselves to be those who truly want the truth.  However, the “search for truth” can itself become an intellectual cover for an aversion to it.  So let’s look at Jesus today and remind ourselves of the truth about who He is.

The Word Became Flesh

You will want to read John 1:1-18, but I am going to focus mainly on verse 14.  John introduces several titles or descriptive words for Jesus in this section.  The name Jesus comes from a Hebrew word that means “God Saves, or God’s Salvation.”  This would be an appropriate name for the one who would be God’s Messiah (the one Anointed by God to deliver Israel and the Gentile nations).  But in verse 1 John reveals an even deeper truth about this one they knew as Jesus.  He existed before all of creation as “The Word.”

Now, “The Word” could be translated as the reason, the logic, or the saying.  However, John’s use of the phrase “in the beginning” coupled with a consequent creation is a direct allusion to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  He is more than describing Jesus as a current representation of the logic or truth of God.  John is revealing that another person was hidden within the creation story.  So Genesis 1 tells us that God said, “’Let there be light,’ and there was light.”  Thus God speaks and the effect of that word is a creative event.  Jesus is revealed by John to be not just the first created being, but rather as co-existent and in union with God.  In verse 3 he says that all things that were made were made through Jesus and without Jesus nothing was made that was made.  Before he ever took on flesh and became the human called Jesus, he was the eternal and divine Word.  He was a part of the eternal Godhead: Father, Word, and Holy Spirit.  The truth about Jesus begins with his greatness and majesty.  He is the very means of creation.  He is that which brought all things into being.

It is in light of such an amazing statement that the incarnation (becoming flesh) of The Word is revealed.  The incarnation is the opposite of the greatness of his past existence.  It becomes the time of great humbling, humility, and even humiliation of the uncreated one.  Throughout history, mankind has struggled with the sense that God is removed and separated from our existence.  How can he care about us and seem so removed?  Yet, in the incarnation, God responds that He knows what we are dealing with, how hard it is, and how easy it would be to give up.  Though we may not “feel” like He cares, we can “know” that He does because of the day that The Word became flesh.

There is a scene in the new movie, “Greater.”  There is a character that is struggling with understanding why God would let his brother die in the prime of his life.  There is a scene where he stands beside a football field in which there are a bunch of potted flowers.  His struggle with not wanting to blame God and yet feeling like God is to blame, eventually leads him to walk up near the press box of the stadium.  From that high vantage point he looks back to the flowers on the field to recognize that the flowers spell out the words, “We Trust.”  This is a powerful metaphor for life.  We are often like the players down at field level, not understanding why the coach calls us to do something.  But God has a view of this world and your life that is much higher than any press box in this world.  In the incarnation God is saying to us us, “Trust me, instead of your pain.”  In fact, if we are truthful with ourselves, the worst decisions are often made in the midst of pain and anger.  The truth is that God does care and He has even humbled Himself to step down into our difficult circumstances, not as some Titan who cannot be touched.  But, rather, He comes as a man who can be hated, rejected, and killed.

The Word did not just become a man and Lord his divinity over all mankind.  Instead, John says that “he dwelt among us,” in verse 14.  Just as God’s Spirit had dwelt in the tabernacle with Israel in the desert, here again is God in an even greater act of closeness dwelling among mankind.  He did not come to the palaces of Rome, but to the conquered people of Israel.  He did not come to the palaces of the Israeli people, but to the sticks of that nation in Galilee.  The men that he lived with for 3 and a half years were mostly fishermen and lowly.  The Word comes to become the lowly Jesus and reminds us that God Saves.  Throughout the New Testament the family terms of Father and Son are used to demonstrate the closeness of God.  Yes, Jesus is the Son of God, but he has come that we too might become sons of God.  The truth is that God is never far away, but is as close as the mention of His name.  Though I demand that he demonstrate His closeness at a specific time and in a specific way, it can never diminish the truth that He loves me, is close to me, and understands how difficult it is.  He dwelt among us!

We Beheld His Glory

The disciples of Jesus gave witness to what they saw in him.  In fact the word used in verse 14 for “beheld” means more than that they saw the glory of Jesus.  It has the idea of inspection and looking into a matter.  Jesus didn’t just appear on earth and look like something.  He lived with people and his life purposefully brushed up against others so that men could inspect his character, life, and his very being.  When we live 24/7 with someone it is most generally then that we see them in all their “glory,” (Yes, I am being facetious).  Quite the opposite, it is then that our flaws are most obvious.  Yet, John says that they inspected this man and what they found was glorious.  They saw the public and private Jesus.  They saw Jesus during the good times and the bad.  They saw Jesus when the crowds wanted to make him king and when they were crying out, “Crucify him!”  The disciples did not believe Jesus simply because of the claims he made.  They believed because of what they experienced when they lived with him.  So why does God often seem hidden?  Why doesn’t he do something like this for every one of us in every generation?  The short answer is because men most generally do not want to live with absolute truth.  We tend to want only certain aspects of truth.  The hiddenness of God is a challenge to our very character.  Do I want to know the truth, or do I simply want to feel like I know the truth?  To know the truth is to enter into a loving and trusting relationship with it.

John further describes this glory with two words and the first is Grace.  In inspecting Jesus they saw that God is gracious, even further, “full of grace.”  They watched as the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) was thrown before Jesus.  Here we are given witness to the exquisite grace of God in that he is not looking for reason to punish and destroy us.  Rather, he is looking for reasons to forgive us.  In our day and age, grace becomes a trite method of declaring that nothing is really sin, or that sin no longer matters.  However, Jesus both confirms that the woman is a sinner and yet encourages her to quit being a sinner.  He knows that unless she changes she will be judged by God.  Why remove any chance of her making amends?  The grace of God is that humanity does not deserve to be saved, and yet he gives us a chance.  More than that, He guarantees that whoever wants to do so can join that part of humanity that will be victorious over the devil and reign with God in his place.  Satan will be cast down and we will be lifted up.  This is the grace of God.  But, do you trust him?

We are told of his interaction with the thief on the cross in Luke 23.  This man had lived a life of sin and stealing from others.  In the last moments of his life, in which he can really do nothing for God, he simply asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom.  Such a simple statement of faith, and yet it was all that God was looking for.  Put yourself in God’s shoes for a moment.  Can you imagine pouring out your heart in love for another person, only to have it thrown back into your face?  It’s not enough, it wasn’t the right time, it wasn’t the right way…. Yes, we can all learn how to love others.  But, if our every attempt to love is criticized and never simply received as the love it is, then what?  Does the other person really love you?  The sad truth is that God has loved all mankind more than we deserve.  More than this, instead of throwing us away, He has simply put the ball in our court.  He is simply looking for us to trust Him.  This is the grace of our God.

This was not a New Testament idea.  The Old Testament clearly demonstrates that Israel and mankind did not deserve saving.  It reveals the moral warts and ugliness of our sin, and yet God’s plan to save mankind kept marching on.  No, it was not what you asked for or are even now asking for.  But it is love nonetheless.  So can you say no to such love?

The second word that John uses to describe the glory of Jesus is Truth.  Jesus made very exclusive claims.  In fact, truth by its very nature is exclusive.  In John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  In John 8:39-40 we are told, “They answered [Jesus] and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father.’  Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.  But now you seek to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God.  Abraham did not do this.’”  In John 3:16 we are familiar with the statement that “God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son that whosoever would believe on Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Yet, the sad thing is that 3 verses later (John 3:19) we are told that “this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil.”  Yes, all of us have an inner aversion to truth because it exposes not just our “failures” but also those things that we would call our “successes,” but He shows to be evil.

The world today struggles under the task of finding a way forward in which it can reject the exclusive claims of Jesus and still have a moral world.  But by removing the Truth from the foundation of this endeavor, we ensure its future crumbling demise.

So the ball is in your court.  God has heard you, and He has come near to you.  God has loved you, and He has done so in a miraculous, amazing way.  The real question is not has He done enough.  The real question is can I accept the truth and let go of the lie?  Let go of the lie today and embrace the truth.

Truth audio

Tuesday
Jun212016

Marching to the Drum

Genesis 6:9-14, 22.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on June 19, 2016 for Father’s Day.

Throughout history the drum has been a valuable tool in marshalling large groups of men.  Today there are many different drummers that are drumming out different beats and marching in different directions across our land.  In this confused environment the wisdom of our culture is simply this: follow your own heart.  It was David Thoreau who wrote, “If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away.”  As encouraging as such words can sound to an individual both statements overlook an important issue: Just who is drumming this drum and just where are they leading me?  Yes, it is good to be true to your inner self as far as that should go.  But it is even better to be true to our Creator, Savior, and Lord, Jesus, who alone knows what makes for our good.  He alone can lead us to a destination that is good and along a way that is good.  All others are really just the variety of ways that the devil seeks to entice us from the path of the victory that God has for us.  God has a plan to make any man a victorious father and husband.  If he will listen to Him, he will find all the grace that he needs.

Today we are going to look at what the Bible had to say about Noah.  He was a man who did not follow the drummers of his day.  Instead he risked looking foolish in the eyes of man in order to be led by God.  His bravery and obedience provided salvation for his family when all others were lost.  May his life be a template to all Christian fathers today.

A Godly Father

Noah was a godly man and it is important for believers to pursue godliness.  This is elementary.  God is our heavenly Father.  If we want to be a good father then we should seek to be like Him.  So what does it mean to be like God?

We are told that Noah was a just man.  This can also be translated as righteous.  This is a person who is upright and straight as opposed to bent over and crooked.  This imagery describes whether their life lines up with the straight and upright Law of God.  Later prophets would describe the Word of God as a plumb line.  The Word of God reveals to us the character and ways of God.  God Himself has always been the measurement by which we analyze our own character and actions.  Noah demonstrated an ability to act toward others in a way that was in alignment with the character of God.  Yes, this is a tall order.  However, kids need more than a father with a pulse.  Rather, they need a father with a spiritual pulse, who seeks to be like God.

Noah is next described as a perfect (blameless) man.  The word translated as “perfect” or “blameless” is the idea of that which is complete, and sound.  It refers to that which has come to maturity and has integrity.  Thus it would be better described today as a man of mature integrity.  Such a person is not pretending to be one thing in public and yet privately filled with evil intentions.  This person is not an incomplete work, but rather is growing into the likeness of God Himself.

We are also told that Noah “walked with God.”  This is an important word picture in the Bible.  In the Old Testament the phrase is used of those who were exceptionally close to God and received visions or appearances of God.  These godly men did so at the expense of sticking out from the people around them.  In the New Testament the phrase is used of those who have been born again by the Spirit of God.  The Holy Spirit leads them to believe on Jesus, fills their life with the power to follow Him, and strengthens their hearts to endure whatever they may incur on the path.  We walk with God through reading the Word, spending time in prayer, both speaking and listening, and then obeying God.  You may wonder even now if you are walking with God.  Romans 8:3-4 describes it this way, “He [God] condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”  Thus the godly man is not a man who is following what his flesh desires (aka following your heart).  Rather, he is a man who is following God.  Do we fall short?  Yes, we do.  However, a godly man is not perfect in the sense that he makes no mistakes.  He is perfect in the sense that he is where he should be for the work that Lord has done in his life.  For example, a new born may be perfect even though it cannot walk and talk yet.  However, we recognize that something is wrong if that baby does not learn to walk and talk.  A godly man wants to be like his heavenly Father.  It is not about the measurement at any given time, but about our response to God’s directing.

A Father Who Resists The Surrounding Culture

The culture around Noah had deteriorated from having a clear knowledge of God’s way and walking in them to everyone everywhere doing what was right in their own eyes.  This is how it has always been.  No culture from the beginning of man has done anything but cast off the knowledge it has of God’s ways, and then creates its own ways. Eventually they become so darkened that any knowledge of God’s ways becomes completely lost.  Thus it is not so much the culture we resist, but the tendency of culture to disintegrate from any truth of God within it.  Without an intervention from the Spirit of God such culture will eventually destroy itself.

The culture around us today is corrupt.  It is ruined and losing any usefulness to a godly person.  The society around Noah had no redeeming qualities either to God or His people.  It was examined and found wanting by God.  Thus judgment was coming.  This whole dynamic has been exampled in the modern era by the United States of America.  We have been tossing aside the Word of God for generations, and replacing it with our own wisdom.  The impact of culture has become spiritually toxic.  It influences people into paths that destroy the godly work that the Spirit is doing with in them.  Men, we must take our stand against this in our own life!

Their culture became incredibly violent.  Violence is the idea of wronging people without concern, being cruel, and also oppressing them.  When God’s ways are tossed aside, man is left with only himself.  The competing, selfish ways give rise to Tyrants and Oppressors.  These are those who have the power to force things in society to conform to what they see as good.  Most people are crushed in such a world, with only the “Olympians” rising to the top of the mountain (Olympus).  God despises such pride and arrogance, not just because of its rejection of Him, but because of how it crushes the souls of men.  He will flatten such a mountain no matter how big it becomes.  We must not take shelter in such arrogance and make ourselves an enemy of God.  Come out from such people and walk with the Lord.

Although this next point is not mentioned in the text, such cultures become a confused culture.  Like little kids trying to chart their own course into the unknown, such societies wage war against those things that are their strength and strengthen those things that will destroy them.  Thus in our culture there is a tendency to pit men against women, and to diminish the influence parents have on their kids.  Fathers, go to war against such influences in your heart.  Lay your life down for your wife, and show respect and appreciation in an appropriate fashion to the women around you.  This amazing design of God (male and female) is a part of our strength.  Strong families in which parents raise their children while sacrificially loving each other will build up a nation.  But fractured homes in which we are all following our hearts breaks apart any firm foundation.  We end up doing the enemy’s work for him by destroying our own strengths.  In the name of freedom and power, our society undermines the very institution that can truly give both to men and women, and that is a godly marriage.

A Father Who Leads His Family Into Grace

God gives grace to the humble, but takes His stand against the proud.  Thus we are told that Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.  If we too want the grace of God upon ourselves and our families, we must learn humility.  All the things that we have talked about (seeking to be godly, and resisting the culture) require a man to humble himself and listen to God.  Father’s we must ask ourselves, “To where am I leading?”  What lies at the destination of the path that I am plotting and modeling to my children and the world around me?  It is not just me who experiences the destination of my life.  All those who are with me and in relationship with me experience it to.  In fact this is the reason of many fractured homes.  Instead of harmonizing around the goal of walking with God, we all pull in our own separate ways eventually straining the bonds to the point of breaking.  Men, do not let the enemy of your soul plunder what God has for you, and not just for your sake.  Do it for the sake of your family, and for the sake of other families that know you, perhaps even for the sake of our nation.  May God intervene and turn our hearts around as a nation.

Marching audio