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Weekly Word

Entries in Joy (10)

Tuesday
Apr242018

When the Truth is Made Known

Matthew 10:24-26.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 22, 2018.

Is it possible to have joy when difficult things are happening to you?  According to Jesus in his “beatitudes” of the Sermon on the Mount, we are blessed when people revile us, persecute us, and say all manner of evil things against us falsely for Christ’s sake.  Then he goes further and tells us to rejoice and be glad for great is our reward in heaven (Matthew 5:10-11).  These are not the words of a man who was protected by privilege and position in this world.  He had grown up labeled as an illegitimate child, and then rejected and mistreated by entrenched religious leaders.  Ultimately he was headed to a cross and yet he tells us we are blessed in such cases and should rejoice and be glad.  How is such an incredible response possible?

It may be easy to dismiss this by saying that it was easy for Jesus because He was God.  But such arguments are themselves a cop-out.  How are we to know that it wasn’t actually harder for Him because He was God?  We can’t because we can only know for sure what it is like to be human.  Jesus was fully human and yet fully God.  So we should dispense with such intellectual dishonesty and recognize that Jesus expects this to be our experience in times of persecution or suffering.  How could he expect this of us?

As we look at the words of Jesus in our passage today, we will find that it is the knowledge that there will be a day when all that is hidden will be brought to light.  This is a scary thing for those who have ulterior motives.  But, for the believer, the day of revelation will be a joyous moment in which all that has been slandered against us will be cast down by Christ Himself.  Let’s look at the passage.

In this world Christians will be persecuted.

Jesus never promised us a rose garden in this life and this passage is one of many that prove it.  The apostle tells us in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” They had been warned by Jesus.  A pernicious mentality has developed among some Christians today.  It is the idea that if we were more like Jesus in faith and power, that we could fix the ills of the world and save everybody.  As wonderful as that idea is, it is not a biblical one, nor is it particularly Christian.  It is not a Christian idea because it purports to put us and the power of our faith above the Lord who bought us with His blood.  Here Jesus makes it clear that those who follow Him are going to encounter persecution in this world.

This will happen precisely because we are not greater than Him.   Jesus uses three different relationships to help us see why we will be persecuted as well.  There is the relationship of the teacher to the student, the lord to a servant, and the master of a house to the members of that household.  The student learns from the teacher in order to be like his master.  If a servant’s master is hated by the world, then so too will the servant.  Ultimately, Jesus is pointing out that if we are in relationship with him then we will experience whatever it is that he receives.  Whatever lot comes to Jesus also comes to us.  The only way to avoid it is to reject Him, or at least to minimize his lordship in your life.

In the end it was the lot of Jesus to be persecuted in this world.  Thus those who follow Him will also encounter persecution.  Sure, it will vary depending on the place and time that you live.  Jesus points out that just as they accused Him of being in league with the prince of demons, so they will accuse His disciples of being evil.    They also called him a heretic that was causing dissension.  He was labeled an insurrectionist and revolutionary.  All of these were false accusations.  

Herein lies the problem.  The above mentioned relationships between us and Jesus, and the Scriptures themselves, teach that the Spirit of God is laboring to make us more like Jesus.  Romans 8:29 says, “For those He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”  So how can it be that Christianity can convert the whole world and create a Utopia by having the power and faith that Jesus had?  Such power and faith led to Jesus being persecuted and killed.  How can it lead us to anything new?  Yes, if Jesus so determines, it could be so.  But here he promises the opposite.  Perhaps the only way it can be is if I am not operating in the same faith and power that He did.

Regardless, notice how verse 25 is worded, “It is enough...”. Jesus puts it in a statement form.  But we should ask it as a question.  Is it enough for me to simply be like Jesus?  Clearly it is enough from God’s perspective because Jesus states it so.  But is it enough for me?  Charles Spurgeon, an English Baptist preacher, said, “God was slandered in paradise, and Christ on Calvary.  How can we expect to escape?”

It is each thing that Jesus was not that draw our hearts away from Him and towards the world; away from the relationships of Teacher-student, Lord-servant, Master of the house-household member.  We are drawn either completely away from Christ, or we are deluded with the fanciful notion that we can have Christ and the world as our teachers.  Friend, recognize today that Jesus really is enough for you.  However, your flesh will not think so, and the world around you will not tell you so.  When the Christian Corrie Ten Boom came out of the German concentration camp of WWII, she had a message for the world.  “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”  He is enough.

In some ways modern society has become “more righteous” than God Himself.  It makes accusations of conspiracy, and rejects biblical ethics and morality.  Don’t listen to those voices that seduce you with becoming greater than Jesus, whether from within Christian circles or from the world.  When Jesus is enough for us, then we will know the peace and rest that God has for our souls and the joy of His Holy Spirit in times of difficulty.

There is a day in which all will be revealed.

In verse 26 Jesus reminds us of a principle that is as sure as any law of physics.  The hidden things will come to light.  This is both a warning and an encouragement.  It is a warning for those who would conceal evil, and an encouragement to those who are falsely accused of such.  All things that are done leave evidence behind.  Even when a person is framed by planted evidence, there will always be some evidence that it was planted, whether we are able to recapture it or not (God can recapture it).  Truth has a way of coming out in the end, precisely because it is real.  So it will be in eternity as all that has truly happened comes to the surface and God gives His judgments based upon reality, truth.

Jesus was not like the secret societies of our days.  He did not teach one thing in public and another to his top 3 disciples.  Sure they received more than the crowds, but Jesus was not publicly worshipping Yahweh, while privately promoting Beelzebub.  The false slander of the religious authorities came from an attempt to hold to two irreconcilable positions: Jesus was doing incontrovertible miracles, and yet He cannot be the Messiah.  Jesus was silent at His trial precisely because He had said and done everything out in the open.  If they were still going to pretend He was evil, what could he say to overturn their minds?  Christians reject those who use secret society techniques, who promote one thing to the masses and another to the inner elite.  This is the way of Satan, not Jesus.  The longer you are with Christ the more you recognize that His teachings do not become different as you draw closer to Him.  Rather, it is you who becomes different, and the teachings of Christ become deeper than we ever imagined.  This is what Corrie Ten Boom found in the depths of an earthly hell:  Jesus was still with her and His love had not abandoned her, even though she was in a place destitute of love and faithfulness.  So as the disciples of Jesus, we have nothing to hide, even though the world accuses us of hypocrisy, conspiracy, and idiocy (granted such do exist under the tent of Christianity).

Jesus tells his disciples not to fear those who make such unfounded accusations because the truth will come to light in some way.  It might not come soon enough to keep me from being nailed to a tree, but it will come nonetheless.  

There is a strength that can be derived from trusting the vindication of God Himself in your life.  Think of it.  God is your defense attorney and therefore you can’t lose.  But when I am my own defense attorney and I am constantly fearful at what others think about me, then I will become trapped by my own double-mindedness.  Draw strength from God’s promised rectification and wait for His timing.  

In fact, worry and fear of what others think or say sidetracks us from the mission of Christ.  Instead we pick up a futile mission of our own.  We will never please all of the people all of the time, in fact not even a majority.  Think of it.  If I am working at “reforming my public image,” it puts me at odds with the Holy Spirit’s work of making me to look like Jesus.  How proud we must be to remake our image so as to avoid what Jesus marched purposefully towards.  The only choices that God gives to us is to embrace the image of Jesus and the persecution that goes along with it, or choose an image that the world will accept and avoid it.  It is not our job to reform our image, but rather, in every way to yield to the Spirit’s call to become more and more like Jesus.

Sometimes God does bring the truth to light in the present.  We will taste some vindication in this life in various ways.  However, our hope goes beyond this.  Few are ever completely vindicated in this life.  Even Jesus has billions who reject His words.  But a day of vindication is coming.  God’s defense of Jesus and those who are following Him never rests.  He will have the final word.

This final vindication will be brought to light when the Lord Jesus comes to reign upon the earth.  As it was in the days of Jesus, so it is today.  Often those who paint the devil on others are most manipulated by the devil themselves.  Jesus and His apostles warned us against judging too quickly, and at the wrong time.  Thus some things, like the hidden motivations of a person’s heart, have to be left up to God.

Humility is a part of following Jesus, and it teaches us to trust in the judgments of God that will be revealed at Christ’s Second Coming.  Romans 8:18-21 says, “For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.  For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the Sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willfully, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”  So just who are the children of God and what is their revealing?  He is speaking of Christians and the day of resurrection when we will stand beside Christ in glorified bodies.  It will be clear on that day just who chose wickedness and who chose truth.  It won’t matter what any person thinks, or even if billions of followers shout your praises.  What matters is the judgment of God Himself.  Thus in 1 Corinthians 4:5 we are told, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts.  Then each one’s praise will come from God.”  Instead of fearing what people think, we can rejoice in knowing already what God thinks.  In fact the life of a believer, is constantly having fellowship with God by His Spirit.  Instead of worrying about what others think, we only worry about what God thinks.  Thus the adage is true, “You don’t want the wrong people to like you.”

Let’s put our trust in the Lord and grow in living out His righteousness.  This is enough for us, regardless of what the world around us might falsely say about us.  We are in good company, for such they did to the prophets of old and especially our Lord Jesus.  If we suffer with Him then we shall be glorified with Him!

Truth Made Known Audio

Wednesday
Apr182018

Joy in the Holy Spirit

Romans 14:17-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 15, 2018.

There is a song that has been taught to young children in church called “Jesus and Others and You.”  Here are the Lyrics:

"Jesus and others and you, what a wonderful way to spell joy.

Jesus and others and you, it’s the life for each girl and each boy.

J- is for Jesus for He has first place,

O- is for others we meet face to face, and

Y- is for you, in whatever you do put yourself last and spell joy."

Of course, when we are not teaching children, it is easy as adults to toss this idea out the window as a simplistic platitude.  It seems to be a foolish recipe for disaster.  “I don’t want to be a doormat,” exclaims our smarter self.  However, when we are honest it is the way of Jesus.  Part of our problem is that we think we know what this song is talking about and yet we generally get the acronym mixed up.

Some think they have tried this, but in all actuality they were spelling JYO.  The Pharisees during the life of Jesus were of this sort (I know they didn’t believe in Jesus, so they were spelling God, You, Others).  Unless we learn the lesson, which we talked about last week, in Matthew 11:28-30, God is not really in first place.  In reality we are in first place with God as our flag or banner.  We make all the decisions and call all the shots, all in the name of God.  Such is a recipe for disaster, for us and others.  When Christ removes the yokes of obligation to others off of our neck and we submit to serving only Him, then we will find a place of joy that others and self cannot steal.  In a word, even when we try to put others second for the sake of Christ, our self often hijacks the attempts and we fail to recognize it.  Thus we walk away cynical and jaded to the path of joy that comes from Christ.  Let’s look at our passage.

Trouble in Paradise

Verses 17 and 18 are part of an important issue in this chapter.  The apostle Paul is dealing with Christians who are arguing over whether Christians should eat meat.  There were several reasons and issues that could lead to such ideas.  For some this had to do with the requirements of the Law of Moses to refrain from certain meats.  Thus the early Christian community had many people who grew up in a society that strictly avoided certain meats.  This created friction in the early community over whether or not a person should eat these meats, and how people who practically disagreed could get along.  Another issue (detailed in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10) is meat that had been sacrificed to an idol.  It was common in the Greco-Roman world to have meat in the marketplace that had been consecrated to the gods in general or to specific ones.  Thus issues developed over whether or not Christians could eat such meat in different circumstances.  In this chapter, Paul does not get into answering questions in this area.  Rather the strongly held beliefs of Christians on either side of this issue were causing them to mistreat one another.  Thus Paul states in verse 3 that those who didn’t eat were “despising” those who did and those who did eat were judging those who didn’t.  I know, I know, it is shocking that Christians had trouble with despising and judging one another back then (sarx).  So we have one group looking down upon another as if they are of no account and to be avoided (despise) and the other group judging them back (perhaps not associating with them).  Both of these words are really two sides of the same coin.

The Bible does not hide the fact that Christians do not always see eye to eye on every matter and we know that this is still true today.  It was the apostles’ job to lay down a firm foundation of what the teachings and “good news or Gospel” of Jesus were.  Here Paul is teaching that what Christians eat or drink should not cause division among them.  In verse 5 he also adds what days we hold special observances. 

Do any of these issues sound a little more familiar?  Our issues today may not be the same as those of the first century, but the overarching principles that the apostle Paul laid down are still necessary for us to listen to because Paul is speaking as a representative of Christ.  We should not let our opinions about food, drink, and special observances, draw us into actively despising and judging one another.  If we want to debate issues that is fine to a degree, but it is secondary to how we treat one another.

In serving the Lord we can lose sight of what He wants and how He wants it done.  The secondary issues, or even lower, can supplant what we are primarily supposed to be accomplishing.  Thus in verse 1 Paul says that we should receive one who is “weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.”  The phrase “weak in the faith” is not intended as a pejorative.  It is intended to make it clear that theologically it did not matter for Christians whether they ate meat or not.  The teachings of Christ, the vision of Peter, and Christ’s words to Paul had settled the issue.  Christians did not need to follow the Mosaic food laws, nor did they need to fear that meat could be spiritually contaminated.   Some people knew these teachings, but still it bothered their consciences.  Thus their faith in these teachings was not very strong in the practice of their life, which is fine because our salvation is not based on whether we eat pork or not.  Neither Jesus nor the apostles created a litmus test for people to join the community that involved eating pork or observing certain days.  Thus we should receive each other as brothers and sisters even if we have some matters of conscience that are different.  Yet, we should not receive them to arguments about such doubtful matters.

This is exactly where Christians have failed throughout the years.  In trying to serve Jesus and the Truth, we often- without even knowing it- confuse our thinking and rationale with what Jesus wants.  We end up sacrificing our brothers and sisters on the altar of our own opinions, instead of remembering what the Kingdom of God is all about.  Is this what God wants?  Is Jesus so concerned about what meat you eat that a person should be despised and shunned as an unbeliever or heretic?  Is Jesus so concerned about what day you worship on or whether or not you celebrate Christmas?  Paul is saying, “No way!”  So what does Christ want and how should it be done?

There are matters that Jesus and His apostles made clear were essential in order to be a Christian.  One must believe that Jesus is the Son of God, died for our sins on the cross, and gives us peace with the Father.  Also, Jesus made many other strong statements that make it clear that He must be our Lord and Master, if we are to truly be His disciple.  We must believe that he truly came in human flesh.  Thus there are essentials and this is not what Paul is talking about.  He is dealing with doubtful matters, or matters of personal opinion (no matter how biblically based our reasoning is).  A famous phrase on these matters says it this way.  “In essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; and in all things charity.”  Thus Paul is concerned that they are attempting to make doubtful matters essential, and in the process, losing all charity with one another. This is why verses 17 and 18 are so critical to this passage.  Here Paul reminds them just what Jesus is trying to accomplish with this Kingdom of God we have now joined.

The True Purpose of the Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God has a dual aspect to it.  On one hand we are already a part of the God’s kingdom.  Jesus is our King; the New Jerusalem is our heavenly capital; the commands of Jesus are our law; we are its citizens; and all of us are joined by one blood (that of Jesus) and one Holy Spirit.  On the other hand, the Kingdom of God has not yet fully come.  The Bible promises a day when Christ will come to earth and create an earthly throne, and these things that are now in the spirit realm will be manifest in this world.  Just as Jesus was incarnated into the world, so these things will also come into material existence.  So the Kingdom of God has both now and not yet aspects to it.  This is important to keep in mind as Paul describes what the Kingdom of God is all about.

Having reminded them that the Kingdom of God is not about what you eat, drink, or what days you specially observe, Paul lists three things that the Kingdom of God is actually trying to accomplish.

The first is righteousness.  The Kingdom of God is about creating true righteousness.  Though Paul is not likely listing these in matter of importance, this is primarily where the Roman believers were failing.  They were not dealing with one another righteously.  Notice that the people on either side of this debate likely believe that they are on the side of righteousness, but they are not dealing righteously with one another.  Doesn’t this say volumes to the things that go on today in our society as a whole and even within the Church?  We should not be despising anyone, and our judgments of one another should be tempered with the truth that we are not the final judge, Jesus is.  Also, our judgments should be tempered with humility and the awareness that the same measure of strictness we judge others will be given to us by the Lord.

Now when it comes to Righteousness, our entry into the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with our own righteousness.  We are brought into the Kingdom of God by the righteousness of Christ.  Thus the ground at the foot of the cross is level, and all people approach God as beggars seeking help.  Once we are in the Kingdom of God, we are enabled by the Holy Spirit within us to hear the Lord’s commands, through His written Word and by the Spirit in our hearts, and to do that which is truly righteous.  The Spirit leads us into all that is righteous, if we will follow Him.  Christians can lose sight of where the Holy Spirit is truly leading.  He is not leading to conformity on what we eat and the days we hold special.  He is leading to us living in true righteousness with one another.  In fact when you contemplate the matter, you will find that it is hard to talk about righteousness without assuming our interactions with other people.  Righteousness is all about how we treat one another, and the only way it can be truly righteous, is to die to ourselves, listen to and follow Jesus.

The second purpose is peace.  The Kingdom of God is about giving us peace, and Jesus wants you to have peace.  That is an amazing statement.  We first receive peace with God through the work that Jesus did on the cross.  Before I put my faith in Him, I was an enemy of God.  I was on the side of the rebellion and under His looming wrath.  However, He is not willing that any should perish and thus sent His Son to make terms of peace between us and Him.  The terms of peace are this.  We put the Son of God to death and therefore are guilty.  But, if we will repent and through faith serve Him as our Lord, then we can be absolved of our crimes. 

This peace with God is intended to then give us peace in our hearts and our minds.  Jesus rises up as the new Lord over that seething cauldron and foaming ocean of thoughts and desires we have within.  He declares, “Peace, be still!”  My thoughts and desires no longer take preeminence.  His is the Lord and it is His desires and commands that take first place.  Part of the problem with doubtful matters or matters of opinion is that instead of trusting the words of Christ and His apostles, we let storms, of logic and desire, rob us of our peace.  We must step aside and daily, moment by moment, allow the Lord to once again speak peace over us.

When we are at peace on the inside, then we can live peacefully among others (at least for our part).  Yes, sometimes others need corrected in the areas of essentials, but it can be done in a peaceful way that follows the Spirit of God rather than our own spirit.

The last purpose is joy in the Holy Spirit.  Jesus wants us to have joy in our hearts, but not just any joy.  It is particularly a joy that is found in the Holy Spirit.  Living in the Spirit is a way of saying that we are hearing Him and following Him.  In 1 Thessalonians 1:6 the imagery is different, “Joy of the Holy Spirit.” Thus we can think about being in the Holy Spirit (like a sphere of relationship), or we can think about the Holy Spirit being within us (like a constant presence and influence).  Either way the joy Jesus has for us does not come from certain people or things of this life.  It comes from God Himself by His Holy Spirit.  When we find ourselves losing our joy, we must let that be a red flag to us.  We then need to get back to seeking the Lord and listening to His Spirit.

Just as Jesus told us that His yoke is easy and his burden is light, so today we should recognize that the way of the Lord is not intended to grind the joy out of our life.  Rather it should cause it to grow in joy and other fruit.  This is what the Holy Spirit is doing.  Now don’t confuse being happy with having joy.  Being happy has more to do with the surface reactions of our heart to the moment.  This will go up and down as we seek to control our heart and minds before the Lord.  Yet, in the midst of deep and troubling times, we can have a place of joy that the world didn’t give and the world can’t take away.  When we start following ourselves then we start to lose connection to the source of joy that Jesus has for us.    We need to listen to the Holy Spirit each day in order to keep experiencing that joy.

It is interesting that the New Testament talks a lot about joy in circumstances that are contradictory.  Paul’s letter to the Philippians was written while he was in prison, and yet it focuses on the joy of the believer.  Acts 13:52, after explaining that Paul and Barnabas had been kicked out of a particular province in Asia Minor, immediately states “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”  Listen, this would be like saying that a person lost their job…and they were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.  It doesn’t follow in the natural.  The only way that it works is because they were keeping their eyes on the Lord and listening to the Holy Spirit.  They took joy in the fact that they were experiencing the same things that their Lord had experienced and countless saints down through the ages.  When Jesus is truly Lord in our life, then we will have a proper priority.  Instead of tearing each other down we will work to build each other up in the most, holy faith.

Thus the phrase “Jesus and Others and You, what a wonderful way to spell joy” is not off the mark.  It is exactly what Paul is telling us.  When we see ourselves as “on the side of Jesus” and others as farther away, then we enter into a territory that robs us of our joy.  But when we serve Christ by helping and loving others in a way that pleases Him, by speaking the truth yet in love, then we can know true joy, even in the middle of trials and persecution.  Let’s live for Jesus this week and know His righteousness, His peace, and His joy!

Joy in the Holy Spirit audio

Monday
Aug072017

Faith is an Endurance Race

Hebrews 12:1-2.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on August 06, 2017.

There have been many great runners throughout the history of the world.  In fact, many great runners may never have run in sporting events, or at the Olympics.  Today, through science and technology, we are able to squeeze out ever faster times.  And, yes, sometimes even through the use of drugs.  The latest line of technology is that of gene therapies.  Instead of trying to correct DNA errors to fight disease, they seek to enhance the performance of athletes.  There is no end to what people will be willing to do in order to win a race.  However, the question should never be, “Did you win?”  Rather, it should always be, “When the truth is known will you be disqualified?”  This brings to mind the American cycling legend Lance Armstrong.  He had amassed an amazing 7 Tour de France titles.  However, claims of doping dogged him throughout his career, all of which he emphatically denied.  Eventually enough evidence came forward to have the Cycling World strip Lance of his titles.  He had been doping and even using blood transfusions of highly oxygenated blood.  To the world looking on, it seemed like Lance Armstrong had won those events fair and square, but when the truth was known he had cheated and was disqualified. 

Life is an endurance race and all of us are going to live it one way or another.  No matter how well it looks like you did to others around you, the real question will be this, “Did you live it with faith in God as your foundation?”  Will we live our lives in such a way as to have the commendation of God, who alone knows the truth?  We want to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” from Him.

I want to encourage you today that regardless of the questions and fears that you have today, you can trust God and take your place among the vast number of saints who have finished their race with commendation.  How?  By the help of God Himself, no less!

We are surrounded by witnesses

In Hebrews 12 verse 1, the writer points to a surrounding cloud of witnesses as a reason why Christians should lay aside the things that keep them from living by faith, in God and for God.  But before we break that down, let’s look at the context that has led to this statement.

Throughout the previous chapter we are reminded of the faithful saints who have gone before us and their stories of faith.  Of course this list is of the many people recorded in Scripture.  None of them were perfect and without sin.  However, they believed God in the face of trials, persecutions, personal failures, and questions.  Chapter 11 opens with the statement that each of these saints obtained a good testimony (vs. 2), and then closes the chapter by restating the same in verses 39-40.  “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.”  Now the phrase is literally, “they were witnessed.”  It begs the question, “By whom?”  We see in 11:4 that it is God Himself who testified that Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable and Cain’s was not.  The point is that each of these people were received by God as commendable because they lived by trusting God rather than themselves or the world around them.  This is in contrast to individuals like Cain, Lamech, Nimrod, Esau, Saul, etc.

So this great cloud of witnesses that we are surrounded by is now 2,000 years of saints larger.  But what exactly is the writer trying to tell us?  Some see them as witnesses of us.  The picture would be that of a stadium in which all the saints, who are no longer running, are cheering us on from the stands.  Although this would fit the analogy and it would be an encouragement to know that our loved ones are cheering us on in heaven, it has been suggested that we should not see them as witnesses of our lives, but rather as witnesses to us.  Their lives are testimonies that God has testified are holy and acceptable.  We are surrounded by the millions of past and present stories of those who have lived out faith in commendable fashion.    I am sure that the saints in heaven are rooting for us, whether they can see us or not.  However, more than this, we can read their lives and draw encouragement from what they had to endure.  In some ways our stories are no different from theirs.  No, they are not exactly the same.  But, like them we have to overcome the trials, pitfalls, temptations, and fears that they did in order to have faith in God.  We have all lived in a world that is adverse to our faith, and in the midst of a spiritual enemy that seeks to work us woe.  So take time to glean the difficulties and trials of the faithful throughout the Bible.  Take time to read the biographies of modern believers who have had to overcome great difficulties in order to trust God.  And, don’t say, “I can’t do that,” or, “But, I’m not a Moses/David/Elijah.”  You have not been called to live their lives.  You have been called to live yours, by faith in Jesus.  You can do it because the same Spirit of God that enabled them is going to help and enable you as well.  Jesus said to his disciples, “I will never leave you nor forsake you even to the end of the age.”  This is your promise too, as one of his disciples.

Lay aside the things that slow you down

Like any race, you only wear what is necessary to run.  I have seen people jogging on the side of the road and they may be carrying 5 pound barbells in their hands, and 10 to 20 pound weights on their ankles.  They do that in order to get into shape quicker.  That is fine for training, but when it comes to race day, no runner in their right mind would try to run with those things.  So Paul reminds us of all those who have gone on before us and tells us to remember them so that we will then turn and jettison anything that might slow us down in this race of faith.  Are there things that are spiritually slowing you down, tiring you out, and making you want to quit?  We have to learn to hear the Holy Spirit pointing out those things that are hurting our faith and boldly toss them aside. 

You will notice that though the writer mentions sin next, this first phrase is not necessarily about sinful things.  Can things that are not sinful be detrimental to our faith?  There may not be anything inherently wrong about it, but it gets in the way between Jesus and me.  It side tracks me away from Christ and stirs up my flesh towards selfishness.  Just like there is nothing illegal about running with weights, so there is nothing sinful about these things.  However, they slow us down and lead us away from faith in God.  Too many Christians are concerned about what they are permitted to do.  They state phrases like, “The Bible doesn’t say I can’t do such and such.”  The problem with this mentality is that we are always trying to justify ourselves instead of trying to win the race of faith.  The rules don’t say you can’t run with a 50 pound backpack on.  But, you would be stupid to try and run a long distance race wearing it.  Thus wisdom is more important than permission.  In fact if we honestly and openly prayed about some of these things, we might hear the Holy Spirit say, “It isn’t sinful, but it is holding you back.  Let it go.”  Paul dealt with this in 1 Corinthians 10:23.  Some of the Corinthians kept stating the mantra, “All things are lawful for me.”  They took the grace of God and their release from the Law of Moses to mean that nothing was unlawful for them anymore.  Paul retorts, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.  Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.”  When we live this life trying to maximize our own pleasure, we quit running the race of faith. We quit being helpful and edifying to ourselves and to those around us. But when we watch out for one another and live to please God, then we are running the race that God has for us.

However, the writer does mention that we need to also jettison the sin that so easily entangles us.  Now, there are many things listed in the Bible that we are told are wrong.  To do them would be sin.  Sin is not an act of faith but of rebellion against God’s judgment.  Every runner has an inner dialogue from their body that is constantly badgering them.  “O, not this race again.  I hope I finish and don’t die.  This is too hard.  Slow down.  You’ll never make it.  You better just drop out or at least walk.  If you quit now you can go get a Krispy Kreme donut.  Running is for losers!”  Okay, so maybe not everyone has the exact same dialogue, but you catch my drift.  Our flesh constantly fights us in the natural against goals that our minds and hearts have set.  So it is in the spiritual.  Our flesh doesn’t want to trust God, it wants to please itself.  We all have our own personal panoply of sins that we are drawn towards and must resist in order to follow Christ.  In Christ, we do not lose our salvation every time we sin.  But, we can be slowed down, and we can be tripped up.  In fact, we can even have our faith “ensnared,” as verse 1 states.  Don’t get stuck on the course like some large mouse trap.  Though sin can ensnare us, we can also be set free from it through repentance and faith.  If you know someone who has had their faith ensnared by sin, then pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit to help set them free from the sin and get them back on the path of faith in Jesus.

Whenever we talk about laying aside those things that side track us, sinful or not, we have to ask ourselves, “What am I pursuing and for what prize am I running?  If I am all about pursuing the pleasures of this life rather than pursuing God and His promises then I am not running the race of faith.  I have been trapped in sin.  If I am all about an inheritance in this life rather than the inheritance that God has reserved for me in Heaven, then I am not running the race of faith.  This is what we should get rid of, so that we can obtain the prize that God has for us.  Next the writer speaks of the positive thing that we should focus on.

Keep your eyes on Jesus

Of course we want to run the race of faith, but we successfully do so by keeping our eyes on Jesus.  In this sense He is our goal.  He is the one that the Spirit is working in our life to make us like.  Also, he is waiting in heaven and when we finish this life, we will go to Him.  He is the one we want to see.  Imagine stepping to the other side and being greeted by Jesus and the cloud of witnesses who have gone on before us.  Keeping your eye on the goal is the only way to avoid the temptations of this life to give up our faith in Him.  We want to be like Him and also be with Him.

Verse 2 says that Jesus is the author and the finisher of our faith.  The word “author” has the sense of a chief or leader.  He is the one who has blazed the trail ahead of us and made it possible for us to follow.  His work makes it possible for us to have faith and live by faith.  Without Him our faith, if we had any, would fail.  The word “finisher” is the sense of completing it.  When a house is being framed you don’t worry about how pretty the boards are.  But when you finish out the house, you are making sure the trim boards and everything are just as you want them.  Here we see that God is helping us all along the way.  When you feel like you are losing your faith, and you wonder where God is?  Remember that He is all around you.  He is in the person who led you to Christ in the first place.  He is in the Bible that you can pick up and read at any moment.  He is in the silence as you pray and aren’t sure what to do.  He is in the brothers and sisters at Church who have as much trouble as you.  Don’t let the enemy rob you of your prize.  Keep your eyes on Jesus and He will bring you through.  Have faith!  He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Next we are told that Jesus endured the shame of the cross for the joy that was on the other side.  Jesus also had trials, persecutions, and temptations that he had to face in order to live out His faith in the Father.  He didn’t love the cross.  Rather he despised its shame, and yet saw something good on the other side- like a runner who doesn’t like side aches and lack of oxygen, but they want the joy on the other side of the race.  Thus this example that Jesus sets for us is to be our torch in the dark times.  It reminds us that there is a day of joy ahead.  God gives us times of joy in this life, but our ultimate joy is the day of the Restoration of All things.  Then we will stand with Jesus and all the saints upon a new heaven and a new earth and there will be no more evil.  What a day that will be!  So keep the faith, brother, and don’t give up, sister.  God is on your side and no one can stand against Him!

Lastly it says that he has received a place at the Father's right hand.  Our place is secure because Jesus is holdin our place in reserve for us.  We belong to Him and He is already seated in the highest place in the universe.  My, how our faith should soar at the thought of such a thing.  All who belong to Jesus will be accepted by the Father.  Don't listen to the world as it tries to discourage your faith.  They will be found out in the end.  The truth will set you free, but it will disqualify them.  So don't let the enemy plunder you of all that God has for you in this life and especially the next.

Faith is an endurance race audio

Sunday
Jul092017

Our Great Joy in Jesus

1 Peter 1:3-9.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 09, 2017.

Today we will spend some time in a passage that focuses on the joy that we have as believers in Jesus Christ.  It is easy to let the things of the world around us drag our hearts down into a dreary drudgery.  We see individuals rejecting the gospel and plunging down the “wide way,” and we see the nations of the world rejecting the ways of God and pursuing their own ways.  In the midst of this is the onslaught of both individual and political evils that continue to tear the world apart and create massive suffering.  So I want us not to forget about the world’s plight, and yet not to be infected by a spirit of hopelessness.  The follower of Jesus has nothing to hang their head over.  We are never defeated or losers.  We are the true overcomers as we keep our eyes upon Jesus and the mission that He gave us.

We Give Thanks to God

In verses 3-5, Peter starts out by thanking God for His blessings and yet he is also reminding the believers of the blessings that they have.  And so, we do have much to be thankful for, and it all finds its source in God the Father.  He is the architect of creation, and the giver of life and all its wonderful aspects.  Am I thankful?  And, do I take time to thank God?  We should wake every morning and recount the amazing blessings with which God has surrounded us.  He has been good to us and grateful thanks should be the foundation of our daily life.

In fact Peter uses the phrase, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  It could also be translated as “Praise the God…”  Our praise is the proper acknowledgment that is actually due to God.  All creation should praise Him, but not all of creation does.  Of course giving God His due praise speaks to those who are not doing so.  But to us who do praise Him, it should not be about duty and obligation.  It should be about gratefulness and thanks.  Our thanks and praise rises up to God in the midst of a world that takes God’s goodness for granted, and a spiritual realm that has a rebellion against Him.  The devil and his angels believe that they can do better than God and are ungrateful for His decisions.    We are those who have rebelled against the rebellion, and have put our faith in Jesus.  We are not under the shadow of judgment, but can see and recognize the goodness of God.  Because of this, we are the recipients of the greater treasures that God is in the middle of giving to those who trust Him.

Peter particularly points out the “abundant mercy” of God.  He is not obligated by justice to give us mercy.  However, He is kind, loving, and merciful.  Salvation always begins with the mercy of God and we must never forget that.  His holiness and justice would come against our lives and bring us to account and to punishment.  But in His mercy, God makes a way for us to be saved from punishment.  He holds out the offer of eternal life to those who will trust Him.  So what are some of these mercies?  Peter lists some for us.

He uses the phrase, “He has begotten us again.”  This is very similar to the phrase used by Jesus in John 3:3, “You must be born again.”  We are all born physically and because of the will of two humans.  Yet, we are not spiritually alive.  Thus all humans are in need of being “born again,” but not physically.  This second birth is a spiritual birth and is because of the will of God, not man.  Even though we are alive to the world around us, we are spiritually unable to recognize and interact with the God who created us.  If we were to use the analogy of a still birth, we can think of it like this.  Though a still born physically exists, they cannot interact with the physical world around them.  Similarly, though we do have an inner spirit, it is still born towards the Holy Spirit of God.  It will never be able to sense and interact with God unless a spiritual miracle occurs. The analogy is not perfect, but it does help to see what the Bible is saying.  This is called being born again.  So to compare the two births we have this.  Physical birth is the first birth, caused by humans, in which we are able to interact with the physical world.  Being born again is Spiritual birth, a second birth, caused by God, in which we are able to interact with the Spirit of God.  What a blessing and mercy this is.  2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”  In John 1:12-13 we are told that such a birth makes us the children of God.  “But as many as received Him (Jesus), to them He gave the right to become the children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

So why has God made us spiritually alive?  Peter says it is for the purpose of receiving a “living hope.”  Regardless of what our lot is in life because of our physical birth, our spiritual birth leaves all of that in the dust.  All that we might hope for in this life will one day be taken away from us.  Thus it is a hope, but a dying one.  Our spiritual birth gives us hope of things that cannot be taken away, even in physical death.  If a person is born into royalty or a family of great power, that is nothing compared to being born again in Jesus.  Even, if I have been born into squalor and have little hope in the things of this world, in Christ I have a living hope that is so much greater than anything this world can offer.  Peter further describes this living hope.  It is a living hope because of “the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  It is living because it is based upon the living Jesus.  He is alive and can no longer die.  Similarly because our hope is in Him, even if we die physically our hope cannot die because it is in one who cannot die again.  Even more than this, we believers in Jesus are promised a day of Resurrection in which we will fully join Christ in that state of eternal life through a body that cannot die and a spirit that dwells in the presence of God every second.  Thus even our physical death because an entering into the presence of the Lord of Life.  What a living hope we have in Jesus!

Peter also describes this living hope as “incorruptible,” and “reserved in heaven” for us (vs. 4).  It is called an inheritance because there is a future aspect to what God is giving us.  Yes, I have eternal life already, but I have not received all that eternal life has to offer, yet.  Thus he uses the word “hope.”  We are already experiencing some of His promises now and thus the hope that is future is already “living” within us and blessing us.  Peter uses several words to show that this hope is secure for the ages.  It is incorruptible, and will not decay or go bad.  There is no expiration date on the promises of God.  It is also “undefiled.”  It is a hope that is untainted by the sin and rebellion of this world.  No matter how much the rebels of this world hope in a Utopia, it is a defiled hope.  They will continually slam up against the reality that the hope is tainted by the sin of mankind and the fallen angels.  Lastly, Peter says that it doesn’t “fade away.”  It is a hope that will not lose its luster and beauty.  This world fades and dims, but our hope does not.  It is reserved in heaven for us.  Thus it is safe in God’s hands, and guarded by none other than God Himself.  If God be for us who can be against us?  On this earth our inheritance and blessings are always in danger of others who may want to steal it, but the inheritance of God cannot be touched by any, not even the devil himself.

However, God does more than just guard our inheritance.  In verse 5 it says that we ourselves are guarded by the power of God.  The same God who guards our inheritance is also insuring that we can make it to that inheritance.  The word “kept” in verse 5 is similar to the word “reserved” in verse 4.  They both have the sense of guarding something.  However, the word in verse 5 adds the sense of a military guard.  It has a higher sense of protection to it.  Thus God stations His forces around us, to ensure that we make it to the day of inheritance, which is the completion of our salvation (notice the future sense of salvation in this verse- more on that later).  The only thing that can derail it is our own faith.  Satan cannot win by destroying us physically, financially, or emotionally.  But, he uses those things to try and destroy our trust in God.  Now, God doesn’t just put a carrot in front of us.  He also protects us along our way to make sure that we will be able to dine upon it.  All of this is “through faith,” our faith in Him.  This living hope and inheritance from God cannot be earned or purchased by the power of this world.  It can only be the gift of God to those who trust Him.

Our Thanks Endure Even Our Various Trials

In verses 6-9, Peter acknowledges that Christians go through difficult things, even though they have much to be joyful.  It is easy to be so focused on making people look happy that we can forget that there is a time to cry, and a time to mourn.  We must deal with the difficult things of life, not by shutting them down, but by overcoming them.  They devil is trying to disqualify us through those trials and tests of life.  But God allows them for the purpose of proving that we qualify and ultimately making us stronger.

So let’s look first at how the trials of life can grieve us for a little while.  Do not make light of the emotional side of trials.  They are difficult and tend to weigh us down with an internal heaviness.  God does not call us to be unfeeling automatons, or robots.  As we grieve and yet remind ourselves of the goodness of God, our faith in God can be deepened.  We can also understand the depths of God’s love towards us.  Trials also help us to see the depths to which our enemy will stoop in order to try and disqualify us.  If we shed tears in this life, then we can shed them knowing that God sees them and will keep a record of them.  He will right every wrong and then bring us to a place where we will cry no more and have pain no more.  And, on that day, He will reward us for those tears and pains of this life that we endured while hanging on to the promise of eternal life, our living hope.  The enemy, however, wants to drown us in our sorrows and difficulties.  He wants us to blame God for our pains, so that we will lose faith in God and walk away from our inheritance.

Peter reminds us in verse 7 that these tests prove our faith.  Have I really trusted in God?  If God stepped in and removed every difficult thing in our life then we would never truly know if our faith is founded on solid ground.  In a sense many people say, “God I trust you, if You keep everything from hurting me.”  This is not trust.  Yet, Job said, “Even if God slay me, yet I will trust Him!”  Some follow Jesus because of what they obtain in this life: people who care for you, and love you, among other comforts of life.  But what about when I lose all of those things?  Like John the Baptist sitting in prison about to lose his head, we can begin to question and waver in our faith in Jesus.  Thus the picture of trials being a refining fire is used by Peter.  The trials are called various because there are innumerable ways to be tried in this life.  Some are seductive, with hidden motives, and we can enjoy their presence to some degree.  Others are brutish, with the obvious motive to overwhelm and destroy us.  Typically we do not enjoy these.  But our faith, Peter says, is more precious than gold.  We are tempted by things that are really not as precious as we think.  The truth about our faith will be made clear at the “revelation of Jesus,” which is His Second Coming.  This will be our glory and honor in the day that He returns: we world will see that we belong to Him.

In verse 8 He commends them for their faith and love for Jesus.  They are keeping their eyes on Jesus even in the face of trials.  Peter had seen Jesus with his own eyes.  But then Jesus was taken into heaven and now Peter no longer can see Jesus.  He must use the eyes of faith, trust.  Even harder it is for those who had never seen Jesus in the flesh.  They are taking the witness of Peter, and the Holy Spirit.  They have come to love this Jesus that they have learned about.  They are not about to be scammed out of the inheritance they have in Jesus.  So also, keeping our eyes upon Jesus, we await that day when He will split the clouds and return to earth.  Even if I die, I do so keeping my trust upon the one who said, “He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live.”  Our love for Jesus is birthed in the love that He had for us.  He died in my place even while I was still a rebel against Him.  He did so to make an inheritance for me with Him.  He paid the price that I might sit with Him at the Father’s table.  He purchased us back from the place of slavery to which we had sold ourselves.  And, He does this to make us His beloved ones.  In the words of Paul, “[love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails. 

So this love that Jesus has for us and that we have for Him fills us with a joy that is inexpressible and full of glory.  In the face of our own death, His death and resurrection assures us that He loves us and will keep His word.  The daily joy that we have as a Christian should never be based upon the earthly joys and comforts that we have.  Yes, we should be thankful for any such things that we experience.  But they must never be the foundation of our joy.  The foundation of our joy is the relationship of love that Jesus has given to us.  As the old song says, “I’ve got something the world can’t give, and the world can’t take it away!”  It is called inexpressible or unspeakable because it goes beyond the ability of words to fully express.  Not that we don’t express our thanks, but that they too fall short.  “O, for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemers praise, the glories of our God and King, the triumphs of His grace.”  So we continue to describe to people that which can never be fully expressed.  Such is the joy of the believer.  It is also described as “full of glory” because it is given by God Himself.  Glory is often described as brilliant light in the spirit realm (within Scripture).    God has given us Himself and the glorious shining of God sits at the center of our heart and life like a blazing sun.  Thus our joy and faith in Him, which is set on fire by the blazing glory of God, cannot be extinguished by the devil. 

In the midst of such glorious joy, Peter says we are receiving the salvation of our souls.  In fact this is part of the joy.  I may endure a difficult trial, but it is part of me receiving something much better.  Verse 5 speaks of our salvation in the future, but verse 9 speaks of it as a present thing.  That is because we are in the process of receiving a salvation that will one day be completed at the second coming of Christ.  Thus we can look back to the day that we began receiving salvation, we can look around at our current salvation, and we can look forward to its completion at the Second Coming of Christ!  Amen!

Our Great Joy audio