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Weekly Word

Entries in Love (25)

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

Tuesday
Jun272017

Go and Sin No More

John 8:3-11.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on June 25, 2017.

Today, as I preach this sermon, the 43rd Annual Gay Pride Parade will begin in Seattle, WA.  Over the course of the last 43 years homosexuality has taken center stage as our society wrestles over how we should move forward.  What will be the laws that we will live by and by which individuals will be punished?  Of course churches and Christians are a part of this society and should speak the truth in love.  But even with this goal, we do not always agree.  Some have responded with acceptance to the degree that they have declared their approval for homosexuality, ordaining gay ministers and performing same-sex weddings.  Others have responded with rejection to the point of advocating the re-establishment of capital punishment for any such acts.

It is important to recognize that in the middle of this culture war individuals get chewed up and spit out, whether they are gay or a conservative Christian.  Christianity Today ran an article recently from a woman named Bekah Mason.  She is a Christian who has struggled with same-sex attraction throughout her life and tells her story.  She was raised in a very legalistic environment where even the idea that you would be attracted to the same sex was an “abomination” to God.  There was no room to talk about it and so she grew up holding it in and hiding it.  Later, when she entered college, she encountered a Christian group that was progressive.  This group told her that there was nothing wrong with homosexuality.  In fact, it was a gift from God.  She should completely embrace it and follow her “true self.”  This was too enticing not to embrace.  Thus she explored her true self and same sex relationships.  Over the course of time she realized that the progressive mentality was not the answer she had hoped.  She states, “Both legalistic condemnation and progressive license left me floundering.”  In one group she was rejected as an abomination before God and couldn’t even discuss it, and in the other she was encouraged to follow her “true self” rather than Jesus.  She could not resolve following self with the Gospel message.  Over time she came to embrace the gospel.  Though she was inclined to a sinful expression of sexuality, God loved her enough to help her lay it down and follow Jesus.  It didn’t matter whether her feelings ever changed.  If she needed to remain celibate then that was fine.  She was no longer under the tyranny of hiding her feelings, nor that of redefining sin.

Though the woman in this passage is not a homosexual, she too has a problem with sexual sin.  We find in it a reminder that it is not our job to sacrifice individuals in order to make a difference in society.  It is our job to be a redemptive influence in the lives of those whom we cross paths.

Love the Individual more than the Society

Do you love humans or humanity more?  I believe it was Dennis Prager who said that people who loved humanity more than humans scared him because they were capable of great evil towards the individual in the name of the group.  If we were to create an artificial intelligence (AI) how would it be different if we programmed it to work for the good of humanity rather than for the good of each person?  This mental exercise will help you to see that in order to save the system or the larger group, people are often sacrificed.  Individuals are crushed under the machinery of good for the many.  Now it is different if a person volunteers to lay down their life for the sake of others.  When our military men and women volunteer to put their lives in jeopardy in order to protect our society, it is a good thing.  But when people are forced into armies and sent to die for the sake of the empire or society of whatever size, then it is an evil. 

This is part of what we are seeing in this passage.  Only here it is not conscription into an army.  Rather a woman who has broken the law is used as an expendable tool in order to stop Jesus.  The religious leaders do not see an individual woman who has embraced sin and is lost.  They do not see someone in need of saving and help.  She doesn’t matter to them, but stopping Jesus does matter, at all costs.  He is going to mess up their society, and their position within it.  Thus the woman is merely a useful tool and this tactic is used to this day, whether in politics, business, or even in churches.  I’m reminded of Baronelle Stutzman, the florist from the Tri-Cities area of Washington State.  She would not do the floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding.  She had sold flowers to the gay individual for years.  But felt that going to the wedding venue and setting up the flowers would be too much of helping a person to sin.  Initially the man had no problem and went his way.  The two parted on friendly terms even though they disagreed.  It is when others get involved who could care less about keeping an amicable relationship that things turn to the bad.  All they see is a tool of leverage to reinterpret old laws and force social change upon others through new ones.  This was a golden opportunity to change society and send a message to all Christian business owners.  It is clear in the John 8 passage that Jesus refused to operate on that level.  If society was to be saved it would not be at the expense of a woman who was a sinner.  In fact, the heart of God displayed in Christ is very different from the heart of mankind.  Jesus would lay down his life for us rather than sacrificing any sinners.  The question for us as Christians is this, “Are we following the Pharisees' model or are we following the model of Jesus?”  We must learn to lay ourselves down in order to reach the lost and help them to reconcile to God the Father.

All of this begs the question, “Can a society be saved, and if so, in what way?”  When an individual is saved it can be in one of two ways.  Jesus saves this woman from dying that day.  However she would eventually die of old age.  The more important “saving” is that of her soul.  We don’t know what becomes of this woman’s life despite the speculation that has occurred throughout history.  But, Jesus is clearly concerned about her soul.  She is a sinner who is lost.  If she died that day then she would be without hope.  Salvation for her is the possibility of having eternal life.  Now when we look at a society, it can never be eternally saved.  Our founding fathers stated in many different ways that the constitution and laws they established would not be enough.  Each generation would have to engage the fight for freedom for themselves.  Societies can only be “saved” for a temporary time.  History bears this out.  Should people who can be saved eternally be sacrificed for the sake of a society, which can only be saved temporarily?  I think the answer is obvious.  No society will survive the Second Coming of Christ, or the White Throne Judgment.  So why would we sacrifice people to save them?  Society is important, but it is of secondary concern.  Individuals should always be our primary concern.  A Society that sacrifices individuals for its own sake is poor indeed.  If such a society is worthy then individuals will voluntarily lay down their lives in order to save it (whether they are judging rightly or wrongly).

Though the religious leaders are correct in their understanding of the Law of Moses and its punishment, they do not understand the heart of the God who gave it.  This woman was caught in the act of adultery.  There is no question about her guilt and the punishment.  But Jesus does not respond to them on that level.  He knows that they are correct in her guilt and the matter of the Law.  Yet, Jesus clarifies the problem by issuing the challenge for them to declare publically that they are without sin.  He who is without sin among you, should throw the first stone.  Of course, none of them are willing to make such a public statement.  Clearly only a sinless being can truly hold a sinner accountable for their sin.  One of the mistakes of modern thinking is that we think judging sin is bad.  No, sin itself is bad.  But it is bad form for a sinful person to carry out judgment on another sinful person.  Jesus takes time to remind them and us just who is the Judge of sinners and just when punishment should be given.  In Romans 2:16 Paul states, “God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my Gospel.”  You see the Pharisees had unwittingly brought the woman before the only one who could carry out punishment upon her.  Now, don’t be deceived, there is a day of judgment and the Lord Jesus will preside over that judgment.  However, it was not that day yet.  They have prematurely brought her before the heavenly court in order for punishment to be carried out.  Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto men to die once, but after this the judgment.”  Notice judgment before God follows death.  Yes, we do have to have some laws within this society of sinners so that we can live our lives.  But the punishment of sin is to be left to God once a person has died. 

When our focus is on condemning people and punishing them, we elevate the law over the top of the Grace of God.  Yes, God gave the law.  But He is not willing that any should perish.  He would even go to the extent of becoming a man himself and dying in our place in order to save us.  Or, as John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son, that whosoever would believe on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  This includes those who sin sexually.  As long as a person is a living breathing soul, they can still change.  It doesn’t matter how long this woman has been a slave to her sin of adultery.  She can change and Jesus knows that.  He is more concerned about her continuing to have a chance to change than he is about perfecting society by getting rid of her.  Notice his words to her at the end, “Go and sin no more.”  What she does with those words is an eternal decision that she will have a chance to make as long as she is alive.  For the rest of her life she would remember that strange man who saved her life physically and wonder if He could actually save her life spiritually.

Now this leads to my last point.  Jesus defends her physical life, without defending her morality.  He does not give some speech filled with moral pablum such as, “This woman has done nothing wrong.  Come into the First Century!”  He merely challenges their right to carry out such a punishment.  Christians should not advocate or give aid to the mentality that homosexuals should all be killed or jailed.  But we should neither give our aid to promote it.  Jesus is not promoting her adultery.  Rather, he is promoting her salvation.  He did it so that she would have a chance at redemption, whether that was immediately seized upon or later.  She would never be able to forget the man from Nazareth who saved her life and then told her to sin no more.  I would say that we clearly see Jesus defending her from her external attackers.  But, we may miss him coming to her defense against her internal attackers.  The inner life of our flesh and its sinful desires continually assail our mind and will.  This inner assault is even more insidious than that of the religious leaders.  When you tell someone that their sin is okay, you are refusing to help them against that inner onslaught.  You have actually left them to their worst enemy.  We cannot save people by protecting them to just keep on sinning.

So how can we maintain a faithful conviction regarding sin and also show love toward those who do not?  I guess my point is that we do so by keeping our focus on the soul of each individual we meet.  It is not my job to stop the Gay Pride Parade in Seattle next year.  But it is my job to care about the soul of each homosexual that I come in contact with, each and every day.  The gospel is that freedom which God gives to us, freedom from the self life and tyranny of our flesh.  We can embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior and know that regardless of our sins, He will accept us as we repent and follow Him.

Let’s love people more than we love America, or whatever society of which you are a part.

Go and Sin No More audio

Monday
May152017

A Woman Who Follows Jesus

Philippians 2:1-4.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Mother’s Day Sunday, 5/14/2017.

There are many voices today that promise women a better life by offering some philosophy or way of approaching life.  However, most of them are various ideas that come from the same source, the spirit of this age.  So women have a choice they can listen to the spirit of this age and go after the things that it promises by the ways it promotes (self fulfillment, self love, self adulation), or they can listen to the Spirit of God calling to them, “Save yourselves from this wicked and perverse generation!”

It is important to recognize that women have had a tough road throughout history.  Too often, men are guilty of not recognizing this and not loving women as we should.  So women need encouragement.  Yet, like any of us, they also need challenged.  Women are not inherently drawn to do things right.  They have the same battles with the sin nature as men do.  I believe our passage today has a good balance of encouragement and yet also challenge for God’s people, including women.  In fact, this is a hallmark of the Bible.  On one hand it recognizes our weakness and does much to give us encouragement and comfort.  Yet, on the other hand, it also recognizes our spiritual lethargy and does much to wake us up and get up headed on the right path.  Let’s look at our passage today.

She has much in Christ

In this passage Paul is trying to encourage Christians to have unity.  But he starts with a series of things that we all have in Jesus.  He uses a grammatical device of a series of conditionals.  These are intended to remind them of the fact that each of these conditionals is understood to be rhetorical.  Of course we who are Christians have all of these things.  There is no “if” about it.  This is going to be critical later.  But just understand that Paul is highlighting our relationship with Jesus.  We have everything that we need in this world without having to clamor and strive against others to get it because of our relationship with Jesus.  Christians are called to quit looking to the world for fulfillment and start receiving from Jesus all he has for us.  So what do we have in him?

The first “if” is consolation in Christ.  This word may give you the idea of a consolation prize.  Who wants that?  The word has the idea of calling someone to your side in order to speak to them.  Thus it is generally connected to some kind of help, encouragement, comfort, or even advice.  In Jesus we have this relationship in which the God of heaven calls us to His side and He speaks into our life those things that we need to hear.  You could say that the “if” statement does more than remind.  It can also be a testing question operating in such a way as to question.  Are you receiving this from Jesus or are you blocking his words into your life?  There is no question that it is available and at work in the life of a Christian, but sometimes we are not so cooperative with the Spirit of God.

The next “if” is comfort of love.  It is still understood to be “in Christ.”  The comfort of God’s love for us, especially through the person and work of Jesus, is immense.  When one thinks about how Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners, it leaves one with a powerful sense of God’s love for them.  However, the love of Christ also comes to us through other Christians who are also cooperating with God’s design to love others.  In fact, everything that we see around us becomes a testimony of the love of God intended to help us.  We are swimming in His provision and grace.  What a comfort that gives to our hearts, “if” we are seeing it and resting in it.

Next we are reminded of the fellowship of the Spirit.  “Fellowship” refers to the emotional bond that we have with other Christians by the Holy Spirit.  It starts with an inner relationship with the Holy Spirit.  He speaks to us and teaches us to follow Jesus.  When we connect with other believers who are doing the same thing, we have a powerful, shared experience of listening to the Holy Spirit.  This shared experience of learning to trust the Lord gives us a bond that is more than emotional; it is even spiritual.  When we connect with others of “like Spirit,” we have fellowship with them.  This also refers to the common lot, and common place that we have in this group we call Christians.  We have dropped away from the spirit of this world and taken our place among those who are following Jesus through the Holy Spirit. 

Lastly we are reminded of the affection and mercy of Christ.  Affection is a reference to the knowledge that God deeply cares about us, which leads to his compassionate mercy towards us.  His emotions have and do lead to actions of mercy in our life.

In all of these things there is a direct reception of them from Christ spiritually.  However, there is also an indirect reception of them through those who belong to Christ.  Granted, this is received imperfectly because it is flowing through imperfect people to a person who imperfectly receives.  That is why Paul is writing this letter.   Think about how often we wonder why God is “holding out on us,” (insert thing you want here).  Yet, at the same time He is daily pouring out such wonderful treasures upon us, directly and indirectly.  The real question is this.  Are you taking time to open yourself up to Jesus and when you do are you receiving it or are you pushing it away?  It is when we are filled with what Jesus has for us that we are enabled to get along with others, and this is directly where Paul wants to go with this.

She can have much with others also

If we have all this stuff from Jesus then it should be possible for us to be unified with other believers.  Our relationships become better because we no longer seek to satisfy ourselves by them.  Instead we are fulfilled by the vast and amazing grace that Jesus pours out upon us daily.  Before we talk about our relationship with other believers, it is important to recognize that this applies to our relationship with unbelievers, too.  Instead of needing something from them, we can love them fully and without selfish ambition because we have all that we need from Jesus.  Yet, having all that we need in Christ can never mean that we disconnect from others and become apathetic towards them.  It is Jesus himself who whispers in our ear, “Love them with my love.  Regardless of how difficult it may be, show them who I am.”

In our passage Paul points, in verse 2, to the need for believers to get along and to have a unity of heart, mind and soul.  Think of it.  We can have unity because we are no longer looking at each other as some kind of payday.  Jesus is our source.  Yes, he may use others.  But it is not dependent upon them.  His list in verse 2 goes through three aspects of our inner being that need to be unified with other believers.  He mentions the mind twice.  Love is generally connected to the heart.  And the word translated “one accord” in the NKJV literally means “same-souled (inner life).”  Now, the world recognizes the power of unity.  It has its own attempt at unity which usually employs a kind of dog-eat-dog system in order to see whose mind, heart, and soul gets to dominate the group.  But this is not the way of Christ.  You see, Paul wants us to have unity around the mind, heart, and soul of Jesus Christ.  It is his mind that should instruct us and lead us.  As we each surrender to Jesus, we are enabled to have unity with one another and Christ’s love can flow through us to each other.

So, what are the things that typically get in the way of Christians having unity?  Verse 3 tells us to put away selfish ambition and conceit.  When we adopt such attitudes and vices, they destroy our unity.  The word translated “selfish ambition” is actually one word.  It was used by the Greeks for those whose political electioneering was underhanded and marked by unfair means.  Such a person was willing to do anything in order to get ahead, to get what they wanted.  Now the word for “conceit” is a compound word that has the idea of vain glory, or empty pride.  Such pride is empty because it has nothing to offer others.  It is always selfish and sucks the life out of everyone that it touches.  A good metaphor would be a dark, rain cloud.  A farmer who is longing for rain is excited when they see a rain cloud.  Imagine that the cloud works very hard at looking like a good rain cloud, but in the end it sails on past and only sucks up more moisture.  Such are those who are conceited.  They work hard at looking good, but they are only good for themselves.  In fact, they are not even that.  One day they will approach their death bed and how empty they will be on that day.  They will look back with sorrow on all the relationships that they sucked the life out of, like some kind of vampiric beast.  They will be left empty in the end.  And, standing before God one day, they will be empty of anything to avoid their fate.  If we want true unity of the Holy Spirit, then we have to reject the voices and the spirit of this age, which incessantly stir up angst within us, calling us to selfish ambition and conceit.  So if these should be avoided, then what should we embrace?

The second half of verse 3 and all of verse 4 point us to the need for a humble opinion of ourselves and the need to esteem others above ourselves.  When we walk into a room our sinful nature seeks to find those ways in which we are better than others.  We tend towards an inflated view of self that affects our relationships.  So what does it mean to esteem others above self?  I don’t think it means to put yourself down in the sense of hating yourself and thinking that you have nothing to offer.  Rather, it is when we see all the ways that others are better than us.  In the world this is a threat.  But in Christ it is part of His grace to us.  Yes, we want Him to put all wisdom within us.  But in the end He scatters His gifts of wisdom, and yet for each of our benefit.  Even then we need to get to such a lowly place precisely because that is the place we need to get to if we are going to actually help others.  You cannot help others full of yourself.  God will bless you through others.  But that is not to be your focus.  Your focus is to be on Jesus and receiving from Him what you can then turn and give to others.

So ladies, and guys too, who are you following?  The next time you find yourself annoyed with someone and fighting with them over something, take time to stop and think.  What do I think I lack, and why do I think this person can give it to me?  Lord, forgive us for making others our source, for looking to others in the way that we should only look to you.  Lord, help us to walk in unity with other believers so that the world might see and know that you are a glorious savior.

A Woman who follows Jesus audio

Friday
Mar102017

Serving Selflessly

John 13:1-17.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 5, 2017. 

As we continue talking about the purpose that Jesus has for His people and His Church, we have adopted the phrase, “Connecting people to the Abundant Life found in Jesus.”  So our purpose begins with connecting to Jesus and His people, and then moves to growing spiritually to be like Jesus.  Part of spiritual growth is being used by God to serve other believers and in a manner that is not for selfish reasons.  One thing you may notice is that each of these is simply an extension of the initial connection to Jesus.  So it may be better to think of them as facets of the main purpose of coming into relationship with God. 

In our passage today, we will look at a very critical act that Jesus did on the night that he was going to be betrayed.  In this act of service, Jesus removes all doubt as to what God is saying to those who want to be his disciples.  In essence God is asking us to prove our love for Him by serving His people, our brothers and sisters.  Because of our Christian background, Americans often speak of politicians and social leaders as public servants.  However, it is clear that most are not serving for the sake of the public.  They are more concerned with their own station in life and honor among men, than they are about what will really serve the people.  Today’s passage will show the heart of service.  Next week we will look at the practical side of what it means to serve.

The love of Jesus caused him to serve

This story of how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples is a powerful one that is intended to challenge those who would want to follow him.  But, before we look at the act itself, let’s look at the context in which this service takes place.  Verse 1 emphasizes that Jesus knew it was his time.  He was about to leave the disciples, and they would have to go on without his physical presence.  This makes his action here critical because it represents what is most important to him.  Verse 2 also tells us that Jesus knew that the betrayal was already in motion.  His arrest was only hours away and by noon the next day he would be executed.  These were his last moments of physical freedom.  Lastly, verse 3 points out that Jesus knew that everything was in his hands.  Now in Matthew 28:18 Jesus says, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.”  This means that Jesus was not a victim as he went to the cross, but a victor.  Not only did he have authority over those who thought they had authority over him, but it was in his hands what to do.  Yes, Jesus came for the purpose of dying on the cross, being resurrected and leading many sons to righteousness.  However, his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, just moments after this event, makes it clear that he had a choice.  Jesus asks for the cup to be taken from him and yet, surrenders to the will of the Father.  What we see here is that though the Spirit of Christ was unified with the will of the Father, the flesh body was shrinking back from the cross.  The Father would not force His Son to do this.  It had to be the choice of Jesus and not just in his invulnerable, past existence.  In the moment of weak flesh he had to choose freely to save mankind.  Imagine if all authority and choice was given to you today.  What would your choice be?  In this situation Jesus chose to wash his disciple’s feet and to go to the cross for mankind.  This is a powerful statement.

When we look at the descriptions regarding this service, two poignant phrases stick out.  The first is at the end of verse 1, “He loved them to the end.”  This was an act of teaching, but it was also an act of love.  It was a divine, supreme act of love that would help them to better understand the cross and God’s will for them in the months and years ahead.  Service cannot be just an act.  It truly must be fueled by and informed by the love of God.  Too often we allow our service to become an identifying thing that we do, and lose sight of love for the people we are serving.  Another aspect to recognize is how John builds up to this act.  He stipulates all the things Jesus knew and how it was all in his hands, which lead up to the climax of “then he arose from supper, laid aside his garments, took a towel and girded himself.”  The statement itself would be anticlimactic to anyone who was looking to Jesus as Messiah.  I believe John intends this statement and the actions of Jesus to be shocking.  It is easy for us to miss this because we have grown up in a society that takes this for granted.    We must understand that the love of God is far more radical and shocking than we can ever completely understand.  Jesus hanging on the cross was the exact opposite picture anyone expected to see of the savior of the world.  Let’s face it; even now we do not completely understand the love of God and the depths to which it leads him to go in order to serve mankind.  So, when I try to follow Jesus and serve others, I will find myself needing to grow in the ability to love at such a shocking level.

We are challenged by the service of Jesus

Peter often becomes the vehicle through which we get to see ourselves.  So in verses 6-8, the shocking actions of Jesus bother Peter.  He balks at what Jesus is doing and had earlier rebuked Jesus for saying that he would be executed.  This is the very nature of even the most loyal disciple.  Our hearts are challenged and even made afraid by what Jesus does and calls us to do.

So what is at the heart of this issue?  Perhaps it is our pride.  Peter’s pride in his station as a close disciple to the Messiah of Israel (maybe even #1 disciple), shrinks back from this menial service that Jesus does.  Jesus is supposed to be the greatest and highest person in all of Israel.  But here he takes on a task that only the lowest servant would perform.  This is unthinkable to him because of his pride.  Leaders, beware of followers who tell you that certain things are beneath you.  They are not being led by the wisdom of God, but the fear of prideful flesh.  Peter was so proud of being there that he forgot to wash his own feet.  His joy of being in the presence of Jesus had overwhelmed his self-awareness that his feet were filthy.  This is such a powerful picture of our desire to follow Jesus.  We get so caught up in the wonder of it all that we can miss areas of our life that need cleaned up.  Even so, if Jesus wanted their feet cleaned, he should command one of them to do it, right?  In Peter’s mind the lowest of them all should be the one washing feet, not Jesus (and most likely not him).  This is precisely why Jesus had to wash their feet.  He had to break their pride.  But he doesn’t do it like the leaders of this world do it.  The leaders of this world command you to do the most menial tasks until your pride is wore down.  But Jesus does the menial task himself and then asks them to love one another as he has loved them.  He leads the way, and not as one who does so once and never humbles himself again.  The cross shows us that all of the life of Jesus was one long humbling of the highest being in the universe.  Can we not see that God has no pride?  We must see our own shrinkage from service and its foreign mindset in Peter’s actions.  We must also ask the Lord to transform our mind and heart in this area.

Another point I would like to make about Peter’s refusal is that it is God who defines how we need to be served.  Peter does not want to let Jesus feet.  When others serve us we are often uncomfortable.  We tend to want to control how it is done.  We can be guilty of trying to tell God exactly how He should do things.  But the reality is that we don’t have a clue what we need and what He should be doing.  The Church has struggled over this question, “What do people really need.”  Especially in America, we have developed two different approaches over the years.  The first is called the “Pie in the Sky” Gospel.  This approach says that people really only need their spirit’s saved and the flesh is immaterial.  Thus, people who preached to the homeless would promise that in heaven you will have all the things you didn’t on earth.  Instead of helping materially they only helped spiritually.  The cynicism of the people being served led to some Christians then going to the other extreme.  This led to what is called the “Social Gospel.”  They tended to focus so much on the physical needs of the poor at the expense of the spiritual message of Jesus.  It almost becomes a badge of nobility to feed a poor man and not tell him the gospel, so that you are not manipulating them.  Yet, Jesus does both within hours.  He washes their feet, a very physical service, and then dies on the cross for their sins, a very spiritual service.  In truth we need both.  Yes, we could accuse Jesus of trying to manipulate us by dying on a cross.  But in the end it is a reality that we have to deal with.  Was Jesus manipulating or loving?  When we serve, we must be aware of the physical nature of those we serve and yet the spiritual side.  Not all will receive what you do and may even cast aspersions on your motives.  Nevertheless, it is not wise to let those being served to dictate how we serve them.  We serve people because God loves them and it is He who directs us on how they need served.

In verse 9 and following the scene comes to a conclusion with Jesus explaining why he did what he did.  In verse 14 the word “ought” should slam into the pit of our stomach like a ton of bricks.  It comes from a word that has the idea of owing a debt that you are obligated to pay back.  Thus, it came to be used for social and moral obligations.  If the master did this lowly service, then by definition his disciples are obligated to keep themselves beneath him in station.  To not lower myself is more than an act of rebellion, but even an act of rejection.   In this act of service and the cross that follows, Jesus forever undercuts the protest, “You couldn’t expect me to do that!”  No, such a statement is hollow when you recognize the wisdom of Jesus.  We are precisely obligated to serve one another because our Lord and master served us.  But our obligation is not just on a moral level.  We say that we love God, but in this moment God shows the very depths of his heart.  He is not trying to be on top, and is not filled with pride.  He is willing to lower himself to the lowest place and serve.  So, the question then is, “Having received such a glimpse into the depths of His heart, do you still love Him?”  Christians are those who have discovered the shocking truth about the God who created all things and have chosen to follow him.  How can we not but serve?

Then in verse 17 Jesus slams the point home.  Blessed are you if you know these things and do them.  Today you have been made aware of these things.  Now, what are you going to do with them?  This is not just about washing feet.  It was a need within their immediate context.  What are the needs in our context?  What ways can I serve others for God?  In fact, it would be good for me to spend some time in prayer asking the Lord to give me His thinking on this subject.  Service is the key to blessing.

One of our problems in the Western world is that we make service sound noble.  I am not saying that it isn’t noble in some ways.  However, it is also humiliating and hard on our flesh in other ways.  Service by its very nature is not a noble thing, but it is a God thing.  Jesus washing the dirty, stinky feet of his disciples was not fun.  But it was necessary for them.  Similarly, trying to love another person and serve them can be some of the most difficult times of your life, and yet God asks us to do it.  Yes, it is noble, but the nobility is not what we feel when we truly start serving others.  We can tell young men of the noble act of dying so that other may be free.  But, when they are in the trenches and their friends are dying around them, it will feel like anything but nobility.  No, service that is not self-serving (a.k.a. I am getting noticed and good press) will try your soul like a furnace.  But in the end you will come forth like pure gold refined in the fire seven times.

Serving Selflessly audio