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Weekly Word

Entries in Mission (6)

Wednesday
Jun142017

Living in the Spirit

Various passages.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on June 11, 2017.

Over the last several weeks we have looked at some Old Testament passages that promised the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and at the actual event on the Day of Pentecost when it began.  Today we will look at the next step.  What does it mean to live your life in the Spirit of God?  Get ready to thumb through the Bible because we will look at 4 different passages to get an overview of what it means to live in the Spirit.

Recognize His Presence

John 14:15-18.  As Jesus meets with His disciples, he points out a sequence that He desires.  They will obey his commandments because they love him, and he will send the Holy Spirit so that they will not be left alone.   Though it seems simple, we need to start at recognizing that Jesus always keeps his word.  If you have put your faith in Jesus then the Holy Spirit is present in your life.  In fact, in 1 Corinthians 3:16 we see the Apostle Paul reminding the Corinthian Christians of this truth.  “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”   It seems impossible that someone could become a follower of Jesus and not understand this essential truth.  However, more than likely the problem is not knowledge, but recognition.  It is the plan of Jesus that each of his followers have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them and filling their life.

To live a Christian life without relying on and listening to the Holy Spirit cannot last long.  It is more than forgetting that you have chains in your car when you are unable to get over a snowy pass in the winter.  The Holy Spirit is not some inanimate and impersonal tool that we can forget about.  Rather, it is like forgetting that the One who created snow is not only in your vehicle, but can also teach you how to drive in the snow properly.  He will even take over the controls if He has to do so in order to keep you safe.  So life in the Spirit begins by recognizing that Jesus has been faithful and the Holy Spirit dwells in me.  Though the Spirit dwells in us, He wants to fill our life.  For this to happen, there are some things to which we should pay attention.

We have to lose the idea that we can “go it alone,” or that we have to go it alone.  Jesus has a purpose in giving us the Holy Spirit.  The word in verse 16 that is translated “Helper” in the NKJV comes from the sense of one who comes alongside another.  Thus the help can take on many different forms: comforter, director, instructor, corrector, and defender.  If Jesus though his disciples needed the Holy Spirit, how can we think that we will fare any better?  Jesus didn’t just give us the Holy Spirit.  He also gave his disciples one another when he commanded, “Love one another as I have loved you.”  So clearly Jesus does not want us to do this all by ourselves.

So what tempts us to go it alone?  We are tempted to leave the Spirit behind because He often leads in a way that our flesh does not like.  The constant pull of our flesh away from the Spirit, and the constant pull of the world upon our flesh, makes it easy to say you are a Christian, but not rely upon the Holy Spirit.  We are also tempted to leave other believers behind because they are too much like us, not perfect yet.  Thus it seems to difficult to work out problems between one another.  Love challenges us on every front and we can walk out on that task.  Just as Eve was tempted by the things her flesh wanted, so we are tempted by things that our flesh want.  We must learn to say, “No,” to our flesh and “Yes,” to Jesus.

So recognizing that He is there should then turn to praying for His help every day.  The Holy Spirit will help you in many ways without you even asking.  However, there are some things that God, in His sovereignty, will not do unless we ask.  Recognizing His presence and purpose enables us to notice His help more often when we haven’t asked for it.  This is encouraging.  Also, praying for His help in both general and specific ways will open the door for Him to do more things in our life than if we didn’t pray.  So start your day with recognition of His help already, and with a heart of gratefulness ask for His help for today.  I am not saying to become some kind of greedy kid who wants everything.  But, rather to be a grateful child who is coming to a loving Father.  Holy Spirit, help me to face the difficult situation facing me.

We should also pray for a Spirit Baptism or Infilling.  As I said earlier, the presence of the Holy Spirit is a given when you are a believer in Jesus.  However, being filled with the Spirit is something that we need to seek for everyday.  These two words, baptism and filling, refer to two different metaphors.  Baptism refers to the picture of water and being completely immersed or dipped into the Spirit.  I am not just standing next to the water or ankle deep in it.  I am wholly surrounded by the Spirit.  There is no part of my life that is not impacted by the help of the Holy Spirit.  The second word “filling” refers to the metaphor of a house.  The human body is a house of sorts for the human spirit within that uses it to interact with the material world.  At salvation the Holy Spirit enters our “house” and lives with us.  However, there is a big difference between the Holy Spirit being in the house and filling the whole house.  The Holy Spirit wants to fill and influence every part of our life.  The truth is that this is not intended to be a onetime thing.  Our daily experience is that there are times that we are more open to the help of the Spirit than others.  Through prayer we are wrestling with our flesh and making room for the Holy Spirit to fill us.  Now some people historically have testified to a big, powerful experience.  Others have testified to a slow, growing influence in their life that began at salvation.  Regardless of how it looks, the focus should never be on what it looks like.  The focus is on the Holy Spirit actively working through us day by day.  Moses parted the Red Sea, but David didn’t.  David slew the giant Goliath, but Jeremiah didn’t.  So let go of what you think or others have told you it must look like and simply pray each day for the Spirit of God to come into every part of your life and fill you with Himself.  As you cooperate with the Holy Spirit, your life will present a unique and special witness of the power of God to the world around you.

Live Life for the Spirit’s Purpose

Romans 8:1-2; 5-10.  When I preached this on Sunday, I had this as my third point.  However, I now think it is more natural to be presented second.  Now that we know the Spirit is present and are daily inviting Him to fill our life, we must focus our life on the purpose of God.  In Romans 8 we see that there is a struggle within us between living for our own fleshly purposes and living for God’s spiritual purposes.  Jesus has a particular purpose that He wants us to accomplish by the help of the Holy Spirit.  So we should learn to focus upon it.  Now there will be some purposes that are specific to you and God will reveal them to you as you pray for the Spirit’s help.  However there are several purposes that He has for us all and they are a good foundation for our life in the Spirit.

This passage is pointing out that one of the purposes of the Spirit is to help us to be free from and have power over our flesh and sin.  Too many Christians think that Jesus has forgiven their sins, so it doesn’t matter how they live.  Whatever I do, it is okay because Jesus has covered it all.  But, this is just wrong-headed.  We need to learn to say, “No,” to sin.  Yes, we have been set free from the death that sin brings us, but Jesus also wants us to be free from its present tyranny in our life.  This is a spiritual battle, but it is not only unseen.  There is an outward and visible freedom that comes into the life of the person who has the Spirit of God helping them against sin.  The addict can become free from their addictions by the help of the Spirit of God, and the sinner can walk away from the sin that so easily ensnares him, by the help of the Spirit.  This is a battle that takes place over the course of our life and as the Holy Spirit directs us.  Now this passage not only points out the purpose of being free from the desires of our flesh, but also that our motivation must never give in to the flesh.  Our desire must be to walk in harmony with the Holy Spirit’s purpose and with the Holy Spirit’s help.  This is a daily battle of facing our flesh and its desires, and also listening to the Spirit instead.

Now let’s look at another passage in Galatians 5:19-26.  Here we see that another purpose of the Holy Spirit is to manifest evidence that He is inside of you.  If we do not follow the Spirit then our flesh leads us into being manipulated by the devil.  Paul makes it clear that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the works of the flesh.  He gives an extensive list, but not exhaustive.  The reality of the Holy Spirit within us works to make an inner difference.  But this inner difference will also have a surface expression within our life.  In the past, people have made the mistake of being to judgmental about what those exact changes should be.  But, they have also made the mistake of being to tolerant of things that should not continue in the life of someone following the Spirit.  It would be a tragedy if we had a single rose in the garden of our heart surrounded by weeds galore.  In this case we can use the old gardener joke, “the Garden of Weedin’.”  Our life is partly about weeding out those desires of the flesh and the things they have produced in our outer life.  Over time the fruit of the Spirit not only becomes visible, but also grows.  Just as the works of the flesh are obvious, so are the fruit of the Spirit.  I won’t go through the list, but I want to use several of them to recognize the difficulty of the day we live in.

You notice that Paul ends the list by saying, “against such there is no law.”  In other words, it is universal that you do not see laws in any society that say, “You must not love.”  That said, there are commands and laws that say, “You must not call that thing love.”  Thus societies have a tendency to redefine what they think is love, peace, kindness, etc…  Christians are to love, not as society dictates, but as the Spirit of God dictates.  So the world will tell a parent that they should not teach a child to worship Jesus only.  Rather, the child should be shown all the options and helped to make their own choice.  As nice as this may sound to some, it is a recipe for disaster and no true act of love.  So the parent who loves their child enough to teach them the truth about Jesus and this world, is seen as a child abuser and that is socially frowned upon.  Similarly, it is love that tells someone that God’s Word says their life of sin jeopardizes their future.  Yet, the world today increasingly calls this intolerance, and bigoted hate speech.  So the Christian has a tension of listening to the Spirit of God and producing fruit in their life that the world around them doesn’t always like.

It has been recognized by saints down through the ages that at the end of the day, I must be emptied of me and filled with Jesus.   Not in a way that erases my personality, but rather in a way that removes the works of my fleshly desires.  In order to fill something it must first be emptied.  Or, for those scientifically inclined people among us, when you fill a cup with a liquid, it will displace whatever is in it (including air).  Thus, to receive the wisdom of Christ, we must let go of the wisdom of ourselves, and the wisdom of this world.  To receive the life of Christ, I must first let go of the life I have created without Him.  This emptying and being filled is a daily part of life in the Spirit.  He will not conk you over the head and drag you somewhere.  He is not in our life as a tyrannical dictator, but rather, as a helper who cares about us.  In fact, He loves us.  As John the Baptizer once said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.  May God fill us with this attitude.

Live Life by the Way of the Spirit

Ephesians 6:10-18.  Now that we have a direction or the “what” of where we are headed, let’s talk about the “how.”  The Holy Spirit is not just taking us to a destination, but He travels in a particular way, that is the Way of the Lord.  We need to do life God’s Way as opposed to our way.  In Ephesians 6 Paul speaks about the spiritual warfare that is going on around us and how we need to be ready to participate in it.  If we are going to become more like Jesus then we are going to have to do so with recognition of the influence of the spirit realm.  Our battle is not against people, but those spiritual beings that are blinding and manipulating them.  Yes, the world is a bad place because people have trouble refraining from things that bring sorrow, pain, and suffering.  In this sense it is our fault.  However, we cannot ignore that the Bible makes it clear that these things are made worse by the work of these evil spirits.  They and their deceptions are the real problems.  So how do you fight against spiritual beings?  Of course you do so spiritually.

Paul speaks of putting on the Armor of God, which is: Truth, Righteousness, the Gospel of Peace, Faith, Salvation, the Word of God, and prayers.  We won’t extensively go through each of these.  But Paul takes the time to connect each of these spiritual things to a part of the equipment of a solder.  Thus he is emphasizing the importance of each one of these.  If we look at Truth, we should recognize that it is not only important to live based upon the Truth of God, but also to be a truthful person.  Similarly, we live based upon the righteousness of Christ, but also try to be a person who lives out that righteousness as well.  We are both prepared by the Gospel of Peace and prepared for helping others with it.  We also notice the protection that a soldier has for his brain, is spiritual in nature for the Christian.  In other words, the enemy often attacks our mind, through faith and trusting God’s salvation, we are able to resist and extinguish these attacks.  He ends with the offensive part of this list: that is the Sword of the Spirit (The Word of God) and prayer.  With the word of God we are able to recognize the work of our enemy and neutralize it.  In prayer we intercede with Heaven to overrule the work of these spirit-beings and take time to make sure that we are daily equipped with all that God has given us.

So Christian, take time to stop today and recognize that Jesus has made the Spirit of God available to you  in order to accomplish His purposes in the way that pleases the Father.  May God help us to start each day in prayer, inviting Him to fill us with God’s purposes and in His ways.  This is living by the Spirit.

Living in the Spirit audio

Friday
Mar032017

Growing Spiritually

Ephesians 4:11-16.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 19, 2017.

We have been talking about the purpose that Jesus has for His Church.  It begins with connecting to Him and to His people.  The next purpose comes from the fact that this connection is not intended to be static.  In John 15, when Jesus used the analogy of a vine, he emphasizes that the Father wants each branch to be fruitful.  Thus this second purpose is for God’s people to grow spiritually.  Now this is not just an individual self-help exercise.  Rather, God is working in us in order to help us to grow spiritually as an individual and as a group. 

In our society we see the problem of immaturity everywhere.  It causes problems in our jobs, relationships, homes, politics at every level, and yes, even in our churches.  God’s answer to the reality of immaturity is not that we quit and go down the street, or go home.  Instead, God’s answer is for His people to turn to Him and receive from Him what we need in order to mature.

Now God has some very specific things that He has done in order to help this purpose along.  The first is that He connects us to a group of believers.  The dynamic of learning to love each other fuels this purpose of God.  In Ephesians 4:11-16, the relationship we have with the body of Christ is explained in regards to this purpose of spiritual growth.

Jesus Wants His Followers to Grow

We see the metaphor of growth throughout the Bible.  It points to the changes that happen within us in order to make us more like God Himself.  In Psalm 1 we are told, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but, his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.”  This is God’s vision for each of us.  He wants to make us into a fruitful tree of life to everyone around us.  Sadly we often fall into a minimal intellectual assent to the Faith.  We only accept so much of what God’s Word says and try to ignore the rest.  We can also settle for a minimal association with God’s people.  When God’s word has a minimal impact on our lives it will not result in spiritual growth.  Ask yourself, “Have I settled for having just a little bit of Jesus?  Am I trying to fit a little bit of Jesus into my life?”  The reality is that Jesus is too big to fit into your life.  You must surrender your life to the purposes of Christ, then you will begin to grow spiritually to become like him.

In verse 11 Paul points out that God has raised up certain individuals to serve in differing capacities within the Church, so that we can all grow spiritually.  The top of this list is the apostles and prophets.  It was important for the teachings of Christ and His purposes to be authoritatively recorded.  The truth is that Jesus did not right any books.  He called and authorized certain individuals with the task of passing on His teaching.  More than that, Jesus even told his disciples that he had far more to teach them, but there wasn’t enough time.  Thus He promises that the Holy Spirit will guide them into all truth.  The reality is that Jesus Himself places a stamp of approval, or guarantee, on the authority and teaching of His apostles.    In this sense there are no more apostles and prophets that are establishing Scripture and the foundation of the Faith.  However, apostles were also used mightily to bring the gospel into new areas along with signs and wonders to confirm it.  This aspect still occurs from time to time as God wills.  As for prophets today, they can be used to speak into our lives by God, but not add new teaching to the Faith that was once and for all delivered unto the saints in the first century.  Paul also mentions evangelists, who typically travel from city to city preaching the gospel.  Lastly he lists pastors and teachers.  It appears that he is putting these together, perhaps as two sides of the same coin.  The term “pastor” is a shepherd term that points to the caring and nurturing they do.  “Teacher” points to the transfer of information that they perform.  Teachers teach the Word of God to His people, not because they can’t read it for themselves, but because it helps us to grow.  The purpose of all of these individuals is not to rule over God’s people, or to control His Church.  They are not given by Jesus to dominate the other believers, but rather to help us.  Some people have been hurt by the domineering tactics of some who call themselves apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  Yet, we must also recognize the danger of casting off any help in this area.  Without the guarantee of the foundational teaching of the Apostles in the first century, we are intellectually standing on quicksand.

Now in verse 12, Paul explains further why Christ gave these to the Church.  So far I have summed it up under the need for spiritual growth.  Let’s explore further.  The first purpose is for the equipping of the saints.  The King James Version says for the perfecting of the saints.  Equipping is a better translation today, because “perfecting” gives the sense of being done.    To be fully equipped is always done in order to accomplish something.  When you are done gathering all your camping equipment, you haven’t actually camped yet.  You still have to drive to your destination and set up all your equipment.  Equipping is always for a purpose.  Another example is how an Emergency Room is equipped with all manner of tools and medicines.  This is for the purpose of saving a life that is brought into the room.  Similarly God uses these verse 11 roles to equip us.  This leads to the question, “What am I being equipped for?”

Paul next lists several reasons why we are being equipped.  God wants us to be able to do “works of service.”  God has particular works of service that He has for you to do.  Some of that service is towards other believers.  You are to use your gifts out of love in order to help other believers.  However, we are also called to do works of service towards those who are not believers.  Thus I am serving God by going out and serving His people, and those who are still lost.  So what do you need in order to do these things?  First, you need to know what God has already said in His Word.  You also need encouragement and direction in learning to pray and hear from God ourselves.  Ask Jesus each day, “Lord, help me to know the works of service that you want me to do today.”

Next Paul mentions we are equipped for the unity of the faith and the knowledge of Jesus.  Part of spiritual growth is that we are unified as a group of people.  Individual growth is never complete until it enables us to grow in relationship with others.  Today, the concept of unity is held up as essential.  But notice that God is not promoting unity just for unity’s sake.  He actually says unity of the faith.  “The faith” is the teachings that God has revealed through Jesus and His apostles.  Thus, when people talk about finding common ground so that we can unify, they generally mean, “What beliefs can we drop so that we can be one?”  God is calling believers to be unified around the teaching of His apostles.  If you sacrifice the teachings of Christ and the knowledge of who He is, then you have not accomplished the purpose of God.  In fact you have actually rejected it.  You may notice that all such groups that hold up unity and love as their overarching principle, and yet do not adhere to a particular set of teachings, fall apart in the end.  Only promoting love and unity is not enough to deal with the sinful nature of mankind.  Whether it is a leader that tries to dominate the group, or the fact that a person is hurt by another’s concept of free love, we must have a truth that we are committed to that has power against the flesh and is greater than any person today.  The Word of God is the only thing that has demonstrated the power to stop the sinful desires of our flesh.

The third purpose for being equipped is so that we will not be a spiritual child, but instead a mature body of Christ.  This is where we see how the individual weaves with the group dynamic.  If I am individually taken in by every new heresy that pretends to be truth, then I weaken the group.  We are not able to operate as the body of Christ.  Yes, I need to believe the things Jesus and his apostles taught, and I need to live out the things they taught.  But our group has to grow in living these things together.  Together, we can minister, heal, and save far more than any one of us can do alone.  We need each other, but the lost need the Church to be operating as a mature body of Christ.

In verse 14 we are given another reason why God wants us to grow.  He does not want us to be taken in and deceived by false teaching.  Children are easily taken in and deceived.  We see this with Adam and Eve, who had a child-like innocence in regards to sinful ways.  Not all that masquerades as truth is Truth, and not all that masquerades as Jesus is Jesus.  Think about scams that happen in this world.  They are successful because they play on the immature desire to get something for nothing, or at least, the desire to get an inordinate amount of return on minimal investment.  A mature person is often protected by scams simply because they have grown up in regards to working hard for what you get.  Like a person who has already eaten and therefore is not tempted to eat dessert, the mature person can say, “No, thanks.  I am full.”  We need to be so full of the Truth of Jesus that the lies and deception don’t interest us.  We are not hungry for some new, amazing truth.  We already have the amazing truth of Jesus.

Instead of falling into deceptions, Jesus wants us to speak the truth, but in love.  This has been a problem for the Church.  Typically we have not faltered with having the truth, but we have with sharing it in love.  This too is a sign of maturity.  The mature person does not feel the necessity to control how people respond to the Gospel.  They continue to reach out to people who reject them, and sometimes even persecute them. 

Let me just close with emphasizing verses 15 and 16.  Paul points out that it is our connection to Jesus, the head, is what gives us anything to do and share, both as an individual and as a group.  When we are connected to Jesus, His Truth and spiritual Life will not only mature us, but also enable us to be that fruitful branch that has something to offer others.  May God help us to grow spiritually, by keeping our eyes upon Jesus and taking advantage of those gifts that He has given to help us.

Growing Spiritually audio

Monday
Feb132017

Connecting to the Body of Christ

1 Corinthians 12:12-27.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 12, 2017.

Here at Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Everett, WA, we have summed up the mission that God has for our church in these words: Connect people to the Abundant Life found in Jesus.  Last week we talked about how the starting point is for people to connect to Jesus Christ by putting their trust or faith in his teachings and in his work.  Today, we are going to deal with the reality that those who connect to Jesus will be moved to connect to his body, The Church. 

Of course many people scoff at organizational churches and some of them are Christians.  Let’s recognize up front that this has some justification behind it.  We don’t have time to walk through all of those issues.  But it is important to recognize that the Bible reveals that Jesus is creating a group of followers that can be thought of in macro terms, The Church (at all times and all places), and in the micro (a small, local gathering of some of these believers).  We are all part of the universal, macro Church when we are spiritually born again.  But not all are convinced that micro-gatherings are necessary.  Thus they are content to “believe” in Jesus, and yet never face the issue that Jesus is wanting to connect them to other believers.  Suffice it to say, if we are connecting to Jesus then we have no choice of whether or not we are going to connect to his body because this is what his Spirit is trying to accomplish.  If you have put your faith in Jesus, he is working by His Spirit to connect you to his people in some local expression of his greater body.  Let’s look at the passage before us.

Believers all belong to the Body of Christ

In this passage Paul is explaining to the Corinthians why their worldly thinking in the area of spiritual gifts (and many other areas for that matter) was woefully lacking.  They had developed a very fractured and divisive group of believers in Corinth.  Paul explains that there is only one body, and yet many members.  Here he brings up the analogy of a human body.  Jesus, who was no longer here in the flesh, still has an earthly body, and that is His Church.  Thus each believer represents a diversity of gifts and functioning through which the Holy Spirit fits us together in order to operate as Christ’s body.  Now, Paul’s focus is on the individual members.  Even though they are very different, they are still part of one body, just as the individual parts of the body are vastly different and yet all work together for the one body.  Though he doesn’t state this here, in Ephesians 4:11-16 Paul explains that Jesus himself is the head of this body.  Just as the brain sends signals to very different aspects of the body to do very different things, it is all for the singular good of the whole body.  The Corinthians understood the diversity, but not that each part is supposed to be directed by the Spirit for the unified good of the whole.  Ephesians 4 makes it even clearer that we who are connected to Jesus by the Spirit, are also supposed to connect to his earthly body through other believers.

Thus all those earthly divisions that divide this world and are used to gain power for certain ones, is not embraced by the Spirit of Christ.  In verse 13 Paul lists 2 of these divisions: race and economic status.  Whether Jew or Gentile, Free or Slave, those who come to Christ are members regardless of what people may say.  You are a member because Jesus says so, and because the Holy Spirit is working to connect you to it.  We who are believers need to be quick to embrace and welcome new believers.  Of course this is easier said than done.  Do you remember how the believers responded to Saul of Tarsus when he repented of persecuting Christians and became one of them?  They were afraid to associate with him at first.

In verses 15-20 Paul points out that our differences are not meant to divide us.  Now he is not talking about doctrinal differences here.  When it comes to the teaching of the Bible and our interpretations, we need to recognize that certain things have always been recognized as essentials to the faith.  You must repent of sin; that is essential.  Another essential is the deity of Jesus Christ, and His coming Day of the Restoration of all things.  I could go on.  But I hope you get the point.  Some “beliefs” are heretical.  They should never be embraced even for the sake of unity.  Why?  Remember we are to unify with other believers of the faith, not those who believe just anything.  A good statement that has been around for several centuries is this: In Essentials Unity, in Non-Essentials Liberty, and in All Things Charity.  Historically we have often divided over non-essentials and generally without much charity.  Paul on the other hand is talking about our spiritual giftedness and our natural background.  Though they may be very diverse, it is not in order to keep us segregated.  The diversity is on purpose and is meant to strengthen the body and better equip it.  So the differences are meant to strengthen our unity, not weaken it.

Notice in verse 15 that Paul gives some examples.  These first examples all involve a member excluding themselves.  In this case, Paul mentions that they may exclude themselves because they aren’t like another member (perhaps a more visible or “distinguished” member).  The Corinthians saw spiritual gifts as a sort of heavenly commendation.  They all wanted to speak in other languages because in their social context that represented the highest gift.  Of course Paul tells them that they are wrong.  In their mentality, speaking in tongues was a sign that you were extremely close to God.  The more unintelligible something was, the closer to God it must be.  Paul explains to them that this is completely backwards.  The whole reason why the Spirit of God draws believers together is so that they can encourage one another.  Thus Paul, who had nothing against speaking in tongues, counseled them to at least have their “tongues” interpreted so that it could help the other believers.  The Corinthians had it backwards.  The gifts of God (both natural and spiritual) are not given to an individual for their own good, but to enable them to help others.  We need to learn to embrace the natural differences that we have with others, and to also embrace the spiritually diverse ways that God works through us.  When you exclude yourself, the rest of the body goes without the function that God has gifted you with.  No we can’t all be an eye or the lips.  It is not about what I want, but about how God is fitting me into the body.  Don’t exclude yourself because you take away from what God has for others, and you lose out on what God wants to give you through those others.

In verse 21 the example switches.  Notice that here the parts are excluding others.  The proud members can exclude the “weaker” members.  Of course this was being interpreted by worldly thinking and not the mind of Christ.  All new Christians are “weak” in the faith because their faith hasn’t weathered the storms of doubts, fears, and persecution that older Christians have.  Thus those who are strong should not exclude the weak, but quite the opposite.  Your strength is not for you, it is for the sake of the weak.  Help them and strengthen them.  Pride has the tendency to exclude others, whereas shame has the tendency to exclude self.  But in Christ, both pride and shame are supposed to be dealt with at the cross.  The cross speaks to our pride and says, “Only Jesus is worthy of our boasting.”  The cross speaks to our shame and says, “This is how greatly and by whom you are loved!”  Thus the proud come away humbled and the shameful come away healed.  On one hand none of us are anything, and yet, on the other hand, we are everything to God.  This great tension is meant to take vastly different people and help them to be welded into a unit called the body of Christ.  However, it is only possible if we are listening to the Spirit and being led by Him.

Do not look to leadership or being a pastor as something great.  These are not the greatest positions within the Church.  These are actually positions of servitude.  True leaders who are lead by the Holy Spirit will realize that He is asking them to lay down their lives in order to serve the rest.  Why are they being served?  They are served so that they can do the work of sharing Jesus with the world around them.  There won’t be any pastors in the eternal state.  We will all stand side by side as the adult children of God and enjoy His presence forever.

Connecting to the Body audio

Tuesday
Feb072017

Connecting to the Source of Life

John 15:1-8.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 5, 2017.

Our mission statement, here at Abundant Life Christian Fellowship, is: Connecting people to the Abundant Life found in Jesus.  This is a brief and succinct way of saying what our Lord has told us to do.  Connections are a big part of what God is trying to do in this world.  Yet, these connections must be more than just a natural thing.  This all starts with making a spiritual connection to the ultimate, spiritual source of life that is found in Jesus.

In our passage today, Jesus uses a picture of a vine and its branches to help us understand the reality of both an outward connection and a inward connection.  It is not enough to just look like you are connected.  A branch can be physically connected to the tree and yet not be drawing life from it.  So it is imperative that we hear the Spirit of God calling us to a living connection.  Calling us with the words, “Come!   Let him who thirsts come.  Whoever desires let him take the water of life freely.”

Jesus is the true vine

Let’s look at verses 1-3 first.  Jesus describes the metaphor and identifies what each part signifies.  Jesus is the true vine.  His disciples are the branches that are connected to him.  The Father is the gardener who is tending to the branches of the vine in order that it might bear more fruit.  Jesus doesn’t explain how they became branches connected to him.  So let’s flesh that out a bit.

How does one get to be a branch connected to Jesus?  John 3:16 becomes a good starting point.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son that whoever believes on Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”  Thus the connection begins with belief in Jesus (Faith, Trust).  Do you trust that the work of Jesus on the cross covers your sin?  And, do you trust that following him as your master will lead to eternal life?  If you do then the Spirit of God connects you to Christ by taking up residence within you.  John 1:12-13 also says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become 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.”  Thus when the reality of who Jesus is comes to us, we must receive Him as He is, God’s Son.  Still, our spiritual birth is a spiritual thing, not a natural thing.  No one becomes connected to Jesus because they were born in a particular family or of a particular race.  We must individually believe in Him.  Lastly Romans 11 tells us that God grafts us into the olive tree, which is Jesus, so that we can partake in the life of the tree and its roots.  So we have a part in receiving the Truth that God gives us about Jesus and believing Him enough to follow Him.  God does the spiritual part of connecting us spiritually to Jesus.

Notice that Jesus calls himself the “true” vine.  He doesn’t say anything more about that in the rest of the passage, and so we might miss its significance.  If there is a true vine then it implies that there has been a false vine or many false vines.  The presence of a false vine had been promising life, but had actually delivered spiritual death to the religious leaders of Israel.  They had been tempted to connect to something other than the One, True God.  Of course, on the surface it looked like they were.  But that was only a superficial connection.  Their true spiritual connection was to the ways of the world, to the devil himself.  This is our human predicament.  We tend to connect to all manner of things that we hope will bring us life, but they never satisfy.  Jesus is the true vine that will actually deliver on the life that it promises.  He is not a pretender.

In verse 2 we are told that the Father prunes the branches because He wants them to be fruitful.  So what is this fruit that God desires?  Just as Jesus is a life giving vine, so God wants us to be life giving branches.  The fruit represents that which gives life.  Galatians 5 tells us that the fruit of the Spirit of God in our life is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.  But it also says that the fruit of my own flesh and connection with this world is: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  Then Paul says, “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  So there is a certain amount of cutting that happens in the life of a follower of Jesus who is spiritually connected to Him.  They will be pruned so that they can be more fruitful.  Pruning always starts with cutting off the dead stuff.  It stresses the tree and robs it of strength to grow more fruit.  Pruning also cuts off perfectly good twigs.  This is done because sunlight and oxygen have trouble hitting all parts of the tree.  We can complain with things that God removes from our life, but He does so for our own good; that we might be a fruitful branch.

A Connection to Him gives Life

Verses 4-8 give us a better picture of what it means to draw life from Jesus and it begins with a command.  It is not enough to connect to Jesus for a moment or temporarily.  We must abide in Him.  That word is also translated as “remain,” or “dwell.”  Jesus needs to become the source that we are hoping to draw life from.  And, in those times when we are tempted to find another source, we must resist the urge to move.  It doesn’t work to “try” Jesus for a week, a month, a year, or decade.  We must remain in Him and keep drawing into ourselves the life that He is supplying.  So the temptation comes from our flesh and the world around us to disconnect from Jesus and to connect to the so-called life of this world.  But in the end it only leads to death.  This is what Adam and Eve faced.  They were living in connection to God.  It wasn’t just superficial.  He was their very life.  But one day the devil comes as the serpent and tempts them to connect to something else.  You can’t have both.  To connect with the wisdom of the devil is to automatically disconnect from the wisdom of God.  And thus, death entered the world.

In verse 5 Jesus makes it clear that producing any real fruit is impossible without Him.  Some people’s lives look very fruitful because they are making money and living the high life.  But, that is not good fruit that gives life.  You can accomplish all manner of things without Jesus, but none of them will satisfy your soul and give you a life that is so powerful that it is eternal.  Fruitfulness that is recognized by God is only accomplished by following Jesus and nothing else.

In verses 6 and 7 we are reminded again that the connection must be a living connection.  There must be life flowing from Jesus to us.  Now this part of the passage can be seen as each branch being an individual person.  From time to time God cuts off those who have remained in His Church but are only pretending a connection to Him.  They refuse to draw life from Him by trusting the way of Jesus.  However, it is also true that God goes through our life from time to time and asks us to surrender particular areas of growth that may not be bad in and of themselves.  But, they must be removed if we are to be fruitful.  So Jesus points to His Word remaining in us as a further description of Him living in us.  When we hear the Word of God it is speaking to us about what should be cut off and what should be encouraged to grow.  The Holy Spirit also convicts us in our hearts to surrender in trust to the words of Jesus.  In these moments we either draw life from Christ or we harden our heart towards his life.  The enemy of our souls seeks to make us question God’s Word and quit trusting, believing it.  This is what he did with Adam and Eve.  “Did God really say…”  Always, he seeks to break that living connection that we have with the Spirit of God.

Lastly in verses 7-8 Jesus speaks to the area of prayer.  He points out that our prayers are affected by this connection.  The disciples were often amazed at the power of Jesus’ prayers.  For our prayers to be answered we must have a living connection with God.  That living connection is maintained by hearing and putting our trust in it.  Yes, it is important to obey God’s word, but we must do more than that.  We must obey out of a trust in God himself and all that He says.  Now some people try to take this passage to mean that you can have anything you want if you are connected to Jesus.  But, don’t forget that a living connection to Jesus will change what your heart desires.  At least it will cause the things of God to rise to the top.  When you are trusting in Jesus you aren’t praying from the desires of your flesh.  Instead you are praying from a heart and life that has learned the wisdom of God’s pruning.  Even in our prayer life, God is trying to teach us how to prune our own prayers.  Do you want your prayers to be fruitful?  Then learn to pray in accordance with the Spirit of God, rather than the lusts of your flesh.  Our lives can bring glory to God when we trust Him and prayerfully ask His help in this life.

I pray that you have made that connection to Jesus.  But if you haven’t don’t let another day go by without letting go of the false vine of this world and the false life that it promises.  Take hold of eternal life today by putting your faith in Jesus.  Then start drawing life from Him immediately by entering into a trusting relationship with Him.

Connecting audio