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Weekly Word

Entries in Nations (2)

Monday
Jul032017

The Potter's Wheel

Jeremiah 18:1-11.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 02, 2017.

As we approach Independence Day, we want to be careful to gratefully thank God for its blessings.  However, we want to also recognize the responsibility it brings us.  You see, in times past our forefathers could appeal to God and point to the sins of King George III of Great Britain.  But, once we have been granted independence by God, we are now responsible for what happens in our country.  There is a lesson to be learned here.  We can always look to the proverbial “authority over there” and complain that our life would be better without them, whether it is London, Washington D.C., Olympia, the county seat, or city hall.  Of course we don’t stop there.  On down to bosses and parents, we typically end at ourselves.  Yet, shouldn’t we go one step further?  Part of the problem of governance is that it is difficult to even govern ourselves.  My own life and heart has its own set of predilections, those sins that we are partial towards and have the disfavor of God as much as anyone else.  In fact, we often feel oppressed by the tyranny of those urges and desires of our flesh that lead to trouble.

In some ways I have painted a very dire picture.  However, this is precisely why the grace and mercy of our God is so powerful.  The Gospel is not some kind of mental exercise where we learn that we have always been free and just need to change our mindset.  Rather, it comes to each of us in the midst of our bondage to all the things listed above and says, “Come follow Jesus and receive His freedom.”  He loves us and is working for our good.  But He also works in response to our heart.  As an individual I am responsible for my response to God’s Word.  But as a citizen, I am responsible to be an advocate of God’s Word within this nation.

This passage that we will look at in Jeremiah 18, speaks to this area of God dealing with nations and their people.  May our nation hear God’s Word and change its rejection of Him and His King, Jesus.

The Illustration of the Potter

If pictures are worth a 1,000 words, then movies are worth an innumerable sum.  God tells Jeremiah to go down to the potter’s house and watch him for a while.  The scene, that Jeremiah witnesses, becomes the parable for God’s message to Israel and also to us.   In this parable it is clear that we are to see God in the potter.  The question is asked in verse 6, “Can I not do with you as this potter?”  At the heart of this question is our belief about God (His ability), but also our faith in God (His intentions).  What are God’s intentions and purposes?  A potter has a particular piece in mind when they sit down to the wheel.  They work the clay, regardless of its imperfections, and do everything in order to create that vision.  Even the punching down of the clay and starting over, which could be seen as something bad, is part of the process of working the clay and obtaining the purpose.  This picture is intended to provide hope that even now, when it seems like everything is falling apart, God can reshape us.  We are not alone to the forces of the world.  God is working in our life.  So regarding intention or purpose, God is working to do something good.  But also regarding His being, God is the molder and we are the ones who are molded.

If God is the potter, then we are the clay.  Like Adam who is physically formed from the earth, so there is a higher level on which God shapes and forms us.  Because we are created in God’s image, there are some ways in which we can be seen as “molders.”  Much of our life is spent trying to arrange things the way we want it and then trying to get it to stay that way.  However, we cannot escape the greater reality that we will always have things in which we are not in control, things that shape us and not we them.  Of course in the analogy, clay is inanimate and has no mind.  As humans we can cooperate or not cooperate with God’s purposes in our life.  In fact we should recognize that it is not just believers that are shaped by God.  Even sinners are on God’s potter wheel.  No matter how much we disbelieve in God and flee anything that smacks of Him, we cannot avoid the reality that we are creatures within His creation.  All of creation operating and moving around us, is part of the process by which God shapes us.  The events that happen in our generation, both great and small, and the decisions we make and those others make, all work together to shape what we are becoming.  So ask yourself today, “What am I becoming?”

Now in verses 7-11, God begins to speak to things that need to be learned by His people.    He is the Lord of the nations.  The fate of the nations is in His hands.  So in verses 7-8, He points to a situation in which He has spoken a prophetic Word to a nation that it is going to be torn down.  Yet, the fate can be avoided by the nation’s response to that prophecy.  If they turn from their evil ways, then God will turn from the destruction He had purposed to do.  Similarly in verses 9-10, He points to the reverse situation.  If He has spoken a prophetic Word to a nation that it is to be built up (like Israel had) and that nation responds by turning away from Him and towards evil ways, then God will respond by changing the good purpose that He had towards them.  Now we need to keep in mind that we are talking about nations as a political entity here.  God doesn’t just pick certain nations whimsically and obtusely bless them and curse all the others.  God works in relationship with the nations of the world.  Thus the destinies of nations are never set in stone.  They are always changeable, to the good or to the bad.  Thus we should not be arrogant when we think that God is favorable to our nation, and neither should we despair when we think it is bad.  Putting aside the fact that we can be wrong about which is true, we should always grasp hold of the hope that we are not at the mercy of an uncaring and unjust God. 

Even when God is against a nation, He still cares about the individuals within it.  Individuals should never be confused with the political entities that govern them.  Jesus Christ died to save individual people, not political entities.  In this sense nations cannot “get saved.”  As we recognized last week, people can receive the eternal life of God.  But nations can only be saved in a temporary sense.  The response of each generation affects the next chapter of their future.  Now regarding individuals, Jesus and His apostles made it clear that it all comes down to our faith and trust in God, especially in His Savior, Jesus.  If we put our trust in Jesus and follow Him (regardless of what nation we are in and God’s disposition towards it) then He will perfect our faith and make us to look like Jesus.  He is the master teacher and we are the disciple students.  He shows the way, we follow Him.  I say this to remind us that we cannot do enough good things to get God to work for our good.  We can only trust Him.  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  So it is not about my flaws and failures.  Rather, it is about my faith. 

This is precisely where Satan loves to attack us.  If my life seems to be imploding and falling apart, I am tempted to believe that God hates me and push Him away.  This is not trust in God.  But if I trust God and keep my eyes on Jesus, then I can trust that even these things that are broken down and taken away are just God punching me down into a ball so that He can start shaping again.  It is out of love that He allows these things or even causes some of them to happen.  Negative things do not always equate to God’s wrath or rejection.  So faith is the victory over the temptation and scheme of the evil one.  Put your faith in Jesus today if you are not a believer.  By doing so, you will go from being a vessel that is being shaped for dishonor and into a vessel that is being shaped for honor.

So what about our nation, The United States of America?  It is clear from history that God has both intended and accomplished some good things through our country.  But each generation has to face this issue for themselves.  In some ways we see that one of the greatest missions movements of all time has happened through the efforts of this nation.  The English language has become the second language of most of the world, enabling the Scriptures to be accessible to many.  On top of this is the amazing explosion of translating the Scriptures into the “heart language” of most of the world.  How many individuals have moved to other countries to learn their language and culture so that they could share the Gospel of Jesus?  Clearly God has been working in the past to shape us into a helpful vessel.  Yet, over time we also see evil things that seem to be increasing every day.  How much perversion do we pour out into the word in videos and magazines?  If God is to purpose good for America’s future then we need to change our ways as a nation.  We need to stop walking in pride and arrogance as if we cannot be touched.  We need to quit rejecting God’s Word and forging our own ways.  We must stop embracing false religions and mixing their teachings with those of Christ in order to make God’s Word more palatable.  We need to stop sacrificing our children on the altar of convenience and self-love.  We need to cease seeking ever new ways to try and erase His mark of design upon our body and life.  We will have to reject hatred, murder, all sexual perversions, and especially an overall lack of love towards one another while overflowing in love towards ourselves.  Ultimately we must repent.

So Christian, do not look at the world with the despair of one who says, “Good riddance.”  This is not the image of Christ.  Rather, pick up the mantle of hope for your nation and become an ambassador of God’s Word to the people around you.  We have lost this nation one person at a time, and thus we can only win it back one person at a time.  So, what about America?  Well that is up to us.

Potter's Wheel audio

Tuesday
Sep062016

Society under Siege: Of Nations & Borders

Acts 17:26-28.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on September 4, 2016.  Please note that this is the second part to a previous entry on Racism (August 28, 2016).

Last week we talked about racism, so today we are going to segue into the issue of nations and their borders.  Many have asked this question in one form or another, “Doesn’t Christian unity and the sovereignty of Christ demand that Christians work towards a global government that fixes all the evils of this world?”  Some picture this as a test, in which our passing will bring Christ back to pat us on the back saying, “Good job!”  So is it the job of Christians to build Utopia for Christ?  Within this idea are some who state that nations, borders, and patriotism are somehow racist things and should be abolished.

So what makes something racist anyways?  Typically for something to be racist, it has to be motivated by a sense of superiority.  So let us look at national patriotism.  It can be racist, but it can also not be racist.  It depends on the heart of the person.  If a person’s national patriotism is based on racism, it will become obvious in their treatment of other races.  If our patriotism leads us to attack others unprovoked, or to rejoice in their misfortunes and take advantage of them, then it is very likely racist and at least self-centered.  But, people can simultaneously be patriotic towards their own nation and respect the identity and patriotism of other nations.  So, tongue in cheek, let’s deal with that age old question, “Which person would Jesus deport?”

God created nations and boundaries

In Acts 17 verse 26 Paul was in Athens, Greece.  He reminds the wise men of Athens that there was One God who had made all the separate nations of the earth, from “One Blood.”  His purpose in doing so is to tie the fate of a Jew (him) and them.  His main point is that this One God is working out His will among all the nations, not just one.  Thus we are all in the same boat.  So why are there so many nations?  Where is Paul getting this idea from?  Well, he gets it from Deuteronomy 32:8-9.  Before we go there, let’s remind ourselves of Genesis 10.  Often called the Table of Nations, this is the first place we see nations in the Bible.  It is also important to note that Israel is not in this list simply because they didn’t exist yet.  Genesis moves from the account of the flood, to a list of the nations that developed after it.  It then gives the account of how these nations came about in chapter 11, The Tower of Babel.  It is here that mankind began to rebel against God’s command to multiply and fill the earth.  Instead, Nimrod led the people to build a great city and a great tower that would serve as a gate to the heavens (Babel meant “Gate of God”).  Thus Genesis 11:7 records God saying, “Come, let us go down and there confuse their languages, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”  There was a clear judgment event of which we are not given full details.  “Let us go down there” implies a visitation of sorts.  This is the backdrop to Deuteronomy 32:8-9.  Moses is pointing back to that time when God’s judgment of mankind separated it into different people who could not understand one another.  Basically Moses is explaining to Israel their place among the nations.  At Babel, God had disinherited the nations.  If they wanted to connect with the “gods” of the heavens, then God would separate them through language and boundaries.  Notice in Deuteronomy it is God who sets their boundaries.  Although some versions say that God separated them “according to the number of the children of Israel,” this is not the best reading.  The original was “sons of God.”  Space doesn’t permit going into this deeper.  But the sons of God, were a high class of spiritual beings that were present at the creation of the earth (Job 38:7).  God delegates the nations to these beings and from the list in Genesis 10 we can recognize 70 original nations.  However, Moses tells Israel that they are God’s portion or inheritance.

Let’s put this thread on hold for now.  So it was God who broke mankind up into nations and gave them set boundaries, and their preappointed times (i.e. how long they would last).  According to Romans 13:1-4, God has given each of these nations authority over what goes on within their own borders.  Of course history is littered with examples of how this authority has been abused and exercised for ignoble purposes.  Thus these nations are accountable to God for how they rule themselves and how they interact with other nations.  In that sense each nation is sovereign.  The individuals within each nation are to respect a nation’s authority, whether their own or another.  Thus we see the example of early Christians doing their best to respect the governments of the world.  The only law we see them disobeying is one that tells them to stop telling people about Jesus.  Why?  They do so because this is precisely what Jesus had commanded them to do.  So they respect the nations in so far as those nations operate within their God given authority.

Even Israel, when they were taking over Canaan, was told to respect the boundaries of other nations.  They were not just willy nilly conquering whatever they could like mindless, blood-thirsty savages.  Deuteronomy chapter 2 records several times when God warned Moses that Israel must not mess with other nations on their way to Canaan.  God had not given them those nations.  They were to respect the authority of those nations and purchase anything they wanted to use.  In fact, Israel ended up having to go many miles out of their way out of respect for nations that basically told them not to even set a foot in their territory.

Lastly, we must recognize that God is still sovereign over the affairs of all the nations.  As Paul states in Acts 17:26, the nations have been “preappointed  times” by God.  In His wisdom He has allowed the friction and fighting between nations to change from time to time.  In fact, those original nations that are listed in Genesis 10, no longer exist by God’s decree.  Romans 13 uses the phrase that the power that are (which currently exist) have been appointed by God.  The whole theme of the book of Daniel is that the living need to know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people (Daniel 4:17, 25, 32; 5:21).  This is important because in Daniel 7 there is a vision of the “Son of Man” approaching the Ancient of Days and receiving authority and sovereignty over all the nations.  So where are we with all this nations and borders?

The Nations have rebelled against God

As we saw back in Isaiah 24:2, in previous sermons, the nations of the world have rebelled against God.  In fact they have joined a rebellion of those spiritual beings God had put in charge over them, the sons of God.  So separation into nations was followed by further rebellion and loss of any hope of belonging to God.  Yet, God had not created Israel to be a kind of special “teacher’s pet.”  Rather, through Israel He was launching a plan to take back the nations from the devil and his angels.  The death and resurrection of Jesus is the good news that Christians have for all the nations of the world, even though they have been part of a rebellion against Him.  In fact, even Israel itself was in rebellion to God.  If it were not for Jesus, the plan would not have worked. 

So, does Christian compassion for the lost cancel out nations and borders?  Well in some ways it does, but in other ways it does not.  If we are talking about who can belong to God then nations and borders lose their significance.  People from every tribe, language, and nation on earth will belong to God.  But, that does not mean that Christians are to ignore governments and their laws.

Christian compassion does not cancel out God’s prior judgments

This seems to be the anthem of many.  A true Christian will not respect governments and their borders.  Our Christian compassion must cancel out the nation’s duty to protect its people.  Yet this mentality is not based in Scripture.  The Bible teaches us that God is not taking over the governments of the world through His Church.  Rather, He is calling people from all of these nations to identify with His rule and the Kingdom that He will bring at His second coming.

It is one thing for a Christian individual to participate in government and attempt to bring it into conformity with the righteousness of Jesus.  But the mission of the Church is not to take over governments and rule.  The problem of sin and the flesh stands in the way of any governmental system being perfected.  Even churches run into the problem that no matter how hard we try to run things by God’s Word and by His Spirit, we continually have to deal with sin and flesh cropping up.  Thus a true Christian knows that this is not the time for ruling over the world.  This is the time for ruling over our own sinful nature and bringing it in subjection to the rule of Jesus.  The judgment of all the nations has already been pronounced.  It is our job to save the Rahabs, the Ruths, and the Naaman’s of the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Another confusion that exists is the blindness to the fact that if we exercise compassion to an extreme for one, then it leads to lack of compassion for another.  Thus in an extreme attempt to be compassionate towards all “refugees,” we can lose compassion for our own citizens, or even those refugees who need the most help.  Compassion can become a trite phrase that hold as a banner over all manner of evils.  No matter what system of compassion you set up, others will abuse that system because of sin and their evil desires.  This leads us to the real problem.

We cannot live together without laws, and yet we cannot perfect this world with better or more laws.  Our founding fathers understood this.  That is why they created a small framework of laws (i.e. showing restrain, not enamored with the power of legislation, under which men must be free to live out their lives.  But we live in a day that has been seduced by the power of the State.  We see society as a wonderful Petri dish in which we can perfect our social experiments to create Utopia.  Thus we are headed to great tyranny. 

Is it wrong for nations to have immigration laws?  The Bible says nothing against a nation protecting its borders and in fact does state that a government’s proper duty is to protect its citizens from evil.  Thus having good control of one’s border can be a righteous thing.  Does any nation do this perfectly?  No.  So are Christians justified to rebel against the nation’s immigration laws simply because they think the laws are unjust or unfair?  No.  Fair and just laws are not the litmus test given to us in Scripture for righteous, civil disobedience.  Christians are told to obey the government unless it contradicts a direct command of Christ.  Thus in the name of righteousness and compassion, we can be guilty of rebelling against Christ and becoming children of lawlessness.  Yes, Christ will hold nations accountable for how they treat their own citizens and their neighboring nations, etc.  But, He still leaves room for national and individual freedom within His governance because He is not a tyrant.  Our problem is that we allow ourselves to be seduced by the power tyrant who can “fix everything.”

Lastly, there is confusion between individual responsibility and a government’s responsibility before God.  Yes, nations should be compassionate in their governance.  But compassion for others is a command for individuals, not governments.  We can have compassion for potential immigrants and refugees without rebelling against our country’s laws.  If you don’t like them, then work to get them changed in Congress in the proper way and proper spirit.  We can also advocate for getting supplies and safe havens in their originating countries (or ones nearby).  In all things we need to have a humility that recognizes our greatest need is Jesus, not more power in the hands of a smaller group of people.

Nations Borders Audio