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Entries in Peace (18)

Tuesday
Jul172018

Seeking the Things that are Above II

Colossians 3:12-17.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 15, 2018.

Seeking the things that are above is a phrase that is used to change our perspective on how we live our life.  We can either live with our heart and mind, which is naturally fixated on the earth, leading us, or we can live with our heart and mind, turned towards heaven and the leadership of Christ.  Our flesh will lead us to destruction, but the leadership of Jesus will lead us to eternal life.

Thus, Christians need to be followers of Jesus in deed and not just in word.  To truly follow someone involves watching what direction they choose and making corrections accordingly.  Similarly, to be a disciple of Jesus, we must do more than just show up for His lessons.  We must actually take time to study the lessons that He teaches and then put them into practice in our lives.  In that way we will truly become more like Him over the course of time.

In our passage today, we will see the why, what, and how of doing this.  This passage will not answer every question that you may have.  However, it will encourage you to be a person who is seeking the things that are above rather than a person who is pursuing the things of this world.

Putting on the New Man

In verses 8-10, Paul has introduced the metaphor of taking off our old man, like you would a set of clothing, and then putting on the new man.  In this metaphor the old man represents my life as led by my own fleshly heart and mind.  The new man is Jesus, and by faith Christians are those who are taking off the old way of life and putting on the new way of life that is directed by Jesus.  Now, this is not intended just to be a nice platitude, but a template for our daily transformation.  This is something we must wake up every day and pray, “Lord, show me where I need to put off the old man today, and strengthen me to put on the new that you have for me.”

Thus verse 12 quickly explains why we should give ourselves to such a task.  The first is that we have been chosen by God.  God chose us for the purpose of becoming like Jesus.  He did not choose us just to warm a pew on Sunday mornings.  Also, this choosing was not based upon the fact that we were better than others around us, but simply because we humbled ourselves, and turned from the wisdom of this world and turned towards Jesus, the wisdom of God.  If I refuse to take off the old man and put on the new man, then I am rejecting the purpose for which God chose me.  In fact, I am ultimately rejecting His choice, period.

The second reason he gives for putting on the new man is because we are holy.  We are not holy because we got our act together better than those who are not.  We are holy because when we were chosen by God, He also set us apart for His holy purposes.  Those purposes do include taking the good news about Jesus and His salvation to all people, even to the ends of the earth.  However, we cannot preach salvation if it is not happening in our daily life.  Salvation is more than a legal standing before God.  It is also something that God does in our life every day as we listen to Him and find deliverance from our old man.  The foundation of the Gospel is God’s ability to take the worst of sinners and enable them to become like Jesus, the sinless one.  It is Jesus who purchased us with His blood on the cross, and He did so in order that we would become like Him.  When we are like Him then we can produce deliverance throughout the earth.  However, to use our life for worldly and selfish purposes would be to profane (use a holy thing for common purposes) what God has made holy.

The third reason he points out for putting on the new man is because we are loved by God.  When you have the love of the Creator, then nothing else matters.  It doesn’t matter when the world rejects me because God loves me.  It doesn’t matter if I am lacking in the things of this world.  In Christ I have everything I need.  He is the one who takes care of my needs.  Thus there are two loves that we must choose between.  We can remain in the love of God and pursue His purposes, or we can remain in love with the world and go after the purposes of our own flesh.  We cannot love both because they are diametrically opposed to one another.  I can’t love the ways of the world and the desires of my own flesh, and still love God.  I will go towards one and away from the other.  When we turn towards God in reciprocal love, then He teaches us how to love the world properly.  The proper way to love the world is to lay down your life that they might live, rather than plunging headlong with them into destruction.  May we love God enough that our hearts are changed regarding the world.  Then we will love people enough to call them back from the edge of destruction.

So what does it look like to put on the new man?  In the second part of verse 12 through verse 14, Paul lists many things that show us what this looks like.  He does so not because we need a checklist to accomplish, but because of the deceptions that Christians encountered then and of course also today.  There is one Lord, Jesus, and we are called to one life, putting Him on.  There are no such things as Christians who are at such a high level that it is now okay for them to do things that the Bible tells us are sin.  Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  These are listed to guard against error.

The first thing he tells us to put on is tender mercies, also translated compassionate hearts.  This parallels Micah 6:8 where we are told to love mercy enough to live it out in our daily lives.  Thus Christians are told to choose the tenderness of God over the hardness of the world.

The next word is kindness.  Kindness goes beyond doing the right thing.  It involves going beyond.  Jesus helped people, but more than that he did so in a kind manner.  We see such tenderness in John 4 as He talks with the woman at the well.

Next we are told to put on humility.  Humility is the disposition of the mind in which we do not see ourselves as superior or above others.  Christ is above us all and asks us to position ourselves beneath each other, so that we can serve one another in His name.  Of course, this is exactly what He did when He yielded to the cross.  Though He is God, He embraced the lowest place.  How much more ought we to do so?

Next we are to put on meekness.  This word is often defined as strength under control.  Its emphasis is gentleness and being mild-mannered, not because you lack strength, but because the Spirit of God enables you to control yourself.  A meek person is not pushing themselves and their agenda, but leaving room for others and what Christ is doing through them.

Patience in this passage is having a long fuse with others.  It is easy to be short-tempered and easily aroused to anger.  However, Christ is patient and slow to anger.

We are told to bear with one another.  We would probably call it putting up with one another.  Yes, it is not always easy to put up with YOU, just as it is not always easy to put up with ME!  This has more to do with the personality differences and disagreements we may have.  Christ puts up with our pettiness and slowness to follow Him, and He does so because He loves us.  Our flesh is too quick to write others off and refuse to deal with them.  This is not the heart of God.

Then we are told to forgive one another.  Here we get to the parts where may do each other wrong in one way or another.  The heart of God wants to forgive us for our sins and works towards reconciliation.  Thus, those who follow Jesus must also be a forgiving people.  This is one of the hardest things for our flesh to swallow.  Forgiveness is not saying, “It’s OK.”  Rather, it is saying, “I am not going to hold this against you.  It is now between you and God.”  If a person is repentant and wants reconciliation, then we embrace them as Jesus embraced Peter on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in John 21.

Lastly, Paul tells us, “above all these things put on love.”  One way to view these different virtues is to see them as different facets of what it means to love Christ and to love others.  When you love someone you have a tender heart towards them, are kind to them, and humble around them, etc.  When we live out the love of Christ in our life it perfectly binds us to one another.  Genealogy, blood, race, nationality, and any other thing cannot perfectly bind people to one another, but the love of Christ can.  Such love cannot be commanded or forced by any human being.  But, every one of us is led by the Spirit of Christ to let the love of Christ be expressed in our life.

So how can we live in such an incredible way?  Verse 15 transitions to answering this question.  Putting on Christ is a daunting task and an extremely high bar.  How can God expect us to do it?  Paul points us back to Christ as our hope of accomplishing such a task.

The phrase, “let the peace of Christ rule in your heart,” has two parts to it.  First we must let it.  Those who put their faith in Christ are the recipients of His peace.  This is given to us by the work of the Holy Spirit in our heart.  The picture I would use for this situation is when the disciples were with Jesus in a boat on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:39).  The sea represents our heart and all the emotions, desires, and thoughts that can stir up such an internal tempest that we fear for our lives.  Letting Jesus bring His peace into our hearts involves having Jesus in our “boat” in the first place.  But, more than that, we must call out to Jesus and ask Him to quell our inner storms.  When we call on Jesus, He says the words, “Peace, be still!”  Once Jesus calms those fears, emotions and desires, we then must let it rule in our hearts.  The word “rule” means the peace that Christ has brought to us is now calling the shots about what we will think, desire, and feel.  When you let Jesus lead in your life, you are enabled to have an inner peace that directs you without turbulence and chaos.  Clearly, this is something we must do each day.  Our hearts tend towards chaos, but letting Jesus rule in our hearts brings peace.  You don’t do this by yourself and all in one day.  You simply need to let the peace of Christ take up residence in your heart and let Him be your King.  “What are we working on today, Lord?”

Next, we are told to be thankful.  Learning to be thankful in each moment is a difficult thing.  Without the assurance that Christ is with us, it would be an impossible thing.  Thankfulness begins with contentment.  When we are content with what God has provided in our life and the station of life in which we have found ourselves, it transforms how we approach others.  Thankfulness needs to become the atmosphere of our daily life.  Each morning, rise up and thank God for the day, but not because it is an opportunity to get more.  Do so simply because it is another day to be faithful in those good things that the Lord has given you.  Instead of looking to the hills for something better, ask the Lord how you might care for what He has already given you.  When you are faithful with the “little” that He has given you, then perhaps you will find that those little things are far greater than you imagined.  It seems impossible to be able to choose to be thankful.  It involves getting our eyes off of what you don’t have here on earth, and looking towards what you do have there in heaven.  God, help me to see what I have already.  Lord, help me to want to please you, in order that I might be more like you!

Lastly, we are told to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly.  Notice that we are to “let” it happen.  God is working to put His Word in us and to have it richly bless our inner life.  This definitely involves reading the Bible, and spending some time in studying it yourself and with others.  However, Jesus is also called the Word.  Thus it is both, the commands that He gives us and He Himself.  Like the glory of God coming upon the tabernacle or the temple of Israel, so we should want the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.  We must not only memorize the word of God, but also have the Spirit who spoke it working inside of us that it might be fruitful.  This process of letting the Word of Christ dwell in us richly is expressed in several ways.  We are told to teach and admonish one another, in the ways of Christ.  Also we are to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (alone and with others).  God’s people are intended to be a singing people.  We sing not because our voices are so good, but because we have something worth singing about, Jesus!  Our hearts are full of the grace of God, and He is pleased to hear the sound of our hearts as we sing about it.

Paul ends this passage with a powerful statement.  Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him!  We are representatives of Christ in this world.  How well do I represent Jesus?  To some degree, we all fall short.  However, that is why we are told to bear with one another and forgive each other.  Jesus knows that we will have bumps and scrapes along the way, but He promises to dwell within us and enable us from the inside out.  The path forward is not an easy path, but it is a good one in which God will give us all the resources we need to put on the New Man and become like Jesus.  He will help us to be His spiritual children, amen!

Seeking things II Audio

Wednesday
Apr182018

Joy in the Holy Spirit

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

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

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

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

J- is for Jesus for He has first place,

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

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

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

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

Trouble in Paradise

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

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

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

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

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

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

The True Purpose of the Kingdom of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joy in the Holy Spirit audio

Tuesday
Jan232018

God’s Grace towards the Undeserving

1 Kings 20.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 21, 2018.

There are times in our lives when we need something so badly, and yet we feel like we don’t deserve it.  The world often counters this with the trite saying, “Yes, you do deserve this.”   In fact Christians can also fall into this trap of thinking that we deserve things from God.  The truth is that much of life has nothing to do with whether we deserve it or not, and whether for good or for bad.  Today, our passage highlights the grace of God to help Israel in a time that they and their king do not “deserve it,” and yet He gives it. 

I pray that you are not guilty of the depths of rebellion that King Ahab and Israel were in the passage today.  However, I know how the enemy operates.  He gets into our head and uses our failures, of any size, as fodder for talking us out of trusting God (e.g. “You don’t deserve it.”).  Don’t tell yourself that God no longer cares, regardless of how hopeless the situation or our level of “deserving” something.  Instead trust the God who is not seeking to make you pay, but rather is seeking to help you draw nearer to Him.  In our passage today, God is trying to draw the hearts of the people of Israel and King Ahab.  Ahab is an especially bad model of how to respond to God’s grace.  Yet, if you will turn to Him in faith and repentance then you will find Him already at your side, regardless of what you are facing.

God’s grace is given to Israel

In the previous chapter (1 Kings 19) we saw how God had graciously ended the drought that Israel experienced for 3 years.  We also saw that Ahab and Jezebel had not responded in repentance, but rather in doubling down on their sin of Baal worship.  We would expect this chapter to be full of rebukes from God and disaster.  Instead, chapter 20 is filled with the grace of God, grace that they did not deserve.

In the first 6 verses we see that Ben Hadad, the king of Damascus, has surrounded Ahab’s capital city of Samaria.  He is joined by 32 other kings and their armies.  These are vassal kings who rule over walled cities around Damascus.  As was typical in siege campaigns, Ben Hadad gives Ahab the terms of surrender that he will accept, which are “your silver and gold are mine.  Your loveliest wives and children are mine.”  Now Ben Hadad and the armies that are with him represent a very capable and serious threat.  Ahab knows that he is in a bad situation.  So how does he respond?

Ahab very quickly agrees to the terms of surrender.   Why lose everything when he can purchase the lives of his city with his wealth and family?  We could say that Ahab deserves some commendation because of his willingness to sacrifice his things for those of his people, but that might be overly naïve.  Yet, we should also notice that there is no sense of seeking God or Baal for wisdom on what to do.  Ahab only sees the natural element and thus only seeks natural answers.  It is important to recognize that though our life is filled with the natural, there is more to life than the natural.  There is a whole spiritual side to the things that are happening in our lives and the world around us.  A person who understands this will be a person who seeks God and His direction.  When Ben Hadad receives the quick answer from Ahab, he ups the ante by sending back “new and improved terms of surrender.”  Basically he will send his soldiers into Samaria the next day and take everything that is valuable.  They will be pillaged and the city will be left with nothing, while the most skilled will be carted as slaves.  Ahab balks at this and talks to the elders of the city.  Backed into an impossible corner, they decide to fight (which may have been Ben Hadad’s true purpose).  Again, at the human level we can say that this is commendable.  It is better to die free and fighting than to die enslaved and submitting.  And yet, there is still no thought of seeking God’s help.

In verses 11-14 we have a tense exchange between Ahab and Ben Hadad.  In the middle of it, God sends one of His prophets to Ahab.  There is irony in the fact that Ahab has spent years having the prophets of the Lord hunted down and killed.  Here in his own moment of being hunted, God sends one of His prophets to promise him victory.  There is a lesson to be learned here.  When we abandon the ways of god, we often destroy the very things that God wants to use to bless us.  With our own hands we tear apart the very things that we will need down the road.  Yet, God is still gracious to Ahab even though he doesn’t deserve it.

Ahab quickly pounces on the words of the prophet because he is desperate.  Thus he quizzes the prophet as to how this victory will come about.  The prophet tells Ahab that he is to have the young leaders of the provinces lead the attack (as opposed to his seasoned veterans).  This would not be normal military advice.  But another sign of Ahab’s desperation is the fact that he follows through with the prophet’s instructions.  Throughout Israel’s history God would many times instruct them to do things that didn’t make sense in the natural.  In one battle they were told to put the Levites in the front of the army with musical instruments and praising God.  This is always done in cases when God wants to demonstrate that the battle is not being won by natural means, but by supernatural help from Him.  In life we can get so used to seeing the natural that it becomes the only thing we see.  We can lose sight of God’s supernatural grace all around us every day.  From time to time, God removes those natural barriers so that we can see His grace.  These are always times that are distressing to our natural selves.

In verses 16-22 Israel comes out of Samaria and win a huge victory.  As is common in warfare, soldiers are fickle creatures.  Even though they have superior numbers, the quick success of Israel’s initial attack causes the armies of Ben Hadad to flee.  They all flee back to Damascus with their tails between their legs and being attacked by Israel all the way back.  On the heels of such a great victory, the prophet of the Lord speaks to Ahab again.  Though there is victory, he warns Ahab that Ben Hadad will attack next spring.  It was common for armies to avoid the winter months because cold and mud would hamper the movement of troops and engines of war.  There is a spiritual lesson here for us to remember.  When we stand upon the Word of the Lord and trust His instructions, we can put our spiritual enemy to flight.  The Bible says in James 4:6-7, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  Therefore submit to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  When we stand our ground and continue doing what God has told us to do it puts the devil to flight.  We resist him by trusting God and obeying His word.  Yet, we must realize that even though the devil may flee, he will also regroup and figure out another way to attack us.  Thus victory is no time to get arrogant and cocky.  It is a time to praise God and prepare for future attacks.  We must use the time between spiritual attacks, whether temptations, trials, or doubts, to prepare ourselves for the next wave.  So draw near to God in a relationship of trust and love.  Learn His Word and what He is calling you to do, and be faithful to do it.  Too often we coast in times of ease, and thus set ourselves up for spiritual failure in the future.

In verses 23-28, we see that Ben Hadad returns the next spring (as prophesied).  Only this time his forces take up position near the city of Aphek, which was on a plain across the Jordan.  Several things stick out in this passage.  First, Israel’s army looks like two, little flocks of goats before the Syrians.  In the natural they are in trouble.

Second, we should notice the foolish counsel of the Syrians to Ben Hadad.  They believe they lost because the God of Israel is stronger in the mountains.  If we can only fight them in the plains, then surely our gods will win.  This blasphemy against God (saying untrue things about God) is not well received by God.  He intends to teach everyone a lesson.  You see the God of Israel is not just God of the mountains, but also God of the valleys.  It is one thing for God’s enemies to underestimate Him, but God forbid that His own people should underestimate Him.  In our day and age, it appears that all the earth is turning against God and His Anointed One, Jesus.  We may look like two little flocks of goats before their sheer numbers and power.  However, God is the one who gives the victory.  We must not lose heart, but rather stand in faithfulness to the mission that God has given us.  This chapter goes on to see a great victory given to Israel and prophesied by a prophet of the Lord.  In fact, over 20,000 Syrian soldiers perished when the wall of Aphek collapsed on them.

At the end of such a string of victories that were foretold by the prophets of God, what would you think Ahab would do?  The chapter ends with Ahab still playing up to Ben Hadad, who had been captured.  Ahab makes an alliance with Ben Hadad and sends him back to Damascus.  Ahab does not trust the Lord.  Instead he trusts military alliances, or natural things.  Thus God sends another prophet to rebuke Ahab for his refusal to do what God had decreed: put Ahab to death.

Where is Elijah and Elisha?

This whole chapter begs the question, just where is Elijah and Elisha?  Several possibilities have been conjectured through the years.  Perhaps God has put Elijah on the bench so that he can get his attitude adjusted.  Perhaps God is giving Elijah time to train Elisha before sending him back into the fray.  However, the most likely idea is that God is proving His point to Elijah that He still had 7,000 who hadn’t worshipped Baal.

This chapter emphasizes that God always has others who can serve, and there is a rhyme and reason for why He chooses certain ones to do certain things.  We see at least three different prophets at work in this chapter, and they are all unnamed.  Now God uses each of us differently.  If you are discouraged because you feel like you are the only one and are all alone, then wake up and start leaning on God.  He has others who are working as well.  Everything is not up to you.  We can lose sight of this and forget.  May God help us to learn to listen to Him, to do the work He gives us, and to trust that He can work through others also.  Instead of letting the enemy get inside your head and pillage all that God has given you, choose to stand your ground through repentance, and faithfulness to our Lord, Jesus, alongside other faithful believers.

God's Grace audio

Friday
Oct132017

The Cry of 'No H8'- II

Galatians 5:19-21; Proverbs 26:24-28; 1 Peter 4:7-8.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on October 08, 2017.

Last week we talked about the Christians duty to love their enemies and to reject hatred.  We are called to live our lives by the truth and the love of Jesus.  This is easier said than done when destructive events happen in the life of an individual or a group.  If we were to investigate the roots of those destructive events within the perpetrators, without doubt we would find hatred in all its forms.  Many events are physically destructive: bombings, shootings, kidnappings, etc.  But, hatred may also target a person for political destruction, relational destruction, destroying someone’s business life, or social standing within any group.  These things can be just as devastating in the life of those affected as if someone had tossed a bomb into our life.

Those who suffer at the hands of hate can easily give in to the desire of the heart to hate back and to get even.  Why does Jesus teach that this is wrong, and even further that we must love them?  Well, let’s go under the hood of hatred (so to speak) and walk through some of the biblical reasons why God is dead set against using hatred to accomplish justice.

Hatred is a work of the flesh

In Galatians 5:19-21 we are given a list that is referred to as “the works of the flesh.”  This list is contrasted with the “fruit of the Spirit.”  Hatred is in the first list, which is clearly not exhaustive.  Thus the source of hatred cannot be found in the Spirit of God.  It is found within the sinful nature of us humans.  We are the source.  It is easy to blame everything, but ourselves.  However, God’s Word does not leave that option open to us.

Last week we defined hate as an intense ill-will towards another person or group.  Though this is a motivation of the heart, it always leads to outward actions of some sort, even if it is merely avoidance.  So when a person first embraces the inner advances of hatred, it may seem innocent and justified at the time because we haven’t done anything, yet.  Human courts at this point in time do not hold people accountable for thoughts and feelings.  In fact it would be impossible to do without error at this time.  They are held accountable when the hatred breaks out into an illegal action.  Yet, God has gone on record that he will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ (Romans 2:16).  So we should not sit comfortably just because we “haven’t done anything.”  God calls us to a higher “righteousness” than not doing certain things.  Like a seed, hatred will not remain static.  It is extremely industrious and your flesh will keep pushing you until the wicked fruit of hatred is brought to maturity.

Now, the problem here cannot be solved with a law.  No law, whether from God, or mankind can get rid of all hatred.  We would have to get rid of all people.   Scientists are working on ways to figure out how to read people’s minds and thoughts.  But even if we were able to identify it with our technology, the truth is that all people at one time or another have thoughts or feelings of hatred.  There is much in our inner life that surface in our heart and yet we mentally reject as acceptable and something we want to embrace.  We would have to have a world where everyone is connected to an Artificial Intelligence that can alert the authorities to an outbreak of hatred within a person.  Such a world would be chaos instantly.  God’s Word does not point us back to the Law as a solution for our salvation.  The Law is helpful for helping us to see that we have problems.  But, it is powerless to help us heal or to give salvation.  At the best we can only cut off those actions of hate that rise above the surface.  However, the roots will grow increasingly large under the surface.  Your flesh wants to hate.  It will be drawn to that direction.  But, the Holy Spirit wants to lead you towards loving people in truth.  So the answer is to repent of our sins and turn to the Spirit of God for direction.  It requires saying, “No!” to our flesh and, “Yes!” to the Spirit of God.  Yet, even this is not the foundation of our salvation.  The foundation of our salvation is the fact that Jesus paid the price for our hatred and other sins at the cross.  Those who repent of their self-justified life and put their faith in Jesus have their guilt removed from them.  They are freed to follow the Holy Spirit and become progressively more like Jesus.  Now let’s look at a couple of proverbs to help us pull apart some of the inner workings of hatred.

Hatred deceives everyone

In Proverbs 26:24-28, we are reminded that hatred is deceptive.  When it happens in our heart, we embrace a life of deceiving others.  Because we fear others knowing what is in our heart and mind, we become deceptive in our life with others.  This can be simply for tactical advantage, or it can be because we know it is wrong and we fear others knowing about it.  Thus we are told that hatred masks itself or disguises itself.  We create a false persona towards those we hate, but it is often impossible to separate this false persona from the people we love.  Pretended love, pretended fellowship, pretended concern for truth, justice, and the good of all, are all deceits that make things worse for all.  Yet, it looks loving on the surface.

In verse 24 we are told that the hater “lays up deceit within himself.”  Hate is a growing thing that we can harbor in our heart.  Every day a person can be making more and more deposits of hateful thoughts and emotions.  You cannot harbor these things without deceiving yourself.  You may at first understand that there is something wrong with hating.  But if we allow it to remain and grow we will become hardened to love and become convinced of the “noble causes of justice” that our hatred drives us to pursue.

We are also told that those who plot the harm of others will eventually be caught in their own plots.  Like Haman in the book of Esther, they will be hung on the gallows that they made for someone else.  I know that there are people who are consumed with hate and seem to get away with it all the time.  They have mastered the art of hatred.  However, it will get them in the end.  Don’t let yourself be fooled.  If you pursue a life of ill-will towards another, no matter how justified, you will find yourself standing before a holy God who will be just as stern with you.  Hatred promised you justice, but didn’t tell you that you would also be hung on your own petard.

Hatred stirs up strife and discord

Another proverb about hate versus love is found in chapter 10, verse 12.  The Apostle Peter quotes part of this proverb in 1 Peter 4:7-8.  So we will look at both. Here is the proverb.  “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.”  Proverbs 10:12.  This statement about hate is very straightforward.  It will not leave well enough alone.  It stirs up strife and discord, first within the individual that gives in to it and second among those around us, who are often innocent bystanders.

Why is hatred so discordant?  It is because hatred has the ability to watch people like a hawk, and to watch the situation for any favorable edge to bring about the demise of another.  It seeks any occasion: of fault for accusation, of open ears for gossip, and of imagining the worst motives for others.  It does not remain solely focused on those who initially stirred it up within us.  Like a wounded animal, hate becomes a weapon and way of life that lashes out at anyone who gets too close.  Any person who is willing to listen becomes a sounding board for our inner discourse.  This litany of errors of the other person may have some truths in it, but hate drives us to propagandize such errors into far more than they usually are.  It always consumes us with the worst possible motives of our target.  In this sense hatred truly becomes neurotic.  For every time it is correct in its analysis, there are dozens of errors in our own thinking, and harsh judgments.

In this way hatred is the opposite of a peacemaker.  In the beatitudes Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the Sons of God.”  This will not be true for the person who embraces hate.  Instead of being a source of life and hope in a situation, the person of hate makes it worse and cuts off all hope of making peace.  They have become not like Christ, but more like the devil.  Now the passage in 1 Peter 4 only quotes the love side of this proverb.  He reminds believers that love covers a multitude of sins.  This is not the same as covering up sins.  This is not about avoidance, but about forgiveness.  Love forgives and moves on.  But hatred will never forgive and never moves on.  Peter warns believers that the end of all things is at hand, or near.  In other words, he is reminding them to love because the time of judgment is near.  Hatred makes us blind to our own coming judgment.  We can only see the judgment that we desire on the other person or group.  The judgment of God is coming upon this entire world, and we will want to be on the right side of that judgment.  The ends you were pursuing will not justify the means of hatred that you employed when you stand before Jesus.  Only the person who has trusted His way and followed the Spirit of God, who rejected hate and embraced love, who let the words of life flow through them to be a channel of the life of God, will be justified in that day.  Hatred blinds us to just how ugly our own sin is, and how dangerous a position we are in before God.  We become like the man, whom God forgave a gazillion sins, who then goes out to not forgive another who has sinned against us 100 times.  We undercut the mercy of God by our own lack of mercy.  It is only just that a person who has fed on hatred their whole life, be given hatred at the moment of their own judgment.

Peter also mentions the need for serious prayer.  The prayer is called serious in the sense that it is sober.  The restraint is in reference to our flesh and inner life.  God is not interested in prayer as a movement of your lips and the recitation of particular words.  He wants serious, sober prayers that are honestly wrestling with the inner life in response to the Word of God and the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  If you have been injured and hurt, do not embrace hurt.  Rather, through prayer, lay your petition before God.  Through prayer, calm your tumultuous heart so that you can talk with others about what has been done to you.  Through prayer, reject the tendrils of hate that seductively wrap themselves around your heart and let God’s Spirit replace it with His love.  Ask God to help you to guard your own heart and to love as He loved.  Trust completely in the justice that He has promised all who follow Him, rather than the deceptive promise that hatred gives to us.

No H8!-- II audio