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Weekly Word

Entries in Persecution (7)

Tuesday
Aug212018

Help in the Ministry

Colossians 4:7-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 19, 2018.

Throughout history it is clear that God uses specific individuals to open doors of ministry and accomplish great things for the Kingdom of God.  However, today I hope you will see that even in such cases, no one ministers alone.  God expects us to work together so that the work He intends will be accomplished in our area and beyond.  Each Christian needs to seek the Lord regarding how we can help in ministering the Gospel to this world, whether that involves leading a new work, or coming alongside someone whom God has filled with a vision for reaching the lost.  No matter how small and lacking in talent you may be, God has a place for you in His plan.

Those who delivered his letter

Starting in verse 7, Paul gives a series of explanations to the Colossians regarding different individuals who were helping him.  The first two are those who had delivered this very letter from Paul, who is in Rome under house-arrest, to the Colossians.  Such a journey required a lot more help than it would in today’s world.  The first individual is Tychicus.  He is described as a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord.  Paul saw Tychicus as more than a worker who would help him get things done.  He had a familial relationship with him that was like a brother.  We must never lose sight of this in the work of the Lord.  If we treat it as a business and abuse one another in order to get things done, then we have lost sight of what God has called us to.

The second individual is named Onesimus and he is described as a faithful and beloved brother as well.  Here we are told that Onesimus is “one of you,” which means he is from Colosse.  This is the very same run-away slave of the letter to Philemon.  Apparently Onesimus had run away from his Christian master, Philemon, and ran into Paul.  Onesimus became a Christian through Paul.  But, note that Paul does not describe Onesimus as a “run-away slave” here in this letter.  He is called a brother in the work of the Lord.  In fact, it may be possible that Onesimus had delivered the letter to Philemon at the same time as the letter to the Colossians.

Paul points out that the Colossians will be able to hear what was happening with Paul in Rome in order to comfort their hearts.  When we are unaware of what is happening to others we love, it is very disconcerting.  Thus they would receive comfort by the testimony of Tychicus and Onesimus.  These two help Paul in some very practical ways.  They helped him stay in contact with the churches by carrying letters on ships and over land.  In our modern world of technological wonders we can forget that even our system of communication requires people helping and serving in very practical ways.  Not all service to the kingdom looks super spiritual, but it is needed nonetheless.

Those of the “circumcision”

Starting in verse 10 we have three individuals who are described as being part of “the circumcision.”  Basically it means that they are Jews.  However, the New Testament also describes a group of Jewish Christians who attempted to make Gentile converts to Christ follow the commands of the Law of Moses.  Circumcision became a flag for this view.  It doesn’t seem likely that these three held this view previously, so it is probably simply a way of referring to their Jewish ancestry and not their theological views.

By the way, it has been pointed out in the past that it is curious that there is no mention of Peter being in Rome at all.  Those who teach that Peter was the first bishop of Rome have a time explaining this issue.

The first of this group is Aristarchus, who is also under house-arrest with Paul.  Most of these individuals have come to Paul and are freely helping him.  However, Aristarchus is stuck.  Though he is Jewish, he was a Macedonian from Thessalonica, who had been helping Paul throughout his missionary journeys.  In fact, he was with Paul in Ephesus, when they were arrested for creating a mob.  “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:28).  Thus Aristarchus is a helper who has been with him through thick and thin. 

Next we have Mark the cousin of Barnabas.  If you are not aware, Paul and Mark had some difficult history.  Mark, also called John, had abandoned Paul and Barnabas on one of their missionary journeys.  Later, when they went out again, Paul refused to let John Mark accompany them.  Barnabas disagreed.  This led to them going separate ways.  (See Acts 13-15, esp. Acts 15:36-40).  Several times in his letters, Paul goes out of his way to encourage churches to receive John Mark and not hold his previous failings against him.  So here we see that John Mark had traveled to Rome in order to help Paul, and Paul is very appreciative.  Christians are always going to have their times of strife.  But, we must work in order to make things right and forgive one another.  This is a classic picture of such in the early Church.  By the way, Mark is the one who wrote the Gospel called by his name.

The third Jewish person was a guy named Jesus, or also called Justus.  We know nothing about this Justus, other than that he was Jewish and had gone to Rome to help Paul.  Perhaps he is a friend of John Mark and came with him.  Paul seems to imply that others of “the circumcision” should have been there to help him.  I don’t want to read more into this than is appropriate.  However, Paul may be thinking of at least two things.  First Paul is a Jew and so Jewish Christians naturally should go out of their ways to encourage him.  Second of all, Paul was arrested in Jerusalem under false charges.  Thus the Christians of Jerusalem should also feel an obligation to encourage him.

In all this, Paul praises these three for being a comfort to him.  We all need comforted as we work for the Lord.  No one is so spiritual as not to need comfort, not even our Lord Jesus.  We must allow others to come alongside of us and comfort us.  However, God’s supply of helpers in our life is not a steady stream.  In the letter of 2 Timothy, Paul notes a time of having no one with him.  Ultimately, we must always draw our comfort from the Lord first.

Other helps and greetings

In verse 12 Paul quickly mentions some other helpers who want to greet the Colossians.  Epaphras is a Colossian and a fellow slave of Christ.  Though it is not mentioned here, in the letter to Philemon it is clear that Epaphras was also imprisoned with Paul.  Note that Epaphras is praised for his many prayers for the believers in Colosse, Laodicea, and Hierapolis.  He prayed “fervently” (the word denotes that pain is involved) for them.  Thus just as some help is very practical, so some help is very spiritual, but both are needed and should be commended.

Next Luke the doctor is mentioned.  He is the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.  He was with Paul throughout many of his journeys.  In fact, if you read through the book of Acts, you will notice a change at times in the pronouns that are used.  Sometimes he writes “we” did this and “we” did that.  Then it switches to “he” did this and “he” did that.  Paul calls Luke beloved.  Perhaps Luke had to use his skills as a doctor time and time again to assist Paul in keeping healthy.

Little is said of the last individual Demas, other than that he greets them.  It is believed that this is the same Demas of 2 Timothy 4:10 of whom Paul wrote, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica.”  The ministry of the Gospel is not always easy and there are always those who will start out strong and then fall away from Christ.  We must always keep an eye out and minister to one another so that no one is discouraged.  However, the problem with Demas is rooted in his desire for the things of the world.  He had been trying to plow with Paul while looking back at what he had left behind.  No one can serve two masters for long.

Paul asks the Colossian believers to greet the Laodicean believers.  He also asks them to greet the individual named Nymphas, and the church that met at his house.  House churches were the norm.  Thus there is something particular about Nymphas that causes Paul to mention them, as a means of encouragement.  In fact, any church leader is always in need of encouragement.  Some translations refer to Nymphas as a man and some as a woman.  This is because some older manuscripts use a female construction of this sentence.  Regardless, the point is not the gender, but the need for encouragement.

Final Instructions

Beginning in verse 16, Paul gives some final instructions while closing the letter.  He tells them to share his letters with the churches around them and to read the letter that he wrote to them.  The early church did not have a New Testament.  The letters of the different apostles were being written at the time and typically were only known in the areas where they were sent.  Yet, over time they would be shared beyond their areas and eventually with all the Church.  Here we see the apostle instructing and approving of such.  Even though the letters were to a particular people at a particular time, they have value to any believer who would read them.  In fact it is here that we read that there had been a letter to the Laodiceans that did not survive this process.  It has been lost to the sands of time.

In verse 17 Paul gives a particular person a reminder of the duty of ministry.  The man is Archippus, who is mentioned in the Philemon letter.  There is clearly more to the back story that we are not aware of.  Perhaps Archippus had a calling to ministry upon him and he was either not doing it, or being apprehensive in doing it.  Regardless Paul encourages him in his duty to minister.  Three things about ministry are told to us here.  First, we must take heed or pay attention to the ministry that God has given us.  Ministry doesn’t just happen.  People must pay attention in prayer, in word, and indeed.  We must watch out for others and allow God to speak through us in order to share the Gospel, and mature those who receive it.  Second, ministry is received from the Lord.  It is never “our” ministry except as that which has been delegated to us by the Lord.  It is His ministry that we partner with Him in order to do it.  Christ opens the doors and supplies the work of the Holy Spirit to make it effective.  In ministry we must never get our eyes off of the fact that we do what we do for Christ, not for another person, or for ourselves.  Third, Christ expects us to fulfill it.  We must be diligent and obey the Lord in order to “fulfill” the ministry that He has given us.  We don’t always understand why God sends us to some people and certain places.  However, it is our job to be faithful and fulfill the purpose for which He has sent us, and not the purpose we imagine that He has sent us.

Lastly, Paul tells them to remember his chains.  The chains are real, but are also symbolic of this world’s hatred for Christ and His people.  They should never forget that even though they may not be in chains, there are others who are currently imprisoned for the cause of Christ.  They should never forget that even when people are no longer in chains in their part of the world, the Gospel was brought forth by those who endured such hostility, and it will indeed come round again.

Ministry does not happen without the Lord, but neither does it happen without people saying “yes!” to Him.  If we were to write a letter about the people who are helping with the ministry of Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Everett, WA, or who have ever helped, that would be a long list, and we are a small church.  What would be said of you or me?  May God help us to be faithful to come alongside the ministry that He is calling us to do.  We may not be the leader like Paul was, but we all need each other in order to help the ministry of the Gospel to go to fellow believers and to the lost.

This concludes our time in the letter to the Colossians.

Help in the Ministry Audio

Tuesday
Apr242018

When the Truth is Made Known

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

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

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

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

In this world Christians will be persecuted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a day in which all will be revealed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truth Made Known Audio

Monday
Jan012018

When The Godly Are Discouraged

1 Kings 19:1-8.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 31, 2017.

Here we are on the last day of 2017 facing the New Year.  Some of you may be excited and chomping at the bit, but chances are, there are many who are discouraged from what has happened in the past.  This is a normal experience for all human beings.  However, for believers in Jesus there is an added weight upon their shoulders and that is the call of God upon our lives.  Yes, Jesus said his burden in light and I believe that.  However, we must be honest about discouragement if we are going to overcome it. 

So part of my encouragement today is to remind you that, if you are discouraged, you are in good company.  All the godly men and women from every generation have felt this very same discouragement from time to time.  Now I am not saying that discouragement is a good thing, only that it is a normal thing.  Let’s be honest many times we get even more discouraged because we think that we shouldn’t be discouraged at all.  We can build up an inner cycle of despising ourselves, trying harder, being discouraged again, and despising ourselves. 

Today we will look at a time in the life of Elijah, the powerful prophet of God.  Here we will see that he too was discouraged, and even on the heels of a great success.  May God help us to lay our discouragements before Him and receive the strength and courage that we need to rise up and live for Him.

There is resistance to the move of God

Chapter 19 of 1 Kings opens up in the city of Jezreel.  Take time to remind yourselves of what had just happened up on the top of Mt. Carmel with fire coming down from heaven on Elijah’s sacrifice.  When Elijah enters Jezreel, he clearly believes that God is putting down Baal worship in Israel and lifting up the righteous.  Perhaps he even believes King Ahab, who witnessed the powerful display of Yahweh over the top of the impotence of Baal, will finally repent and start serving Yahweh, the God of Israel.  However, this sense of victory does not last long.  Yes, God is doing something in Israel.  He is on the move, but not everyone likes it.

Just as Elijah had been a strong leader towards serving the One, True God of Israel, so Jezebel is a strong leader for evil and worshipping Baal.  In contrast to these two individuals, King Ahab appears to be a weak leader who is like a deer in the headlights, frozen and not sure what to do.  He hadn’t been strong in worshipping Yahweh in his past, which eventually led to an alliance with Sidon and marriage to the daughter of the king of Sidon.  This opened the door to the worship of Baal.  It starts with building a temple for his wife to worship her god, and then little by little she convinces Ahab that Baal is a greater god.  At some point Ahab follows her lead and promotes Baal worship for all Israel, while hunting down and killing the prophets of the God of Israel.  There are always many different leaders in a nation that are vying for one direction or another.  We do not always have such clear contrast between a godly leader that fully leads in God’s directions versus an evil leader that fully leads in Satan’s direction.  That said, we have similar resistance to what God is trying to do in our country.  Like Jezebel, they are not impressed by the Word of God and the power of God that is displayed in His people.  They will continue to resist and fight against what God is trying to do.  Jezebel knows that this is about more than religion and whose god is stronger.  This is about power over a nation and Elijah is messing with her power over Ahab and the rest of Israel.  In the face of clear proof of just who is God, she becomes extremely brazen and seems not to flinch.  More than likely Jezebel is actually an atheist that uses religion as a cover and a means for power.  Even though Baal failed on Mt. Carmel, she doesn’t care.  She is going to use her position to protect her power.  Thus we see her threaten Elijah’s life.

Many have questioned why Jezebel would send word to Elijah that she was going to kill him within the next 24 hours.  Why not just do it?  Some suggest that she knew that Elijah’s new found popularity would not take his execution lightly.  It could backfire on her.  Perhaps the threat is an attempt to get Elijah to go back into the wilderness, as was his mode of operating so far.  His presence is meddling and will only force the issue.  She knows that if she can get him to leave, then she can start the damage control and spin everything back to her and Baal.  His leaving will also take the confidence out of those who saw the powerful work of Elijah, but don’t really know the God of Israel.  The absence of his strong faith will leave them alone with their weak faith.  This is a possibility and is definitely filled with speculation.  Regardless, Jezebel tells Elijah that she is going to have him killed. 

Now, resistance to what God is doing is not always so drastic.  It can be something as simple as a person being cynical, always putting the motivations of others in the worse possible light, and passive aggressively claiming the problem is all with the other side.  However it appears, resistance to what God is doing is always present in one form or another.  As Christians, it is important that we learn to fight against the very, human nature to be a sheep in the flock following the herd.  Just as shepherd use dogs to herd the sheep, so power players use problems in society to herd the majority towards a particular solution.  Also called the Hegelian dialectic, this tendency to avoid problems by looking for the easy solution, or most accessible solution, is a weakness within the race of humanity.  We must refuse to be a manipulated people by the leaders in our nation (whether liberal or conservative).  This does not mean that we should purposefully embrace “problematic things” in order to thwart the manipulators.  Often, this is part of the manipulation.  Instead of trying to be smarter and “out-fox” our manipulators, we must look to God as the leader from whom we take our cues.

Elijah flees for his life

In verses 3-4, we see that Elijah doesn’t take long to flee Jezreel.  We are told that Elijah flees to Beersheba in the southern border of the Kingdom of Judah.  In fact he leaves his servant in Beersheba and travels a day into the wilderness.  Clearly, Elijah is trying to put as much distance and political opposition in between him and Jezebel.  Here is a link to a map that will help visualize this trek.  Jezreel is in between the Kishon River and the Jordan River, just south of the Sea of Galilee.  Beeersheba is labeled and is around 115 miles from Jezreel (depending on his route).  Later he is going to journey to Mt. Horeb (which is another name for Mt. Sinai).  There is a dispute regarding the location of Mt. Sinai.  Some believe it is in the Sinai Peninsula and others believe it is on the Saudi Arabian Peninsula.  Regardless to which is correct, God will tell Elijah to go to Mt. Horeb/Mt. Sinai, which is another 200 plus miles south of Beersheba either way.

This brings up the question regarding persecution that has been an important one for the godly throughout all of history.  Is it wrong to run from persecution and threats?  We can be quick to say that a truly spiritual person would stand without fear in the face of the wicked.  Yet, the Scriptures reveal an answer that is more complicated than that.  The apostles of Jesus would go from one city to another depending on the resistance and persecution that they received there.  Jesus even told his disciples that if people did not receive them positively, they were to shake the dust off their feet and move on.  We see the Apostle Paul sneaking out of a city at night by being let out of the city wall through a window.  Jesus himself purposefully avoided Jerusalem throughout much of his ministry because it “wasn’t his time, yet.”    All of the apostles followed the example of Jesus.  As long as they believed God wanted them to keep spreading the gospel, they ran from persecution.  But when they knew it was God’s will for them to stand and give witness before the wicked, even to the point of death, they bravely stopped running.  Jesus marched into Jerusalem knowing that he would be arrested and crucified.  Yet, this was God’s plan.  Paul sailed from Asia Minor and walked into Jerusalem knowing that he would be arrested taken to Rome and eventually martyred.  Yet, he knew it was God’s will at that point in time.  The key is to recognize that the agenda is not set by man (whether the wicked or the righteous).  The agenda is set by God.  The question cannot be answered by a church official declaring the truth for all the godly at all times.  The question can only be answered by a believer who has taken the time to seek the face of God and hear from Him what He is asking of them.  When God says run, then run.  When God says stand still and see the deliverance of the Lord, then stand still.  But sometimes He says to stand still and lay down your life for me.  So the right question to ask is this, “Is God telling me to run or stand.”  We don’t see in the text any sense that Elijah has prayed about this.   In fact, when he gets to the wilderness south of Beersheba he cries out to God.

His prayer is in verse 4 and several things stick out.  He has had enough and asks God to take his life.  Yes, he could have died by staying in Jezreel, but clearly he would rather die at the hands of a merciful God than at the hands of wicked Jezebel.  Secondly, he reasons that he is no better than his fathers,  that is a failure.  Just as the fathers of Israel had failed to stop the country falling into Baal worship under wicked leadership, Elijah feels like a failure too.  He went into Jezreel thinking that the tide was turning and Israel would turn back to Yahweh.  But Jezebel’s threat awakened him to the reality that it wasn’t going to happen, at least as long as Ahab and her were on the throne.

On one hand we can see that this is not one of his famous prayers of faith.  In fact, God is going to deny his request.  On the other hand, have you ever felt this way?  “God I want to die because I am such a failure!”  Maybe it wasn’t that drastic.  Maybe it was simply, “I quit because I am such a failure.”  It is not up to us when we die or when we should quit.  In fact it is not up to us whether we are a failure or not.  Elijah feels like a failure because he failed to turn Israel back to Yahweh.  But that is his expectation and definition.  The real question is what is God’s expectation and definition.  Now there are times when we think we have failed because it is difficult and not going in the direction we hope.  However, there are times when we truly have failed.  In either case, God hears our prayer and will not abandon us, even if they are prayers that lack great faith. 

Elijah has fled the situation, but at least he is doing the right thing.  He is fleeing man in order to seek God.  A retreat can be good if we use it to refocus ourselves on God and seek His will.  It can be good if we regroup our thoughts and let God give us the courage to go back into the fray with His directions.  It is not how perfect our prayers our, but whether or not our heart looks to man (others or ourselves) or to God.

God still cares

In verses 5-8 the scene shows us that God cares about Elijah.  He doesn’t treat Elijah like He is a Marine drill sergeant.  Instead, God first sends an angel to minister to Elijah’s physical needs.  Though the passage doesn’t specify that this is an angel (messenger) from heaven, it seems the most logical explanation of what the writer intends.  Twice an angel wakes Elijah up out of a stress-induced sleep and makes him eat bread and drink water.  There is also an emotional side to this care as well.  In times of great stress and discouragement, we tend to isolate ourselves and pull away from others.  However, we still need physical care and touch in those times.  Discouraged people are horrible at taking care of themselves, which adds to their stress.  God sees Elijah’s condition and sends an angel to minister to him.  You are not alone.  God sees your situation.  Here, eat some bread and drink some water.  The angel tells him that he has a long journey ahead of him (apparently to Mt. Horeb/Mt. Sinai).  We don’t have to have a heavenly angel, though a part of us may desire that.  As fellow believers, we need to be listening to God enough that we can hear Him telling us to be such an angel (human messenger in this case) for one another.  We can be so focused on our own problems that we don’t see those in our life that God wants to use us to encourage.  Great encouragement can be found in looking beyond your own problems and seeing the problems of others.  In the end, discouraged people need to know that God still cares for them, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The angel says something very powerful in verse 7.  He says, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.”  Now there is a literal level in which it is true that going 200 miles to Mt. Horeb without food would be too great a journey for anyone.  In fact even the two meals themselves are not enough in the natural.  Yet, the journey to Horeb is also a metaphor for the call of God on Elijah’s life to be a prophet of the Lord in Israel.  When God puts a call on our life, He always calls us to something that is too great for us (alone or in our flesh).  The journey is always too great for us.  Our flesh is always excited about the call of God at the beginning.  Alright God, let’s do this, we say.  But eventually, down the road, our flesh will grow weary and we will be tempted to complain, rebel, or simply give up in to discouragement.  This will happen whether is something small like being a faithful spouse and raising a family, or something as great as being a prophet to a nation, or a political leader. 

The key in this passage is that God has a particular provision for Elijah.  The angel gives Elijah important information, go to Mt. Horeb.  The angel also gives him bread and water.  All of these things are themselves part of the metaphor of the journey.  If we attempt it on our own and with our own natural provisions (information=wisdom and bread/water=strength), we will always find ourselves in such a moment as Elijah does.  In fact, I think even knowing this is the case cannot spare us.  We are just too practiced in leaning on our natural abilities and provisions to do the will of God.  All godly people will experience such moments and generally at multiple times throughout your life.  It is a necessary growing pain in which we learn to let go of dependence on what we can do and to lean into dependence upon what God is doing.  God has made provision for us and we must depend upon it.  That provision comes in the Truth/Information of God’s Word in the Bible.  But, it also comes to us through spiritual bread and water that God supplies.  Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 4:13-14, “Whoever drinks this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.  But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”  The water of Jesus is the Truth about God and what He is doing.  To us it feels like He is slacking or even nonexistent at times.  But, the truth is that God loves us very much and has moved heaven and earth to make it possible for us to be with Him.  Like refreshing water to a thirsty man, this truth sets us free from the manipulations of the world and the manipulations of our own fleshly desires.  Jesus also said a couple of chapters later in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”  Drinking the water of Christ and eating the bread of life is the same thing.  It is a day by day, moment by moment, believing Jesus, trusting him.  When we are discouraged, we are tempted to give up hope and faith.  But, if we will cry out to God, He will give us provision for our journey.  We can do all things…through Christ who strengthens us (spiritually).

I encourage you to let go of the expectations of what you think should or is going to happen.  Simply be faithful to do what God has given you to do.  Be a faithful spouse, not because it is becoming everything you dream.  Be a faithful parent, not because your kids are perfect.  Rather, do it because God has called you to do it and will reward you for your faithfulness.  Trust Him and see what marvels He will do that you had no clue were in His plan.

Godly Discouraged

Monday
Mar062017

Growing Spiritually 2

We apologize that there is no audio for this sermon.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on February 26, 2017.

As we continue our focus on God’s purpose that we should grow spiritually to be like Jesus, it is easy to envision the perfect environment where all bad things are removed and we are protected in an enclosed, even hydroponic, environment.  Wouldn’t this be the best way to ensure spiritual growth?  Of course we know that this is not how God has chosen to do it.  It is easy to chafe against the wisdom of God in this matter, and why He allows difficult things in our life.  The truth is that there are ways in which we can never grow without adversity.  We must also recognize that spiritual growth does not follow a perfect linear increase without hiccups.  However, I believe it would be a mistake to see our spiritual growth as a series of failures and successes.  It is often in our “failures” that we grow the most in Christ.  Thus the believer should learn not to run from difficulties and try to hide their failures.  Instead we can walk in the confidence that, regardless of our mistakes, God will work all things in our life to help us grow spiritually.  So we must learn to trust the Spirit of God who is daily making us new.

The renewal of our inner being is at odds with the outer

In this chapter Paul has been sharing some of the difficulties that he faced as an apostle.  In verses 8-9 we see that though it was difficult, it was not enough to destroy him.  He was continually under the threat of imprisonment and death, but through it all, the life of Jesus was being revealed to those who believed.  Think about the reality of that.  We need to break out of the kind of thinking that believes God will remove all obstacles for those who love Him.  No honest reading of Scripture will ever sustain such an idea.  Faith is always lived out over the top of obstacles, and each of them was allowed by God.  Paul contrasts his inner man with the outer in this passage.  So we will work through focusing on first one and then the other.

The outer being.  In verse 16, Paul doesn’t go into detail because it is not the specifics he is trying to get across.  He suffered persecution that physically weakened him (pain, sufferings, and arrests).  He was also growing older.  Thus when Paul says the outer man is perishing it points to the bodily vigor and strength that is being consumed.  All the saints have had to face the difficulties of a body that increasingly refuses to cooperate.  In the face of such perishing it is easy to be discouraged.  I am always amazed when a 70 year old complains that they can’t do what they used to be able to do.  Yet, I am sure it will be just as frustrating for me when I get there.  Can we just recognize right now that growing old and watching our outer body perish is a major part of God’s spiritual growth in our life?

In verse 17 Paul uses a word that is translated “afflictions.”  His outer body endured all manner of afflictions.  In fact the word is elsewhere translated “tribulations.”  A good picture of this would be a vice that is given a quarter-turn ever 5 seconds.  The pressure continues to build up until we feel like we can’t take it anymore.  Yet, Paul calls them “light” and momentary.  But, we will come back to that later.  The situations never feel light and momentary.  They feel extremely heavy and like they will never end.  I am not scoffing at Paul’s choice of words.  Rather, I want to avoid the mistake of pretending like trials are easy.  When we pretend like trials are easy then we diminish the glory of what lies ahead.  No matter how heavy and long your affliction may be, the glory that is ahead of you is so amazing that it will cause you to not even give the afflictions a second thought.  We see this same dynamic with grace and sin.  If we pretend like sin is no big deal, then we actually end up diminishing the grace of God.  Our sin is so horrendous that it required the God of heaven to come down, become a man, and die a horrific death in order to save us from them.  If we see sin for what it really is, then we can see God’s love for how great it truly is.

In verse 18 Paul notes how easy it is to be focused on and only thinking about what can be seen.  This is the thing that we usually pay attention to.  Our outer being is mainly impacted by the visible.  Of course, through science we have learned that there are unseen things that lie beneath the visible things.  Throughout history we have often made wrong conclusions because we only focused on what we could see.  We had to develop ways to discover and “see” that which was invisible to the naked eye.  This has lead to a better understanding of the physical world in which we live.  Am I trapped in a mindset of only see the visible and how it affects my visible body?  The Word of God calls us to a greater spiritual reality.  We are not mere physical beings.  We have an inner, unseen part that is called our soul and spirit.  This is the part that continues on when our physical bodies can no longer live.  So let’s look at this side.

The Inner Being.  Being ruled by the desires, fears and understanding of our body does not lead to renewal and spiritual growth.  Rather, it leads to death.  The believer recognizes that God offers us life to our inner being (“is renewed day by day.”)  Yes, through the resurrection we will one day receive an eternal physical body.  But this life is not about trying to make that happen.  Our spiritual growth must happen over the top of a perishing outer body.  So, we may take care of our body so that it can last as long as possible, but our real focus is on growing spiritually.  We daily live in a process where God is renewing us day by day.  It may not feel like it on some days.  But, He is working throughout your life to renew your spirit.  To be renewed is to be brought back to the condition you were made to be, or as God intended us to be.  This word “renewed” is used in one other passage- Colossians 3:10.  There it says that we have to “put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.”  Notice that a choice is involved in this.  There is a part that God is doing and you will have to trust Him.  But, there is also a part that we must do by cooperating.  We have received knowledge through Jesus Christ of what God intends us to be.  Thus we cooperate by putting off the desires, fears and understandings of our old, fleshly self, and embrace the truth and love of God.

Next Paul says that the inner man is in a process of achieving an eternal weight of glory.  So let’s go back to those light and momentary afflictions of verse 17.  They are light because they cannot destroy our spirit.  Sure it can crush my body, but not my spirit.  They are momentary because they can’t outlast our spirit.  They can only last as long as our body and then they are over.  Yet, they are working for us an eternal and heavy glory.  So Paul is telling us that our faith and trust in God in the midst of these difficulties will be rewarded in such a way that we will not care about them anymore.  No one who wins the Olympics complains about the hard work they endured to get there because of the heavy glory they have won.  Yet, we are winning a place of glory that is beyond this present world.  It gives us a place in the eternal world that is coming and a place among the great heavenly beings around the throne of God.  We will take our place beside our Lord as His coheirs and as His Bride.  Yes, it is hard to imagine that because we can’t see it right now.  But this is exactly the process that we are going through.  This life is where our faith is tested and proven worthy of an eternal weight of glory.

Lastly in verse 18, Paul teaches us that our spirit keeps its focus on that which is unseen.  Though he doesn’t explain what the “unseen” is, we have many passages that help us understand this.  Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”  We cannot see the final reward of our faith.  However, God does give us little rewards in this life, from time to time, in order to encourage our faith.  But, we must not lose sight of the greater reward that still lies ahead.  We cannot see the judgment and removal of all wickedness from the earth and the heavens, but we will see it one day.  Even though we go to our death bed, yet we shall see it with our own eyes, as the Lord Jesus shouts the shout of resurrection and we are raised up with eternal bodies.  In this life we talk about spiritual maturity.  But the truth is, when a mature believer passes away into the presence of the Lord, they are like a baby who has been brought to term and is ready to be birthed into eternity.

So let’s keep our eyes on Jesus and know that, despite what we see happening in the natural and despite our perishing bodies, God has spiritual growth and renewal for our inner being.