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Entries in Praise (5)

Monday
Dec112017

Confrontation of a False God-II

1 Kings 18:30-39.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 10, 2017.

Last week we saw how the prophets of Baal, a false god of the Canaanites, were unable to get an answer of fire from the heavens.  Today we will look at Elijah’s turn, but in truth it is the One, True God’s turn to prove who He is.  As the day is well past, Elijah steps forward and starts the process of setting up the sacrifice, so that he can call upon the God of Israel to show Himself to the people watching.

Israel is drawn back to God

Several phrases throughout this passage make it clear that God does not want to “wow” the crowd.  Rather, He desires to draw Israel back to Him.  We see this in Elijah’s initial address for them to “come near” and also in Elijah’s prayer that Israel would understand that God is turning their hearts back to Him.  This is an important theme throughout the Bible.  Sin has separated man from God, but God calls out to mankind to draw near to Him through His sacrifice, Jesus the Christ.  Every time a person turns to the Lord in repentance, or a group of people turn back to Him in revival, it always begins with the grace of God turning our hearts and calling us to Him.  Of course people must respond.  God will not force people to come back to Him.  But it always starts with His grace to make it possible.  This call comes through the prophet of Elijah.  Come near, and see what God will do.  They deserved judgment for abandoning God and worshipping Baal.  But, instead, God is going to give a great demonstration of His power to them, while calling them back to Him.  Elijah is not the only prophet whom God did this through.

This same theme is highlighted by Jesus and His Apostles after Him.  Let us draw near to the throne of God for mercy.  In John 7:37-38 we see, “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  Also, in Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, “Come to Me, all of you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  The Spirit of God is continually calling us to draw near to Him.  He wants to satiate our thirst and give us relief from the burden of our sins.  But do we hear him?  And, better yet, do we respond to Him?  He calls us near so that we can experience the goodness of who He is.

Before Elijah can set up the sacrifice, he has to repair an altar of the Lord that already existed on that site.  It had fallen apart and was in disrepair because of the abandonment of worshipping Him.  The people had grown weary of sacrificing and praying to Yahweh, and so had left off for more popular altars.  Never forget that when we abandon the things of God, their disrepair is a symbol of our lives spiritually.  Think about the abandonment of God’s exclusive institution of marriage for life.  All across this land are the tattered remnants of broken marriages left in the dust, which give us a picture of the hearts that have abandoned it.  We see the same thing with the raising of children.  Broken homes and children raised by single parents and grandparents have become the norm.  The broken kids who come out of dysfunction help us see our hearts.  Of course, we should encourage and help those who step up and care in a situation that is not optimal.    But that does not counter the point I am making.  How about the many churches around the country that are empty and in disrepair?  Sure, some of it is the fault of the churches and those who lead them, but not all of it.  There are many good churches around the country that are preaching the truth of God, but people don’t want to hear it and have abandoned being connected to a church.  The disrepair of such places becomes a prophetic symbol of our hearts and lives.  So Elijah repairs the altar because the altar is the place where an individual or a people gather to meet with God.  How is your altar today?  Is it in disrepair?  I am not talking about a literal altar.  We no longer sacrifice animals as they did in those days.  Our altar is a spiritual thing.  Wherever we draw near to God in prayer becomes our place of altar.  But the altar is about more than prayer.

First it is a place of preparation.  Yes, Elijah repairs the altar.   But then he has to put the wood upon it and then prepare the animal and lay its parts out.  Elijah also adds a strange aspect to this sacrifice.  He has a trench dug around the altar and has water poured out over the sacrifice and filling the trench.  Notice that the altar is not a speedy quick-order place.  It is a place where we spend time preparing ourselves to hear from God.  Don’t be so quick to walk away from the altar when it seems like God isn’t listening.

Of course, the altar is also a place where a sacrifice is made.  The secret is not the animal used, but the heart that prepares it, and the God to whom it is sacrificed.  God had told people to approach Him in that way.  It seems strange to us, but it is highly instructive.  First, it highlighted for them and for us the coming sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, as the Lamb provided by God.  It is also instructive because it always costs us something to approach God.  When our hearts are willing to give to God that which is valuable to us, He sees it from heaven and smiles upon us.  Elijah sacrifices a bull, but it is not the only thing being sacrificed.  The water is very precious on the heels of a 3.5 year drought.  I don’t know if it came from King Ahab’s personal stash, but everyone watching could not help but think of this as a tragic waste.  So what do we sacrifice today?  We no longer sacrifice animals because Jesus is the “once for all” sacrifice for our sins.  We put on the altar of our heart those things that would separate us from God.  Some of those things are sinful.  We should put them on the altar so that God’s fire can burn them out of our lives.  However, some of those things are not sinful in and of themselves.  We still put them on the altar and let them go because we would rather have God than those things.  Some of those things that we put on the altar, that are not sinful, will be given back to us.  We see this with Abraham and the near s sacrifice of Isaac.   When God saw that Abraham would rather have God than the son whom God had promised him for so long, then God told Abraham to stop and gave him a substitute sacrifice.  This is an amazing picture of Christ.  But it also shows that God is not interested in taking things from us.  But rather, He wants our heart to be in right relationship to those good things in our life.  They are not God and they are not our source.  Only God deserves that highest place in our heart.

The altar is also a place of humility.  Elijah publicly risks himself.  Ahab can now put him to death or in prison.  What if this public demonstration fails?  Elijah does not have the ability to bring fire down from heaven.  He hasn’t been practicing in the desert and is now ready.  It took great trust, faith, and humility for Elijah to stand up in the face of a whole nation and declare that the God of Israel is greater than the false god Baal.  The altar is never about our great ability to approach God.  It is about our desperate desire to know God and His great grace to respond to our faithful obedience.

Lastly the altar is a place of prayer.  Once Elijah has everything in place, He calls out upon the Lord.  His prayer is in verses 36-37.  He makes it clear that this is about raising the honor of God and the truth about what has been going on in Israel.  He also makes it clear that this is about God turning the nation’s hearts back to Him again.  Oh that our hearts would be turned towards the Lord in the country, rather than to the world and what we want to do.  There is no shortcut to these things.  There is only a continual going back to the Lord, preparing ourselves in humility and speaking to God about those things in our life.  What is your will Lord?  I trust that You will answer, even when I go long periods of silence.  In fact, when we are waiting for a word from the Lord, it is easy to forget to be faithful to His last set of instructions.  God has told us to live lives that are faithfully following Jesus, not our imaginations of Jesus.  We are to be faithful to Jesus and to share the Gospel with the world around us.  You no longer have to climb up into the heavens to reach Him; He has come down to us in our worst hour.  Instead of running from Him, draw near!

At the end of Elijah’s prayer God responds in great power as fire falls from heaven upon the sacrifice and burns up everything even the water in the trench.  This causes all the people watching to break out in shocked praise of God.  The Lord, He is God!  This phrase is shouted by the people several times.  There was no question on that day just who was God.  It is indeed an amazing time when God demonstrates His great power.  But this demonstration is leading somewhere.  God is about to allow the rains to come back to Israel.  Men love to give credit to everything but the One True God.  In those days they would have accredited it to Baal the storm god, this was precisely his area of strength, water and fire the elements of storms.  Yet it wasn’t Baal who answered by fire that day, and thus the people would know later when the rains begin, that it was Yahweh, not Baal, who had done it.  In our day we would be giving the credit to nature, or to our scientist’s ability to manipulate it.  But, we should remember that God is the God of nature.  As the creator, He is the One who is ultimately in charge.  Nature is following the laws that He put in place from the beginning.  Now we cannot just run out and try to force God to show up in power.  Elijah states clearly that he is following the instructions that God has given him.  So what are our orders?  Though this is a real event that literally happened, there are also spiritual lessons here.  We can use this event as a metaphor for ourselves.  God needs faithful believers who will risk their lives on the altar and publically stand up for Him, whether He promises a powerful sign or not.  When we sacrifice our lives publically before the world and through prayer call upon the God of heaven, the fire from heaven will come down upon us.  This is the Holy Spirit of God.  Instead of destroying us, we are filled with the power to live godly lives and speak powerfully to the world around us.  This is the way that God has determined to turn hearts back to Him.  May we take time to repair the altar in our lives and begin walking with the Lord, rather than telling Him how He should be running things.

Confrontation II audio

Monday
Nov282016

A Thankful Heart

Psalm 100:1-5.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 20, 2016.

After this year’s presidential election we see that there are some who are rejoicing and others who are mourning.  Even Christians are divided on whether the results were good or bad.  I am not going to stand here today and make the case that the election of Donald Trump is a reason for giving thanks.  Rather, I am challenging each of us to understand that for the Christian, our reasons for rejoicing cannot be touched by an election, or the stroke of an executive pen, or the folly of a legislative session, or even the over-reach of a zealous judiciary.  Throughout history the godly have had to learn how to have joy in God’s presence regardless of what the world around them was doing.  So this Thanksgiving let’s have a thankful heart for the right reasons!

Exhorted to give thanks to God

Psalm 100 is addressed as a psalm for thanksgiving (some versions translate it as “praise”).  In fact the word that is translated as thanksgiving is the Modern Hebrew word for saying “thank you,” today.  There is a structural note to make about this psalm.  It is designed to have a 1-2 punch twice.  That is, the psalmist exhorts us to give thanks (verses 1 & 2) and then tells us why (verse 3).  He does this again with verses 4 and 5.  Thus we are going to look at verses 1 and 2 along with verse 4 because they are focused on the exhortation to give thanks to God.

First we are told to “shout joyfully” to the Lord.  This is a good translation, but it is informative to understand that this word is determined by the context.  It can also mean “an urgent cry, or shout for help, or a cry of alarm.”  However the context here is giving thanks to God.  Notice that this is meant to be a passionate response from our heart.  In fact, it is usually the times in our life where we cried out in alarm, and cried for help from God, that we find a reason for the joyful shout of victory.  Thus the psalmist addresses both Israel and “all the earth.”  Yes, the gentiles were separated from God at the time of this psalm.  They were also suffering under the administration of those false gods that they wanted to serve.  Yet, Psalms 96-99 have been underlining the coming reign of Messiah, or the Savior King that God would send.  In fact Psalm 98:3 says, “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”  Of course the psalmist is looking ahead and declaring what the Spirit is revealing, by faith.  Can we shout the joyful shout before the victory has come?  In Christ, believers have the joy of being able to shout a victorious shout before it happens, because God guarantees our victory.  Sometimes we lack passion in our worship and thanksgiving to God because we have never given thought to all that God has done and all that He has promised to do.  We can then become distracted by the things of this earth and live life without a deep-seated joy in Jesus.

Next we are told to “serve the Lord with gladness.”  From this point on the psalmist gives a command along with a description of how we should do it.  We are to serve with a heart of gladness.  Serving can become a very tedious thing, even overbearing at times.  But generally, it becomes so because we lose sight of what our service is accomplishing or bringing us.  When we go through moments of difficulty, our heart is tested.  Some grow weary and quit.  Others continue to work, but it has become a sad tedium to them.  Don’t settle for merely going through the motions.  God wants you to have gladness of heart.  So take time today, and each day, to ask God to give you faith to believe that He is accomplishing a good thing out of our lives and service for Him.  May God help us to believe that He is working all things to our good.

In verse 2 we are told to come before the Lord with singing.  Literally, it is to come before His face.  The picture is not of some ethereal “presence” of the Lord, but actually stepping into the place of His attention.  When we sing we connect with God from a very deep place.  For the person in the midst of turmoil and sadness, singing can be the rebellion of faith against the darkness.  For the person who has seen the victory of the Lord, it can be the dancing heart’s eloquent discourse. 

We see this same idea in verse 4 when it says, “enter.”  It is actually the same word as “come,” but the context of going through gates into a God’s courts give the sense of “enter.”  We should not only be thankful among one another, but we need to take time to enter into the throne room of God by faith and rejoice before Him with the songs of joy on our lips.  Thus verse 4 mentions thanksgiving and praise.  Thanksgiving has to do with a heart that is grateful.  It is one thing to be happy about something good.  It is quite another to go and give thanks to the giver.  Sometimes we can be overly intent on a particular good thing that we want to the expense of the good thing that we already have.  Often relationship with God, and one another, can be sacrificed in the desire for something else.  Pray for God’s wisdom to know when we need to let things go to follow Him and when we need to learn how to be content and rejoice in what we already have.

Praise is similar to thanksgiving.  However, it is more of a recounting of those good things that God has done and the good character that He has displayed.  This outward adoration of God can be in a physical house of worship.  But it must always be from a heart that has spiritually become a place of worship.  In our private moments we can enter into the presence of God at any moment because He is everywhere at all times.  People like Saeed Abedini, who was imprisoned in an Iranian prison for his faith in Jesus, can give testimony to the truth that no prison can keep us from entering into the presence of God and giving Him thanks and praise.

The Reasons Why We Can Be Thankful

Verses 3 and 5 give us the reasons why God is worthy of our thanksgiving.  The first reason is because it is He who has created us.  Of all the pretender gods among the nations, there is only One who is truly God.  The One who brought all that exists into being.  Yes, angels were considered divine in the sense that they dwelt with God and are immortal.  But they are not of the same class as the God who created all things.  Thus, in worshipping fallen angels in various forms, the Gentiles demonstrated the tendency of human beings to look to the creation and worship it rather than the Creator.  This reason could be categorized as a legal reason.  He created us and all that we have.  It is only right that we give Him thanks.  How could we not be thankful to Him or worse give our thanks to something that is created itself?  Within modern thinking, we are attempting to “take control of our own evolution.”  This has given rise to a progressive philosophy that believes we can make ourselves what we want in all areas (socially, physically, and spiritually).  However, just as we did not make ourselves, we will not be able to remake ourselves as well.  Mankind will always impale itself upon the sword of its own sinful nature.  Try as we might, we cannot fix the fallen human condition, only the Creator can.

If He is our Creator then by rights we belong to Him.  Thus the Psalmist says that we are his people.  He also employs a metaphor of a shepherd with his sheep.  We are sheep that belong to the Great Shepherd.  Of course God will not force us to serve Him and praise Him.  He is not raising us up as sheep to be slaughtered and eaten.  The shepherd metaphor is meant to reference a good shepherd who cares for and nurtures the sheep.  He defends them from the wolves that want to eat them.  He leads them to water, food, shelter, and a safe place.  This is our God.

Verse 5 tells us that He is good.  This is not a legal reason.  It is more of a moral argument.  God is good and to reject His claims upon our life in order to go after other things that are not good is foolish.  Not only is God good, but He has a good end in mind for us.  The Bible says that, “He who has begun a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.”  Similarly He is merciful or full of loving kindness.  Each of these is a type of goodness, or a facet of it.  In mercy and compassion God does not give us what we deserve, but instead, offers us kindness and love.  Of course we can receive mercy and not be thankful for it.  This too is folly.

Lastly, His truth or faithfulness endures to all generations.  The things that God has revealed can be depended on by every generation.  Some in the Church have waffled on this point.  The Truth of God is applicable to every culture at all times.  Yes, there are many things that God commanded Israel that are not intended for the other cultures and every generation.  But, with a proper understanding of what God is saying and revealing to the whole earth, we can know what is actually true in our generation.  Though many have cast off God, and any hope in what God can do, we must not do it.  Though many may push to make their own hope by their own hands, we must not do it.  Our hope is in the God who created us.  He is good and merciful to us.  He will be faithful to every generation.  Amen!  Don’t be fooled by the pied pipers of our day.  Give your life over to Jesus and ask Him to cover your sins.  Be a follower of Jesus and join with all the saints in giving up the Joyful Shout!

Thankful Heart audio

Tuesday
Jul052016

The Coming Day of the Lord 2

Isaiah 24:7-16.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 3, 2016.

Tomorrow we will be celebrating The Declaration of Independence by the United States of America.  In that document we appealed to the “Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions.”  Rectitude means the straightness or righteousness of our intentions.  Today, it does not seem that many in our government are concerned about the Supreme Judge of the world.  Our passage today reminds us why it was so important to do so back then and why we should be doing it now.  God is not just potentially the judge of the world, but He has appointed a day in which all the nations of the earth will be brought into judgment before Him, at the end of this age.  Whether in the Church or in our government, we need leaders who have such a fear of God that they feel compelled to make their case before the God of heaven.  We need leaders who will make their case in conformity with the Word of God (straight intentions) rather than in defiance of it.  My cry this morning is for Christians to not fail in their duty to conform their intentions to the straightness of God’s Word.  We must be about our Father’s business because the devastating day of Judgment that we will continue to read about today.

The Joys of the Harvest Will End

In verses 1-6 the prophet lets us in on the vision he has had of God judging the whole earth.  There he referred to the “withering” of the earth.  In verse 7 we see that this withering is a reference to drought conditions that bring an end to the joyful harvests.  The drought will also have an impact on their celebratory drinking of wine.  Of course a global drought would affect all crops, wine was the staple of their celebrations and where their hearts truly lay.  Thus the judgment upon the crops is more of a judgment upon their joyful celebrations.  God will bring them to an end.  He will do so because all of their jubilations are done without regard for Him and His ways.  They only give thought to earthly matters and ignore His warning of judgment.  Thus Isaiah mentions that the new wine fails.  There is not enough grapes that survive the drought in order to make new wine, and in fact the vines themselves are failing as well.  Thus the future of their wine is in jeopardy also.  The “merry-hearted” that are mentioned are the partiers and revelers.  They will groan because the drink is diminished, but also because there is nothing to take joy in; everything is being destroyed on the earth.  All of their labor is coming to nothing and being destroyed.

Thus verse 8 speaks to the festivals of the merry-hearted.  All mirth, noise of jubilations, and anything of the sort will come to an end and cease.  Man was not created to fixate his life on amassing material commodities, while ignoring their Maker.  Rather we were created to enjoy the material things before God while giving Him praise.  Our rejoicing should be in Him more than it is in the material gifts that He provides.

In verse 9 we see that what wine is consumed will be done in bitterness rather than in joy.  Like Naomi complaining that God had dealt bitterly with her, so they will lack anything over which to be joyful.  They may still have stores of wine to drink, but they will bring them no joy.

The City of Confusion is Destroyed

In verse 10 we have this phrase, “the city of confusion.”  It could be a description of any of the capitol cities that God had warned in Isaiah 13-23.  It could be a generic label for all the Cities of Man that are raised up and ignore God.  These will all be brought to destruction.  They have been a place of confusion in that they have rejected the ordinances of God and His proper order.  They have led and taught men to do the same within their streets.  So God will bring them into Judgment and cause them to be confusion.  The word that is translated confusion is the same word that is translated “formless” in Genesis 1:2.  It is as if God will “uncreate” them so to speak.  They will be so destroyed that nothing can live their without a new act of creation by God.  I say this because both Isaiah and the book of Revelation point to a new heavens and a new earth.  It is also possible that Isaiah is also hinting at what Revelation calls “Mystery Babylon.”  There it is the great city that rules over all the kings of the earth.  Thus it is the head city of confusion.  The destruction of Mystery Babylon is part of the emphasis of God’s judgment.

Thus Isaiah sees that the city will be broken and all the doors shut up.  Instead of open doors and partiers in the streets, the city is broken and no one is out and about.  The devastation that the Lord will bring leaves the city unable to function.  The rubble of the destruction both blocks the doors and is probably used as a barricade for protection by the few inhabitants that are left.

Verse 11 points to the cry for wine in the streets.  Sadly the cry is not in repentance towards God and asking for mercy.  The inhabitants of the earth are so fixated on material things that, even when God takes the material away, repentance cannot be found.  This is in contrast to the righteous.  They cry out for God even in the midst of plenty because they know it can all be gone tomorrow.  But the wicked ignore or spite God in plenty or in lack.  We must not let our eyes be blinded and our hearts be hardened by the spirit of this world.  Let the Spirit of god soften it today that we might raise up a righteous cry before God, rather than one of greed and selfishness.  Let us raise up a cry of repentance and desire for Him.

Verse 12 then reminds us that the vision has not happened yet, “When it shall be thus…”  When it does happen there will be little of any good left over.  The imagery of the earth being reaped is thus connected to judgment.  Interestingly in the book of Revelation we are shown two different reapings of the earth.  One harvest is that of the righteous who are pictured as grain gathered into the barn.  Though the grain may be treaded down, it will only break off the hard chaff and what is good will be left behind and spared by God.  The other harvest is that of the wicked.  They are pictured as clusters of grapes that are tossed into the pit and treaded underfoot in judgment.  The grapes will not survive.  Thus their lust for wine becomes a kind of prophecy pointing towards the poetic justice of their end.  They lust for wine so much that God has appointed a day when they will be caught up in the “wine making” process.

A Song of Praise to God is Raised up

In verse 14 there is a shift in the vision.  The “they” that will lift up their voice and sing for the majesty of the Lord does not fit with the city of confusion and the people of the earth who long for wine.  So why are they praising?  Though it is not made explicit, the context demands that they praise Him for bringing Judgment.  Clearly the singers are from all over the earth due to the phrases used of them.  “From the sea” is often connected with the West and refers to the Mediterranean Sea.  “In the dawning light” is connected with the East where the sun rises.  The “coastlands” was a reference to the faraway places that had to be sailed to.  Lastly we have “the ends of the earth.”  All of these phrases emphasize that the singers are not from any one place.  In the midst of those who are to be judged are a group of people that have not cried for wine.  Rather they have praised the God of heaven.

In the vision it is as if the song of praise is replacing the sons of mirth that the earth dwellers have been singing.  As the songs of ignorance are silenced the song of praise is raised up.  This becomes the first sign in the vision that, though the earth be destroyed; it is so that all things may be set back in order.  Just as the sons of God sang at the first creation so the new sons of God will sing at the New Creation.  Thus history comes back full circle upon itself.

Yet, the day of joy that Isaiah glimpses in the future is overshadowed by the judgment that must first happen.  Isaiah is so overwhelmed with the heaviness of the judgment that he cries out that he is ruined.  Thus he sees that for now the treacherous will continue in their treachery.  They will only grow worse until the final judgment.  This is reminiscent of Revelation 22:11,12, “He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.  And behold, I am coming quickly, and my reward is with Me, to give to everyone according to his work.”  The wickedness of this world will have its payday from the Lord.  It will grow worse and worse until the day in which the Lord tramples out the vintage of the grapes of wrath.  Until then, it is our job as followers of Jesus Christ to be His last offer of peace to those who are blinded to the plight of this world.  May God help us to boldly lift up a song of praise to him before all who are around us, so that they might see Him and be saved!

 

Coming Day II Audio

Wednesday
Jul152015

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July 12, 2015--Luke 18:35-43

This sermon was preached by Pastor Nick Hauenstein.  Please click the audio link in order to listen to it.

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