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Weekly Word

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Tuesday
Dec192017

The Results of Spiritual Victory

1 Kings 18:40-46.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 17, 2017.

Last week we saw how God had honored Elijah’s public display of faith by a miraculous fire from heaven coming down upon his sacrifice.  This was all in contrast to the pitiful failure of the prophets of Baal.  Today we will look at the fallout of that momentous event and talk about spiritual victory in our own lives. 

But before we get into that it might help if you familiarize yourself with the geography of this passage.  Click here for an online map from a great website called BibleAtlas.org.  Pay attention that we are in the northern part of Israel west of the Sea of Galilee.  The sacrifice has taken place on Mt. Carmel which is on the left of the map part way down (part of the name has been cut off).  Jezreel is basically in the middle of the map with the Kishon River (thin blue line) flowing from that area past Mt. Carmel and into the Mediterranean Sea (where modern day Haifa sits).

The enemies of God’s work are executed

When we read verse 40 the passage can be shocking to our modern, western sensibilities.  However, I would remind you right up front that we in the West are shocked by things that people in the East are not, and vice versa.  Just because it offends us does not mean it is wrong.  So try and get over the shock that the prophet of God Elijah orders the people to execute all the prophets of Baal and, instead of tossing God’s Word aside, take time to understand what God wants us to understand here.

A big question that often arises from passages such as vs. 40, is that of whether or not Christians are hypocrites when they proclaim peace and yet have such a thing in their “holy book.”    If fact, one of our recent presidents, who also claims to be a Christian, chided Christians about eating shellfish when it is forbidden in the Old Testament.  Others claim that Christians are hypocrites when they promote love for our fellow man because of passages that speak of the death penalty for sexual perversion.  Each of these statements or accusations has a problem in their logic.  They assume that the Bible itself, and more importantly God who is its author, teaches that Christians should obey the Old Testament Laws.  In fact, the Bible teaches the opposite.  You cannot point out one verse and ignore the context of the rest of the Bible and also hold the intellectual high-ground.  If we want to deal with the Bible honestly then we must recognize or determine what God’s purpose was in creating Israel as a nation.  He created then and made a covenant with them in which they promised to obey The Law that God had given them through Moses.  Clearly they did not do such a good job at that, but then we would be casting stones from a glass house.  God’s purpose with Israel and The Law of Moses was not to provide a positive template for all the nations of the world.  The salvation of the world is not found in converting the whole world over to follow the Law of Moses.  The whole purpose of The Law was to shut the mouths of those who claim to be righteous.  Israel had divine laws (i.e. better than the wisest minds of mankind could come up with at the same time period).  Yet, the people of Israel were not divine and there lies the problem.  The Law of Moses failed to save Israel for the same reasons that the Constitution of the United States cannot save us.  Nations are run by people who are weak and condemned by the very laws they claim to follow.

So let’s look back at this situation.  Ahab is completely stunned.  Only moments ago, he held all the power.  He would execute Elijah when this was over with and he would continue to lead Israel into worshipping Baal rather than the God who had created Israel, Yahweh/Jehovah.  Much like a jury nullification of the law, the powerful demonstration of Yahweh’s power nullifies Ahab’s command.  The people and even his soldiers have just seen for themselves the power of God.  Notice that Ahab does not speak until the next chapter.  Even if Ahab would have tried to command for Elijah to be executed, who would have dared to carry it out?  Ahab rolled the dice and they came up “snake eyes,” or “dogs” as the ancient Romans used to say.  The stakes were Ahab’s life against the lives of the prophets of Baal and they lost.

But, Elijah’s command could not come from a truly righteous person could it?  We need to understand that Elijah is not some murderous psychopath who loves killing people.  The Law that God had given Israel (i.e. their constitution) stated that any prophet who led Israel to worship foreign God’s was guilty of a capital crime.  Thus these prophets new they were breaking The Law and committing a capital crime.  However, they could care less because they were under the protection of Israel’s Law-breaking king.  Ahab had been leading Israel in a direction that was illegal and treasonous.  These men have been helping him to commit this treason.  If you want to verify this then read Deuteronomy 13, especially verse 5.  Several times in Deuteronomy 13, 17, and 18 God declares these things a capital crime.  So now that we have exonerated Elijah from the guilt of homicide, we must deal with God.  It was His Law.  Is it barbaric?

Whether or not we agree with such a punishment today, we must agree that this was Israel’s law.  Part of understanding why God commands the death of false prophets is to understand the difference between God’s purpose with Israel and God’s purpose with the Church of Jesus Christ.  Israel was given the task to bring forth the Messiah or Savior for the world.  But, they also modeled to the world the problem with trying to create a perfect society through legislation.  All societies have to have laws to function.  But, even with divine laws it becomes a bloody business filled with hypocrisy.  This is true whether you are looking at the government of Israel or Sidon in the 9th century B.C., or you are looking at the modern governments of The United States of America, Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, et. Al.  In the West we keep telling ourselves that if we just make better laws it will fix everything.  Yet, things keep getting worse and worse (yes, not everything is getting worse, but hear what I am saying).  We have to quit fooling ourselves.  Even divine laws, or laws created by an Artificial Intelligence, will fail to fix mankind because our problem is a spiritual one and is deep in each heart.  The best we can expect from laws is that they will slow down the evil nature of our hearts and give hope for people to see it and seek God’s help.  The only way to change a heart is repentance from our own dead works and turning towards belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  God’s laws of capital punishment on one hand teach us that some sins are worthy of death.  However, the cross teaches us that God does not want to execute us.  He is giving us a choice.  It is appointed unto a person once to live and then the judgment.   Through the Church God is warning the world of a coming judgment or execution.  Yet, He is also giving opportunity for people to make peace with Him by putting their faith in Jesus.  The Church is not about building a perfect kingdom, but rather, it is about calling people to become citizens who are being perfected by God.  Israel focused on a geographical place on earth that required capital punishment to keep it pure, and even that failed.  The Church focuses on the spiritual geography of our own heart.  Definitely Christians should obey the laws of the nation, as long as it doesn’t break God’s commands.  And, we should also work for better laws.  But laws are not our hope.  The return of Jesus our King is the hope that we hold out to the world.  This makes a big difference and makes the Gospel far more potent in light of Israel and The Law.  We await the Kingdom of Heaven to be brought down at the Second Coming of Jesus.  Until then, we do our best to live at peace with even those who disobey God.  Instead of executing those who break God’s command (as God told Israel), Christians speak the truth in love to them, while executing those things within our own heart and mind that would lead us astray from God’s Word.  That is why Christians should be restrained in the amount of laws that they promulgate.

A contrast of character

I spent a lot of time on verse 40 because the contents are important in our day and age.  In the rest of this chapter, we see a sharp contrast between the character of Elijah and that of Ahab.  Elijah is a wise leader and Ahab is a foolish one.  After the execution of the prophets of Baal, Elijah tells Ahab to go eat because of the sound of a great rain.  Now it is clear from the passage that there is no sound of rain at the moment.  What is Elijah talking about?  Elijah is speaking by faith.  Even though there is no outward sign, Elijah is confident that God will keep His word.  God had told him what would happen and we see him acting and speaking upon that.  As I said earlier, Ahab doesn’t speak here.  But his administration has been one, big lack of faith in God’s Word.  Now it is important to guard our heart, mind and our mouth.  We should be careful of our decisions and the way that we speak about things.  Am I trusting in God’s Word or doubting it?  Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  However, speaking by faith is not a matter of wish fulfillment, or only speaking “positive things.”  Christians should not fall into the error that tries to draw good things to us by acting and speaking positively.  Regardless of what you say and do, God is going to do certain things.  God is going to judge all the governments of the world in the future through the Second Coming of Christ.  It will be a great negative thing to those who are not on His side, but a great positive thing to those on the side of Jesus.  Speaking by faith is remembering what God has said and agreeing with it in our speech.  In other words we actually believe that God means what He says, and is not a liar.  May God help us to speak by faith in His word.

Although it is Elijah’s idea, Ahab is a king and can do what he wants.  Notice that King Ahab is feeding his belly while Elijah is praying for the rain to come.  Ahab is a man of the flesh, not because he eats food.  We all eat food and even Elijah ate food.  But something powerful and spiritual has just happened in Israel.  But one man is praying for God’s will and the other is satisfying the will of his stomach.  God’s people can enjoy the physical joys of life within godly boundaries.  However, we must not let our lives be only about them.  Though God has promised rain, Elijah will not rest until it comes.  He goes back up to Mt. Carmel and begins praying for God to fulfill His word.  Then we see a cycle of Elijah praying, and asking his servant to check and see if any rain is coming.  This goes on seven times until the servant notices a small cloud on the horizon of the Mediterranean Sea.  This seven times is intended to highlight that Elijah was not a man who would quit in prayer.  He persevered in prayer until God kept His word.  He waited upon the Lord completely and kept himself watchful through prayer.  We should be the same way concerning the Second Coming of Christ.  We should not be apathetic towards what God has said He will do with a kind of que sera, sera attitude (whatever will be, will be).  Jesus is not coming back for a people who have an intellectual assent that He will do so, but for those who have desired it and have spent their lives praying and watching for it (like Elijah).  When a cloud the size of a man’s hand is seen, then Elijah knows the fulfillment has come.  May God help us also to remain faithful even in the day of small things.  It may not seem like anything big, but God is in it and rejoices to make it happen.

In the end, it is God’s will working with Elijah’s faithfulness that brings rain to the land.  Elijah’s speech and life have been lived by faith in what God had said in the past and what He was personally telling Elijah.  In contrast, it was the unfaithfulness of Ahab and the people of Israel who followed him that led to the drought and famine, both naturally and spiritually.  We must be careful that we do not give up living lives faithful to God and His Word simply because the society around us does not pat us on the back for doing so.  Even in the face of active persecution, the hope of our land depends upon Christians living out lives faithful to Jesus.  We concern ourselves not with just physical rain and dry land, although that is important to people’s livelihood.  We concern ourselves more importantly on spreading the rain of God’s Word into the lives of those who are dry as deserts from years of rejecting or being ignorant of God’s Word.

Lastly we see that God’s power is upon those who are humble.  The power of God comes upon Elijah as the rain comes and he runs ahead of Ahab’s chariot to Jezreel.  Now in our competitive modern minds we would read this as God empowering Elijah to outrun the chariot of Ahab and to be the first to Jezreel.  Now this is no small feat.  Jezreel was about 10-15 miles away.  However, an ancient person reading this would see a servant running ahead of his master.  Elijah is running ahead of Ahab’s chariot, like a servant who is letting people know that the king is coming.  It is as if God is showing Ahab what could be.  God, and His servant Elijah, do not have to be enemies of Ahab.  Elijah was not seeking a crown, though he could have tried to take it after such a powerful display.  Who wouldn’t want a king who could call down fire from heaven?  Instead, Elijah’s run says to Ahab, I will take my place as your servant if you will take your place as God’s servant.  May the Lord help Christians today to have such a humility and empowerment from the Lord.   Instead of seeking to have the highest place, may we be the influence that those who have it need, to become what God wants them to be.

Spiritual Victory audio

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

Friday
Nov242017

The Lord of Life

1 Kings 17:17-24.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on November 19, 2017.

In today’s passage tragedy is going to strike.  As is always the case, when calamity comes, we go from cruising through life to crying out in desperation.  Some use the existence of tragedy as a reason to reject the Creator.  However, the Bible teaches us that the All-Wise God knows what He is doing.  Even in the midst of tragedy He is merciful to mankind and has a plan to bring us to a place where tragedy will never again be able to strike us.  We serve the God who has the power of life and reigns supreme over death.  And, though it is clearly His will that all men should die and then face judgment, it is also His will that the righteous be raised up to eternal life.

God is still in control when tragedy strikes

Last week we saw God’s great mercy to this widow who wasn’t a part of the nation of Israel.  He did not just send her a prophet to feed her physical bread, but also to give her the truth.  Thus as the woman eats the miraculous physical bread, she is also the recipient of a miraculous side seat of the prophet Elijah.  Thus the God that Israel served cared even about a gentile widow who was on the verge of dying.  She had proven herself by sharing her last meal with Elijah and now enjoys the happiness of not having to worry about where the next meal for her son will come from.  While she was in this amazing time of joy, things headed in the right direction, and learning about God, things go sideways.  What is God doing?  She was no different than we are today.  What in the world is God doing today?  Well, we know that He is sending out Christians to speak the truth of God’s love to all people and His forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus.  So, why does it look like everything is falling into Chaos?  It looks that way because men’s hearts are evil and create chaos by their actions and choices.  So why doesn’t God stop it?  He doesn’t stop it because if He did there would be no more chance for salvation for them.  This woman was on the good path and could feel that surely she was now immune from difficulties.  The tragedy catches her by surprise, but not God.

It is here and many other places that we see the fact that tragedy strikes both the wicked and the righteous.  The woman’s son comes down with a sickness that quickly takes his life.  The tragedy of famine was already hitting the evil and good alike.  It doesn’t seem fair that God’s punishment of King Ahab and the people of Israel who were going along with him would also affect righteous people.  But, God always takes care of those who put their trust in Him.  Yes, He could supernaturally cause it to rain on just the crops of the righteous, but in His wisdom He often chooses to let it strike both alike.  The wicked in this situation have no hope.  But the righteous can pray and call out for the help that God has promised He will give.  Jesus warned his disciples not to think that tragedy is sent only to destroy sinners.  In Luke 13 he points out two situations in which people tragically died (some at the hands of a wicked king, and others at the accident of a tower collapsing).  He asks the question, “Do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwell in Jerusalem?”  He then goes on to explain that, “I tell you no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”  We should not look on trying to figure out why it happened, but rather let it be a warning to us that our time could come just as unexpectedly.  Am I ready to meet my Maker?  Many people get no advance warning of their deaths.  They have no time to get ready for it.  We need to always be ready to face the Lord.  Now, when tragedy strikes it feels like there is no hope.  But in Christ there is always hope.  With God all things are possible, even life from the dead.

But the widow is not aware of this yet.  She can only see the despairing unfairness of her situation.  She thinks that she is being punished for some past sin.  It is also clear that Elijah the prophet doesn’t know what God is doing either.  Obviously, God had not told him what would happen.  So Elijah, in verse 20, asks God if He had done this.  But, he seems to be asking more of a “Why” question than anything.  Now the truth is that God is ultimately responsible.  He has either primarily caused it to happen, or He has secondarily allowed it to happen.  Either way, because God is a being with complete jurisdiction and power, He bears responsibility for what happens.  Those who try to blame the evil in the world on God only have a partial case.  Yes, it seems that God is failing in His duty even to allow evil to exist.  However, that is a very different then thinking that God does evil or makes people do evil things.  God is never directly or primarily responsible for evil, people and other created beings are.  Yet, even in the argument that He shouldn’t allow evil to occur, the premise is illogical.  Would we call a world where we didn’t have a true choice, good?  If God forced us to do good things, as He defines it, all the time, would we think it was good?  In His wisdom God has determined the best course and made the best decrees for giving mankind freedom and yet holding them accountable for their choices and actions.  We may disagree, but we cannot say He is the source of evil in the sense that He bears primary responsibility.  So is God sleeping at the wheel and doing a bad job of managing the universe?

As hard as it is for us within this world to see beyond it, God sees all.  When a person is going through a problem, they often become stuck in it.  If God directly causes a tragedy, then it is a rebuke to the wicked in order to humble them.  This “shot across the bow” gives them the mercy of rethinking their path.  Repentance becomes an open door before them regardless of whether or not they walk through it.  Sometimes the tragedy is to simply remove the wicked from the scene.  Their time is finished, much like Belshazzar and the mysterious hand, writing on the wall.  It can also be a test to the righteous, to see if they will still follow Him.  Or, sometimes it is merely to remove them from wicked circumstances.  Isaiah 57:1,2 says, “The righteous man perishes, and no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands.  For the righteous man is taken away from calamity, he enters into peace; they rest in their beds who walk in their uprightness.”  God also sometimes does so in order to display his glorious power through healing and deliverance.  Now all these things, and most likely more, can be the possible purpose when God directly causes tragedy.  In fact, it would seem that he often is doing many of them simultaneously in the lives the many different people affected.

Yet, many tragedies are not primarily caused by God, but rather simply allowed to take place by Him.  Whether it is a person simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or evil people preying on others, God has allowed mankind a certain space of freedom.  He is not instantaneous in His judgments and punishments.  He leaves room for people to repent and be saved from their sin.  Yet, if they do not repent, they will find that room to also be the rope by which they hang themselves.  They will be without excuse.  Though it is a grievous burden at times, we should not complain that God gives us such room.  The only other option would be a stifling dictatorship.  So God allows things to happen for much the same reasons as when He directly causes them to happen.  Ultimately He is giving mankind freedom to sin and yet freedom to choose righteousness.  If I only choose righteousness when God protects me in a safe cocoon, then I am not really choosing righteousness.  I am choosing safety, self-preservation.  But, if I choose righteousness even when suffering at the hands of evil, then I truly have chosen righteousness and such a choice truly is commendable.  God is not a dictator at heart.  He does not wish to control mankind, but to have a free relationship with mankind.  It is the devil, who accuses God at every turn, who is the dictator at heart.

The real question is how will I respond

Notice that God does not answer Elijah’s question about whether He did this or not, or why He might have allowed it to happen.  We should see this aspect also in the story of Job.  It is as if the Bible is telling us that even if we did have an answer it is not what is important in our life.  The problem isn’t that we don’t know what God is doing.  The problem is that we often fall to the temptation to doubt His love for us and go our own way.  This story is about how we respond to tragedy, and not why God allows it.  We don’t need to know, as much as we want it, but only what is next.  If the creator of the universe is good and working all things to our good, then we don’t need to understand His plan; only what we should do next. 

The reaction or next step for many people is bitterness, fear, and pushing God away.  This is the path that the widow starts to go down.  She regrets interacting with Elijah.  No matter how nice the miraculous bread was, it would be like gravel now that her son is dead.  You can almost hear her thinking in her mind, “I knew nothing good would come from letting a prophet stay in the house.”  She suspects that her son’s death is a punishment for a past sin.  If we imagine her life, we see a very difficult series of tragedies.  She lives in a pagan country with rampant immorality and abuse.  Her husband then died and left her poor and with a little child.  Then a famine comes and shuts off any hope she had of foraging and scraping out a living.  Yes, a prophet shows up, but now her child is dead.  Her heart begins to push away Elijah and the God that He represents.  They are to blame.  The isolation to which we retreat will wall us off from the goodness of God.  Of course, we should not blame this woman.  She is just a baby in the things of God.  Thus we should contrast her actions with those of Elijah’s.

Elijah is not a spiritual infant.  Yet, no amount of spiritual maturity can make life easy.  He does not respond in walking away from God and being fearful that God is rejecting him.  Rather, he responds in faith and begins fervently praying for God’s act of divine power to save the boy.  Is this how I respond?  Do we keep looking to God until we get an answer either way?  James uses Elijah as a model for believers in every generation.  He is a righteous man whose faith causes him to pray to God in the time of need.  Such prayers of faith accomplish much.  Let’s hear the verses.  James 5:13-18, “Is anyone among you suffering?  Let him pray.  Is anyone cheerful?  Let him sing psalms.  Is anyone among you sick?  Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.  And, if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.  The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.  And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.”  Though, James points to the prayers concerning the famine, he could have just as easily pointed to these prayers for God to bring the boy back to life.  We can also pray like Elijah did, with faith in God, and fervency.

Yet, this story is not about being able to get a miracle every time something bad happens.  Ultimately it is a reminder that our God has the power of life even in the face of death.  Even if He does not bring someone back from the dead, He still has the purpose of raising us all up from the dead at the Day of Resurrection.  This boy has not been dead for long and thus we could say he is technically resuscitated.  Now, later at the raising of Lazarus from the dead, it had been 4 days.  This is more than resuscitation.  This would involve a clear rejuvenation of tissue.  In either of these cases the boy and Lazarus would go on and live the rest of their lives and come to death’s door for the second time.  However, this time Elijah or Jesus would not show up.  They are only given mortal life.  Why?  God’s plan for all mankind is greater than keeping us from dying or suffering tragedy.  His plan is to overcome the suffering and tragedy that we may face in life, even death.  Phillips Brooks, an 18th century American, Episcopal clergyman once said, “Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger men.  Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks.  Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you will be a miracle.”  God can handle our many questions asking why.  But, recognize that more important than “why” is what will I do now.  Let’s choose to trust God and be a people who pray with the faith and knowledge of just how great our God is.

Lord of Life 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