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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

Tuesday
Feb072017

Connecting to the Source of Life

John 15:1-8.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 5, 2017.

Our mission statement, here at Abundant Life Christian Fellowship, is: Connecting people to the Abundant Life found in Jesus.  This is a brief and succinct way of saying what our Lord has told us to do.  Connections are a big part of what God is trying to do in this world.  Yet, these connections must be more than just a natural thing.  This all starts with making a spiritual connection to the ultimate, spiritual source of life that is found in Jesus.

In our passage today, Jesus uses a picture of a vine and its branches to help us understand the reality of both an outward connection and a inward connection.  It is not enough to just look like you are connected.  A branch can be physically connected to the tree and yet not be drawing life from it.  So it is imperative that we hear the Spirit of God calling us to a living connection.  Calling us with the words, “Come!   Let him who thirsts come.  Whoever desires let him take the water of life freely.”

Jesus is the true vine

Let’s look at verses 1-3 first.  Jesus describes the metaphor and identifies what each part signifies.  Jesus is the true vine.  His disciples are the branches that are connected to him.  The Father is the gardener who is tending to the branches of the vine in order that it might bear more fruit.  Jesus doesn’t explain how they became branches connected to him.  So let’s flesh that out a bit.

How does one get to be a branch connected to Jesus?  John 3:16 becomes a good starting point.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son that whoever believes on Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”  Thus the connection begins with belief in Jesus (Faith, Trust).  Do you trust that the work of Jesus on the cross covers your sin?  And, do you trust that following him as your master will lead to eternal life?  If you do then the Spirit of God connects you to Christ by taking up residence within you.  John 1:12-13 also says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”  Thus when the reality of who Jesus is comes to us, we must receive Him as He is, God’s Son.  Still, our spiritual birth is a spiritual thing, not a natural thing.  No one becomes connected to Jesus because they were born in a particular family or of a particular race.  We must individually believe in Him.  Lastly Romans 11 tells us that God grafts us into the olive tree, which is Jesus, so that we can partake in the life of the tree and its roots.  So we have a part in receiving the Truth that God gives us about Jesus and believing Him enough to follow Him.  God does the spiritual part of connecting us spiritually to Jesus.

Notice that Jesus calls himself the “true” vine.  He doesn’t say anything more about that in the rest of the passage, and so we might miss its significance.  If there is a true vine then it implies that there has been a false vine or many false vines.  The presence of a false vine had been promising life, but had actually delivered spiritual death to the religious leaders of Israel.  They had been tempted to connect to something other than the One, True God.  Of course, on the surface it looked like they were.  But that was only a superficial connection.  Their true spiritual connection was to the ways of the world, to the devil himself.  This is our human predicament.  We tend to connect to all manner of things that we hope will bring us life, but they never satisfy.  Jesus is the true vine that will actually deliver on the life that it promises.  He is not a pretender.

In verse 2 we are told that the Father prunes the branches because He wants them to be fruitful.  So what is this fruit that God desires?  Just as Jesus is a life giving vine, so God wants us to be life giving branches.  The fruit represents that which gives life.  Galatians 5 tells us that the fruit of the Spirit of God in our life is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.  But it also says that the fruit of my own flesh and connection with this world is: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  Then Paul says, “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  So there is a certain amount of cutting that happens in the life of a follower of Jesus who is spiritually connected to Him.  They will be pruned so that they can be more fruitful.  Pruning always starts with cutting off the dead stuff.  It stresses the tree and robs it of strength to grow more fruit.  Pruning also cuts off perfectly good twigs.  This is done because sunlight and oxygen have trouble hitting all parts of the tree.  We can complain with things that God removes from our life, but He does so for our own good; that we might be a fruitful branch.

A Connection to Him gives Life

Verses 4-8 give us a better picture of what it means to draw life from Jesus and it begins with a command.  It is not enough to connect to Jesus for a moment or temporarily.  We must abide in Him.  That word is also translated as “remain,” or “dwell.”  Jesus needs to become the source that we are hoping to draw life from.  And, in those times when we are tempted to find another source, we must resist the urge to move.  It doesn’t work to “try” Jesus for a week, a month, a year, or decade.  We must remain in Him and keep drawing into ourselves the life that He is supplying.  So the temptation comes from our flesh and the world around us to disconnect from Jesus and to connect to the so-called life of this world.  But in the end it only leads to death.  This is what Adam and Eve faced.  They were living in connection to God.  It wasn’t just superficial.  He was their very life.  But one day the devil comes as the serpent and tempts them to connect to something else.  You can’t have both.  To connect with the wisdom of the devil is to automatically disconnect from the wisdom of God.  And thus, death entered the world.

In verse 5 Jesus makes it clear that producing any real fruit is impossible without Him.  Some people’s lives look very fruitful because they are making money and living the high life.  But, that is not good fruit that gives life.  You can accomplish all manner of things without Jesus, but none of them will satisfy your soul and give you a life that is so powerful that it is eternal.  Fruitfulness that is recognized by God is only accomplished by following Jesus and nothing else.

In verses 6 and 7 we are reminded again that the connection must be a living connection.  There must be life flowing from Jesus to us.  Now this part of the passage can be seen as each branch being an individual person.  From time to time God cuts off those who have remained in His Church but are only pretending a connection to Him.  They refuse to draw life from Him by trusting the way of Jesus.  However, it is also true that God goes through our life from time to time and asks us to surrender particular areas of growth that may not be bad in and of themselves.  But, they must be removed if we are to be fruitful.  So Jesus points to His Word remaining in us as a further description of Him living in us.  When we hear the Word of God it is speaking to us about what should be cut off and what should be encouraged to grow.  The Holy Spirit also convicts us in our hearts to surrender in trust to the words of Jesus.  In these moments we either draw life from Christ or we harden our heart towards his life.  The enemy of our souls seeks to make us question God’s Word and quit trusting, believing it.  This is what he did with Adam and Eve.  “Did God really say…”  Always, he seeks to break that living connection that we have with the Spirit of God.

Lastly in verses 7-8 Jesus speaks to the area of prayer.  He points out that our prayers are affected by this connection.  The disciples were often amazed at the power of Jesus’ prayers.  For our prayers to be answered we must have a living connection with God.  That living connection is maintained by hearing and putting our trust in it.  Yes, it is important to obey God’s word, but we must do more than that.  We must obey out of a trust in God himself and all that He says.  Now some people try to take this passage to mean that you can have anything you want if you are connected to Jesus.  But, don’t forget that a living connection to Jesus will change what your heart desires.  At least it will cause the things of God to rise to the top.  When you are trusting in Jesus you aren’t praying from the desires of your flesh.  Instead you are praying from a heart and life that has learned the wisdom of God’s pruning.  Even in our prayer life, God is trying to teach us how to prune our own prayers.  Do you want your prayers to be fruitful?  Then learn to pray in accordance with the Spirit of God, rather than the lusts of your flesh.  Our lives can bring glory to God when we trust Him and prayerfully ask His help in this life.

I pray that you have made that connection to Jesus.  But if you haven’t don’t let another day go by without letting go of the false vine of this world and the false life that it promises.  Take hold of eternal life today by putting your faith in Jesus.  Then start drawing life from Him immediately by entering into a trusting relationship with Him.

Connecting audio

Thursday
Jan122017

The Heart of a Righteous Person

Psalm 4:1-8.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 08, 2017.

I want to look at this Psalm today in order to hear the heart of those righteous individuals who have gone before us.  It is easy to look at our modern technology and think that those believers before us have nothing to teach us.  However, this is a foolish idea.  If you take time to read about the righteous men and women of the Bible, you will find yourself being filled with encouragement, sometimes.  On the other hand, you may also find yourself being discouraged because you feel that you don’t measure up to them.  We can feel disqualified because we are not as good as they were.  Let me just take a moment to remind you that throughout the Bible we are shown the physical, emotional, and spiritual weaknesses of those who were called righteous.  They were not perfect individuals.  In fact, they sometimes failed God and disobeyed Him, only to have God’s discipline teach them wisdom.  They were just like you and I in their hearts.  But they learned that God could be trusted despite how difficult their situations became.  As we read this Psalm, I pray our hearts will be encouraged by what we hear.

They are moved to talk with God

Modern though likes to say that prayer was a part of our evolution.  When we were knuckle-dragging, cave-people, we were ignorant and afraid of the elements surrounding us.  Thus natural selection elevated those who developed a belief in a higher power.  This made them bolder and fearless.  To those who are so persuaded, a belief and praying to God is no longer necessary.  Our technology is quickly conquering the world around us.  We are now the higher power for which we have always longed.  Of course the Bible directly contradicts such modern conjectures.  We were not created in ignorance and insecurity.  Mankind began in a special relationship with the Creator Himself.  God taught the first pair to tend a garden that He had prepared for them.  Thus man was not at the mercy of the elements originally.  It was a result of their sin and the fractured relationship with the Creator that led man to a scary, fearful place.  Though this relationship has been adversely affected, we are still able to connect with the Creator through prayer because we were designed for communication with Him from the beginning.  Thus this psalm began as a prayer of David to the One who created us.

In verse 1 David asks the Lord to hear his cry.  He is clearly in a desperate situation, and desperate situations have a way of forcing us to get real with God.  A righteous person will not be content to go through a mere ritual of religion.  When push comes to push, they will cry out to God with a passion that is not generally present when things are going easy.  In Isaiah 64:7, the prophet complains that there is “no one who calls on Your name, who stirs himself up to take hold of You.”  Notice Isaiah’s desperation.  He feels alone.  He is calling on God’s name and stirring himself up to take hold of God.  This is a picture of holding on to God and not letting go until He answers you.  I pray that you are not content with just going through the motions.  I pray that you have learned the importance of stirring yourself up and passionately interacting with God like David is doing here.  Don’t settle for a dead faith and dead religion.  God reveals Himself to those who take hold of Him and don’t let go.

We also see in verse 1 that David prays to “the God of my righteousness.”  He recognizes that God is the source of his righteousness.  Of course, everyone thinks they are righteous.  Sometimes people use religion to justify their wicked deeds (name a religion, people have used them all).  Other times people use intellectual justifications that rely upon faulty logic.  David had been taught the Word of God, and had done his best to live by it.  It is to this One who has revealed the Way that the Israelites should live that David is appealing.  Of course our relationship with God has received far more revelation since then.  God has revealed The Way that all peoples on the earth should live.  The righteous are not those who appear to do all the right things.  The righteous are those who know that God is the source of their righteousness.  Without Him we would be trapped in ignorance.  Without Him we would still be trapped by our sins.  It is God who enables us to do and be anything that can be called good.

David has a present need, but he says, “You have relieved me in my distress.”  During present perils, it is easy to lose hope.  However, the righteous will remember past mercies to themselves and to others.  That memory becomes proof of future help.  God helps those who trust Him.  The Bible is filled with testimonies of God’s mercy to those who trusted Him.  If we discount God’s mercy in their lives and in our own then we are not being fair to God.  God has done too much for us to doubt Him.  Yes, your flesh does want Him to do more or something greater, but that is like a kid demanding ice cream and claiming their parents haven’t given them enough.  It is an immature and childish accusation.  In fact, the death and resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate act of mercy that should shake any doubt to its core.  Our future is sure, even though our present shouts that it is not.  This is the blessing of the righteous.

They are moved to talk with men

Now let’s look at verses 2 and 3.  It is easy to disconnect and go silent towards those who reject God and His Ways.  However, the righteous are moved to talk with the wicked as well.  Sure there may come a time when there is nothing more to be said.  But that does not discount that something must be said.  The unbelieving need a proper witness to the truth by those who do believe.  Part of that witness is to question the actions of the unrighteous.  David asks, “How long…”  It is partly a plea to repent and turn back to God.  However, it is also a warning.  How long will God allow you to get away with your rejection of Him and doing your own thing without His judgment?  Just as today is the day of salvation, so today is the day to proclaim the salvation of the Lord.  It is too easy to say nothing to people and pretend that we are okay.  But, the righteous through the ages have not been silent to those around them, at least at first.   David proclaims that the ungodly turn “my glory into shame.”  They were doing so by slandering any good thing that David had done.  We see the same thing done to Jesus and the early Christians.  But David may have also meant that they were shaming God by what they were doing to David.  In Psalm 3:3 David calls God, “my Glory.”  Either way, it is true that we shame God when we unjustly attack one another.  David recognizes that the ungodly seek after idols.  They have quit seeking God and given up on any help from Him.  Instead they turn to false answers, false truths.  If they are not caused to reconsider how can they then be saved?  They simply can’t.

David then turns to remind the ungodly of the faithfulness of the Lord.  He puts the point to them.  What side do you want to be on?  God is going to answer me, and in so doing you will be dealt with (of course, unless you repent).  Christians must be a prophetic voice to the world around us that God has set the godly apart for himself.  He will answer them when they call.  Why would you not want to be a part of such a group?  Yet, those who resist God and even take their stand against Him and His people are fighting a losing battle.  There are many today who reject the Bible and the Creator.  They work to diminish their affect upon this nation and world.  No matter how successful the ungodly appear, God is on the side of the godly and will answer their cries.  He is going to come in judgment against the wicked and for the righteous.

They hold fast to the lessons learned

In verses 4 and 5 David rehearses within himself, and now shares with others who are struggling with keeping the faith, those things that had been handed down by the righteous of ages past.  It is important to keep walking the right path even when we are waiting upon God to hear our prayer and answer us.  Thus David says, “Be angry and sin not.”  When you are mistreated it is natural to become angry.  Anger is a powerful motivator to do something.  Much like a reservoir of water behind a dam, the passion of our anger can break forth like an uncontrollable wave of water from a collapsing dam, or it can be released in controlled form through the proper channel of a spill gate.   Notice that it is not a sin to be angry.  It is what we do with anger that often is sin.  Thus anger is dangerous.  If it is not properly controlled and funneled into proper channels of action, it becomes destructive sin.  These words are repeated in Ephesians 4:26, and Paul adds the admonishment, “Do not let the sun go down on your wrath.”  The word translated “wrath” is talking about the ways in which anger turns into sin.  It starts internally with irritation, bitterness, exasperation, and vengefulness.  It then leads to the external action of sin.  Yes, there is much to be angry about in this world because there is much sin.  However, the believer must restrain themselves from the affect that anger can have on their fleshly heart, and funnel it into passionate prayer before God and a passionate witness before the ungodly.  That witness is both vocal and non-vocal, through the life of righteousness to which we faithfully cling.  We must walk the walk in the face of all threats against us, whether they come from others, or within ourselves.

David next reminds himself to Meditate.  The righteous build a habit of meditating on their life before God in private.  This is not the eastern form of meditation where one is trying to clear their mind of everything.  That kind of meditation only opens you up to spiritual deception.  Biblical meditation is to bring the issues of our life before God, think about what the Scriptures say, and to think about what God would have us do.  It lays all that before Him and asks for His Spirit’s leading.  All of this happens within our heart when we are alone.  Of course, this can be alone in the sense that it happens in your mind when no one is intruding.  However, David refers to his bed.  We need to seek out times alone, so that we can meditate before the Lord and grow in understanding.  Jesus often sought out times alone to pray before the Lord.

David then remembers, “Offer the sacrifices of righteousness.”  The righteous always continue in the religious service that God has asked of them and yet do not allow it to become only a form.  They refuse just to go through the motions without a real life of trust and faith backing it up.  Thus many times to do the right thing is itself a sacrifice.  Our flesh doesn’t want to do it, but we die to the desires of our flesh and live out the righteousness of God.  This is the sacrifice that is pleasing to God.

Lastly, David says, “Put your trust in the Lord.”  Ultimately the godly throughout history teach us that the only wise thing we can do is to put our trust in the Lord, even when it seems like He is silent.  It must be done even when it seems like He is letting the ungodly win.  We need each of these lessons in our life today.  It may not seem like much, and the devil will tell you it is not enough.  But, he knows that a person who does these things will become impervious to his assaults, and will ruin his work in the lives of others.

They are blessed by God

The psalm ends with recognition that the ungodly are often cynical about such a witness from the righteous.  “Who will show us anything good,” is actually a challenge.  The ungodly have been tempted into following the logic and the thing that brings them something they desire.  They have become enslaved by their fleshly desires.  This is a sad way to be.  Only God’s grace can break through such cynicism.  So, David recognizes that the righteous will continue to look to God.  The phrase, “the light of your countenance,” is an allusion to the priestly blessing in Numbers 6:24-26.  There it says, “The LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”  This is a picture that God not only is aware, but He is looking upon us and His face is shining with good-will towards us, rather than a dark and stormy face of judgment.

This leads to the recognition that God gives gladness and joy to the righteous.  His truth tempers our immaturity and folly.  It fills us with the joy of knowing that God is more powerful and wise than anything that stands against us.  Thus, we cannot lose.  He is going to answer at the proper time.  So what makes you glad?  Is it bumper crops, which is basically economic increase?  If your joy is based on such temporary things, then you will be increasingly saddened and driven to leave God’s ways behind and forge your own path of success.  But, if you make relationship with God your joy, then you will never lack its presence in your heart, even when you are in the valley of the shadow of death.

Thus David talks about how the righteous are given peace and sleep in God’s safety.  God is our protector.  Why should we fear?  David says that he can sleep at night because God is what gives him peace and safety.  Though the world around us rages, we can be at peace as long as God is pleased.  Similarly, if the whole world is singing our praises, we dare not be at peace if God is unpleased with our life. 

The word translated “alone” in the last verse makes it sound like God is the only thing that makes David safe.  That is true of course.  But the word might better be translated in this way.  “In solitude, You, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”  This reference to solitude is a reference to God’s place of safety, or refuge.  We always have such a place internally within our mind and heart.  We can enter into this refuge and commune with the Lord even in the presence of our enemies.  However, such a place of refuge is also literal at times.  David fled into the wilderness from Saul and there God gave him a refuge, and a place of solitude in which he was safe from Saul’s threats.  During that time God spoke to David and encouraged him, while David waited for God’s promises to come true.  God periodically gives us breaks from the onslaught of the battle in order to comfort and encourage us.  This is the blessing that the righteous have from the Lord.  May we live faithfully for Him to the end of our lives!

Heart of a righteous person audio