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Weekly Word

Entries in Purpose (5)

Friday
Mar102017

Serving Selflessly

John 13:1-17.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 5, 2017. 

As we continue talking about the purpose that Jesus has for His people and His Church, we have adopted the phrase, “Connecting people to the Abundant Life found in Jesus.”  So our purpose begins with connecting to Jesus and His people, and then moves to growing spiritually to be like Jesus.  Part of spiritual growth is being used by God to serve other believers and in a manner that is not for selfish reasons.  One thing you may notice is that each of these is simply an extension of the initial connection to Jesus.  So it may be better to think of them as facets of the main purpose of coming into relationship with God. 

In our passage today, we will look at a very critical act that Jesus did on the night that he was going to be betrayed.  In this act of service, Jesus removes all doubt as to what God is saying to those who want to be his disciples.  In essence God is asking us to prove our love for Him by serving His people, our brothers and sisters.  Because of our Christian background, Americans often speak of politicians and social leaders as public servants.  However, it is clear that most are not serving for the sake of the public.  They are more concerned with their own station in life and honor among men, than they are about what will really serve the people.  Today’s passage will show the heart of service.  Next week we will look at the practical side of what it means to serve.

The love of Jesus caused him to serve

This story of how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples is a powerful one that is intended to challenge those who would want to follow him.  But, before we look at the act itself, let’s look at the context in which this service takes place.  Verse 1 emphasizes that Jesus knew it was his time.  He was about to leave the disciples, and they would have to go on without his physical presence.  This makes his action here critical because it represents what is most important to him.  Verse 2 also tells us that Jesus knew that the betrayal was already in motion.  His arrest was only hours away and by noon the next day he would be executed.  These were his last moments of physical freedom.  Lastly, verse 3 points out that Jesus knew that everything was in his hands.  Now in Matthew 28:18 Jesus says, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.”  This means that Jesus was not a victim as he went to the cross, but a victor.  Not only did he have authority over those who thought they had authority over him, but it was in his hands what to do.  Yes, Jesus came for the purpose of dying on the cross, being resurrected and leading many sons to righteousness.  However, his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, just moments after this event, makes it clear that he had a choice.  Jesus asks for the cup to be taken from him and yet, surrenders to the will of the Father.  What we see here is that though the Spirit of Christ was unified with the will of the Father, the flesh body was shrinking back from the cross.  The Father would not force His Son to do this.  It had to be the choice of Jesus and not just in his invulnerable, past existence.  In the moment of weak flesh he had to choose freely to save mankind.  Imagine if all authority and choice was given to you today.  What would your choice be?  In this situation Jesus chose to wash his disciple’s feet and to go to the cross for mankind.  This is a powerful statement.

When we look at the descriptions regarding this service, two poignant phrases stick out.  The first is at the end of verse 1, “He loved them to the end.”  This was an act of teaching, but it was also an act of love.  It was a divine, supreme act of love that would help them to better understand the cross and God’s will for them in the months and years ahead.  Service cannot be just an act.  It truly must be fueled by and informed by the love of God.  Too often we allow our service to become an identifying thing that we do, and lose sight of love for the people we are serving.  Another aspect to recognize is how John builds up to this act.  He stipulates all the things Jesus knew and how it was all in his hands, which lead up to the climax of “then he arose from supper, laid aside his garments, took a towel and girded himself.”  The statement itself would be anticlimactic to anyone who was looking to Jesus as Messiah.  I believe John intends this statement and the actions of Jesus to be shocking.  It is easy for us to miss this because we have grown up in a society that takes this for granted.    We must understand that the love of God is far more radical and shocking than we can ever completely understand.  Jesus hanging on the cross was the exact opposite picture anyone expected to see of the savior of the world.  Let’s face it; even now we do not completely understand the love of God and the depths to which it leads him to go in order to serve mankind.  So, when I try to follow Jesus and serve others, I will find myself needing to grow in the ability to love at such a shocking level.

We are challenged by the service of Jesus

Peter often becomes the vehicle through which we get to see ourselves.  So in verses 6-8, the shocking actions of Jesus bother Peter.  He balks at what Jesus is doing and had earlier rebuked Jesus for saying that he would be executed.  This is the very nature of even the most loyal disciple.  Our hearts are challenged and even made afraid by what Jesus does and calls us to do.

So what is at the heart of this issue?  Perhaps it is our pride.  Peter’s pride in his station as a close disciple to the Messiah of Israel (maybe even #1 disciple), shrinks back from this menial service that Jesus does.  Jesus is supposed to be the greatest and highest person in all of Israel.  But here he takes on a task that only the lowest servant would perform.  This is unthinkable to him because of his pride.  Leaders, beware of followers who tell you that certain things are beneath you.  They are not being led by the wisdom of God, but the fear of prideful flesh.  Peter was so proud of being there that he forgot to wash his own feet.  His joy of being in the presence of Jesus had overwhelmed his self-awareness that his feet were filthy.  This is such a powerful picture of our desire to follow Jesus.  We get so caught up in the wonder of it all that we can miss areas of our life that need cleaned up.  Even so, if Jesus wanted their feet cleaned, he should command one of them to do it, right?  In Peter’s mind the lowest of them all should be the one washing feet, not Jesus (and most likely not him).  This is precisely why Jesus had to wash their feet.  He had to break their pride.  But he doesn’t do it like the leaders of this world do it.  The leaders of this world command you to do the most menial tasks until your pride is wore down.  But Jesus does the menial task himself and then asks them to love one another as he has loved them.  He leads the way, and not as one who does so once and never humbles himself again.  The cross shows us that all of the life of Jesus was one long humbling of the highest being in the universe.  Can we not see that God has no pride?  We must see our own shrinkage from service and its foreign mindset in Peter’s actions.  We must also ask the Lord to transform our mind and heart in this area.

Another point I would like to make about Peter’s refusal is that it is God who defines how we need to be served.  Peter does not want to let Jesus feet.  When others serve us we are often uncomfortable.  We tend to want to control how it is done.  We can be guilty of trying to tell God exactly how He should do things.  But the reality is that we don’t have a clue what we need and what He should be doing.  The Church has struggled over this question, “What do people really need.”  Especially in America, we have developed two different approaches over the years.  The first is called the “Pie in the Sky” Gospel.  This approach says that people really only need their spirit’s saved and the flesh is immaterial.  Thus, people who preached to the homeless would promise that in heaven you will have all the things you didn’t on earth.  Instead of helping materially they only helped spiritually.  The cynicism of the people being served led to some Christians then going to the other extreme.  This led to what is called the “Social Gospel.”  They tended to focus so much on the physical needs of the poor at the expense of the spiritual message of Jesus.  It almost becomes a badge of nobility to feed a poor man and not tell him the gospel, so that you are not manipulating them.  Yet, Jesus does both within hours.  He washes their feet, a very physical service, and then dies on the cross for their sins, a very spiritual service.  In truth we need both.  Yes, we could accuse Jesus of trying to manipulate us by dying on a cross.  But in the end it is a reality that we have to deal with.  Was Jesus manipulating or loving?  When we serve, we must be aware of the physical nature of those we serve and yet the spiritual side.  Not all will receive what you do and may even cast aspersions on your motives.  Nevertheless, it is not wise to let those being served to dictate how we serve them.  We serve people because God loves them and it is He who directs us on how they need served.

In verse 9 and following the scene comes to a conclusion with Jesus explaining why he did what he did.  In verse 14 the word “ought” should slam into the pit of our stomach like a ton of bricks.  It comes from a word that has the idea of owing a debt that you are obligated to pay back.  Thus, it came to be used for social and moral obligations.  If the master did this lowly service, then by definition his disciples are obligated to keep themselves beneath him in station.  To not lower myself is more than an act of rebellion, but even an act of rejection.   In this act of service and the cross that follows, Jesus forever undercuts the protest, “You couldn’t expect me to do that!”  No, such a statement is hollow when you recognize the wisdom of Jesus.  We are precisely obligated to serve one another because our Lord and master served us.  But our obligation is not just on a moral level.  We say that we love God, but in this moment God shows the very depths of his heart.  He is not trying to be on top, and is not filled with pride.  He is willing to lower himself to the lowest place and serve.  So, the question then is, “Having received such a glimpse into the depths of His heart, do you still love Him?”  Christians are those who have discovered the shocking truth about the God who created all things and have chosen to follow him.  How can we not but serve?

Then in verse 17 Jesus slams the point home.  Blessed are you if you know these things and do them.  Today you have been made aware of these things.  Now, what are you going to do with them?  This is not just about washing feet.  It was a need within their immediate context.  What are the needs in our context?  What ways can I serve others for God?  In fact, it would be good for me to spend some time in prayer asking the Lord to give me His thinking on this subject.  Service is the key to blessing.

One of our problems in the Western world is that we make service sound noble.  I am not saying that it isn’t noble in some ways.  However, it is also humiliating and hard on our flesh in other ways.  Service by its very nature is not a noble thing, but it is a God thing.  Jesus washing the dirty, stinky feet of his disciples was not fun.  But it was necessary for them.  Similarly, trying to love another person and serve them can be some of the most difficult times of your life, and yet God asks us to do it.  Yes, it is noble, but the nobility is not what we feel when we truly start serving others.  We can tell young men of the noble act of dying so that other may be free.  But, when they are in the trenches and their friends are dying around them, it will feel like anything but nobility.  No, service that is not self-serving (a.k.a. I am getting noticed and good press) will try your soul like a furnace.  But in the end you will come forth like pure gold refined in the fire seven times.

Serving Selflessly audio

Friday
Mar032017

Growing Spiritually

Ephesians 4:11-16.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 19, 2017.

We have been talking about the purpose that Jesus has for His Church.  It begins with connecting to Him and to His people.  The next purpose comes from the fact that this connection is not intended to be static.  In John 15, when Jesus used the analogy of a vine, he emphasizes that the Father wants each branch to be fruitful.  Thus this second purpose is for God’s people to grow spiritually.  Now this is not just an individual self-help exercise.  Rather, God is working in us in order to help us to grow spiritually as an individual and as a group. 

In our society we see the problem of immaturity everywhere.  It causes problems in our jobs, relationships, homes, politics at every level, and yes, even in our churches.  God’s answer to the reality of immaturity is not that we quit and go down the street, or go home.  Instead, God’s answer is for His people to turn to Him and receive from Him what we need in order to mature.

Now God has some very specific things that He has done in order to help this purpose along.  The first is that He connects us to a group of believers.  The dynamic of learning to love each other fuels this purpose of God.  In Ephesians 4:11-16, the relationship we have with the body of Christ is explained in regards to this purpose of spiritual growth.

Jesus Wants His Followers to Grow

We see the metaphor of growth throughout the Bible.  It points to the changes that happen within us in order to make us more like God Himself.  In Psalm 1 we are told, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but, his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.”  This is God’s vision for each of us.  He wants to make us into a fruitful tree of life to everyone around us.  Sadly we often fall into a minimal intellectual assent to the Faith.  We only accept so much of what God’s Word says and try to ignore the rest.  We can also settle for a minimal association with God’s people.  When God’s word has a minimal impact on our lives it will not result in spiritual growth.  Ask yourself, “Have I settled for having just a little bit of Jesus?  Am I trying to fit a little bit of Jesus into my life?”  The reality is that Jesus is too big to fit into your life.  You must surrender your life to the purposes of Christ, then you will begin to grow spiritually to become like him.

In verse 11 Paul points out that God has raised up certain individuals to serve in differing capacities within the Church, so that we can all grow spiritually.  The top of this list is the apostles and prophets.  It was important for the teachings of Christ and His purposes to be authoritatively recorded.  The truth is that Jesus did not right any books.  He called and authorized certain individuals with the task of passing on His teaching.  More than that, Jesus even told his disciples that he had far more to teach them, but there wasn’t enough time.  Thus He promises that the Holy Spirit will guide them into all truth.  The reality is that Jesus Himself places a stamp of approval, or guarantee, on the authority and teaching of His apostles.    In this sense there are no more apostles and prophets that are establishing Scripture and the foundation of the Faith.  However, apostles were also used mightily to bring the gospel into new areas along with signs and wonders to confirm it.  This aspect still occurs from time to time as God wills.  As for prophets today, they can be used to speak into our lives by God, but not add new teaching to the Faith that was once and for all delivered unto the saints in the first century.  Paul also mentions evangelists, who typically travel from city to city preaching the gospel.  Lastly he lists pastors and teachers.  It appears that he is putting these together, perhaps as two sides of the same coin.  The term “pastor” is a shepherd term that points to the caring and nurturing they do.  “Teacher” points to the transfer of information that they perform.  Teachers teach the Word of God to His people, not because they can’t read it for themselves, but because it helps us to grow.  The purpose of all of these individuals is not to rule over God’s people, or to control His Church.  They are not given by Jesus to dominate the other believers, but rather to help us.  Some people have been hurt by the domineering tactics of some who call themselves apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  Yet, we must also recognize the danger of casting off any help in this area.  Without the guarantee of the foundational teaching of the Apostles in the first century, we are intellectually standing on quicksand.

Now in verse 12, Paul explains further why Christ gave these to the Church.  So far I have summed it up under the need for spiritual growth.  Let’s explore further.  The first purpose is for the equipping of the saints.  The King James Version says for the perfecting of the saints.  Equipping is a better translation today, because “perfecting” gives the sense of being done.    To be fully equipped is always done in order to accomplish something.  When you are done gathering all your camping equipment, you haven’t actually camped yet.  You still have to drive to your destination and set up all your equipment.  Equipping is always for a purpose.  Another example is how an Emergency Room is equipped with all manner of tools and medicines.  This is for the purpose of saving a life that is brought into the room.  Similarly God uses these verse 11 roles to equip us.  This leads to the question, “What am I being equipped for?”

Paul next lists several reasons why we are being equipped.  God wants us to be able to do “works of service.”  God has particular works of service that He has for you to do.  Some of that service is towards other believers.  You are to use your gifts out of love in order to help other believers.  However, we are also called to do works of service towards those who are not believers.  Thus I am serving God by going out and serving His people, and those who are still lost.  So what do you need in order to do these things?  First, you need to know what God has already said in His Word.  You also need encouragement and direction in learning to pray and hear from God ourselves.  Ask Jesus each day, “Lord, help me to know the works of service that you want me to do today.”

Next Paul mentions we are equipped for the unity of the faith and the knowledge of Jesus.  Part of spiritual growth is that we are unified as a group of people.  Individual growth is never complete until it enables us to grow in relationship with others.  Today, the concept of unity is held up as essential.  But notice that God is not promoting unity just for unity’s sake.  He actually says unity of the faith.  “The faith” is the teachings that God has revealed through Jesus and His apostles.  Thus, when people talk about finding common ground so that we can unify, they generally mean, “What beliefs can we drop so that we can be one?”  God is calling believers to be unified around the teaching of His apostles.  If you sacrifice the teachings of Christ and the knowledge of who He is, then you have not accomplished the purpose of God.  In fact you have actually rejected it.  You may notice that all such groups that hold up unity and love as their overarching principle, and yet do not adhere to a particular set of teachings, fall apart in the end.  Only promoting love and unity is not enough to deal with the sinful nature of mankind.  Whether it is a leader that tries to dominate the group, or the fact that a person is hurt by another’s concept of free love, we must have a truth that we are committed to that has power against the flesh and is greater than any person today.  The Word of God is the only thing that has demonstrated the power to stop the sinful desires of our flesh.

The third purpose for being equipped is so that we will not be a spiritual child, but instead a mature body of Christ.  This is where we see how the individual weaves with the group dynamic.  If I am individually taken in by every new heresy that pretends to be truth, then I weaken the group.  We are not able to operate as the body of Christ.  Yes, I need to believe the things Jesus and his apostles taught, and I need to live out the things they taught.  But our group has to grow in living these things together.  Together, we can minister, heal, and save far more than any one of us can do alone.  We need each other, but the lost need the Church to be operating as a mature body of Christ.

In verse 14 we are given another reason why God wants us to grow.  He does not want us to be taken in and deceived by false teaching.  Children are easily taken in and deceived.  We see this with Adam and Eve, who had a child-like innocence in regards to sinful ways.  Not all that masquerades as truth is Truth, and not all that masquerades as Jesus is Jesus.  Think about scams that happen in this world.  They are successful because they play on the immature desire to get something for nothing, or at least, the desire to get an inordinate amount of return on minimal investment.  A mature person is often protected by scams simply because they have grown up in regards to working hard for what you get.  Like a person who has already eaten and therefore is not tempted to eat dessert, the mature person can say, “No, thanks.  I am full.”  We need to be so full of the Truth of Jesus that the lies and deception don’t interest us.  We are not hungry for some new, amazing truth.  We already have the amazing truth of Jesus.

Instead of falling into deceptions, Jesus wants us to speak the truth, but in love.  This has been a problem for the Church.  Typically we have not faltered with having the truth, but we have with sharing it in love.  This too is a sign of maturity.  The mature person does not feel the necessity to control how people respond to the Gospel.  They continue to reach out to people who reject them, and sometimes even persecute them. 

Let me just close with emphasizing verses 15 and 16.  Paul points out that it is our connection to Jesus, the head, is what gives us anything to do and share, both as an individual and as a group.  When we are connected to Jesus, His Truth and spiritual Life will not only mature us, but also enable us to be that fruitful branch that has something to offer others.  May God help us to grow spiritually, by keeping our eyes upon Jesus and taking advantage of those gifts that He has given to help us.

Growing Spiritually audio

Tuesday
Sep202016

Society under Siege: The Littlest among Us

Genesis 9:6-7; Luke 1:36; Psalm 139:13-16; Jeremiah 1:4-5.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on September 18, 2016.

Today we are going to talk about the topic of abortion.  I am convinced that, given enough time, future generations will judge our generation for abortion as harshly as we judge previous generations for slavery.  Some of the judgments are true.  However, sometimes we overlook the context of how people can be blind to that which is socially acceptable.  We also often overlook that many people worked within the system in order to overturn it.  The reason I bring this up is to point out that in some ways our society has gotten better and yet in other ways we have gone backwards.  Abortion is one of those areas in which we have fallen backwards.

The taking of the life of a child, whether in the womb or shortly after birth, is a practice that was not invented in the modern era.  It has happened on into the recesses of history at the altars of the fallen gods of antiquity.  Instead of looking down upon our ancestors with moral certitude, as if they were brutish, unthinking beasts, we should recognize the ways that we do the very same things ourselves.  They may not be the exact same things or in exactly the same ways, but we share a likeness to them.  When one objectively looks at a society that aborts a million babies a year, it becomes clear that something has declared war upon the littlest among us.

Human Life Is Sacred

The Word of God to Noah after the flood is an important passage.  Along with other passages in Genesis are critical because they are foundational to how we live our life.  In this country we have been building a society that no longer sees human life as absolutely sacred.  We have intellectually reached a point where we can only say, “Some human life is sacred.”

In Genesis 9:6-7 God reminds Noah that mankind has been created in His image.  This alludes back to Genesis 1:26-27.  This passage helps us to see that the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden did not cancel out this issue.  Even in his fallen state, man is designed to be an “image-bearer” of God.  So what does that mean?  Neither passage completely explains it other than to make it the clear distinction between mankind and the animals.  Throughout history theologians have come up with an answer that divides the attributes of God into those attributes we cannot share (omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence) and those that we can.  These are often called communicable attributes because they can be shared with us.  They are things like love, goodness, rationality, knowledge, mercy, justice, language, truthfulness, and wisdom.  This list can easily be expanded upon further thought.  Though the fall of mankind definitely impacted our ability to be “like” God, it did not change our design and status as image-bearers of God. 

In this passage God makes this point to deal with the subject of murder.  Before the flood we recognize that God gave Cain (who murdered his brother Abel) a punishment and yet also mercy.  There was no capital punishment.  Yet, the whole earth became full of violence.  So after the flood, God institutes the command that murders must be put to death by mankind.  A society (whether family or larger) would be responsible to uphold the sacredness of the image of God within mankind.  Here we see that an attack upon a human is an attack upon God by extension.  There are many today who believe that abortion is not wrong, but who are staunchly against capital punishment.  They will often point out the “hypocrisy” of a God who would say in Exodus 20:13, “Thou shalt not kill,” and then sanction the death of the murderer.  Of course this is a simplistic treatment of what God is saying.  First, it is better to translate the Exodus verse as, “You shall not murder.”  Anyone who murders other forfeits their right to life because they have sinned against the image-bearer of God.

Now notice how many of these same people will promote the sacredness of life to the degree that not even a murderer should be killed.  Yet, they only believe life is sacred when it is outside of the womb.  Even this idea is challenged by many who believe that the value of a person (rather than sacredness)is dependent upon one’s ability to help society.  Ultimately, under this kind of thinking, only certain lives are sacred, and that will always be defined by the powerful in the end.  God’s point is that the taking of a murderer’s life is righteous.  You may disagree with that, but it is far more intuitive than the idea that it is okay or good to take the life of a fetus.  Is the taking of the life of a fetus ever righteous?  What have they done that is worthy of death?  Even in the case of incest or rape, why would you punish the child for the actions of a wicked person?  Is having a baby something that will destroy a person’s life?

Though these arguments may not be persuasive enough to change a person’s mind, at least they ought to help you see that it is easier to make the case for capital punishment than abortion.  According to God the taking of a human life must only be done in response to murder and abortion fails this test.

Human Life Is Recognized In The Womb

All throughout the Bible the baby in the womb is recognized as human.  In Luke 1:36-37 the angel Gabriel has finished telling Mary that she would give birth to the Son of God.  Gabriel then reveals that Mary’s relative Elizabeth has “conceived a son.”  The language of the angel is important.  He not only refers to the product of conception in human term, but even further, in gender terms.  It is interesting that science has demonstrated that gender is determined at conception based upon which chromosome comes from the male parent.

Later in verse 44 we see Elizabeth use the term “baby” used of the baby in her womb.  I bring this up to point out that the Greek term translated baby is the same term “baby” used in Acts 7:19 in reference of a baby that had already been born.  The language of the early believers clearly demonstrates the belief that they saw the baby in the womb the same as a newborn baby.  Although there is a distinction between them (i.e. whether birth has occurred), there is far more commonality.  Both are human and extremely vulnerable.  They require total care.  But this is only the beginning.  When we look deeper into how God and the Bible speak about life in the womb, we are amazed at what is said.

God Has A Plan For Each Life

Psalm 139:13-16 is a powerful song of David.  Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he describes the depths of God’s knowledge of our lives.  Any time you are tempted to think God has forgotten about you, sit down and slowly, meditatively read Psalm 139.  In this portion we are told that it is God who “formed” David’s “inward parts” and “covered” him in his mother’s womb.  Though the development of the unborn baby is hidden to the eyes of man, it is not to God.  In fact God is actively involved in the formation of the child. 

A further point is made.  Even when a child is still being formed, the days that have been “fashioned” for it are written down in God’s book.  This idea that God had a purpose for the child even before it could demonstrate ability is a marvelous thing.  David does not elaborate on this point, but let’s look at another passage in Jeremiah 1:4-5.

“Now the Word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘Before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’”  Here we see that God not only knows a child and how long it will live, but God also has a purpose for that child.  It would be easy to say that God only has a purpose for great people like Jeremiah, Abraham, Moses, or Jesus.  However, this flies in the face of all the Scriptures which speak of God’s purpose for all mankind.  In destroying the lives of unborn babies we squelch a part of what God wants to do in our lives. 

So where does this horrible idea come from that we should abort about a million babies a year in the USA and 59 million since 1973?  Countless societies throughout history have purposefully killed, sacrificed their children to the God’s of their time.  Perhaps we have created our own new God called comfort and ease.  Clearly a war has been declared and is being waged against our babies.  This war is waged by the same spiritual being that convinced Eve that the fruit would make her life better.  Women today need to see through the deception of the serpent and the destructive lies that he has promoted in our society.  Abortion is an evil that will only bring death and destruction into your life.

Of course there are difficult situations that can make this issue complex and challenging.  I've mentions the cases of rape and incest earlier.  No matter how traumatized a young girl may be, we only traumatize her further when we encourage her to terminate her pregnancy, which is a euphemism for killing the human that has been conceived within her.  Abortion may make her life “easier” in that she doesn’t have to go through 9 months of pregnancy and give birth to a child she hadn’t planned for.  But, it does not make her life easier in getting over what happened emotionally and even physically.  Let me be clear.  Having a baby will not “fix” a woman in this case.  But trusting God and going forward can.  Giving love and life in the face of evil is the greatest act of defiance against our spiritual enemy.  Likewise, to turn to death as a solution to evil is to be overcome by it.

What if a woman’s life is in danger?  We must admit that this can happen.  The point here is not against a child ever dying.  There are some choices that only God should make.  If a woman’s life is in danger, the doctor should do their best to save the baby without endangering the mother.  If the baby is lost, at least it is lost over all our efforts to give it a chance at life.  This is the exact opposite of an abortion.  Even when we approach childbirth with a great respect for life, and looking to God for help, some die during birth and some even before (both babies and mothers).  Such tragic times may seem like God is not involved, and that they had no purpose.  But this is not completely true.  Yes, tragedy causes some to become hard and angry towards God.  But tragedy has also caused some to become a source of comfort and care for others that would not have come about without it.  God does not always step in and miraculously protect because He wants us to grow in ways in which we become more like Him.

Let me close by recognizing that our battle is not against people.  To save babies we do not have to fight women.  The deception of Satan is great in our land.  Although a punishment was given to Eve, God also gave her grace.  One of her offspring would one day crush the serpents head.  God would redeem Adam and Eve back from their unwise choice.  God is still the same today.  Christians must be a heart of compassion towards women who have had abortions.  Yes, it is wrong and even evil.  But they have been deceived by a world that could care less about her.  The truth can set her free.  God loves her and will even still give her true healing if she will turn to Him.

The Littlest among Us audio

Tuesday
Aug112015

Undermining God's Purpose

Luke 19:45-48.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 9, 2015.

The term “undermine” has no shocking origin.  It refers to the fact that valuables are often underneath large amounts of overburden (earth that has no value to the miner).  Even though mining has been honed to quite a science we still have cave-ins today.  In 2010 a mine in the Atacama Desert of Chile had a single block of stone break free from the mountain and fall through each layer of the mine in a collapsing chain reaction.  When the dust settled it was recognized that this “stone” was at least 45 stories tall and had trapped 33 miners half a mile under the surface.  It took 17 days to drill a hole to the location of the miners and find out that they were still alive.  After 69 days, the world was able to see these miners return to the light of day.  The greater the thing you undermine the greater the consequences if you don’t do enough to mitigate your actions.

Today, Jesus reminds us that God has purposes that he is accomplishing.  It is easy for his people to lose sight of those purposes and, in fact, undermine them.  The eternal purposes of God are far “heavier” than that 45 story block of stone.  If we do not let God correct us, we will eternally endanger ourselves and the lives of our loved ones, and eventually suffer a spiritual collapse.

Jesus Removes That Which Offends God

On the heels of being declared King-Messiah by the large crowds of people, we see Jesus resolutely head to the temple and begin to clean house.  Over time the leaders of the temple had instigated and allowed practices that were undermining the purpose God had in having a temple in the first place.  Let’s take a closer look at the problem.

The temple presented a very practical, logistic problem.  People were required to bring animals for sacrifice, and those animals needed to be inspected and judged.  Also, once a year a temple tax had to be paid in the Hebrew coinage.  Some people were traveling great distances and thus would have trouble trying to bring animals to Jerusalem.  They would also have foreign money and would need to exchange it to pay the tax.  On top of this many people didn’t have their own flocks and would need to purchase animals once they got to Jerusalem.  Thus people would bring money with them in order to exchange currency and secure an acceptable sacrifice.

Now sometimes the solutions to problems can create other problems.  So, at first, people would get animals in the surrounding area and bring them to the temple.  At some point, the place of getting an acceptable animal kept moving closer to the temple until it was moved into the outer court of the temple (also known as the court of Gentiles).  On one hand this was more convenient for the people and allowed them to buy “pre-approved” animals.  This convenience led to what it always does, higher prices.  In fact Jesus called it a den of thieves.  They were price-gouging the people.  This solution had begun to undermine the purposes of God.  The people were commanded to come, give sacrifice and pay the tax.  Yet, the priests and vendors were taking advantage of that situation to “rob” the people.  When leadership takes advantage of those who are trying to obey God’s commands, it has crossed a line that God will not tolerate for long.  This happens in the Church today.  Many false leaders have taken advantage of the fact that people are commanded by God to believe on Jesus and become a part of his Church.  They undermine God’s purposes as they fleece the flock and abuse their authority. 

Another problem is that the vendors in the court of the Gentiles had become an added distraction to worship.  Now let me first say that even if everything was done perfect, there would still be plenty of distractions to worshipping God.  They still had to bring an animal that would be relieving itself wherever.  They would also have the slaughtering of the animals and other people.  We should never fool ourselves that worship of God in this flesh is meant to be a perfect event.  The flesh is always distracted.  Part of the challenge of a believer is to learn to see God in the midst of those distractions.  In fact, salvation and redemption is messy business.  But the lust for money and convenience was adding more distraction than was necessary.  Also, the rip-off prices would fill the heart of people with anger at men, and ultimately anger with God.  “Why should I come to Your temple and get robbed?  Is this just?”  It is hard to worship when you feel like you have been abused.  Commercialization within the Church diminishes and trivializes our participation within it.  Leaders may think they have created a wonderful thing, but they are undermining the ability of people to truly worship.

God Desires Prayer From All Nations

Jesus reminds the priests that God’s purpose was that the temple be a place of prayer for all nations.  He does this by quoting from Isaiah 56:6-7, which says, “Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants-everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant- even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer.  Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”  Thus God wanted His temple to be a place of prayer, and not just for Israel.  That passage says that God wants to make the Gentiles joyful in his house.  Prayer is basically a person reaching out to God and interacting with Him.  This was done with sacrifices and words.  Whether to cover sins or to honor God, prayer is our approach to God.  The symbolism of the temple speaks to the importance of approaching God correctly.  But we should never lose sight of the main point.  There is a way to approach God, interact with Him, and be accepted.  This is a joyful thing.  Whether we are glorifying Him, petitioning Him, or confessing and repenting before Him, we can know that He accepts us.  This was being lost through the actions of the leaders of that day. 

God’s heart is to take those who are separated from Him and to bring them near.  The whole chapter of Isaiah 56 is worth reading because he is dealing with the reality that some people were separated from going all the way into the temple.  In fact, the closer you got to the temple the fewer people who could continue.  Thus those who were not Jews could only approach the first level.  Then the next level was the Court of Women.  Only the Jewish males could go in to it.  Then there was the temple building itself.  Only the priests could enter the Holy place.  And then only one priest, the High Priest, could go into the Holy of Holies, and it only on one day out of the year.  Some people see this cynically and say something to the affect that they couldn’t worship a God who appears so racist or misogynistic.  However, they are completely misreading the reason for these barriers.  Isaiah 56 is a prophecy to Eunuchs and Gentiles who could feel badly about being separated.  He encourages them not to be discouraged.  You see the whole point was to show that no matter how “qualified” a person was in the flesh, it still couldn’t guarantee their hearts were in the right place.  The High Priest in the days of Jesus wasn’t even a son of Aaron.  He had manipulated and bribed his way into the post.  It was those who were most removed from God in the flesh who were the most easily brought near in the Spirit.  In fact, Israel as a nation rejected Jesus and when the Gospel went to the Gentile nations it was initially received my many.  Thus instead of thinking God is racist, recognize His well illustrated point that no race, biology, sex, station in life, or physical ability can ensure a person’s heart will truly believe God and worship Him.  Yes many worshipped God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him.

The New Covenant

So what does this say to us today?  Yes, it can apply to us under the New Covenant.  First of all, we should receive Jesus as our King.  Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, and God requires all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).  There also is no other name under heave given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).  Jesus is the master and we are His disciples.  Thus His Word is authoritative in our life by His position.  Yet, he has also saved our lives by dying on a cross for us.  Thus His Word is authoritative in our life by His value to us. 

We should also let the King cleanse our life.  Jesus knows exactly what it is that is getting in the way between us and God.  If we accept Him as king then we should also accept His judgments of the things in our lives.  He prunes us and enables us to be fruitful.  Thus the true believer in Jesus is in a relationship of learning to surrender to the wisdom of Christ.  It is easy to say that all our sins were covered 2,000 years ago and thus we don’t have to worry about sin at all.  However, this overlooks the fact that to embrace Jesus as our savior is to admit that we need saved, aka “I am a sinner.”  Jesus didn’t die so that we can keep on sinning.  Rather, He died so that we can be freed from our sins and enabled to truly change.

Lastly, we should draw near to God in Spirit and in Truth.  Regardless of what you are in the flesh, God has enabled you to come into the Holy of Holies through Jesus.  Regardless of race, gender, or lineage, you can come into the holiest place of all, the throne of God.  He accepts you not because of your flesh, but because you put your faith in His Son Jesus.  Let embrace and worship Him today!

Undermining audio