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Weekly Word

Entries in Purpose (6)

Monday
Jun192017

Our Heavenly Father

Matthew 5:43-48.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Father’s Day, June 18, 2017.

This weekend I entered a new stage of life when my first child was married.  He begins that new stage of life for him in which he creates a new home of his own with the young woman whom he loves.  Whether you have seen either of these stages yet or not, our passage today speaks to us today about looking to our Heavenly Father and asking Him to teach us to be good, earthly fathers.

Father’s have a purpose

Verse 48 of this passage hits all of us like a ton of bricks and we will deal with it more as we go along.  However, I want us to notice that this whole section is about how those who want to follow the wisdom of Jesus will follow him in being like the Heavenly Father.  So, instead of starting with the impossible command to “be perfect,” let’s start with the sense of belonging and purpose that is the foundation of what Jesus has to say.  We have a Heavenly Father and we are meant to choose to be like Him in our actions.  This really is a wonderful thing.

In fact, Jesus points out in verse 43 that they had heard it said, “You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.”  Now the first part of this sentence comes from the Law of Moses.  Though Jesus doesn’t specifically point this out, it is worth recognizing that they heard this because the Heavenly Father had spoken to them through Moses and later through others.  God has not been silent, but has spoken some very clear things to mankind.  The Bible is the collection of those words throughout time.  With that said, you will not find a place in the Old Testament where they were commanded to hate their enemies.  God had not actually said this. They heard this part from those who thought they were safely speaking what God intends.  Perhaps the logic could go like this.  God is going to judge his enemies who hate him, so we should hate them.  So within this one statement Jesus reminds us of that mix of instructions that come to people, some from God and some from religious leaders that goes beyond God’s Word and even contrary to it.  There is only one Son of God that perfectly represents the Heavenly Father and speaks only what the Father told him to say, and that is Jesus.  Thus we can read the Word, but even more, we can hear what the One and Only Son of God, Jesus, who can help us perfectly understand what our Father is saying.  Now I would point out here that earthly fathers who want to be like the Heavenly Father should be faithful to speak to their kids in appropriate ways at appropriate times.  Be a good representative of our Heavenly Father to your children and properly point them to Him.  Be careful of inserting your own ideas without prefacing them with the fact that they are just that.  Kids need to know that as you speak to them, so has God.

In verse 45, Jesus goes beyond speaking.  He reminds us that God has given us examples.  We can look at all the goodness and provision of creation and recognize that it is given to the righteous and the unrighteous alike, without distinction.  Even those who make themselves enemies of God receive massive amounts of kindness from Him.  Thus Jesus points us to learn from the example of God.  Fathers, let’s not forget that our life and the way it is lived must be a good example for our kids.  Yes, they need to hear our words, but our actions often speak louder than words.  So pay attention to the example you are setting.

So with the Word of God and the example of God, it is our purpose to become “sons of our father in heaven.”  I believe that this is key to understanding what Jesus is driving at in verse 48.  It is in the context of being a son of the Heavenly Father that we are called to “be perfect, as your father in heaven is perfect.”  Now the word “perfect” in the original language has the sense of that which is complete, finished, or has come to maturity.  Since we are speaking of humans and their heavenly father, maturity is the concept which fits best.  And, we should note that spiritual maturity is clearly intended.  The emphasis is not a lack of error or sin, as the English may imply.  Rather it is on becoming what you are intended to be.  You were created to be like God, to bear His image in this life.  Of course that is a tall order and yet we are in good company.  The Apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:12-14,

“12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.”

The words that I have emboldened and underlined are translated differently but they come from the same Greek word.  Now my point is not to point out that they are translated wrong.  But that they are the same word used in Matthew 5:48 for “perfect.”  In Paul’s passage he uses the word in two different ways.  In verse 12 he is stating that even he, the Apostle Paul, had not been completely finished.  He was still in the flesh, and was not without sin.  Thus this first use is that which sees that he falls short of all that God has for him.  But in verse 15, he uses it to emphasize those who have spiritually grown up and are mature Christians.  He clearly sees himself as a part of this group.  Maturity is a funny thing.  When a child is 1 year old and they are starting to walk and talk, we might speak of them as being perfect.  They are exactly where they should be in their development for their age.  So an 18 year old has a far higher bar to reach in order to be considered mature.  Though Paul had room for improvement, he was a mature Christian, one who understood the Father’s purpose and walked in conformity with it.

Now back to Matthew 5:48.  If we see the word “perfect” in the first sense of which Paul speaks, then the verse is stating that we (in the future) will be perfect, which will mainly be God’s work in our life.  This is true, but doesn’t seem to fit the context well.  But the second sense that Paul uses fits perfectly.    When we look to our Heavenly Father’s example and listen to His words, our lives will grow to be like Him and we will become mature believers in this life (and sinless beings after the resurrection).  May we all press forward each day to be like our Father in Heaven.  Of course this is the joy of any father, to see their child grow up and become a mature adult (and to be like us in our best ways).

Fathers have a Heavenly Father

I have already made this clear.  But I want to push this part a bit further.  Earthly fathers don’t always live out this purpose that God has for them.  Our culture continually pumps a philosophy that promotes living life for yourself, and this contradicts God’s Word.  When we think about God it is important for us to understand that He is not just more mature than us.  He truly is without error and sin.  If there is something that we think He has done wrong, then we are the one in error.  More than likely we are missing information that God has.  However, it is quite possible that our judgment is not as wise and righteous as we think.  Even if you had the worst of earthly fathers, nothing can change the fact that you have a Heavenly Father who is good and perfect.  He has been working, and is even now working in your life just as a good father would do.  In fact, in many ways the best thing a father can do is to help their child to recognize that he and they are both children of the same Heavenly Father.  In that sense we are helping our kids to grow up and take their place side by side with us before God.

As Jesus mentioned in verse 46 and 47, it is not the presence of love that makes us like Him.  It is the prevalence of our love that makes us like Him.  Yes, we are going to mess up and fall down in trying to be like our Heavenly Father.  But He loves us no matter what.  Here is the logic.  If God even loves His enemies enough to provide for them even in their rebellion, how much will He love and provide for us who are His children?  Clearly, He will move Heaven and Earth to love and help us.  Thus, parents, do your best to demonstrate that kind of love and mercy to your children.  And, when you fail be quick to admit it and ask forgiveness.  This will help them to see God in a clearly light.  Yet, children don’t always agree with what a parent thinks is the loving thing to do.  When we talk about tough love, we recognize that sometimes love is difficult.  Even though a kid may think their parents hate them, generally as they mature they recognize that it wasn’t hate.  It was love and concern.  Perhaps we should think of this in regard to our Heavenly Father.  Yes, He may discipline us from time to time and we are often tempted to think that God hates us or has rejected us.  But the truth is that He loves us very much and only has a good goal in mind for us.

So we must learn to rest in His ability to help us.  As a Father, verse 48 is not being put in front of us as some impossible task.  Yes, it is tough, but we have a Heavenly Father that will help us to accomplish it.  We can rest in the fact that HE is not trying to disqualify us.  Rather, He will finish that good work which He has begun in us.  In fact, through our own death and resurrection, He will help us to even be without sin and error.  What a day that will be!

Father’s, don’t let yourself get discouraged to the point that you quit being a father.  Take it one day at a time and engage with your children at whatever stage they are in.  Daily take the time to look to your Heavenly Father for strength, wisdom, and direction.  And, learn to follow the Holy Spirit as He enables you to both overcome your own sin, and become more and more like Jesus.  God hasn’t left you alone to accomplish it all.  He has put His Spirit within you to help you fight the good fight.  So let’s cooperate with Him and, as Paul said in Philippians 3:13, “forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching forward…I press toward the goal.”  Let go of the mistakes and failures and reach forward to what He has for you.

Our Heavenly Father audio

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