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Entries in Righteous (8)

Thursday
Jan262017

The Heart of a Righteous Person 3

We apologize, but we do not have an audio for this week.  

Psalm 51:1-9.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 22, 2017.

We are going to look at the first half of Psalm 51 today, as we continue talking about the heart of a righteous person.  Here we see that the heart of a righteous person deals with its sin before God.  Of course, like anyone else, our flesh tries to avoid the issue of sin because it makes us uncomfortable.  However, at the end of the day, the righteous have learned that this is precisely the area that we must face if we are going to have freedom and joy. 

A unique thing to point out about the Psalms is that some of them have musical notations and statements that are not part of the Psalm, but give us information about it.  Thus, we are told that Psalm 51 was directed to the Chief Musician, but written by David.  More than this, we are also given the situation that led to David penning this Psalm, which is really a prayer.  “A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”  I think it would be good to take a few moments and remind ourselves of this situation.

In 2 Samuel 11 we are made aware of an amazing moral failure by David.  I do not say amazing because I cannot conceive of David sinning.  Rather, I say it is amazing because David has continuously stood strong against some very strong temptations: waiting patiently to be made king, showing restraint when he could have killed Saul, and refusing to reject God out of anger in difficult times.  David had weathered decades of difficulty, trusted in the Lord, and now was King of Israel.  More than this, God had blessed him and his armies were systematically subduing all the kingdoms around him.  At this point in his life, David begins to take it easy.  We are told that he, Israel’s most successful general, decided not to go to the battlefront that spring.  Instead, he stayed home.  One evening, while walking on his rooftop (think of a flat style roof), David sees a beautiful woman bathing.  This should have stopped right there.  But, David’s flesh began to leverage his power.  He inquires who the woman is and finds out that she is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, who is one of David’s top 30 warriors and who had been with him in the wilderness times.  Again, it should have stopped there.  But David’s flesh keeps leveraging him.  He invites her to his place and they end up sleeping together.  David had committed adultery with the wife of one of his loyal friends.   To make matters worse, Bathsheba later sends word to David that she is pregnant.  Remember that her husband has been gone to the battlefield for a while.  David tries to cover his sin by requesting Uriah to be sent to the palace.  When Uriah arrives, David questions him about how everything is going and then tells him to go home for the evening.  His plan is that Uriah will take advantage of the opportunity and sleep with his wife.  This would cover up that Bathsheba had been unfaithful and would keep any further questioning leading to David.  Yet, we find that Uriah was a righteous man.  He refuses to go home and sleep with his wife, while his buddies are sleeping on the ground away from their wives.  So Uriah sleeps at the door of the palace.  David even gets him drunk, but Uriah still will not go home.  When David realizes that Uriah is not going to cover up his sin for him, he then changes plans.  He decides to send a note to Joab, his general, to have Uriah put at the front of the battle, and then to withdraw so that he will be killed.  Even worse, David has Uriah deliver his own death sentence.  Joab complies with David’s unlawful order and so Uriah is killed.  At this point David has been able to fix his problem.  But, he hasn’t really.  God speaks to the prophet Nathan and tells him what has happened.  Nathan then confronts the king.  David is guilty of adultery, deceit, betrayal, murder, giving unlawful orders, and pretending righteousness before the people (and much more).

We must understand that God will not allow us to get away with our sins.  We may be able to do so for a long time, but eventually we will be made to face them.  Righteous people are not people who have never sinned, or at some point were able to conquer sin.  They are not exalted people who are better than the rest of us.  They are people, just like you and I, who have learned to go to war against their own sin.  They are people who do not turn to pride and arrogance when they are confronted with their sin, but instead break down in repentance.  This is a righteous person.  So Psalm 51 is David’s prayer of repentance before God when he was rebuked by the prophet Nathan.

It repents of its sin

The word repentance literally means “to turn.”  When we repent we are turning away from our sin, and the path it is leading us down, and we are turning back towards God and His paths of righteousness.  Of course, this is difficult because we have sinned.  Yet, it must be done if we want to be alive spiritually.  It is only through repentance and the mercy of God that we are freed from the tyranny of sin.

In verse 1 David asks for mercy because he knows the character of God.  He knows that God is loving, kind, steadfast and unfailing in His care for mankind.  Yes, David has blown it completely.  But he has hope that God will forgive him.  We are not just talking about feelings that God has.  God doesn’t just have merciful feelings from time to time.  But, rather, God has proven Himself to have mercy as an integral part of His character.  Now, there is a difference between asking mercy when you are forced to do so, and to ask it when you are not forced.   It is interesting that in some ways God is forcing David to face his sin; there is judgment coming upon David.  Yet, in other ways, God is giving David room to respond.  Imagine if, when one sins, a policing angel from God immediately grabbed us and brought us into the heavenly court of God and we were judged there for our sin.  Of course, everyone would immediately plead mercy.  Instead, God gives us enough warning and confrontation to cause us to fear where our sin is taking us, and yet not so much that there is no room to make it right.  I say that because sins that are done in this life must be faced and dealt with in this life.  If you wait until you are brought before the judge upon your death, it will be too late to make your peace.  Through repentance we can approach the heavenly court before hand in order to deal with our sin.  This is what we see in this Psalm.  David begs for mercy.

He also acknowledges his sin, verse 3.  Yes, he had tried to hide for a while.  But in the end we find David humbling himself and acknowledging that he has sinned.  In fact, this is the reason he can hope that God will have mercy; because he acknowledges his sin.  God loves to give mercy, but He will not do so if a person refuses to acknowledge their sin.  It is through these actions of acknowledging sin and asking for mercy that God forgives and we are declared to be righteous by God.

It desires its relationship with God to be fixed

In verses 4-9 David moves from trying to be freed from his sin, to asking for his relationship with God to be made right.  You see it is good to repent out of fear of God’s punishment.  But it is even better to also want our relationship with Him healed.  David did not want to go through life without God’s presence in his life, and God’s approval upon him.  So how can this be fixed?

Though David is king of Israel, he still has a higher King over him, and that is God.  In verse 4 David says, “Against you, and you only, have I sinned.”  To our ears it sounds like David is minimizing what he did to others, like they don’t matter in some way.  What David actually is doing is recognizing that his sin was actually worse.  In other words, when he sinned against Bathsheba by inviting her to the palace and seducing her, he was even more sinning against God.  When he sinned against his friend Uriah by sleeping with his wife, it was if he had slept with God’s wife.  David is recognizing what we often fail to do when we sin against each other.  The next time you are tempted to yell at someone and mistreat them, ask yourself, “What if this was Jesus?”  It is easier to tell ourselves that what we are doing is not that big of a deal, or that the person we are sinning against is an even worse sinner than we are.  But in truth all sin is not just against each other, but even more, it is against God.  Let me make the point another way.  In Matthew 25 Jesus stated that when we help the hungry, poor, and naked, he treats it as if we did it unto him.  If this is true for the righteous things that we do, what about the unrighteous things we do?  When we mistreat one another, does not Jesus see it as if we did it unto him?  God is our judge and we will one day stand before Him to give account for our sins.  How could David ever be seen as righteous before God after what he had just done (not just to Uriah, but to God)?  How can a righteous judge forgive our sins without being seen as wicked himself?  He can do so because Jesus paid the price for the sins of “whosoever would believe on him” at the cross.  But the wicked who refuse to humble themselves, confess their sin, and ask for mercy, will receive none.

The real problem is not the outward things.  The real problem is what giving into sin has done to our heart and mind.  We have been twisted inside and only God can heal our heart and mind.  The real battle against sin must be fought in these areas of our life.  We can’t fix our own wicked heart.  We need God’s help.  Thus in verse 6 David recognizes that he needs God’s help and that God will give it (“You will make me to know wisdom”).  Only God can bring the light of His Truth into our minds that have been darkened by sin.  Nathan’s rebuke was a gift from God to David.  God was revealing to David that he would not be allowed to get away with this sin.  The whole Bible is filled with God’s wisdom for the hearts and minds that have been darkened by sin.  But we will have to humble ourselves to receive it.  We will have to let go of the sensual, earthly, demonic wisdom that led us into sin in the first place. 

Also notice that David talks about being cleansed.  Verse 2 says, “Wash me thoroughly…cleanse me from my sin.”  Verse 7 says, “Purge me…wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”  This is a metaphor of dirt.  Sin is to our heart what dirt is to a clean garment.  It defiles our heart and mind with a layer of filth that will only become harder and harder to clean the longer we wait.  Thus the mind of a sexual addict, cannot just say, “I won’t do it again,” because their mind has been defiled.  There has to be an inner cleansing that is done as we repent before God and come into relationship with Him.  No mere words can accomplish this.  Only the Spirit of God can come into a heart and cleanse it from all unrighteousness.  When we have a clean relationship with God and there are no layers of sin between our heart and His, then we can know the joy and gladness that verse 8 is talking about.  David had lost his joy and gladness.  He knew that he was destroying his relationship with God and defiling his soul.  But he had been trapped by his lusts and bound in chains by his sin.  Only God could cleanse his heart.

Lastly, as we take the initiative to “deal” with our sin, God will deal with the part of our sin that we can’t.  I can confess my sins and ask for forgiveness.  But only God can remove them from me as far as the east is from the west.  Only God can throw my sins into the sea of forgetfulness and refuse to let them be brought against me in His courts.  In fact, David asks that they be “blotted out.”  This is the picture of the heavenly books that record the actions of every person.  Yes, our actions and even our thoughts are recorded in the books of heaven.  David knew that he had a lot of bad stuff recorded on those pages.  He begs that God would blot out his sins.  Again, the only way God can legally do this is if someone pays the price for them, and that is precisely what Jesus did at the cross.  God can acquit us.  Also, once the price of a crime has been paid for we cannot be tried for it again.  We will pick this up more next week as we look at the 2nd half of this psalm.

Hopefully this walk through David’s heart has encouraged you to not run from God and try to hide your sin.  All our attempts at hiding our sin is like Adam and Eve trying to hide their nakedness from God with fig-leaves.  The fig leaves will not last; they are only a temporary fix.  Also, the very wearing of them signals to God that we have sinned.  Quit dealing with sin your way.  Quit hiding it, and pretending that it is not that bad.  It will destroy you and any relationship you could have with God.  In the end you will stand before the judge and be found lacking, unless, of course, you humble yourself and cry out to God for mercy.  Let’s be a people who are clean before God by dealing with our sin this week.

Monday
Jan162017

The Heart of a Righteous Person 2

Psalm 10:1-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 15, 2017.

We continue today looking at some psalms in the Bible in order to understand the heart of those righteous individuals who have gone before us.  Last week we looked at how the heart of a righteous person: speaks to God, speaks to people, holds fast to the lessons learned by the righteous found in the Bible, and receives the blessing of God.  Today we will deal with the difficulty that presses on the heart of all who want to be godly in this world.

It has questions

In verse 1 we see that the writer of this psalm has questions for God.  It is common for leaders and those who have been Christians for a long time to give the impression that questions are bad.  This can be because they fear a young Christian falling into heresy, but it can also be a fear of losing control on what they believe.  We need to stop this fearful, knee-jerk response to questions.  There is nothing wrong with asking a question if we sincerely seek an answer.  We may not get an answer.  But God is not threatened with us asking tough questions.  It is not necessarily a sign of unfaithfulness.  That said, a questioning heart can make some mistakes.  We can make the mistake of tying our trust in God to getting an answer that our mind will accept.  In this sense we have quit seeking truth and have started putting God on trial.  The devil loves to stir up questions about God’s intentions and actions.  A mature Christian will learn to struggle with them without losing faith.  There are answers to many questions about God that can be learned in the Scriptures.  However, some things are left unanswered.  Can you trust God when He says, “I will not answer that?”  Clearly you can because countless millions have trusted God to the end of their life with those very same questions.  Lastly, questions can be the result of lacking any trust in God and perhaps even a despising of His ways.  It can be a form of rebellion that seeks to stir up trouble among Christians.  In this sense they have already judged God.  No answer will be enough to satisfy their intellectual judgments.  Thus, God can handle our sincere questions.  But, He will not satisfy the minds of those who have rebelled against Him and are seeking to put Him on trial.

The first question has to do with why it looks like God “hides” during times of trouble.  We sometimes refer to this as the “hiddenness of God.”  Here the psalmist is not questioning God’s existence.  Rather, he questions why God isn’t presently dealing with a situation.  It seems as if God is hiding.  There are many answers that have been gleaned from the Bible over the years.  Some have pointed out that it is more important for our faith to be strengthened then our mind to be satisfied.  There is no way around the strange reality regarding humans that our faith grows stronger in adversity.  If God were to give us every answer and protect us from every difficulty then our faith would not be stronger, but tremendously weak.  God gives us enough to believe, but not too much to weaken that faith.  Another point that has been brought up is that our sins and disobedience create a separation between us and God.  We are often concerned about everything but the sin that God is wanting for us to deal with.  Thus He isn’t hiding from us.  Instead He is waiting for us to deal with sin.  We must also recognize that God values the freedom of His sentient creations to choose their own path.  He influences enough to give us wisdom, but not too much to override our freedom to choose.  In fact, connected to this is that God has always worked in conjunction with angels and humanity.  It is not His desire to control and force everything to be His way.  He leaves room for us to respond freely.  When talking about the hiddenness of God, it is also instructive to remember that God could ask us, me, mankind the same question.  Why do you hide from me?  Perhaps He sometimes gives to us the same amount of relational attention that we are giving Him.  Clearly God is far more merciful to us than we have been to Him.  While we were still sinners, Christ Jesus died for us. (Romans 5:8).

Verse 2 ends with a cry for justice.  “Let them be caught in the plots which they have devised.”  This extends the question about God’s hiddenness to the question of why He allows the wicked to succeed.  It is a grievous thing to bear for a righteous heart to see the wicked person steam rolling the innocent and getting away with it.  At this point the psalmist from verse 3 to verse 11 makes the case for why God shouldn’t let the wicked get away with it.  So we will quickly work through these verses recognizing what makes a person wicked.  As a side-note, let me say that a wicked person can recognize their sin, repent, and be saved.  Some people object to the label “wicked” because it sounds like a person can’t change.  The Bible uses language that describes where people are at, not what they are stuck in.  Thus it has no problem calling people evil, where in our generation it is rare for society to let the term “evil” be acceptable for hardly anyone.

The wicked are boastful and proud (2, 3, 4).  They “boast in their desires” (fleshly ones) with a “proud countenance.”  This area of arrogant pride is not so easily dismissed.  I was listening to a radio program the other day where a commentator said, “I want a coach who is arrogant and cocky.”  Whether in sports, Hollywood, business, or politics, the world promotes those who are arrogant and cocky.  People often desire these traits because such people are so driven to obtain their desires that they will do anything.  Who doesn’t want to be on the winning side?  Well let me put the question another way.  Would you want to be on the winning side in Iraq today if that was to join ISIS and its proud leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?  Is winning so important to you that you would throw out biblical principles, or better the ways of God?  How we obtain success is even more important than the success itself.  In fact, this begs the question, “What is success?”  If getting what I want is success then that is a sad definition.  “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world (because he wants it) and lose his soul?”  Many “successful” people that we envy have lost their souls in the process.  No one will think that these ones have succeeded in eternity.

The psalmist recognizes that the wicked bless the greedy.  The word is more than just greedy.  They are greedy for what you have.  Thus covetous might be a better word.  Instead of being a blessing to those who are hurting they bless the wrong people because they themselves have become wrong in their hearts.

In verse 3 it says that they “renounce the LORD.”  It is more than just a statement.  Such statements come from a heart that has already renounced the Lord and His ways.  They reject what God says to them and despise what God asks of them to do.  Because they have rejected God, they never think about what God thinks in their plans.  However, a righteous person is always thinking about what the Lord would have them do.  They often agonize before God in prayer about the emotional difficulties with such decisions.  Let’s say a wicked person cuts a righteous person off on the freeway and the righteous person gets mad and hits the high beam on their lights for two seconds.  Now I am not saying all people who cut someone off on the freeway are wicked.  But I am using this as an illustration.  My point is this.  The wicked person will not give a second thought about their decision to cut-off another person.  The will just keep driving and curse the person who high-beamed them.  But the righteous person will feel bad about high-beaming the person who cut them off and spend time agonizing on whether they went too far before God.  They will even ask God for forgiveness for losing control of their anger.  Of course it is not our job to determine what the other person is.  It is our job to keep our hearts right before God, even when we fail.

Verses 5-6 repeat some of the same reasons.  The wicked couldn’t care less about the decisions or judgments of God in heaven.  Their pride causes them to sneer at all their enemies with the attitude that they can’t be moved or hurt.  “I shall not be moved!”  This attitude sometimes comes from tiring of being the good guy.  We can reject the path of the humble and chose the path of the pride because we never want to hurt again.   Of course this is often just trash talk.  We will all face adversity and difficulty, even those who do their best to avoid it.  What is interesting is that the righteous are actually able to say, “I shall not be moved.”  They can because they are trusting in God and, when the dust of this life settles, the righteous will be left standing with Christ and the wicked will be blown away as the chaff.  In this life the righteous have much adversity.  But none of it can move us if we keep our trust in Jesus.

In verse 7 the psalmist points out that the mouth of the wicked is full of all manner of evil.  They curse God and people.  They practice deceit in what they often say.  They speak oppression for others.  There is nothing to find in their mouth but trouble and iniquity.  It would be better off if they never spoke because of what happens when they do.

Verses 8-11 basically depict the wicked person secretly preying on the helpless of society.  This dog-eat-dog mentality is the logical conclusion of a materialistic, evolutionary world-view.  If there is no day of judgment to an all-powerful God, then why would I live my life by rules that seem to make me the prey to those who don’t?  Thus the wicked see the righteous as unbelievable fools.  Such people become their meal each day.  Yes, the righteous see the same problem, but refuse to join the ranks of the wicked in order to protect themselves.  There is something that holds them back.  So let’s read on.

It has faith

The rest of the psalm moves back to addressing God.  At the end of the day the righteous would rather trust God then trust the snake-oil that the wicked have purchased with their souls.  Yes, it may appear for a season to be working, but in the end the piper must be paid.  Though the righteous don’t have all the answers, and they don’t understand every why to God’s actions, or lack thereof, they still trust Him.

In verse 14 we see that the righteous trust that God is not hiding.  But rather He is keeping track of the actions of mankind.  Psalm 56:8 says, “You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your book?”  The Book of Revelation refers to books being opened at the great judgment, and that men will be judged by the things written in them.  It may feel like God doesn’t care and isn’t observing your situation, but in the end you can trust that He is intimately aware and even recording all that you do and all that has been done to you.  So don’t give up.

Not only is God keeping track, but He is also keeping track in order to repay people for their deeds.  He is going to repay the wicked.  Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.”  This is not just physical death, but spiritual death as well.  God doesn’t just repay the wicked, but He also repays the righteous.  “The gift of God is eternal life.”  Thus God will help the fatherless, who have no one to stand up on their behalf.  The same is true for the widow and the poor person.  We can know that God will make everything right in the end.

So verse 16 declares the faith that God is the King forever.  He is the ultimate authority, and no matter how great the wicked may succeed (even the devil), it will not remove Him from His place of authority and power.  He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  So, it may trouble us that God allows the wicked a time of power and authority, but He has set a day in which all things will be set right.  We must trust Him.  In fact, it is partly a tribute to His grace that He gives the wicked their moment in the limelight, for they will spend eternity in darkness, separated from any good thing of God’s.

Lastly the righteous have faith that God will help the humble, vs. 17.  God has heard the cries of the humble (notice it doesn’t say righteous).  Even the wicked think they are right in what they do.  But God will judge on the side of the humble.  This is a reminder to the righteous to avoid the path of pride and arrogance because it leads to destruction.  Yes, we can question God, but we must remain humble if we want to avoid destruction.  It doesn’t say that God will help the humble by answering their every question.  So what is the help God will give?  First He will strengthen their hearts.  Such difficulties of God’s hiddenness and the success of the wicked can cause our hearts to faint and give up.  But God has strength for the heart of those who trust Him without giving up.  By His Spirit He encourages us from time to time if we are listening.  The psalmist also says that God will help the humble by making Himself hear.  This is a humorous way to put it.  But it is also a way of making it absolute and concrete.  Yes, though it seems like God is deaf to our cries today, there is a day when He will make Himself hear.  We need to wait for that day in trust.  Don’t grow weary in waiting.  They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.  They will mount up on wings with eagles; they will run and not be weary; they will walk and not faint!”  Why?  We will do these things because the Lord our God is with us and will deliver us.  Amen!

Heart of a Righteous Person 2 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

Sunday
Jan082017

A People Who Pray

Hebrews 4:14-16; James 5:14-16.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 01, 2017.

As we approach 2017, we have much to be thankful for, and yet we have much to be in prayer about.  The people of America are more and more turning away from Jesus and towards the answers of the world.  Some who say they are following Jesus are trying to walk the fence of following the world and Jesus at the same time.  When we look to the global scene, we see that the nations of the world seem primed for a great delusion.

It is important for Christians not to let these things wear down our desire to live for Christ.  In fact, it is for such a time as this that we are here.  One aspect of our duty to God is to be a people of prayer.  Now when I say this I do not mean that we should treat prayer like a cosmic, Amazon, wish list.  Though we can ask God for things, prayer is not about me getting everything that I want.  Another danger is to treat prayer as some kind of impersonal power or force that we can learn to wield.  We need to pray, but we also need to do so with proper understanding.

Prayer at its most elemental level is a child conversing with its father.  We must recognize who we are to God and who He is to us.  Though the world may look at Christians as weak, it really is a result of the commands we have from our Lord.  We are not to fight as the world fights and neither do we fight against the same things that the world fights against.  When Christians understand prayer as an amazing aspect of putting on the Armor of God, learning to wield the Sword of the Spirit, and walking in the Spirit, then we will find it to be one of our most powerful weapons against the devil and his plans.  Let’s choose to be a people of prayer today!

Come before the Throne of Grace

In the book of Hebrews the apostle is demonstrating the greatness of Jesus and what that means for us as His followers.  In Hebrews 4:14-16 we are given instruction on how the greatness of Christ opens the door for us to approach God’s throne.  It is interesting that he refers to God’s throne as a place of grace.  Earlier rabbis had recognized that God sometimes dispenses punishing judgments against people and nations, and at other times dispenses gifts of grace.  In their minds they theorized that there were two different thrones.  Your outcome depended upon which throne God was sitting on.  Early Christianity received revelation that made it clear this was not true.  In Jesus the Justice and Grace of God are satisfied in one place, one throne.  Ultimately it is a throne of grace because that is God’s intent; He wants to give grace to those who come before Him.  However, one must not be worthy of judgment to approach.  In Jesus, Christians have their judgment covered by the work of Jesus Christ.  We can walk into the fearful place of Justice and it is a safe place for us.  Christians must resist the temptation to split the justice and grace of God.  In fact it is common to focus on one to the detriment of the other.  Some highlight the grace of God to the effect that He would never judge anybody.  Others highlight the justice and righteousness of God to the effect that grace becomes non-existent.  Ours is an even more amazing message.  We can walk into the place that no man can walk, and the fearful judge will lovingly embrace us as His children.

This is why the apostle says that we should come “boldly,” or “with confidence.”  The Greek word that is translated here has the idea of “freedom of speech.”  When we enter into God’s presence through prayer, we do not have to measure our words, so as to avoid incurring the wrath of the Sovereign.  Instead, we are free to speak our hearts and minds before a loving Father.  Of course kids sometimes say dumb and even wrong things.  However, we are in a loving, safe relationship with a Father who is committed to helping us grow and mature spiritually.  Over time our prayer life will go from an infantile wish list to a far deeper intimate communication.  The devil does not want Christians praying.  Think of it as a kind of spiritual, First Amendment (AKA freedom of speech).  The devil cannot overturn this right that we have as followers of Christ.  So, how does he combat this?  He needs only to convince us to shut up, to self-censure ourselves.  He uses doubts and fears about God’s intent towards us, or even His existence, to get us to quit praying.  He sometimes uses brute force to intimidate people from believing God (I quit because it only gets me hurt).  He sometimes uses a seductive attack to get us so hungry for the things of this world that we never come to know God at all, and perhaps could walk away from Him.  Christians every day say things like this as they continue in prayerlessness:  “It does no good,” “I don’t have time,” “Something bad might happen,” or “That stuff isn’t real.”  Satan has a vested interest in discouraging prayer in your life.  But, Jesus gives us the confidence to talk with God.

Jesus is our high priest who properly mediates between us and God.  More than this, Jesus has been a man and was tempted in every way.  He knows how we feel and the difficulties we face.  The Father is not looking for ways to disqualify you and push you away.  He has gone to the cross in order to qualify you.  So, don’t let the enemy put the idea in your mind that God can’t understand how difficult it is to trust God in this world.  It was not easier for Jesus because he was God, it was actually harder.  Why would I say that?  I say that because all the things that discourage us in this world against faith would be harder for a “perfect” person.  When someone does me wrong, I get angry and may blame God.  But I am not a perfect person.  Perhaps God has allowed it because it is a discipline for me that I deserve.    It would be even harder for a perfect person to accept.  Jesus accepted the plan of the cross, and it was not easy for Him.  He knows how you feel.  For your own sake, go to Him in prayer.  No one cares for you like the Father in Heaven. 

The apostle mentions two reasons to come to the Throne of Grace:  to obtain mercy and to find grace to help in time of need.  Let’s look at mercy first.  Mercy is the remission and removal of what we deserve.  Some of the things that we suffer in life are at least partly our own fault.  It could seem spiritual to simply accept it and honor God by suffering.  However, this is not our instruction from God.  We are told to ask for mercy.  It doesn’t matter what you have done or how bad you have messed things up.  You can ask God for mercy.  In fact, salvation is a matter of asking God for mercy.  I do not deserve heaven.  My sins deserve separation from God and His goodness forever.  Yet, the prayer of repentance says, “God, I am sorry for following my sins.  I renounce them and ask for your mercy.”  Notice that it would be mercy for God to simply let us be his slaves.  But He goes above and beyond this and makes us His children.  Thus we can ask for mercy in our lives.  If God still asks us to suffer a situation, then we can yield to his decision and honor Him by what we suffer.

Grace on the other hand is the receiving of that which we don’t deserve.  We don’t merit it in any way, but God gives it anyways.  Yes, it may seem spiritual to be content with what you have and not ask for anything.  But that is not our instructions from God.  We can ask for those things that we think we need and would be beneficial.  Of course that will be a very different list as we mature from an infant spiritually to a mature believer.  If God tells me, “No,” regarding something I ask for then I can yield to His decision and trust that I don’t need it as badly as I think.  God in His sovereignty gives us things for which we did not ask.  However, He also leaves room for things that we must ask for if we are to have them.  Why?  He does so because He wants us to mature and become like our Lord, Jesus.

A righteous person prays

So now let’s go to James 5:14-16.  The main point I want to draw out of this is that a righteous person prays.  If I am lacking in prayer then I might look at this area of righteousness.  Being “righteous” in this passage cannot be talking about having our sins covered by Jesus.  All Christians, spiritually infants or mature, stand before God covered with the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  We are all technically, absolutely righteous.  However, in this passage is the hypothetical case of a Christian who is sick because of sin in their life and need the prayer of a righteous man to deliver them.  It is my belief that the word “righteous” here refers to the fact that this believer has no issues of sin that are between them and God.  The righteous believer is not perfect and without sin.  However, they are properly dealing with any areas of sin by first resisting temptation, and second quickly confessing sin if they fail.  1 John 1:9 says that if we confess our sin, that the Lord is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  This verse has been called the Christian’s bar of soap.  Many believers who are living a life of prayerlessness do so because they have areas of sin in their life that they are trying to hide.  God in His mercy is working to bring us to maturity.  When we are like Adam and Eve, hiding in the Garden full of shame, He comes out after us.  So all Christian communities need mature, righteous individuals who are in a position to pray for and help other believers.  In fact, even they need other mature believers around them.  None of us can stand on our own.   We need others who will pray with us, and at times for us.

James brings up the issue of sickness.  He actually starts with a person who is simply sick.  Most likely they have prayed for healing and nothing has happened.  At some point they should ask the elders to pray for them.  Let me just say that one thing is clear in this passage.  A righteous person prays for healing when people are sick.  There are some who believe that God does not heal any more.  There are various reasons for believing this.  But all of them are woefully lacking in the face of Scripture.  It is patently not true.  In their minds it is a mark of spiritual maturity to not ask for healing and suffer for Jesus.  I do not want to deride this idea because sometimes God does ask us to suffer something for His glory.  Yet, their default position is that there is no healing.  We are instructed in this passage that if we are sick, we should call for the elders (presumably righteous believers) to pray for us.  Of course God is not required to heal anybody.  But it is not our job to determine whether God will heal someone.  It is our “job” to simply be a child and come before the Father with a request.  Then we trust His answer.  Take note that if there is no immediate healing, it may not be a, “No.”  It could just be a, “Not yet.”  Still we operate in faith.  We ask because we believe He can heal, and may do so.  We wait in faith because we know that, as Sovereign, He gets to pick the time and way it is done.  We accept His final answer because we know that our reward and inheritance are far much more than this world.

James adds another dimension to the hypothetical situation.  He says that it is possible the sick person has sin in their life that is the reason for their sickness.  Sin is not just an issue for the lost.  It continues to be a daily issue for the believer.  Unconfessed sin will always be a barrier between us and God.  I am not saying that a Christian can lose their salvation.  What I am saying is that sin affects our communication and relationship with the Father.  It can even affect how He responds to our prayers.  In 1 Peter 3:7, husbands are told to dwell with their wives in understanding and honor them.  Peter then adds, “so that your prayers will not be hindered.”  So even the sins of how we treat one another can become barriers to our prayers.  Yes, God hears our prayers, but in a sense He is saying, “I want you to deal with this sin first, before I consider these other requests.”  The requests are unable to be dealt with.  Now confession is ultimately between man and God.  But when our sin is against other people then God tells us to make it right with them first (if that is still possible).  Even then, there are times when private sins become such a stronghold in our life and such a barrier between us and God that we need to confess to spiritually mature people.  Confession has a way of breaking those chains and giving us an accountability partner.  Notice that confession is not to a particular office in the church.  Confession can be to any Christian, but it is most effect when to a spiritually mature believer, regardless of whether they have an official title or not.  Thus a righteous person prays for forgiveness when people have sinned.  In fact, they are more able to do so because they have been praying for their own forgiveness and keeping short accounts with God.

We will close with the last part of verse 16.  “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”  This phrase is a bit tricky to translate.  There is one word that often is translated as “effectual, fervent.”  This one word has the sense of that which is working, thus the word “effectual.”  When we think of prayer working, we typically think of getting what we ask.  However, the meaning is not so simple here.  The emphasis is on the fact that prayer is something that is real and is accomplishing a real work when a righteous person prays.  This interaction with God has more to do with God accepting the prayer than it does with Him giving us exactly what we ask for.  The prayer of a righteous person is not hindered, but is getting through to God.  God is not refusing to hear the prayer, until they deal with sin.  He is hearing the prayer and giving it consideration.  Such prayer is powerful because the One receiving it is able to do above and beyond anything we ask.  A righteous person sometimes gets an answer from God that is essentially, “Not yet.”  They may even get the answer, “No.  My grace is enough for you.” This verse is reminding us how powerful the prayer of a righteous person can be.  It is as powerful as the God to whom we pray, which is omnipotent.  Much of a righteous person’s spiritual walk is in this relationship of prayer, and discovery of the heart of God.  An immature child stomps their feet demanding exactly what they ask for.  A mature person draws closer to the Father to discover what it is He is concerned about.  May we be a people of prayer.  But even more, may we pray those prayers as a righteous person who is maturing in their relationship with the Lord.

A People Who Pray audio