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Entries in Serving (5)

Tuesday
Mar142017

Serving Selflessly with our Natural Gifts

Several Passages.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 12, 2017.

Today we are going to look at the practical side of serving others.  When we have a firm grasp of why we should serve, and we are committed to do so, we still have to face the area of how we do that.  So today we will focus on serving others with our natural gifts, abilities, and the possessions that we have.  When you have a strong belief in the reality of spiritual gifts for today, it is easy to see natural gifts as something that is lesser and undesirable.  But, this cannot be any further from the truth.  Before we are ready to talk about spiritual gifts we need to learn to surrender our natural abilities to the Lord in service to others.  Now, when we talk about these things, there are some who secretly say in their mind, “I have nothing, and I am nothing.”  This simply is not true.  In fact some of the most generous people in the world are those who have very little in the eyes of the world.  So as we look into this area let’s try to avoid the tendency to focus merely on numbers.

Our first passage will focus on a woman from the city of Joppa in Israel.  Her name was Tabitha and her story is told in Acts 9:36-43.

Natural Gifts vs. Spiritual Gifts

The reason I chose this passage is because we can see both natural gifts and spiritual gifts working in the same story.  Before we get into the passage let’s focus on what I mean by natural gifts.  Natural gifts are those predispositions and abilities that we are genetically inclined towards, which then become skills that we naturally pick up and develop.  I would also include those possessions and wealth that we have acquired through our natural birth to a certain family and the use of our skills and abilities.  By calling them natural, I am not implying that God has nothing to do with them.  He is the creator of Nature and the particular nature of humans.  It is He who designed the abilities of mankind and the reality that over long periods of time our selectivity in breeding and environment would affect our DNA and how it is passed down.  Thus Spiritual gifts by contrast do not have such a natural explanation for their existence.  For example, a man studies the profession of medicine over a long period of time and does well as a doctor helping people to heal.  He should definitely give God thanks for the intellect and health to do what he has done.  But we would still consider this to be a natural event which God has made possible.  Spiritual gifts do not have a similar natural component, but more on that later.

Tabitha apparently had time, money, and skill that she used to serve others around her.  Verse 36 starts with a general description of her service.  She was “full of good works and charitable deeds which she did.”    In verse 39 we are shown a specific example of Tabitha’s service.  Many of the widows, who had gathered in mourning her death, held up the tunics and garments that Tabitha had made for them while she was still alive.  No doubt she did other good works and charitable deeds.  But this one is an example of them.  When Tabitha died it brought sorrow and grief to the people who knew her.  She was an outstanding believer and so the Christians there sent for the apostle Peter to come.  It would seem that they are hoping for a miracle.

Now, as Peter enters the story, we have one of the apostles of Jesus whom God used mightily to preach the Gospel, and also confirmed it with miracles of healing and exorcism.  When Peter is made aware of Tabitha’s death, he doesn’t grab his medical bag and medical reference books.  He is not healing Tabitha by any natural means.  In fact we could be technical and say that Peter isn’t healing her, God is.  But, that would be to press more into that phrase than the Bible does.  The spiritual gift of healing is not based upon genetics, IQ, or skills that one has honed over time.  They are purely a working of the Spirit of God through the faith and actions of his believers.  Peter’s first action is to pray.  Though we are not told, I would think that part of his prayer is asking God if He was willing to bring Tabitha back to life.  At some point when Peter believed that the answer to this was affirmative, he turns to her body and says, “Tabitha, arise.”  She then opens her eyes and sits up.  Peter then lifts her up and presents her to the believers.  Now notice that the natural gifts of Tabitha and the spiritual gift of Peter were very different from each other.  And yet, they are the same in this, both the natural gifts and the spiritual gifts are intended to be used for others.   Yes, they are different from each other, but they both come from the same God so that we can bless each other.

This leads to an invaluable point.  Natural gifts and spiritual gifts should not be in contention with each other, but instead, work together.  This is not just possible, but necessary.  It is possible because they come from the same God.  It is necessary because God intends to use both to help His people.  Do not neglect using your natural gifts for others because you want to be more spiritual.  However, do not neglect to seek spiritual gifts because you are more comfortable with the natural.  We are not choosing one over the other, or trying to get rid of one for the other.  Instead, God intends for them to work hand in hand within the life of an individual and also within the life of the body of believers.  The gifts of Tabitha and Peter are being used to bless believers and provide a witness to the unbelievers.  In fact, ask yourself.  How did Peter get to Joppa from Lydda?  Though God has given him spiritual gifts, Peter still exercises his natural gift of travel in order to get to Joppa (We are not told his method, walking or donkey).  Also, the passage ends with Simon the Tanner, a business man in Joppa, providing a place for Peter to stay.  Thus it is the natural gifts of Simon that allow for the spiritual gifts of God to work through Peter.  Just as our spirit and body are designed to work in harmony, so our natural gifts and spiritual gifts should work in harmony too.

We can fail to use our natural gifts for others

Let’s go to 1 Timothy 6:17-19 now.  I want to be careful to keep this from being all about money.  The use of our money is one area of resource in our life.  We have many others such as time, skills, experience, and knowledge.  However, wealth is one that can have a very strong leverage on our heart.  Thus the apostle Paul tells Timothy to command the rich to use their wealth for good works.  Now I purposefully picked this passage because it uses the word, “command.”  The Lord Jesus , in Matthew 19:21, teaches us to lay up treasure in heaven by using our earthly wealth to help others.  The point is that some of them were rich in wealth, but neglected to ask the question, “But am I rich in good works.”  Have I banked up treasure in heaven?  I have worked so hard to bank up money on this earth, but what about when I am gone here?  What if I lose it all tomorrow?  Thus the motives of the rich Christian are challenged.  They can neglect to use these natural gifts to serve others because they have become “haughty” ( a word that means high-minded).  An attitude that somehow I am the lucky one and you are not, can lead to stinginess and selfishness.  It is easy to forget that our abilities and placement in life are not all our own.  Much of it we were given.  Regardless, we will be held accountable for what we did with what we had.  The second reason given is that we can put our trust in our riches and abilities.  We can think that they will always hold us up.  Even if our money never fails as we live this life, the time will come for our death.  Our money will not be able to help us in that day.  When we stand before God, our amassing of money on earth will not impress God.  It will do the exact opposite.  Riches are often “here today and gone tomorrow.”  When I go to God will I go as a poor man (that is no heavenly treasure)?  Don’t let pride and false trust cause you to be stingy concerning others.  This is not about money only.  We can use our abilities and experience in life to help others who do not have them.  Even networking is a way of serving one another.  The reason for your gifts is not for you to consume them yourself.  They are not some kind of cosmic reward.  They are intended to enable you to take care of your family, friends and loved ones, and those who God brings to your attention.

God gives the believer freedom

Now let’s look at Galatians 5:13-15.  We finish this sermon with this passage precisely because it helps us understand the earlier word “command.”  The same apostle is writing both passages.  In 1 Timothy he tells Timothy to command the rich to be rich in good works.  But to the Galatians Paul emphasizes that God’s goal for his people is freedom.  Ultimately He wants us to choose to serve each other freely.  Thus we have a choice to make.  The first choice is whether or not we are going to follow Jesus or not.  It is to those who want to be his disciples that Jesus says, “lay up treasures in heaven.”  He is not trying to control us, but rather, he is trying to make it very clear that if we are really following him and growing to become like him, we will use our natural gifts to serve others.  Consequently, if we are not using our natural gifts to serve others, then we are not following Jesus and becoming like him.  This brings us to the second part of freedom.

Yes, we are free to choose, but we cannot choose the effects of that choice also.  Being free does not remove consequences.  Thus when you hear the idea that we should be free to “sin,” and that God is being judgmental to say that certain things are wrong, remember that God does not control choices.  We actually live in a world where people are free to sin.  When someone wants to steal, cheat, or murder, there is no angel of death that shows up and strikes them dead.  Yes, God could do this, but He doesn’t.  We are free to sin and free to do righteousness.  But they both have consequences in the natural and in the spiritual that you can’t control.  Let me give you a hypothetical situation.  Suppose tomorrow our society completely rejects the idea of marriage and an exclusive, sexual relationship.  It is done so strongly that those who promote exclusivity and marriage are seen as something worse than a pedophile is to us today.  Now fast forward in time 200, even 400 years later.  No one is alive who even remotely understands the concept of sexual exclusivity.  Picture a young man or woman who falls in love with someone for the first time.  It is reciprocated by the other and they are sexually intimate.  But, a month later, one or the other, decides they have had enough with you and leave you to be intimate with someone else.  Here’s the point.  You cannot tell me that the individual who is left behind won’t be hurt, and emotionally injured.  Of course they know that it is supposed to be okay.  But, that won’t make their heart hurt any less.  Thus they will eventually move on and a certain softness will die in their heart as they embrace the way of the world.  My point is that sin still hurts even when we try to define it out of existence.  Yes, you are free to sin.  But God knows that sin destroys us in every way.  It destroys relationships, and societies.  In fact sin touts itself as freedom, but in truth it is always chains.

Thus in verse 13, Paul gives the overarching principle that those who are following Jesus will, “serve one another in love.”  Now God is not going to tell you how much, how long, to whom, etc…  You are free to choose.  However, you are also free to pray about how much, how long, to whom you will serve.  The practicality is that you cannot be “God” to everyone.  He does not intend you to be the sole source for others.  You can only give so much, help so many people, and give so much of your time.  The point is serving, not the amount itself.  So a very biblical case can be made for a spherical understanding of our love.  Those in our immediate family are our primary point of service.  They are those whom God has given to us in order to serve.  The next circle is made of our friends, co-workers, and neighbors.  They are a secondary point of service.  The last circle takes in the whole world, but is best described as those whom God, in His mysterious ways, connects us to in one way or another. 

As I said earlier, we can pray and ask God for help and direction in how to use our natural gifts.  We must do this precisely because they are limited.  Thus even our natural gifts can be directed and led by the Holy Spirit to help us grow in serving others.  It is God who knows what they need and He can give us wisdom and skill in serving one another.

Let me close with sharing a verse from 1 Corinthians 10:13, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  When we only live for ourselves or our family, we fall short of the glory of God.  So take some inventory today of your natural gifts.  Quit saying that you don’t have anything.  In fact you might do better to work at it from the other side of the problem.  Instead of looking at your resources first, lift up your eyes and start seeing the need.  Then, out of love for God and them, ask yourself, “What can I do to help them?”  That is the best place to start because love always finds a way to serve others.

Serving with our natural gifts 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

Wednesday
Oct082014

One Thing Is Needed

Serving is a big theme within Christianity.  Jesus himself is the inspiration for this and is often called a “servant-leader.”  Until Jesus this would have been considered two words that do not go together.  Yet, today we see service as an obligation.  So much so that it is hard for us to conceive that we can go overboard in it.  Is it possible to serve too much?  Perhaps better said, it is possible for us to miss the most important thing in our quest to serve more. 

Serving people can take on a whole life of its own that leads to the destruction of the very soul of the server.  Of course, we all need served in one way or another.  However, some are in a far greater position to serve than others.  It is easy to lay such a guilt trip on them that we lose sight that they are a soul loved by the Father in Heaven as well.  Have you ever thought about the truth that God loves the one who is able to give and serve just as much as he loves the one who is in great need?  Have you ever thought that God would rather we served less out of love for him, rather than to serve more and lose your soul?  Is that possible?

Today’s story is about two sisters who had become disciples of Jesus and even his friends.  They are the same two sisters who have a brother named Lazarus that Jesus would later raise from the dead.  It is thought that Martha was the oldest and may have been a widower because it is called her house and they seem to be well off enough to feed and care for Jesus and his 12 disciples on numerous occasions.  Let’s look at Luke 10:38-42.

Service Can Become A Distraction

The “certain village” is Bethany, less than 2 miles east of Jerusalem.  I want us to first see how Martha get’s distracted by her “much serving.”  I am not saying that service in and of itself is a distraction.  But, that distraction is a pitfall that we need to avoid whenever we are serving others.

Martha was clearly giving hospitality to this group of men because of Jesus.  He was the Anointed One and the Lord.  So there is a certain joy that comes from participating in the ministry of one so used of God.  She is also serving in very practical ways: a place to rest, wash your feet, eat food, and have drink.  All of these things are needed in life and great ways to bless others.  However, sometimes in our service to the Lord, we can lose sight of the people we serve on his behalf. 

The Pharisees had made such a mistake.  They had gone to great practical lengths to please God and serve Him.  They would memorize the Law and all of the traditions of interpretation throughout history.  They would tithe not just of their income, but even on the increase of any spices they acquired.  Yet, they were so fixated on serving God that they lost sight of His people.  God in and of himself has little need of our service.  He is not hungry or tired, and neither is he poor or lacking love and honor.  Jesus pointed this out when he said we serve him by how we serve those who belong to him.  The Pharisee’s understanding of service had little room for others.  In their quest to obtain great favor with God, they looked down upon and became a stumbling block to the very ones they should have been serving.  God wanted them to see the needs and serve His people.  He still wants us to be doing that today. 

It is ironic that, in focusing on Jesus so much, Martha actually lost sight of the heart of Jesus.  She wants to please the flesh of Jesus so much that she loses sight of the fact that Jesus was more concerned with spiritual matters than he was with material things.  Her desires and fallen nature were pushing her to try and please the Lord in ways that were not pleasing to him.  Like any good hostess, Martha had some vision of what she wanted to do and yet there were a lot of people.  In the midst of this drive to please Jesus, Martha becomes annoyed with her sister who is not helping her.  Now recognize that although Jesus and the disciples needed to eat and drink, Jesus is not going to be pleased by the amount or quality of the food.  He would appreciate anything that Martha could and would do.  There was no reason for her to be so pressured to do so much other than her desire to impress Jesus.  It is exactly at this point that she loses sight of Jesus and his message.  Meanwhile Martha’s sister, Mary, is sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to his teaching.

Martha basically blows her lid and asks Jesus to command Mary to help her.  Thus her complaint comes from her bitterness that Mary wouldn’t help her.  We are not told if she asked Mary or not.  So we will have to put that aside.  Have you ever had something you were trying to do that you valued highly but others didn’t see it at the same level as you?  Perhaps you thought the project was so amazing that everyone should jump on board and help you.  We can become bitter at people when they do not value things at the same level that we do.  However, our complaints against them may be unwarranted.  Sure Mary could have helped her sister and that would have been good.  Yet, Mary wasn’t choosing to hurt her sister.  Rather, she was choosing to enjoy the presence and teaching of Jesus.  Why should Martha despise that?  She would only despise it because her sinful nature was pressuring her to do so.

Now there is a subtle, second complaint.  Lord, why aren’t you doing anything about this lazy sister of mine.  Martha wants the Lord to line out her sister.  We may not recognize it at first but, those who give themselves to much serving and become resentful to the Lord Himself.  God why don’t you make more people help me?  This is such a great way to serve, why aren’t you blessing it?  Such “foxes” will destroy the vines of our desire to serve.  Our energy to serve will quickly shrivel up and we will become disillusioned to God, people and even ourselves. 

Jesus simply tells Martha, “One thing is needed.”  This word “needed” has the sense of an obligation or duty.  There is only one thing that is necessary, Martha.  Why do you insist on so many unnecessary things?  What a question for our life.  Do I insist on trying to do so many unnecessary things that I have driven any joy from my life?  What a tragedy this can be.

The “One Thing” That We Need

Martha’s complaint leaves something hanging that we need to deal with.  Does Jesus really care for Martha and her service for his sake?  Or simply put, Does Jesus Care?  There is an old hymn titled, “Does Jesus Care?”  The chorus goes like this, “Oh, yes, He cares, I know He cares.  His heart is touched with my grief.  When the days are weary, the long nights dreary, I know my Savior cares.”  Without question Jesus cares for Martha and for us.  All we need to do is look at the cross, as he sheds his life-blood on our behalf, and we cannot but be convinced of His great love for us.  But, Jesus cares about Martha too much to let her destroy herself with unnecessary things.  Martha is troubling herself with so many concerns and desires.  She has created her own emotional, perfect storm.  She is like the disciples were on the Sea of Galilee when the storm came up suddenly and threatened their lives.  She is a woman tossed and driven by many things that the Lord himself does not care about.  But, Jesus does care about her.  Jesus didn’t care that Mary had chose to listen to him instead of help with serving.  Why?  He didn’t care about that because it wasn’t as important.  Have you ever thought that God cares about you too much to let you have your way?  Perhaps that wall you keep running into is God trying to tell you to rest and let those worries and desires go.  “Peace, be still, Martha!”  You can almost hear our Lord saying that too us at times when we have driven ourselves into a panic.

Are you worried and troubled by many things?  Those are the words Jesus used of Martha.  The word “worried” here is the same used in Matthew 6:25.  “Therefore, I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on it.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”  In Philippians 4:6 we are told, “Be anxious(worried) for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  Wow!  Even in our service to Him, it is not God’s desire for us to be filled with worry and anxiety.  He wants us to have His peace guarding our hearts and mind from those many desires and temptations that threaten to rob us of our joy.  The word “troubled” here is the idea of disturbed or uproar.  Thus, the picture of the storm in Martha’s heart is exactly what Jesus saw.  There is no end to the things that can cause us to worry.  If you let them they will surround you like the howling winds of Galilee and destroy your very soul.

Yet, Mary had chosen “the good part.”  Jesus challenges Martha’s choices during his stay by saying that Mary had chosen something better.  Why should I take that away from her?  Now the good choice is not between learning and serving.  Martha’s problem is not that she chose to serve when she should have chosen to learn.  Rather, Martha made choices that distracted her from Jesus and what was important to Him.

In Luke 18:22 Jesus told the rich young ruler that he still lacked “one thing.”  Sell all of your riches and follow me.  Again, it is not wrong that he is rich.  However, Jesus saw that his riches were distracting him from being able to truly follow Jesus.  The rich man needed to sell all his possessions.  Martha needed cut back on all the ways she was trying to serve.  To follow Jesus is to learn how to walk the way he walked.  The way of Jesus is a way of dying to those concerns that try to drive us, and learning to simply trust the Lord.  “Pick up your cross and follow me.”  Although some of the disciples were literally put to death on crosses, the words of Jesus are intended to go beyond the material world.  We all have things we need to die to in order to make godly choices.  Mary loved the Lord and it led her to choose to sit at his feet and receive his teaching.  Could Martha have simply served the Lord and his disciples because it was a good thing, rather than trying to impress the Lord with her much serving?  We need to quit trying to impress God with the things we do for Him.  In truth we are secretly trying to deserve his love.  Why would you insist on “deserving” something that is given freely? God loves you without much serving.  This does not mean we shouldn’t serve.  Rather, it means that we can freely serve.  It means that our joy can remain regardless of how much and how great we are able to do.

Jesus is tender with Martha here, even though she was being harsh with her sister.  Jesus wants Martha to experience his peace.  Even Jesus had to deal with this temptation.  Everywhere he went people clamored for the Lord to heal them, cast out demons, teach us, and give us bread and fish.  Although Jesus gladly gave himself to these things, we also see him slipping away to pray; and slipping away to other places.  The people would wake up and become frantic when they realized Jesus was gone.  “Where did he go?  Get in the boat.  Let’s follow him!”  Instead of being driven to heal everyone in the world, Jesus focused on what really was necessary to please His Father in heaven.

Let me just leave us with some things to consider in choosing the good part in our lives.  Of course, off the top, we need to walk away from those things that are definitely sinful.  “Go and sin no more.”  These things are clearly not the good part.  Yet, in choosing good things, we can be tempted to do too many good things.  Are you a parent of a young child and working fulltime?  Then you may have little time to do anything else.  There are some good things that we need to cancel altogether simply because our life is too cluttered.  Is this okay?  God loves you and doesn’t want you to grind all joy out of your life in the pursuit of something that is already yours (i.e. his love).  Also, in those good things that we choose to keep doing we might need to lower our expectations and desires.  As a parent you should not abdicate your responsibility to raise your child.  However, in choosing to raise them, we can put unrealistic expectations upon ourselves and upon our child.  First time obedience, every time, is going to fill you full of bitterness, worry, and fear.  What does God expect from you?  Did His children demonstrate first time obedience all the time?  This is not meant to be a cop-out for responsible parenting.  It is a plea for parents to understand that God wants them to have joy as a parent, even in the midst of trips to the hospital or to the principal’s office.  Are you choosing the good part?  Lastly, the good things that we continue to do and have simplified also need to be focused correctly by the heart of Christ and in thanks for his love.  What I mean is that we have to quit trying to impress Jesus and deserve him.  Rather we need to operate from the present reality of having his love and favor.  We need to do what we do out of joy and because it is the good thing that he has given to us to do.  Whether anyone helps us or not is irrelevant.  What is relevant is that I do all that I do as unto the Lord and know that it is enough.  Do it today.  Go through the list of all that you have to do and cancel some things, do less of others, and make sure you do all that you do out of thanks to the Lord for His great love!  

One Thing Is Needed mp3

Tuesday
Dec172013

The Prophecy of Zecharias

Today we will pick up the Christmas story in Luke 1:57.  Here we are told that Elizabeth had come to full term and birthed John.  Now Mary had stayed with Elizabeth during these 3 months and then, at some point after John’s birth, had gone back to Nazareth.

A Sign

Now we saw how Zecharias had become mute after the angel talked to him in the temple.  The angel had told him that he would not be able to speak until all these things were fulfilled.  That is over 9 months of being unable to speak.  So people obviously knew something happened to Zecharias.  In fact, most likely they believed he was being punished by God.  Zecharias had been given the hope that he would speak again but there was no specific time.  Thus he probably wondered on the day of John’s birth whether he would be able to speak.  Nope.  As the days go by he is being tested further and further.  Why can’t I speak yet?  It is interesting that his speech returns when he confirms that the baby’s name is to be John.  The miracle of speech was connected to this act of faith.  “No, we will not name the baby after me.  We will give it the name that the angel said.”  This faith is a demonstration that Zecharias is surrendered to the will of God in this situation. 

Now this sign of being unable to speak for so long and then suddenly speaking at the naming of the child, caused the people to marvel.  It pointed out something special about this baby in God’s plan.  Yes, Zecharias muteness was a sign, but it also was a discipline.  God’s discipline is not simply about punishment, but rather about teaching us and helping us to become what we really want.  Zecharias wanted to be faithful to God.  Now he had his own personal sign and experience that God will do what He says He will do.  Zecharias will have much stronger faith from now on.

God’s Salvation Has Come

In verses 67-70 he begins to praise God for the salvation that has come.  Now let me just say up front that in all prophetic declarations, it is the Holy Spirit who is actually prophesying.  The person is simply yielding the Spirit.   This first theme of salvation is something that Israel had been waiting to receive for centuries.  Zecharias says that “he has visited.”  God visits His people to deliver and to judge.  Sometimes it is one and sometimes it is the other.  In fact the prophecies about the Messiah point to it as both deliverance and judgment; salvation to those who believe and judgment to those who do not.  Notice that he speaks of it as if it has already happened, or is done.  This can be understood in the context of waiting for a millennium plus.  To have angels declaring that it has begun is to rejoice that it is as good as done.  Will God start something and not complete it?  Rejoice!  The Messiah is here and we are as good as saved!

He also points out that the Messiah will ransom His people.  To redeem or ransom is to buy back in order to free someone.  Thus the picture is that Israel is held ransom by her sins and by Satan.  She cannot be set free without a price being paid.  Jesus points this out in Matthew 20:28, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  It has become common today to diminish the concept of ransom.  It makes God seem less loving.  Yet, if we get rid of this idea of ransom we do so at the expense of diminishing God’s Truthfulness and the badness of our own sin.  If I “make God more loving” by removing the concept of the blood of Jesus being shed to pay the price for my sin, then I am saying that sin is not that big of a deal.  Sin is not nearly as sinful as previous generations thought.  O really?  Where do you suppose they got that idea?  They got it from God Himself.  Here Jesus says that the heart of what he is doing is paying a ransom.  Can we really save God’s reputation from Himself?  No, we will both end up in the ditch.  God doesn’t need us to rescue His reputation from what the Scriptures say.

He also points out that this salvation has come through David’s line.  God had specifically promised David that the Messiah would come through his line.  The reference to a “horn of salvation” was a picture of the dangerous and prominent horn that sticks out from the head of an animal.  This metaphor was used for a strong leader of a people.  This leader, this Messiah would use His strength in order to accomplish salvation in the same way that the Judges of old did.  Or, I should say, in a far better way. 

This is the salvation that all the prophets had spoken about in every generation all the way back to God Himself in the Garden.  It was there that he prophesied that the seed of the woman would one day crush the head of the serpent.  In every age prophets had spoken of this coming salvation and yet, in every age, were those who were cynical, mocked, and scoffed at such foolishness.  Salvation comes to those who make it happen!  Many today, even in the Church, are scoffing and mocking at the things promised by Scripture.  Here Zecharias is rejoicing that in the midst of such scoffing has come the very day that the faithful had waited for.

Salvation From Our Enemies

Verse 71 points out that this is a salvation from our enemies.  It is literally “out from” our enemies.  The picture is more than God coming between us and our enemies.  But, rather we have been surrounded and taken captive.  He comes into the enemy’s camp and rescues us out from our enemy.

Now Israel had many natural enemies.  In fact some of these were even within Israel- King Herod being but one example.  And, of course, the Romans themselves would be high on this list.  Yet, Jesus did not come to lead a revolt against Herod or Caesar.  God was concerned first with the spiritual enemies of His people.  This starts with Satan, but also includes the world system that he has built up in every nation on earth.  It also includes sins hold within our own flesh.  Like a triple-barbed hook, sin cannot be removed without pain in the life of a human.  It is an “enemy within” that we find treacherous over and over again.

A Performance of Mercy

In verses 72 and 73 he speaks of God’s mercy.  Yes, God had made an unconditional promise to Abraham.  Yet, we can lose sight of the fact that God didn’t have to do that.  He chose to do so by His mercy and grace.  So the Promises of Abraham and even the Law of Moses itself stand upon a foundation of the grace and mercy of God.  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.  His mercies never come to an end.  They are new every morning!  Great is Thy faithfulness!  The coming of Jesus is something greater than God keeping up His side of a bargain.  No!  It is pure, unadulterated mercy flowing down from the throne of God.  “Have mercy on me, Son of David!”  This is the cry of a person and a people who are captured by a sin sickness, within themselves and without, pleading for deliverance.  God does not owe us salvation.  But His mercy and grace has brought it to us. 

Zecharias reminds them that God didn’t just make a promise, but also swore an oath to Abram and David.  Though God doesn’t need to swear, He swore by Himself.  So that we could understand that even though He cannot lie, He swears by Himself that He will do what He has promised.  This makes our hopes doubly sure.  Like Jesus saying, “verily, verily,” it underlines and puts in bold the reliability of such statements.  God will not go back on this, nor has He.  Rather He has fulfilled it.

Delivered To Serve God

In verses 74-75 he declares that God has granted our deliverance so that we can serve Him.  Now some might disdain the idea of being saved so that we can serve God.  But, think about who this God has proven Himself to be.  To serve God is not to peel His grapes and wash His feet.  To serve God is to serve on behalf of the Greatest Servant.  You can’t out serve God.  He in fact sends us to serve others on His behalf, not wash His feet.

He wants us to be able to serve without fear.  He has dealt with our sins and our enemy.  We need not be afraid again.  However, that does not mean that He ceases to be God and that rebellion ceases to be scary stuff.  We should be afraid to turn our back on so great a salvation and usurp His position as God and the only source of Truth.  To the degree that our heart is towards God is the degree to which we can walk without fear.  But to the degree that we walk away from Him, is to the degree that we ought to have a fear of God rise up in our heart and turn us back to His righteous path.

We are to serve in holiness and righteousness.  God has not changed this desire.  However, in the gospel we are shown that our holiness and righteousness without God is unworthy.  So our service must be marked with the foundational holiness and righteousness of Jesus as our ransom.  He is our legal righteousness and the only reason we can now stand in service to the King.  Secondly, our service should be marked with a growing ability to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, i.e. practical righteousness.  This is unworthy on its own merits, but if we are in Christ it is accepted as a sweet offering unto God.

The Task of John

In verses 76-80, Zecharias turns to his son John.  John would prepare the way for the Messiah.  He would call people to repentance.  Christ can only enter a heart by the path of repentance.  Until we see that our sins separate us from God and weep over that, we will never be able to ask the Lord to come and save us. 

John also would teach Israel the truth of God’s salvation.  It is not just winning wars and having lots of gold coming into the Treasury.  God’s salvation is one that will not overlook our sin, whether 2,000 years ago or today.  May God help us to go forth in the same spirit and ministry of John.  May we call out to people to “repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  May we be a faithful servant to Jesus our King by turning people from their sin back towards Him.  Amen!

Prophecy Zecharias audio