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Tuesday
Dec192017

The Results of Spiritual Victory

1 Kings 18:40-46.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 17, 2017.

Last week we saw how God had honored Elijah’s public display of faith by a miraculous fire from heaven coming down upon his sacrifice.  This was all in contrast to the pitiful failure of the prophets of Baal.  Today we will look at the fallout of that momentous event and talk about spiritual victory in our own lives. 

But before we get into that it might help if you familiarize yourself with the geography of this passage.  Click here for an online map from a great website called BibleAtlas.org.  Pay attention that we are in the northern part of Israel west of the Sea of Galilee.  The sacrifice has taken place on Mt. Carmel which is on the left of the map part way down (part of the name has been cut off).  Jezreel is basically in the middle of the map with the Kishon River (thin blue line) flowing from that area past Mt. Carmel and into the Mediterranean Sea (where modern day Haifa sits).

The enemies of God’s work are executed

When we read verse 40 the passage can be shocking to our modern, western sensibilities.  However, I would remind you right up front that we in the West are shocked by things that people in the East are not, and vice versa.  Just because it offends us does not mean it is wrong.  So try and get over the shock that the prophet of God Elijah orders the people to execute all the prophets of Baal and, instead of tossing God’s Word aside, take time to understand what God wants us to understand here.

A big question that often arises from passages such as vs. 40, is that of whether or not Christians are hypocrites when they proclaim peace and yet have such a thing in their “holy book.”    If fact, one of our recent presidents, who also claims to be a Christian, chided Christians about eating shellfish when it is forbidden in the Old Testament.  Others claim that Christians are hypocrites when they promote love for our fellow man because of passages that speak of the death penalty for sexual perversion.  Each of these statements or accusations has a problem in their logic.  They assume that the Bible itself, and more importantly God who is its author, teaches that Christians should obey the Old Testament Laws.  In fact, the Bible teaches the opposite.  You cannot point out one verse and ignore the context of the rest of the Bible and also hold the intellectual high-ground.  If we want to deal with the Bible honestly then we must recognize or determine what God’s purpose was in creating Israel as a nation.  He created then and made a covenant with them in which they promised to obey The Law that God had given them through Moses.  Clearly they did not do such a good job at that, but then we would be casting stones from a glass house.  God’s purpose with Israel and The Law of Moses was not to provide a positive template for all the nations of the world.  The salvation of the world is not found in converting the whole world over to follow the Law of Moses.  The whole purpose of The Law was to shut the mouths of those who claim to be righteous.  Israel had divine laws (i.e. better than the wisest minds of mankind could come up with at the same time period).  Yet, the people of Israel were not divine and there lies the problem.  The Law of Moses failed to save Israel for the same reasons that the Constitution of the United States cannot save us.  Nations are run by people who are weak and condemned by the very laws they claim to follow.

So let’s look back at this situation.  Ahab is completely stunned.  Only moments ago, he held all the power.  He would execute Elijah when this was over with and he would continue to lead Israel into worshipping Baal rather than the God who had created Israel, Yahweh/Jehovah.  Much like a jury nullification of the law, the powerful demonstration of Yahweh’s power nullifies Ahab’s command.  The people and even his soldiers have just seen for themselves the power of God.  Notice that Ahab does not speak until the next chapter.  Even if Ahab would have tried to command for Elijah to be executed, who would have dared to carry it out?  Ahab rolled the dice and they came up “snake eyes,” or “dogs” as the ancient Romans used to say.  The stakes were Ahab’s life against the lives of the prophets of Baal and they lost.

But, Elijah’s command could not come from a truly righteous person could it?  We need to understand that Elijah is not some murderous psychopath who loves killing people.  The Law that God had given Israel (i.e. their constitution) stated that any prophet who led Israel to worship foreign God’s was guilty of a capital crime.  Thus these prophets new they were breaking The Law and committing a capital crime.  However, they could care less because they were under the protection of Israel’s Law-breaking king.  Ahab had been leading Israel in a direction that was illegal and treasonous.  These men have been helping him to commit this treason.  If you want to verify this then read Deuteronomy 13, especially verse 5.  Several times in Deuteronomy 13, 17, and 18 God declares these things a capital crime.  So now that we have exonerated Elijah from the guilt of homicide, we must deal with God.  It was His Law.  Is it barbaric?

Whether or not we agree with such a punishment today, we must agree that this was Israel’s law.  Part of understanding why God commands the death of false prophets is to understand the difference between God’s purpose with Israel and God’s purpose with the Church of Jesus Christ.  Israel was given the task to bring forth the Messiah or Savior for the world.  But, they also modeled to the world the problem with trying to create a perfect society through legislation.  All societies have to have laws to function.  But, even with divine laws it becomes a bloody business filled with hypocrisy.  This is true whether you are looking at the government of Israel or Sidon in the 9th century B.C., or you are looking at the modern governments of The United States of America, Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, et. Al.  In the West we keep telling ourselves that if we just make better laws it will fix everything.  Yet, things keep getting worse and worse (yes, not everything is getting worse, but hear what I am saying).  We have to quit fooling ourselves.  Even divine laws, or laws created by an Artificial Intelligence, will fail to fix mankind because our problem is a spiritual one and is deep in each heart.  The best we can expect from laws is that they will slow down the evil nature of our hearts and give hope for people to see it and seek God’s help.  The only way to change a heart is repentance from our own dead works and turning towards belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  God’s laws of capital punishment on one hand teach us that some sins are worthy of death.  However, the cross teaches us that God does not want to execute us.  He is giving us a choice.  It is appointed unto a person once to live and then the judgment.   Through the Church God is warning the world of a coming judgment or execution.  Yet, He is also giving opportunity for people to make peace with Him by putting their faith in Jesus.  The Church is not about building a perfect kingdom, but rather, it is about calling people to become citizens who are being perfected by God.  Israel focused on a geographical place on earth that required capital punishment to keep it pure, and even that failed.  The Church focuses on the spiritual geography of our own heart.  Definitely Christians should obey the laws of the nation, as long as it doesn’t break God’s commands.  And, we should also work for better laws.  But laws are not our hope.  The return of Jesus our King is the hope that we hold out to the world.  This makes a big difference and makes the Gospel far more potent in light of Israel and The Law.  We await the Kingdom of Heaven to be brought down at the Second Coming of Jesus.  Until then, we do our best to live at peace with even those who disobey God.  Instead of executing those who break God’s command (as God told Israel), Christians speak the truth in love to them, while executing those things within our own heart and mind that would lead us astray from God’s Word.  That is why Christians should be restrained in the amount of laws that they promulgate.

A contrast of character

I spent a lot of time on verse 40 because the contents are important in our day and age.  In the rest of this chapter, we see a sharp contrast between the character of Elijah and that of Ahab.  Elijah is a wise leader and Ahab is a foolish one.  After the execution of the prophets of Baal, Elijah tells Ahab to go eat because of the sound of a great rain.  Now it is clear from the passage that there is no sound of rain at the moment.  What is Elijah talking about?  Elijah is speaking by faith.  Even though there is no outward sign, Elijah is confident that God will keep His word.  God had told him what would happen and we see him acting and speaking upon that.  As I said earlier, Ahab doesn’t speak here.  But his administration has been one, big lack of faith in God’s Word.  Now it is important to guard our heart, mind and our mouth.  We should be careful of our decisions and the way that we speak about things.  Am I trusting in God’s Word or doubting it?  Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  However, speaking by faith is not a matter of wish fulfillment, or only speaking “positive things.”  Christians should not fall into the error that tries to draw good things to us by acting and speaking positively.  Regardless of what you say and do, God is going to do certain things.  God is going to judge all the governments of the world in the future through the Second Coming of Christ.  It will be a great negative thing to those who are not on His side, but a great positive thing to those on the side of Jesus.  Speaking by faith is remembering what God has said and agreeing with it in our speech.  In other words we actually believe that God means what He says, and is not a liar.  May God help us to speak by faith in His word.

Although it is Elijah’s idea, Ahab is a king and can do what he wants.  Notice that King Ahab is feeding his belly while Elijah is praying for the rain to come.  Ahab is a man of the flesh, not because he eats food.  We all eat food and even Elijah ate food.  But something powerful and spiritual has just happened in Israel.  But one man is praying for God’s will and the other is satisfying the will of his stomach.  God’s people can enjoy the physical joys of life within godly boundaries.  However, we must not let our lives be only about them.  Though God has promised rain, Elijah will not rest until it comes.  He goes back up to Mt. Carmel and begins praying for God to fulfill His word.  Then we see a cycle of Elijah praying, and asking his servant to check and see if any rain is coming.  This goes on seven times until the servant notices a small cloud on the horizon of the Mediterranean Sea.  This seven times is intended to highlight that Elijah was not a man who would quit in prayer.  He persevered in prayer until God kept His word.  He waited upon the Lord completely and kept himself watchful through prayer.  We should be the same way concerning the Second Coming of Christ.  We should not be apathetic towards what God has said He will do with a kind of que sera, sera attitude (whatever will be, will be).  Jesus is not coming back for a people who have an intellectual assent that He will do so, but for those who have desired it and have spent their lives praying and watching for it (like Elijah).  When a cloud the size of a man’s hand is seen, then Elijah knows the fulfillment has come.  May God help us also to remain faithful even in the day of small things.  It may not seem like anything big, but God is in it and rejoices to make it happen.

In the end, it is God’s will working with Elijah’s faithfulness that brings rain to the land.  Elijah’s speech and life have been lived by faith in what God had said in the past and what He was personally telling Elijah.  In contrast, it was the unfaithfulness of Ahab and the people of Israel who followed him that led to the drought and famine, both naturally and spiritually.  We must be careful that we do not give up living lives faithful to God and His Word simply because the society around us does not pat us on the back for doing so.  Even in the face of active persecution, the hope of our land depends upon Christians living out lives faithful to Jesus.  We concern ourselves not with just physical rain and dry land, although that is important to people’s livelihood.  We concern ourselves more importantly on spreading the rain of God’s Word into the lives of those who are dry as deserts from years of rejecting or being ignorant of God’s Word.

Lastly we see that God’s power is upon those who are humble.  The power of God comes upon Elijah as the rain comes and he runs ahead of Ahab’s chariot to Jezreel.  Now in our competitive modern minds we would read this as God empowering Elijah to outrun the chariot of Ahab and to be the first to Jezreel.  Now this is no small feat.  Jezreel was about 10-15 miles away.  However, an ancient person reading this would see a servant running ahead of his master.  Elijah is running ahead of Ahab’s chariot, like a servant who is letting people know that the king is coming.  It is as if God is showing Ahab what could be.  God, and His servant Elijah, do not have to be enemies of Ahab.  Elijah was not seeking a crown, though he could have tried to take it after such a powerful display.  Who wouldn’t want a king who could call down fire from heaven?  Instead, Elijah’s run says to Ahab, I will take my place as your servant if you will take your place as God’s servant.  May the Lord help Christians today to have such a humility and empowerment from the Lord.   Instead of seeking to have the highest place, may we be the influence that those who have it need, to become what God wants them to be.

Spiritual Victory audio

Thursday
Oct272016

Society under Siege: The Paranormal Paradigm Shift

Acts 16:16-19; Ephesians 6:10-12; Revelation 9:20-21.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on October 23, 2016.

It is interesting that as drug abuse has sky-rocketed, so has alternative spirituality and paranormal activities.  Historically drugs have been used to make it easier to connect with the spirit world.  However, America’s fascination with the paranormal began long before the 1950’s.  In the 1800’s a large influx of eastern mysticism came to the United States and spawned groups that sought to explore the spirit world.  Séances and contacting spirit guides began to catch fire among certain groups.  Contrary to popular conception, we are not becoming more and more anti-supernatural in our society.  Actually more and more people are adopting a spiritual world view that is alternative to the biblical view.  These alternative views typically teach that all things are connected and that the living can tap into this cosmic connection or force in order to obtain information.  They do not believe in a personal God that will judge our life.  Rather, they believe that we are all part of God, along with everything else in the universe.  This paranormal paradigm shift that is happening in America is really a going back to the ancient world views.  I do not mean that there are huge numbers of people worshipping Zeus.  However, they are reaching out to entities and conversing with “ascended masters,” whether they go by the name Zeus or not.  In many cases American Christians are not prepared for the reality of where this is headed.

It is past time for Christians to get acquainted with what the Bible has to say on this issue and be ready to give an answer for the reason for the hope that we hold.

The Early Church Had A Supernatural World View

In Acts 16:16-19, we join the Apostle Paul in the Greek city of Philippi.  Now a large percentage of the modern Church has rejected the supernatural element of the Bible.  Yes, they will acknowledge that there is a God, but the idea of angels and demons interacting with the world is just too much for them.  Miracles are too much for them.  Thus they explain away the miracles and supernatural events of the Bible.  We will see in our passage today that this is completely foreign to the first Christians.  Such a “belief” is not true Christianity.  It is something else entirely.

To set up this encounter in Acts 16, we need to understand that the Bible presents the reality of spiritual beings.  Just as there is a hierarchy among the peoples of the earth, so there is a heavenly hierarchy within the spirit world.  The Bible presents a cosmic problem.  A rebellion against the Creator has begun in the spirit world and mankind has been caught up in it.  There are good and evil spirit beings that are of lesser or greater power.   There are holy and fallen angels.  Now when Paul entered Philippi, he had come to preach the Gospel of Jesus to those who would listen.  At some point a young girl began to follow him around loudly proclaiming that Paul was a servant of the Most High God and people should listen to him.  This went on for several days.  No doubt Paul was praying about what motivated this girl and what he should do.  We are told that the girl was possessed with a spirit of divination and was used by her master to make him money by telling fortunes.  The word translated “divination” is literally python.  She had a python spirit.  This snake spirit was connected to the god Apollo and was supposed to be responsible for the amazingly accurate prophecies given by the oracles of Apollo.  Now this is not a story of Greek mythology.  Paul meets a real slave girl who is apparently good enough at fortune telling to make her masters money.  Notice that this spirit that possesses the girl operates in a “benign” way in order to give her information.  This is quite the opposite of the spirits that possessed the Gadarene demoniac that Jesus met on the sea of Galilee (Luke 8).  Those spirits manifested in a raging and insane manner that scared the daylights out of anyone who met him.  Thus some spirits are predatory in a malignant and dysfunctional way.  But, other spirits are predatory in a seemingly benign and somewhat functional way.  The ancient world was afraid of the spirits.  This fear and yet desire to know how to be safe in this world is how Satan kept the ancient world under his sway.  The early Christians knew that demons and deceiving spirits existed.  Any fortunes that this girl was ever able to give were part of a deceptive game plan to keep the Philippians under the control of the evil spirits.

Notice how Paul responds.  He is annoyed by what the girl is doing.  However, his problem is not with her.  He knows that the real problem is that python spirit that possessed her.  Early Christians knew that their warfare was not against people, kings, or nations.  They knew that their warfare was against spiritual entities that Satan used to manipulate the people.  This girl was not just a slave of men.  She was a slave to a predatory, evil spirit. 

Look at Ephesians 10-13 for a moment.  This is the famous armor of God passage.  Notice that this is about spiritual warfare against spiritual entities.  The armor of God is also spiritual.  They are to arm themselves with: Truth, Righteousness, The Gospel of Peace, Faith, Salvation, The Word of God, Prayer, and a Watchful Disposition.  He says in verse 10 that these things are needed to stand up to the schemes of the Devil.  Do not let yourself be deceived.  Our real enemies are the spiritual powers that hold the world under their sway.  Our job as Christians is to labor to set people free by the Truth and Power of Jesus Christ.  Of course, most people in Philippi were not possessed by an evil spirit.  Most of them were only “possessed” by the teachings of these evil spirits.  The devil doesn’t have to have everyone possessed.  He only has to manipulate and influence the larger masses to do all his bidding.  This young girl was set free by the Apostle Paul because he first recognized it and then called upon the authority of Jesus to set the girl free.  She needed an exorcism first and then the truth.  But most people Paul ran into needed simply needed the truth of God to cut through the blindness that they had embraced.  We don’t have to look for evil spirits.  Paul wasn’t doing that.  Rather, he was doing what Jesus had sent him to do.  He was looking for people who would listen to the Truth.  Those evil spirits that had dominion over the city didn’t like it and that is why this manifestation occurred.  So focus on people and their need for the truth.  As you are successful at counteracting the lies that these spirits promote in our society, you will start to run into opposition and perhaps even a person who is possessed.  Remember, they don’t all look like the foaming at the mouth girl in “The Exorcist.”

The Failure of Scientific Materialism

The West has come under a world view that is sometimes called Scientific Materialism.  It teaches that there is no spirit world and that all things can be explained through natural processes.  If there is something that can’t be explained we are given a kind of promissory note that promises that science will eventually figure it out.  This materialism points to the supernatural beliefs of the past and labels them all ignorance.  This itself is ignorant, but let’s press on.  It is partially true that the ancient supernatural beliefs were because of man’s ignorance.  However, because it rejects a spirit world, materialists do not recognize that much of the ignorance was because of meddling, evil spirits.

Materialism has problems though.  If humans are just biological machines and our thoughts are merely the random firing of synapses (i.e. just natural processes), then there is no right and wrong and there is no purpose or free will.  A crushing hopelessness lies at the end of such a belief.  It also runs into a logical contradiction.  If there is only material then the material had to either bring itself into existence or it is eternal.  Yet, if it has always been (if we can eternally go back to an earlier time) then time would never have gotten to us.  You cannot have an infinite regression of a material thing (space, time, matter).  This adds to the weight that few humans can actually follow such a world view.  It is too cruel and too inhuman.  Something in us cries for something beyond.  The weakness of scientific materialism has given rise to a new wave of the old spiritual ideas and paranormal activity like Paul encountered in Philippi.

As I said earlier, this began in the 1800’s as gurus and Tibetan masters interacted with the West.  The mystical world view of the East promoted a mushy spiritual paradigm.  Everything is God and we can learn to tap into it and the collective wisdom of all the spirits.  Thus séances, channeling, the occult, and many other vehicles became popular ways to connect to the spirit world.  Now surely there were charlatans who were out to make a buck off of the superstitions of suckers.  But, some activity could not be explained with this.  Early debunkers were not entirely successful.  Of course they didn’t have the scientific know how that we do today, right?  But then explain why even modern debunkers have trouble explaining away every experience and story that comes along.  Explain why our colleges and military still conduct experiments in the paranormal.

This alternate spiritual world view was different than the biblical world view.  However, during the 1800’s many Christian denominations began to give up the idea of the supernatural and miraculous.  Thus the Church was seduced to embrace scientific materialism and create a hybrid that allowed for a God, Jesus and not much else.  Jesus became a mere example and most of what is said about him never happened.  These moralists on one side and a harsh scientific materialism on the other side became a perfect dichotomy for funneling people toward something more and something spiritual. 

The alternative spiritual world view offered something that was new and exciting to many in America and the Western countries.  Thus many unwittingly opened themselves up to evil spirit with malignant designs.  The Bible warned us about them, but we have been set up to disregard what the biblical prophets had to say.  These spirits are deceivers and they cannot be trusted.  This is why God forbids and warns against attempts to contact spirits.  Christians are to pray only to God Himself.  We interact with only His Holy Spirit.  Don’t get me wrong.  The “wisdom” of these spirit beings can be powerful and seductive.  But like Satan with Eve, they only seek to steal from us what we have.

So What Should Christians Do?

First we need to quit running away from the Bible and start believing it.  You do not have to reject the reality of science in order to embrace the Bible.  You might have to reject the world view that some scientists have.  But, many scientists are Christians too.  Some of them do not have a biblical world view, but some of them do.  So what is the biblical world view?  God created both the spiritual and material world.  A rebellion in the spirit world came into the material world, when Satan tricked mankind into disobeying God.  God then gave mankind over to the desires of their heart and they became enslaved to these spiritual beings, or false gods.  Yet, in His mercy, God provided a way for humans to be saved from this slavery and His eternal judgment.  Christians have been sent into the entire world to set people free from the rule of these false gods and their demonic spirits.

In fact, Revelation 9 reveals that in the last days before Christ returns, a spiritual prison called the bottomless pit will be opened up and the earth will be inundated with malevolent spirits who will angrily attack mankind because they know their time is short.  The earth is not becoming less spiritual.  We are headed towards a time of great spiritual deception and attack.  Revelation 9:20-21 says, “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.”  This is where we are headed.

We should also be busy warning people about these deceiving spirits and the deceptions they have promoted in our society.  Many are enslaved by the teachings and ideas that come from these evil spirits.  Science is not our enemy.  Our enemy is using science and a deceptive interpretation of its findings to deceive mankind.  He wants us to be caught off-guard by his true intentions.

Lastly, Christians must walk in the authority of Jesus Christ.  Paul said to the demon, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.”  A little girl was set free that day because Paul knew that these evil spirits cannot stand up to Jesus.  We have been sent on a mission from God to tell people about Jesus.  If you read the entire chapter of Acts 16, you see that Paul got his first convert by preaching by the river where people gathered to pray.  Lydia believed in Jesus and asked Paul to stay and teach her more.  The world would call Paul a cultural murderer.  But, He knew he was operating under the authority of Jesus who is Lord of all Lords and King of all kings, both on earth and in the heavens above.  Let’s trust Him and be about our Father’s business.

The Paranormal Paradigm Shift audio