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Weekly Word

Entries in Strength (3)

Tuesday
Jan292019

When Our Tank Is Empty

Matthew 11:27-30.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 27, 2019.

Running on empty is a metaphor that uses the image of a vehicle that is nearly out of fuel.  It can be picturing a physical aspect of a person who is not eating right and or sleeping enough.  However, it also can picture something that happens spiritually in our life, regardless of how much good food and quality sleep we get.  Christians can find themselves feeling empty even though they still have faith in Jesus and are trying to live for Him. 

Part of this is just our humanity.  We are frail and will have such moments, but we are not intended to remain stuck in that situation.  God has provided a way for us to fill up our tank, so to speak.  I don’t want to make this a crass and simplistic answer.  However, it is true that we can lose sight of where our strength lies.

So let’s look at our passage today.

We need the rest that only Jesus can give

In many ways the call of Jesus to come unto him is the call to sinners who haven’t heard the truth, or who have, but haven’t yet responded in faith towards Christ.  He is calling to those who are harassed and beaten down, without strength to go on, and offering hope.  His way is much easier on our soul than the ways of our own making and the world around us.

However, believers can never think that this call is no longer to us, since we have responded in faith towards Christ.  This same call is the echo of the Holy Spirit in the heart of God’s people every day and everywhere.  It is an echo of that first call to which we responded, reminding us not to go it alone and forge our own way.  If we “soldier on” trying to be a good Christian in the strength of our initial salvation then we are going to burn out spiritually.

So let’s talk about our salvation.

Understanding the salvation that Jesus is offering and taking hold of it is compared to resting.  It clearly means a rest for your inner self.  Be careful that you do not let the Gospel become some version of this.  Come join our group, follow this list of do’s and don’ts, and God will be happy with you.  Such an offer is not that of Christ’s.  The true Gospel is that the Son of God has joined our group (humanity).  He has satisfied all the requirements of God the Father and has paid the price for our sin and rebellion.  If we will simply yield to him as our Lord by putting our faith in Him (His actions and His teachings) then we have eternal life welling up within us.  The true Gospel removes the focus from me trying to measure up enough in order to be acceptable and it places it upon staying close to Jesus.  I don’t need to measure up, I just need to keep clinging to Jesus by faith.  Good News, He also holds onto us.  Faith in Christ is how we overcome this world and its temptations that pull us away from our Father in Heaven.

Thus, Jesus uses the image of a yoke.  Here we see that He is offering far more than just knowing that we are eternally safe.  It is very much about changing masters and the expectations that cling to our hearts and minds.  The yokes that the world puts upon us and the ones that we put on ourselves are all the obligations and expectations that connect us to the world.  They become very heavy.  In fact, they are impossibly heavy.  Thus the phrase, “I can’t breathe,” could be a metaphorical statement of life in this world.  It can become so heavy that you can’t even draw a spiritual breath. 

Some in this world believe that the answer is to toss off all yokes including Christ’s.  However, this is impossible.  Our flesh is a creature of servitude by nature (cue Bob Dylan song, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody”).  It is the default setting of humanity.  Even if we manage to break off all attachments to people and society outside of ourselves, we will still end up serving our own fleshly desires.  Believe me, they can be the worst of task masters.  The only way to be freed from it is to get a stronger master who is not interested in making you a slave.  Yes, we serve Christ and are His servants.  However, in so doing we are made free because He wants us to be free.

So does this mean a Christian should ignore any obligations they may have in this world?  No, it doesn’t.  You see, Jesus told His disciples to pay their taxes and be good citizens of the world.  However, they were to do so to please Him, not the government.  When we quit trying to please everyone, self included, and only serve Jesus, our soul is finally allowed to breathe and the breath it takes in is life itself. Yet, He helps us to truly serve the world around us without the insufferable, crushing weight of their expectations.

This is not intended to be a onetime thing.  We need to come back to Jesus continually and find the rest of simply serving Him.  When we lose focus of this truth, we become harassed by all the obligations that we feel.  Just as you need sleep every night in order to be any good the next day, so we need to rest in Jesus continually in order to have any hope of accomplishing something.  This is His gift to us, rest.  Let us take hold of it.  It is one of the reasons why many believers feel like their tank is empty.

We need the food and water that only Jesus can give us

The phrase in verse 29, “learn from me,” involves us receiving from Christ.  This receiving is not just a mystical, intuitive recharge.  Rather, it is a rational, informing of our heart and mind of the Truth of God.  We can’t just learn about Jesus, we must truly learn from Him.  There are things that only He can teach you.  At best a good, spiritual teacher can only point us to the truth, but we must come into relationship with that truth in order for it to truly be ours.  It is the Spirit of Christ that helps this to happen. 

So how does this spiritual learning happen?  In 1 Corinthians 10:3-4 the Apostle Paul compares Christ to Spiritual Food and Spiritual Drink.  Just as we need to rest daily, so we need food and water daily.  This is where we get down to earth in our walk with Christ.  How do I learn from Christ?  It starts with the Word of God.  It gives us food for our spirit.  The Bible compares the Word to food, calling some parts of it milk and other parts of it solid food (1 Corinthians 3:2; Hebrews 5:12).  We cannot ignore God’s Word and think that we will be mystically fed by Christ.  Yet, we cannot rely only on spiritual teachers to be our only source of hearing the Word of God.  As a spiritual baby we may need help to know which parts of the word will be easier for us to digest, but at some point we have to take ownership of this need of our to feed spiritually upon the Truth of God (Which is only a literal form of our Lord Himself).  Believers need to be in the Word and seeking Christ for wisdom through it.  When we don’t understand something, it is fine to talk with other people, but ultimately we will only learn it from Christ Himself. 

Of course your flesh will be resistant to spending time in the Word, meditating on it, and conversing with the Lord about it.  However, we need it nonetheless.  Without this in our lives, we will find ourselves trying to run on an empty tank.

It also involves more than just reading the Word or spending X amount of minutes asking God for things.  Fellowship with God through prayer enables the Word to strengthen us spiritually.  It is easy to let our prayers remain at a level of simply asking God to do things for us.  However, the Holy Spirit uses the difficulties of life to call us up to a higher interaction with God (this does not mean we quit praying for His help in matters).  Just as you would spend time talking about your day with a spouse, or friend, even more so we need to talk with the Lord.  This spiritual interaction, fueled by spending time in God’s Word and trying to live life as He has shown us, gives us a place where God teaches us.  In that holy place He gives us strength and vitality that we need. 

We all need spiritual replenishment and spiritual refreshing, and that every day.  Yet, God has provided Himself as the means to that end.  Don’t settle for only having knowledge about Jesus and carrying Him around like a lucky rabbit’s foot.  Instead take time this week to rest in Christ and draw strength from His Word through the holy fellowship He calls you into, instead of telling yourself that you don’t have time for it.  He is there for you, waiting to fill you with Him strength and His life.

Empty Tank audio

Tuesday
May012018

Our Needs as Followers of Christ

Colossians 1:1-14.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 29, 2018.

The book of the Bible that we call Colossians was a letter written by the Apostle Paul to believers in the city of Colosse (sometimes spelled Colossae).  Like all new believers, the Colossians were in danger of listening to false teachers who would take advantage of their new faith in order to manipulate it towards a mixture of Christian beliefs with those of the Greeks or Jews.  The word that we use for such a mixture is “syncretism.”

In many ways this word describes much of the world today, who treat religion like a buffet table.  When we “cherry-pick” from different religions all the things that make sense to us, several things happen.  First, we have set ourselves up as the judge of what is truth, and yet by searching we confess that we do not know what is true.  So how could we be the best judge?  What guarantee is there that I will somehow choose wisely?  There is none.  Second, we end up with a number of ideas and lifestyle choices that are not coherent, or do not logically tie together (in fact they are often downright contradictions).  We end up with a philosophy of life that is inconsistent and even hypocritical.

Take for instance the reality that modern philosophy promotes a humanistic materialism.  The evolutionary theory that comes from such a view has no true basis for ethic or morality.  There is no such thing as absolute truth.  Who am I to tell a serial killer that what they do is wrong?  We are all just accidents that do not have true thoughts, but only a neuro-electrical version of the old Plinko game.  Yet, we cannot escape the fact that people find it impossible to live out such philosophies with consistency.  The first time someone steals something of yours, a deep inner compulsion pushes you to declare it as wrong.  To remain true to our philosophy we would have to recognize it is just a trick of our bodies and that it has no true validity.  Thus modern man finds himself clinging to a humanistic, evolutionary view of the world, while inconsistently absconding with views from Christianity or any other religion, hoping that know one notices (usually not even noticing ourselves).  Some sense of morality is helpful to a society regardless of whether or not we can make a logical case for the necessity of it without God.

As we look into this letter, we will find that God has spoken into the world and Jesus is that Word that He has spoken to us.  Man's attempts to find meaning outside God are barren.

Paul writes to the believers in Colosse.

Before we get into chapter 1 verse 1, it would be helpful to know exactly where Colosse was.  This city was in what we call Turkey today.  Here is a link to a map that will give you an idea (Thank you BibleAtlas.org).  It was very close to another city mentioned in the book of Revelation, Laodicea.

From what little information that we have in the Bible, it appears that this was not a city that Paul had evangelized.  A convert named Epaphras, who was from Colosse, seems to have brought the gospel to them and a church developed.

We also know that Paul wrote the letter from one of his imprisonments.  He later tells them to remember his chains (4:18).  It is believed the letter was written around AD 63 +/- several years.  While in prison, word had come to Paul about this community in Colosse and some of the doctrinal issues that had cropped up among them.  Thus Paul writes a letter concerning those issues, so that the believers of Colosse could have confidence in what they should believe and how they should live.

We also see that Paul instructs the Colossians to share this letter with the believers of Laodicea, and to read the letter that was written to the believers of Laodicea (4:16).  This helps us to see how the word of God was spread throughout these early churches.  It wasn’t until later that large groups of the Gospels and letters were put together and circulated more widely.

Paul gives thanks for these new believers.

In verses 3-8 Paul mentions several things for which he is thankful.  First, he is thankful for their faith in Jesus.  The reports of how they had embraced the truth about Christ, and the larger body of believers that they were joining, had come to Paul.  Their faith had expressed itself in a love for the saints.  Now remember that “saints” here does not mean an elite group of believers.  It is a term used of all believers that emphasized that each one had been set apart by God for His own purposes, a holy purpose. 

He also reminds them that this faith in Jesus gives them a hope that was laid up in heaven.  Peter uses the phrase, “reserved in heaven for you (1 Peter 1:4).”  Our inheritance is for us to be transformed into glorified bodies and to inherit the world with Jesus at His Second Coming.  We can see a familiar theme of Paul’s here with the three great virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love.

He is also thankful that the word of truth was bringing forth fruit.  It is not enough to hear the word of the Lord, it must bear fruit to be of any value to us and to the world.  Part of that transforming fruit is their “Love in the Spirit” mentioned at the end of verse 8.

Love is an important principle among any people who are going to accomplish something together.  However, without the Holy Spirit, human love continually falls short.  It is here today and gone tomorrow.  For the believer, it is the presence of the Spirit of God that stirs us up to love one another.  When we refuse to listen to the Spirit, then dissension and divisions break out.  Such Spirit-led love has a strength that overcomes all adversity and human frailty that we may find within each other.  our love for one another is not based upon each other, but upon the Spirit of God that is teaching us how to love one another.  Thus the fruit of the Spirit are listed in Galatians 5:22-23.  This affects our relationship with other believers and with the world.  Paul is welcoming these new believers and rejoicing for their presence within the greater body of Christ.

As we look over this list, we may notice that Paul placed an emphasis on things that are not possessions and wealth.  It is good for believers to be thankful for the material blessings that they have in Christ.  But may we also learn to be even more thankful for the things that Paul listed.  Are you thankful for the people that God used to bring the gospel into your life?  Are you thankful for other believers?  Are you thankful for the grace to believe in Christ and become part of his family?  Are you thankful for the growth of the fruit of the Spirit in your life?  These are the things that we need most and for which we ought to give thanks to God most.

Paul prays for these new believers.

In verses 9-14, Paul lets them know the things he was praying for them.  It is good for us to hear this list because our prayers can become only a list of the material things that we are seeking from God.  Here Paul lists things that are far more important than new cars, houses, business deals, money, etc.

Paul prays that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will.  Of course the will of God is to embrace Jesus as our Lord, but it is clear that Paul is thinking more than just our initial acceptance of Jesus.  The phrases, “all wisdom” and “spiritual understanding” speak to living out our lives as believers in Jesus.  We run into all kinds of situations and temptations, in which we need the wisdom and understanding of the Spirit of God in order to do what God wants us to do.  In a nutshell the letters that Paul and the other apostles wrote were doing just that.  Paul was helping them to understand what God’s will was in every situation. Yes, God wants us to embrace Jesus and to be a person in which His Spirit can dwell.  But, then, through a dynamic relationship, He wants to transform our minds and our lives into the image of Jesus Christ.

Paul also prays that they would walk worthy of the Lord.  Paul is using the phrase to emphasize that we are capable of not listening to the Spirit from time to time.  The believer should never be comfortable with this.  The works of the flesh are obvious and believers need to recognize that the Lord Jesus is so glorious that we do not want to tarnish Him before the world.  Many might fear that this will tend towards legalism.  But, Paul’s point is not to create a legalism, but rather, to inspire us to proper actions.  Like a coach reminding students that they represent their school, Paul reminds us that we represent Jesus and our actions reflect upon Him.  

So is it possible to be fully pleasing to the Lord?  We are fully pleasing to the Lord when we listen to the Holy Spirit in regards to how we should live.  Of course this also involves those times when we fail.  Too often people forget that the Holy Spirit also leads us to repentance and forgiveness for those times when we fail.  It is not a phrase that seeks to disqualify and kick us out.  Rather, it is intended to motivate us.

Paul also prays that they would be fruitful in every good work.  This is another way of looking at the concept of walking worthy of the Lord.  A person who follows the Spirit of God will be fruitful in their life.  They will also be beneficial to others much like a fruit tree is beneficial to those who come upon it.  We will be a tree of life and a fresh water spring to the people around us because the Life of the Spirit will flow into us and through us.

Paul also prays that they will be strengthened with all might.  All of this talk about being like Christ and following the Holy Spirit requires much inner strength.  Intestinal fortitude, or “guts” for short, cannot come from our flesh.  It must have a spiritual source.  The closer we get to following Jesus the more our flesh gets queasy and weak.  We need the strength of Christ's glorious power working in us in order to put the desires of the flesh to death.  This daily dying to self and living in Christ is empowered by the Holy Spirit, if we yield to Him.  In 2 Corinthians 12:9 Paul was reminded by the Lord that “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”  In that passage the weakness is that which we have in our flesh.  When our flesh is weak, the powerful strength of the Lord will shine through and do its perfect work.  People will recognize that the power is of God and not of me.

Lastly, Paul prays that they will be thankful to God with Him.  We should be thankful that God has qualified us to be partakers in the inheritance of the saints.  This is what Daniel saw in chapter 7 verses 21-22.  “I was watching and the same horn was making war against the saints and prevailing against them, until the Ancient of Days came and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom.”

We are also to be thankful that God has delivered us from the power of darkness (spiritual darkness and spiritual powers) and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.  Wow! Talk about a new immigration status.  Without Christ we are stuck under the powers of darkness that rule over this world.  Their kingdom will never bring peace and joy to the earth.  Yet, mankind continues to operate in league with them.  Through Christ we are able to break out of that spiritual matrix that enslaves the whole world.  We are then enabled to participate in the kingdom of Jesus.  That kingdom exists in part already.  But the fullness of it will be known when He returns to earth to set up an earthly kingdom.

We should also give thanks to the Father that we have been redeemed and have had our sins forgiven.  Jesus paid the price with his blood that purchased us back from the auction block and slavery of sin.  His death made it possible that our sins might be removed from us as far as the east is from the west.

Now as I close, be honest.  Are these the things in which you are most thankful and most likely to be praying for?  May the word of God instruct us in the things that truly make for our joy and that we truly need.  Of course we are instructed to pray for our daily bread.  But let’s pray for the things that Paul is praying, both for yourself and for fellow believers.  We all need these things even more than we need the material.

Our Needs audio

Thursday
Aug242017

Faith in Action

Hebrews 12:12-17.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 20, 2017.  Today we will continue in looking at Hebrews 12 and the importance of faith in the life of a Christian.  We have looked at how faith is a long-distance, endurance race, which includes times of discipline from the Lord.  In the verses we will look at today, we are given instructions that will help us to keep living by faith and what that looks like.

Prepare yourself for God’s work

As the Holy Spirit instructs us to lay aside the weights and sins that would hold us down (vs. 1) and to keep our eyes on Jesus (vs. 2), here we are given further instructions in verse 12.  Before we get into what those instructions are, it is imperative to recognize that faith involves doing what God has for us to do.  These instructions are teaching us how to prepare ourselves so that we can do His work by faith.  Running the race of faith is a series of actions in life that flow from our confidence in Christ (his commands and direction), as opposed to doing our own thing. 

So we start with strengthening our hands and knees for the work.  Both of these aspects of our body are important to many tasks of life.  We use them to move, touch, and help others in so many ways.  Of course other body parts could be mentioned as well.  The point is really about strength to obey Jesus.  In fact the word for “feeble knees” could be translated as “paralyzed knees.”  Why would I have my hands hanging at my side and my knees paralyzed when Jesus has given me my marching orders?  It could be because of fear and discouragement, whether from past failures or present threats.  It could also be from the temptation of sin, its debilitating effects, and even deception.  The devil loves to get us in a position where we are neutralized from doing God’s will for any reason possible.  We need to first know what our Father’s business is, and then we must strengthen ourselves to do it.  I believe keeping our eyes on Jesus (vs. 2) and praying for the help of the Holy Spirit will go a long way to giving us the strength we need to obey Jesus.  However, don’t think that means you will feel strong.  The flesh often “feels” weak when you are exercising faith in God.  So trust God to help you as you step forward in faith.

Next we are told to straighten our path with others.  A straight path is an important image in the Bible.  In fact it reminds me of John the Baptist who quoted from Isaiah when he called himself, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight.”  This image of building a road could be seen as making a path for the Lord Himself to walk on.  However, it can also be seen as straightening our lives because they belong to Him.  We have been purchased by Jesus and our lives (the way we live them) should take on the same form as the Lord himself.  My flesh makes me want to go to the left and to the right.  My flesh doesn’t want to go through the hassle of tearing down the high and proud places in my life, or the hassle of letting him lift up the low places (humble or weak) in our life.  To build a life that walks straight with our fellow man and is flat before them and the Lord is not easy.  In fact, without God it is impossible.  Repentance is the first step in asking God to help us in this endeavor, and believe His Word, He will.  Don’t let your flesh, or the world, dictate how you live among others or for what purposes.  Instead focus upon Jesus and the path you walk will be straight (correct).  His way must become our way.

Pursue peace with others and holiness with God

The next steps come in verse 14.  We must pursue peace with others and holiness with God.  A common thing in the Bible is the three aspects of self, others, and Jesus.  In verses 12 through 13 the instruction is focused on what we should do in ourselves.  Here we deal with the other two aspects “others” and “God.” 

When we are told to pursue peace with all people, it assumes that it will be hard to achieve for both internal and external reasons.  It is easy to quit seeking peace with others.  But that door is not left open for us.  No matter what we are to pursue peace.  Yet, peace cannot be contrived.  It must be real.  On one hand it is God’s will for His people to dwell in peace together, and it is His will for us to live peacefully among unbelievers.  However, Romans 12:18 gives us more information on this command.  “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”  It even goes on to tell believers that they must refrain from seeking revenge for wrongs done to us.  Instead we are to trust God’s judgments.  So recognize that though peace is the goal, we must not become people pleasers in order to get it.  We are to remain God pleasers always.  Thus for our part we act peacefully towards others, even though they may reject us and act without peace back towards us.  In those cases, we pray for them and wait for God to bring them around.  One of the surest ways to snuff out faith in others is to seek your own revenge, or to be overly obsessed with peace.  Both extremes side step the power of the Gospel and replace it with human power.

Now the holiness part needs to be looked at.  Holiness with God cannot be skipped in our lives.  It is often the first thing to be jettisoned when dealing with others.  What do I mean by that?  The essence of “holiness” is that we are not just another person.  We belong to the Lord and thus are to use our lives for his purposes only.  This is a holy thing.  But hurt and anger tempt us to reject holiness and choose to use our lives as we please.  We cannot continually reject our Lord and think such a life will end in our salvation.  I am not saying that our works save us.  But I am saying that the Lord has saved us for us to follow Him.  If we say we are following Him, but do whatever we want, we are simply lying to ourselves and the world around us.  Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and faith involves learning to follow Jesus.  Praise God that He helps us and knows that we are weak.  Trust His love and His instructions and He will bring you through.

In verse 15 we are told to watch again.  In verse 2 it was to look to Jesus for direction and encouragement.  But here we are told to watch for those things that are hazardous to our faith, and pitfalls spiritually.  As a band of brothers and sisters we must not only watch out for ourselves, but for one another.  We don’t want anyone to fall short of the grace of God, that is, to quit the race for one reason or another.  One of those hazards is bitterness.  Bitterness is likened to a root that starts out deep in our heart.  Someone wronged us somehow.  It can even be bitterness at God for allowing something to happen in our life.  We become frustrated and angry of how things went and can hold on to grudges and anger.  Like the roots of a weed, the roots of bitterness can go deep quickly.  We must be ruthless in digging it out of our own lives.  We must be careful in helping others who are dealing with bitterness because trying to force them to do it can become another source of bitterness for them.  In fact the writer says that bitterness can grow up and come to the surface.  We can be defiled through the turmoil and dissension caused by it.  It is good to be able to recognize wrongs, but we must not let self-pity and fear have a place, or we will become another part of the problem.

In fact the writer brings up Esau as an example of what not to be.  He grew up in a home that worshipped and served God.  He was the eldest and thus stood to be the inheritor of the birthright and blessings of his father.  Now two words are used.  “Fornication” is any sex outside of a marriage between a man and a woman.  It is sometimes connected to food in a metaphorical sense because both are appetites of our flesh.  Proverbs says that those who go to a harlot have been reduced to bread.  Both by being the means of her obtaining the money to buy food, but also the sexual act itself is simply two people satisfying their fleshly appetites.  Sex is something far greater than a means of satisfying our libido.  The word “profane” means to treat or use something that is holy for common or selfish purposes.  Esau stood to inherit a great spiritual blessing, but He treated it as if it was merely a commodity that he could trade for a meal.  Later his repentance was only a physical repentance.  In other words, his flesh was sorry that he would not get the blessing.  His tears are not about his own sin, but the effect of that sin.  True repentance is not just sorry because of the effects of sin.  It is also sorry that it chose the wrong path in the first place.  Though he sought to blessed by his father Isaac with tears, Isaac would not repent of giving the blessing to Jacob.  We cannot obtain the blessing of God without a life of faith in Jesus and avoiding those materialistic pitfalls that find a place in our heart.

Take time today to examine your heart and life.  Have I become profane and am I using the life that God has given me simply to please my flesh?  The good news is that even now if we recognize it to be true, we can have true repentance.  May our lives be filled with strength, straightened, peaceful, and holy.  May we be the saints of God!

Faith in Action audio