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Weekly Word

Entries in Trials (7)

Monday
Mar062017

Growing Spiritually 2

We apologize that there is no audio for this sermon.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on February 26, 2017.

As we continue our focus on God’s purpose that we should grow spiritually to be like Jesus, it is easy to envision the perfect environment where all bad things are removed and we are protected in an enclosed, even hydroponic, environment.  Wouldn’t this be the best way to ensure spiritual growth?  Of course we know that this is not how God has chosen to do it.  It is easy to chafe against the wisdom of God in this matter, and why He allows difficult things in our life.  The truth is that there are ways in which we can never grow without adversity.  We must also recognize that spiritual growth does not follow a perfect linear increase without hiccups.  However, I believe it would be a mistake to see our spiritual growth as a series of failures and successes.  It is often in our “failures” that we grow the most in Christ.  Thus the believer should learn not to run from difficulties and try to hide their failures.  Instead we can walk in the confidence that, regardless of our mistakes, God will work all things in our life to help us grow spiritually.  So we must learn to trust the Spirit of God who is daily making us new.

The renewal of our inner being is at odds with the outer

In this chapter Paul has been sharing some of the difficulties that he faced as an apostle.  In verses 8-9 we see that though it was difficult, it was not enough to destroy him.  He was continually under the threat of imprisonment and death, but through it all, the life of Jesus was being revealed to those who believed.  Think about the reality of that.  We need to break out of the kind of thinking that believes God will remove all obstacles for those who love Him.  No honest reading of Scripture will ever sustain such an idea.  Faith is always lived out over the top of obstacles, and each of them was allowed by God.  Paul contrasts his inner man with the outer in this passage.  So we will work through focusing on first one and then the other.

The outer being.  In verse 16, Paul doesn’t go into detail because it is not the specifics he is trying to get across.  He suffered persecution that physically weakened him (pain, sufferings, and arrests).  He was also growing older.  Thus when Paul says the outer man is perishing it points to the bodily vigor and strength that is being consumed.  All the saints have had to face the difficulties of a body that increasingly refuses to cooperate.  In the face of such perishing it is easy to be discouraged.  I am always amazed when a 70 year old complains that they can’t do what they used to be able to do.  Yet, I am sure it will be just as frustrating for me when I get there.  Can we just recognize right now that growing old and watching our outer body perish is a major part of God’s spiritual growth in our life?

In verse 17 Paul uses a word that is translated “afflictions.”  His outer body endured all manner of afflictions.  In fact the word is elsewhere translated “tribulations.”  A good picture of this would be a vice that is given a quarter-turn ever 5 seconds.  The pressure continues to build up until we feel like we can’t take it anymore.  Yet, Paul calls them “light” and momentary.  But, we will come back to that later.  The situations never feel light and momentary.  They feel extremely heavy and like they will never end.  I am not scoffing at Paul’s choice of words.  Rather, I want to avoid the mistake of pretending like trials are easy.  When we pretend like trials are easy then we diminish the glory of what lies ahead.  No matter how heavy and long your affliction may be, the glory that is ahead of you is so amazing that it will cause you to not even give the afflictions a second thought.  We see this same dynamic with grace and sin.  If we pretend like sin is no big deal, then we actually end up diminishing the grace of God.  Our sin is so horrendous that it required the God of heaven to come down, become a man, and die a horrific death in order to save us from them.  If we see sin for what it really is, then we can see God’s love for how great it truly is.

In verse 18 Paul notes how easy it is to be focused on and only thinking about what can be seen.  This is the thing that we usually pay attention to.  Our outer being is mainly impacted by the visible.  Of course, through science we have learned that there are unseen things that lie beneath the visible things.  Throughout history we have often made wrong conclusions because we only focused on what we could see.  We had to develop ways to discover and “see” that which was invisible to the naked eye.  This has lead to a better understanding of the physical world in which we live.  Am I trapped in a mindset of only see the visible and how it affects my visible body?  The Word of God calls us to a greater spiritual reality.  We are not mere physical beings.  We have an inner, unseen part that is called our soul and spirit.  This is the part that continues on when our physical bodies can no longer live.  So let’s look at this side.

The Inner Being.  Being ruled by the desires, fears and understanding of our body does not lead to renewal and spiritual growth.  Rather, it leads to death.  The believer recognizes that God offers us life to our inner being (“is renewed day by day.”)  Yes, through the resurrection we will one day receive an eternal physical body.  But this life is not about trying to make that happen.  Our spiritual growth must happen over the top of a perishing outer body.  So, we may take care of our body so that it can last as long as possible, but our real focus is on growing spiritually.  We daily live in a process where God is renewing us day by day.  It may not feel like it on some days.  But, He is working throughout your life to renew your spirit.  To be renewed is to be brought back to the condition you were made to be, or as God intended us to be.  This word “renewed” is used in one other passage- Colossians 3:10.  There it says that we have to “put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.”  Notice that a choice is involved in this.  There is a part that God is doing and you will have to trust Him.  But, there is also a part that we must do by cooperating.  We have received knowledge through Jesus Christ of what God intends us to be.  Thus we cooperate by putting off the desires, fears and understandings of our old, fleshly self, and embrace the truth and love of God.

Next Paul says that the inner man is in a process of achieving an eternal weight of glory.  So let’s go back to those light and momentary afflictions of verse 17.  They are light because they cannot destroy our spirit.  Sure it can crush my body, but not my spirit.  They are momentary because they can’t outlast our spirit.  They can only last as long as our body and then they are over.  Yet, they are working for us an eternal and heavy glory.  So Paul is telling us that our faith and trust in God in the midst of these difficulties will be rewarded in such a way that we will not care about them anymore.  No one who wins the Olympics complains about the hard work they endured to get there because of the heavy glory they have won.  Yet, we are winning a place of glory that is beyond this present world.  It gives us a place in the eternal world that is coming and a place among the great heavenly beings around the throne of God.  We will take our place beside our Lord as His coheirs and as His Bride.  Yes, it is hard to imagine that because we can’t see it right now.  But this is exactly the process that we are going through.  This life is where our faith is tested and proven worthy of an eternal weight of glory.

Lastly in verse 18, Paul teaches us that our spirit keeps its focus on that which is unseen.  Though he doesn’t explain what the “unseen” is, we have many passages that help us understand this.  Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”  We cannot see the final reward of our faith.  However, God does give us little rewards in this life, from time to time, in order to encourage our faith.  But, we must not lose sight of the greater reward that still lies ahead.  We cannot see the judgment and removal of all wickedness from the earth and the heavens, but we will see it one day.  Even though we go to our death bed, yet we shall see it with our own eyes, as the Lord Jesus shouts the shout of resurrection and we are raised up with eternal bodies.  In this life we talk about spiritual maturity.  But the truth is, when a mature believer passes away into the presence of the Lord, they are like a baby who has been brought to term and is ready to be birthed into eternity.

So let’s keep our eyes on Jesus and know that, despite what we see happening in the natural and despite our perishing bodies, God has spiritual growth and renewal for our inner being.

Thursday
Nov172016

Doubts & Fear

Matthew 27:45-51; Psalm 22:21-24.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 13, 2016.

We have been looking at the many ways in which our society is under siege by Satan and his cohorts, and we could continue.  But I want to stop and deal with the issue of doubt.  One of the reasons the enemy attacks from so many different angles and vantage points is in order to overcome our faith in Jesus.  He does so by making it increasingly difficult to stick with Jesus.  This can happen in several ways.  The first is the seductive attack.  When I am following Jesus, I am missing out on all those “pleasures” that Christ is taking me away from.  Satan clearly tempts and pulls on us to go his way rather than the Lord’s way.  The second attack is in-your-face intimidation.  When I am following Jesus, this bad thing and that bad thing happens to me.  Satan clearly persecutes those who want to follow Jesus and he generally does so through willing human accomplices.

Now when something impacts your life it is normal to ask questions.  Any honest question in a difficult situation will stir up doubts.  Whether you are talking about a career choice, marriage, large purchase, etc… everyone has felt those moments of buyer’s remorse after the fact (many times even when we know that we made the right choice).  So it is important for us to look to Jesus himself and recognize that he knows what it feels like to doubt.  In Hebrews 4:15 it says, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”  Let’s look at the moments leading up to the death of Jesus on the cross in Matthew 27:45-51.

Doubts are dredged up by our emotions

Of the things that Jesus said while he was on the cross, the statement, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” would seem to be the most troubling to Christianity.  It appears that Jesus is confessing that he was wrong and that God has abandoned him.  Yet, this seems strange in light of the fact that Jesus told his disciples that this not only would happen, but had to happen.  So there is something deeper going on.  Now traditionally, it has been explained that because Jesus was taking all of the sins of the world upon himself in that moment, God could not look upon him.  Thus the quote is a pointing out the breaking of that eternal communion that they have shared (something Jesus would have never felt before).  I think there is merit to this as a starting point.  However, I think there is more to see here.

It is interesting how our emotions toy with us in the middle of difficult and important times.  When Jesus is dying on the cross, he is not only paying for our sins.  He is also fulfilling what Old Testament prophecies said must happen.  The reason I say this is because everything that Jesus is experiencing is exactly what the Scriptures foretold, and exactly what Jesus said would happen. Normally when things go exactly as planned our faith is encouraged.  But Jesus appears to have doubts.  Now it is important to point out that Jesus is actually quoting from Psalm 22:1.  Whether or not people at the time recognized this is not important.  Eventually the disciples recognized this quote and were amazed by what they saw when they read Psalm 22.  It is normally treated as David complaining to God about his persecutions at the hands of Saul and his men.  But it is shocking how well it describes what happened to Jesus on the cross.  In fact we are told by the Apostle Paul that David was a prophet and many of his Psalms were prophecies about the Messiah (Acts 2:29 and following).  Now here is the main point I want to make about this.  If it is true, and it is, that Jesus is fulfilling prophecy and everything is going as planned then it must not be the facts of the situation that cause this doubt.  The doubt here comes specifically from his emotions.  Please know this: emotions will often mislead us in the face of all evidence to the contrary.  Have you ever done something you absolutely knew was right and yet were dogged by doubts because of your emotions?  The core of what Jesus taught is never more vindicated than in this exact moment, as the religious leaders reject him and execute him.  But it is not reason and facts that plague his mind.  In reality it is emotion and imagination that are the real enemies of our faith.  Here is an example.  The Bible says that in the last days people will become lovers of themselves and scoff at those who believe God.  This is clearly proven true.  Yet, the facts themselves don’t always encourage our faith.  Why not?  They often fail because of the power of our emotions at being rejected and scoffed at.

We need to recognize as we are going through life that our emotions and moods change with our experience.  Jesus is letting us know that he is not just acting out a charade.  He is letting us know how he actually felt in that moment of fulfilling all the Old Testament was pointing to.  He is letting us know, he is letting you know that he understands your doubts and your fears.  He understands how even in the very moment of God’s Word proving true, our emotions can rise up and rebel against it.  “I don’t want to keep following you, even though everything you said is coming true.”  Bill Bright in his famous tract, “The Four Spiritual Laws,” has a part in the back in which he deals with the subject of emotions.  He uses the image of a train and makes the point that emotions should never be the engine, but rather the caboose.  The caboose only follows the train wherever it goes.  Thus even when our emotions rebel and want to go a different direction than with Jesus, Christians refuse to let emotions direct them.  C.S. Lewis, a Christian writer, put it this way in his book Mere Christianity.

“Now faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.  For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes.  I know that by experience.  Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.  This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway.  That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of digestion.  Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.”

The truth is that God will never forsake you, but your mood is that He actually has.  This is what Jesus was feeling.  He knew that He was fulfilling the Father’s plan and that this would lead to great joy for Him and the Father.  But, he still felt like God had abandoned him.  He did not protect himself from the pain of the nails, nor the emotional pain of the injustice while God is silent.  The disciples that had reasoned in their minds that Jesus must be the messiah, allowed their faith to be temporarily derailed on the day of the crucifixion of Jesus.  In fact it was important for this to happen.  We, as much as them, need to recognize that our salvation is not based upon how great our following of Jesus is.  It is not based upon what others do to us.  It is based upon the fact that Jesus loved you so much that he was willing to die on your behalf.  It is also based upon the fact that the resurrection (which was witnessed by over 500 people) is proof that God the Father accepted the death of Jesus on our behalf.  This is what sustained those early disciples when their every emotion screamed, “Just give in, it’s not worth it!”  Even in the face of death, they kept their faith in Christ because their emotions could not change the facts.

In Psalm 22, the psalmist complains that God doesn’t hear his cry (vs. 2).  He goes on to complain that God hear others, but not him.  “I am a worm,” he says (vs. 6).  He goes on to describe how he is being put to death and God does nothing.  This is how he felt.  But God had not forsaken him.  This complaint completely changes in verse 21.  Let’s look at Psalm 22:21-24.

God always hears the honest cry

I actually think the phrase “You have answered me,” should stand by itself.  Something happens between “Save me from the horns of the wild oxen,” and “You have answered me.”  We are not told what it is.  There is a period of time between the complaint that God isn’t listening and the answer.  For Jesus that time was 3 days.  It is not the length of time that is important.  It is the reality that the disciples spent 3 days with their hopes shattered thinking God had forsaken them all.  But then came Resurrection Day.  So when Jesus is on the cross he is not just dying.  He is demonstrating that God always answers the cry of the afflicted, even when it looks like He doesn’t.

It is interesting how the mind of the psalmist felt like there was something different about him.  God helped others, but he felt like a worm because God wasn’t “doing anything.”  Listen, everything within our flesh rebels against having to endure difficulty, suffering, or injustice.  We don’t even like suffering the effects of our own choices that we know we deserve.  So we sometimes say to ourselves, “It works for others, but not for me.”  What, like Jesus is a car that you jumped in and it wouldn’t start?  Or every time you turned the wheel it didn’t drive where you wanted it?  There is a world of misunderstanding in those words, “didn’t work,” because in them we see that the problem was that we were trying to control things and get them to go in the direction we wanted.  Remember, Jesus is the Lord.  We are following Him.  He is the one that not only saves us, but leads us to the Father.  He will not settle for being a paint job on your car while you drive all over town doing what you want to do.  So in this regard, there is nothing different about you.  Your flesh doesn’t like where God takes us as much as anyone else.  Faith in Jesus is not an emotional decision.  It is a rational choice that is going to be challenged by your emotions many times on the road ahead.  Satan has worked hard through the many different facets of our society to dismantle the reasons for your faith.  He manipulates our emotions to get us to drop Jesus, to quit believing.  Let me tell you a secret.  All the godly people of the past felt like “it didn’t work for them.”  When you read all the great people of faith in the Bible, you find that they had all kinds of doubts and fears.  And yet, they held on to God, and He revealed more and more to them until we received the full revelation in Jesus Christ.  Through the Bible they are saying to you that they felt like quitting as well.  But, hang in there.  God isn’t finished yet.

In fact the difficulties we face do several good things within us.  They test our commitment to God and make us more like Jesus.  They change us for the good if we keep our faith in Christ.  Let me give an example.  The Bible teaches that our ultimate inheritance is not in this life, but in the life to come.  It is simple enough on the face of it.  However, this is easier to believe when you have something in this life.  But what about the person in Aleppo, Syria who has lost everything and whose life is being hunted by evil men?  Sometimes when people are in great grief the above promise may seem hollow.  And, yet it is still true none the less.  In fact, such a person has nothing to lose.  Why not trust Jesus? 

Psalm 22 highlights this problem.  The person writing the psalm points out in verse 24 that God has not hidden His face from the afflicted.  The whole psalm is the problem between the afflicted as a class of people in life and the afflictors or persecutors as a class.  Since the serpent afflicted Adam and Eve and brought death into their lives, or Cain went after his brother Abel and killed him, there has always been those who simply wanted to serve God and yet suffered because of it.  In those moments there is a part of us that gets angry and wants to throw the white, good-guy hat into the mud and put on the black, bad-guy hat (if you remember the old westerns).  This division within humanity shows that people make a decision in their life if they will follow the way of Jesus or of Satan, the way of the afflicted or of the oppressor.  Satan and his hordes are the oppressors of humanity.  Many humans throughout history have joined with them because they see it as the winning side.  Yet, the psalmist declares that God has not forsaken the afflicted.  You see Jesus could have stayed in heaven and simply destroyed the oppressors.  However, he chooses to come down and take his place among us as one of the afflicted.  If the God of heaven took on the badge of affliction and did not despise it, how much more ought we to hang in there and trust him?  When Jesus is crucified, he is not just saving us.  He is also condemning all wicked people and all wicked spirits of the heavens who have chosen the path of Satan.  The cross shows us the truth that Satan could care less about you.  He only wants God’s place.  So what will you choose?  Your mind and heart know that the right thing is to choose to suffer with the righteous.  But your emotions and imagination stir up all manner of fears and doubts.  This life is your test and your proving grounds.  Will you wait for the answer from the Lord, even if it comes after your death?  Or, will you grow tired of waiting and join the other side?  Choose this day whom you will serve. 

Let me also remind you of the man Moses in the Bible.  Moses was born to parents who were Israelite slaves in Egypt.  However, by the help of God he was adopted and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter.  In Hebrews 11:24-26 we are told, “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt, for he looked to the reward.”  So too you have a difficult choice to make.  Should I do all I can to enjoy the temporary pleasures of this life by joining the oppressors, or should I go for the greater riches and reward that God offers to all who will follow Jesus?  Don’t be tricked into identifying with Satan, the Pharaoh of this world, and rejecting your true identity.  God created you to become like Jesus and take your place among the Sons of God in the world to come.

Thus Psalm 22 ends with the psalmist rejoicing in the testimony of the afflicted.  It starts out dark and ghastly, but ends with rejoicing and exhortations to praise God.  I know that when you look at the world, or at your life, at times both will seem dark and headed towards no good.  But God has made a promise to those mankind and those who will follow Jesus.  He has promised that this story will end in great rejoicing for those who trust Him.  But those who trust in Satan and the path of self-will, self-strength, will only find suffering and punishment.

Doubts & Fears audio

Tuesday
Feb092016

True Leadership

Luke 22:24-30.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on February 7, 2016. 

We have been looking at the Passover Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples on the night he was betrayed.  Each of the disciples was destined to have a critical role in the work of Jesus moving forward.  Yet, this brought great temptation with it.  They renewed an old favorite pastime of squabbling among themselves about who was the greatest disciple.  This argument gives rise to great insight from Jesus into what makes a great leader.

Who is the greatest disciple?

It is common in any group to have a clash of inflated evaluations of self and the disciples were not immune.  Verse 24 brings this out.  Of course, self-evaluations are always there and are not wrong necessarily.  However, Jesus taught that judgments should not be according to appearance, but rather should be righteous (John 7:24).  Clearly the disciples failed on this evening.  Yet, they become an example of what we should not do.  Take joy in the fact that, even when you fail, you can provide an example to yourself and others.

The word translated as dispute is a bit unclear.  The word that is translated here means more than just a dispute and the strife that goes with it.  It is literally a “love of disputes” that is referred to.  Thus this was not just a difference of opinion, but a love of arguing with each other.  Sometimes when you argue with someone you realize that either you or they fall into the trap of arguing for arguments sake.  You may use logic for your point but then refuse that same logic from the other side, which is both illogical and hypocritical.  Such love of dispute is not anchored in a love of God, or a love of righteousness and truth.  It is anchored in contention itself.  Conflict can become a habit that mimics addiction.  However, Christians are called to be peacemakers, not lovers of strife.  Their question of which of them is the greatest stirs up a spirit of arguing within the group.

Jesus steps in and uses the situation to teach about true leadership.  Notice the word “considered.”  They are all concerned on how they are considered by the others.  They each think the others should consider them the greatest.  Jesus points this out as a problem.  They are thinking like the world about power and position.  He reminds them that in the world the rulers exercise dominion and rule over the people.  The people in turn often admire them and give flattering titles like “benefactor” to them.  Thus in the world leaders are often seeking the admiration of the crowd and the titles that they may give in consideration of them.  People will often take pride in an oppressive leader if they think the leader is benefiting the status of the nation within the world.

Greatness is defined by Jesus

Our knee-jerk answer to the question of which of them was the greatest might be to exclaim, “None of you are great!  Only Jesus is great!”  Yet, take notice that this is not how Jesus responded.  None of them are claiming to be greater than Jesus.  They are only thinking among themselves, and Jesus gives them an honest explanation of what greatness is in God’s eyes, rather than men’s.  So who do you want to “consider” you great, God or people?

Christian leadership must not seek privileges nor to be served by others.  Jesus points out that in the systems of this world the older ones obtain privileges the higher they move up in leadership.  To become like the younger is not to use the system for these privileges.  In fact it is to be as one who has none.  One of the problems with our government today is the many privileges that they have legislated for themselves.  This is also seen in the way that great leaders of this world are served by lesser leaders.  To move up in leadership is to have more servants at your beck and call.  This creates a kind of sycophantic system in which younger leaders serve greater leaders in flattery and unhealthy ways in order to obtain position and privilege.  Think of how corrupt religious and secular institutions can become through this dynamic.  Even in the sciences there is a system in which the younger plebes do research and write papers in order to please the older ones who hold the power of their advancement.  In a perfect world this would not be a problem.  But, welcome to Earth.

How does the Lord respond to this?  “Not so among you!”  It is sad to see how often we have tossed such words aside in the heat of the moment in order to obtain what our flesh desires, greatness.  Whether in local churches, within denominational structures, or among the body of Christ as a whole, we have continued to transgress this command and to our own detriment.

Yet, Jesus then points to himself.  The example that Jesus gave of servant-leadership is contrary to the way of the world.  It would be interesting to know exactly when the foot-washing of the disciples occurred.  Even so, it works the same whether he had already done it or did it right after these words.  As Jesus washes their feet, he takes a lowly position that would be given to the lowest plebe in any worldly system.  All of the disciples would have stated strongly that Jesus was the greatest among them.  Thus Jesus highlights the inner dissonance that exists.  They know that he is the greatest and yet they continue to follow the world’s ways in order to obtain their own greatness.  The greatest leader in God’s eye is the one who will come down off their throne and serve those under them.  The world serves for the privileges and the accolades of men to the expense of pleasing God.  The disciples of Jesus must not follow that model.  The believer must reject privilege and use the position and power to serve those “under” their authority.  Even then, the service must be done not to please those you help, but instead God.  Of course Jesus was within 24 hours of his ultimate service.  He would become the substitute for the punishment of their sin.  If Jesus led to please his disciples, he would have never gone to the cross.  They didn’t want a crucified leader.  They wanted Jesus to walk into Jerusalem and take over.  They wanted the fame of the world, not the hatred.

The rewards of following Jesus

In verses 28-30 Jesus changes his tone.  Though he has verbally stripped them of any appearance of being great disciples, he transitions to what they have done that he thinks is truly great.  On top of that he tells them they will be rewarded for it.  Many had left Jesus over the course of the last months.  The crowds had quit following after him.  Even Judas was in the middle of leaving him.  The disciples themselves would scatter in unbelief of what would happen to Jesus the next day.  Even today, followers of Jesus are being challenged.  Will we leave Jesus in order to give allegiance to something else?  Or, perhaps we will simply redefine Jesus and thus serve “another” Jesus, a Jesus of our own making and in our own image?  These men had remained with Jesus through his trials.  The word has the sense of a trial that is intended to prove the genuineness of something.  Jesus was enduring a test to prove whether he truly was the Anointed Son of God.  His teachings and way of living life was undergoing a test.  And, as he is being tested, so those who are learning his way are to be tested.  Jesus was joyous to have these men in all their weakness and frailty, who had nevertheless stuck with him.  “Who else has the words of Life, Lord?”  The truth of Christ and his way is undergoing a test in this generation.  Will we stand by Jesus unwavering, or will we betray him?  Will we learn to seek his approval, or will we seek the consideration of each other, striving to be seen as great?  His testing is our testing.  So, learn to trust the master.  His way leads to life.

Verses 29-30 are interesting.  In a sense Jesus speaks of two kingdoms: one that he is giving to his disciples and one that they will join him in later.  The way they lead in the kingdom that he gives them will be rewarded in the Lord’s kingdom later.  He will not be present as they lead the Church after his ascension.  Thus their faithful service in the first century to lay down a foundation for the Church to be built upon would be rewarded in the coming millennial kingdom.  If we will listen to the commands of our Lord then we will find sure reward later.  Do not worry about the level of your authority and strive to get higher and higher.  Whatever authority comes your way in life, use it to honor Jesus and not yourself.  Use it to serve those under you in a way that will cause the Lord to think you are great.  At times that may make people under your influence to think less of you.  But that must not matter to us.

Do not embrace worldly thinking in any part of your life, much less within the Church.  It is high time that we drop the ways of the world and adopt the ways of the master, our Lord Jesus.

Leadership audio

Wednesday
Jul152015

The Test of Freedom

July 5, 2015--Luke 18:31-34

This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner.  The following is only a summary of it.  Please click the audio link at the end of the article to listen to it.

This weekend we are celebrating 239 years since our declaration of independence from King George of the British Empire in A.D. 1776.  Looking back, we can see how that freedom has been tested in many different ways over the centuries.  First it was tested by the War of Independence itself.  Once that test had been passed we were tested on whether or not we could govern ourselves.  This gave rise to the constitution in 1789.  Of course other tests involved the Civil War in the 1800's, our rise as a global economic power since WWII, and throughout the last 70 years the test of our spiritual and moral fortitude.  Freedom is not a right we can demand.  It is a condition we can enjoy, but will always be tested.  Our founding fathers believed that it was the right of all men to be free simply because they are created by God and He intends them to be free.  Do we still believe that?

The story of the Bible is one of the enslavement of men and God’s consequent work to free men from it.  It is not God who enslaves us.  We are enslaved by our own sins to do the will of the devil.  Jesus in John 8:36 tells us, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  We also see in the Bible, 2 Cor 3:17, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  Whether or not America will pass the tests of today and remain free, every believer in Jesus needs to recognize that, regardless of society, they can remain free as individuals who have embraced Jesus, the only true source of freedom.

Jesus frees us to trust God

In Luke 18:31-34 we see that the disciples did not really understand the plan and purposes of God in Jesus.  In retrospect we can see it is all about freedom, but for them it looked like Jesus was refusing to free them.  The interaction of Jesus with the rich man earlier in this chapter is ultimately about a man enslaved by trust in his wealth, rather than God.  Thus Jesus calls this man to embrace freedom and let go of his slavery. Of course he walks away sad because he is not sure he wants to be free from what enslaves him.  He would rather have both.  I want to have my cake and eat it too.  However, freedom often requires us to choose what we want more.

The call to freedom comes from Jesus to whoever will listen.  Leave everything else behind and follow me.  Peter recognizes that they had done that in verse 28. The disciples had successfully navigated the test that the rich man failed (at least in this moment).  Jesus of course recognized that what Peter says is true.  In fact the things they have lost have been replaced with something that is more and yet different, as Pastor Nick shared with us last week.  Though they left their families and jobs behind, Jesus had made them part of a new family with a new job.  They had trusted God and wanted Him more than their previous lives.

Yet something else needed to happen.  Jesus is not just a way of looking at the world and living life. He had to do a real work of freeing us from the guilt and judgment of our sins.  Thus Jesus takes the 12 aside in order to remind them where he was headed, that is the cross. Our sins keep us from freedom by leading us off the path of trusting God’s way.  No matter how much we want to be with God the desires of our flesh continually pull us away from God and separate us from Him.  They also keep us from freedom by the guilt and judgment that stands in the way of getting back on God’s path.  Jesus is not just our great example.  He is that and much more.  He is also our Sin Remover; our Punishment Surrogate; our Willing Scapegoat.  He sacrificed himself for our freedom.  Thus, it is one thing to embrace Jesus as a means of having a wonderful life.  It is quite another to follow Him through the cross and to the other side.

To stay free is to keep trusting God

Once having been given freedom it is important to hold on to it.  Your flesh, the world, & the devil fight against that freedom.  The only way to retain freedom is to keep trusting God.  "He who endures until the end shall be saved."  The endurance here is not about human strength, but about faith.  If we hold our faith in God and His Son, Jesus, we will remain in His freedom.

Our faith is never more tested than when we have to walk a difficult path and endure the hostility of sinners.  Jesus takes time to point them to the hostilities and difficulties that lie ahead.  This is the 3rd time Luke records Jesus telling them about the difficult death ahead of him. Yes, we are tested in just taking hold of the call to freedom.  But we are also tested in the holding on to it. Difficult paths can cause us to shrink away from freedom and retreat back into the slavery of self-life.  Jesus warned his disciples that to follow him, they would need to pick up their own cross. Difficult times lay ahead.  In fact he would be mocked, insulted, spit upon, scourged, and killed. They would not stand by him in his darkest hour, which would become a guilt and shame hanging over their head.  These things would test them severely.  What are we willing to endure in order to retain freedom as an individual?  As a nation?  The Israelites of the first century A.D. had a choice to make.  They could cling to the hope of national freedom of Israel, or they could let go of it and obtain the freedom that no dictator or terrorist can take away; freedom in Jesus.  Is there a hope for freedom of America in the days ahead?  As long as there is a God there is hope.  However, even nations can cross lines that bring about the judgment of God.  Yet, even if this nation is without hope of turning back, we as individuals must stand with Joshua and say, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."  We cannot lose the greater in trying to keep the lesser.  Perhaps the time has come for American Christians to make a choice.  Is your love for this country greater than your love for Jesus?  It is easy to conflate the two.

So how can one remain free when faced with such choices?  Ultimately freedom was won by the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf.  In a similar manner, the natural freedom of our nation was won by the sacrifice of men and women who put their lives on the line. This principle cannot be avoided: freedom is only maintained by sacrifice.  As Christians we follow a Lord who sacrificed earthly glory in order to give us true freedom.  So how can I put my life on the line for this nation?  Yes we can join militaries and police forces and fight against evil.  But even that finds a dead end when whole nations embrace wickedness and reject God.  The way of the cross has never been about saving the body of a man or the body politic of a nation.  Jesus and his disciples are our model.  They did not shrink back because the path was difficult.  Rather, they pushed ahead even to the point of laying down their lives as fishermen and Israelites.  They did this for themselves but also for the sake of those who would follow behind them.  They wanted others to be free.

When you trust God it does not mean the path will be easy.  But God has always aided His people against the forces of tyranny.  Even when those forces seem invincible.  He has pledged to free the world from this age of the darkness of man’s rebellion and the tyranny that forever chases us like a howling wolf.  We must trust that.  We must pick up our cross and follow Him.  Let’s be the light in this dark and perverse generation so that some may believe and find freedom.

Test of Freedom Audio