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Weekly Word

Entries in Truth (19)

Tuesday
Feb062018

Speaking the Truth to Power

1 Kings 21:17-26.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 4, 2018.

Speaking the truth to power is a catch phrase that has come into use from the 1940’s to the 1950’s.  However, it is a concept that has been around since the dawn of governance itself.  Historically, it has been understood that speaking truth to power is a very, dangerous business.  Yet, it is also historically true that many attempts to “speak truth to power” have had other powers working behind the scenes and pushing the events. 

In the Bible, we find a group of individuals called prophets.  Though there are false prophets, the true prophets are not being manipulated by other powers who want to seize power through them, and neither are they being funded and given ideas by them.  Instead, they receive their marching orders from God. Of course throughout history many have used the pretense of a word from God to manipulate individuals and governments.  The biblical prophet was one who proved themselves to be true, by their life actions, and by the things they revealed (did they prove to be true of come to past at some point).  Sometimes they would do miracles or give amazing signs, but often the only sign they gave was that they spoke the truth.  That’s the thing about truth.  No matter how long it is lied about and manipulated, it is a stubborn thing that no amount of curtains, smoke and mirrors can hide it forever.  The truth will eventually come forth.

God confronts Ahab through the prophet

Several times in this book of Scripture, 1 Kings, we have seen Ahab confronted by Elijah, or other prophets, about his failure to follow the God of Israel.  But this event follows on the heels of a great abuse of power.  On one hand kings and rulers make decisions that can mean life or death for thousands of their subjects, like when they decide to go to war.  Now war can be for a good cause, such as defense of your nation, or an ally that is threatened.  But just as wicked as going to war for greedy purposes, is using your power to have an innocent man who is one of your citizens framed and killed, and then to take his property as the spoils of war.

Now we can recognize government as necessary, only so far as it protects us from tyranny.  In fact this is the true origins of government.  Anarchy theoretically means all are completely free.  You have 100% freedom.  Yet, there are people who use their freedom to forcefully take your stuff, or make you their slave.  So groups will cede a portion of their freedom in order to create a coalition, government, which can ensure that the rest will be protected as they go about their business.  Thus you may not have 100% freedom, but you are safer.  This is all theoretically fine.  However, governments sometimes become the source of tyranny to their own citizens.  In such cases there must be those who are bold enough to stand up and call it to account.  Similarly, in ancient Israel, God spoke through prophets to rebuke kings and call them back to a proper authority.  Of course, those kings generally ignored the true prophets and followed the false ones.

In verses 17-19, we find God’s displeasure with the way Ahab and his wife Jezebel had framed Naboth, and then had him killed, just to take a vineyard that Ahab wanted.  As Ahab travels down to Jezereel in order to take possession, the word of the Lord comes to Elijah.  Yes, God could have spoken directly to Ahab if He wanted.  But recognize that Ahab has proven to particularly resistant to God’s word.  Also, the way God does it here (i.e. through another person) Ahab is forced to face the message in a very outward and accountable way.  On top of this the message will live on regardless of Ahab’s choice.  It is done out in the open so that all of Israel and we who read it today can understand God’s displeasure with the abuse of power and with wickedness in general.

God tells Elijah exactly where he can find Ahab and then tells him to ask Ahab this question.  Have you murdered and taken possession?  The question is rhetorical.  It emphasizes the boldness of Ahab and Jezebel’s actions.  It is a risky thing to draw attention to yourself by taking possession of the property of the very man that you had murdered.  Yet, Ahab is fine with doing both.  It is a sign of the degree to which Ahab and Jezebel’s use of power has become immoral and malicious.  Really the question is this.  How dare you be so brazen in your sin?  Sin has a way of making people bolder and bolder in their sinful actions.  It may not lead to murder, as it did in this case.  The person who lives selfishly and for their own flesh will find themselves becoming worse and worse, and ever harder towards repentance.

Lastly, a death sentence is given to Ahab from God.  Just as Naboth was taken outside the city, killed, and dogs licked his blood from the ground, so too Ahab will have a similar fate.  Even more than that, it will happen in the same place Naboth was killed.  We call this poetic justice.  It is not always given in life, but there are times win the punishment fits the crime perfectly.  What Ahab gave to others, he will receive back.  Ahab has crossed a line.  Though God could have struck Ahab dead at that moment, He doesn’t do that.  Ahab is given a warning so that he can repent and adjust his life.  Yes, God knows that Ahab will not repent.  Yet, God is still gracious to give him warning and time to change.  Ahab has no excuse in eternity.

In verse 20 the scene jumps.  Apparently Elijah has left his place and found Ahab at Naboth’s vineyard or close to there.  Ahab refers to Elijah as his enemy.  A person should always take care whom we label as enemy.  We can make the mistake of treating someone as an enemy when they don’t deserve it.  Elijah was not Ahab’s enemy, as if he was trying to usurp the throne or get him killed.  The only thing Elijah is guilty of is obeying God.  Can you imagine how many times Elijah must have thought to himself, “Why doesn’t God just remove Ahab somehow?  Why does God keep giving him grace?  He doesn’t deserve it.”  Yet, each time God told Elijah to go speak to Ahab, Elijah did so faithfully.  Some people you call your enemy could be better friends then you know.  In fact the opposite is true as well.  Some people you call your friends are actually your enemy.  Ahab’s problem is not his inability to discern those who mean him harm versus good.  Ahab’s problem is that he has “sold himself to do evil.”  We will come back to this phrase since it is used again in verse 25.

At this point Elijah continues to share more judgments from God that are coming.  It seems the writer is using a literary device where God’s word to Elijah and Elijah’s word to Ahab are to be understood as the whole conversation of God to Elijah, as well as Elijah to Ahab.  So Ahab knows that God has decreed his death, but there is more.

Elijah tells Ahab that calamity (a generic terms for something bad) will cause the death of every male descendant of Ahab.  This would be the end of his dynasty, which had started with his father, Omri.  In some pretty choice words, Elijah describes that when this calamity strikes every male descendant will be executed whether free or slave, and whether in the city or in the field.  The reference to the house of Jeroboam and Baasha is a term that was understood as dynasty in this context.  These were the two previous dynasties that had been destroyed for similar reasons.  So Ahab is put on notice, your dynasty is next.  In all of these cases God had warned the kings that their kingdoms were in jeopardy and would end in the death of all of their descendants who could lay claim to the throne.

Lastly, Elijah reveals that Jezebel is also going to die.  Here fate is similar, but with one twist.  Jezebel is going to be eaten by the dogs.  Such a humiliating death basically means that either no one cares to bury her or they are commanded not to.  Jezebel will die in the territory of Jezreel and be eaten by dogs.  These prophecies will prove true down the road.

A summary of Ahab’s life

In verses 25 through 26, the writer gives a summary of Ahab’s life.  He hasn’t died yet (that will take place in the next chapter). However, we are given the phrase again that no one sold themselves to do evil like Ahab (at least up to that point).  It is a curious phrase because Ahab is king and therefore the freest person in Israel.  To whom or to what did he sell himself?  We could say that he sold himself to Baal.  Ahab clearly served Baal with much of his life even though he should have served the God of Israel.  This would be true.  However, in light of the New Testament, I think there is a more precise answer.  Ahab had sold himself to sin.  In Romans 6:16 Paul says, “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?”  Sin tempts us with pleasure or some other form of payment by which we sell our souls into slavery.  We are left in bondage to sin, living a life of trying to please the desires of our flesh.  This is similar to the story of God confronting Cain before he killed his brother Abel.  There God told Cain that sin crouched at the door and sought to master him.  God’s advice was for Cain to master sin, in the sense of bringing it under control.  When we serve our own fleshly desires, we become slaves to sin, and as our master, it drives us to destruction.  However when we know the truth about sin and its awful destruction, we can turn to God and repent.  Believers recognize that they have been purchased with the blood of Jesus off of the auction block of sin.  Even though God has purchased us, He is a good master who leads us to freedom, sonship, and eternal life.

The summary of Ahab’s life is also marked by the fact that he was stirred up or instigated by his wife, Jezebel.  This is not meant to justify Ahab in any way.  He is guilty.  Neither should we see this as a female or male thing.  Men are just as capable at instigating women towards evil as Jezebel was.  However, her boldness enabled him to do far worse than he would have done on his own.  This can be true of a spouse or any one that we become close friends with.  Our choices of companionship are extremely critical to our life.  Friends you can walk away from.  But, if you marry someone who stirs you towards evil, what can you do?  You can keep your eyes on Christ and serve him over the top of those instigations and the passions of your own flesh.

This summary ends with the recognition that he worshiped idols in the way that the Amorites did, whom God had cast out before Israel.  The Amorites practiced idolatry, human sacrifices and sexual perversion.  Ahab did not understand or take seriously the inheritance that he had received.  Others were removed so that I could have this place.  That should make me wonder if I could be removed.  Ahab didn’t think about what God thought.  He only thought about what he wanted, as if all of Israel belonged to him by his own power. 

We will all be held accountable for our actions and choices in this life.  What will the summary of my life, or your life, be?  We are not talking about accomplishments, but rather a spiritual summary.  What am I serving, and by what or by whom and I stirred up?  To what am I being stirred?  May God help us to be stirred up by the Holy Spirit to serve the God of heaven and earth.  May we also do our part to stir each other up towards the things of God rather than the things of the flesh.  In this we find that the most critical power that I must speak truth to is my own flesh.  May God help us to be bold.

Truth to Power audio

Wednesday
Nov012017

Having Confidence at His Coming

1 John 2:24-29.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on October 29, 2017.

If Jesus were to return today would I be joyful without restraint, or would I be fearful with shame?  This is a powerful question.  The idea of facing Jesus (He who knows what is in a man) face to face can be intimidating.  Yet, it is important to recognize that God’s desire is not for this to be a scary and fearful thing.  Rather, He wants it to be a joyous event in which you can confidently come into the presence of Jesus, the One who paid the price for your sins.  He loves you and, whether it is at your death or the 2nd Coming, we need not fear that He will reject us.  The whole purpose of Jesus was to bring us into a close relationship with the Father, to make us a part of His family, and to cast out the fear of any rejection.  Now this is not a braggart’s confidence that we see in this world.  It is not a confidence built on our great self-attainment.  No, it is a confidence that is made of far stronger metal.  It is that which comes from an experience of the love of the Heavenly Father who as adopted us into His family.  I pray that you will allow the Holy Spirit to remove fear from your heart and replace it with a confidence in Him.

Let the Truth Abide in You

In verse 24 Paul has just finished warning believers of false teachers and even “antichrists” that would try to deceive them and lead them astray.  This verse is a conclusion to that section (“Therefore”).  Though John’s statement in verse 24 does not explicitly state what it is he wants them to have dwelling in them, the statements all around it leave no question that he is thinking of the truth they had received from the beginning.  It is interesting that believers are told to “let that (truth) abide in you…”  The truth of God comes into our hearts and naturally wants to dwell there and grow.  Thus Jesus used the parable of the seed of God’s Word being sown into the soil of people’s hearts.  Am I allowing that seed to take root and grow, as it will naturally do, or am I doing things that are adverse to this?  We can reject the Truth, but we can also displace it by filling our hearts and minds with the false-truths of this world.  Let us cling to the Truth of God.

John is writing to people of whom he is intimately aware of the Truth that they received “from the beginning.”  He knows that they received solid, undefiled truth.  However, over time they are being tempted by other so-called truths and twisting of what they knew.  Yet, Christianity is not just about receiving the Truth about life.  It is about receiving the revelation that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  He is the only way to the Father, and in Him Truth is a person, not just a statement of fact.  This connection between Jesus and the Truth must be understood by all His followers.  John sees this as so important that he ties our fellowship with Jesus and the Father to our holding on to the Truths about Him.  If the Truth of the Gospel (Who Jesus was and What He was doing) dwells in our hearts then we will abide in the Son and the Father.  The opposite is implied that if we let go of that Truth then we will no longer be dwelling in the Son and the Father.  To embrace the Gospel is more than embracing a set of propositions.  It is embracing a relationship with the only being of whom it can be said He is Truth.  To use another analogy that Jesus gave us in John 15, to believe the Truth of the Gospel is to connect to Jesus with a living relationship.  We draw life out of our relationship with Him.  You cannot have one without the other.  We cannot claim intimacy with the Son and Father, and yet toss aside the Truth which we received from the beginning.  As I said earlier, this statement is to people whom John knows well what it was they received.  The tragedy is that many in this world have received everything but the Truth.  Some are raised in atheism, and others in false religion, and others yet who are raised in perversions of Christianity.  These people should not hold on to what they received from the beginning.  The key is that we are holding on to the Truth that the Apostles of Jesus transmitted to us in voice and in writing, and refusing to be separated from them by any voices that have risen since then.  To remain in fellowship with Jesus is to hold fast to the teaching received from His apostles.  This cannot be avoided.

In verse 25 he reminds us that this is the promise that God gave us, eternal life.  Those who embrace the Truth about Jesus and the Truth of Jesus are now connected to eternal life.  When we speak of eternal life it is easy to focus solely on length of time.  It is true that eternal life is of unending duration.  However, if you read the passages of the Bible that speak of “eternal life” it will be clear that it is more about quality of life than it is about quantity.  We don’t just live, but we experience the very life of God (i.e. eternal life).  We live in a world that owes its existence to God and yet is separated from the eternal life of God.  It is dying even as it lives.  But in Christ we are living even as we die.  The eternal life that we are connected to is not intimidated by death, but in the end will swallow it up in victory.  This is the life that Christians can experience right now.  No, I won’t live forever in this mortal flesh, but I have a relationship with a kind of life that is greater than mortal death.  This life is extremely important and we need to live in Christ in order to experience it.  This world works daily to try and extend life, deferring the consequences of our fleshly desires.  Though we may open such a Pandora’s Box through technology, it will not give us the life that we desire.  It will only bring us to greater sin and sorrow.  Jesus is the only way to true life.  God’s plan will work, but man’s plan will only forge ever stronger chains for mankind.

Now verse 26 turns our attention back to those deceivers that would try to separate us from the Truth (i.e. the eternal life of the Son and the Father).  There are many deceivers today.  Some wear religious garb and give sermons on whatever day of the week they hold dear.  Others have websites that promise all manner of secret knowledge that will fill that sense of lacking that you have.  When I look at most of the TV and movie programming, the music, and books of this world, I see a continual onslaught of the idea that we can be good without having to believe in a God, Sin, and a Savior.  We are pointed to ourselves, or mankind as a whole, as the answer to fixing everything and having a great life.  We are encouraged to put our faith in mankind’s ability to achieve all this through the power of science and developing technologies.  Such deceivers, whether they know it or not, serve only one purpose: to separate us from the Truth, whether we have received it yet or not.  It is to separate us from a relationship with Jesus in which we experience eternal life in the now.  How are we to keep from falling to such deceptions?

John points to the anointing within all God’s children (vs. 27).  His main point is that you do not need some guru to come along and explain everything for you.  They already had Jesus and the Truth about Him.  They were not missing out on any special knowledge.  If you are a Christian, but feel that you are missing something, the answer is not to pursue information “out there.”  All you need to do is get back to the Truth and the Faith once and for all delivered unto the Saints, that is the Word of God.  When you are reading God’s Word and daily walking in a living relationship with Jesus, you are not missing anything.  Deceivers many claim to be Christ or to be from Christ, but none of them have come, riding on the clouds of heaven and descending to the Mt. of Olives.  Too many Christians are hungry for a miracle worker or a wise teacher, when we already have the anointing of God Himself, the Holy Spirit, dwelling within our life.  The metaphor of anointing reminds us of the special calling to which we are called.  “The anointing” points to the Holy Spirit coming into the life of a person in order to live for God and accomplish His business.  This Spirit dwells in believers and leads us to become more like Jesus. John’s point is not to say there should be no teachers.  They wouldn’t have come to know the Gospel without teachers and all churches had teachers in their midst.  But once you have come to know the Truth and have entered into relationship with Jesus through God’s Spirit, you have all that you need to be acceptable to God and live a full life.  You are not lacking anything.

When a person lives such a life they are ready for the return of Christ (vs. 28).  You can have confidence that you are ready for His return, a confidence born of the Holy Spirit and not the false spirit of this age.  The Pharisees had great confidence, but it was based upon their own ideas, and their own works.  Analyze your own confidence.  What is it based upon?  If it is something other than the witness of the Holy Spirit within you, and the Word of God, then you have a confidence that is like those Pharisees.  The Holy Spirit will lead us to put our confidence in Jesus and His work (past, present, and future) in our life.  That daily relationship of learning to take our feelings, desires, and hopes before Jesus, and learning to trust Him over them, is crucial to growing a proper confidence.  Those who are confident in Christ will rejoice at His coming.  But those who are confident in themselves and the things of this world will be ashamed.  Ashamed because they did not truly trust in Him, or ashamed because they deserted Him and lived for themselves.  Ashamed because they will be separated from Him and not have eternal life.  Now the words in verse 28 are literally, “and that we might not be made ashamed from Him.”  The preposition is often translated as before.  Though this is true, the preposition in the Greek actually emphasizes separation.  Such a person will not just be ashamed before Jesus, but also be separated from Jesus and His eternal life.

Are you ready for the return of Christ?  Will it be a time of rejoicing and celebration, or one of fear and shame?  If we have continued with Him through temptations, trials, and sufferings, then we will have nothing but a confident rejoicing when we come before Him.  It will be a final uniting with one who has helped us through all the good and the bad of this life, and more than that, the one who loved us enough to lay His life down for us.  Such a being you would never have to be afraid of unless you had deserted Him along the way.

Confidence at His Coming audio

Tuesday
Dec272016

Truth

John 1:14-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 25, 2016.

The Bible tells us in Romans 5:6 this, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (NKJV).  The writer goes on to say, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  The timing and the way in which God loves us is not always the time and way that we want.  If it were up to us to pick the “when” of the incarnation we would choose our own time, and so would every other generation.  Also, none of us would choose the cross as the demonstration of God’s love.  In light of all of this we are told that Jesus came in “due time.”  The word translated here has the sense of a seasonal time.  So when the fruit is ripe, it is the season or right time to harvest it.  So spend some time thinking about how the 21st century is not better than the 1st century as a season for God’s greatest act of love.  If Jesus were to come in our day we would not be more inclined to accept him, and probably less.  Yes, our technology could spread his message quicker, but it could also cause it to be lost in a sea of counter-claims and conspiracy theories.  There would be just as much resistance to his message and to him.  The truth is that it would not make any of us any more likely to believe.  For every time that I have thought in my heart that I would believe if God would just prove it to me personally and right now, there are countless examples of those who did see and yet still didn’t believe.  This doesn’t mean Jesus wasn’t worth believing.  Rather, it points us to the stark reality that the logic we often lean on (God didn’t do it this way…) is very flimsy.  It cannot hold up to the truth that God has demonstrated His love toward us and in an incredible way.  All people who hear the truth are accountable to search it out for themselves because it is by this that we show ourselves to be those who truly want the truth.  However, the “search for truth” can itself become an intellectual cover for an aversion to it.  So let’s look at Jesus today and remind ourselves of the truth about who He is.

The Word Became Flesh

You will want to read John 1:1-18, but I am going to focus mainly on verse 14.  John introduces several titles or descriptive words for Jesus in this section.  The name Jesus comes from a Hebrew word that means “God Saves, or God’s Salvation.”  This would be an appropriate name for the one who would be God’s Messiah (the one Anointed by God to deliver Israel and the Gentile nations).  But in verse 1 John reveals an even deeper truth about this one they knew as Jesus.  He existed before all of creation as “The Word.”

Now, “The Word” could be translated as the reason, the logic, or the saying.  However, John’s use of the phrase “in the beginning” coupled with a consequent creation is a direct allusion to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  He is more than describing Jesus as a current representation of the logic or truth of God.  John is revealing that another person was hidden within the creation story.  So Genesis 1 tells us that God said, “’Let there be light,’ and there was light.”  Thus God speaks and the effect of that word is a creative event.  Jesus is revealed by John to be not just the first created being, but rather as co-existent and in union with God.  In verse 3 he says that all things that were made were made through Jesus and without Jesus nothing was made that was made.  Before he ever took on flesh and became the human called Jesus, he was the eternal and divine Word.  He was a part of the eternal Godhead: Father, Word, and Holy Spirit.  The truth about Jesus begins with his greatness and majesty.  He is the very means of creation.  He is that which brought all things into being.

It is in light of such an amazing statement that the incarnation (becoming flesh) of The Word is revealed.  The incarnation is the opposite of the greatness of his past existence.  It becomes the time of great humbling, humility, and even humiliation of the uncreated one.  Throughout history, mankind has struggled with the sense that God is removed and separated from our existence.  How can he care about us and seem so removed?  Yet, in the incarnation, God responds that He knows what we are dealing with, how hard it is, and how easy it would be to give up.  Though we may not “feel” like He cares, we can “know” that He does because of the day that The Word became flesh.

There is a scene in the new movie, “Greater.”  There is a character that is struggling with understanding why God would let his brother die in the prime of his life.  There is a scene where he stands beside a football field in which there are a bunch of potted flowers.  His struggle with not wanting to blame God and yet feeling like God is to blame, eventually leads him to walk up near the press box of the stadium.  From that high vantage point he looks back to the flowers on the field to recognize that the flowers spell out the words, “We Trust.”  This is a powerful metaphor for life.  We are often like the players down at field level, not understanding why the coach calls us to do something.  But God has a view of this world and your life that is much higher than any press box in this world.  In the incarnation God is saying to us us, “Trust me, instead of your pain.”  In fact, if we are truthful with ourselves, the worst decisions are often made in the midst of pain and anger.  The truth is that God does care and He has even humbled Himself to step down into our difficult circumstances, not as some Titan who cannot be touched.  But, rather, He comes as a man who can be hated, rejected, and killed.

The Word did not just become a man and Lord his divinity over all mankind.  Instead, John says that “he dwelt among us,” in verse 14.  Just as God’s Spirit had dwelt in the tabernacle with Israel in the desert, here again is God in an even greater act of closeness dwelling among mankind.  He did not come to the palaces of Rome, but to the conquered people of Israel.  He did not come to the palaces of the Israeli people, but to the sticks of that nation in Galilee.  The men that he lived with for 3 and a half years were mostly fishermen and lowly.  The Word comes to become the lowly Jesus and reminds us that God Saves.  Throughout the New Testament the family terms of Father and Son are used to demonstrate the closeness of God.  Yes, Jesus is the Son of God, but he has come that we too might become sons of God.  The truth is that God is never far away, but is as close as the mention of His name.  Though I demand that he demonstrate His closeness at a specific time and in a specific way, it can never diminish the truth that He loves me, is close to me, and understands how difficult it is.  He dwelt among us!

We Beheld His Glory

The disciples of Jesus gave witness to what they saw in him.  In fact the word used in verse 14 for “beheld” means more than that they saw the glory of Jesus.  It has the idea of inspection and looking into a matter.  Jesus didn’t just appear on earth and look like something.  He lived with people and his life purposefully brushed up against others so that men could inspect his character, life, and his very being.  When we live 24/7 with someone it is most generally then that we see them in all their “glory,” (Yes, I am being facetious).  Quite the opposite, it is then that our flaws are most obvious.  Yet, John says that they inspected this man and what they found was glorious.  They saw the public and private Jesus.  They saw Jesus during the good times and the bad.  They saw Jesus when the crowds wanted to make him king and when they were crying out, “Crucify him!”  The disciples did not believe Jesus simply because of the claims he made.  They believed because of what they experienced when they lived with him.  So why does God often seem hidden?  Why doesn’t he do something like this for every one of us in every generation?  The short answer is because men most generally do not want to live with absolute truth.  We tend to want only certain aspects of truth.  The hiddenness of God is a challenge to our very character.  Do I want to know the truth, or do I simply want to feel like I know the truth?  To know the truth is to enter into a loving and trusting relationship with it.

John further describes this glory with two words and the first is Grace.  In inspecting Jesus they saw that God is gracious, even further, “full of grace.”  They watched as the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) was thrown before Jesus.  Here we are given witness to the exquisite grace of God in that he is not looking for reason to punish and destroy us.  Rather, he is looking for reasons to forgive us.  In our day and age, grace becomes a trite method of declaring that nothing is really sin, or that sin no longer matters.  However, Jesus both confirms that the woman is a sinner and yet encourages her to quit being a sinner.  He knows that unless she changes she will be judged by God.  Why remove any chance of her making amends?  The grace of God is that humanity does not deserve to be saved, and yet he gives us a chance.  More than that, He guarantees that whoever wants to do so can join that part of humanity that will be victorious over the devil and reign with God in his place.  Satan will be cast down and we will be lifted up.  This is the grace of God.  But, do you trust him?

We are told of his interaction with the thief on the cross in Luke 23.  This man had lived a life of sin and stealing from others.  In the last moments of his life, in which he can really do nothing for God, he simply asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom.  Such a simple statement of faith, and yet it was all that God was looking for.  Put yourself in God’s shoes for a moment.  Can you imagine pouring out your heart in love for another person, only to have it thrown back into your face?  It’s not enough, it wasn’t the right time, it wasn’t the right way…. Yes, we can all learn how to love others.  But, if our every attempt to love is criticized and never simply received as the love it is, then what?  Does the other person really love you?  The sad truth is that God has loved all mankind more than we deserve.  More than this, instead of throwing us away, He has simply put the ball in our court.  He is simply looking for us to trust Him.  This is the grace of our God.

This was not a New Testament idea.  The Old Testament clearly demonstrates that Israel and mankind did not deserve saving.  It reveals the moral warts and ugliness of our sin, and yet God’s plan to save mankind kept marching on.  No, it was not what you asked for or are even now asking for.  But it is love nonetheless.  So can you say no to such love?

The second word that John uses to describe the glory of Jesus is Truth.  Jesus made very exclusive claims.  In fact, truth by its very nature is exclusive.  In John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  In John 8:39-40 we are told, “They answered [Jesus] and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father.’  Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.  But now you seek to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God.  Abraham did not do this.’”  In John 3:16 we are familiar with the statement that “God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son that whosoever would believe on Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Yet, the sad thing is that 3 verses later (John 3:19) we are told that “this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil.”  Yes, all of us have an inner aversion to truth because it exposes not just our “failures” but also those things that we would call our “successes,” but He shows to be evil.

The world today struggles under the task of finding a way forward in which it can reject the exclusive claims of Jesus and still have a moral world.  But by removing the Truth from the foundation of this endeavor, we ensure its future crumbling demise.

So the ball is in your court.  God has heard you, and He has come near to you.  God has loved you, and He has done so in a miraculous, amazing way.  The real question is not has He done enough.  The real question is can I accept the truth and let go of the lie?  Let go of the lie today and embrace the truth.

Truth audio

Monday
Nov282016

A Thankful Heart

Psalm 100:1-5.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 20, 2016.

After this year’s presidential election we see that there are some who are rejoicing and others who are mourning.  Even Christians are divided on whether the results were good or bad.  I am not going to stand here today and make the case that the election of Donald Trump is a reason for giving thanks.  Rather, I am challenging each of us to understand that for the Christian, our reasons for rejoicing cannot be touched by an election, or the stroke of an executive pen, or the folly of a legislative session, or even the over-reach of a zealous judiciary.  Throughout history the godly have had to learn how to have joy in God’s presence regardless of what the world around them was doing.  So this Thanksgiving let’s have a thankful heart for the right reasons!

Exhorted to give thanks to God

Psalm 100 is addressed as a psalm for thanksgiving (some versions translate it as “praise”).  In fact the word that is translated as thanksgiving is the Modern Hebrew word for saying “thank you,” today.  There is a structural note to make about this psalm.  It is designed to have a 1-2 punch twice.  That is, the psalmist exhorts us to give thanks (verses 1 & 2) and then tells us why (verse 3).  He does this again with verses 4 and 5.  Thus we are going to look at verses 1 and 2 along with verse 4 because they are focused on the exhortation to give thanks to God.

First we are told to “shout joyfully” to the Lord.  This is a good translation, but it is informative to understand that this word is determined by the context.  It can also mean “an urgent cry, or shout for help, or a cry of alarm.”  However the context here is giving thanks to God.  Notice that this is meant to be a passionate response from our heart.  In fact, it is usually the times in our life where we cried out in alarm, and cried for help from God, that we find a reason for the joyful shout of victory.  Thus the psalmist addresses both Israel and “all the earth.”  Yes, the gentiles were separated from God at the time of this psalm.  They were also suffering under the administration of those false gods that they wanted to serve.  Yet, Psalms 96-99 have been underlining the coming reign of Messiah, or the Savior King that God would send.  In fact Psalm 98:3 says, “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”  Of course the psalmist is looking ahead and declaring what the Spirit is revealing, by faith.  Can we shout the joyful shout before the victory has come?  In Christ, believers have the joy of being able to shout a victorious shout before it happens, because God guarantees our victory.  Sometimes we lack passion in our worship and thanksgiving to God because we have never given thought to all that God has done and all that He has promised to do.  We can then become distracted by the things of this earth and live life without a deep-seated joy in Jesus.

Next we are told to “serve the Lord with gladness.”  From this point on the psalmist gives a command along with a description of how we should do it.  We are to serve with a heart of gladness.  Serving can become a very tedious thing, even overbearing at times.  But generally, it becomes so because we lose sight of what our service is accomplishing or bringing us.  When we go through moments of difficulty, our heart is tested.  Some grow weary and quit.  Others continue to work, but it has become a sad tedium to them.  Don’t settle for merely going through the motions.  God wants you to have gladness of heart.  So take time today, and each day, to ask God to give you faith to believe that He is accomplishing a good thing out of our lives and service for Him.  May God help us to believe that He is working all things to our good.

In verse 2 we are told to come before the Lord with singing.  Literally, it is to come before His face.  The picture is not of some ethereal “presence” of the Lord, but actually stepping into the place of His attention.  When we sing we connect with God from a very deep place.  For the person in the midst of turmoil and sadness, singing can be the rebellion of faith against the darkness.  For the person who has seen the victory of the Lord, it can be the dancing heart’s eloquent discourse. 

We see this same idea in verse 4 when it says, “enter.”  It is actually the same word as “come,” but the context of going through gates into a God’s courts give the sense of “enter.”  We should not only be thankful among one another, but we need to take time to enter into the throne room of God by faith and rejoice before Him with the songs of joy on our lips.  Thus verse 4 mentions thanksgiving and praise.  Thanksgiving has to do with a heart that is grateful.  It is one thing to be happy about something good.  It is quite another to go and give thanks to the giver.  Sometimes we can be overly intent on a particular good thing that we want to the expense of the good thing that we already have.  Often relationship with God, and one another, can be sacrificed in the desire for something else.  Pray for God’s wisdom to know when we need to let things go to follow Him and when we need to learn how to be content and rejoice in what we already have.

Praise is similar to thanksgiving.  However, it is more of a recounting of those good things that God has done and the good character that He has displayed.  This outward adoration of God can be in a physical house of worship.  But it must always be from a heart that has spiritually become a place of worship.  In our private moments we can enter into the presence of God at any moment because He is everywhere at all times.  People like Saeed Abedini, who was imprisoned in an Iranian prison for his faith in Jesus, can give testimony to the truth that no prison can keep us from entering into the presence of God and giving Him thanks and praise.

The Reasons Why We Can Be Thankful

Verses 3 and 5 give us the reasons why God is worthy of our thanksgiving.  The first reason is because it is He who has created us.  Of all the pretender gods among the nations, there is only One who is truly God.  The One who brought all that exists into being.  Yes, angels were considered divine in the sense that they dwelt with God and are immortal.  But they are not of the same class as the God who created all things.  Thus, in worshipping fallen angels in various forms, the Gentiles demonstrated the tendency of human beings to look to the creation and worship it rather than the Creator.  This reason could be categorized as a legal reason.  He created us and all that we have.  It is only right that we give Him thanks.  How could we not be thankful to Him or worse give our thanks to something that is created itself?  Within modern thinking, we are attempting to “take control of our own evolution.”  This has given rise to a progressive philosophy that believes we can make ourselves what we want in all areas (socially, physically, and spiritually).  However, just as we did not make ourselves, we will not be able to remake ourselves as well.  Mankind will always impale itself upon the sword of its own sinful nature.  Try as we might, we cannot fix the fallen human condition, only the Creator can.

If He is our Creator then by rights we belong to Him.  Thus the Psalmist says that we are his people.  He also employs a metaphor of a shepherd with his sheep.  We are sheep that belong to the Great Shepherd.  Of course God will not force us to serve Him and praise Him.  He is not raising us up as sheep to be slaughtered and eaten.  The shepherd metaphor is meant to reference a good shepherd who cares for and nurtures the sheep.  He defends them from the wolves that want to eat them.  He leads them to water, food, shelter, and a safe place.  This is our God.

Verse 5 tells us that He is good.  This is not a legal reason.  It is more of a moral argument.  God is good and to reject His claims upon our life in order to go after other things that are not good is foolish.  Not only is God good, but He has a good end in mind for us.  The Bible says that, “He who has begun a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.”  Similarly He is merciful or full of loving kindness.  Each of these is a type of goodness, or a facet of it.  In mercy and compassion God does not give us what we deserve, but instead, offers us kindness and love.  Of course we can receive mercy and not be thankful for it.  This too is folly.

Lastly, His truth or faithfulness endures to all generations.  The things that God has revealed can be depended on by every generation.  Some in the Church have waffled on this point.  The Truth of God is applicable to every culture at all times.  Yes, there are many things that God commanded Israel that are not intended for the other cultures and every generation.  But, with a proper understanding of what God is saying and revealing to the whole earth, we can know what is actually true in our generation.  Though many have cast off God, and any hope in what God can do, we must not do it.  Though many may push to make their own hope by their own hands, we must not do it.  Our hope is in the God who created us.  He is good and merciful to us.  He will be faithful to every generation.  Amen!  Don’t be fooled by the pied pipers of our day.  Give your life over to Jesus and ask Him to cover your sins.  Be a follower of Jesus and join with all the saints in giving up the Joyful Shout!

Thankful Heart audio