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Weekly Word

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
Jan292019

Sunday January 20, 2018

This Sunday we had visiting missionaries whom our church supports, Glen and Dana Johnsen of Continental Theological Seminary outside of Brussels, Belgium.

Here are some links to see about their ministry and the work that God is doing in Europe.

Assemblies of God World Missions site.

Contintental Theological Seminary site.

Pray that the Lord will help them to finish raising their budget before the next school year starts.  Also pray for the young women and men who they are training to be pastors, ministry leaders, and teachers, not just in Europe, but all over the world.

Tuesday
Jan152019

The Carnal Christian

1 Corinthians 3:1-4; Hebrews 5:12-14.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 13, 2019.

Today we are going to talk about what it means to be a carnal Christian.  Suffice it to say that this is not something that the believer should aspire to be.  However, it cannot only be an appearance that we avoid.  Much like “trying to look humble,” trying to look spiritual is itself the fruit of carnality.

The word “carnal” can also be translated as fleshly, and it refers to something that is characterized by the flesh and its desires.  The believer in Jesus who is walking with Him will find that Jesus always leads us away from the desires of our flesh and towards the desires of our Father in heaven.

As we look at our passage today, let’s not drum up images of people that we think this describes, but rather let us ask the Lord to search our hearts and help us to grow in becoming like the Lord Jesus this year.

What is a carnal Christian?

There are some who teach that the phrase “carnal Christian” is an oxymoron, and that such a person is not really saved.  Yet, I do not believe that this idea completely squares with Scripture, especially the passage before us today.  In our passage Paul refers to the Corinthians as carnal and yet back in chapter one he made it clear that he saw them as true Christians.  1 Corinthians 1:2 says, “To the Church of God, which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.”  So it seems that it is possible to be saved and yet characterized by the desires of one’s flesh.  We will explore more later.

First we should note that in this passage carnality is used in opposition to being spiritual (vs. 1).  Spiritual here does not mean having a spirit, as all humans have one.  Neither does it mean having the Holy Spirit because Paul never denies that these Christians have the Holy Spirit, but rather uses the fact that they do have the Holy Spirit in his arguments throughout the book.  Thus it is a characterization of their predominant life-choices.  They are not listening to the Wisdom of the Spirit of God in some very obvious areas, but rather listening to their flesh.  It might be good to note that it is not enough to be open to spiritual things.  There are many who avoid any sense of religion and pride themselves in being spiritual.  However the Word of God warns us that there are many deceptive spirits in this world.  We should be careful of opening ourselves up to deceiving spirits.  Believers are to be open to the Holy Spirit, but closed off to any other spirits that would work in opposition to the Father.  So we want to be spiritual, but in a biblical way.

Verse 1 also brings up another aspect of carnality.  Paul uses it to refer to those who are babes in Christ, i.e. immaturity.  This is a clear picture of a person who is newly saved.  We are not told how long a person should take to be mature.  However, it is clear from verse 2 that the Word of God is intended to help a person grow.

The milk of the word is that part of Scripture that is more easily digested.  It represents the love of God and his offer of grace towards us.  However, the solid food, or meat of the word, is such things as the call to pick up your cross and follow Jesus; it is the message of becoming like Jesus in holiness; and it is the truth about what is coming upon the world.

Thus a baby in Christ has the Holy Spirit resident in their life.  They have the Lord Jesus Christ, in a sense, sitting on the throne of their heart, yet, their work has just begun.  They have many giants that they must battle, against whom the Lord will systematically lead them and help them.  Immaturity in this sense is normal and expected.  It is not a bad thing when babies are immature.  However, a 24 year old baby, or a 60 year old baby, is a bad thing and is not healthy.  Even the baby Christian, though immature, should not be comfortable with carnality in their life.  However, they should be patient and trust the work and leading of the Holy Spirit.  If the Holy Spirit dwells in you, then Christ will help you to overcome sin and grow spiritually.

So we end up with 3 proper categories within this designation of a carnal Christian.  A carnal Christian is a believer who has just begun to follow the Spirit of Christ, or who has not developed properly in their ability to fight their fleshly lusts since salvation, or who has had proper development yet has regressed.  The first of these is normal, but the second and third are considered abnormalities in the sense that they are not God’s work.  They are also spiritually dangerous.

We should also note the things that Paul points out as proof of their carnality.  He lists envy, strife, and divisions.  They are anti-virtues, or rather vices, that are the fruit of listening to our flesh and not the Holy Spirit.  Galatians 5 gives a good list of the virtues of the Holy Spirit and the vices of the flesh.

Now let’s go to a similar passage in Hebrews 5 starting at verse 12.

What characterizes a carnal Christian?

Though our definition gives the character of carnality, this passage explores it further.  We are told that carnal Christians cannot handle the solid food of God’s Word.  In both cases, the Corinthians and the Hebrews, it is expected that they should be more mature than they are because they have the Word of God and the example of the apostles.  However, they are not.  They are in need of someone to come alongside them and assist them in “digesting” the milk of the word.  If they were properly digesting the milk, they would grow to the point that they could eat the solid food.  So how are they not able to handle the word of God?  First it can mean that they cannot “stomach” the more difficult parts of God’s Word.  They are unable to break it down and draw life from it.  It is too complex for their current level of maturity.  There is a resistance to it in their mind and heart.

However, it can also mean that they do not properly use the Word of God.  They are unskilled in its proper use.  They may have skill with the milk, but they are unskilled in the heavier things.  They may ignore clear meanings of some passages and over emphasize other passages in order to obtain what their flesh wants.  This is understandable in a new Christian.  Thus God puts us in a family of believers where there are those who are more mature and can help us to mature ourselves.

Both of these situations are not good, especially in the life of a person who has been a Christian for years.  So what is the solution, or is there one?  The solution to not being able to stomach the heavier parts of God’s Word is to go back to the milk and learn to properly draw life from it.  Then move on to more solid food.  The solution to the inability to properly use the Word of God in our life is to repent, turn away from our fleshly desires, and obey God’s Word.  We must learn to listen to the experience of those who have gone on before us from each generation.

Another danger in being a carnal Christian is that we are unable to properly discern what is good or bad (Heb. 5:14).  One’s fleshly mind and heart can manipulate reason and emotion in order to declare things of the flesh as good, thus the problem of self-justification.  We can focus on whether or not we are permitted to do something rather than if it is something that is actually good for me spiritually, or bad.  Such a state leaves us in a position to be easily manipulated by the devil.

Final Thoughts

All Christians have parts of their flesh that they must battle.  In other words, to become mature does not mean you no longer have things to fight against and places to grow.  God is always working on all of us.  However, as we mature the battle should become more of an internal battle and less and less of one that is on the outside.  This is not stated as an excuse for sin.  Rather it is recognition that every day all of us need to turn to the Holy Spirit and say, “Search me, O God!”  “What are we working on today, Lord?”

Let me close by reminding us of the passage in Romans 12:1-2, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

May God help us to choose spiritual transformation by the Holy Spirit over the top of fleshly conformation to the things of this world that are at odds with the Lord of Heaven.

Carnal Christian audio

Tuesday
Jan082019

Walking with the Lord in 2019

Psalm 1:1-6.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 6, 2019.

As we begin this New Year, we begin by praying for our walk with God.  We need His wisdom and guidance for the path ahead of us, and we need to grow in our ability to follow Him.  However, more than these things from the Lord, we need His presence in our life.  So we come to the question.  Am I walking with God as I should?  Am I following the One that He sent, the Lord Jesus Christ?  This is a question that we can ask ourselves every day.  It is that important.

The Bible presents Jesus as the perfect Son of God.  He is our example of how to walk with God the Father.  Yes, He is definitely more than an example, but He is one nonetheless, which we would do well to follow.

Our passage today compares and contrasts the one who refuses to walk with the world, and walks with God, to the one who does not.  This is not about disconnecting from society and the people around us in order to go on a spiritual journey.  Rather, it is living our life in the midst of society and the people around us by following God’s direction and not our own.  It is recognizing that my way provides no salvation for myself or this world, but His way brings life.

We need to learn to walk with the Lord.

Verse one of this psalm opens with a series of statements that use the verbs “walk, stand, and sit.”  It is clear that the psalmist is not just thinking of the simple actions in and of themselves.  He is not worried that a sinner might walk beside him on the road to Jerusalem, or that a scoffer might happen to sit by him at a wedding.  Rather, he uses these verbs as extensions of the choices that we make in our heart and in our mind, which cause us to do these things in league with certain people.

Thus, it is not about who happens to be walking next to me, but who I choose to walk with.  Similarly it is not about who happens to be standing or sitting beside me, but about those whom I choose to stand with and sit beside because I share their purpose and outlook on life.  We need to learn to choose to walk in harmony with the Lord, to walk in fellowship with Him, and to walk by His leading.

Thus we end up with a list of things that we should avoid because they take us away from the Lord.  As we look at this list, we should also note how Jesus perfectly demonstrates how to avoid them.  First, the blessed man chooses not to listen to the counsel of the wicked.  Now, the wicked are those who reject God’s Word and do what they want.  They have chosen a path that is adverse to God’s path for mankind.  Those who reject God’s path, and consequently His fellowship, have their own way of looking at things and their own “wisdom.”  Their counsel or advice is always a twisted reasoning why they should not follow the counsel of the Lord.  Their counsel is like that of the devil’s when he tempted Eve.  “Has God really said…”  The wicked can be openly hostile to God, or they may operate under the umbrella of God’s people.  Yet, their counsel always provides an exit off of the path of God’s way.  If we are to do well this year, we must learn to avoid listening to the counsel of the wicked.

Second, the blessed man chooses not to stand on the path of sinners.  “Sinners” here is a conceptual rhyme with the earlier “wicked.”  They are essentially the same with a slight difference in nuance.  Yet, the emphasis moves from their counsel to their path.  We start walking away from the Lord by first listening to their counsel, but then we find ourselves walking their same path.  The sinner’s path is not the path of the Lord.  The very definition of the word sinner is one who misses or falls short of God will.  They go a different way than the Lord.  Again, if we are to do well this year, we must not go down the path of those who reject God’s counsel and are refusing to walk with Him.

Third, the blessed man chooses not to sit in the seat of scoffers.  The image of a seat seems to be the end of a series of choices that lead to a worse and worse situation spiritually.  Having listened to false counsel, and walking down a false path, we can end up in a destination full of those who scoff, mock, and scorn those who follow God.  How sad to go from walking with God to mocking those who still do so.  If you find yourself sitting with those who mock and deride God and His Word, if you find yourself in league with such people and such attitudes, then you are in a bad place.  If we are to do well this year, we will need to avoid that mocking spirit which wants to pull us off of the path of Christ and on to a path of our own making.

Now verse 2 gives us the positive things that a blessed person embraces.  Here we see that the first is the Law of the Lord.  Now the psalmist is an Israelite living prior to the times of Christ and the Law of the Lord represented the apex of God’s Word.  God had made a covenant with Israel and given them His Law.  As Christians we are not under the Law of Moses, but rather the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:2).  The point here is not about legalism.  The Law represented God’s counsel and wisdom to Israel as to how they should run their society and show their faithfulness to Him.  For Christians today, we also need to heed God’s counsel and his wisdom in order to stay in fellowship with God and show our faithfulness to Him.  However, we have the Gospel from Jesus and His apostles.  We need to listen to the counsel that they give us.  Jesus will not lead us towards wickedness, sin, or mocking.

We should also note that it says that we should delight in God’s Word.  This represents an emotional response to the grace that God gives when He gives us His Word, His wisdom.  If we are to do well this year, we will need to delight in receiving God’s Word and then follow it.

Secondly, we should embrace meditating upon God’s commands.  It is not enough to merely hear God’s Word.  We are told to meditate upon what He says.  This is an inner dialogue that we can have with God in which we contemplate His Word, how it applies to us, and what obstacles we need to overcome.  The focus is to fill our minds with the understanding of God’s counsel and commands.  This involves recognizing and casting aside those understandings and counsels that are adverse to Christ.  If we do not take time to meditate about our choices in this life, we will fall far short of walking with the Lord.  If we are to do well this year, we will need to set aside time each day to meditate about the path in front of us, and prayerfully ask God to help us see His path.

In verse 3 we see the effect of the path that we walk upon our life.  Those who walk with the Lord become fruitful and beneficial to others.  This image of a fruit tree may somewhat conflict with the imagery of walking with the Lord.  However the difference in imagery helps to further explain what is intended for us to see.  The one who is walking with the Lord is simultaneously a tree in this world.  The rivers of water point to the need for trees to have water.  Without it there can be no growth.  God and His Word is our source of water.  When we are connected to God as our water source then we will become fruitful. 

Now the whole point of a fruit tree is to provide something for others.  Apple trees do not eat their own apples.  Our growth is not about getting all sorts of stuff to feed ourselves.  The one who follows God’s path becomes like a tree laden with fruit and all who come upon them can find good sustenance from them.  What kind of fruit am I in the life of those around me?  If we are to do well this year then we must turn our roots towards the waters of life, and not the stagnant waters of this world.  Then we will be fruitful and beneficial to those whom God has put in our life.

 Walking with the Lord also makes one to prosper.  “Whatever he does shall prosper.”  With so many teachers talking about prosperity, it would be good to pause and remind ourselves of what prosperity is and what it is not.  For many it only means to be financially wealthy and physically healthy.  However, in pursuing these things we can often be feeding the lusts of our own flesh.  We can promote greed, selfishness, lack of discipline, and idolatry as we try to prosper.  We cannot serve God and wealth!

Instead, the New Testament emphasizes spiritual prosperity above material prosperity (I did not say instead of).    It is not that God will not take care of our material needs, but that our flesh gets too attached to material prosperity at the expense of spiritual prosperity.  Thus we are called to be thankful and content with whatever material things God supplies, be it little or much.  We are to be other-focused and become spiritually beneficial to people around us, and, as the Lord directs and supplies, materially beneficial to them as well.  Ultimately we worship God and serve Him, rather than dollar signs and looking good in front of other people.  If we are to truly be prosperous this year, then we will need to break down the idol in our hearts that wants to be rich and satisfy all the desires of our heart.  Then we will truly prosper.

Verse 4 reminds us that if we don’t walk with the Lord the effects will be negative.  The ungodly will not be like a tree that has plenty of water and bears good fruit.  Though the psalmist could have stuck with the tree imagery and said that they produce poisonous fruit, he doesn’t.  We switch to another metaphor, that of wheat.  The wheat metaphor makes it clear.  The ungodly will perish.

Wheat has a hard shell that must be broken off of it in order to get to the useful food beneath.  The broken remnants of these shells are called chaff.  It was common to crush the wheat and then throw it into the air.  The wind would blow the light and insubstantial chaff away, but leave the heavier, good wheat behind.

This metaphor can be taken two ways.  First, all the trials and difficulties of this world have the effect of separating us into two categories.  We are either wheat that will be gathered into God’s barn, or we are chaff that the wind of God will blow away.

Second, we can also recognize a further truth that all the trials and difficulties of our life are testing and breaking the chaff off of us.  If we will allow Him, God will use those pains and hurts to break off the hard shell around our heart and remove it far from us.  We can become that which is good and the bad part will be blown away by the wind of God.  Though this image doesn’t bring up the sense of God’s love for His people and His desire to be loved by them, its lesson is still important.  God is always working to remove the bad and protect the good.  If we are to do well this year then we must learn to cooperate with this work in our life.  Quit worrying about those who reject God.  Even if they seem to prosper and seem to be so substantial in this world, the day will come when the wind of God will blow them away and they will perish.  Don’t seek to be like them, rather seek to tell them about God’s love for them.

The psalm ends with the warning that the ungodly will not stand in the Day of Judgment.  We will all one day stand and give account to the God of heaven, specifically Jesus Christ.  In that day those who have walked with Him will be blessed and enabled to stand, but those who have rejected His ways, mocked and derided them, will recognize their folly too late.  Don’t be such a person and don’t make such mistakes.  In fact, be a tree of life that when such a person crosses your path, you have enough power of Christ within you to get their attention.  If we are to do well this year, then we need Christ to help us offer something helpful to the lost world around us.

May this year be a year in which you walk with the Lord and are truly blessed.

Walking with the Lord audio