Charles Spurgeon’s “Morning and Evening” – November 11, Morning — Theology Mix

“Underneath are the everlasting arms.” –Deuteronomy 33:27 God–the eternal God–is himself our support at all times, and especially when we are sinking in deep trouble. There are seasons when the Christian sinks very low in humiliation. Under a deep sense of his great sinfulness, he is humbled before God till he scarcely knows how to…

via Charles Spurgeon’s “Morning and Evening” – November 11, Morning — Theology Mix

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Ep 40: The Precious Blood of Christ – A Reformation Day Special


Read the sermon text at Spurgeon Gems

I have been thinking for a while now about what an episode in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation would look like.  After all, there are so many things that can be discussed, and are being so discussed in churches, podcasts and blog posts around the world: the fives solas of the Reformation, the history of the church that led up to and resulted from the actions of the reformers, and the finer points of the theological debates that produced such massive change throughout Western civilization and the church worldwide.

I decided, however, to get down to what I see as the real “why” of the entire issue: What was so important that Martin Luther decided to pursue an open debate on the subjects that he did, 500 years ago?  What motivated so many people to buck against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and pursue the Scriptures without layering them with Vatican magisterial tradition and teachings?  It was the realization that peace with God lay not in the repetitious taking of the mass, not in plenary indulgences or penances performed, not in any deed a man can do, but in the perfectly atoning and transforming blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross of Calvary.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.–Hebrews 10:19-25

Hebrews 10 contrasts the constant working of the Israelite priests, with the finished work of Jesus.  The high priest of Israel entered the Holy of Holies once a year to perform the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement, and even then before he entered he had to ensure that he had observed the sacrifices to cover his own sins, lest he fall down dead while in the holy place.  But when Jesus died the veil separating that holy place in the temple from everything else tore.  The types and shadows of the Old Testament that, as Hebrews says elsewhere, could not truly pay for a single sin, gave way to the weight of the real and final sacrifice of Christ Himself.

Because of that we can walk into that holy place ourselves–not simply wherever that place might have been on the planet, though the temple itself has long since fallen, but into the throne room of God.  We can speak with him in prayer.  We can trust in His providing hands to give perfect gifts to us in life.  And we can go to Him with our sins, fears, failures and weaknesses, because Jesus did exactly what He intended to do:

For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.–Hebrews 9:24-28

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg castle church, he wasn’t challenging the authority of the pope, at least not yet.  He was acting on conviction of the words of Scripture, as he had been teaching through Galatians for the last year and had, as he had examined the Greek text, come to believe that certain traditions of the Roman Catholic Church did not seem to line up with them.  Indeed, the reality was that the Catholic Church had set aside its duty to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in and out of season and disciple its people, and instead had become a world power that held great authority over many kingdoms in Europe.

Luther wanted to see debate happen on these theses, these specific statements based on the conviction put on his heart through the Word of God.  He challenged the culture that was holding onto false, unbiblical ideas about the nature of our relationship with God, in this case over the issue of buying indulgences that can supposedly help free one from time spent suffering in purgatory before being able to go to heaven.  That was only the beginning, of course, but that was the spark that set off the firestorm of the Reformation across Europe.

And it is in that same spirit today that, as Christians, I believe the Reformation must continue.  The Reformation did not end when the last of the original reformers died, or when the pope stopped allowing the sale of indulgences.

The Reformation continues today, as we must still hold our cultures accountable to the testimony of the Scriptures.  There is a great deal of confusion and deception within elements of the church: the Roman Catholic Church still teaches as official doctrine that you can have right standing before God by taking part in their sacraments.  There are many counterfeits of the faith, such as Mormonism and the Watchtower Society’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, that attempt to use Christian lingo and Christian Scripture but use them to arrive at decidedly non-Christian ends.  And there are entire denominations that have been taken over by secular humanism and have no gospel to preach, ultimately to shrivel up and die.

Being a Reformed Christian is not simply about believing in the truth of the doctrines of grace or understanding the meaning and importance of the five solas of the Reformation, though certainly those are important and foundational.  Being a Reformed believer means you are living out and holding up the truths of Scripture against those inside and outside of the church that would draw us away and distract us from the mission to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the corners of the earth.

That spiritual battle continues, and we must persist exactly as the reformers did in calling for a return to the fundamental truths of Scripture as the ultimate rule of truth, and in pointing to the blood of Christ alone as the perfect and complete atonement for the sin of all who believe in His great Name.

I want to leave you with some recommended reading that I feel is very much on this theme.  Firstly, is an article at the Gospel Coalition called “Thank God for Flawed Heroes.”  It discusses some history about the reformers and the fact that God used very flawed and imperfect men to effect such a tremendous moment in the history of the church.  I also want to link to an article at Desiring God, called “Prisoner Number 2491: The Inspiring Story of the First Nazi Martyr.”  It is the story of Paul Schneider, a Christian pastor who stood firm in the heyday of Nazi rule over Germany and refused to bow to pressure to change his teaching of the Christian gospel.  As a result he was arrested, horribly beaten, and eventually died in the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Schneider’s story reminds of many important truths, but for just a moment I want to mention this one: suffering will come, in one form or another, into the life of every Christian.  We know that is true because our Lord suffered, and if we are following after Him, we can very much count on the world and the enemy despising us and seeking to harm us.  Schneider, however, did not respond with vitriol.  He sought to live and love faithfully in line with the Word and with the example of Christ, and just like the reformers before him, he knew that eternity was so very close and so very much more important that this brief and troubled life.

So many today suffer in the same way.  My friends, my brethren, let us take this day of remembering the 500th anniversary of the Reformation not simply as an occasion to think of the job as being done back then, but to think how we can continue to pursue the same goal the reformers had in our own day.  Let us worship our King boldly and with all love.  Let us serve and love our neighbors faithfully, and seek to see the best for our cities.  And let us respond to hatred given by those who despise the word of the gospel of Jesus Christ with the same love and humility that Christ himself showed on the cross, trusting as the reformers did that God will accomplish His work perfectly as He has intended to since before the world was founded.

Read Dave’s article on sola fide at Theology Mix, and subscribe to the Theology Mix podcast feed for twice daily Morning and Evening devotional podcasts.

Check out the Norton Hall Band’s recording of There is a Fountain Filled with Blood on Youtube.

Sola Fide: The Faith that Lives Gives Life


On the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I wrote a little article over at Theology Mix on faith, what it is and how it makes and fuels Christians to live in light of Christ.  Check out the excerpt below and follow the link for more!

It is difficult to talk about the meaning of “salvation by faith alone” apart from its fellow slogans of the Reformation, because they inform each other and play different roles: we are saved by the grace of God through faith in Christ for God’s glory. But each of those has such a deep meaning behind it that they deserve…

via Sola Fide: The Faith that Lives Gives Life — Theology Mix

Christian “values” or Christian worship?

Every morning at work I have a basic routine to kick things off, before I actually clock in and start to business.  I fire up my computer, get all the basic programs I need loaded, and pop up a browser window to glance at Google News for what’s going on.  It’s interesting to see what gets pushed to the top, and the other day one appeared that really caught my eye: “Trump: ‘We’re Saying Merry Christmas Again.‘”

President Trump reignited the “war on Christmas” on Friday, telling a crowd of supporters that “we’re saying merry Christmas again” now that he’s president.

Speaking to a packed crowd at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., Trump argued political correctness has gotten in the way of celebrating the holiday.

“We’re getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don’t talk about anymore. They don’t use the word Christmas because it’s not politically correct,” he said to strong applause and cheers from the audience at the Christian public policy conference, sponsored by the Family Research Council.

So I am in a position where essentially I find myself at odds both with my very traditional-minded conservative brethren as well as my friends on the left.  The latter is probably more normal for my experience, but as I have tried to push forward in seeking Christ in obedience to the gospel, I have noted many times that what often passes for Christianity in the US is, unfortunately, very much the opposite in various ways.

Those ways differ from place to place, but they work out the same way: rather than worship God boldly and joyfully, obeying the commands to not fear and to rejoice in all things, they instead are seeking after themselves.  They use the name of Jesus, they claim to love and believe in Him.  Yet they operate in fear and they do not rejoice, at least not in Him, not the way modeled by the early church.  They put immense weight on cultural expressions of Christianity (like visible decorations and holidays) but their handling of such issues rarely reflects the heart of Christ towards others.

The apostles left the beatings they received at the command of the Sanhedrin “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name [of Jesus].”  Are Western Christians similarly ready to truly suffer loss and pain for the sake of Jesus?  Or are we fleeing from pain for the sake of our comfort?  Are we trusting to God in all things or are we trying to control the world to our tastes?

When I see the President or any other public figure standing in front of a group that has declared itself to be Christian and delivering the line “We’re saying merry Christmas again” as though it is demonstration that victory has been won over the godless pagans who only say “happy holidays,” I am deeply concerned.  I am concerned that for many in the West, Christianity has been reduced to platitudes and traditions.  I am concerned that the Jesus worshiped in the hearts of many is not the Savior who died on the cross and the mighty King who sits upon His throne, who will one day dispense both justice and mercy perfectly.

What I see is many evangelicals trying to build a fortress to hide themselves and their families inside, lest they be impacted by a society that is darkening around them.  They are doing exactly what Jesus said not to do, and hiding their light under a basket.  And when they do try to drag it out, there is little love in it.  Rather, there seems to be a great deal of arrogance and self-righteousness.

Brethren, if the thing that excites you is the idea that “Now we can give Christmas-specific greetings rather than generic holiday ones because the federal government is slightly less antagonistic towards Christians,” I would suggest you need to stop for a moment and examine your own heart.  As Christians we ought to be thinking about things like “How can we look at the people near us who are hurting and lost and serve them in a way that glorifies Jesus?  How can we make the gospel our speech and walk every day?”

And if we’re going to talk about Christmas, then perhaps ask yourself, “How can we use this celebration of the incarnation of the Son of God to show what it really means to worship a God that is so mighty He requires nothing, and yet cares so much about His creation that He became flesh to pay the price for our wicked and sinful deeds?”  We should be able to live even in a society that truly despises us and still be serving and loving, because that is the model Christ set even as He was despised and rejected.

The point of this post is not to hate Trump or rag on him.  I do not hate him and to despise him like that would likewise be un-Christlike.  But I believe that it is unwise and just as un-Christlike for believers to attach their affections and hopes to a man who is so manifestly manipulative and who clearly has no interest in the faith beyond what it can bring him in the moment.  Hope in God alone.

Put not your trust in princes,
    in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
    on that very day his plans perish.

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
    who executes justice for the oppressed,
    who gives food to the hungry.–Psalm 146:3-7

Morning & Evening: “I Count All Things As Loss”

“I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.”-Philippians 3:8 Spiritual knowledge of Christ will be a personal knowledge. I cannot know Jesus through another person’s acquaintance with him. No, I must know him myself; I must know him on my own account. It will be an…

via Charles Spurgeon’s “Morning and Evening” – October 14, Morning — Theology Mix

Episode 39: Turn or Burn

Read the sermon text at Spurgeon.org

This sermon is a hard and harsh one, and understandably so.  And this is one of Charles Spurgeon’s earlier sermons, so it is perhaps a bit “rougher around the edges” than some later ones, after he has spent years experiencing the grace of God amidst the peaks and valleys of life.  But I read it because I find it immensely relevant, because God’s justice is a subject that must be discussed if the gospel is to have true meaning.

The justice of God is such a hard subject to talk about, and it is one that is unfortunately neglected in many places.  The simple reason is that there are many who fancy themselves teachers of the flock who believe, for one reason or another, that to speak at length on the holiness of God and His wrath against sin somehow dishonors the work and life of Jesus, or maims the testimony of God’s love.  But I want to take a few moments here and refute that idea, and speak to why it is just as important to do exactly what Brother Spurgeon here has done and speak boldly to the truth of the coming punishment for sin.

Firstly, because it is a reminder that though tragedy continues to infect our world, it is not so simple to look at death in any form or fashion today and say “This right here, this is God’s punishment for sin.”  Though death came into the world through sin and was defeated at the cross along with sin, tragic death is a reality of life in this sinful world and not something you can necessarily use to draw a straight line from Sin A to Death B.

It was a little over a year ago that a man shot up a nightclub in Orlando, and I wrote a few blog posts discussing issues related to that.  I also read a sermon based on a text that was read in this sermon, Luke 13:1-5:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Now let’s be clear: Jesus is not saying that if you repent, you will not die.  He is calling the hearers to prepare their hearts lest they experience their own tragedy, and denying the superstition of the day that said that one could clearly see who had sinned, by what ill befell them.  Jesus called His disciples to serve the brokenhearted, the sick and needy, the widows and orphans.  He commanded them to lift up the ones who were laid low, and to make themselves low to serve the ones who desperately needed it most.

All of that is tied in to the fact that God is a God of justice, just as much as He is a God of mercy.  He is a God of wrath against sin, as much as He truly is love.  And all of you who feel the deep pain of injustice in our world, I would point you to this truth: firstly, because there is absolutely hope of justice.  Secondly, because if you seek that justice apart from the truth of God,  then all will you do is create a new injustice in place of the old, one stamped with your image and one that will be burned up on the day of judgment as a structure built out of straw and twine.  And finally, because if you cannot right an injustice in your time but must endure, you can endure knowing that perfect justice will be done on the Day of Judgment.

Charles Spurgeon was a man who despised the injustices of his day and preached boldly against them.  Indeed, this sermon was recommended to me by someone as a sermon that upset Southern slave owners, perhaps because they felt the barbs of conviction pricking very deeply.  Of slavery Spurgeon once said,

By what means think you were the fetters riveted on the wrist of our friend who sits there, a man like ourselves, though of a black skin? It is the Church of Christ that keeps his brethren under bondage; if it were not for that Church, the system of slavery would go back to the hell from which it sprung…But what does the slaveholder say when you tell him that to hold our fellow creatures in bondage is a sin, and a damnable one, inconsistent with grace? He replies, “I do not believe your slanders; look at the Bishop of So-and-so, or the minister of such-and-such place, is he not a good man, and does not he whine out ‘Cursed be Canaan?’ Does not he quote Philemon and Onesimus? Does he not go and talk Bible, and tell his slaves that they ought to feel very grateful for being his slaves, for God Almighty made them on purpose that they might enjoy the rare privilege of being cowhided by a Christian master? Don’t tell me,” he says, “if the thing were wrong, it would not have the Church on its side.” And so Christ’s free Church, bought with his blood, must bear the shame of cursing Africa, and keeping her sons in bondage.

If you’ve listened to this podcast for more than thirty seconds, you know Spurgeon preached boldly and unapologetically against the evils of sin in his day and for repentence and faith in the grace of Jesus Christ.  My brothers and sisters, we must do the same.  We must be balanced and biblical in our judgments, we must model mercy and pour out love on those who hate us, but we must remember that love and truth are equal partners in the worship of the One True God.  Therefore we must preach the truth about the evils of our time, not because they win us political points (because often they won’t), not because we love to shame our neighbors (because apart from the grace of God we join in that shame), but because we love God and we love our neighbors, and we desire most deeply to see them know Christ and live.

Next episode: a special observance of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

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Episode 38: Love Thy Neighbor

Read the sermon text at Spurgeon.org

I want to say thank you to everyone who has had kind words and continued prayers for me as I have been working through the divorce and all of the personal fallout that has been involved.  I want to especially thank Alex Humphrey of The Rugged Marriage and his wife Rachel, and I definitely recommend subscribing to their podcast if you don’t already.  They were a tremendous encouragement to me, along with many others in my church and around me who have helped counsel me through this.

I debated exactly how I wanted to deal with the ongoing podcast, and I decided I want to just jump back into it with both feet.  I have a few reasons: firstly, as I have said before, this exercise is as much a devotional for me as it is a desire to minister the gospel to others, and it does my heart good to be sitting under the teaching of a man like Charles Spurgeon in this manner, who himself was under a great deal of weight on his heart.

Secondly, I want to have my say, for whatever it’s worth, about what I see happening in the world and the way others are talking about it.  I invite dialogue, although I do require good behavior.  I will be saying things here that many will disagree with.  If you can disagree with me respectfully, I will publish and engage with your comments as best I can.  If you can’t engage with someone who disagrees with you without treating them as subhuman, I would suggest not wasting your time here.  Not because I hate you, but because if even the most fundamental foundation needed for discussion is absent and all you can do is snark and meme your way through a rant, you and I will not be getting very far.

Loving your neighbor, loving your enemy

I want to point out something very important about the concept of loving your neighbor, and to do that I want to look to Scripture:

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”–Luke 10:25-37

The first thing I want to point out about this: this is a command.  I’m not exactly breaking new exegetical ground here, but it is common for people to handle moral issues in the context of “Well, I may do X, but that guy, he’s a real jerk!”  We do that with everyone from our literal neighbors to people in the public eye we will probably never meet.  So, I want to do exactly what Charles Spurgeon did here: I want everyone to take this command and say to everyone, it is pointing squarely at you.  It points at me and you, reader, and each one of us will have to stand before God and account for our obedience to it.

Yet it seems that the primary emotion being demonstrated by many right now is fear, with a healthy backing of anger.  You have fearful liberals and fearful conservatives, fearful radical progressives and fearful alt-rightists who are so convinced that the other is going to destroy them and everything they hold dear.  There is no love for God or for neighbor in their thinking, but there is the thought that “As soon as the other guy is taken down a peg, or removed, or whatever, then the world will be sunshine and butterflies, the poor will have food and the oppressed will be free.”

I have news for you, my friends.  Fear and love are enemies.  “Perfect love casts out fear.”  And if you are a Christian and your reaction to another person who is outside of your camp is fear and anger, if it’s looking for a way to build a compound to hide in rather than to understand and engage with your neighbor, to serve their needs and love them where they are, then I have to put it to you that you are disobeying Jesus, and you need to repent and adjust your heart.  I have seen Christians behaving absolutely shamefully towards other Christians–and if your reaction to these words is defensiveness or finger-pointing then I guarantee that yes, I am talking about you.

But there’s no one I’m harder on in this regard than myself.  I am always looking to hold my thoughts and actions against the standard of righteousness here, and I am wanting.  Yet I do not despair, for two reasons: firstly, because I know that Christ’s sacrifice is enough to cover every sin I have, and that His righteousness will be mine on that day of judgment; and secondly, because I know that God is working in my life through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit to change me, bit by bit, into the image of Christ.  I want that, I want to represent Him in love and peace and joy through all things.  My friends, I pray that for each of you, you will know the desire for holiness in God in that simultaneous ache of longing and satisfaction of having Jesus.

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Episode 37: The Novelties of Divine Mercy

I want to again thank all of you who have been patient through this last hiatus, and especially for those of you close to me who have been actively praying for and ministering to me during this time.  This was not a “I’m just really busy” hiatus.  I mentioned in the last episode that there was some turmoil ongoing, and unfortunately it ended in the worst possible way: my wife and I are no longer married.  I have no intention of divulging more information than that, but to answer the questions I know many of you concerned will have: yes, this is the end of a process that involved church elders and it is something that was not entered into lightly in any way.  I will not say more than that, out of respect for privacy.  Those of you who do know us, I appreciate your constant prayers and the loving support that you all have shared through this.

I’ve waited to continue this podcast and blog until after everything was officially finalized.  I plan to move forward continuing to trust God in my darkest times, continuing to pray for Jessica, and continuing to rely on the support of His people.  I am particularly grateful for the godly men and women who have gathered around me to minister to me through all this.

The fact is that this has been a deeply tragic event for me, and I have struggled with understanding it and with my own emotions, both in trying to figure out exactly how I should feel and think, as well as finding constructive ways to work through my deeper feelings.  I have been hurt down to my deepest parts, and I have lost my partner.  The pain I have had to endure, the sadness and anger, has been of a kind I can scarcely hope to describe meaningfully.

But as Paul said in 1 Thessalonians, I do not grieve as a person who has no hope.  Through all of this, God has held me steady and been true to His promise to provide a way of escape from the temptation to sin.  I picked this sermon because the chapter it is from, Lamentations 3, was a strength to me in this dark time.  It is a reminder that even though God ordains the darkness, it ultimately serves to the purpose of greater joy when the light comes.

I won’t say that the light has reached me yet, at least in this matter.  I will say that God is good, and God is gracious, and I will trust Him with each new step in life.  To my listeners who have similar struggles, I would say to you: Do the same.  Trust in the goodness and mercy of God.

I have had a few people talk with me about this that clearly expected me to have become embittered towards Jessica in particular, and towards the institution or concept of marriage in general.  But I have no intention of letting a root of bitterness grow down into my heart towards either, for several reasons: Firstly, because that would be an incredibly selfish position to take, that would make my marriage all about what I want and what I get out of it, rather than glorify God or honor my wife even in the aftermath of all this; secondly, because I am aware of the ways in which my own sinfulness has contributed to this regardless of other circumstances and such an attitude would be completely unrepentant and un-Christian on my part; and thirdly, because I have not become a different person as a result of this.  I still desire to represent Jesus with the way I live and work and speak.  I still want to grow in love, and in the grace and knowledge of God–even more now, I would say.  I still want to put my sin to death.

On a purely personal level…this has been the most tragic time I’ve walked through in my life.  I am deeply grateful to those who have gathered around me during this time, to hold me up in my weakness, to remind me of my true strength in Jesus, and to pour out love onto one who was feeling deeply unloved.  But this has been the darkest moment of my life, and I have had to continually turn to prayer and to the strength of my brothers and sisters to help me deal with the enormous weight I have felt upon my shoulders.  I have been wrestling day by day with the myriad ways I have sinned and contributed, and having to drag it to the foot of the cross each time.  There has been no time for self-pity.

All of this may seem very vague in a sense to many, and honestly it should.  Those who need to know more details of my and Jessica’s personal lives know them.  To the rest of the world, I would simply ask for prayer.  I intend to press forward into Jesus regardless of anything else.

To those listening who are facing darkness, for whom hard times come hard and fast, and who are feeling the weight of despair on their shoulders: I want to urge you, do not hesitate.  Do not hide in the dark, because there you will only find more of what afflicts you.  Turn to Christ, and run to Him.  Make yourself and your struggles known to His people, to those who can love you and gather close to minister to you in those times.  The reason the Scriptures are so full of good texts to apply to suffering is because suffering is something that all humans have in common as long as we live in this world.  Trust the goodness of God even in your darkest times, and do not hide your struggles.  Drag them to the light!  Leave them at the foot of the cross, and do it every day!  Trust to the renewed grace of God every morning, and never believe that God is tired of you, or that His church has better things to do.  This is what it is for: to weep with those who are weeping, and rejoice with those who are rejoicing.  We are called simply to trust Him in all things, and that is all I can do in this time of deep pain.

Sermon text

Episode 36: Joy In Place Of Sorrow

Thank you for being patient during my extended, unannounced absence here.  I won’t get into a lot of specifics, I’ll just say: it’s been a little crazy, and even the hour or two it takes to create one of these has been precious time that had to be directed elsewhere.  I am very grateful to those of you who have been praying for my wife and I as we’ve passed through a rather trying time.

And it’s actually what led me to pick this sermon, as the concept of joy, and more specifically the source of joy and its object, has really been on my mind lately.  When things are frustrating beyond reason, when it looks like darkness is all around or when things are simply out of your hands completely…what does it mean to obey a command like “Rejoice in the Lord always?”

I wanted to take a look at the whole passage:

“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”–John 16:16-24

And there’s another passage that came to mind as well:

And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.–Luke 12:22-34

What I see is that we have two sides of the same coin: Do rejoice in God, do not fear.  And I look at my life, I look at my thought process and the way I look at the way my heart quakes before uncertainty, or how quickly I can get angry when my best-laid plans are upset…and I find myself having to continually go to God and confess my great deficiency in this area.  I want to be able to lead my wife in such a way that demonstrates my complete trust in His providence.  I am a guy who can’t do anything except wake up in the morning, praise God for new grace, and go forward to see what the day holds.

And so we have the dual command: rejoice, and do not fear.  Praise God in all circumstances and times, because God is king of all; because God is the Author of our lives and faith; and because He has extended us mercy and grace far beyond our greatest understandings.  Do not fear, because God ordains all things, even the bad things, for the sake of His glory and our good; because when we look to God in even our most sorrowful and agonizing times He uses those to create in us a lasting and life-giving joy; and because in the eternity to come when we see Jesus and know Him fully, the darkest hours will not compare to the true fullness of that joy.

But it still is not unusual for us to look at our own troubles, our own fears, and feel like we are different.  “My circumstance is unique.  You may be able to just cast your fears away like nothing, but you can’t understand what it’s like for me.”  And you know, that is true in a sense, at least halfway: I can’t understand what your life is like, because it’s not my life.  I only have my own existence and my own testimony.

But to say that you are somehow so troubled and beyond help that you should cling to your troubles, that you should not obey this command with all urgency, is to be disobedient.  And that’s what I have to preach to myself: if you do not loosen your hands, give up this idol, this fear, this control over your life, what you’re saying is that God is not truly God.  You’re really God, and you know best.  I think we all know exactly how that will end.

So Mr. Spurgeon’s cry from Scripture is one that I utter often, and that I think is very appropriate for every believer to have at hand: “I believe, help my unbelief!”  I find myself even now, crying out to God those words.  I worry about what is to come, I buck against the fact that I cannot take situations in my hands and fix them to perfection and I have to trust God.  So I ask God to forgive my unbelief and fear, and I rejoice in the fact that in Christ I have a great high priest who both can sympathize perfectly with me, as well as has perfectly and completely covered my sin.  I want to rest in the throne room of God as a man who is made perfect by the completed work of Jesus, and I want to lead my wife lovingly by the hand behind me to joy.  I want to be a man that raises whatever children God blesses us with to become lovers of God, to see their own hearts filled with the overflowing joy of the Spirit ministering to them.  And I can rejoice in the fact that God hears my prayers, and that His perfect wisdom and mercy will be administered in exactly the right way.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.–Romans 8:28

Recommendations:

Check out the debate between Dr. James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries, and Brother Joe Ventalicion from Iglesia ni Christo.  INC is an Arian cult that began in the Philippines, and they bear some resemblance to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in certain areas–namely, that Jesus is a created being rather than God, and denial of the Trinitarian nature of God.

Sermon text

Episode 35: The Glorious Gospel

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.-1 Timothy 1:15

There is so much that could be said about this verse.  It is, perhaps, one of the phrases of Scripture that could be said to best describe the whole of a Christian’s confession and walk: the command to listen and believe, the confession of faith in the one hope any man has in this life or the next, coupled with the cry of insufficiency and guilt.  It seems that the Gospel is always that dual cry–I am unworthy, I am a sinner, I hope in Christ alone!

And hope is what I want to talk about a little here, in the context of everything that we’ve been going through lately.  I started working on this episode over a week ago and it’s taken me a while to have the time to finish everyone and do the editing I needed to do.  In that time, the US inaugurated a new president, that president has begun to take actions in his new office, and the reactions I have seen in the media and amongst my friends have been…well, I don’t think “shocking” is the right word.  But I think words like “disappointing” and “frustrating” are up there.

It is not my intention to support or attack Donald Trump.  Neither is it my desire to discuss the ins and outs of particular political issues.  What is my desire, is to speak firstly to my brothers and sisters in Christ on both sides of this issue, and then to my friends who are not of the body of Christ.

My brethren: come on, guys.

I don’t mean to make light of this or act like it’s no big deal, because it is.  This life, this world is real, and everything we do has consequences.  You, I and Trump will stand before God to account for our lives and how we used what He has given us.  At the same time, I feel that both Trump supporters and detractors within Christianity have forgotten something very important: namely, the source of our hope.  This is true no matter which side you find yourself on.  I have seen his detractors absolutely lost, awash in despair and fear–and these are Christians.  Yes, my friends, I know many of you believe that supporting a liberal political agenda in certain areas automatically makes you a heretic who would just as soon attend a Unitarian Universalist church as believe in the God of the Bible, but it has been to my great blessing in my time living here in Denton to get to know many men and women who I disagree with on particulars of law and government, and who worship the one true God with me every week.

And at the same time, I see Trump-supporting evangelicals who are being very unloving and unkind to those who are not, by posting nasty memes and jokes, attacking and fighting extensively online, and in general not displaying an ounce of the grace they have been shown by our King.  That is inexcusable, and deserves rebuke.  You are living as though the hope you have in this life and for the future of this country lies solely in the hands of Donald Trump.  Let me assure you right now: that is untrue, and if you truly believe that, you are hoping in something foolish.  Not because Trump is or isn’t good, but because he is another sinful human who will ultimately only be able to accomplish what God allows him to.

Put not your trust in princes,
    in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
    on that very day his plans perish.

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
    who executes justice for the oppressed,
    who gives food to the hungry.-Psalm 146:3-7

We do not hope in a man who is going to be dead some day.  We don’t hope in a man who is dead already.  Nor do we simply hope in some kind of theoretical idea that may or may not actually be true or realistic.  We hope in Christ, and Christ alone.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.-1 Peter 1:3-9

So am I saying that we should just give up on caring about politics?  No, certainly not.  But we need to be very careful that as Christians, we do not engage this debate as unbelievers who have no hope beyond this life.  We can engage each other in love, we can show tenderness, mercy and even, yes, weakness, knowing that even if what we go through leads to suffering, it is suffering that leads to greater joy.  We ought to follow our consciences, we ought to make our cases boldly and with truth in hand, recognizing that ultimately both the left and the right in this country have at their core a humanist line of thinking that believes, “If I use the power of government in just the right way, I can perfect man at last.  We can be free from pain and want, we can live perfect comfortable lives and be happy forever.”

Ultimately, neither will be able to achieve their goal, as long as that hope is based in humans and not in Christ alone.  When Christ is King, all other things fall into place perfectly, rest and work and pain and joy all function in their right way, until the time comes for Jesus to set all things right, to wipe every tear and judge every injustice.  We cannot, and should not, use the tactics of secular humanists, because those tactics insult the truth of the Gospel.  I would be talking for hours here if I detailed this more, but I want to move on to my friends who have not believed the Gospel.

My message to you is not largely different, except that I do not bring with it an expectation that you will hope a certain way.  Rather, I bring an invitation, a command even: repent, of your sins, your fears, and your faithlessness, and believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  He alone is King, and Savior, and Friend to all who are hurting and in need.  Do not rage against the truth.  Do not fear the One who made you.  I am calling you to let go of your foolish ideas of autonomy for yourself, and realize that you are much more “you” that you could ever be when you are with your Father, who made you and knows you.

This too shall pass, for good or ill.  Trump will leave office one way or another, and someone else will be there.  If God is willing, this country will see another day and will repent of the wickedness that is spread across the land in so many hearts.  I sincerely hope, because of the hope I have in Jesus, that you will be one who turns in faith in our living hope, Jesus Christ the Son of God.

Sermon text at the Spurgeon Archive