“Continue in prayer.” -Colossians 4:2 It is interesting to remark how large a portion of Sacred Writ is occupied with the subject of prayer, either in furnishing examples, enforcing precepts, or pronouncing promises. We scarcely open the Bible before we read, “Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord;” and just as…
If you missed it, I did a livestream while I was recording on the Facebook page. Follow this link if you want to see this sermon read unedited for mistakes, coughing, etc.
I won’t belabor this final episode of the year, except to wish you all a merry Christmas and happy new year. I ran a little poll on the Twitter account to see what people would choose for the Christmas episode, and this sermon won out by a large margin. I found it very fitting as well.
Right before things began to officially blow up in my life earlier this year, I recorded an episode called “Joy in Place of Sorrow.” In it I talked about two phrases from Scripture that struck me as being very central to the day to day life of a Christian: “Rejoice” and “Do not fear.” Furthermore, they both seem linked directly to the greatest commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength; and the second which is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. If you are loving God completely, you will rejoice in all circumstances, and that love will kill what Brother Spurgeon here calls “slavish fear,” the fear that drove Adam and Eve into hiding in the garden.
I have been put through a crash course in these truths this year, and as we prepare to close out one year and begin a new one, I want to say to you, my listeners: Rejoice in the coming of Christ, every day. Do not fear the Lord, but call out to Him and seek to worship Him in everything you do. Let that love spill over to how you treat your neighbors, how you love the people close to you and the strangers you meet. I have seen a disturbing trend of many Christians digging in trying to find safety for their traditions and I want to tell you: stop. Safety is not why we are here. Love is why we are here, and we must have our eyes open to those around us, for every way we can show it.
We don’t do it out of fear, but because of the love He has shown us. Do not let your thinking be so high that you cannot lower yourself to the level of Jesus loving the poor, broken, desperate people around Him. If you want to show the truth of Jesus, let your hands match your words, brethren. I pray that I will live as consistently with that as I can in this coming year.
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“For your sakes he became poor.” -2 Corinthians 8:9 The Lord Jesus Christ was eternally rich, glorious, and exalted; but “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor.” As the rich saint cannot be true in his communion with his poor brethren unless of his substance he ministers to their necessities, so…
Morning and Evening does continue apace even through the holidays thanks to Theology Mix. I intend to record the sermon for the Christmas episode of Spurgeon Audio this evening. Furthermore, I am planning to livestream that on Facebook, so if you would enjoy hearing the sermon with all my coughs, water-drinking, and puppy interruptions intact, keep an eye on the Spurgeon Audio Facebook page.
“O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men.” -Psalm 107:8 If we complained less, and praised more, we should be happier, and God would be more glorified. Let us daily praise God for common mercies–common as we frequently call them, and yet so…
I know I just posted another Morning and Evening, but I really wanted to write a bit on this one too because this was honestly one of my favorite ones to record so far. We in the USA just celebrated Thanksgiving, a tradition that we think of as going back to the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony and to later presidential declarations of such days, including George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
I was intending to do a sermon episode on it with this sermon, but with the time crunch as well as falling ill, that will probably be done next year around the same holiday, God willing.
The power of gratitude
I wanted to take a moment here and talk about why as Christians, this occasion should be particularly meaningful to us. We should, as a natural course of living, be constantly thankful to God, and I believe it goes hand in hand with the biblical command to rejoice in the Lord in all things. We should remember that our lives, our families and homes, our very existence, and most of all our salvation in Christ, is a gift of God’s goodness and love to us. Certainly, however, it is appropriate for us in this season when we begin to close out the year and reflect on everything that has happened, to make time as a nation to stop and give special gratitude to God.
Gratitude is also one of the believer’s greatest weapons against the temptation to run to sin. Someone who hopes in the cross and pours out his gratitude on the unending grace of God can endure the darkest pits. My own experiences have only grazed the truth of this, but the goodness and grace of God is so very sweet after a deep draught of sadness and suffering, and a time of thanksgiving is all the more appropriate in that time.
I have said before that I believe two important commands we find in Scripture are “rejoice” and “do not fear,” both of which are tied into the idea of loving the Lord with every element of your self, and which overflow into loving your neighbor as yourself. I am reminded most of all of this passage from Hebrews:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.–Hebrews 12:1-2
Such an amazing picture of the strength we can find in God is seen here! Christ set the example for all His people by enduring not just giving up His heavenly throne to live as a servant, but enduring the torment of death on a cross, doing so because He knew the joy that would come of it, of the coming perfect union between Christ and His church, was far more valuable than the shame meted out to him in such an ignominious death.
I am constantly holding myself up against this, and I fall so very short. Yet even knowing that drives me to further gratitude, because the immense and glorious grace of God is more than enough to fill that gap, and to grow me up further. I pray that I will always keep this weapon at hand, as I go forth into the next part of life and into whatever God has planned for me there.
“Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels.” -Revelation 12:7 War always will rage between the two great sovereignties until one or other be crushed. Peace between good and evil is an impossibility; the very pretence of it would, in fact, be the triumph of the powers of…
I got a little sick over Thanksgiving weekend and got behind in these, I will be pushing to get them caught up and ahead so this doesn’t happen again around Christmas. Follow the link to hear and subscribe to Theology Mix on your podcast catcher for the twice-daily feed.
On November 5, a little over two weeks ago as of this writing, a man named Devin Kelley walked into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, and proceeded to murder almost half of the congregation. Of the 50 attendees of that church, he killed 24 of them. When this happened, I was worshiping with my own church in Denton, about five hours north, and the horror of the tragedy struck close to my heart. Not because I was afraid someone was going to appear at our door next, though that thought certainly did cross my mind, but because of the immense pain that such wickedness brings to God’s people. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints,” and certainly many precious lives were lost that day, even as they were welcomed into glory.
The response of those around me was the response that any Christian should have to such acts: to cry out to our Father in grief, in seeking justice, and in need of the strength and wisdom to move to action. Yet just as quickly as Christians moved to pray, the response that has been growing louder to that in popular culture came: sneering responses of “instead of just praying, why don’t you actually trying doing something.” “I’m sick of thoughts and prayers.” And so forth.
Life and death in Christ
The man who murdered those people took their lives, but he could never take them away from their Lord. And a Christian who goes to God in prayer is not sitting in inaction, but is in fact performing the most important and primary action anyone who truly believes in Jesus as Lord should follow: going to God for direction, for strength, and for a reminder of Who truly rules even over the tragedies, Who will achieve His great purpose even when and even through man’s wicked acts, because no one can escape the will and design of God. I wrote to my church in a request for prayer that day for FBC Sutherland Springs:
This is such a dark and wicked act, it is hard to think about how to react. Anger and sadness both seem appropriate. But I wanted to post this here and ask for prayer, and take a moment to talk about prayer in particular. I am not a pastor or elder, but I don’t believe I am out of line to say that prayer is one of the most powerful weapons in the hands of the Christian. The world sees “thoughts and prayers” and sneers at what they believe is inaction, but in fact we have taken one of the greatest actions a believer can take: going into the throne room of God and asking Him for intervention, for protection, for strength to act and wisdom to know how.
I hope we can all take time to pray for the people of this town, with 400 people living there and a church of 50 who just had almost half of those lost. Prayer is not inaction, it is a deep and meaningful act Christians take to call upon the name of the Lord and seek the good mercies He pours out upon His children even in times of turmoil and hardship.
Doing all things
One of the most misused verses in the Bible is Philippians 4:13. We’ve all seen it plastered on motivational posters, athletic t-shirts, and all kinds of places with the completely wrong understanding of what is being said. We tend to take it in a “Yeah, you can do it, you can achieve anything!” sort of way. Paul, however, is not using it in a “rah rah, let’s go team” sense. He is giving thanks to the church of Philippi for their prayers, because it was those prayers which cried out to God to give Paul strength to endure much suffering, and it was through those prayers that God ministered to the hearts of both the apostle and the church.
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.–Philippians 4:10-13
No matter what the world may believe about prayer, about the power of God shown in weakness, we the church must persist. I must persist, even as I am weak in my pursuit of holiness. We must persist in seeking after the Lord, because in that we are putting our hands to the plow and stirring up the soil. And when we are done praying, we must stand up, and go out into the world and serve, and love, and minister to the broken and downtrodden.
This is what frustrates me so much about the thoughts and behaviors that tend to typify American evangelicalism, because so much of it involves running from the world around us and hating it, not in a “I hate sin and how it destroys my life and therefore I will preach the gospel” way, but in a “I am more righteous than the world and don’t want to get my precious hands dirty touching it” way. The former brings a drive to serve and love your neighbor. The latter causes you to hate and hide from your neighbor.
I encourage you to hear the words of Charles Spurgeon, and cry out to God every day, whenever it comes into your mind, to strengthen the church, to feed His sheep, and to lead us to righteousness. I ask you, my brothers and sisters, to obey Jesus in making Him first and foremost in your minds as you seek for answers to tragedy in a dark and sinful world. And I encourage you: no matter what it is that you are facing, do not let yourself become discouraged, nor let yourself grow idle. Walk through all of life looking to the cross of Christ knowing that He is the one all things come from, and to whom all things point.
As many of you may have noticed, the Morning and Evening devotional podcast made it last year from August through about the end of October, and then stopped. Unfortunately life wasn’t really cooperating with me, plus I also had equipment failure that compounded things, and so I basically decided to put it aside for the time being.
I’ve shared a couple here, but I wanted to make the announcement official: the updates have resumed and will continue to roll out twice daily thanks to the good folks at Theology Mix. It is a lot of work to create 730 episodes, but it is a blessing to me and God willing it will continue apace until finally, the entire series is able to run essentially until it just can’t anymore for one reason or another.
Please consider subscribing to the Theology Mix podcast feed, because for now that is the exclusive home of those updates. My regular episodes will continue to roll out here and there also, plus there are many other podcasts in their feed which you can download and many great writers over there to check out daily.
I am hoping to put out at least one more if not two more episodes before Thanksgiving, but it depends on time. Please pray for me that I will use my time wisely, between working, serving my church and working on this project.
“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…
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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.
Check out the Norton Hall Band’s recording of There is a Fountain Filled with Blood on Youtube.
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…