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 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

Unplanned hiatus, post-election thoughts

I’ve already mentioned it on Twitter and Facebook, but due to an equipment failure unfortunately production on future episodes both of this and the Morning & Evening podcasts are on hold for the time being.  My laptop was apparently damaged somehow in transit while I was on a business trip and the screen no longer works.  If I can’t fix it, I’ll have to replace it, which probably means next month some time.  Apologies to everyone, especially those of you who have been so encouraging through the production of the M&E podcast at Theology Mix (and to the other guys who have produced recordings for it).  I will update as soon as I am able to get everything back up and running.

I have really, really been thinking about if I even want to say anything about the election.  Friends who know me from years past are probably amazed, because they know me as a guy who was always up for a debate, always reading and engaging.  But this election has been absolutely off-putting and bizarre for a lot of reasons, and I do want to enumerate at least a few of those, as well as give a few thoughts on how I want to move forward, as a Christian and as a man who has often identified himself as a conservative and a Republican in one form or another.

This was probably the biggest disaster of an election I could have ever conceived of.  I made the comparison several times on Facebook that for Christians, this election was the equivalent of the infamous Kobayashi Maru scenario from Star Trek.

km1

On the one hand, you had a candidate who was overtly antagonistic to Christians, whose leaked emails revealed a campaign with not only no regard for believers but who openly opposed them, and intended to continue the Obama administration “pen and phone” efforts to force leftist social changes onto the country.  And on top of all that, before the campaign even began she was carrying enough scandalous baggage to make Richard Nixon look like Abraham Lincoln.  So for a lot of Christians, trying to avoid the consequences of Hillary’s victory was a major issue.

On the other hand, however, you had what amounted for many Christians to a big question mark.  Donald Trump mouthed a lot of the right platitudes and shook hands with the right people, he was photographed bowing his head and closing his eyes with American evangelical leaders…but he had a long and unsavory history of being after number one more than anything else, of doing whatever it took to squeeze the last penny out of a business before jumping ship and letting whatever was left sink in bankruptcy court.  And of course there’s this:

trump-falwell-playboyjpg-972da5730a94b2e2

“This,” for the record, is Jerry Falwell Jr. and his wife Becki with Donald Trump…and in the background over Becki’s left shoulder is a framed copy of an issue of Playboy featuring Donald Trump.

“So what?” a lot of people said.  “Who cares if Donald Trump isn’t some perfect Christian, we’re not electing a pastor.”  “He’s repented of that and we should forgive him,” others said.  And above all, the droning repetition of “We have to stop Hillary.  If you oppose Trump you support Hillary.  You don’t want her as president, do you?”

But by supporting Trump, many evangelicals stood completely at odds with their own positions on presidents with similar records of debauchery, infidelity and covenant-breaking…who happened to have a D after their names.  Well, name, because we all know who I’m referring to–the husband, ironically, of the candidate who claims to be running to defend the rights of women, who has made a name for himself as a serial cheater and possible rapist.

And so, we have the Kobayashi Maru.  We can enter the neutral zone and find ourselves the targets of Klingon torpedoes with #ImWithHer emblazoned on them, or we can just be on our way and support a man whose behavior and political positions up until recently have really not set him apart at all from Hillary’s husband and…hope for the best?

For the record, I did not vote for either of them.  I have found myself saying many times over the course of the last few elections that my hope does not lie in votes or candidates, and this election perhaps more than any other has forced a realization of the truth of that statement.  In an absolutely stunning turn of events and against all expectations, Donald Trump won the presidency, and my social media feeds have exploded with a lot of different messages.  I have friends all over the political, social and religious spectrum, going back to school days in Minnesota up to today in work and church.

What I have heard has been a range of fear, anger and frustration on one side, and hope, happiness and even some optimism on the other.  What  I don’t see much of, though, is any meaningful interaction between the two.  I don’t say, no interaction at all, because there has been interaction–it’s just been pointless.  One guy going into a thread to call someone else a “libtard” or someone else posting angry screeds on someone else’s wall telling them that they’ve chosen racism and hatred over being a good human being does not make for thoughtful discussion.  It makes for building up walls, it makes for simply digging in deeper to preconceived opinions, and it certainly made for more anger for everyone involved.  Anger from my friends on the left as they continue to perceive their political opponents as racist, hate-filled, and irredeemable.  Anger from my friends on the right as they see their political opponents as completely entrenched and unwilling to think beyond a media message.

And me?  I don’t believe either candidate deserved the position.  My thoughts on this entire matter are probably summed up best by this quote from the 16th century reformer John Calvin:

quote-when-god-wants-to-judge-a-nation-he-gives-them-wicked-rulers-john-calvin-83-40-32

Biblically this is certainly true.  God turned the Israelites over to evil rulers, kings and governors and conquerors when they would flee obedience and seek after their own desires, until they repented and He would set them free.  When Jesus came, the Jewish leaders chose to turn Him over to the Roman leaders as an accused opponent of the Roman emperor rather than follow after Him as the true King of all.  And we still see this happening throughout history, as nations embrace the boot that crushes them so many times, before the glimmer of first hope shines in repentance.

So from my perspective, even more so there was no winning with either candidate.  No matter who won, we had a leader who was not a servant of the people, but a ruler who wanted what he wanted.  The only question was which flavor of tyranny the people would choose.

But even with that I have to be careful, because the temptation is to dive headfirst into cynicism and disconnection, from people and from loving others.  The challenge grows ever greater for a Christian who takes the faith seriously to remember: this is not about winning elections.  This is not about “saving the culture” or “advancing an agenda” or any of the other myriad of things people say about political action.  Our goal as believers, saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, is to serve, to love and to preach the Gospel faithfully.

If you are afraid, if you are hopeful, if you are simply ambivalent, I’ve found representatives from all these camps in Christ.  And for all of us, the same truth remains:

rom828election

I can’t tell you “Feel this way.  Don’t feel that way.”  But I can say, trust your Father, and know that even if what we are seeing is His judgment on a wicked nation, it is a judgment that is happening with us here to continue serving as ministers of reconciliation, to carry the Gospel forth and to love our neighbors.  If you are afraid, remember that not a sparrow falls without your Father knowing it and reigning over even such small consequences.  If you are excited, remember that your God is the one who sets up and casts down kings, and let your worship rest on Him, not on the tools He uses.  In all things, let’s love our neighbors and our enemies, and do good to the ones who curse us.

I need to remember that myself more than anyone.  Friends, I pledge to you that I will do my best to avoid mocking, belittling or ignoring in any way.  That does not mean that I will agree with you, but I will listen to you, and I hope that in the end what we find is a chance to overcome needless division and find peace.

Hard questions part 1: When evil strikes

My wife came up to me yesterday and asked me, “Does the Bible say we should kill gay people?”  I was rather taken aback, since this subject doesn’t exactly come up on a regular basis.  But as we discussed the issue, about what Scripture says and what a Christian response to an evil act like the Orlando nightclub shooting looks like, the discussion turned more to the responses she had seen on Facebook.  And there are many understandable ones: What kind of person does something like this?  How can we hope to stop this from happening again?  Then there are ones that ask very pointed questions of Islam, as the shooter was a claimed adherent of Islam and, according to police, called 911 before or during the shooting and pledged allegiance to both ISIS and al Qaeda.  Then there were some responses that involved Christians, both from the Christian side (such as “How should we be serving these people in their time of pain and loss?”) and from the secular side (most pointedly, “How can you say you love these people and pray for them when you say they are living in sin and condemned to hell?”)

I think these all deserve discussion from a Christian point of view.  Most especially, they deserve discussion because when those around us experience pain and suffering, we should be ready to engage with them meaningfully–not with a pat answer and phony Christianese sunshine, but with the only real answer that matters, the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the hope it provides even in the darkest moments.  I don’t intend to make this “the definitive Christian response” but I want to do my best to answer questions I know many of my friends have.  I highly recommend listening to Dr. Albert Mohler’s excellent Briefing podcast episode from yesterday, as he calmly yet lovingly discusses some of the specifics from this issue.  The Gospel Coalition also has some excellent posts, including one by Nabeel Qureshi, who converted from the Ahmadiyya denomination of Islam and is now a Christian apologist working with Ravi Zacharias’ ministry.

I’ll be putting up several posts over the next couple of days.  I want to let this series of posts stand as a place to discuss the questions, responses, and frustrations of many, both Christian and not.  I may update it as time goes on.  Please feel free to post your own thoughts and anything you would like to see addressed in the comments below.  I do moderate for spam and trolling, but I will never turn away honest and heartfelt questions and disagreement.

I want to divide this up into sections, beginning with the subject of the shooting itself and branching out to broader issues.  For example:

  • What kind of man could do something so horrible to people who have never hurt him?
  • The shooter claimed to be a Muslim–was he really Muslim?  Do all Muslims have to act like the shooter? 
  • Does the Bible say we are supposed to kill homosexuals?
  • How can you say that you are praying for the victims and that you love them, when you condemn them and say they are in sin?

This is my prayerful and thoughtful attempt to bring a meaningful gospel response to a horrific and wicked act.  I hope my readers can recognize this, and are willing to engage in that spirit.

Read on…