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

Episode 34: Earthquake But Not Heartquake

On a purely personal level, the 46th Psalm is one of my favorites.  But this psalm, and this sermon, speak to the day to day struggles as well as the major traumas that we all experience in one way or another, and it is eerie in particular how much the last section of this week’s sermon reminds me of the fears so many of us have about our current political climate: unrest, violence, wars and rumors of wars, uncertainty.  But for most people these kind of fears are almost theoretical until they produce real, present fruit.

I know people who are facing down the possibility of losing their jobs, fearing what will happen if they suddenly are unable to continue providing for their families.  I know some who are facing down illness, in themselves and in family, that threatens livelihood and life itself.  And I know people who have suddenly, with no control at all, found themselves thrust deep into personal turmoil, feeling like the world is pulling them deeper down into drowning depression and dread.  No matter the cause, there is a whole world of strife, fear, and frustration that stands in the way of our joy.

This is why it is crucial for the believer to understand that the nature of his relationship with Jesus extends beyond the simple matter of salvation and going to heaven.  So many of us hear about Jesus Christ as though the transaction that occurs here is “I intellectually assent to the idea that Jesus died on the cross and rose again, therefore I will go to heaven when I die.”  But that is such a shallow understanding of who Christ is, and who we His church are in relationship to Him, that it’s no wonder so many believers struggle to find hope even as they hold the greatest hope there could ever be.

We stand upon the Rock of Ages.  Think about the parable Jesus told about the houses, one built on rock and one on sand:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”-Matthew 7:24-27

The storm will come.  The earth will give way.  The mountains will someday be thrown into a wild and tempestuous sea.  But those who have lives that stand rooted on Jesus Christ can and will endure all of this–not by their own strength, not by their own wisdom, but because they have real hope in the eternal God who has made us.  Even our greatest sufferings, even our final sufferings, will ultimately serve for our good and for His glory.

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Episode 33: Immeasurable Love

I want to thank everyone for their patience as I got back online, and especially everyone who has reached out to encourage me in the last month or so.  As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, damage to my computer kept me “off the air” and I was forced to put everything for the podcast on hold.

I want to start off looking at the larger context of the passage for today.  Everyone has heard John 3:16, even a large number of my non-Christian friends probably have at least a rough idea what it says if they don’t have it involuntarily memorized.  But I want to take a few minutes to dive deep into the passage from what I would say is probably my favorite book of the Bible:

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”-John 3:1-21

Jesus unveils the truth to Nicodemus: life is not gained from God by adhering to the law.  Entering the kingdom of God, being adopted as a child of God and following after Christ, is something that happens through renewed life.  Our life is not renewed by our own doing, but it is renewed by the grace and gift of God.  The Spirit moves as God wills and brings life to spiritually dead rebels by God’s grace, not man’s will.  Moreover, that life is gained by looking upon the Savior, Jesus Christ, made a curse for us.  Jesus refers to Numbers 21 when God punished the rebellious Israelites in the wilderness by sending serpents to bite them.  The only way to survive was to look upon an image of a serpent, made of bronze, which Moses held up before them on a staff.  Those who looked at the serpent would live, those who would not look died.

This was not to call them to worship snakes, but rather it was a shadow of the work of the Messiah: Jesus took on the curse of death, willingly choosing the most humiliating and painful death one could imagine.  And those who look upon His curse, find covering for their sins in His death, and hope in His resurrection.

So now the verse itself: I love Spurgeon’s preaching here, but I would have to disagree with him on his emphasis on the word “so.”  The phrase “God so loved the world” is not an expression of degree or amount, but rather an expression of method: “God loved the world in this way: by sending His Son.”  Yet it does not detract from the degree of God’s love by pointing this out.  This is something I want to really focus on.  This time of year, as so many gear up to celebrate Christmas, we in the US get a lot of people arguing about “keeping Christ in Christmas” and such things.  But even with that, we tend to really miss the point in such debates.  The point is not simply about “baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger, and gee aren’t babies cute,” although for a lot of people that’s about as far as it goes.

The Son, the perfect second Person of the Trinity, to not come down as simply a glowing unstoppable Judge who could rightfully have set all things to right, cast the entire human race into hell and restored creation to perfection.  As Paul puts it in the passage from Philippians 2 called the carmen Christi,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.-Philippians 2:5-11

In John 3, and most especially in that well-known 16th verse, Jesus talks about what it is we are truly celebrating when we commemorate Christmas: it isn’t about presents, it isn’t about how sad it was that Mary and Joseph were in a stable, or any of the other distractions that are ever present during the holidays.  He is talking about the miracle of the incarnation, and its great purpose: salvation for those who believe.  “Whoever believes,” the original phrase is πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων, “all those believing.”  That is the way one identifies the people of God: belief in Christ, in His person and work.  And Jesus specifies further, those who do not believe are already under condemnation, but belief is rescue from condemnation.

The book of John goes on to discuss all of this much further, and I hope over the course of time that I’m given to do this podcast that I can walk through all of it.  But for now I will simply have to say: this passage produces worship in me, because it is a powerful testimony to the truth that God will save His people and has paid for our sins completely through the work of Jesus.  When we think of the coming Christmas celebration and we hear people tell the Christmas story, don’t think “Oh, it’s so magical, a little baby being born and it’s such a pretty night and hey, that star is nice.”  Think, “This is the coming of God to be with His people, to demonstrate love in a way we could never have shown or understood apart from Christ, and to save us!”  Hear this truth, my friends.  Believers, draw strength from this and know that God is moving to complete the work begun here. Unbelievers, hear these words and repent, turn to know and love the One who made you and calls you by name.  In Christ is peace, rest, and love; apart from Him is only condemnation and death.  Embrace the peace of Christ, and celebrate this advent season the most powerful and loving deed we could ever know: the coming of the Son of God.

Sermon text

Music: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty by Dust Company
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Episode 32: Christ’s One Sacrifice for Sin

Sermon text here.

This week’s song: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God by Jarod Grice

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.

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of those realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.  Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins?  But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.  For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body you have prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written off me in the scroll of the book.'”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.”  He does away with the first in order to establish the second.  And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifices for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.  For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.—Hebrews 9:24-10:14

I don’t normally start out with such a long passage, but I thought it was necessary in light of my reasons for choosing this sermon and in light of what we are remembering when we call October 31 Reformation Day.  For some, the idea of such a day is simply a historical occurrence, when a monk named Martin Luther brought what was essentially a call for the academic equivalent of a football game to the public’s attention.  Luther wasn’t trying to set the world on fire, and he wasn’t even trying to criticize the Pope (at that time, at least).  He was trying to bring challenges to public debate on very important issues.  But what those 95 theses became as they spread across Germany was the spark that lit the fuse on a powderkeg piled up on Rome-controlled Europe by godly men like Jan Huss and William Tyndale, men who saw the truth of Scripture even in the face of a Roman Catholic Church that was (and still is) trying desperately to obfuscate it for their own power’s sake.

And that brings me to the reason that I wanted to read this particular sermon on the 499th celebration of the beginning of the Reformation: there were many issues that were debated over and that served to demonstrate the rot at the foundation of the Catholic Church.  But the very root of it, and the issue which was foundational to the Protestant return to biblical theology, was the completeness  of Jesus Christ’s work on the cross in paying for sin on behalf of His people.  Rome taught, and continues to teach at least as its official dogma, that Christ essentially made a way for us all to have right standing before God, but that the way we truly achieve that standing is through participation, for our entire lives, in the sacraments of the church.  Even then, that is not sufficient in Rome’s view, for all but the purest of saints do not go directly to heaven after death, but instead go to purgatory to endure satispassio, the suffering that is part of atoning for sin.

The sale of indulgences was one of the major issues that led to Luther’s actions.  Indulgences were (and are, though today they are not given the same way they were in his day) a “get out of purgatory but not for free” card, or at least a way to cut the time of relatives there shorter.  But Scripture makes no such claims about Christians and their sins.  It is why I chose this sermon, and why I chose to use such a large passage of Scripture: Hebrews, by its testimony to the completed work of Jesus on the cross and His place seated at the right hand of the Father, completely repudiates the idea that there is any longer any sacrifice or suffering for sin on behalf of those for whom Christ worked.  It is, in fact, an insult to Christ as Savior to say that you believe you need to add anything to what He did.  The author of Hebrews makes it clear:  Jesus paid the price, completely and utterly, and there is no work left to be done.  Paul takes this argument on fully in his writings to both the church of Rome and the church of Galatia, and if you haven’t taken the time yet to read those books, you should.  The truth of the gospel of Jesus, that we can rest completely in His work and that in Christ, there is no fear of any judgment but only peace with God, is life to us, and is the message I want to bring through this episode.

The Reformation began as a man standing upon the convictions of his conscience, that he would not be convinced of anything but what Scripture pointed to, and that he would trust fully in the strength of God in the face of governments and church leaders who threatened life, limb and livelihood.  I wanted to read this sermon because it is important for us to remember this truth, and just as much it is important for us to prepare to do the same thing.  The world echoes the same lies it did in Luther’s day and that it has since sin first cracked the world’s joy and fractured our relationship with God in the garden: you can have your own way, because the real source of wisdom and goodness is you.  You can do what you want, because ultimately your heart is the arbiter of good.

But yet we continue to find, as we run after this mythical realm of perfect peace coexisting with everyone pursuing the natural desires of their hearts, that all we find there is sadness, heartbreak, and ultimately death.  Our hearts cannot bring us happiness, all they will do is hand us a broken cup to try to satisfy our thirst.  In the end, we as Christians cannot agree with what the world wants, because we know it ends in death and hell.  We want to see those around us set free from these lies, and find the truth, because in that truth is life as it was truly intended for us by our Maker.

So  no matter the human orthodoxy demanded of us, the believer ought to reject it, and stand on his conscience and the convictions of God’s own Word.  God has worked perfectly in the sacrifice of Christ to pay for our sins, and all those who trust in Christ have, right now, perfect union with Jesus and right standing as holy before God, able to go to Him in prayer for everything.  If you do not know Jesus, if you do not trust Him, then I urge you to do so right away.  Go to the Bible and read, see the words of God to His people, and find healing there.  If you do know Jesus and trust Him, then let me remind you: do not fear anything the world threatens in the face of our rejection of their sinful desires.  God is faithful, and even death itself cannot separate us from Him, but in all things we can rejoice and live lives to His glory.

Episode 31: Paul’s Persuasion

Sermon text here

This week’s song: Truly You Are the Son of God by the Loverlies

I want to start by reading the fuller context of our verse this week, from Romans 8:31-39:

What then shall we say? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake, we are being killed all the day long;
We are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This passage is about hope.  Where do we place our hope?  I actually decided to read this sermon several weeks ago, but between my life being extremely busy right now and the ongoing production of the Morning and Evening podcast, I have had less time lately to produce regular sermon episodes.  But it is oddly fortunate that I should end up reading a sermon on this passage the week that we spend time recalling the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001.  I do remember where I was, and what I was doing, and more than that I remember how I felt afterwards.  I wanted to put my hope in American might, and American goodness, and certainly now I realize that was foolish in many ways.

I recommend listening to John Piper’s sermon from that week, which is, not coincidentally, also on this same passage from Romans.  He reminds his listeners who are still reeling from the shock of the attack, that they cannot put their hope in anything that is here on earth, because it will ultimately fail them.  The words painted on the side of his church—“Hope in God”—have never rung more true, and the reason why is etched plainly in the lives of so many saints before us who have endured suffering for the sake of Christ: His love is unstoppable, irresistible, and perfectly sufficient for all things.

My fellow American Christians, I think it is safe to say that many of us feel very frustrated as we see a culture that has, for centuries, endured and enjoyed great bounty courtesy of a society informed and structured largely according to the Christian worldview if not according to submission to Christ, surrender that worldview en masse and replace it with evil, selfishness, and insanity.  There is a tendency to fear, both losing one’s place, as well as losing “the culture war.”  My brothers and sisters, the only war that really matters is already won.  The Victor stands at the right hand of God now, waiting for the time when His enemies will be made a footstool for His feet.  Meanwhile, we here continue, no matter who is elected president and no matter who is allowed into your public bathroom, to have the duty and joy of serving our fellow man as ambassadors from the living God, as ministers of reconciliation come to  bring the call to repent and turn to Christ, to find that true and neverending, never-damaged love.  Brethren, let us embrace that, though the world should hate us, though our flesh should fail us, though the devil should assault us, let us know that God is truly God and move forward in obedience and love.

Recommended this week:
Spurgeon’s Sermons app

Check out the Morning and Evening podcast at TheologyMix.com

Episode 29: Light For Those Who Sit in Darkness

Sermon text here.

This week’s song: My Soul Thirsts by the Loverlies

In the last episode we looked at Luke 13:1-5, where Jesus warns that death comes to all and that we must prepare our hearts, lest we be found unprepared before God.  This last week, sadly, I feel that we have found such preaching even more appropriate.  Yet even in that hope lingers.  And it is on that word, hope, which this sermon is founded.  Jesus is light for those who sit in darkness—He is hope for the hopeless.  Hope, real hope, in He that will never fail, is the foundation of our faith, and it is the reason we love.  It is the force that calls us to obedience of commands like “Love your enemy, do good to those who persecute you.”  If I have no hope, I have no reason to care about my enemy; I have no compelling reason to do good to those that persecute me if, at the end of life, there is no hope beyond—or worse yet, there is much worse beyond.

But there is hope, and that hope is Jesus Christ.  And I want to spend some time here holding him up before the people in this world that are angry, that are hurting, that are crying out for justice.

Injustice, abuse, and hatred: these are real things, real sins committed by people daily.  It is foolish to deny their existence or their effect.  It is further foolish to try to equivocate one evil against another.  Injustice begetting injustice, as we saw just a day or so ago: a man, angered by what he saw as injustice being perpetrated against his brethren, took violence into his hands and murdered people who had nothing to do with the act, and now is finding himself the subject of perfect justice.

But that’s the thing I want to point to in Christ: for the hurting, for the angry, for the confused, those wanting to understand how it is we can live in the world when people can be helplessly killed whether civilian or police officer, I want to point to Christ and say: let your desire for justice rest in him.  It is normal to feel angry about this; it is absolutely normal to desire to see wrongs righted.  Even our entertainment reflects this: how many millions upon millions of dollars are being spent now to put to film images of individuals given great power in one way or another to avenge wrong, and protect the innocent?

But perfect justice, that rights all wrongs and does good to the innocent, is not going to be done by any of us.  We will not establish that world on our own, for our desire for justice is tinged with selfishness, pride, and arrogance, with the sin that dwells in our very essence as humans.  No, that perfect justice will be done by God, and for those who believe in Jesus, it has been done on their behalf, fully, and perfectly.  If you are a person who is angry and wants to see justice, work for it here, but I call you to look to the cross and rest first in Jesus; then, you can work for justice while recognizing the fact that your hope does not lie in trying to perfect the world by yourself.  That is a fool’s errand.  No, your work to see justice done will be perfectly completed in Christ, and you can trust that not a single wrong will be unavenged by God.

Yet I also call you to look at yourself.  If your desire for justice is done without reflection of your own sin, and of the fact that you too will find yourself the subject of divine justice for the infinite number of evils you have committed against other men and against God, then you will find nothing but further frustration in your efforts.  Stop, turn, and look to the cross, the greatest injustice of all time, yet simultaneously the most perfect fulfillment of the most righteous justice that exists.  When you have looked long enough, and seen your sin that has nailed Him there, when you have felt the weight of that guilt you hold before a holy God, and the lightness of freedom in knowing that you can stand before God not as a guilty sinner, but as a righteous and adopted son of God clothed in Jesus’ work, cleansed by His blood, then turn and look back to the work you have before you to see justice done in this world.  Let the perspective of the Gospel inform your words, and your hands, and let good be done to those around you.  Love well, rest well, work hard, and trust in Him to do all things perfectly.

If you are someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one in this time, or you are just hurting and you want to find a way to deal with it, to engage the emotions you are working through in a constructive way and just find peace in the midst of turmoil, then I recommend very strongly the book Grieving: Our Path Back to Peace by Dr. James White.  You have probably heard me mention Dr. White here before and may know him from his more theological works like The God Who Justifies and The Forgotten Trinity.  But this is an excellent book that even a person in the midst of deep sadness can find hope in.  It is immensely practical, yet theologically solid as well, and it does not shy away from answering questions like “Why did God allow this to happen?” that often plague us during these times.  If you are feeling the weight of sadness, whether it is because of the turmoil going on right now or because of your own personal loss, you should get this book and read it, and follow the passages he quotes into the Scriptures to find the peace of God that passes understanding.

Episode 28: Accidents, Not Punishments

Sermon text here

This week’s song: With Peace Like A River (It Is Well) by the Loverlies

I suspect that some may consider it inappropriate or insensitive to read this sermon, in light of the recent tragedies that have been in the news, both the senseless shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and the little boy who was tragically killed on what should have been a dream vacation, to visit Disney World, by an alligator.  Even now as I write this, the news has just broken that Anton Yelchin, the young actor who played Pavel Chekov in the newest Star Trek movies, was killed as the result of what appears to be some kind of auto accident.  Wait, you might say, for healing to happen before reading this sermon.

I disagree.  I cannot think of a more appropriate time for this to be brought to the forefront.  After all, as I hope was made clear in the course of reading the sermon, Charles Spurgeon did not wait until all was calm and death could be viewed dispassionately to preach this topic.  In the weeks prior to his preaching it, not one but two terrible railway accidents had claimed many lives very suddenly.  And of course, as this was in 1861, across the ocean a terrible war was just starting to begin, one that would claim countless lives and spill much blood.  Yet we can’t look at this and just point directly from Sin A to Punishment B so simply.  Death is judgment for sin—but it is a judgment upon us all, because sin is an infection in this world and death is the only method by which it is expunged.

But as Christians, we cannot let ourselves be so haughty as to look at the suffering and pain and loss occurring in a place like Orlando and say “Well, they were engaged in sin, so we can call it judgment and move on.”  No, we are not able to because we must walk and speak in such a manner that is consistent with the message of the Gospel of Christ.  The truth is that just as easily as that man brought his weapons to a gay nightclub, he just as easily could have brought them to a mall, or to a city street, or to a church.  In fact, I suspect very much that I would not have to search very long before finding a story of churchgoers elsewhere slain in a similarly senseless manner.

I think there is a danger in reading the passage being preached on and thinking that Jesus is being callous about the deaths of the people being mentioned, whether those killed by Pilate’s men or those killed by the tower.  No, I think it is very clear that Jesus saw death very seriously, not as some sort of fake thing that didn’t matter, but as a horrible effect of sin upon the world.  He stood at the tomb of Lazarus, His friend and disciple, and wept with the mourners—and this was even knowing that He was about to bring Lazarus back to life!  No, Jesus was very direct in His response to the questioners because He did not want them to start thinking that they had any kind of superiority to them, or to make them turn aside from seeing their own sin compared to the righteousness of God, to instead compare it to the sin of others.  Jesus has great compassion on suffering, and yet He does not stop at healing it or at sympathizing.  He calls the sufferers to come to Him, to follow Him, and…to pursue more suffering in this world.  Not like some kind of monastic self-flagellation, but rather to follow after Him, to give ourselves up for the sake of others, to love others as ourselves and God above all, and to remember that this world is one that will eventually end, to give way to one that never will.

This is getting a bit long but I will encourage you, if you have the patience, to take a look at the series of blog posts I have put up over the last week, as I have attempted to address the particular questions and objections that have come up in the aftermath of the Orlando shootings.  Most importantly, I want to use even this horrible incident to point everyone to what matters most of all, to the cross and to the empty tomb.  If you are a Christian and you are in a position to minister to a suffering person, let that knowledge that Jesus calls us to empathize with the hurting drive you to dig deep in obedience.  If you are a Christian who is suffering, let the fact that Christ has passed through this road before us and now sits in glory encourage you even in your darkest hours.  And if you are one who hurts and cries out but do not know Jesus, I encourage you, do not waste a moment.  Stop holding on to things that will not last, stop clinging to the weight that drags you down in the deep farther, and look to Jesus and love Him.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace

Episode 27: Inexcusable Irreverence and Ingratitude

Sermon text here

This week’s song: All Creatures of our God and King by Dust Company
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Every person listening to this should, hopefully, hear conviction in this sermon, myself most of all.  I thought it was interesting that Spurgeon did not feel comfortable even letting the whole of Romans 1 be read aloud in church, because of the litany of wickedness that was being discussed.  I will not be so kind.  I want to read through the whole passage of the latter half of Romans 1, because this current age is awash in the spirit of rebellion that Paul describes, and surely the Scriptures were given to us, among other reasons, to use as mirror for all to see their need for Jesus in:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.   For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.  For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.  They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice.  They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness.  They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.  Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.—Romans 1:16-32

Pretty brutal assessment, and well it should be.  Paul was exposed to the pagan world of the Roman empire in all its nasty glory, and traveled it extensively as he preached and planted churches.  Charles Spurgeon is right on in his assessment of the root of the problems that Paul expands on here: not glorifying and honoring God as God, and thus, we do not show gratitude to God for all that He gives us.  And what does God give us?  He gives us our very existence, He gives us the air we breathe, the food we eat and the strength to work, make a home and care for a family.  More than that, He creates in us the ability to understand the joy in those things and to show love.  Love, as I mentioned in an earlier episode, is a common grace we all know on this earth and which will be fully known in glory after Jesus returns.  He has given us existence and painted it all about with proof of his existence.  I ran across an interesting little statement in the story “The Naval Treaty” by Arthur Conan Doyle, what I’ve taken to calling “The Holmes Apologetic.”  The detective, lover of reason and logic that he is, opines to Watson,

“There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion,” said he, leaning with his back against the shutters.  “It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoned.  Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers.  All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance.  But the rose is an extra.  Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it.  It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope for from the flowers.”

So we stand here with the proof for God’s existence, His mastery of all things, and His care for His creatures staring us in the face, and yet as a species we seek more and more ways to hide ourselves from this.  The secular world looks for the way to finally silence anyone who would point out their foolish stumbling, and sadly many Christians are not helping.  So many places that would call themselves churches exist as a place not to preach the Gospel and call men to repentance and renewal of a right relationship with their Creator through the work of Jesus.  Rather, they serve as a sort of hospital ward for the dying, doling out painkillers to dull the screaming of sinners’ consciences.

And so today we reap the result of our refusal to worship God as truly and fully God and be thankful to Him for all we are and have: a world full of death, disease, brokenness, societies that crumble as they celebrate putting one’s identity in sin—or confusing one’s identity until you can hardly even confess to being human.

But I didn’t start reading at verse 18.  I started reading at verse 16, and that’s on purpose.  I am not ashamed of the Gospel, and I want to end where I started.  If God is gracious, there are people listening to me right now who are standing smack in the middle of the sort of sin, struggle and confusion that Paul describes.  I empathize with you, my friend, because I too have been where you are.  I have found myself standing in the midst of loving myself more than anyone else and putting my desires first, and I have seen the destruction it brought.  I have tasted the bitterness of that cup.  But God has been gracious to me, because He opened my ears to the truth of the Gospel.  He let me see myself in a new way: not in contrast to other people, but in contrast to His holiness and justice, and I understood the depths to which I had run seeking to quiet that part of me that blared warning through it all.

But at the same time He also showed me Jesus.  Not as some fancy smooth guy with a winning smile and perfect, hair, wanting to be my buddy and having a great plan for my life.  No, He showed me Jesus as the One who became flesh for the sake of repaying the immense debt of ingratitude I owed to God.  All the times I poured hour after hour into things that showed how little I trusted God and how much I believed I knew what was best, all the times I drank spiritual poison rather than eat from the tree of life, I saw them laid upon Jesus on the cross, suffering not just human death, but the wrath of God for sin.  My sin.  And in that, I felt for the first time, real gratitude and peace that rested on something much bigger, much more real, than anything that I had known previously.  This was not “you walked the aisle and shook the pastor’s hand, now you’re saved.”  This was not “if you engage in enough religious work, you might please God enough to get into heaven.”  This was, and is, clearly and simply “It is finished.”  So if you’re someone who has been listening to me, maybe one of my friends who is not a Christian and sees me posting this on Facebook wanting to know, what the heck is Dave doing with all these, I want you to hear what I’m saying clearly: apart from Christ, you have no hope.  But in Christ, in turning and looking to the Savior on the cross taking on your curse, you have the only real hope that exists in the universe.  You’ve passed out of Romans 1, and you are standing in chapter 8:

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.  For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry “Abba! Father!”  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. –Romans 8:12-17

And I would say to my brothers and sisters reading this right now, please join in my prayer that we would in fact be filled with a deep love for God, that our theology would not be cold but that we would have a theology rooted in truth and propelled by a love for God that results in that love overflowing to everyone around us.  I am desperate to be a man that shows that love to those around me, I am deeply conscious of the ways in which I fall short, and yet I am constantly refreshed by knowing that Jesus has paid for me perfectly, and that the Spirit is working, always working, churning out the imperfections and the lingering idols in anticipation of the day when I will stand before God.  My fellow Christians, I hope you feel that longing, and I hope that what it breeds in all of us is, in fact, hope—hope in God.

I do have one recommendation for this week: if you have not read the works of Francis Schaeffer, I highly recommend doing so.  In fact, I would go so far as to say they are mandatory reading for a Christian who wants to be able to interact with the secular world and bring a Gospel message that speaks to the needs of those suffering under the weight of our society’s collective foolishness.   Go get yourself a copy of The God Who Is There to start, and you will find yourself gaining a fuller understanding of where we stand today and the nature of our task.

Episode 26: The Old Man Crucified

Sermon text here

This week’s song: In Him There Is No Darkness by the Loverlies

The danger in this modern age of preaching sermons on making war on sin, is that to so many who listen, it becomes interpreted as a call to a legalistic view of salvation.  But I think listening to Spurgeon’s words it is clear: seeking after holiness is not what is required in order to be saved, it is a result of being saved. Jesus’ own words, after all, were “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.”  The Gospel is our redemption from sin—and now that we are redeemed?  We are free!  To steal a Matt Chandler line: we do not have to say yes to our sin.  Moreover, we must actively and constantly be seeking to say no to it, and to murder the desire to perform it as it sneaks up on us as we sit passively, unaware and off guard.

So the warning to Christians is one of constantly testing yourself against the holiness of Christ, and of running to the cross constantly, over and over again, to bring that dead old self, those wicked desires that governed us before, to the place where Jesus died to pay the price they bring on the heads of all mankind.

The great theologian John Owen famously wrote in his book The Mortification of Sin, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.”  It is dangerous to take the words of a man as deeply written and thought-out as Owen and try to pry out one phrase apart from its context, but I believe there are two ways we might take such an idea.  The first is in the sense that if a believer is not making active war on his own sin, then he will find that sin instead slowly poisons his spiritual life, until it is all gone but for a flicker that may serve as a nagging ache, a spark that God will hopefully, in His abundant mercy, one day blow into a raging fire in the heart of this wayward believer, and through which all things, even the believer’s backsliding, will indeed work for the good of this one who loves God and has been called according to His purpose, even though he ran.

The second way, may be taken as a marker between the life of a believer who is in Christ, and an unbeliever, maybe who even with his mouth claims to know Jesus, but in his heart pays Christ no service.  If we see someone who claims to know Jesus and believe in Him, but who makes no effort whatsoever to kill the sin that fills his life, who rejects calls to seek holiness and instead believes that he’s had his ticket punched so he doesn’t have to worry about all that, we should be bringing the truth of the Gospel all the more to bear on this person because the truth is, they are showing signs that they do not know Jesus.  If you love your sin, if you believe that you can both love Jesus and still serve that which His Word clearly calls wicked, then you are deceived.  You could take Jesus’ words from Luke 16 and His declaration that a servant who tries to serve two masters will only end up seeing one as wicked and the other as lovely, and extend it from money to all forms of sinfulness.

Does this mean that a Christian white-knuckles his way through life, trying not to do anything wrong?  Of course not—this is why we have the Gospel!  The truth is that Jesus has paid for our sins and therefore, we can feel that urge to do whatever it is that leads us into selfish, fleshly actions, whatever those may be, and instead do exactly what we talked about in the last episode: Look!  We can look to the cross, and know that on that cross the real work that sets us free has been done, and we can walk away from sin.  We can endure all other consequences knowing that we are covered by the blood of Jesus.  And we can make war on sin, even the most besetting ones, the ones that society believes are just normal and natural and you shouldn’t even try to get rid of them—those most of all, we can drag to the cross and let them be nailed there to die, and we can love Jesus with all of our beings.  We can let that love grow, and rest fully in His goodness, grace and mercy.