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 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 13: His Name – Wonderful!

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I apologize for the delay between episodes.  Life has been busy, not the least of which has included my helping to teach some classes at church and my time being taken up writing materials for them.  It’s been a great experience so far and I’m excited to see how things continue.  I am very hopeful that what this leads to for me is an opportunity to watch God produce fruit in my life and in the lives of others.

This is actually going to be the very first, albeit short, sermon series I have done here.  It’s only going to be three parts, but as this is such a well-known passage of Scripture I was excited to see three sermons that he had done so closely together, and I thought it would be fun to start doing something with a little continuity.  Well, fun in kind of a theology nerd way, but that’s who I am!

But much more importantly, what I am is a man who, like Spurgeon, has seen the truth of who he is by the grace of God, by the pounding of the law on a heart rendered able to perceive and respond by the Holy Spirit: a sinner who has no standing by his own righteousness before God.  The Son hangs on the cross because my sins put him there, yet at the same time, He went willingly to die.  He went to the cross to atone for my sins out of love.  That is the marvelous paradox, the life-giving, eye-opening truth of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ: He came to redeem His people, people who did not deserve a bit of it, yet He atones for them all the same out of love.

And so I look at my sins, at the worries and wicked desires of my flesh, and the world’s whispered promises, and the enemy’s taunts of unworthiness, and I am tempted to feel despair.  I struggle when staring at these things to think anything other than, “How in the world could God ever love me?  If being guilty were a ship I would be its uncontested captain for life, with a bunk reserved for me in the brig.”  Yet God, even while opening my ears to hear the law that compels my rightful condemnation for rebelling against God, for seeking pleasure in idols like filling my stomach, pursuing porn, pouring out all my energy into filling my pockets and hoarding it as though it were mine…He at the same time brought to my hearing the Gospel that says that Jesus knew all these things, and went to the cross to pay for them perfectly.  While I was still a sinner, while I was at my darkest, Christ died for me, and now I have nothing left to boast about except for Him.

But the truth is, I don’t want to boast about anything else.  I take joys in the small things of this world that bring in joy, that shine with the reflected light of my beautiful Creator, but it is only a reflection.  When I love my wife, I do it because I was first loved by God and because in loving her, in giving up myself and serving her, in pursuing her, I am able to see the true beauty of the love of God shine through clearly and I thrive on it.  I am set free by it, to soar, and to sing out!

Friends, this freedom is real, and it is here.  The command is true: repent, and turn from your sins, and know the one true God and Jesus Christ who He sent.  That’s eternal life, that’s real life, knowing the One who made you.  He is wonderful, and I pray that my heart wonders after him more tomorrow than it has today.