Episode 38: Love Thy Neighbor

Read the sermon text at Spurgeon.org

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

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

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

Loving your neighbor, loving your enemy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Episode 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

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Episode 20: Love at Its Utmost

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.–John 15:9

Sermon text

This week’s song: This is Love For God by The Loverlies

I actually forgot that this was Valentine’s weekend when I chose this sermon.  However, I think that simply makes this all the more appropriate to talk about.  The love of God, and its outworking in Jesus’ incarnation and atoning work on the cross, is an oft-misunderstood and twisted concept.  Love in general is a rather abused concept in modern Western culture.  But I don’t really want to spend a lot of time talking about that specifically.  Nor do I intend to rehash many of the things you commonly hear in sermons on the subject, including the (actually incorrect) discussion of Greek words like αγάπη and φιλέω.*

No, instead I want to remind you, my listeners, of the importance of reflecting this great love to those around us.  I especially want to make this imperative in the face of the changing dynamics of the world right now.  As I record this, the news has just broken that Justice Antonin Scalia, who had long been a voice for truth on the US Supreme Court, has passed away suddenly.  This has naturally sparked a lot of commentary as well as worry.  Add this on top of everything happening in both parties with the upcoming presidential election, growing fears of more economic instability, wars and rumors of wars, and so forth.

There is a tendency, when hearing the news and the state of the world, to feel a sense of dread.  There is a thought that we should worry, that something could go wrong and things could turn bad very quickly…and then, who knows what might happen next?  But I want to remind you all, those of you listening who are in Christ and believe that He is indeed on the throne, that we have no cause for fear.  Our anxiety will not change anything, nor does it serve well to remind us of the truth: that God does love us, that He did send His Son to atone for our sins, and that His will is being accomplished perfectly in all things.

Why should the nations say,
    “Where is their God?”
Our God is in the heavens;
    he does all that he pleases.–Psalm 115:2-3

This is the God we worship, and we should demonstrate our love for God by obeying His Word, by loving each other well and giving as we can to those who are hurting.  Do not mistake me: the opposite of anxiety is not apathy.  It is action, driven by the truth of the Gospel: those who are in Christ have been saved from the wrath of God for their sins by the work of Jesus, and therefore we are free to live knowing that He provides perfectly for us!  Not in some kind of “name it and claim it,” prosperity gospel nonsense–that is not Christianity.  That is idolatry of the worst kind, dishonoring to God and destructive to the body of Christ.

No, I am talking about knowing that I can obey God faithfully, knowing that He provides what I need to do so, even when things seem bleak.  I can live in a country and participate in a political process that seems to be heading to a darker and darker place, knowing that no matter who wins an election, God is the one who appoints and casts down kings, all for His purposes and the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

So let us take this time when love is the word of the day and do exactly what believers should do in all times and all seasons:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.–Romans 12:9-21

*For a full discussion of these terms and the reality of claims that “this word means unconditional love” and “this word means brotherly love!” as well as a thorough but highly readable discussion of God’s love, I highly recommend D.A. Carson’s book The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God.

Episode 16: Mediation of Moses

Sermon text here

This sermon was a special request of a listener, and I can only hope that I’ve done even a little justice to how this sermon has sounded in his head.  Of course, more than my own voice, the voice I pray that he and all others hear is the Holy Spirit, convicting, teaching, rebuking, and building up in love.

And I know all of that was true for me even as I read through it.  This sermon brings to mind many things for me, firstly a conviction of the way I pray for those around me.  I know that my heart for my neighbor has not been a boldly praying one as it should be, and that I personally need to come outside the typical box that so many Americans fall into, where we find our comfortable spot and sit there, happy to not have to deal with the mess around me.  But what that attitude shows, is that I don’t truly live in light of the magnitude of the mercy shown to me by God.  I want my life to be a grand reflection of the deep thankfulness of a man who has been given back his life by a Judge who had a properly rendered death sentence before Him…and yet, not only did He commute that sentence, but adopted me as His child and granted to me an inheritance beyond any I could ever conceive.

This is a truth I want to affect every inch of my being.  I want my thought patterns, my desires, my actions and day to day life to reflect this.  I am aware of the inconsistencies that I continue to carry with me day by day, and yet God’s mercies continue and renew daily.  The Father’s call never changes, the Son’s atonement and intercession never changes, and the Spirit’s loving conviction and renewing never stops.  I look forward to growing deeper in this.

And believers, brothers and sisters, this is something I hope will be true of all of you.  We live in a time that seems to be becoming more dangerous and uncertain, and where that danger is not located “over there” thousands of miles away, but is right here, right now.  Yet the responses I see from Christians are, to put it simply, disheartening.  I desire justice to be done.  I desire the innocent to be protected, and I too burn with anger when I see innocent children being murdered, or the cackling madness of ISIS terrorists as they brag about their latest atrocity.

But my brothers and sisters, we cannot afford to let that change the way we look at the people around us.  We can’t let it cause us to take joy in their destruction, nor to react with a spirit of fear to them.  Firstly, recall that you and I are just as deserving of the justice of God as they are, and it has only been God’s mercy upon us that lets us stand anywhere but directly in the place of judgment.  If we are to live and act consistently with the truth we have been convicted of by God’s Word, then we must walk in obedience to Jesus’ command to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us.  I know that this thought causes me to reflect more before pressing that share button, or commenting on a post.  I hope I will come to live more consistently with this.

Episode 9: Herein is Love

Love is in the air and in the news, and I wanted to do a sermon on love with its truest center in our human experience: God’s love, and the great display of it in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Listen above, and stay tuned for our next discussion episode featuring a very special crossover!

Meanwhile, I am also posting my own writing on the subject, crossposted from my own blog.  Check it out below the fold:

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