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

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Episode 15: His Name – the Mighty God

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.–Isaiah 9:6

Sermon text here

I’m excited to close out this 3 part series, the first one I’ve done for this podcast, with a reflection on who Jesus is, and why understanding that is so important to me.  My mom gave me several books by renowned Christian author and philosopher Francis Schaeffer, and in the last year or so I started to go through them alongside some other works.  One thing that stuck out to me was his use of the concept of “the infinite-personal God.”  This was in contrast to, say, the pantheons of other religions like the Greek gods who may be personal in a sense that they are distinct and can communicate directly with people, but are most assuredly not infinite; or the ideas present in Eastern mysticism of losing one’s consciousness to a universal will present in all of nature.  The God of the Bible, the God we worship, most assuredly has a universal will, yet He is separate from His creation.  But even with that separation, He is also immanent–He is in direct communication with His creation.  The god of deism who sets the world on its axis and wishes it well, the “blind watchmaker,” he is not personal.  But we don’t worship that God.  We worship the infinite-personal God, who is Trinity in unity:

God has communicated to man, not only about the cosmos and history, but also about Himself.  And God’s attributes so communicated are meaningful to God, the author of the communication, as well as to man, the recipient of the communication.  What God has revealed concerning His attributes is not only meaningful below the line of anthropology.  The line of anthropology is not a brazen heaven, which cannot be penetrated, over our heads.  The God who has spoken is not the unknowable infinite above the line.  The God who has created man in His own image communicates true truth about Himself.  Therefore, this need not be thought of as only an existential experience or contentless “religious ideas.”  We have true knowledge, for as the Scriptures say so simply and overwhelmingly, when God wrote the Ten Commandments on stone, or when Jesus spoke to Paul on the Damascus road in the Hebrew language, they use a real language subject to grammars and lexicons, a language to be understood.–Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There, 1968, p. 96

If there is one thing I have derived from these three sermons, it is this: Jesus Christ stands as the perfect image to us of that infinite-personal nature of God.  He demonstrates His infinitude in His complete mastery over creation, and Scripture identifies Him consistently as Yahweh–as being “very God of very God.”  Yet He condescends to become human, to lower Himself from His rightful position to take on the lowly form of a servant for the sake of His people:

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

As a man Jesus had family, He had friendships and led disciples down a difficult path that ended with what can only be described as both the darkest and brightest moment in human history.  The incarnation of Jesus Christ is the perfect marker of the infinite-personal nature of God, and of the importance God sets upon creation.  He does not set up a fantasy world where things don’t really matter, but He has created a world that He then entered into to achieve perfect unity with His people.

And in pondering this, in dreaming of a day in the future when this will be a reality and not just a far-off concept, I am compelled to worship God.  I worship Him because He is God.  He is the mighty Lord of all creation and the Maker of everything, and yet He is seeking after the lowly, the brokenhearted, those scarred with sin and in need of the healing hands of the Great Physician.  And I worship Him because He has come to call me into that relationship.  I long for the day that it is truly fulfilled.  For now I taste my Lord’s goodness through His constant provision, through His Holy Spirit guiding me and changing me bit by bit, yet I also mourn the separation of being here and not fully with Christ.

And having said that, I want to briefly talk about a subject that is right up on us: thanksgiving.  As of the time of this blog post we are a mere three days from what is most certainly one of the biggest family holidays of the year.  But it has taken on a very odd tone: a holiday meant to commemorate God’s great provision for this country has taken on instead an air of pure consumption, both literally and metaphorically, as we prepare to make major purchases and flood retail stores staffed with bleary-eyed workers hoping to make it through the day without being trampled.  As believers what I hope we would do on this day, is remember that we have everything because of God’s great grace to us, and His love for His people that leads Him to not sit far off, inaccessible to all, but to commune with His creation through the incarnation of His Son and the sending of His Spirit.  Let us remember that truth, and pray our great thankfulness for this to His holy name.

Episode 14: His Name – The Counselor

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.–Isaiah 9:6

Sermon text here

In times like this when the world aches under the weight of man’s great wickedness and its most vibrant exercises thereof, the hope of Christ is ever more appealing, and even more needed in this dark world.  The fear and dread, the destruction suddenly appearing here in civilization after being confined “over there” for so long, has driven many to distraction.

My only hope, the only hope for anyone in these times, is Christ.  It’s hard to say what any government will do, nor will I use this space to opine on the matter.  The matter of what to do with those fleeing from persecution and the possibility–or maybe more accurately, probability–of those with evil intentions being among them is no simple matter.

But I’m not here to solve those problems in a few easy steps.  I’m here to encourage everyone to take counsel from the King!  We struggle and fight and hurt and refuse, through it all, to turn to the One who can bring true peace.  We hide our faces from the One who was given for His people, thinking that if we shut our eyes tightly enough, He will be gone, and we will be able to figure out our problems on our own.

But this evil that persists, that continues to recur in one form after another, each strain more virulent than the last, is one that is inherent to us.  It is our own sinfulness.   This is not to say “It’s our fault that ISIS murdered innocent people in the streets,” because that is certainly foolishness.  Those men are responsible for their own actions and they will stand before a holy God and account for them.  No injustice will go unavenged.

But we will stand there as well.  We will be face to face with the Creator, who gave us our being, and who we as a species have rebelled against almost from the word go, and make account for the lives we’ve led.  And every single one of us will have a record of sinfulness that condemns.  Without a doubt, the men who perpetrated this evil act will receive righteous judgment.  But it’s a judgment we all deserve, save one thing: the mercy shown us by that same holy and just God.

And that mercy comes in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, in His glorious ministry to His people in gentleness and wisdom, and in His perfect sacrifice of Himself to pay completely the penalty of all those who trust in Him.  Make no mistake, every person who stands before God clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ stands as clean, covered, made holy, and adopted.  I ask you to know and believe two equally crucial truths: you are guilty of rebellion before God and righteously condemned to death for it; and you are safe, made whole and healed, and fully justified by the blood of Jesus Christ.  Believe this, friends, and you have found life.  I hope that the words of Mr. Spurgeon in this sermon help convince you of that truth, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I want to remind everyone of the winter clothing drive my church has coming up.  Christ Community Church in Denton, Texas, will be holding a coat and winter clothing drive on December 6, and you can click this link for more information.  If you are in the area and in need, please reach out and contact me.  Likewise, if you have a way to give and support those about to walk through a very cold winter in dire straits, please let me know.

Finally, I would like to say hello to so many I have seen coming to this page and these recordings from around the world.  I have been excited to see visitors appearing from South America, Europe, even parts of Asia.  I hope that what you find here is a blessing to you, and I pray that you will communicate with me the ways I and my brothers and sisters in Christ here can be praying for you.

Episode 13: His Name – Wonderful!

Sermon text

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.