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

Hard questions part 4: His creation, His love

Now we get to what I consider the real heart of the matter.  It’s also the part most likely to upset and offend, because it is going to involve directly naming and confronting sinfulness.  However,  at the bottom of it, it involves the question of what makes humanity valuable, what reason anyone would have to believe that humans have an inherent value more than simply the sum of our parts.  So let’s get right to the question that’s been thrown out by many to Christians:

How can you say that you are praying for the victims and that you love them, when you condemn them and say they are in sin?

To answer this question, we need to look at the very foundation of the Christian faith and worldview, and we need to go back to the very beginning.  Well, a few days after the beginning:

Continue reading

Hard questions part 2: What makes a murderer?

I want to start with a couple questions relating to the shooter himself, and his reported faith as a Muslim.  I want to address the issue of what it is that drives anyone, at the root, to such a depraved act.  I also want to talk about what it means for us as we look at our Muslim neighbors and try to understand what they really believe, and how they can live as Muslims and stand opposed to violence like this.

Firstly: What kind of man could do something so horrible to people who have never hurt him?  How can someone commit such an unrepentantly evil act, with so little regard for human life?  Even without the issue of radical Islamic terrorism, such an inhuman act is repulsive to consider.

The answer to the first ties into my answer for the last.  Somewhere in his mind, this man began to see others as less human than himself.  Though he laid claim to a religious identity that made him a creature alongside every other man, in his mind and by his actions he set himself up as the true arbiter of morality.  The picture we are getting of him is becoming broader and stranger with each passing hour.  But the bottom line is that he placed himself above others, he decided that he was fit to carry out judgment against them by his own reckoning, and ended the lives of people who posed no threat to him.  Furthermore, he did it in the name of two organizations that preach the radical message of Salafi Islam, or what is called wahhabism in the West.

The shooter claimed to be a Muslim–was he really Muslim?  Do all Muslims have to act like the shooter?

A discussion of the divisions within Islam is not a simple one and probably not possible within a blog post like this.  I would highly recommend James White’s book What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an for an excellent discussion of foundational Muslim beliefs, but most fundamentally: the organizations that the shooter claimed allegiance to both represent, as I mentioned, an ultra-conservative division within the Sunni denomination of Islam.  Sunnis are the largest branch of Islam, representing over 90% of Muslims in the world.  The Shi’a branch represents the next largest slice, but only at about 5% of Muslims.  The rest is made up of smaller sects like the Ahmadiyya, Sufi, and Druze, among many others.

It is hard to make a simple pronouncement like “he wasn’t a Muslim” because of this action, since there is so much divisions within the religion itself on that subject.  The differences between a Sunni and a Shi’ite is not like the difference between, say, a Baptist and a Presbyterian.  It’s more like the difference between a Baptist and a Roman Catholic: there are fundamental differences that, when you see how deep they run, reveal that they are different religions at their root.

The problem is that the Qur’an is not written with a singular, consistent message.  There are major inconsistencies between early and later surahs, or chapters.  Muhammad moved from being a minority prophet preaching tawhid, or the oneness of God, in the face of polytheistic paganism, to a majority prophet commanding the Muslim armies.  So it’s possible to claim the name of Islam and live at peace in the West (as many do) by resting on certain surahs, while another can claim the name of Islam and march under the ISIS flag.  There is simply no consistent message within the Qur’an to point to from the outside for such a thing.

This is not to say that individual Muslims cannot have a consistent way of living.  But the problem is simply that it’s difficult to ascertain a consistent definition beyond the basics of belief that Allah is God and is one God alone, and belief that Muhammad is his prophet.  So if you want to ask “Was he really a Muslim”, the answer is…it’s not as simple as some want to make it.  He claimed to believe the tenets of the faith, yet it is becoming very clear he did not live consistently with them.

Photo credit: earthnews.in

Indian Muslims shout slogans during a protest against ISIS, an Islamic State group, and the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, in the eastern Indian city of Bhubaneswar, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. Multiple attacks across Paris last Friday night left more than one hundred dead and many more injured. (AP Photo/Biswaranjan Rout)

As to, do Muslims have to do this to be Muslims?  That plays into the question of consistency again, and I would say the answer is clearly no.  There are many Muslims in the West who are able to live, work, and thrive alongside non-Muslims not as secret sleeper agents as some of the more fevered among us imagine, but simply as fellow Americans.  There are also Muslims here who have fallen into the sway of radicals, and unfortunately we have seen the result of this once again.  As Dr. White pointed out on yesterday’s Dividing Line, one can certainly look at the Qur’an and find passages that require the killing of homosexuals, yet those are also intended to be carried out within some sort of system of justice, with a trial and witnesses, not by one assailant carrying out his own brand of justice.  So one could certainly hold the belief that what the Qur’an commands regarding homosexuals is true, without believing that the response to this is picking up a gun and murdering others.

I am planning in the next couple of weeks to have a guest on the podcast to discuss Islam from the perspective of missionary work in an Islamic framework.  I hope to be able to discuss all this and more in greater detail then.  Until then I highly recommend getting Dr. White’s book and reading it.

In the next part we turn to the question of what the Bible says about the subject of homosexuality.

Hard questions part 1: When evil strikes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read on…

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.