Pure and Undefiled

This sermon was preached for Pro-Life Mississippi, outside of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Jackson, MS.

Text: James 1:19-27

I know that you are all believers who aspire to be doers of the word. You wouldn’t be out here if you didn’t. This isn’t a glamorous calling. There’s little earthly reward. You are practicing your religion by being here.

But some of the people who run this clinic also profess to be Christians. They believe that they are acting out fundamental values and deeply-held convictions with what they do. And they are right. That is what they are doing. They are passionately and spiritually devoted to their cause, and they are certainly doers of the words they speak. It’s just their words are very different. Their religion is very different.

This clinic exists to practice abortions. It may conduct other services in addition, but everyone is clear about its raison d’être: it is the last abortion clinic in the state. The other services are accidental to the main thing. Other places carry out mammograms, distribute birth control, counsel expecting mothers, and offer various tests and screenings. The one thing that makes this clinic unique is abortion. And everyone who supports the clinic is self-conscious about this. They are passionately committed to providing abortions.

We should ask why people, many of whom profess to also be Christians, support abortion and support it so strongly. There is always the easy spiritual answer. People support abortion because of sin. Their wills have been bent because of sin, and thus they make choices and engage in activity that is wrong. But this answer is true of every kind of sin. With abortion there is a very specific rationale which explains why people support it, and I think it is important that we know this rationale and understand it. This is important for diagnosing the problem, but it is just as important for offering a solution. We cannot walk halfway down the same road, holding many of the same values, only to stop arbitrarily. We need an entirely different perspective. We need a different religion. Continue reading

A Conspiracy of Bitterness

Text: 2 Samuel 15:1-12

Our text this morning tells the story of Absalom’s revolt against David. Most people know Absalom because of fabulous hair, weighing between 2 and 6 pounds, depending on which commentaries you read. Tradition says that this glorious hair eventually became his downfall, as it got caught in the limbs of a terebinth tree. But he had a significant life story before all of that. Chapters 13-18 of 2 Samuel are concerned with Absalom, and he did briefly manage to win over the hearts of Israel. He led a major revolution and forced David to flee Jerusalem, providing the context for at least two of the psalms. So we should know a little more about him, as well as how he was able to start his insurrection.

Absalom

Absalom was David’s third son and the likely heir to the throne, at least for a while. He had killed his older half-brother, Amnon, and as no mention is ever made of David’s second son (David had quite a lot of sons, as it turns out, see 1 Chronicles 3:1-9 for the 19 who are mentioned by name.), it seems likely that the succession would have naturally fallen to Absalom. His good looks and popularity also signify that he was an important figure in the political life of Israel, and 2 Samuel 8:18 says that David’s sons were leading political ministers. His father-in-law was also the king of Geshur, and so he would have been an obvious political star.

But Absalom turns against King David. Continue reading

My Soul is Satisfied

Text: Psalm 63

The psalms are the Manna of the Church. As Manna tasted to every man like that that he liked best, so do the Psalms minister Instruction and satisfaction, to every man, in ever emergency and occasion. David was not only a clear Prophet of Christ himself, but a Prophet of every particular Christian; He foretells what I, what any shall do, and suffer, and say. And as the whole book of Psalms is… A Balm that searches all wounds; so are there some certain Psalms, that are Imperial Psalms, that command over all affections, and spread themselves over all occasions, Catholic, universal Psalms, that apply themselves to all necessities. This is one of those. (John Donne, sermon on Ps. 63.7)

The wilderness of Judah

The context for writing this sermon is most likely 2 Samuel 15, when David had to flee Jerusalem from the forces of his own son Absalom. We know that the psalm is written by David when he was in the wilderness. When we look through his life, we see that he was in the wilderness on two occasions. The first was when he lived as a political exile from Saul in 1 Samuel 23-26. But he was not yet king then, and this psalm seems to indicate that David is already king when he is writing it. Thus the the occasion is David’s war against his own son, Absalom, who has temporarily taken possession of Jerusalem. This is a time where David is in danger of losing both his throne and his life. Yet he doesn’t seem to be concerned with these matters as much as he is concerned with something higher. Indeed he is most concerned about being separated from God’s sanctuary, and he writes this psalm to express his desire to be reunited with God’s holy place. Continue reading

Mary, Martha, and Enjoying God Forever

Text: Luke 10:38-42

You all know the famous 1st question and answer to the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” It’s such a great answer, mostly because of that unexpected verb “enjoy.” But I’d like to put the focus on the question for a moment. What is a chief end? The word “end” there means goal or purpose, and so the “chief end” is the ultimate or final purpose. A chief end is the most important goal, and so man’s chief end ought to be the thing that he pursues above all else. Everything else in his life should work to support that goal and bring him closer to it. Anything which distracts him from it or pulls him further away from it is working against that goal. The religious term for something like that would be sin. Everything that we do should cause us to glorify God and enjoy Him more and more. And that is what our text is about this morning. Continue reading

And Who Is Your Neighbor?

Text: Luke 10:25-37

The parable of the Good Samaritan is one the most famous passages of Scripture in the whole bible. It gives us the immortal illustration of what it means to be a “good neighbor” and has provided the name for countless charities and mercy ministries. But there is more to this story than only the call to take care of those in need. Jesus is here pointing out the futility of all attempts at self-justification through works while also highlighting what it truly means to keep the law of God.

This portion of scripture is organized around two exchanges between Jesus and the lawyer. There is the initial question and Jesus’ answer, followed by a second question and a second answer. The “lawyer,” meaning an expert in torah, asks Jesus this question, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” This sets up the whole conversation. It shows us the main issue. The question is actually a sincere question. He is not necessarily trying to trick Jesus, but he is a legalist. He believes, as did most of the Jews of his day, that eternal life is something obtained by law-keeping. Surely the Jews would say that it was “inherited” because of God’s gracious covenant, but still, within those parameters, the keeping of the law was what decided one’s eternal outcome. The precise wording makes this clear, “What shall I do?” Continue reading

Can Women Be Heads of Households?

After I posted my essay on head of household voting, Pastor Douglas Wilson was kind enough to link to it and add his thoughts. In the comments, however, RC Sproul Jr added his opinion that women should not be allowed to vote at all, even if they are heads of households, because this would be an example of women having “authority” or “rule” over a man. It is not my intention to “go after” Dr. Sproul on this point, but I do think it’s a good opportunity for me to further clarify my own position and show that it is distinct from “male only” voting. I think that Dr. Sproul’s concerns are founded on faulty reasoning, and as such, I think that women can be heads of households in certain conditions and that, in those conditions, they can and should vote, if the congregation chooses to have such a style of voting. Continue reading

Let’s Talk About Head of Household Voting

So I haven’t written much on this blog in a while, and I thought the best way back would be a nice, juicy, controversial topic. Well, ok, it doesn’t have to be that opportunistic, but I’ve had the issue of church organization, specifically the practice of “head of household” grouping and voting, on my mind for some time. It is a common practice in my denomination (the Communion of Reformed and Evangelical Churches), and we even practice it at my church. It’s also very controversial, within my own church (though we are all well behaved about it) and among other churches that I’ve known. There are some people who are very unhappy with it, and the concern often raised is what a church’s means of representation says about its larger theology. There also people who think it’s really great. So let’s talk.

1) First let’s define our terms. It might surprise you, but people almost always equivocate on “the church.” Baptists have a different definition of the word than do Presbyterians, and Presbyterians have a different definition than do Lutherans, and Lutherans have a different definition than do Episcopalians, and they all have a different definition from Roman Catholicism, so let’s say what exactly we are talking about.

For matters of church polity and voting, we are talking about congregations. Continue reading

Hope Deferred

The_Fall_of_Man_by_Lukas_CranachProverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

There’s a certain lyrical quality to this proverb which makes it beautiful, but there’s also an intriguing ambiguity about its meaning that makes you read it over and over again.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” When your dreams do not come true, it is easy to become depressed. But notice, the hope is not necessarily failed. It is only deferred. The Hebrew word in this place means “to drag.” And so the Proverb is saying that when your hope takes a long time to come to fruition, when it drags, the time of waiting can be very sad and disappointing.

You can imagine how it feels to wait for something, something that you believe to be very important, even the realization of your dreams. You start to wonder if God is ever going to give it to you. You start to wonder why He’s taking so long. Does He really love you after all?

And this is where the second half of the Proverb comes in, and it seems to cut both ways. “But a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” A tree of life– that’s an interesting metaphor. A fulfilled desire is like one of the trees in the Garden of Eden, the one that granted immortality. What could this mean?

There’s a simple contrast at work. The fulfilled desire is very good, whereas the deferred hope was sad. I think there’s something else going on, though, and I think the Eden imagery is an important clue. You see, Adam and Eve’s sin was a sin of false hope. Instead of trusting in God’s timing and being patient and content with His plan, they decided to take the object of their desire, the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Genesis 3:6 says that this fruit was “desirable,” and so we can see that the original sin was a false desire fulfilled.

Thus while the fulfillment of our desires can be a very good thing, the pursuit of this fulfillment can always also be a temptation to sin. Are we allowing our heart to become sick because of our desires and our expectations about when and how they should be fulfilled? Are we, like Adam and Eve, trying to grasp now what might be given to us at a later time, on our own terms rather than on God’s?

“Heart sickness” is a very complicated thing, but it always takes us to an encounter with God. What do we think about Him and what He is doing in our lives at this moment? Do we place our hope, as well as our faith, in Him or are we still hoping for something else?

We must make sure that our desire for the Tree of Life does not become a desire for something more, for something that is not ours to take on our own terms. We must learn to wait on the Lord, to trust that He knows best. And as we trust Him, we will find that He is the true fulfillment of our desires.

All of this should drive us to the Cross. Jesus Christ must finally be our Tree of Life.

Do Not Grow Weary

The Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 6:9-10, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

Why do you think he felt this advice was necessary? Do not grow weary while doing good…  Continue reading