Abortion is an Attempt to Project Strength

I should first say that I am not a full-time pro-life activist or counselor. I’m not trained in crisis management. I don’t think I’m even particularly good at “on the street” scenarios. But I have gone to abortion clinics in Jackson, MS and now Lakeland, FL on a semi-regular basis to pray, sing psalms and hymns, and try to speak to the folks in the parking lots and offer them help and other options.

I grew up in a politically moderate household. I won’t tell you how everyone voted, but I was raised to believe that abortion was a pretty tragic situation which women would only ever consider if all other options had been exhausted. I was taught that we needed to be careful not to berate them, judge them harshly, or fail to show them compassion. Based on my experience attempting to follow precisely that advice, however, I have to say that the narrative is all wrong. Abortion, at least today, in the Southern states, is not some sort of last ditch effort to preserve one life, which would be legitimately threatened, at the tragic but necessary expense of another. Instead it is a projection of strength on the part of the would-be mother.  Continue reading

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To Live is Christ

Text: Philippians 1:12-30

What does it take to keep people together? This question lies behind a good marriage, but it is also the key to deep and lasting friendships, as well as business ventures, political alliances, and even healthy and successful churches. What causes some folks to stick together and other folks to split up and go their own way? Sometimes people try to answer this with the general notion of “compatibility.” Some personalities just “click,” they might say. Others appeal to shared values. The answer is actually both more specific and more basic. The key to sticking together is having a shared desire, a larger goal which everyone wants to realize. It’s having the same mission.

But how do you get that? Now, that’s the really tricky question. It isn’t enough to take the desires we already have and then go look for others who happen to have the same ones and pair up with them. No, for Christians, we have to critically examine our desires and submit them to the mind of Christ. In fact, it’s even more extreme than this. We have to give up our own desires completely. We have to surrender them to Jesus, along with our whole life, and we have to find our new life in Him, seeing His life in us and in those around us.

This all brings us to our sermon text today. The Apostle Paul says that “to live is Christ.” And he means just that—his life is for a purpose, the purpose of being like Christ and having Christ live in him. In fact, his life is not his own. It is Christ’s. This conviction is what drives his entire ministry, his sense of mission, and his philosophy for life in the church. It allows him to be content in the face of pressure, persecution, and suffering, and it gives him confidence to take pious risks, to rush into dangerous situations for the sake of the gospel. He knows that to die is gain, and so whatever life he lives must be the life of Christ. And so this is true for us as well today. Jesus calls all men unto Himself. He calls you to give up your life and follow Him. And for those of you who have placed your trust in Him, this means that your life is not your own. Your life is now Christ’s life. Continue reading

The Sacrifices of God

Sermon Text: Psalm 51:15-17

O Lord, open my lips,
And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.
For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise.

Psalm 51 is King David’s famous prayer of repentance after Nathan the prophet convicted him of his sin with Bathsheba. The psalm is an important penitential prayer, but it also provides a very important observation about the true understanding of the old covenant worship. David clearly states that the true worship of God and the true sacrifices are not the external forms and offerings of bulls and goats, but rather the sacrifice of praise coming from the human heart. “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom” (vs. 6). “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (vs. 10). “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise” (vs. 16-17).

Those last lines about brokenness are what I wish to discuss with you now. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit and a contrite heart. This is how we must come to God. As strange as it may sound, we have to learn how to be broken and contrite. We must cultivate a sense of brokenness in order to worship God in the only way that He finds acceptable, with true sacrifices. Continue reading

The Judgment is Now Salvation

Sermon Text: Isaiah 35

Our text today is a beloved Advent prophecy. Isaiah foretells the great restoration which the Messiah will bring, and yes, this is one source for the famous Christmas hymn Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming: “The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them, And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose; It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice, Even with joy and singing.” We are told that the messiah will bring about a great reversal, turning the desert into a garden, the desolate place into a new Eden. But it is very important to see that this great reversal does not come about in spite of the judgment of the Lord but precisely because of it. Indeed, these blessings are the result of divine judgment. 

Isaiah’s Prophecy

The first question we should ask is what this text meant originally, in Isaiah’s own context. It very clearly fits in with the larger message of Isaiah that the Lord is bringing judgment upon Israel and upon the world. This will eventually result in a worldwide transformation, with all things being healed and made holy. All of Israel’s enemies will eventually be put down. But this will begin with Israel itself being judged, and the judgment of God which falls upon Israel will be the very instrument of Israel’s salvation. Continue reading

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

Following Christ Often Makes Life More Difficult

In Peter we have a striking mirror of our ordinary condition. Many have an easy and agreeable life before Christ calls them; but as soon as they have made profession of his name, and have been received as his disciples, or, at least, some time afterwards, they are led to distressing struggles, to a troublesome life, to great dangers, and sometimes to death itself. This condition, though hard, must be patiently endured. Yet the Lord moderates the cross by which he is pleased to try his servants, so that he spares them a little while, until their strength has come to maturity; for he knows well their weakness, and beyond the measure of it he does not press them. Thus he forbore with Peter, so long as he saw him to be as yet tender and weak. Let us therefore learn to devote ourselves to him to the latest breath, provided that he supply us with strength.

In this respect, we behold in many persons base ingratitude; for the more gently the Lord deals with us, the more thoroughly do we habituate ourselves to softness and effeminacy. Thus we scarcely find one person in a hundred who does not murmur if, after having experienced long forbearance, he be treated with some measure of severity. But we ought rather to consider the goodness of God in sparing us for a time. Thus Christ says that, so long as he dwelt on earth, he conversed cheerfully with his disciples, as if he had been present at a marriage, but that fasting and tears afterwards awaited them, (Matthew 9:15.).

~John Calvin, comment. on John 21:18

And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment

It is well known that Jesus’ empty tomb was first discovered by women. We know that these women were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and Salome. But Luke’s gospel, unique among the canonical gospels, tells us that there was a large group of women at the tomb, and it also tells us that this group of women had been following Jesus for some while. “And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him” (Luke 23:27). After Jesus died, Luke says, “all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things” (Luke 23:49). These women– the ones who had followed Jesus to the cross, the ones who watched to see where he was buried, and the ones who rushed to his tomb on Easter– did one other thing as well. They waited.

And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment. (Luke 23:55-56)

Can you imagine having to keep this Sabbath? After seeing Jesus die, after mourning him throughout the day, and after watching him be taken away to be buried, these women had to go back to their homes, and they had to rest. They could not mourn properly. They could not stay at the grave (which we know they would have liked to have done). They could not even complete the burial preparations, since we see them bringing extra spices on the Easter morning. Their funeral was cut short for the Sabbath. This is Holy Saturday.

Holy Saturday is about waiting. It is the final Old Covenant Sabbath. From the human point of view, nothing is happening. It is a test of faith. Did it work? Is Jesus victorious? What will happen? Can we keep the faith?

But invisibly, something else is going on. Jesus is in Hades proclaiming His victory. He is preaching to the spirits below, binding the Strong Man, and taking captivity captive. Jesus is standing on the neck of Death even now.

This is Holy Saturday.

And yet here, lonely and sorrowful, we wait. We pray. We keep the Sabbath.

We look for tomorrow.

What further testimony do we need?

One of the chief ways Biblical Christianity is unlike other philosophies and world religions is that it does not merely teach us how to be free of “the bad guy.” It tells us that we are the bad guy. This isn’t simply because of our limited natures, our lack of knowledge, or our being at the mercy of some other bigger bad guy. No, this is because we have chosen to like ourselves more than God. The Apostle Paul writes, “although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful” (Rom. 1:21). And this is especially true of Good Friday. The religious leaders of Israel were not simply upset with Jesus for who he claimed to be. It was not as if they simply didn’t believe him. No, they actually recognized who Jesus was. They knew, deep within themselves, that he was the messiah. And they hated him for it.

As soon as it was day, the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, came together and led Him into their council, saying,  “If You are the Christ, tell us.”

But He said to them, “If I tell you, you will by no means believe. And if I also ask you,you will by no means answer Me or let Me go. Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.”

Then they all said, “Are You then the Son of God?”

So He said to them, “You rightly say that I am.”

And they said, “What further testimony do we need? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth.”

(Luke 22:66-71)

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“He found them sleeping from sorrow”

One of the most prevalent misconceptions that people have about the gospels is that the disciples of Jesus were dummies. They’re always misunderstanding things, coming to the wrong conclusions, and even showing moral failure. But this isn’t true at all. When the disciples misunderstand things, it isn’t because they are dummies. It is because the situation was mysterious and the teaching of Jesus was challenging. When the disciples exhibit moral failure, it is because the situation was difficult and nearly-overwhelming. The disciples were fallible men, to be sure, but they were men who had been trained by Jesus and walked with him for three years. They would have been impressive to us. And we need to remember this when we read about them falling asleep in Gethsemane:

When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow. Then He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” (Lk. 22:45-46)

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Joy in the Valley of the Shadow

Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!

Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

I prepared this sermon on Philippians 4:4-7 on Thursday, and I put the finishing touches on it early Friday morning. I then went out to work in my yard, only to return to my computer and see the news of the Connecticut elementary school shooting. I had been planning on addressing the problem of blue Christmases and the loneliness that modern man can feel, then offering up a happy message. The sermon was to be joyful and positive throughout, a nice message for the Holiday season. Now I look like a fool. Continue reading