The sermon recording from July 24, 2016.
Archive for July, 2016
The updated sermon recording from July 17, 2016.
The updated sermon recording from July 10, 2016.
John Calvin was one of the great ministers of the Reformation. He was born in France, and moved to Switzerland to escape religious persecution. Being reformed in 1500′s France would get you killed. Calvin ended up in Geneva, Switzerland where he served as the minister in the church and professor in academy. From Geneva, thousands of ministers were trained and sent out as church planters and missionaries, carrying the gospel as far away as South America.
By 1555, Calvin and his Geneva supporters had planted five churches in France. Four years later, they had planted 100 churches in France. By 1562, Calvin’s Geneva, with the help of some of their sister cities, had planted more than 2,000 churches in France. Calvin was the leading church planter in Europe. He led the way in every part of the process: he trained, assessed, sent, counseled, corresponded with, and prayed for the missionaries and church planters he sent (John Starke, “John Calvin, Missionary and Church Planter”).
So much for the charge that believing the biblical teaching on election, predestination, and particular redemption lead to lazy evangelism.
According to Frank James, the average life span of church planters being sent out from Geneva to go back into France to preach the gospel was six months. John Calvin and the other ministers of the reformation were both committed to the proclamation of the gospel and clear on what it was to suffer for what they believed. When we understand this, we see quite clearly that the following prayer of Calvin was in no way merely pietistic theologizing, Calvin was quite acquainted with the hatred and enmity of mankind.
Almighty God and Father, grant unto us, because we have to go through much strife on this earth the strength of thy Holy Spirit, in order that we may courageously go through the fire, and through the water, and that we may put ourselves so under thy rule that we may go to meet death in full confidence of thy assistance and without fear.
Grant us also that we may bear all hatred and enmity of mankind, until we have gained the last victory, and that we may at last come to that blessed rest which thy only begotten Son has acquired for us through his blood. Amen (John Calvin, Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life, Baker Books, 1952.).
The last few days in our country have been harrowing. For many of us, yesterday began and ended with the news of injustice ending in death. The day began with the news of yet another preventable and therefore unjust killing of an African American man by a police officer. The day ended with the news of the unjust retaliation killing of five police officers by an African American man in Dallas, TX. So again, I will write, it is very easy to be silent in times like this. It is very easy to withhold judgement until all the facts are in. It is very easy to let various situations blow over with the wind of the next big story. It is very easy to let hard realities for others have no effect on ourselves. However, the Bible calls us to a better response. At the very least, Scripture calls us to respond with tenderheartedness, self-examination, prayer, and theological precision.
We must be tenderhearted toward those in pain. This means our hearts will be broken both for the those with whom we naturally identify and those with whom we do not. Our identifying with the pain of our brothers and sisters in Christ cannot be tempered by our identity in this world.
We must examine ourselves. If we can mourn with only one side, there is a problem. If we refuse to mourn with one side until all the facts are in, but have immediately broken hearts for the other side, there is a problem. If we refuse to mourn with one side regardless of the facts, there is a problem. We must ask, are we willing, when we or someone with whom we identify has been wronged, to hear the imperatives of Romans 12:21 and 1 Peter 3:9? Both of these verses were written in the context of persecution, the latter in the context of persecution by the state.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21, ESV).
“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9, ESV).
Are we willing not only to look to Christ in faith as the One who has made satisfaction for our sin, which we must do, but also to look to Christ in faith as the One whose selflessness is an example for all who are united to him by faith? This is precisely what Scripture calls us to.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21-25, ESV).
As Christians, we are to follow in the steps of our Savior who suffered at the hands of others for the sake of others. Our unwillingness to walk in this way is an unwillingness to be identified with Christ, and we must repent of such faithlessness.
We must pray. There is but one source of wisdom by which the problem of evil in this world will be solved, but there is a source for such wisdom.
We must think with theological precision, letting our thinking inform our doing. The theological issues that were forced to the fore for me last night revolved around the question of why? Why is this happening? And is there a solution?
James writes in the fourth chapter of his epistle,
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask (James 4:1-2, ESV).
In his letter James acknowledges two important points. First, our passions are longing for something we don’t have. Second, we don’t have, because we don’t ask.
What is it that our passions desire so strongly? To answer this we must understand what humanity lost in the fall. The Westminster Shorter Catechism #19 is helpful, “What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell? All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all the miseries of this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever.” We could summarize this by saying that by the fall all mankind lost their hope, identity, and security. We lost hope in that the misery, death, and hell to which we are made liable are forever. Without something changing, without some intervention there is not hope. We lost identity in that we lost communion with the One in whose image we were created. If we are going to know ourselves rightly, we must know ourselves in relation to God, but we have lost communion with him leaving us clamoring for an identity. We lost security in that we are liable to the miseries of this life which are many.
The introductory verses of Hosea make the same point. Hosea is called to live out a real life metaphor of God and his people by taking a prostitute for a wife with whom he has three children – Jezreel, No Mercy, and Not My People. Those are rather odd names, but they were given to make a point. The meaning of the names is recorded in the book of Hosea as follows.
And the LORD said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.” She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.” When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the LORD said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God” (Hosea 1:4-9, ESV).
Jezreel indicates that God will put an end to the kingdom of Israel, a loss of security. No Mercy indicates just that, God will no longer have mercy on Israel, a loss of hope. Not My People again indicates something obvious, they are not the people of God and he is not their God, a loss of identity. The same point could be made from numerous texts. For example, Genesis 3 records the fall of man into sin. As a result of Adam’s disobedience we see the following happen. Adam his wife, Eve, were removed from the Garden of Eden over which they had reigned and in which they had walked with God (a loss of identity), were told that their work would produce thorns and thistles (a loss of security), and were barred from re-entering and eating from the tree of life and living (a loss of hope).
It is this lost hope, security, and identity that our passions desire. It is this lost hope, security, and identity that we try to seek out in this world. It is this lost hope, security, and identity for which we will quite literally kill. In our effort to establish hope, security, and identity on our own two things tend to happen. First, we run to whatever we can in order to find hope, security, and identity, destroying whatever and whomever we need to take hold of it. We may run to seemingly noble realities such as family, work, intellect, financial stability, ethnic heritage, etc., or we may run to ignoble realities such as sexual conquest, drugs, rank materialism, mutilation, etc. And indeed, we may find a close enough approximation of what we are looking for to remain satisfied for quite sometime. The second thing that happens is, when our worldly source of hope, security, and identity fail us, we will eventually simply turn to easing the pain of not having hope, security, and identity, often using the same false sources and often at the expense of those around us. But make no mistake, it is the lost hope, security, and identity that our passions long for.
When we live for and by a worldly hope, security, and identity, our response to a perceived threat can quickly become extreme. Yesterday I asked a hard question regarding the effect of sin on a police officer, not to accuse, but to drive a point home. Today I will turn the tables and ask a similarly hard question going the other way, again not to accuse, but to make the point. What might be the effect on how an African American man responds to injustice from police toward black men if they are seeking to find their hope, security, and identity in their ethnic heritage? Let me be clear, this is not to say that there can be no identification with or pride in our ethnic heritage, neither is this to say that finding hope, security, and identity in ehtnic heritage is an issue unique to African Americans, nor is this to say that there is only outrage over injustice because of sinfully finding hope, security, and identity in ethnic heritage, (on this point I would point you to the many African Americans who have grieved the death of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile [and many others], who have feared for their own children’s lives, who have called out injustice as such, who do strongly identify with their African American brothers and sisteres, but who, finding their hope in Christ are just as quick to call out the injustice carried out by the man in Dallas who vengefully killed 5 police officers.), rather this is to say, when we make what this world offers by way of hope, security, and identity ultimate we defend it as such.
However, recall, James made a second point. He wrote, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2, ESV). Do you hear what he is saying? That thing that your passions so desperately long for, that lost hope, identity, and security, is yours if you ask. This is what Christ has restored by dealing with our sin on the cross. We see it so very clearly when we return to Hosea. Hosea 1:4-9 announced the loss of hope, security, and identity through the naming of Hosea’s children. Look now at what is recorded in Hosea 1:10-2:1.
Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel. Say to your brothers, “You are my people,” and to your sisters, “You have received mercy” (Hosea 1:10-2:1, ESV).
God immediately promises that he will do the work of restoring the hope, identity, and security of his people. “Where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ it shall be said to them, ‘Children of the living God’” (Hosea 1:10, ESV) – the promise of identity restored by God’s gracious initiative. “And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.” (Hosea 1:11, ESV) – the promise of security restored by God’s gracious initiative. “Say to your brothers, ‘You are my people,’ and to your sisters, ‘You have received mercy’ (Hosea 2:1, ESV) – the promise of hope restored by God’s gracious initiative. What sin stole away and our souls so desperately long for, God promises to secure for his people. Ultimately this will come through the finished work of Jesus Christ. This is why Peter writes to those Christians suffering under the heavy hand of the state,
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10, ESV).
In Christ, because of his finished work, hope, security, and identity have been restored for the people of God. We need not clamor for it in this world any longer. We can decry the injustices of this world without prejudice and without fear that by unjust means anyone in this world can rob us of the hope, security, and identity that is ours in Christ Jesus. It is this very fact that frees to suffer, to love, to fight injustice, and to conquer to the very end. Peter says as much as he continues his letter.
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:11-12, ESV).
Once again, It is very easy to be silent in times like this. It is very easy to withhold judgement until all the facts are in. It is very easy to let various situations blow over with the wind of the next big story. It is very easy to let hard realities for others have no effect on ourselves. However, the Bible calls us to a better response. At the very least, Scripture calls us to respond with tenderheartedness, self-examination, prayer, and theological precision.
For the second day in a row, I have woken up to the news of and outrage over an African American man being killed by police in a seemingly preventable scenario. Once again, our African American brothers and sisters are mourning the death of a fellow African American at the hands of one whose job it is to preserve life by working to maintain order and enforce civil law. Within the black community, sadness, anger, fear, and questions abound. Articles, blog posts, tweets, and Facebook statuses have been published expressing the feeling of being hunted, wondering if anyone cares, wondering why there is so little being said about particular situations by the church (especially the white church), trying to figure out what the way forward is, and in many cases doing everything they can step into what seems to be a massive void and provide leadership for both hurting communities and the culture at large. How should we, the church and individual Christians, respond? How should we respond to the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile (not to mention the many others who have died in similar scenarios)? How should we respond to the African American community? How should we respond to our African American friends, neighbors, and family?
First, we should be tenderhearted toward those who are hurting and weep with those who weep. Paul writes in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (English Standard Version) Again in 1 Corinthians 12:26 he writes, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (ESV). We may defensively object, “Yes, but that is talking about people within the body of Christ and specifically within a local body. How does that apply here?” Indeed it is, but let us not offer that up as a valid response as if there are not black Christians, who are members of both the body of Christ and our own communities who are broken and as if human compassion cannot extend beyond the bounds of our ecclesiastical relationships. Or, we may defensively object, “Well we don’t know the whole situation yet, we should withhold judgement until we do.” Indeed we don’t know the whole situation yet, and we likely never will. However, let us not offer this up as a valid response as if it is not okay to weep over death in every situation were we find it.
Second, to the degree that we struggle to be tenderhearted, we should take the opportunity to examine ourselves. Why can I not hurt with those who are hurting? Am I simply too callous to feel my brother’s pain? Then I should repent of my lack of love and, looking to Jesus in faith, ask God for the grace of a tender heart. Am I a prig, thinking I am above the fray of the brokenness of this world? Then I should repent of my arrogance and, looking to Jesus in faith, ask God for the grace of humility. Do I just not care about others? Then I should repent of my not considering others more significant than myself and, looking to Jesus in faith, ask God for the grace of being Christ like. In this situation, we can ask more pointed questions as well. Can I not be tenderhearted in this situation because I have believed a narrative that black people are dangerous or threatening or aggressive by virtue of being black? Then I should repent of my racism and willingness to uncritically accept false narratives and, looking to Jesus in faith, ask God for the grace of believing all people are created in his image. Can I not be tenderhearted toward hurting brothers and sisters in this situation because “it’s not my issue?” Then I should repent of dividing the body of Christ over race and, looking to Jesus in faith, ask God for the grace of gospel unity.
Third, we should pray. We should call out to God. We should call out to God for our brothers and sisters who feel enormous pain. We should ask God to help us examine ourselves and root out hidden sins in dark places of our lives. We should call to God to respond to the injustices of our world. We should call to God to raise up men and women in particular vocations who are wise in the ways leading a society in justice and truth. We should thank God for having ultimately responded to such injustices on the cross of Jesus Christ. We should ask God for wisdom and tenderheartedness and freedom from the insecurity of this world, a freedom that gives us a boldness to live in light of the gospel that we might respond rightly to the injustices of our world. We should pray.
Fourth, we should be precise with our theology. Three theological issue have come to the fore for me as I have processed the current situation 1) sin and sanctification, 2) justice and the sixth commandment, and 3) the doctrine of vocation. There are undoubtedly many more issues that need to be considered with as much precision.
The first issue with which I have been forced to wrestle stems from the difficulty I have with repentance over “otherisms” (racism, sexism, classism, etc). The difficulty for me is admitting that various attitudes I have toward the “other” do actually stem from a sinful insecurity and lack of faith in Christ. This difficulty shows that I need to think more precisely about sin and sanctification. Scripture teaches that we are totally depraved, that is, that all of our faculties have been impacted by the fall. By nature I am a sinner, bent in on myself, given chiefly to self-preservation. I am a master of self-justification. It is precisely because of these issues that I struggle so mightily with feeling threatened by the “other”. The fact that I have been socially conditioned to not use racist jargon or join the Klan or openly shun people of other ethnicities in ways that aren’t broadly socially acceptable is not proof that racism is a non-issue for me. Sin is deeper than my outward actions.
Theologians talk about the noetic effects of sin, that is the impact that sin has had on our minds. If the effect of the fall is so deep that my thought processes have been affected, then the self-examination discussed above must plunge to such depths as well. Indeed Paul instructs us in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Therefore, when it comes to sanctification, I should expect, even desire and pursue, a change in my thinking. If I cannot limit sin to outward actions, then I cannot limit sanctification to a change in outward actions. The Bible teaches me to assume that my mind is corrupted by the fall; therefore, when I am challenged to examine whether or not my thinking on a given situation is sinful, I should resist my first responses of self-justification and self-presevation.
The second area with which I have been forced to struggle in light of current events is the area of justice and the sixth commandment. The Westminster Shorter Catechism offers the following, simple, but penetrating exposition of the sixth commandment.
Q. 67. Which is the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment is, Thou shalt not kill.
Q. 68. What is required in the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.
Q. 69. What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.
The Shorter Catechism’s exposition of the sixth commandment forces me to look at the current situations with Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, as well as any number of other situations, and not ask simply was it legal, but could life have been preserved by some lawful endeavor? Legal is a bad standard for just. Indeed, legal is often found to be a far lower standard than just.
While the word used for kill in Exodus 20:13 is in fact better translated murder, our application of the sixth commandment cannot be limited to premeditated murder. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus pushes the application far beyond premeditated murder, leaving us guilty of murder merely by the thoughts we think about others. The authors of the Westminster Shorter Catechism were right to push the application of the sixth commandment both to the point of seeing anything that tends to the unjust taking of life as a violation of the sixth commandment and to the point of seeing its fulfillment as being “all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.” In this regard then, we must see that in our current situation preventable, not legal, is a better standard for just when it comes to the loss or taking of life. While a judge in any given case is bound by the strictures of law, the heart of the Christian should long for justice. If the death of Alton Sterling or Philando Castile (or any other number of people) were preventable by some lawful endeavor to preserve life, then while they may be ruled legal, they cannot be declared to be just.
The final theological point about which I have had to think is the doctrine of vocation. The doctrine of vocation can be understood as follows, “the notion that every legitimate kind of work or social function is a distinct ‘calling’ from God, requiring unique God-given gifts, skills, and talents. Moreover, the Reformation doctrine of vocation teaches that God himself is active in everyday human labor, family responsibilities, and social interactions” (From Modern Reformation, “The Doctrine of Vocation: How God Hides Himself in Human Work” by Gene Edward Veith). We do not get a pass on honoring God in what we count as our secular work. In whatever capacity we have been called, we should be seeking the glory of God not self or anything else. In whatever capacity we have been called, we teach the ways of justice, we call out for justice, and we work for justice as appropriate to our calling. It is precisely for this reason that we need to be precise in our thinking about sin and sanctification, justice and sixth commandment, and many other issues. It is precisely for this reason that we need to be willing to examine not only our actions, but also our thoughts as it pertains to our vocation and repent where sin is found to be shaping how we carry out our calling. I am not accusing anyone of anything, but to put a finer point on how all of these issues are related to the situation at hand I will ask the following question. What might be the effect on how a police officer carries out his or her calling if they have have failed to or refused to acknowledge, by God’s grace, the noetic of effects of sin in their own life as it pertains to how they think about certain people, or if they have not thought with precision on issues like justice and the sixth commandment? When we affirm the doctrine of vocation, we are affirming that by God’s grace we need to bring the full weight of the testimony of God’s Holy Word to bear on our work. We are not saying that the Bible teaches us what we need to know to be a police officer or politician or lawyer, but we are affirming that our theology, or more specifically the transforming effect of the gospel, should have a significant impact on how we do whatever it is we have been called and trained to do.
It is very easy to be silent in times like this. It is very easy to withhold judgement until all the facts are in. It is very easy to let various situations blow over with the wind of the next big story. It is very easy to let hard realities for others have no effect on ourselves. However, the Bible calls us to a better response. At the very least, Scripture calls us to respond with tenderheartedness, self-examination, prayer, and theological precision.
The sermon recording from July 3, 2016.