Tag Archives: sermon

How did we get here?

Jeremiah the prophet wrote during a time of national, political, and religious catastrophe. His nation was in ruins. His people had abandoned God and God, at least for a time, had abandoned his people. During this course of events the people would have asked, “how did we get here?” The author of Kings wants us to know the answer and this Sunday I explored that question further.

For this post, though, I want to dive into one of the main themes, that compromise with evil, leads to an embrace of evil, which leads to judgment and death:

After Joash’s reforms, Israel’s southern kingdom, Judah, had a series of compromised kings, followed by a series of evil kings, followed by a series of kings that were captured, enslaved, and killed. There were a couple of good kings in that mix but, while they were able to defer God’s judgment, they couldn’t stop the inevitable. In the end, Judah persisted in her sin and was sent into exile in Babylon.

I see this same pattern in James 1:13-15:

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Notice the progression of sin: Desire – the juicy worm on the end of the hook – is conceived. Sin is born. It grows up. It gives birth to death. This is the nature of sin. If we let it linger, it becomes stronger and stronger until it kills us. Israel’s kings who compromised by letting the high places remain, who accepted a small amount of false worship, were setting up later generations for failure. When we compromise with the “little sins” we swallow the worm with the hook.

A misdiagnosed illness

Jeremiah condemned Israel’s false prophets who misdiagnosed Judah’s problems: “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious” (Jeremiah 6:14, 8:11). This is in contrast to God’s description of Judah’s condition: “Your wound is incurable, your injury beyond healing” (Jeremiah 30:12).

We’re tempted to view our own sins as nothing serious, as a cold or a small cut. But the principle of Israel’s exile should tell us something different. Sin is more like a cancer or an infected wound. It needs drastic treatment. The tumor must be cut out.

The progression

Paul tells us in Ephesians, in the context of anger, “do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph 4:27). What’s his point? If we keep anger around it grows into bitterness and hatred. Hatred, when it is full grown, gives birth to death.

Or consider King David’s lust for Bathsheba. It led to adultery, deception, and murder.

I heard the story of a young woman who struggled with self-harm. At times she would swear off that behavior and throw away all her razor blades… except for one. I don’t know where she is now, but it’s hard to imagine that she has made much progress in this area.

Sin is like an addiction, it traps and enslaves.

Not your experience

But maybe this isn’t your experience. After all, there are plenty of people with their pet sins whose lives aren’t in ruins. They are happy and successful. Their little sins aren’t out of control. They haven’t given birth to death. Maybe that’s even you.

The prophets struggled with this, too. Why, they thought, did Israel suffer for her sins but the nations around them, just as wicked, walk about in peace? God’s answer was always pretty simple: It’s coming. In the end, it’s coming. Sin is, in the final analysis, self-harm. God is, in the end, just. Almost all the compromised kings fell because of pride. Their outward success led to a belief that they were beyond the consequences of sin and that pride was their downfall.

Paul, in Galatians, puts it like this: “A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction” (Galatians 6:7-8).

An incurable disease

The story of the kings would leave us hopeless if it weren’t for the rest of Scripture. Jeremiah hears from God that Israel’s wound is, indeed, incurable. The progression from compromise, to outright rebellion, to judgment and exile, is a force that will overrun Jerusalem and its people. But there is another force at work, the grace of God. “I will restore your health and heal your wounds” (Jeremiah 30:17), says the Lord through Jeremiah. Why? Because of God’s faithfulness, his grace, his mercy.

Alongside the spiral of sin James sets the progression of God’s grace expressed in his word: “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created” (James 1:18). What, then, are we to do? “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you” (James 1:21).

The spiral of sin and judgment can be transformed into a virtuous cycle – but only through the grace of God expressed in Jesus.

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Sermon Summary: Stand

Note: As part of my sermon  preparation, I’m going to be condensing the main points of the sermon into a 500 or less word blog post. This is my first attempt.

Text: Ephesians 6:10-13

“Put on the full armor of God.”

In the Christian life we find security and rest. God has saved us by grace through faith apart from works. We rest in that reality. But the Christian life is also a battle. We fight, not for the grace of God, but from the grace of God. Jesus has already won the war, but as we wait for his return we must fight individual skirmishes. How do we win them?

In their fight believers are prone to three errors: We ignore the battle and grow complacent. We misidentify the enemy. We fight out of our own strength. If we’re going to win, we must recognize the battle, identify the enemy and his tactics, and fight from God’s strength.

Let’s first examine the battle. Our enemy is “not against flesh and blood.” Our enemy is the devil and evil spiritual forces. The Bible has plenty of examples of human enemies. Paul himself could have pointed to the Romans, Jewish religious leaders, pagan cult leaders, and even false teachers within the church. Yet, we must recognize the spiritual enemy behind the human enemy.

Jesus calls us to love our human enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Our battle is not, ultimately, against them, but against the spiritual powers standing behind their actions. The devil himself wants us to direct our hatred against other humans. In doing so, we step off the path on which Jesus leads us.

How does the enemy attack? God calls us to stand against his “schemes” and to raise our shield of faith against his “fiery arrows”. His primary weapon is deception. He lies. His influence can lead to persecution and the temptation to deny the faith, or pressure which by which he leads us to compromise our faith. He brings fear and discouragement to stop us from acting out of faith. And finally, his most common attack, is to tempt us into sin.

Each of these situations presents us with a battle. We can decide to follow God or give in to the devil’s schemes. God calls us to stand, to be firm and undefeated, to have a godly resolve, to resist, and to prevail. We prevail when we hold true to the faith in the face of persecution or pressure, when we persevere through fear and discouragement, and when we resist temptation by submitting to God.

We put ourselves in a position to win when we first surrender ourselves to God. We gain life by losing it. We’re strong when we recognize our own weakness and trust only in God for our strength. “Submit yourselves, resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

A Wedding Sermon

I had the joy of officiating a wedding this past weekend. Other than a couple errors, one slip the tongue, and a slight flip in the order of the service, I think it went pretty well. Here is the wedding sermon, excluding the personal notes:

To fully understand love we need to move beyond ourselves and our own experience and listen to Creator of love, our Creator, and to His Word. 1 John says, “love comes from God“, “God is love“, and that “we love because God first loved us.” And that is the first thing we must understand about love, that God is the source of love. Love is not just an ideal or an abstract concept. It is a person. It is personal. And, if we are to grow in love we must grow in God. In addressing the issue of marriage Jesus said, “What God as joined together, let no one separate.” Note that he said “What God has joined together…” I charge you to view love as a spiritual reality. Your marriage is not just a commitment before one another and before these witnesses, which it is, but a union blessed by your heavenly Father. As you seek to love one another, seek to love God. As you grow closer to one another, grow closer to God. As you plan out your days, your months, your years together, make that spiritual aspect of your marriage a priority.

The second thing we must learn about love is this: Love is self-giving. Again, 1 John says “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” This is applied directly to the marriage, specifically to the husband actually, in Ephesians when it says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Think about that. You are to love each other the same way that Christ loved us – He gave Himself fully for our good. Though we, in our rebellion, turned away from God. God, in His love, pursued us. God, in the Person of the Son, came to earth and willingly, out of love, took the penalty of our rebellion by dying in our place in order that we, in through faith, might be brought back to God, without shame, and have eternal life with God. That is the simple and enduring message of the gospel and it is a wonderful story of love, not a shallow kind of love, but a potent, pursuing, passionate, give-anything-for-the-other-person’s-good kind of love. And that, God says, is what love is. And that, He says, is what love is supposed to look like in a marriage relationship. Husband, this is a charge particularly to you. Love your wife in a self-giving way, looking out for her good even when it hurts you. Yes, whenever you can, find something that works for both of you. But, on certain occasions you are going to be called to lay down you life for Natalie, I hope not literally, but nevertheless in a real a sacrificial, whatever-it-takes, whatever-the-cost kind of way.

Finally, my charge to you is to remember that love is demonstrated in our actions. Again, in 1 John it says, “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” When you say, “I love you,” be sure to back it up with actions.

Love is a gracious gift from God. It is passionate, patient, endearing, intimate, and considerate. And with God’s blessing it will be a source of joy in your life for the rest of your lives.