John’s Vision of Heaven

Most of us are aware that one of the most difficult-to-understand books of the New Testament, if not the most difficult-to-understand, is the book of Revelation.  In that book, John’s use of apocalyptic language often makes it hard for us to figure out what he’s talking about without serious study of the Old Testament.  As a result, we are usually very cautious in making applications from most of Revelation.

One exception to that caution, though, appears in the last couple chapters of the book.  There, John describes a city called “the new Jerusalem” in terms that are familiar to us from dozens of gospel hymns:  golden streets, pearly gates, the river of life, and so on.  The problem is, though, that the more we study that text, the murkier the identity of that city becomes.  It may be heaven, but it may also be a vision of the victorious church, and I think there are strong points to be made on both sides of that debate.  It’s much too complicated to untangle in a single sermon!

If we want to get a clear understanding of heaven, then, the end of the book of Revelation is not where we should turn.  Instead, we should consider the fourth and fifth chapters of the book, which we know are about heaven because John says, “This is heaven.”  Let’s spend our time together this morning, then, examining John’s vision of heaven. Continue reading

Sun of My Soul

So far during my time at Jackson Heights, I haven’t had much success with maintaining sermon series.  However, despite this dismal track record, I remain undeterred, and I’m going to launch another one that hopefully will appear periodically.  From time to time, I want to spend a sermon taking an in-depth look at one of the great hymns in our repertoire.

I think this exercise is valuable for several reasons.  First, it reminds us that we are supposed to sing with understanding, that we are supposed to think about the hymns that we sing, and that the hymns we sing are supposed to be worthy of thought.  Second, I know there are brethren who absolutely hated high-school English class and wouldn’t mind the help in decoding what some of our more obscure hymns are saying.  Third, even if the thoughts of these hymns weren’t contained in a hymn, they’d still be worthy of a sermon on their own, and we can benefit from contemplating them.  With these things in mind, then, let’s turn our attention to the stellar “Sun of My Soul”. Continue reading

Grace and Good Works

One of the great tensions in the Bible is the tension between faith and works.  If we’re not careful, it’s easy for us to overvalue one at the expense of the other.  If we put too much emphasis on faith, we might find ourselves believing that our actions don’t matter very much.  On the other hand, if we put too much emphasis on obedience, we might find ourselves believing that we are responsible for our own salvation rather than trusting in Jesus to save us.

The Bible, though, doesn’t really treat faith and works, obedience and grace, as opposites.  Instead, they’re complementary.  God’s grace motivates us to obey, and our faith stirs us up to good works.  We can’t properly glorify God without either, and we have to understand both.  This evening, then, let’s look together at a context from Titus that explores the connection between grace and good works. Continue reading

Wine and Women

These days, I consider myself pretty cynical when it comes to the outside world.  I think I have a pretty good idea what-all our society is up to.  However, a few weeks ago, Lauren sent me an article that made my jaw drop.  Apparently, one of the big trends among the soccer-mom set these days is drinking.  Alcohol consumption, especially wine, is way up for women who have kids at home.

This is a big change from the way things historically have been.  Back in the day, it was the men who did the drinking and the women who disapproved of it.  However, that’s no longer the case.  Women are rapidly catching up to men in drinking, binge drinking, and alcoholism.  I think this trend is all the more dangerous because of the innocuous way that it’s being presented, with ponytailed YouTubers joking about how their kids drive them to drink.  I have no idea how many people here drink at home, but I do know that it’s not a good idea for any of us.  Let’s consider, then, the unpleasant subject of wine and women. Continue reading

Rebellion Against God’s Anointed

Sometimes, studying the Bible is like cleaning out your kid’s bedroom.  The deeper you dig, the more you find.  In my case, I recently had this experience with Psalm 2.  A couple of weeks ago, the psalm appeared in my daily Bible reading (I follow another plan in addition to the schedule we’re on here), and as I was reading it, I said to myself, “Hey!  There’s a hymn in there!”

After I’d paraphrased the psalm, two things struck me about it.  The first is the great relevance of Psalm 2 to the New Testament.  Only a few other psalms are quoted more frequently than Psalm 2, and most of those are much longer.

Second, though, Psalm 2 has a great deal of relevance to us.  It’s about a time when the authority of God is under attack by powerful people, and guess what?  We live in a time when the authority of God is under attack by powerful people.  In such a time, we need to be reminded about what the outcome of those attacks will always be.  This evening, then, let’s look at Psalm 2. Continue reading

How to Judge

If there is any verse in the Bible that our society knows, it’s Matthew 7:1.  Even people who have never cracked open a Bible in their lives are able to quote from the King James Version, “Judge not that ye be not judged.”  I’m not sure that they know what a ye is, but they do know that it means that you don’t get to tell them they’re sinning.  Or so they think.

This same spirit can appear even among Christians.  I don’t know how many times I’ve been told, especially online, that we aren’t supposed to judge someone else’s motives, as though there were some blanket prohibition in Scripture against the practice.  If such a verse exists anywhere outside of the book of Second Opinions, I’ve never been able to find it.

In fact, rather than being commanded not to judge, we are commanded to judge.  Of course, as with many other commandments, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this.  However, with study and practice, our discernment will increase.  Let’s look this evening, then, at how to judge. Continue reading

Defeating Passing Pleasure

As a rule, whenever I get a request for a sermon from somebody, I do my best to honor it, and that’s true even when the requester is my six-year-old son.  A few weeks back, Marky told me that he would like me to preach a sermon on defeating passing pleasure.  I find this particularly interesting because a couple of years ago, Zoë requested a sermon on essentially the same topic.  It makes me wonder if there’s some point in human development when a child becomes conscious that they ought to try not to do bad things.

Even though the question may occur to us very early on, though, none of us ever succeed in answering it completely.  My temptations are mostly different than they were when I was 20, but I still continue to fight temptation.  The devil is constantly after every one of us, seeking to drag us down into the world.  Unless we prepare ourselves to resist him, he will surely defeat us.  Let’s give our attention to the question, then of what we can do to defeat passing pleasure. Continue reading

Why do the Righteous Suffer?

On September 19th, 2008, my daughter Macy was stillborn.  Her death was completely unexpected.  Right up till the day she was born, every indication was that she was doing fine.

Lauren and I have never learned why she died.  I do know this, though:  in the aftermath of her death, we suffered terribly.  Even now, ten years later, every time I see her picture hanging on our bedroom wall, it sends a jolt of pain right through my heart.

Our experience is hardly unique.  Even in a country like ours, at some point in their lives, nearly everyone encounters great suffering.  This is true for unbelievers, but it’s true for the most faithful Christians too.

Here, some locate the greatest challenge to our faith.  They ask, “If God is both good and powerful, then why does He allow the innocent and undeserving to suffer?”

This is hardly a new question.  It goes back at least to the book of Job, if not before.  However, it is an important one, with great relevance to all of us.  Thankfully, it’s also a topic that the Bible explores in considerable depth.  Let’s turn to the Scriptures, then, to answer the question, “Why do the righteous suffer?” Continue reading

What Is Covetousness?

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A few weeks ago, I ran a blog post on gambling in which I argued that the true problem with gambling is that it provokes covetousness.  In the next day or two, I found myself talking about it with Landon.  He observed that he agreed with the point, but he felt that most of us could benefit from a more specific understanding of covetousness.

I think this is a great point.  “Covetousness” and its variants are used a couple of dozen times in the ESV.  We know it’s a sin.  However, we often don’t know exactly what the specific sin is.  The dictionary defines covetous as, “Inordinately or wrongly desirous of wealth or possessions; greedy.”  So, basically, the dictionary is telling us that it’s a sin when we want things in a bad way.  Thanks, dictionary!  That’s really helpful!

However, even though the dictionary doesn’t offer much guidance here, God’s word does.  There are many passages that highlight the problems that covetousness creates.  When we piece them all together, we can come up with a useful answer to the question, “What is covetousness?” Continue reading

Bear with and Forgive One Another

In the last couple of lessons in our “Heaven Bound Together” series, Shawn and I have primarily considered the way that Christians are supposed to help each other through life’s struggles.  We’re supposed to encourage.  We’re supposed to restore.  We’re supposed to bear one another’s burdens.  Generally, we’re supposed to help solve one another’s problems.

However, that leaves a giant issue unexplored.  If other Christians are supposed to help us with our problems, what are we supposed to do when the other Christian is the problem?  Let’s be real, friends.  Sometimes, the worst problems that we have are with people who worship with us.  Our brothers and sisters in Christ can be annoying, hard-headed, and even downright sinful.

This can be intensely frustrating, but we must remember that our responsibilities toward one another don’t end because we think another Christian isn’t acting right.  Instead, we’re supposed to work through even that situation with them.  This morning, then, let’s look at our role in bearing with and forgiving one another. Continue reading