Spiritual but Not Religious?

A few weeks ago, one of the members at Jackson Heights asked me to write about one of those cultural catchphrases, “spiritual but not religious”, hereinafter SBNR.  I agreed, but I had a few misgivings.  To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what it meant.  Does it merely mean, “I believe in God, but I don’t feel like going to church,” or is there something more to it? Continue reading

The Power of Example

In many ways, it’s hard to write about David without also writing about his sin with Bathsheba.  The story of the sin itself is significant, but its consequences shape the rest of David’s life.  Indeed, in 2 Samuel 12, Nathan prophesies that the same sort of things will happen to David that David did to Uriah.  He will be betrayed by those close to him, and his wives will be taken by another man. 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 Nations Rage? (from Psalm 2)

Why do the nations rage
And peoples plot in vain?
For kings conspire against the Lord
To overthrow His reign.
Against both God and Christ,
They set themselves and say,
“Now let us burst Their bonds apart
“And cast Their cords away!”

But God in heaven laughs
And speaks in fury still,
“On Zion I have set My King,
“Upon My holy hill.”
I make His judgment known;
To Me He has decreed,
“Today I have begotten You;
“You are My Son indeed.”

So then, O kings, be wise;
Be warned, O lords of earth;
Obey the Lord with holy fear,
And tremble in your mirth.
Do homage to the Son,
Or perish in the path;
How blest are all who trust in Him
But rightly fear His wrath!

Sin and Lying to Ourselves

Even though David was a man after God’s own heart, the narrative of his life is dominated, more than any other single event, by his sin with Bathsheba.  One of the great heroes of Scripture is led by lust to commit adultery and murder.  This was disastrous for David, and it should be sobering for us.  If he fell so spectacularly, can any of us imagine that we are above falling? 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

The Memorial Stone of the Gospels

If the Bible were not well written, I probably would not be a Christian.  It seems to me that any book that claims to be the inspired word of God ought to have at least some literary merit (sorry, Book of Mormon!).  I shouldn’t be a better writer than the Almighty.

Of course, I’m not.  The Bible is a magnificent literary work, a wordsmith’s delight.  When I’m studying with Shawn, it’s often the case that I’ll pause over a particular phrase and exclaim, “Oooh, that’s so pretty!”

I love it all, but perhaps more than any other part of the Bible, I love the gospels.  The writing of the gospel authors is terse and understated, but like a master sketch artist, they can capture a likeness in half a dozen strokes.  Consider the description of the lawyer in Luke 10:29 or Pilate’s rejoinder to Jesus in John 18:38.  I learn more about those men in a phrase of Scripture than a volume written by an ordinary author could tell me. Continue reading

Jacob and Anger

It’s hard to understand others without understanding ourselves first.  Conversely, the better we understand them, the more light they shed on us.

Fostering is particularly illuminating in this regard.  At least, it has proven so for me.  I’m living with a boy who comes from a background completely alien to me, who has behaviors that are completely alien to me.  However, the longer I spend with them, the more I realize that they aren’t alien at all. Continue reading

God Doesn’t Need Our Help

David was a man after God’s own heart, but even a heart that sincerely desires to serve can lead us astray.  We see David betrayed by his good intentions in 1 Samuel 7.  There, he decides that, now that he has constructed his own palace, he ought to build a permanent temple for God.

To human wisdom, this sounds like a great idea.  It’s only fair to give God a dwelling place equal to David’s, right?  Even the prophet Nathan endorses it.

However, God disagrees.  He points out to David that never did He instruct His people to build him a house of cedar (note that the implication of silence here is, “Don’t do it.”).  In fact, David has it backwards.  David isn’t going to build God a house.  God is going to build David a house, an enduring line of kingly descendants.  This promise culminates in the Christ being born of the lineage of David. Continue reading