Monthly Archives: June 2008

Why Does God Care About Marriage? (Introduction)

(This sermon was preached on Sunday, June 29, 2008, at the Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY.)

This morning, we find ourselves dealing with a very difficult topic. Right up front, I want to tell you this: I have committed to what’s called expository preaching. What that means is, a commitment to preaching through particular books or portions of the Bible as they are arranged by the Holy Spirit. Why do I do this? For one, I want to follow Paul’s dual commands to “preach the Word” and to preach the whole counsel of God. As a result of this, I will guard against the tendency of my own flesh to skip over passages that may been seen as overly controversial. This has happened a number of times, and God has always blessed and honored our times together because we have preached and received his Word, no matter how difficult.

This morning, as God’s providence would demand, we will be talking about “Why Does God Care About Marriage?” So if you would, turn with me to Matthew 5:31-32:

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (Matthew 5:31-32, ESV).

Jesus here deals with this area with a great deal of seriousness. And by and large, the church of Jesus Christ has dealt with this seriously as well. But there are ways to deal with something seriously. How so?

In this area, our breed of churches tends to deal with the doctrine of marriage and divorce seriously. We hold the authority of God’s Word seriously and with great gravity. But for all too many, they would say they love God but the love of neighbor is decidedly missing. As a result, someone who holds to God’s commands seriously metes out judgment on those who do not. There is a risk of coming at this with such moral superiority in this area that no one looks deeper.

There’s another way to look at it seriously. You can look at this in a way that balances the clear commands of Christ with loving and showing compassion on those who are victims of divorce. We must not only take God’s Word with determined seriousness, but also take those whom he created seriously. Paul’s exhortation to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) cannot be ignored or dismissed.

Some of you sitting in this place have gone through the horrors and the pain of divorce. On the pain scale, divorce actually is more painful than any other event or experience — even more so that the death of a loved one. Some of you may have initiated the divorce because of marital unfaithfulness or even abuse on the part of your spouse. Our hearts break for you, for there is nothing worse than losing the trust of one you love. Some of you may have initiated this because you felt you didn’t love your spouse anymore. My prayer is that you will see that love is not relegated to a feeling but to a commitment, a steadfast love in much the same way that Christ steadfastly loves his church. Some of you here may be the victim of a divorce — you tried and tried and did everything you could, but they refused to. Our hearts go out to you and we pray you will come to Christ for healing and cling to him as your all in all, as one who will never leave you nor forsake you.

The point of this sermon is not, “Four Ways to Have a Happy Marriage,” but is this: how can Christ be Lord of my life even when all around me may try to take control of my heart and mind? And given this, why does God care about our marriages? What are they about? Are they just civil contracts dictated by the state, or is there a connection with the soul as well?

(Tomorrow: God Gave Marriage From the Beginning)

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Categories: Church Life, culture, family, homosexuality, sermons | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

The Five F's of Fighting Lust

In Matthew 5:29-30, Jesus says:

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

Jesus here looks at two members of the body: the eye and the hand. We have seen this admonition from Jesus in other passages (Mark 9:42-50, for instance), but in the context of this understanding, Jesus gives us an understanding of the gravity of lust. The eye is what looks and lusts! What about the hand. D.A. Carson notes that “the hand is chosen, probably because adultery, even mental adultery, is a kind of theft.”[1]

Some, who love the church and the Scriptures, have taken these commands very literally — and even more so! But does this take care of the issue? If my right eye is removed, could not my left eye compensate? I believe we see that the issue is to deal with this issue seriously and drastically.

How are we to do this? Below will contain Five F’s for Fighting Lust. Much of this will come from the book of Proverbs. Proverbs is written from the wisdom God gave to a father in order to pass along to his young son.

Fear: Yes, that’s right: fear. Earlier, we read from Proverbs that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Part of that fear of the Lord is a fear of anything that may entice us away from his paths. Men, women should scare you to death. If you are single, you must see the power of the temptation to drift away from sexual purity. So take care and listen to Proverbs 5:1-6:

“My son, be attentive to my wisdom;

incline your ear to my

understanding,

that you may keep discretion,

and your lips may guard

knowledge.

For the lips of a forbidden woman

drip honey,

and her speech is smoother than oil,

but in the end she is bitter as

wormwood,

sharp as a two-edged sword.

Her feet go down to death;

her steps follow the path to Sheol;

she does not ponder the path of life;

her ways wander, and she does not

know it.

I’ve seen too many think they can handle it. I’ve seen too many who honestly believe they can put themselves in compromising situations because they have a cavalier attitude. Some, especially teens, embrace this because it makes them feel more like an adult. But anything that we covet that lies outside the Gospel will always destroy.

Flee. Proverbs 5:7-8 says, “And now, O sons, listen to me, and do not depart from the words of my mouth. Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house.” He says, “Stay away from those who would tempt you to indulge in sin.” Don’t even go near her. Run! He told young pastor Timothy to “flee youthful passions.” He told the Corinthian church to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). See why Joseph fled from Potiphar’s wife after her daily advances. In Genesis 39:8-9 we read:

But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”

Oh that David had learned that lesson with Bathsheba. Instead of running and fleeing in being busy for the Kingdom of God, he stayed behind. More on this later.

Fight. James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” We forget that the Christian life is warfare. Paul tells Timothy repeatedly that as a steward of the gospel he must “wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

How do we fight? Well, we fight the fight of faith which we will see in a moment. But I recommend that we fight with joy. Being joyful and content with what God has graciously given to us will sustain us. Proverbs 5:15-20 says this:

[15] Drink water from your own cistern,

flowing water from your own well.

[16] Should your springs be scattered

abroad,

streams of water in the streets?

[17] Let them be for yourself alone,

and not for strangers with you.

[18] Let your fountain be blessed,

and rejoice in the wife of your

youth,

[19] a lovely deer, a graceful doe.

Let her breasts fill you at all times

with delight;

be intoxicated always in her love. [20] Why should you be intoxicated, my

son, with a forbidden woman

and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?

Figure. In other words, count the cost. If Satan is tempting you with indulging in the sexual realm in thought or in action, count the cost. Lig Duncan, a pastor in Mississippi, told of a pastor friend who had been counseling this woman after her divorce. He began to help her through, even helping take care of things the husband used to such as finances and other issues. As a result, he found himself developing significant affection for her. He called Lig in a panic saying, “What am I going to do? I’m falling in love with this woman, but I love my wife and family, too!” Duncan counseled him, saying, “First, stop counseling her. But if that’s not enough, make a list of what you will gain by having her and leaving your family, and what you will gain by having your family and leaving her.” By doing this and developing good accountability, he began to see that God’s way was the right way! P.G. Mathew puts it more starkly: “The solution is to think! If you are a Christian, God has changed you and your very imagination, and now you are able to think differently.”[2]

But figure in what Jesus says, “For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” Yes, that’s right — if this begins to control you and takes over, you’re going to hell. You may say, “Bro. Matt, wait a minute! Don’t you believe in eternal security, once saved, always saved?” I do, with all my heart. Christ’s death on the cross was sufficient, and his resurrection sealed it. And as a result, my heart was changed toward him! But if I am constantly pursuing things he has explicitly forbidden and have no twinge of guilt or no desire of repentance, then what am I saying about the reality of the change wrought in me by him? Yes, this is a serious notion.

Fall. Remember James 4 from before, well let me finish that thought. James 4:7-8 says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” Even the passage in 2 Timothy 2:22, “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” I mentioned earlier that we were to flee from the adulteress and the object of our lust.

But what are we to run to? Christ! Run to his work! Run to his will! Run to his Word for strength. Fall before him in prayer. Dress in a way that will not cause others to stumble with lust and adultery of the heart. Find others to help you stay accountable.

One time, I read of a man who was a missionary who kept struggling with his thoughts concerning someone to whom he was ministering. Satan would continually tempt him with impure and unholy thoughts about her. What helped him maintain was to continue to pray for his and her holiness. As long as that stayed in the forefront, he found that a great cure for lust.

If you are struggling in this area, know there is forgiveness and restoration.

One day that a woman had just come from a friend’s house where one of the children, a little boy, had been cutting something with a knife, and it had slipped upward and put out his eye, and his mother was afraid of his losing the other. Of course, after that this woman was careful that our little boy, two years old, shouldn’t get the scissors, or anything by which he could harm himself. But prohibit a child from having any particular thing, and he’s sure to have it; so one day our little fellow got hold of the scissors. His sister seeing what he had, and knowing the law, tried to take the scissors from him, but the more she tried the more he clung to them. All at once she remembered that he liked oranges, and that there was one in the next room. Away she went and back she came: “Willie, would you like an orange?”

The scissors were dropped, and he clutched the orange. God sometimes takes away the scissors, but He gives us an orange. Get both your feet into the narrow way; it leads to life and joy; its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace. It is the way of victory, of peace; no gloom there; all light.


[1]D.A Carson, The Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1978), 44.

[2]P.G. Mathew, Christ Cures Lust.

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A Biblical Look at Lust, Part II: The Deadliness of All Sexual Immorality

Look again at verses 27-28.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).

The imagination is powerful. Think of all the things we imagine: new jobs, more money, more influence, better friends, better weather. When we begin to imagine better relationships, especially when it deals with the areas of love and marriage, then our issues begin. You see, our minds are a theatre with the pictures fed by the eye. The sinful heart takes that picture and drives that sin in deep in the heart. And it sullies how we look at those made in God’s image. Prior to the Flood, Genesis 6:5 gives the indictment: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

Whereas last week we looked at the sixth commandment (“You shall not murder”) and saw how Jesus corrected the Pharisees’ interpretation, this week we look at how Jesus sheds light on God’s view of the seventh commandment (“You shall not commit adultery”). Psalm 119:96 says, “I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad.” The Pharisees were caught interpreting the commandment too narrowly. In this case, they only looked at the particular act — and even then in some cases it was permitted (such as when you “lie with a slave or a Gentile”). Only lying with an Israelite’s wife was not permitted. They interpreted it far too narrowly.

Jesus here though shows how “exceedingly broad” the commandment is. “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Whereas Jesus affirms that the particular act is sinful, so is what Ligon Duncan calls “eye adultery” — and he is merely quoting the Apostle Peter: 2 Peter 2:14: “They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children!”

Men and women need to recognize some things. From songs, to movies, to bookstores, to the Internet, sex has been reduced to something simply for fleshly gratification. Of late, I cannot listen to songs dealing with this area. Men singing songs that objectify women — they are called awful names, described in awful ways, and are simply seen as conquests.

But if you see the videos, you see that women dress in styles that invite this. And since that’s the style in Hollywood and coming out of Madison Avenue, young women (even teenagers) are highly susceptible to wearing clothing that is skin-tight, plunging necklies, exposed midrifts, low wastelines, and high hemlines. Teens are especially susceptible to this, given how their quest toward adulthood leaves them 15 wanting to dress like 25.

This is exactly why Paul tells young men to remain “self controlled” (Titus 2:6). This is exactly why Paul in 1 Tim. 2:9-10 Paul exhorts Timothy “that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” This applies to both genders, but if we more time worrying about our fashions over our faith, it will show. We find ourselves not only taking umbrage with the seventh commandment, but we do so by violating the tenth commandment, “Do not covet.”

Why is this a gospel issue? Because if we believe in the sovereignty of God and believe that he has given to us what he has, then we find ourselves not coveting but being content.

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When the Delight of Preaching Becomes Routine

Many times, the rigors of ministry make the primacy of our calling as expositors dim. Here what Spurgeon has to say:

Unless we are careful, we shall be likely to say to ourselves, “Monday evening here again, I must give an address at the prayer-meeting. Thursday evening, and I have to preach, although I have not yet a topic! Sunday morning, Sunday evening; I have to preach again! Yes, preach again! Then there are all those extra engagements; it is for ever preach, preach, preach! I am always preaching. What a weariness it is!” Preaching ought to be a joy, yet it becomes a task. Constant preaching should be constant enjoyment, and yet, when the brain is tired, pleasure flies. Like the sick boy in the prophet’s day, we are ready to cry, “My head! My head!” We ask, “How can we keep up our freshness?” It is hard to produce so much with such scant leisure for reading; it is almost as bad as making bricks without straw. Nothing can maintain us in the freshness of our beginnings but the daily anointing of the Spirit” (The All-Round Ministry, Pilgrim Publications, 1973, pp. 134-135.)

I can entirely sympathize with this, but am continually thankful that God continues to replenish and supply. What steps do you take to remain fresh in your preaching ministry?

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Be Careful, Little Eyes, What You See: A Biblical Look at Lust (Part I)

(This sermon was preached on Sunday, June 22, 2008 at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY. You may listen to this sermon via mp3.)

I remember hearing and singing a short little chorus when I was little that was very simple:

O be careful, little eyes, what you see,
O be careful little eyes what you see,
For the Father up above is looking down in love,
O be careful little eyes what you see.

The song continued by going through other parts of the body to prove a point: we need to be careful what we are watching because God is watching. But does that make a difference with many. So many in our culture take little thought in what they put before their eyes, especially when it comes to the sexual realm. We see that the pornography business is a $10 billion per year business. We see that even in the magazine stands at the grocery that the women who don the front of the majority of the magazines are wearing skimpier and skimpier clothing.

The understanding in advertizing that “sex sells” has never been more apparent than in 2008. This is a growing problem, especially among Christians who grew up in churches that were afraid to even talk about it, much less teach how to navigate through the hormones that pop and crack during adolescence. Television shows and movies simply look at this like those in Roman times did — that this area is simply a bodily function like eating or drinking. And I’ll say this: our teens and young adults will learn this from somewhere.

On Sunday evenings, we are going through Jerry Bridges’ book Respectable Sins. This book addresses issues dealing with sins that Christians tolerate as part of our culture. More and more, I am seeing that this very issue Jesus addresses is tolerated — and it was tolerated even in his day with a “you-can-look-but-can’t-touch” type of attitude.. Look with me at Matthew 5:27-32

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ [28] But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. [29] If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. [30] And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

[31] “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ [32] But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

There is a misunderstanding that this is not simply a biological function, but deals with the emotions and even the soul! According to Jesus, you cannot separate the act or the thought from the issues of the soul. They are all tied together.

This Sunday, I will address Matthew 5:27-30, then next Sunday I will speak on why does God care about marriage.

(Tomorrow: Part II: Sexual Immorality in Any Form is Deadly)

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Google, Stoopidity, and the Marvels of Moleskine

While waiting at the airport this past weekend, I ventured on a very insightful article (HT: Shane Anderson) dealing with how Google and the Internet is harming our brains and our thinking power. Here’s an excerpt:

Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet. The Web has been a godsend to me as a writer. Research that once required days in the stacks or periodical rooms of libraries can now be done in minutes. A few Google searches, some quick clicks on hyperlinks, and I’ve got the telltale fact or pithy quote I was after. Even when I’m not working, I’m as likely as not to be foraging in the Web’s info-thickets—reading and writing e-mails, scanning headlines and blog posts, watching videos and listening to podcasts, or just tripping from link to link to link. (Unlike footnotes, to which they’re sometimes likened, hyperlinks don’t merely point to related works; they propel you toward them.)

For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded. “The perfect recall of silicon memory,” Wired’s Clive Thompson has written, “can be an enormous boon to thinking.” But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

I completely sympathize with this article. I find my mind slipping into neutral when I’m surfing the ‘net, even under the banner of “doing research.” In fact, my computer is on the fritz and will be until Friday (I’m using another computer here at church). I have gotten more accomplished with my stack of books, my Bible, and my moleskine than I have in weeks! You think there’s a pattern here? Ugh! The time warp of the Internet will undo us all!

Speaking of Moleskine: I am hooked, and I have Joe Thorn to blame for it. I was a Mead Composition Notebook guy, but found that the paper, the wide ruled nature of the layout, and the ease with which it falls apart made me begin to look for other options. So, I tried a Moleskine, and now I love it and am hooked on journaling, especially when it comes to sermon preparation. I find that if I write out my research in this journal rather than type it out on a computer, I absorb the content a bit more and the sermon becomes more personal to me as well.

Also, others have written articles about how much easier organizing via paper as opposed to PDAs have made life easier. One way is by a gentleman named Mark Dwight, the founder of Rickshaw who has a nice video on his use of Moleskine journals.

Whatever you use, be sure and journal and never underestimate the power of pen and paper.

Categories: culture, Moleskine | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

How Tim Russert’s Legacy Could Teach Expositors

As many of you are aware, Tim Russert, NBC’s Washington Bureau Chief, died of a heart attack on June 13, 2008, at the age of 58.  

As someone who follows politics a great deal, I found myself quite saddened by this loss.  Russert brought such dignity and class to this area.  I learned a great deal from him without really being aware of it.  I would like to include some quick thoughts on Russert’s legacy that I believe could be some great lessons for expositors.

  1. Family was a priority.  His love for his dad and his son shone through.  In 1994, the Buffalo Bills (an American football team for all you internationals) had made it to their fourth consecutive Super Bowl.  They had lost the previous three, so he ended the newscast with his dad being with him and a plea to God for him to give the Bills a win.  Tom Brokaw chastised him: “Oh, you Irish Catholics… you can’t pray on TV.”  Russert just smiled.  When the Bills eventually lost 30-13, Brokaw shouted over to Russert, “I guess God’s a Southern Baptist!”  That one slice of his life showed how he loved his family and his hometown.  Russert wrote a book about his dad entitled, “Big Russ and Me” as a tribute to his dad.  Many commented that is seemed only fitting that he died on Father’s Day weekend.
  2. Preparation was a must.  To a person, his fellow journalists lauded him for his preparation.  He always had the great question as well as the great follow-up question which went to the heart of the real issue and was the real news.  I took note here.  I find it a great compliment when congregants and fellow pastrs note how prepared a preacher seems.  Nothing is a substitute for preparation.  Expositors should/must know this.  Never come before your people unless you have come before God and His Word.  It will show.
  3. Congeniality at its best.  Russert always struck me as fair in dealing with politicians from any party.  Some newscasters show their true colors.  Should we be modeling James 2:1 in how we deal with others? 

Like I said, just a short word.  Our heartfelt condolences go out to Tim’s family and to the news division at NBC News.  The presidential election coverage will not be the same. 

 

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Will You Keep Short Accounts?

(This sermon, Could You Be Charged With First Degree Anger?, was preached at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY, on Sunday, June 8, 2008. To read through Part I, click here; Part 2 here. To listen to other audio sermons, click here.)

Jesus ties it all together in Matthew 5:25-26:

Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

So what is Jesus saying? Jesus is saying, “Dear disciples and all who would hear, you have a window of opportunity.” One day, you will have to give an account of your life before the Great Judge of the Universe, Jesus Christ. When that happens, it will be too late, for the Scripture does say, “It is destined for man to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

But until then, God in his great patience and care gives us an opportunity to take care of those issues. So this would be a great time to put this all together and go step-by-step through this.

First, remember that you and all other human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).

Secondly, admit that you do get angry at times—and don’t make excuses.

Thirdly, take steps to rectify the situation immediately. Even in times of worship, where one’s pride may take the fore because you are attending, now is the time to get up and go reconcile. Frederich Buechner once wrote, “Of the 7 deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back–in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.” So deal with it now!

Fourth, trust that God will administer justice, if need be.
Romans 12:19-21 says:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” [20] To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” [21] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

If your trust truly is in Christ alone, then that Gospel trust must bleed over into every area of life — especially this one.

Lastly, ask God to change your heart. In Ezekiel 36:25-26, God says, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” When God works this, we will become more sensitive to his working. True followers of Christ have this, but it takes a diligent pursuit. If you want a hardened heart, then do nothing — that heart will come and drag you right into hell. If you want to be right before him, ask him to change your heart.

Conclusion

Yesterday, I came across a documentary by NPR on the life of Gerry Mulligan. Mulligan was a premiere tenor sax player who was a very influential in the field of jazz in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, and was even working on a project when he died in 1996. Mulligan was an innovator, but he was also a bit headstrong. He knew what he wanted his arrangements and his band to sound like — even if it meant going against what others in the field felt was un-doable. While he made a number of friends and gained a ton of admirers, he also had some on the other side of that fence.

In 1995, Mulligan found out he and another one of his former band members, found out they had cancer. These men shared great admiration for one another, but also some serious artistic differences that would often strain the relationship. In light of the cancer, made this very wise comment, he said “When Gerry and I found out we had cancer, all those disagreements were just taken off the table and we focus on the issues we agreed on. None of those things we disagreed on in the grand scheme didn’t matter.”

This is something to ponder, isn’t it? While there are certain this we can never compromise on (Christ, the Bible, the resurrection, the Trinity, the local church, etc.), there are issues that will plant the seeds of anger and contempt in our hearts. What will it take for us to repent of those issues? Let me ask it another way: what will God have to do in your life to help you see that nothing is worth destroying your relationship with God or with your neighbor? Will it have to be cancer? A church split? A catastrophe of some sort? Or have Jesus’ words penetrated to such a degree that his word is sufficient?

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Reconciling To Your Brother Is More Important Than Religious Duty

(This sermon, Could You Be Charged With First Degree Anger?, was preached at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY, on Sunday, June 8, 2008.  To read through Part I, click here.  To listen to other audio sermons, click here.)

What would you do if I stood up here in front of you and gave you a guilt-free reason to miss church? It would serve as one reason to be absent that would excusable. Well, you don’t have to look to your pastor for a reason — look to Jesus. Matthew 5:23-24 says:

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Jesus tells us that reconciling to your brother is more important than even the most important of religious duties. Someone may say, “Well, doesn’t this idea contradict what the writer in Hebrews says about “not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25)? Doesn’t the Spirit say that if we are Christians that we must never miss church? Yes it does, but it also tells us in verses 23-24:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.

How can you stir up one another to love and good works if you realize that someone has something against you (or, even more obvious, you have something against someone else that is fracturing that relationship)? You may say, “They are acting that way for no reason.” Are you so sure about that? D.A Carson notes that if we continue to engage in personal or public worship having a fractured relationship and we are not willing to deal with it, worship “becomes a pretence and a sham if the worshiper has behaved so poorly that his brother has something against him.”

What’s the issue? If someone has something against us, we cannot simply shake that off by saying, “Oh, that’s their problem! If they want to fix it, they know where I am.” Yet, according to Jesus, this issue is so serious that there is no rationale for justifying this away and putting it on someone else. Your worship and fellowship with God is on the line. Psalm 66:18 says:

If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.

1 Samuel 15:22 shows the prophet Samuel saying,

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.

Why? Because you have underestimated what God did in taking the first step in reconciling you to himself! Col. 2:13-15 says:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, [14] by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. [15] He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Notice that God didn’t just wipe them away — those trespasses he set aside came at a high cost. He initiated the whole thing. And when we consider that God atoned for our sins by placing their horrific penalty on His own Son so we may have hope of life everlasting in Him, then we turn around and struggle with issues that are trivial.

If you find yourself using church or other religious issues to numb the Holy Spirit’s work in your heart, then you are only deceiving yourself.

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Have You Committed First-Degree Anger? (Part I)

During my freshman and sophomore year of college, I worked at Winn-Dixie as a produce clerk. During that time, I met some interesting folks and became good acquaintances with them. One of those individuals was a young man named ________________________. He and I went to the same high school (I graduated a year ahead of him), but I didn’t get to know him until we worked at W/D. Even with our religious differences (he being an atheist and I being a Christian), we got along quite well. He was a nice, polite, mild-mannered guy with freakish strength.

Imagine my surprise when, after I transferred to Palm Beach Atlantic College and returned back home from break, my mom showed me the front page of the paper with his picture on it with the headline, “Charged with First-Degree Murder, receives a 25-year sentence in prison.” As I read the story, I couldn’t believe how it all happened. He started dating this girl in high school, when her ex-boyfriend started coming around and stalking her. And, to make a long story short, Alex took care of the problem in a most cold-blooded, cold-hearted way.

It’s been 16 years since this happened. And I began to think about the disposition with which __________________ presented himself at work. All the while, that anger and ultimately that murder was lying in his heart that whole time. It is an emotion that lurks in the heart and takes no prisoners. Some say it’s OK: “It’s just the murder that makes the front page and occupies the lead stories on the 6:00 news. It’s OK to be angry, just as long as you don’t make the front page, right?” They have a case. You never see anyone sentences to first-degree anger, do you?

This was the mindset during Jesus’ time. The Pharisees led the people to think that as long as you kept the law outwardly, you were righteous. Some looked at Jesus and thought he was trying to relax the commands of God — but in reality, Jesus goes deeper to God’s true intention behind the command. It’s not simply about an external obedience but an internal transformation.

1. Anger plants the seeds of murder in our hearts (Matthew 5:21-22).

My wife has found a new hobby. Over the last few weeks, she has been working hard at planting flowers and shrubs and such in order to make the house look like a home. She has such a gift for this — and the results are obvious. But at the beginning, each of these flowers started with a small seed that was planted at just the right depth and nourished in just the right way. The result is a beautiful, colorful bloom!

Anger plants the seeds of murder in our hearts. Again, Jesus says,

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ [22] But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22).

The first question asked is, “Wait, is all anger bad? Isn’t there some anger that is good? Wasn’t Jesus angry?” Yes, Jesus had at least two bouts of anger when dealing with the moneychangers in the Temple. And there are times when God calls us to show a righteous anger at some great injustice done in the world to others.

But this an anger that is toward others who have offended us. James Boice notes, “If we are honest, we must admit that far more often we are angry at some wrong done against ourselves, real or imaginary, some insult or some deserved neglect.” Carson notes that Jesus is like a good preacher who confronts his audience. “You think yourselves far removed morally speaking from murderers — have you ever hated? Have you never wished someone were dead? Have you ever committed character assassination? Such vilifying lies at the root of murder, and makes a conscious realization that he differs not a whit, morally speaking, from the actual murderer.”

All of our words and our actions begin with the attitudes of the human heart. We find ourselves so offended that we tend to say, “I wish they would just go away.” They begin to use their tongue to humiliate — even to the point of saying, “Worthless! You fool!!” We want them to hurt as badly or more so than we hurt.

James 3:3-6 puts into view exactly the horror of the tongue:

If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. [4] Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. [5] So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! [6] And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

You may say, “Those are just words — how can one equate harsh words with murder?” Easy – because they come from the same seed of anger. What is the rub ultimately? The rub is that we are harboring seeds of murder against another one of God’s creation. MacArthur tells of a Jewish legend in which a young rabbi named Simon Ben Eleazar who had just come from a session with his famous teacher. The young man felt especially proud about how he handled himself before the teacher. As he basked in his feelings of wisdom and holiness, he passed a man who was especially unattractive. When the man greeted Simon, the rabbi responded, “You Raca! How ugly you are. Are all men of your town as ugly as you?” “That I do not know, “the man answered, “but go and tell the Maker who created me how ugly is the creature he has made.”

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