On the Plains of Moab Blog
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September 21, 2012, 2:11 PM

Two Sermons

Before I begin my new sermon series on Evangelism (October 7th), I must spend a couple of weeks taking up a very serious topic.  This upcoming week is really a place setter.  You see, on the 30th, I wish to talk about the state of the church -- the PC(USA) to be exact.  I want to talk about our understanding of the Faith.  I want to talk about what I hope and trust you will find to be undeniable and essential core truths that anchor our faith to the One who has called us.  We need to talk about doctrine.  THE Truth.  Yes, I know, very heavy stuff.

You have heard me recite from time to time one of Steve Brown's ecclesiastical aphorisms:  The more Christians know theology, the meaner they get.  In the pulpit this Sunday, I want to arrest any possibility that New Hope would ever go there.  I've been there.  I've lived it.  I've seen it.  And it ain't pretty!  But I'll tell you something that is just as ugly:  Well-meaning Christians who, whether through ignorance of the Scriptures or bull-in-the-china-shop intentionality, shape and dispense a sacred Word that blends in seamlessly with a changing culture.  "We don't believe THAT anymore."  "We know better NOW."  "You can't take the Bible literally, you understand."  "We are ever evolving in our understanding."  "You can't expect that Jesus, a man of his times, would know of modern psychology and science."  "The Bible was a tool for control by the early church, we must re-interpret it for our times."  "We must de-mythologize the text."  On and on, ad nauseam!

So, this Sunday, we need to reaffirm and remind ourselves of who we are and who we will be, no matter what.  I am preaching from Romans 12:9-21.  I preached on this text a couple of years ago.  I am including the text of that message below so that you can see a fuller treatment of the topic.  This Sunday will be a little different --  this time out, I will be using this text as a backdrop to what we need to hear.

If I were to preach the sermon that I intend to preach on the 30th without setting it up this upcoming Sunday, you might walk away thinking your preacher was some sort of unrelenting, hard and cold minister.  I am not.  I am passionate about what I do and what I believe.  I am pained to the core of my soul that I must preach about the state of our denomination.

Please pray for your pastor as the Lord brings it to mind as I pray for you.

(The picture, incidentally, is of a young Martin Luther before the Diet of Worms in 1521.  But, more on that later!)


New Hope Presbyterian Church, September 26, 2010

From the sermon series 7-UP & Closer 2 Christ:  Loving in the Concrete (Sermon #6)  Text:  Romans 12:9-21

Tough words to open this morning:  “Let love be genuine.”

A professor of psychology had no children of his own, but whenever he saw a neighbor scolding a child for some wrongdoing, he would say, “You should love your boy, not punish him.”

One hot summer afternoon the professor was doing some repair work on a concrete driveway leading to his garage.  Tired out after several hours of work, he laid down the trowel, wiped the perspiration from his forehead, and started toward the house.

Just then out of the corner of his eye he saw a mischievous little boy putting his foot into the fresh concrete.  He rushed over, grabbed him, and was about to spank him severely when a neighbor leaned from a window and said, “Watch it, Professor!  Don’t you remember?  You must ‘love’ the child!”  At this, he yelled back furiously, “I do Love him in the abstract, but not in the concrete!”

When you think about it for long, this story exposes one of the persistent shortcomings of living out the Christian life:  We’re good at loving in the “abstract”; but not in the “concrete.”

In a similar vein, I read a fascinating book a few years ago on American history:  This Rebellious House.  [Steven J. Keillor, This Rebellious House:  American History & the Truth of Christianity, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press) 1996.]

The author’s main argument in the book is that throughout history -- especially American history -- governments, corporations and individuals have feigned Christian morality, principles and motives, all the while doing exactly the opposite of what Christ would have them to believe and do.  Quite provocative reading!

Likewise, in theory, I love everybody!  But the reality is; there are some people that I don’t really like all that much -- much less love!  If you are honest, you know that is your reality as well!  It’s hard to love abrasive people who rub you raw.  It’s hard to accept people who are untrustworthy, devious or just plain mean.  Think about how much it hurts when someone betrays you or slanders you in some way.  The exhortation to love that person seems personally humiliating; offending your personal sense of right and wrong.  After all, just deserts are deserved; and doesn’t the Bible teach that you should “do unto others as they do unto you”?  (No!  cf. Luke 6:31; Matt. 7:12).

1 John sings this stinging refrain over and over:  “…whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (1 Jn. 2:11).  “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 Jn. 3:15).  “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 Jn. 4:20-21).

Let’s look more closely at those opening words:  “Let love be genuine.”  The Greek word translated “genuine” literally means “un-hypocritical.”  When it comes to loving your “neighbor,” stop the pretense.  Stop play-acting.  Stop talking out of both sides of your mouth.  The kind of “love” spoken of here is avga,ph..  It describes the kind of love that exists within the Trinity and which God demonstrates towards us:  Selfless, sacrificial and persistent.

Too often, we love because of what we can get.  We love until there is conflict or disappointment in the one loved.  But that is not the kind of love that God wants us to have for each other.

The heading in my Bible for our reading in Romans 12 this morning says, “Marks of the True Christian.”  Some call this section the apostle Paul’s “recipe for love.”  “…Each staccato imperative adds a fresh ingredient” to love:

“Abhor[ing] what is evil [and] hold[ing] fast to what is good….be[ing] fervent in spirit, serv[ing] the Lord….be[ing] constant in prayer….Rejoic[ing] with those who rejoice, weep[ing] with those who weep….associat[ing] with the lowly.”

However, I want you to notice the troubling change in intensity [perhaps the level of difficulty?] beginning at verse 14:  “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Now, you have to admit, it’s hard enough loving the people who are the easiest to love – but loving our enemies?

Verse 17, Repay no one evil for evil.”

Verse 18 “…so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

Verse 19, don’t seek revenge; that’s God’s job, not yours!

Verse 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.’”

This stuff is straight out of Jesus’ playbook.  In fact, from chapters 12-15, Paul quotes Jesus either directly or indirectly no less than fourteen times.

(1) 12:14 = Luke 6:28;  (2) 12:17 = Matthew 5:39;  (3) 12:18 = Matthew 5:9, Mark 9:50;  (4) 12:20 = Luke 6:27;  (5) 13:7 =Mark 12:14, 17;  (6) 13:8 = John 13:34ff, Matthew 22:37ff;  (7) 13:9 = Matthew 7:12;  (8) 13:11a = Luke 12:56;  (9) 13:11b,c = Mark 13:36, Luke 21:28;  (10) 14:10, 13 = Matthew 7:1;  (11) 14:12 = Matthew 12:36;  (12) 14:13 = Matthew 18:7;  (13) 14:14, 20 = Matthew 15:10, Mark 7:19;  (14) 14:17 = Matthew 6:25; 33.  (John Stott, Romans:  God’s Good News for the World, Downers Grove: IVP, 1994, pp. 318-19)

Far from seeking revenge, genuine love expects you to do right by your enemies; to go the extra mile in returning love for evil.

That curious expression “heap[ing] burning coals on [your enemies] head” has been somewhat of a mystery in the history of interpretation.

The story is told of a woman involved in bitter fighting with her husband.  Seeking professional help she was asked by the counselor, “Have you tried heaping burning coals on his head?” to which she responded, “No, but I tried a skillet of hot grease!”

According to recent study, it appears to come from “an Egyptian penitential ritual [arising from the actions of a thief by the name of Cha-em-wese.]  The story goes that he returned a book of magic stolen out of a grave by carrying a basin of fiery coals on his head.  Carrying the fire signified his consciousness and attitudes of shame, remorse, repentance, and ultimately correction.”

[Likewise] “When the enemy has steeled himself to meet hate with hate and is impervious to threats of revenge, he is vulnerable to a generosity which overlooks and forgives, and capitulates to kindness.” (From Bruce K. Waltke, Proverbs 15-31, V.2, NICOT 2005, pp.331-32)

“Heaping burning coals” (cf. Proverbs 25:22) is a way of bringing your enemy around to repentance.  Bringing another person around to repentance is the most loving thing that one person can do for another!  Perhaps this is why in the very next breath, Paul says:  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

My friends, love must be genuine.  This is our calling in this world.  This is what God wants from you.  The world preaches something much different:  Get even.  Love only those who love you.  Return like for like.  Watch out for number one.  Seek your own happiness at all costs.  Hate your enemies.

I close with this challenge to you:  Let genuine love begin here in this church.  Let’s learn what it means to really love one another, and then, when we do just that, let’s see what God will do in and through us.

You have heard the Word of God.  No consider it well.   Amen.

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