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Monday, September 14, 2020

You are loved!


For whoever needs this today – you are valued greatly and loved deeply.

I know the stress right now feels overwhelming. I know the nights are painfully lonely. I know the regrets of past mistakes haunt you.

But there’s a greater love. It’s the love of the almighty Maker of heaven and earth, the One who carved the seas and filled them with all kinds of living creatures. It’s the affection of the majestic Author of life, the One who set His glory above the heavens yet cares for every single sparrow and every single sunflower and every single spider that weaves such fascinatingly designed webs that it leaves one in wonder over the wisdom of its Creator.

And more than these – by a long shot – the Father in heaven loves those whom He has created in His own image. And that includes you.

You are not here by accident, chance, or coincidence. No, you were carefully, thoughtfully, skillfully “knit together” in your mother’s womb by God. You were “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Every single one of your days has been written in His book before you drew your first breath (see Psalm 139:13-16).

Oh, friend, if you could see yourself through the compassionate eyes of your Maker you would never again have reason to hate your life. Despise the sin within? Sure. But to detest your life? How could you, when you’re loved with an everlasting love by the One who is good and merciful, faithful and true?

Let me give you an illustration.

A man in Dundee, Scotland, was confined to bed for forty years, having broken his neck in a fall at age fifteen. But his spirit remained unbroken, and his cheer and courage so inspired people that he enjoyed a constant stream of guests. One day a visitor asked him, “Doesn’t Satan ever tempt you to doubt God?”

“Oh, yes,” replied the man. “He does try to tempt me. I lie here and see my old schoolmates driving along in their carriages and Satan whispers, ‘If God is so good, why does He keep you here all these years? Why did he permit your neck to be broken?’”

“What do you do when Satan whispers those things?” asked the guest.

“Ah,” replied the invalid, “I take him to Calvary, show him Christ, and point to those deep wounds, and say, ‘You see, he does love me’. And Satan has no answer to that. He flees every time.”    

You see, He does love you! No matter where you’ve been, no matter what you’re going through – look to the cross and see how much He loves you.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Why not join us this coming Sunday at Petersburg First Baptist Church, and we’ll bask together in the riches of God’s unfailing love!

Friday, September 4, 2020

Yes, you can memorize Scripture!

 


When was the last time you tried memorizing Scripture? You can’t, you say? I say you can! If I gave you a million dollars for every verse of the Bible you memorized, would that motivate you to give it a shot?

You’ve memorized the Pledge of Allegiance. You might have learned the Gettysburg Address. You probably know the Lord’s Prayer and maybe the 23rd Psalm by heart. I think you can do it! 

Let me give you a few helps to encourage you to try to memorize one chapter from the Psalms. 

1. Choose a Psalm that you love. If your heart is engaged along with your mind, you’ll find great joy in the experience.

2. Remember the value of Scripture memorization. A soldier would never go to battle without his weapon at hand. When you have God’s Word abiding within, you’ll always have His truth at the ready. I could say much more on this point, but that’ll have to be another article. 

3. Set a deadline. This can vary by the length of the text as well as your own desired pace, but give yourself a month to memorize the 21 verses of Psalm 145, for example. But see No. 6 below. 

4. Be accountable to someone. This will keep you from quitting or putting it off. If you know that you’ll have to recite it in your Sunday School class or in a worship service, that will keep you moving forward. 

5. Ask God for help. Don’t neglect the power of God’s Spirit to impress His Word in your heart. Spend much time in prayer seeking the Lord. 

6. Read the passage out loud and often. Even before you start working on committing it to memory, read the entire chapter out loud at least 20 times. Maybe 50 times. 

7. Write it out by hand. This will help ensure that you are getting every word, comma, and period in place. 

8. Record yourself reading it, then play it back often as you’re out walking or driving. Try to read it with appropriate passion, emphasis, and context. 

9. Study the Scripture you’re working on. Who’s the author? Who’s the audience? What’s the occasion? What is God saying? How does it lead you to respond? 

10. Line by line, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, start memorizing it word for word. You might be surprised at how quickly it all comes together. 



Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Trusting in the King of kings


Who are you voting for in the upcoming Presidential election?

It’s already been a grueling election year – I suppose they all are – but the next couple of months could get ugly. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could learn to be nice to each other even when we see things from different points of view?

Certainly in terms of the future of our nation, however, there’s a lot riding on this election. The left and the right are fundamentally divided over the direction we should be heading. Differing philosophies, differing values, differing goals. It’s not just about the next four years; it’s about who we are as a country.

Yes, it is important that we vote. Christian, pray about your vote. Seek to align your vote with the principles of the God’s Word (as much as possible in an imperfect, fallen world with imperfect, fallen candidates). Honor the Lord with your vote. Love your neighbor with your vote. Seek the well-being of your city, your state, your nation with your vote.

But let me say that no matter what happens, our ultimate trust ought never to be in a mere mortal man, nor in a system of government, nor in the strength or prosperity of a nation. Our help is the God of Jacob and our hope is in the Lord our God.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright” (Psalm 20:8).

Nations rise and nations fall, and even the United States of America will not last forever, but the Kingdom of heaven will never fail.

“The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19).

“Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations” (Psalm 145:13).

“The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 146:10).

In a world of much uncertainty and chaos, a world of turmoil and upheaval, a world of violence and wickedness and suffering, I say why wouldn’t you turn to Jesus as King of your life? Why not trust Him to rule in perfect righteousness and justice as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace?

No politician ever gave his life on a cross for the forgiveness of your sins, but the King of Glory did. No other world leader conquered the grave by rising from the dead, but the King of the ages could not be defeated.

So let us “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Let us pray for those in leadership positions (1 Timothy 2:1-2), let us strive for godliness as sojourners in this world (2 Peter 3:11), and let us keep our eyes on the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16), who will come again in power and great glory (Matthew 24:30).

He’s got my vote!


Monday, August 10, 2020

Wearing out your Bible

 

So I got a new Bible from my wife for our 27th anniversary last week! Yes, she’s something of a saint for sticking with me all this time! Definitely my “good thing” from the Lord (Proverbs 18:22), a gift of God’s grace.

Do you know how hard it is to give up an old Bible? I’ve had this one since December, 2008, and have used it practically every day for almost 12 years now. There’s duct tape holding the outside cover together and packing tape on the inside. Its features include yellowed edges from fingerprints, a couple of coffee stains, underlined verses, and even faded maps.

Old Bibles are the best. The one I had before this was a Promise Keepers NIV Men’s Study Bible. That one was a Christmas gift from Amy in 1997. Nearly 1,600 pages of Scripture and study notes highlighting the godly character required of men. Remember Promise Keepers?

Here are the seven promises of a Promise Keeper, which are probably more relevant now than in the heyday of the big stadium PK events of the 1990’s:

Promise One: A Promise Keeper is committed to honor Jesus Christ through worship, prayer and obedience to God’s Word in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Promise Two: A Promise Keeper is committed to pursue vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises.

Promise Three: A Promise Keeper is committed to practice spiritual, moral, ethical and sexual purity. 

Promise Four: A Promise Keeper is committed to building strong marriages and families through love, protection and Biblical values.

Promise Five: A Promise Keeper is committed to support the mission of the church by honoring and praying for his pastor, and by actively giving his times and resources.

Promise Six: A Promise Keeper is committed to reach beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity.

Promise Seven: A Promise Keeper is committed to influence his world, being obedient to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

That’s the kind of men we need in our world today! Let’s rise up, men, and live bold, faithful, purposeful lives that impact our homes, churches, communities, and nation for the Kingdom of God. Let’s forge a clear path for others to follow, especially our sons and daughters. Let’s refuse to compromise with worldly ways, and let’s reject passivity by accepting responsibility to lead, serve, and influence this world for good.

Start today by getting out your Bible and hearing what God has to say to you. The single most influential way to grow in your faith is the consistent intake of God’s Word.

Wear your Bible out. Make notes in the margin when God says something you need to hear. Underline key verses that help guide your steps. Read it. Study it. Meditate on it. Pray through it. Memorize it. And most of all, do what it says. You’ll be well on your way to being a godly man.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Hypocrisy at its worst

Double standards, different sets of rules, contradictions – is it any wonder why the public doesn’t have much confidence in the recommendations for mitigating the virus, when large gathering of protesters and rioters fill the streets with the praise of the talking heads, but you can’t have youth baseball practice anymore? When funerals for George Floyd and John Lewis draw hundreds or thousands, but you can’t have more than 50 people when your loved one dies?

I could go on for a while. When climate change protesters leave streets littered. When BLM activists rage against the few legitimate cases of police brutality but ignore the overwhelmingly greater issues of black-on-black violence, fatherless homes, and rampant drug and alcohol abuse. When the experts and politicians claim to be following the science and the data to save lives but can’t see the plain biology showing that life begins at conception and continue to promote taking lives.

But even worse, when those who say they belong to Jesus live like the devil, the impact on an unbelieving world can have dire and eternal consequences. Christian, I urge you to live by faith as a witness to the world!

Hypocrisy may be one of the most cited reasons why people don’t attend church. They know that professing Christians ought to be living to a different standard than non-believers. That’s very true. They should be.

Those who claim to know Jesus should be marked by attitudes of compassion, humility, gratitude, joy, peace, and so on. They should display gentleness, kindness, self-control, mercy, forgiveness, patience, etc. And they should be men and women who pursue righteousness and holiness and purity in every way, while renouncing ungodly and worldly passions.

If your primary excuse for not seeking after Jesus or the fellowship of His church focuses on the hypocrisy of self-identified Christians, first of all I’m glad that you see that there is indeed an expectation that Christ-followers should obey the truth of God’s Word.

And I’m sorry that the reality of our lives doesn’t always align with the righteousness of Christ Jesus. We all still stumble along the way. We wrestle with the old habits and lose. We still fall for Satan’s lies and foolishly indulge the desires of the flesh. At least sometimes.  

Christians are a work-in-progress. We are in the process of being transformed into the likeness of Jesus, but the construction is often slow and imperfect.

But let me urge you to keep your eyes on Jesus and not on the hypocrites. Listen, we know we’re imperfect. That’s why we know we need Him more than anything! We need His forgiveness. We need His guidance. We need His strength. We need His help.

And you know you do, too. “But God demonstrates His own love in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). That’s an incredible kind of love that offers forgiveness and cleansing from sin. And the offer stands for you to receive salvation today.

Excuses won’t work on judgment day. Look to Jesus, the perfect and sinless Son of God, and believe in Him for everlasting life.


Monday, July 27, 2020

Congrats to the Class of 2020...now who's ready for 2020-21?

Let me start with a loud shout out to Mr. Brue, Mrs. McMahan, and everyone else who made the Class of 2020 PORTA High School graduation ceremony happen last Saturday night! You have gone to great lengths to give these seniors a memorable and honorable finale to their PORTA career, and I think I speak on behalf on many in our community in saying thank you!

I know you have many additional and seemingly impossible challenges on your plate right now, but in the midst of it all you sent the seniors out in style. Great job!

Let me also add publicly that the First Baptist Church prays for you regularly as you navigate through the ever-changing recommendations for what school will look like in 2020-21. Whatever happens will not be ideal for anyone, and it may not work for some, but we’re asking God to guide you in wisdom toward the best possible solutions for our families.

To the graduating class of 2020, way to hang in there! Perhaps the life lessons you’ve learned in flexibility, perseverance, and self-motivation (you did learn that, right?) will prove to be of greater value than the math class you would have coasted through anyway those last few weeks (with apologies to Mrs. Owens!).

Teachers – you also deserve a round of applause from the community! I bet they didn’t teach you how to do online instructional videos in college or prepare you for remote learning possibilities, but thank you for your diligence in reaching out to your students through a very challenging time. And even now as you wonder what’s going to happen in just a few short weeks, well, the Chris Farley meme Mr. Davis posted on Facebook pretty well sums it up!

You’ll have to see Farley’s facial expression (and hair) for full effect, but it says, “2020 teachers when they realize they have to provide in class instruction, live zoom instruction, online instruction for those who missed the live instruction, teach subjects they normally don’t teach and send work home for those who cannot access online content…” It’s LOL good!

A word to families and students, here, as well. My counsel to you is to make the best of whatever happens. I know that there are all kinds of worries and concerns and complications and what-ifs out there, and you’re having to decide between sending children to school, doing online learning, or even considering homeschool options. I pray God will give you wisdom to do what is best for your children in your situation, and by His help to do so without grumbling or complaining, but rather with patience, grace, encouragement, and love.

Friend, let me remind you that God cares about your situation, whether school decisions, family issues, job concerns, money troubles, or whatever. There’s no detail too small or mountain too large for Him to handle. “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears” (Psalm 18:6).


Monday, July 20, 2020

Treasuring Marriage


Maybe you’ve heard about the empty-nest couple, as the husband took off his glasses and lay his head on his wife’s lap she said “You know, without your glasses on you look just like the young handsome man I married.” He replied, “Without my glasses, you still look pretty good, too.”

It’s a good thing that marriages survive on more than good looks!

To all who are married and have stuck it out through good times and bad, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, and plan to keep doing so until death parts your ways, I offer you my most sincere commendation and appreciation. I’d give you a medal if I had one!

Marriage is a wonderful gift from God. It’s His divine design for the good of mankind, for companionship, friendship, intimacy, help, encouragement, strength, security, and joy. God knew what He was doing when He created a woman for Adam from his rib, “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” as Adam described this exciting new creature in the garden.

The Bible says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). In affirming this truth, Jesus went on to say, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6).

Contrary to popular opinion, marriage is not a man-made institution subject to change with the cultural tide. It’s God’s original blueprint for the flourishing of the human race. His design for marriage is for one man to be united with one woman in a lifetime covenant of faithfulness and love. It’s a perfect plan. And it’s the height of arrogance and foolishness for anyone to dismiss or attempt to redefine what God has perfectly created for good.

“Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4).

I want to encourage you to honor marriage! Treasure your marriage by thanking God for the gift of your spouse, by praying with and for your spouse, by asking God to make you a better husband or wife, by learning to praise and encourage rather than critique and put down, by listening well, by loving sacrificially and respecting one another graciously, by resolving to work things out, by asking for forgiveness when needed and freely granting forgiveness, by choosing to overlook some faults and maintaining realistic expectations.

And if you’re not married, will you seek to be a champion for God’s way of doing marriage? For the blessing of every area of community life – economically, socially, mentally, emotionally, morally, spiritually?

My in-laws are celebrating 58 years of marriage this week. My parents’ 50th wedding anniversary is in September. Amy and I will celebrate 27 years in a couple of weeks. Good, strong, thriving marriages aren’t based on good looks and they aren’t built on sand. It takes hard work, commitment, faithfulness, and love. But firm on the foundation of God’s grace, a marriage covenant can indeed last a lifetime.

Are you hearing the gospel?


If you haven’t heard a good toe-stepping, sin-revealing, soul-convicting message lately, then you may not be hearing from the Word of God. I’m not talking about angry hellfire and brimstone screaming from the pulpit, but if you can walk out of a church service week after week thinking about how good you are, or if you can read the Bible and conclude that you just need to try a little harder or do a little more, then you’re not hearing the gospel.

The revelation of a God who is holy and majestic and righteous and just ought to leave us humbled and broken that we are such sinful creatures. When Isaiah saw the vision of God’s glory it left him saying, “Woe is me! For I am undone; for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5).

Truth is, we’re all unclean, born with a sinful nature inherited from Adam. It’s not just that we do sinful things, say unkind things, or think bad thoughts, which is all true enough; sin is in our blood like green on grass.

And contrary to popular opinion, there’s nothing we can do to be “good enough” to earn a trip to heaven. Like asking Hulk Hogan (in his prime) to uproot a giant sequoia tree with his bare hands, we are utterly and wholly incapable of attaining a right standing before God on our own. No amount of religious deeds, no perfect church attendance, no dollar amount of an offering can atone for our sin.

It gets worse (before it gets better). The Bible says that because of our sin we deserve to die, to face God’s righteous wrath and just sentence of eternal condemnation in hell. It ought to be a sobering and woeful thought!

But the good news is that God has made a way for us to be saved! “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved…through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9).

This God who made the heavens and the earth, the sea and sky and all that is within it, this sovereign, glorious, holy and all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present Lord offers the gift of forgiveness and mercy and grace to all who come to Him through faith in His Son, Christ Jesus.

Friend, if you’re feeling conviction of sin and know that you need forgiveness, call out to Him now in repentance and faith. Receive Him as Savior and follow Him as the Lord of your life, and you’ll know the joy of this new, abundant, and eternal life that Jesus alone can give.

Are you hearing it yet?

Uncancelable!


Well, we’ve been meeting in person at the Petersburg First Baptist Church building for worship for four weeks now, and yes, it’s a little stilted still, a little awkward, a little different, but it’s all good.

To be honest, I was getting pretty exhausted with recording our services, preaching to a lifeless camera which never once cracked a smile at my attempts toward humor or gave me an “Amen!” or even shot back a quizzical look over a point I was trying to make. There’s nothing like communicating to an actual live congregation!

There’s a reason God calls His people to assemble themselves together regularly. We need each other. We need the face to face interaction, the eye contact, the smiles, the body language. We need the security of just being together, the sense of unity, acceptance, and fellowship. We need the experience of God’s presence permeating the hearts of those who gather in the name of the Lord to pray, sing, and hear His voice through His Word.

Now, I fully realize that not everyone feels comfortable with coming back to the building yet for health concerns, and I wholeheartedly respect that decision. While we are doing our best to keep all necessary safety measures in place, some people may need to keep opting out for a while. And those in the higher risk categories ought to carefully evaluate the risks.

Also, if you are sick, or if someone in your family is sick, then we would politely ask you to stay home. We’re still live-streaming our services on Facebook and uploading them to YouTube and our website where you can watch from home at your convenience.

Maybe it’s an overabundance of caution, maybe it’s not enough. All I know is that God is in control of all things and He is our help in all things, so we’ll keep looking to Him for wisdom, guidance, and grace, and seek to be faithful to His leading.

Either way, we are reminded that the church is not just the one-hour Sunday morning crowd. In fact, I’ve been encouraged and delighted to see many ways in which the people of God continue living in faith, serving one another in love, and shining out the gospel of Jesus.

Indeed, the church is un-cancelable!

Jesus declared, “Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18

Friend, if you belong to Jesus then let me urge you to renew your devotion to the Lord and to His church. Whether you’re able to meet in person with us (or your own local church), or whether you need to stay home during this season, keep walking in step with the Holy Spirit according to the truth of God’s Word, as we strive to “be” the church and not just people who “go” to church!

And if you’re looking for a church home, we’d love to welcome you.

Can we keep it?


“With liberty and justice for all,” America’s promise of freely pursuing a happy life still stands. It stands as a beacon of hope to those who seek to exercise and enjoy these unalienable rights endowed to them by their Creator. It stands as a torchlight drawing the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

But let us be assured that such a promise can only be kept when those living in its light live right.

The whole idea of America rests upon “we the people” embracing and embodying the fundamental values that gave birth to this nation, nurtured its growth, and inspired its greatness – the values grounded upon the teaching of Scripture.

If you have a chance to read Eric Metaxas’ enlightening book, “If You Can Keep It,” please do. The whole premise of the work flows from a short conversation that took place in the summer of 1787. Emerging from a room in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall on the last day of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was approached by a Mrs. Powell who shot her question directly: “Well, doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?”

Franklin answered succinctly, “A republic, madam – if you can keep it.”

If you can keep it. If this nation would rise, if this nation would prosper, if this nation would truly be a “more perfect union,” then it would wholly depend upon the people to self-govern according to the principles of God’s Word.

John Adams said it this way: “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity.”

Andrew Jackson said: “That book [the Bible], sir, is the bedrock on which our republic rests.”

And George Washington: “The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.”

We are a nation upon which God has shed His grace because He is gracious and because He blesses those who seek Him.

But we are in grave danger today. In our ongoing quest for freedom and justice to prevail, we have neglected the weightier matter of righteousness. We have forgotten God – or better said, we have rejected God – and our individual and corporate sins prevent the promise of “Blessings of Liberty” from reaching its fulfillment.

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).

Now is the time to repent and return to righteousness. We need to recognize our sin as sin against a holy God, and confess that we have forsaken the way of the Lord in favor of indulging our ungodly appetites for greed, sexual immorality, impurity, power, strife, violence, drunkenness, and all kinds of evil which we’ve substituted for good.

We need to come to Jesus, without whom we will not be saved from the wrath of God to come upon the sons of disobedience. We need to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,” (Titus 2:12), as His mercy and grace and love lead our hearts to Him in humility, gratitude, and obedience.

And we need to walk in the life-transforming power of the Holy Spirit, by faith, according to the truth of God’s Word, apart from whom we cannot please God.

Will we keep the promise of America? May God have mercy.