Monday, February 3, 2020

Surviving Suffering

To those impacted by the devastating fire at the Old School Apartments last week, I offer my heartfelt condolences, prayers for God’s comforting presence, and help with things you need. In the next few paragraphs I want to offer you some foundational truths intended to bring encouragement and healing in troubled times.

I’d also like to say a brief word of appreciation to all those who have already responded to this crisis. From the first responders to neighbors to family members to those helping organize relief efforts to everyone who’s shown love to the hurting, thanks for coming together to assist in time of need.

When life brings pain and suffering, we need to know where to turn. We need to know there’s hope. We need to know God.

Many times we ask, “Why me?”, and wonder, “Where’s God when I need Him?”, and question, “How can God allow bad things to happen like this?”

These principles I’m going to share with you here hardly begin to scratch the surface, but I offer these truth anchors in prayerful hope that you’ll find a place to hang on. In our Sunday School class at Petersburg First Baptist Church we’ve been studying these very questions and discovering some helpful and hopeful realities. Here are some for starters.

1. Suffering is a part of living in a fallen world. God created a paradise for Adam and Eve. Everything was good and perfect until Satan tempted Eve to disobey God, and it all began to unravel. Disease, brokenness, pain, hardship, death – all can be traced back to the fall in the Garden. We live in a world cursed by the consequences of sin, but those who know Jesus are waiting with hope for the day of redemption through Christ.

2. God’s actions are often beyond our understanding, but we can trust Him. God’s thoughts and ways are much higher than ours and His greatness is unfathomable. Charles Spurgeon said, “Even when we can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.” He doesn’t owe us explanations, and it would be the height of folly for us in our human finiteness to blame the omnipotent God for our hardships. Read Job’s story in the Bible and pay attention to God’s response in chapters 38-42.

3. Jesus willingly experienced pain and suffering for our salvation. Here’s the best news I can give you today. Because Jesus endured the horrors of crucifixion on our behalf, for our sin, He not only knows our pain and sympathizes with our weaknesses, but gives us confidence to “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). He endured the cross for the joy set before Him – the eternal glory that will far outweigh this light and momentary trouble. And in Him we too can know the joy and hope of the eternal life to come.

Much more could be said, and I’d be happy to talk with or pray with you if you’d like. Contact me at 217-632-2488. May the God of all comfort fill you with peace in Christ Jesus.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Here’s a question for your Thursday morning. What’s really going to happen at the end of the day? Not this day, necessarily, but “The Day.” You know, the Day at the end of the age.

As in, “Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near…” like the prophet Joel, and many others, warned (Joel 1:15). And where we read, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief…” (2 Peter 3:10).

So what is that “Day” and what’s going to happen then?

Let me illustrate it this way. Right now there are just two football teams left playing for the Vince Lombardi trophy. Go Chiefs!

At the end of the season, every team goes through various processes of evaluation. Successes, disappointments, expectations, performances. From the coaching staff to the players to the guy who mixes the Gatorade, all aspects of the team are judged. Sometimes players get re-signed with big bonuses. Sometimes coaches get canned. Sometimes Gatorade guy gets to move up to guy who holds the headphone cable for the coach so he doesn’t trip over it.

That’s the day. And the Day of which the Bible speaks will be a day of judgment.

It will be a day in which, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:41-43).

I read recently where Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, “I don’t know how you can believe in a God who wants to condemn most of the planet to a fiery hell. What type of loving, sensitive, omnipresent, omnipotent being wants to condemn this beautiful creation to a fiery hell at the end of all this?”

If I could sit down with Aaron I would humbly explain to him that God has absolutely no desire to condemn anyone to hell. Yes, our sins separate us from a holy and righteous God, and because of our sin we deserve death. But God, who is rich in mercy and because of the great love with which He loved us, sent His Son on a rescue mission to save us from a fiery hell and bring us into His everlasting Kingdom.

I would have Aaron read Ephesians 2:1-10 and 2 Peter 3:9 and John 3:16-21. I would walk him through Romans 5:6-11 and more, to show him the wonders of God’s love and pray that he would repent of his sin and believe in Christ for salvation, for “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, for the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).

Aaron Rodgers probably wouldn’t give me the time of day, but if you’d like to talk to someone about such things, give me a call at 217-632-2488. The season will be over soon, and I want you to be ready for that Day.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Cherishing life as created by our wonderful Maker

Good morning! Long time no see. I took a little writing break, but if you’ll allow me back into the conversation, maybe we’ll both be encouraged and challenged to think critically and biblically about life matters from the milestones to the mundane.

It’s not like there’s not been enough to write about. I’m already gelling with some ideas for future articles with topics like:

“Reasons why legalizing recreational marijuana is a bad idea”

“Did you know that thousands of people in Iran are turning away from Islam to Christianity?”

“Why cheating in baseball matters”

“What do you suppose it must have smelled like on the ark?”

“Life lessons learned from trying to train a puppy”

“Please, please, please tell me you’re not still texting and driving!”

And a host of others!

But there is one pressing topic on my mind today.

Do you know what the leading cause of death worldwide was in 2019? Not cancer, not heart disease, not malaria or HIV, not gun violence, not stroke or diabetes or Alzheimer’s or suicide. No, the 42.4 million deaths from abortion in 2019 was more than twice the number of all worldwide deaths caused by cancer, smoking, alcohol, traffic accidents, malaria, and HIV/AIDS combined (based on numbers from the World Health Organization).

About a million of those were in the U.S., if that matters. And, of course, it is 100% preventable.

Oh, how I wish people knew the intricately detailed, creative, wonderful ways God works to knit us together in our mother’s womb! I wish they understood the depth of God’s amazing love for every single child and how all their days are written long before they draw their first breath. I wish people grasped the precious gift of life authored by our Creator from the very moment of conception, so that abortion truly becomes an unthinkable atrocity.

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:14).

Let’s pray for abortion to end in 2020. Let’s ask God to change minds from wickedness to righteousness. Let’s celebrate the value of every single life, every single pregnancy. Let’s encourage more families to become foster and adoptive parents. Let’s vote for more pro-life laws and legislators. Let’s sound the trumpet for life and praise God for all His wonderful works.

And to the woman who has had an abortion (or the husband / boyfriend who’s urged it), I lovingly say: There is forgiveness and healing and peace in Jesus Christ. You have not disqualified yourself from the mercy and grace of the Lord. He is so willing to pardon and cleanse anyone who repents and believes the good news.

That good news is the message of Jesus’ death on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin and His victory over the grave that brings us new, abundant, and eternal life. Won’t you come to Him for salvation today?

Monday, August 19, 2019

Praying our kids back to school

I hope the school year is off to a good start for everyone. We helped our oldest son move-in to his sophomore year at college last week, and our youngest starts his freshman year in high school. It’s an exciting season – maybe a little nervousness (or a lot!) for some, but a new path full of adventure awaits at every turn.

One thing is for sure: Our students need our prayers for the journey. And so do our school staff. And so do all of their families. Thankfully, God hears and answers prayer!

In case you’ve been living on a remote island somewhere lately, you know that things ain’t like they used to be. I could only begin to scratch the surface in saying that an increased lack of respect creates many classroom headaches, or that drug and alcohol issues are probably more prevalent than most people realize, or that cursing, gossiping, bullying, gender identity issues, lack of parental support, mental health problems, financial concerns, teacher shortages, or a host of other things are worse than they were when we were in school.

And aren’t you glad that not every stupid and embarrassing thing you did in school got captured on video and posted to social media for all the world to see?

And what about the constant burden of trying to prevent your school from becoming the next Columbine (or Sandy Hook or Virginia Tech or Stoneman Douglas or Northern Illinois or you name it)? I never once worried that someone may walk into my high school and try to kill people. But students today think about that.

Let me urge you, parents, grandparents, concerned community citizens – pray for this school year!

Ask God to shield our students from all harm. Pray that God will fill their hearts and minds with what is good, that He’ll surround them with positive friends and influences, that they’ll be respectful and kind to one another, and that they’ll grow in knowledge and wisdom.

Pray, too, for all the teachers, administrators, school board members, coaches, kitchen staff, bus drivers, aides, custodians, and other school staff. Ask the Lord to give them grace and wisdom and patience and love for their students. Pray that they’ll find joy in what they do, and that their lives would serve as a good role model for the students.

And pray for the families of all the above. Let’s ask God to fill their homes with stability and security. Let’s pray for environments of love, encouragement, discipline, and peace. Ask our Father in heaven to lay foundations of godliness and grace in Christ Jesus as parents seek to train their children in the ways of the Lord.

Friend, your prayers can make a difference. We call upon the name of the One for whom nothing is impossible, a God of goodness and mercy, whose “way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him” (Psalm 18:30).

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Changed lives

Do you believe the gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to save and change lives? I do! History provides overwhelming evidence of men and women whose lives were transformed by the mercy and grace of God.

Think about the apostle Paul. Before his encounter with the risen Savior, he hated Jesus, and he hated anyone who liked Jesus. By his own admission, he was the “chief of sinners,” but Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and Paul’s life was forever changed.

Then there’s Mary Magdalene, a woman with seven demons (Luke 8:2), and some say she was the ill-reputed “woman of the city, who was a sinner” (Luke 7:37). But she found freedom and forgiveness in Christ and became one of his most devoted followers.

No one is beyond the reach of God’s mercy.

John Newton was a slave trader, a drunk, an obscene and vile man. But Jesus came to his rescue, turned him from his sinful ways, and used him mightily to preach the gospel. Newton later wrote one of the most beloved hymns of all time, a song which detailed his own conversion, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

Again I say, no one is beyond the reach of God’s mercy!

What if the madman who went hunting for humans in El Paso had heard and believed the gospel? The hatred in his heart would have been dissolved and 22 innocent people would still be alive today, because the gospel drives men to repent from sinful motives like racism and replaces it with reconciliation and brotherly love.

What if Jeffrey Epstein had heard and believed the gospel? His young female victims would have been spared from his depraved advances, because the gospel gives men freedom from sexual sin and does not exploit or abuse others for one’s own selfish and sinful desires.

Friend, I don’t know where your journey has taken you, what you’ve done, what you’ve said, or who you’ve hurt along the way. But I do know this: You are not beyond the reach of God’s mercy. God loves you, and He is patient with you, not wishing that any would perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

Count me as one who’s life has been changed by the power of the gospel, as well. And yours can be, too. Turn away from sin today, believing that Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness for your sin and rose from the dead to give you new, abundant, and eternal life.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Can we please bring back the Golden Rule?

Maybe you’ve heard the story of two guys golfing one day near a cemetery. As the one was preparing to putt, a hearse turned into the cemetery. The guy immediately looks up, drops his putter, removes his cap, and bows his head. After a couple of minutes he gets back to the game and finishes his round.

When the men return to the clubhouse, his friend mentions how moved he was by the respect shown to the deceased. The man acknowledged him saying, “I really feel it was the least I could do for her; after all we were married for the last 34 years.”

Okay, so maybe that’s not the best example, but wouldn’t you love to see real respect for one another become part of the fiber of our nation? Where have you gone, Aretha Franklin?

Let’s make it a personal crusade to be polite, kind, and considerate of others. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with everyone about everything, but surely we can find a way to have healthy conversations about controversial topics without being angry, rude, or hostile, and without resorting to yelling and name-calling like spoiled little 2nd graders.

Let’s bring back the “Golden Rule:” Treating other people like you’d want them to treat you. We can do that, can’t we?

Parents, it starts with us. Take responsibility for teaching your children respect for other people. Model it for them and instill it into their way of life.

If your children hear you often talking bad about your boss, berating your spouse, dissing the President, slamming their teachers, complaining about this person and whining about that situation, you’re training them to be disrespectful.

But if they hear you speaking respectfully about people – from the mighty to the lowly, rich and poor alike – even when you may not see things from the same perspective, they’ll learn to show civility and courtesy toward all people. 

Adults, it takes all of us. I know it’s the rage in this age to get outraged over every perceived offense and every slight injustice, but can’t we learn to be patient and kind with others? Can we give people the benefit of the doubt and not assume everyone’s out to make your life miserable? Can we learn to really listen before we speak and discern the truth before we judge? Can we at least be nice, and not obnoxious, when dealing with people even when we disagree?

Isn’t that how you’d like to be treated?

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Jesus, Matthew 7:12).

Monday, July 22, 2019

Zooming in to Focus on Jesus!

Hard to believe the summer is winding down so quickly! Here it is the end of July, school will be starting back up in just a few weeks, and before you know it, we’ll be seeing the leaves change colors and feeling the cool morning air of autumn.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, one big event remains at First Baptist Church: VBS!

Our Vacation Bible School starts next Monday, July 29, and we’d love to invite all children from age 4 – 6th grade to come and join us! It’s from 6:00-8:00 each evening, Monday through Thursday, and we’ll have VBS Family Day on Sunday, Aug. 4, at 10:45 am, followed by a good old-fashioned potluck dinner.

This year’s theme verse is John 20:31, “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

We’ll zoom in to the Scriptures to focus on four accounts which show Jesus to be the Son of God. Maybe I say this every year, but I think it’s important for you to know right up front that our desire is that as we help your children see Jesus more clearly, we pray that God will open their hearts to believe in Him as Savior and Lord.

And we want that for you, too. Listen, there’s nothing more important than knowing Jesus. It’s literally a matter of life and death – eternal life and eternal death.

“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12).

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:17-18).

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).

The choice could not be more clear. Do you believe in Jesus the Son of God who came to save you from sin by dying in your place on the cross, taking the full weight of God’s wrath upon himself so that we could be forgiven, cleansed, and made new?

Do you believe in Jesus who rose from the dead on the third day, showed himself alive to his followers, then ascended back into heaven where he sits at the Father’s right hand?

Do you believe in Jesus who promises that he will one day return and take his church to be with him forever in the Father’s house?

Jesus declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Friend, my pray for you, your children, and your grandchildren, is that God will give you faith to believe; that you will turn from your sins, find forgiveness and freedom in Christ, and follow Him as Savior and Master and King. For by believing you will have life in his name.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Godliness makes a nation great

Happy 4th of July! Hope you’re celebrating our nation’s freedom with joy and gratitude.

And while I appreciate President Trump’s desire to make America great again, let me offer the biblical prescription for making America or any nation great: “Godliness makes a nation great, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34 NLT).

Godliness makes a nation great. Not its cultural diversity, not its GNP, not its arts and entertainment districts, not its technology, not its healthcare, not its athletic successes, not its military might, not its political structure, but its godliness. 

Godliness exalts a nation because godly behavior leads to such things as the working out of justice among its citizens, mercy and compassion for the weak, respect for God-ordained authority, love for one’s neighbor, honesty and integrity in the workplace and the marketplace, attitudes of humility and acts of kindness toward each other, and reverence for the commands of God which always lead to the well-being of any community or nation.

Godliness makes a nation great, because godly people seek to build others up and never tear them down. Godly people stay faithful to their marriage vows and avoid the snares of sexual immorality. Godly people raise their children in the discipline and instruction of Lord. Godly people manage their finances well and don’t gamble their homes away. Godly people control their appetites and aren’t addicted to harmful desires such as drugs and alcohol.

Godliness makes a nation great, because godly people (who are able) work diligently and refuse to take advantage of the system. Godly people learn contentment and keep themselves from the love of money. Godly people make wise decisions in the home, in business, in community affairs, in the courts, in the schools, and in every facet of life, while rejecting the foolishness of corrupt courses of action.

Living in a nation full of such people sounds great, doesn't it?

Sin, on the other hand, is a disgrace to any people. It is a disgrace to accept and applaud the things that God abhors. The Bible is not unclear as to what is godly and what is ungodly. Where women shout their abortions, where the LGBT crowd march proudly through city streets, where pornography and alcohol flow freely, and where lying lips, injustice, arrogance, and greed often appear virtuous, national disgrace follows like the stench of a sewer plant.

Where violence seems to be an answer, where strife and discord are sown in plenty, where tempers flare quickly, where truth is traded for lies, where words fly unfiltered, and where fools flaunt their folly, the people bear disgrace and destruction for their sin.

This is why we need the gospel, because apart from the saving and transforming work of Jesus Christ in our lives, none of us can live a godly life. We’ve all sinned, fallen short of the glory of God, and deserve His wrath. But in the power of His Holy Spirit dwelling in the hearts of believers, we can faithfully walk the path of godliness.   

In Jesus and according to the light of His Word, we can become a great nation. Let’s celebrate this 4th of July with gratitude for God’s grace, pleas for His mercy, and a commitment in Christ that we will be godly people for His glory and for the national good.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Avoiding the Sin of Sexual Immorality

Not all preaching leaves you with warm and fuzzy feelings when you head home. Sometimes the truth exposes sin and the Spirit convicts and you know some things in your life need to change – and change quickly.

And if you’re willing to undergo spiritual surgery to remove the cancer of sin and follow the remedy of the resurrected life then the outcome can truly be the holy life that God desires in you. Which is better than dying.

One such area of sin that plagues our generation is sexual immorality. I preached this past Sunday on the topic, as uncomfortable as that conversation sometimes is, because we need to clearly hear what God has to say about the subject, rather than allowing Hollywood or the music industry or friends (or anyone else!) to shape our values and beliefs.

Thankfully, God’s Word doesn’t leave us guessing.

“Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14) sounds pretty clear. So do the words of Jesus, “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).

So does Romans 1:26-27 (NLT): “That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.”

And just to cover all the bases, Paul writes to the church, “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints…for you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure…has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:3, 5).

Friend, make no mistake – God’s not messing around here. The consequences of sexual immorality of all kinds ought to be enough to scare the sin out of anyone. In Revelation 21:8 we read: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Does that mean there’s no hope for those who have sinned? Of course not. Jesus died for every sin, and those who confess and repent find forgiveness and grace. But I want to plead with you in Christ-like love to avoid sexual immorality – and pursue the holy life you’re called to in the Lord.

So enjoy the gift of sex within the bounds of marriage (Proverbs 5:15-19), but heed the strong warning about temptation to sexual sin:

“Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, for many a victim she has laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death” (Proverbs 7:25-27).

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Blunders and Grace in Marriage

One of the best pickup lines you’ll ever hear is found in The Song of Solomon. Ladies, see if your heart doesn’t flutter as you envision your beloved saying sweetly to you, “Your neck is like an ivory tower. Your eyes are pools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim. Your nose is like a tower of Lebanon, which looks toward Damascus” (7:4).

I don’t know what the tower of Lebanon looked like. It was undoubtedly an impressive structure. Straight, most likely. Stately, perhaps. And probably big, as towers tend to be, which, of course, every girl longs to hear about her schnoz.

Surely this was both meant and taken as an affectionate compliment, as the context shows by the way Solomon describes the physical beauty of his bride. Personally, I would caution any young man seeking to win a young maiden’s heart to perhaps find an alternative way of articulating your delight in her proboscis, no matter how stately or straight or impressive a structure it may be.

With that said, in spite of my own blunders and failures along the way, I am profoundly grateful for the loving faithfulness of my wife as we celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary this week. She is a gift from the Lord, a treasure of grace, and a “helper just right” for me (cf. Genesis 2:20), even if sometimes I neglect to appreciate such help, as stubborn-minded husbands are prone to do.

Do you want to know one of the keys to a good and lasting marriage? We’re not perfect by far, but through 25 years of experience I can tell you what’s kept us together – it’s centering our lives in the grace of Christ Jesus. You knew I’d give you a churchy-sounding answer, didn’t you? But I’m only saying it because it’s true. Or to use this analogy, His grace is the Gorilla-glue which has fastened our hearts and lives together in an unshakeable and unbreakable bond.

It’s His grace that enables us to love one another even when we don’t feel like it. It’s His grace that compels us to forgive each another when we’ve been wronged. It’s His grace that keeps us faithful to our marriage covenant because we want our lives to honor Christ as Lord.

We struggle at times with communication. We don’t see every issue eye to eye. We can observe the exact same situation and come to contrasting conclusions about it. We want to achieve the same goals, ultimately, but would take different routes to get there. Anybody relate?

Yet through it all it’s the grace of God holding us together. The same Lord who united our hearts as one when we said “I do” is the same Lord who has strengthened us to stand as one when otherwise we might feel like giving up and throwing in the towel.

Whether your marriage today could use just a little lift or is need of a major miracle, let me encourage you to find help in the grace of Christ Jesus. He can change attitudes that need adjusting. He can transform hearts from stone to flesh. He can mend what has been broken and restore what has been shattered. No wonder we still call it amazing!

Let the grace of Christ take center stage in your life, and let Him fill your marriage with love and joy and peace and purpose like you’ve never known before. You can start right now by pouring out your heart to Him for mercy and turning humbly to Him for help.

And as you do, I’d suggest refraining from any attempts at Old Testament poetic expressions concerning the scope and shape your wife’s nose.