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.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Old school still rocks

As I add a little age to my years, the things that were normative back in my day are now considered “old school.” And you know what – I’m good with that.

In fact, I’m probably a bit more resistant to embracing that latest new thing than most people. I’d rather read a book in print than on a tablet. I trust Rand McNally more than Google Maps. And I like to tell the freckle-faced kid at the counter what kind of hamburger I want instead of swiping a screen and pushing buttons on a self-serve kiosk.  

I know I’m old school, but sometimes old school still rocks.

I grew up riding a three-wheeler, playing in the creek, and shooting bb guns. Our phone was mounted to a wall, our TV got three channels if you adjusted the rabbit ears just right, and when you wanted to hear your favorite new song you had to keep listening to the radio until they played it.

And watching Bible stories come to life on flannelgraph was cool beans!

For some of you reading this, your old school includes candlestick telephones, Amos ‘n’ Andy on the radio, and music on the phonograph. Not to mention fans in the windows, Spam for lunch, and cruising around in a Chevrolet Bel Air.

Now that must have been real swell!

Here’s one more old school throwback that still rocks – Vacation Bible School. Granted, we don’t do everything like we used to. The songs are new every year. We don’t have three hour sessions every day for two consecutive weeks. And we don’t even use flannelgraph boards anymore.

But the one thing that hasn’t changed is the message of Jesus Christ. Unapologetically we’re still old school when it comes to the truth of the gospel. We still teach the children that Jesus loves them, that He is the Son of God who came into this world to save sinners, and that by believing in Him they have everlasting life.

Let me encourage you to bring your children, grandchildren, and neighborhood kids (with their parent’s permission!) to VBS at First Baptist Church in Petersburg next week. It starts Monday, August 6, and goes through Thursday, August 9, from 6:00-8:00 each evening. Children from ages 4 through those who have just finished 6th grade are invited to come.

We’re located at 103 W. Sangamon Ave., just one block west of the only stoplight in town. If your child needs a ride, call us at 632-2488 and we’ll arrange transportation.

Then plan on joining us on Sunday, August 12, at 10:45 am for VBS Family Day, where the kids will showcase some things they’ve learned through the week, and afterward we’ll enjoy some hotdogs, chips, and drinks for lunch.

So, even though I’m writing this article on my Dell laptop and e-mailing it to the newspaper office while periodically checking my smart phone for text notifications, I’m old school at heart and looking forward to a great week of some old school VBS!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Steps to stewardship

Here’s a thought: Don’t spend money that you don’t have.

Here’s another thought: Spend everything you have for the sake of the gospel.

I’m not trying to go all Dave Ramsey on you here, but isn’t that first thought simple enough? If you don’t have the money to buy it, don’t buy it.

For the sake of this discussion, I won’t even talk about taking on a home mortgage, a car loan, or student loans, which are all overwhelming enough. But isn’t it crazy the kind of credit card consumer debt many people carry?

I read a recent report that said Americans paid about $104 billion in credit card interest and fees over the past year, with total credit card debt running $815 billion.

Think about this for a minute. There are approximately 250 million adults in this country. If my math is correct, that’s an average debt of $3,260 per adult, with the average person paying $416 per year in interest and fees alone. Other reports vary in their numbers, but you get the idea.

Our household is now three adults (counting our 18 year old son). If we were the average on this, our credit card debt would be nearly $10,000, and we’d be paying over $1,200 in interest and fees alone. I can think of hundreds of things we could do with $1,200 a year rather than give it to Visa.

Like spending it all for the sake of the gospel – and that begins with a good understanding of stewardship. Christians should know that everything belongs to God, and He will hold us accountable for how we manage what He has entrusted to us.

I want to encourage you to take some new stewardship steps today and embark on a pathway toward giving gratefully, joyfully, and generously to God through the church, so that the good news of salvation in Jesus can reach more people locally and globally.

Most people know that the Old Testament command to tithe means giving 10% of one’s income to the Lord. The people of God understood clearly that the tithe belonged to the Lord; it was holy to the Lord (Lev. 27:30). And in addition to the tithe, there were other offerings they were regularly told to bring.

However, not everyone was always faithful. Through the prophet Malachi, God told His people that when they refused to give the tithes and offerings, they were actually robbing Him because they were keeping for themselves what belonged to God.

Well, what about the New Testament? Does the command to tithe still apply, since we are not under the law but under grace?

Let me answer it this way: Living under grace in Christ takes us farther than the letter of the law. If people under the law were required to give 10%, how much more should we living under grace delight to give above and beyond the tithe?

Studies show today that tithers make up only some 10-25% of normal U.S. congregations (although some studies say it’s much less!), with the average Christian giving something like 2.5% of their income to the Lord, and many giving nothing at all. That’s not just a math problem, that’s a heart issue. It ought to be a joy for believers to give faithfully and generously to the Lord through His church, and 10% ought to be the starting point, not the finish line.

So here’s a four-step challenge to rethink the way you handle the money God has entrusted to you. 1: Remember that it’s all His. 2: Repent of the ways you’ve been robbing God and/or spending His money selfishly and/or foolishly. 3: Start tithing. 4:  Prayerfully seek His wisdom in how you manage all He’s given you.

Then see how His blessings flow through you to a world in need of Jesus.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Preaching sobering truth about hell

I don’t know which topics your pastor preaches about, nor which subjects your pastor does not preach on. My guess is that most major on things like doing good deeds, being humble and grateful, knowing God’s love, living by faith, and the importance of reading the Bible and prayer. That’s all good stuff. And hopefully the message of the cross and the way of salvation through Christ Jesus alone is always central to the sermon.

Some preachers rightly address current issues pertaining to the needs of the congregation or certain national or world events that impact our lives. Sermons addressing grief and suffering, racial equality, care for the poor and needy, etc., help the congregants view such issues through the lens of the Bible.

I should add here for the record that every sermon should be exposited from the Word of God. The pastor/preacher/teacher is charged with correctly handling the word of truth as an ambassador of Christ, which means saying what the Bible says and not preaching our own opinions, ideas, philosophies, or political correctness.

Even dealing with “controversial” topics and discovering what God has to say about issues like abortion, homosexuality, marriage, submitting to authorities, and being faithful stewards of God’s resources entrusted to us (like money!) are geared toward equipping the believer for the work of the ministry and for building up the body of Christ. And, yes, the Holy Spirit often uses the preaching of the Word to convict people of sin!  Pastors ought to not ignore hard or unpopular teachings for fear of offending someone, as long as the truth is spoken in love and God’s glory remains our greatest goal.

Let me ask you this: When was the last time you heard a sermon warning people about the dangers of hell? Of course, heaven is a popular topic, as it should be. But shouldn’t we also in zealous, unapologetic compassion warn men about the reality of hell, knowing that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23)?

What does the Bible say about hell? Jesus describes the torment of hell by calling it an “outer darkness” and a “place [where] there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12). In Matthew 25 He says, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’…And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (41, 46).

You can see why this is such a sobering and unpleasant subject to preach. But can you also see why it’s imperative that we understand hell’s horrors and the urgency of pleading with the unsaved to turn to the Lord?

In Revelation 14:9-11 an angel announces judgment against those who worship the beast, that they will “drink the wine of God’s wrath…and the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

Later in Revelation 20 John sees the great white throne, where the dead will be raised to stand before God in judgment according to their deeds. Those whose names are written in the book of life, that is, who have been redeemed from their sins by the blood of the Lamb, will be saved to eternal life. Those whose names are not found will be “thrown into the lake of fire” because their deeds will condemn them.

There’s no way to sugarcoat this. And I’d be unfaithful as a servant of the Lord if I tried. Friend, in love I urge you to trust in Jesus and be saved from the wrath to come. Put your faith in Jesus and find forgiveness and cleansing from all your sins. Find in Him mercy and grace in abundance. Find in Him peace and love like you never knew before. Find in Jesus joy for life in the present and the blessed assurance for life everlasting.