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Monday, May 18, 2020

Moving forward to a new normal in Christ


Do you like doing new things? Most people would probably answer yes, as long as that new thing was your own idea! But often we’re pretty resistant to change. We like doing things the way we’ve become used to doing them. It seems to work for us, and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So we’re hearing a lot of talk about wanting things to go back to normal.

Here’s another well-worn phrase, made famous by many rock-solid church-goers throughout the ages: “We’ve never done it that way before.”

Welcome to the era of change!

We’ve never had a “Drive-in Worship Celebration” before. We’ve never done a Facebook live-stream before. We’ve never pre-recorded our services and uploaded them to YouTube before. We never had a YouTube channel before. We never offered online giving before. We never had Zoom prayer meetings before. We never had Sunday School class on that internet thing before.

So welcome to the new normal! What if, instead of talking about things going back to normal, we start looking to see where God is leading us to go forward? What if the old ways weren’t really in line with where God wanted us to be in the first place, so we start moving forward to the new normal kind of life in Christ that we should have been living all along anyway?

What a time in the history of the church to re-evaluate what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and how we’re getting it done! God is graciously giving us a chance to hit the pause button and to reset the priorities of our lives according to His plan for His glory.

And I believe that reset begins with personal and corporate revival.

If ever there has been a time in our generation to allow the Lord to breathe new life into His church, it’s now! It’s time for the dry bones to hear the Word of the Lord and come to life!

It’s time for the church to wake from her slumber, her lethargy, her apathy, and return to the Lord with her whole heart, to seek the Lord with laser-focused pursuit, and embrace a new normal life in Christ Jesus in which we capture a new passion for holiness, a new devotion to prayer, a new love for the Word of God, a new joy in Christ Jesus, a new spirit of gratitude and praise, a new hunger for corporate worship, a new desire for fellowship with God’s church, a new compassion for people in need, a new zeal for evangelism, and a new realization of our stewardship responsibilities.

Friend, let me assure you that God delights to do a new work in the lives of those who are willing to come to Him. And even if you’ve never before put your faith in Jesus for salvation, now’s a great time to let Him give you a new life. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Perhaps the old things were broken after all.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

I should stay outside


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Despite some seasonal allergy issues, I love being outside in the spring, enjoying the glory of God’s creation. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1).

But on the rainy days when I’m stuck indoors I’m trying to wrap my head around this reopening plan for Illinois. Maybe I’m wrong, but it feels like we’re playing a game with the kid who keeps changing the rules along the way, cheats on the score, and moves the bases farther apart when you’re not looking.

I want to believe that these lockdown efforts have been sincerely made in the interests of protecting peoples’ physical health. And I’m willing to give some benefit of the doubt regarding decisions made from the early models and curves based on very limited data, so that we didn’t end up with a worst-case scenario.

But my confidence in the opinions of “experts” has significantly eroded. Obviously, not even all the experts agree on the models used or the means employed to reduce the spread of the virus. And when you hear too many conflicting reports and changing scenarios and interesting death counts and curious funding incentives combined with increased governmental control, isn’t it time to rethink things?

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m all for protecting people, especially the most vulnerable among us, and I believe we should wash our hands frequently and exercise commonsense approaches to safety.

But when Pritzker says he’s following the science to save as many lives as possible, yet has already defied all science in championing the causes of abortion and transgender dysphoria, you’ll have to pardon me for my suspicions.

And when his family is allowed to travel freely while the rest of us are urged to stay home; and when Mayor Lightfoot can get her hair done, but you can’t; and when one former President could go golfing before the golf courses were allowed to open, but you couldn’t, doesn’t that at least give us reason to say, “Now, wait a minute here…”?

Well, I’ve probably said too much. I’m complying so far, but I’m praying for wisdom. I’m praying for those who’ve suffered from this sickness and for those who are grieving the loss of loved ones. I’m praying for those who have lost their jobs and for small businesses that are having to make excruciating decisions. I’m praying for the farmers who haven’t lost their jobs but are losing their farms. I’m praying for the children staying at home, but whose home is not a safe place for them to be. I’m praying for the isolated widows who need contact with other people and for our collective emotional and mental health, as well.

My list is long, but mostly I pray that God will give us all the faith to trust in Him no matter what. In the meantime, maybe I’d better just stay outside.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Helpful Hugs and Healing Touch


If you’re not connected with a church body right now, let me encourage you to find us on Facebook at Petersburg First Baptist Church. It’s not like, you know, gathering in person to fellowship and worship with other live human beings, but we hope to give you an online place to find encouragement and hope and life in Christ Jesus as we seek to comply with the new “rules” of the day.

You can also watch our worship services on YouTube by searching Petersburg IL FirstBaptist Church and look us up on our website at fbcpetersburgIL.org.

If I knew for sure that I was not a carrier of COVID-19, I would stand on the square and offer free handshakes and hugs to anyone in need. There’s a personal connection through touch that just feels good and is important to our well-being.

On the website healthline.com, scientists offer seven benefits of hugging. Similar findings are published online in Time, Psychology Today, and WebMD, but here’s what I found first in my quick research project.

1. Hugs reduce stress by showing your support. When we’re going through a difficult or painful experience, a comforting hug reduces the stress.

2. Hugs may protect you against illness. In one study, participants with a greater support system were less likely to get sick, and those who did had less severe symptoms than those who didn’t.

3. Hugs may boost your heart health. Reductions in blood pressure and heart rate have been discovered in a study related to holding hands and hugging with a romantic partner.

4. Hugs can make you happier. Maybe you’ve heard of the “cuddle hormone” Oxytocin, a chemical in our bodies associated with happiness and less stress. Scientists say its level rises when we hug or touch or sit close to someone.

5. Hugs help reduce your fears. In people with low self-esteem, scientists have found that touch can reduce anxiety.

6. Hugs may help reduce your pain. In a study of people with fibromyalgia, participants were given six therapeutic touch treatments, reporting an increase in quality of life and reduced pain.

7. Hugs help you communicate with others. You probably don’t need a scientific study to know that!

And the more you can get, the greater the effects.

One of the hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry was His healing touch.

He touched the leper and cleansed him. He touched the hand of Peter’s mother-in-law and the fever left her. He touched the eyes of the blind and gave them sight. He even put His fingers in the ears of the deaf man with a speech impediment, and “after spitting touched his tongue” (Mark 8:33), and the man’s ears were opened and his tongue released. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend trying this at home.

And, of course, Jesus took up the children in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands on them (Mark 10:13-16).

Please don’t mis-hear me saying that we should ignore wisdom in the midst of a pandemic virus, but let’s not forget the value of the human touch. And if you’re in need of healing, Jesus offers the touch of His saving hand to you, free of charge.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Standing in the Gap


“And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none” (Ezekiel 22:30).

God’s judgment against His people Israel did not come flippantly nor hastily. In fact, He sent prophet after prophet warning the people to turn away from their sin. He gave repeated opportunities for the people to ditch their idolatry and return to Him with all their heart. He pleaded with His beloved to recognize His own faithfulness and goodness and mercy toward them so that they would desire Him more than other lovers.

But their stubborn, selfish, sinful wills prevailed. And if you’re looking for a catalogue of their misdeeds, the prophet Ezekiel outlines such sins as bloodshed and violence, idolatry, sexual immorality, bribery and extortion, oppression of the poor and needy, failure to keep and teach the holiness of the Lord, and forgetting God.

So the Lord eventually poured out His holy, just, and righteous wrath upon them. God raised up king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to invade and destroy Jerusalem. Many were killed by the sword and many were taken into exile.

As the book of Ezekiel details, God was vindicating the holiness of His great name among His own people and among the nations. The repeated theme is this word from the Lord: “And you shall know that I am the Lord.”

As I read and think about these things, the verse I led with in this article strikes me. What if God had found just one man who would stand in the gap before Him? Was there no one among the princes or the prophets? Was there no movement of righteous men who would lead the people back to God? Were there no faithful and courageous followers truly devoted to the Lord who would be found on their knees pleading night and day for the land’s repentance and sincere return to the ways of God?

Do we deserve any more time to repent than Israel? He is patient with us, yes, and does not wish that any should perish, but that all should repent (2 Peter 3:9). But the Day of His judgment will eventually come. Isn’t God giving us a window of opportunity right now to recognize our need to turn away from sinful things and turn back to the living God?

Is there anyone to be found today standing in the gap before the Lord so that our land may not be destroyed?

Oh, that such prayers might prevail and we might long for the holiness of God! Oh, that the church might humble ourselves before the Lord and seek His glory! Oh, that we might come running to the merciful arms of our loving Father and find forgiveness and grace abounding through Christ Jesus our Lord!

When God looks down will He find us standing in the gap?

Monday, April 27, 2020

Heavenly-minded


Well, this has been anything but a typical Easter season! But I do hope that your joy in the Lord is in no way diminished. I hope that your faith in Jesus is stronger than ever. And I hope that your longing for heaven and the resurrection that awaits believers in Christ grows in anticipation with each passing day.

Doesn’t this havoc on earth make you hunger for the heavenly courts of the Lord?

I’m still wondering about all the stuff going on here, but I know that the resurrection of Jesus wins the day. So rather than getting weighed down with worry over what I cannot control, I find peace and hope in setting my mind “on the things above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).

Because when I fix my eyes on Jesus and seek His face and turn my heart to heaven, these troubles below seem but light and momentary in comparison with the eternal glory that far outshines them all.

At the same time, however, we’re living in the present and I want to be sufficiently heavenly minded so that I can be of some earthly good. And I know that means doing such work as praying for one another, encouraging one another, serving one another in love, and teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom. Fellow Christians, let us be found faithful to building up the body of Christ and caring for the least of these.

It also means proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of heaven, that Jesus, the Son of God, died the death we deserve on the cross for the forgiveness of sin, was buried, and was raised to life on the third day. And everyone who repents from sin and believes in Christ will not perish but have everlasting life. Friend, if you’re not trusting in Jesus for salvation, now would be a good time to believe!

And now would be a great time to pray for our leaders. I don’t know if we’re taking enough steps to curb the virus or have gone way overboard. I don’t know if this is God’s way of disciplining or judging us, or if China’s setting us up to take us over, if it’s an inside job, or it’s just an innocent virus that we’re doing our best to combat.

But I know we need to ask God to guide those who are making life-altering, globe-impacting decisions. And I know it would be wise for God’s people to “humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways,” expecting the Lord “will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

And I know that because of the resurrection of Christ, death is defeated and swallowed up in victory, so I’m seeking the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, and where heaven’s looking sweeter every day.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

A better day is coming!

Like you, I hate this. I hate the fact that people all over the world are getting sick and dying from this novel virus.

I hate that people are losing their jobs and don’t know how they’re going to make it. I hate that others are working twice as hard under extremely difficult and stressful conditions.

I hate that we can’t gather as a church. I hate that family get-togethers are out. I hate that schools are closed. I hate that grieving families can’t even have a proper funeral. I hate that weddings can’t be celebrated as they should. I hate that nursing homes and prisons and hospitals can’t have visitors when they need encouragement the most.

I hate that some politicians are using this crisis to point fingers, create division, and seeking their own agendas. I hate the way the media fuels panic and fear through sensationalizing seemingly every story.

Thanks for listening. Just had to get that off my chest.

It’s a mess, isn’t it?

At the end of the day, though, what I really hate is the curse of sin that brings all kinds of trouble and sorrow and death into this world.

But you know what? I am awed to think that Jesus stepped into our mess to rescue us from all this pain.

This week in particular we’re reminded that the Holy One took on human flesh and dwelt among us, felt our sufferings, and eventually laid down His life for ours in the most horrific fashion.

I’m humbled, but I’m hopeful because we also remember and rejoice in Jesus’ victory over sin and death by His resurrection from the grave on the third day. We know that these “light and momentary afflictions” will be far eclipsed by the eternal weight of glory revealed when Jesus Christ comes again and establishes His reign of eternal peace, righteousness, and joy. In that Kingdom there will be no more pain, no more tears, no more death.

So we do not lose heart. Rather, we “fix our eyes on Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).

Keep the faith, my brothers and sisters in Christ. There’s a better day coming, for He is the resurrection and the life, and whoever believes in Him, though he die, yet shall he live (John 11:25). Our King has triumphed, death has been swallowed up in victory, and we shall be raised with Him in glory!

Friend, if you’ve not repented and put your trust in Jesus, then I urge you to do so now before it’s too late! “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:6-7).

Monday, April 6, 2020

Waiting...but ready!


Have you ever had to wait for someone to show up? UPS guy, furnace repair guy, cable guy, Schwann’s guy. You know they’re coming sometime on Monday between 10 and 6 (remember back in the day when we weren’t all staying at home anyway!), so you just have to wait around the house all day until they show up.

And you know that if you leave for just 5 minutes to go run an errand, that’s when they’ll come and you’ll miss them and have to reschedule the whole thing for another day. You almost hate to even go to the bathroom because as soon as you sit down you’re sure to hear a knock at the door! Hopefully, at least, you can wash some dishes or do that easy repair job you’ve been putting off so long.

Waiting is a hard job, but when the knock comes you want to be ready.

It feels like we’re in a season of waiting through this pandemic. We don’t know the impact this virus is going to have on our health, our finances, our relationships, our emotional state, nor do we know how long it’s going to last. Some are already feeling the pain and the strain of it all. Maybe you’re afraid or anxious for what may come – and there is certainly a right level of concern to take care of ourselves and others.

But let me urge you not to waste your waiting in panic or fear. Instead, now is the time to look to Christ Jesus as Savior. Now is the time to call upon His name for help. Now is the time to get your spiritual house in order so that when He shows up you’re ready.

The Bible tells us that Jesus will come again, and it’s the faithful and wise servant taking care of the Master’s work who will be ready for His arrival.

Let me ask you this: Are you ready for that day? Is your house in order? Are you trusting in Christ for salvation? Are you obeying His will?

Listen, we don’t get a second chance at this. Whether the coronavirus takes you or you get hit by a bus or swept away by a tornado or whether Christ Himself returns today, are you ready to meet the Lord? Tomorrow may be too late.

Why not confess to Him now in a prayer of repentance and faith, “Lord Jesus, I know that I have sinned against You, and I am truly sorry. I believe that You died on the cross to forgive my sins, and so I confess my sin to You and ask You to cleanse me from all my sin and guilt and shame. And I believe You rose from the dead on the third day, and I trust in You now for new life, abundant and eternal. Come and take control of this heart and make me live to honor You as Savior and Lord. Amen!”

If that’s your prayer, I’d love to talk with you more. Call me at the First Baptist Church number, 217-632-2488.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Working all things for good

While I would love to write an article explaining in detail how all of this chaos is going to work out, let me instead share an anchor of hope from Romans 8:28, which says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

It does not say that God “might” work things out for good, or that we “hope” things turn out okay. It says we “know” this to be true! There is no shadow of doubt about it. Just as surely as I know that 100 follows 99 and spring follows winter, I know that God will work good out of this pandemic.

Now, let me clarify that this promise pertains to those who love God and are called according to His purpose, because it’s not given to those who reject Him.

Do you love God? Now would be a pretty good time to get on board, I would say! With tomorrow so uncertain, don’t you think now would be the right time to take spiritual inventory? Perhaps this mess serves as your spiritual wake-up call. Let me urge you to answer!

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

In other words, God took the initiative to send Jesus on a rescue mission to save us from our sins. He did it because He loves each and every single person on the face of this planet with such a deep love that He does not want us to perish, but to repent and believe the good news of Christ. Jesus died in our place on the cross to take away our sins, that we might be forgiven and made right with God and have the promise of eternal life.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

So maybe part of the good that God’s working out means your salvation!

And maybe part of the good also means the sanctification of God’s people. If this virus leads us to abandon foolish ways and lean upon the Lord more in faith, if it causes us to renounce ungodliness and embrace holiness, if it means that we indulge selfish appetites less and love our neighbor more, then God’s working out a good purpose through it all.

Ultimately God not only wants us to come to Him through Jesus for salvation, but to conform us to the very image of Jesus, that we might reflect the light of Jesus into the world for the glory of God.

So if we know this whole thing works out for our good and for God’s glory, then let’s anchor our hope to this truth and walk in faith, loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. 

Monday, March 23, 2020

Biblical perspective in the midst of the turbulence


Some biblical perspective while riding on the crazy train called the COVID-19 panic/pandemic.

1. Move forward in faith, not fear. God is still in control. He’s still sovereign. He’s still omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. He’s still our Refuge and Strength. He’s still our Shelter in the time of storm. He’s still our Rock, our Fortress, our Dwelling Place, and our Shield. We can trust Him now just as always. Let’s move forward in faith, not fear. I don’t know much about tomorrow, but I know who holds tomorrow. So let’s keep trusting in the provision of our heavenly Father to meet our needs one day at a time.

2. Walk in wisdom. If we’ll listen to the Lord, leaning not on our own understanding but following His ways, then He’ll guide us in the practical wisdom we need. Of course that means being sensible about such things as washing your hands, not coughing on people, staying home if you’re sick – things we ought to be doing already. But it also means we’ll be self-controlled, discerning, humble, compassionate, willing to listen to good counsel, diligent, and always seeking to do the righteous thing as we reverently fear the Lord.

3. Pray, pray, pray. Let’s ask God to end this virus and bring healing. Let’s ask Him to grant wisdom to all those who are making decisions – from the President and world leaders to state governors and local school superintendents to medical professionals to business owners, and everyone in between. Let’s pray not only for the health of those impacted by this virus, but for the relational and financial provisions of everyone who is impacted by this crisis.

4. Seek to serve those in need. As surely as we must pray, we must be willing to serve. The needs are many. Let’s look for ways to help our neighbors. Can you go pick up some groceries for an elderly neighbor? Can you offer some childcare for a single mom who can’t afford to miss work? Can you help a spare a roll of toilet paper for a friend in need? Sorry, couldn’t resist. If we’re willing to look with love, we’ll find plenty of ways to help others.

5. Point people to the hope we have in Jesus. Now is the time to turn in repentance and faith in Christ. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow. Now is the day of salvation. Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). But God put His love for us on display when He sent His Son to die in our place on the cross, so that our sins could be forgiven and we could be made right with God. There’s no better time than right now to receive this gift of eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord, and with it find a hope unshakeable, peace unexplainable, and love undeniable even in the midst of the turbulent ride.

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.