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. 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Walking in the Way of Wisdom (Part 2)

As promised, here’s the continuation of the article I wrote last week which highlighted the message I gave at the PORTA High School Baccalaureate on May 20.

For a quick review, the challenge is to walk in the way of wisdom, taken from Proverbs 3:1-6, emphasizing the kind of godly, biblical wisdom found in a right relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ. Our world desperately needs to see a new generation rising up in the healthy and holy fear of the Lord, which not only brings good to the soul of the believer, but also to all those whom he or she impacts.

So on this foundation here are two take-home assignments that will keep you walking in the way of wisdom throughout your journey.

1. Remember where you came from. “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart” (Pr. 3:1).

When I was going away to college, my mom wrote out two Bible verses for me on index cards and tucked them inside my Bible. She didn’t want me to forget where I came from, or the values she and my dad had taught me. My parents raised me to know right from wrong. They sought to instill in me ideals like humility and kindness, gratitude and compassion, honesty and integrity, patience and forgiveness.

They impressed on me such practical, biblical truth as expressed in what we call The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12). Jesus’ instruction here perfectly applies the command in Proverbs 3:3: “Let love and faithfulness never leave you.” So let the love of God flow through you to bless others.

We are also blessed here to have a school system which seeks to uphold biblical values such as respecting, serving, and encouraging others; developing responsibility, character, and a healthy sense of pride; and promoting teamwork, among other things.

Remember the godly values and character traits your parents, teachers, coaches, and others have tried to instill in you, and do not forsake their teaching, even in a culture which will attempt to undermine and mock and redefine what’s good and right and true for their own selfish and sinful purposes. And let me challenge you to honor them by thanking them for the investment they’ve made in your life.

2. Trust the Lord to lead you forward. I want you to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is trustworthy. Take confidence in His care and faithfulness toward you, in His protection, His provision, His purposes, His power, His goodness, and His love.

“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths” (Pr. 3:6).

A runner on first base needs to pay close attention to and follow the signs given by his third base coach. Whether the coach signals for a bunt, a hit and run, a steal, or whatever, the runner needs to trust the coach and do what he says. It usually doesn’t turn out well for the player who misses the sign or refuses to act on it.

Same goes for us. God can be wholly trusted to lead us in the way He wants us to go, even if we don’t always understand it. He will never lead us astray. But if we fail to consult our “Heavenly Coach,” we’re setting ourselves up for it to not end well.

My challenge for you here is the advice my Uncle Olen gave me – get connected to a group of believers who will help you walk in the way of wisdom. Whether that’s a Christian campus ministry or a local church, you need the encouragement and accountability from other Christ followers. There are too many temptations and too many other roads which lead to ruin, and there’s enough foolishness in the world already.

If you truly want to make a lasting impact for good, then walk in the way of wisdom – remembering where you came from and trusting the Lord to lead you forward.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Walking in the Way of Wisdom

It was an honor to speak at the PORTA High School Baccalaureate service this past Sunday night. Of course, having a son in this graduating class of 2018 is no small factor in my feelings for these young men and women, but to say that I’m proud of them and excited for what their futures hold is an understatement.

I want to take a few lines here to restate a few highlights from that message, and whether you’re graduating this Friday night or celebrating your 60th class reunion, perhaps you’ll be encouraged and challenged, as well.

The message taken from Proverbs 3:1-6 was entitled, “Walking in the Way of Wisdom.” This section of Scripture reads like a letter from a father to his son, perhaps as he’s growing into greater responsibilities of manhood, or maybe graduating from one phase of his life into the next.

It’s his plea for his son to live life according to godly, biblical wisdom – in the midst of a foolish world which often thinks we can get along just fine without God, writing our own rules and doing whatever seems right at the time in our own eyes. Godly wisdom throughout Proverbs is well described as “skill in the art of right living.”

This wisdom finds practical application in every area of everyday life. Raising your children right. Being a better spouse. Honoring your parents. Making good decisions, developing a strong work ethic, and using your time productively. Avoiding the traps of sexual immorality, violent and greedy company, and laziness. Learning self-control, humility, integrity. Caring for the poor, seeking justice, and striving for peace.

And when you take these truths to heart and live them out, you’ll be making an impact for good in your homes, your schools, your workplaces, your communities, and your world. A life lived walking in the way of wisdom is a happy life, a useful life, a purposeful life, and a satisfying life. And it’s available to all who will pursue it.

Of course, we need to understand the key to accessing such wisdom, which Proverbs 1:7 lays out plainly: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” So the first step is having a healthy and holy fear of the Lord, which means developing a sense of awe and reverence as we rightly recognize His holiness, His majesty, His power, and His glory.

The Bible says, too, that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are found in Christ Jesus (Colossians 2:3), and when you discover your treasure in Him, you’ve found the greatest joy known to man. The theme of Scripture reveals to us that Jesus is the Son of God who came into this world to save sinners – rescuing us from sin, death, and hell, and bringing us everlasting life in His Kingdom.

What could bring greater joy than knowing that in Christ our sins are forgiven and we’re made righteous in Him – because He paid our penalty on the cross? What could bring greater hope for better things to come than knowing that our eternal home is in heaven – because He rose from the grave on the third day? “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

If a house is not built on a solid foundation, then it doesn’t matter how awesome the floor plan is, nor how expensive the furniture in it, nor how impressed your friends are with your interior decorating – that house will not withstand the trials and storms that will surely come. The foundation is essential. Walking in the way of wisdom lays a solid foundation while living foolishly results in pain and destruction.

Let this truth soak in first, and next week I’ll share the two take-home assignments from this passage that will keep you walking in the way of wisdom.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Finding stillness in a sea of distraction

Have you ever been to a pool, let’s say at a hotel, and you thought maybe you’d like to get a few laps in, or at least take a little relaxing dip? So you ease your way into the water, but as soon as you do, this busload of kids jumps in out of nowhere and suddenly the pool is teeming with all sorts of sea creatures great and small. And your nice quiet swim just got drenched.

I don’t know about you, but that’s how it feels for me about every time I get ready to settle in and do some serious brain activity. It seems like my ability to concentrate on a task that involves focused thinking has been steadily declining. Like watching Albert Pujols’ career ever since he left the Cardinals.

I want to deliberate, contemplate, and meditate more deeply, but I’m so distracted by all the noise and commotion going on in the shallow end that I quickly lose focus. It’s nobody’s fault but mine, but I wonder what’s happened?

Is it an age thing? I may be getting older, but I don’t think I’m old yet. Isn’t “old” at least 10-15 years away, at whatever age you are?

Is it a cultural thing? Have we simply been conditioned to pay attention to stuff for like 10 seconds max, then we’re forced to move on to something else? Everything’s fast. I had to wait in the drive-through at a local fast food establishment last week for about 10 minutes, as four cars were in line ahead of me, and I was ready to go somewhere else because I was getting impatient.

Here’s my theory: I think it’s a distraction thing. I don’t really want this to sound like an old man rant, but it’s probably too late. I believe my attention span has deteriorated by the sound bite blitz, by scanning too many headlines and not reading past the first paragraph, by scrolling through Facebook feeds and feeling like three seconds is too long to read a post, and by my phone constantly buzzing with notifications that alert me to a new text message, a new e-mail, a new notification, a new story Google thinks I might be interested in, an update on a sports score to game I don’t care about; not to mention that even when I don’t hear it buzz I frequently feel the need to check it anyway.

It’s hard to swim laps when you’re stuck in the shallow end and there’s a busload of kids in the pool. I want to get back to the deep end. Not that I don’t enjoy the sound of 100 pre-pubescent shrilling and piercing voices bouncing off the water and echoing endlessly across the reverberating walls, but if I’m going to get in the training workout I really need for my health and fitness, or just a quiet relaxing float, then I’d better figure out a way to keep myself from being so easily distracted.

Do you know that even Jesus sometimes needed to get away from the crowds to spend time alone in prayer with His Father? He understood the value of physical and spiritual rest, and knew that in order to keep serving others like He did He also needed some quiet retreat time. And I don’t think He took His iPhone with Him.

May the Lord help us learn to sit in stillness sometimes, to meditate often upon His Word, to think long and deep and seriously about important issues, and to be able to hear His still small voice above the noise and distractions of the world.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Look at me!

I’m not saying people are stupid, I’m just saying please stop taking selfies in stupid situations. Just a few weeks ago a man in India was mauled to death by a bear while attempting to take a picture of himself with the animal. Two other people in that same area have recently been crushed to death by elephants, who apparently weren’t so enthused with the adventurous selfie takers.

An aspiring musician in Puerto Rico successfully took a selfie while riding a motorcycle. That’s pretty impressive, but insane. Unfortunately, he was killed when struck by a car while trying to post it online.

Then there was the guy who accidentally shot himself while taking a selfie with his gun. And the man who died while trying to take a selfie with a raging bull during the “running of the bulls” in Spain. And the three college girls who got run over by a train taking a selfie on the tracks! Um, like, really?

I’m not sure I quite understand the obsession people have with taking pictures of themselves, let alone the ones taken in extreme situations that lead to death. It seems to me there’s a wholly unhealthy desire to snap pictures of one’s self ad nauseam. The self-absorbed, self-centered, self-gratifying, self-indulgent, self-oriented, and self-serving culture promoted through so many social media platforms has done us no favors.

Listen, if your self-worth hinges on how many people follow you or like your posts, or if you need others to validate your preoccupation with status, wealth, adventure, or appearance in order for you to feel good about yourself for a little while, then may I suggest that you’re looking for identity in all the wrong places.

Can I show you a better way? If you really want to find your worth, true identity, and fullness of life, and then you need to learn to lose it.

Say what? Here’s what Jesus says about truly experiencing life abundant and eternal, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man gain in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)

In other words, while the world says, “Promote yourself,” Jesus says, “Deny yourself.” While the world tells you to go get all the money, power, pleasure, fame, and self-glory that you can, Jesus tells you this is all worthless if you lose your soul in the process. The way to save your soul is to find your life in Christ. And to find life in Christ means to die to your self.

I’d say that’s a pretty good trade. I give up my life with all of its selfish, sinful desires which ultimately lead to death anyway, and gain Christ with all of the eternal riches and honor and glory that come with the inheritance of heaven. Not to mention the joy and peace and rest that’s found here and now in knowing Him.

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Friend, let me plead with you to find your worth, your identity, and your life in Jesus, who loved you so much that He gave His life for you on the cross and rose from the grave that you might have everlasting life. You’ll never find a love like that anywhere else! You’ll never find a life so rich and free and full.

Don’t do stupid stuff to get attention and make you think people like you. Don’t be so full of yourself in your quest for glory that you fail to see your need for a Savior.

The proud and foolish will be brought to shame and disgrace, but the humble and wise will inherit grace and honor. Lose your life for Christ’s sake, and find it in full.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


Have you ever watched a rowing team in action? You probably won’t see much television coverage outside of the Olympics, but there’s always YouTube. These teams are incredible. The amount of unity it takes to be successful in this sport is nothing short of amazing.

Do you know how the eight-man (or woman) teams get every single team member working together in such perfect sync? The secret is the coxswain.

The what? The coxswain is a member of the team (a 9th person on board an 8-man team) who sits in the stern facing the bow (while the rowers sit with their backs to the direction of travel). He or she is responsible for steering the racing shell, coordinating the rhythm of the rowers, executing race strategy, giving instructions, and encouraging and motivating the crew to give it all they’ve got. He’s literally the coach in the boat.

If the coxswain (pronounced “COX-en”) provides the right guidance and the team follows his lead, then their vessel will take a straight course toward the finish line and find good success.

But if the team members fail to follow directions, then not only will they struggle to even make it to the finish line, everyone will grow quickly frustrated with the effort, the team will implode with accusations and blame, and their very safety in the water will certainly be jeopardized.

In our nation today, we’re like a rowing crew who’s thrown the coxswain overboard. We quit listening to the one voice who knows the direction we need to go, who can steer us in the right way, and who can provide all the encouragement and help we need to be successful. Everyone, it seems, hates being told when to pull, when to take correction, when to change pace, or when to do anything. No wonder we’re so far off course!

When everyone thinks he’s in charge, then nobody’s in charge. And if there’s not a single, clear, unifying voice we all agree to listen to, then there’s no hope for unity and no hope for victory. We’re each rowing to the beat of our own inclinations, our own opinions, our own philosophies, our own standards of right and wrong, and the results are becoming predictably disastrous.

Friend, the voice we need to hear is the voice of God. It’s His Word that provides clear instruction for our good, for our success. It’s His way that we need to follow in order to navigate toward the goal. “This God – His 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).

The division and disunity we’re seeing today – in the home, in communities, in our nation, etc. – and all of the disastrous consequences thereof, can be traced at its root to the fact that we don’t like God telling us what to do. We’d rather do whatever seems right in our own eyes, not realizing that, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12).

Let’s come together on Thursday, May 3, and pray for unity in America. Join us on the west lawn of the Menard County Courthouse at high noon, and let’s agree that we need to hear the voice of God and follow His truth. Let’s tune our hearts, our minds, our words, our attitudes, and our actions to His will. And let’s row in unity as He calls the shots to see our nation start moving in the right direction.

Monday, April 23, 2018

What about this spring winter weather - and other things you can't control

Spring, O Spring, where art thou?

It’s snowing again in Petersburg as I write this [April 16], with a 17 degree wind chill that makes it feel far more like February than April.

I think a great title for a book would be, “The Spring that Never Came.” Here’s the opening line:

“With the tenacity of a snail slugging past the Stylianos Kyriakides statue at the Boston Marathon, winter just wouldn’t quit.”

Perhaps I should enter that line in The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for terrible opening sentences. I might win a pittance.

Seriously, though, I want that 83 degree day back we had last week. Anyone else ready for a few nice spring days?

At least it’s good to know the One who’s in charge of the weather and the seasons, the days and nights, the sunshine and the rain, the snow and the wind – and I assure you it’s not Cheryl Lemke. There’s not a moment that God is not fully and firmly in control of this creation of His. He spoke it into existence and He sustains it by the word of His power. I’m glad to know that.

Really, it takes the worry away. Because I trust that His ways are higher than mine, His purposes more perfect, His wisdom flawless, and His goodness unquestionable, there’s truly no need to fret. I can’t control the weather, I can’t control what’s happening in Syria, I can’t control what other people do, I can’t even control many things about my own health. So what good does it do to worry?

Someone has once said, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but won’t get you anywhere.” The Bible says that you can’t add a single hour to your life by worrying (Matthew 6:27).

I’d rather trust that a Sovereign God has it all under His control, and I’ll choose to rest peacefully and contentedly in His will whether the timing, the method, or the outcome works in the way I think it should, or not. I can only see a sliver of the picture, like looking through a crack in the door. God sees it all, beginning to the end, and has already written the full number of my days in His book. And since He’s the Author of the story, I know the book unfolds for my ultimate good (cf. Romans 8:28).

What about you? Are you worried and troubled about things? Anxious about the “what ifs” in life? Let me encourage you to take your burdens to the Lord in prayer. “Cast all your cares upon Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

And here’s what happens when you learn to trust God with all your stuff. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). If you’re looking for peace, turn to the Prince of Peace – no matter the weather going on in your own life – and find rest for your souls.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Gratitude for Government?

Oh joy, tax day is coming quickly! Who else gets excited about filing taxes and forking over your hard-earned money to Caesar? Yeah, me neither.

I should go back and delete that line. I’ve been trying to cut back on sarcastic remarks for a number of years now, but haven’t made as much progress as I’d like.

Here’s a thought: What if we renamed April 15 “Governing Administrators Gratitude Day”? We could call it “GAG Day,” for short. There I go again.

I know it’s easy to bemoan the government’s wasteful spending and overreaching bureaucracy (and I’m all for keeping our leaders accountable and our laws less intrusive), but at the same time let’s not forget the many benefits we do enjoy as citizens of this nation, which remain the envy of the majority of the world population.

Here then are seven reasons to be grateful to those who serve in the government we have – at any level, and in no particular order.

1. The protection and service of local emergency responders. From our police presence to firefighters and EMS workers, when there’s an emergency I am glad for those who can arrive at the scene quickly and handle the situation. We’re blessed to be able to call 911 and know that help is on the way. Many thanks to the likes of Dave Coulter, Rod Harrison and Mark Oller, Patrick Rebbe, Mayor Rick Snyder, and the countless others who serve our community well in this way.

2. Our national defense. Terrorism is real, obviously, as are threats of war and all kinds of security issues, and it is to our great blessing that our military provides a strong national defense against those who would love to destroy us. To all who now serve or have served in our Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines, we say a huge thank you!

3. Accessible transportation. Despite the potholes you may be dodging on your way to work, the fact that we have such open interstates, highways, bridges, back country roads, and city streets bear evidence that our governing officials seek to keep the Monday morning traffic moving, commerce flowing, and vacation-bound families on their way. Add public transportation options to the mix and you see that we do have quite a fine transportation system going here. Toll roads notwithstanding.

4. Parks. We are fortunate to have two outstanding parks/recreation spaces in our own backyard. Lincoln’s New Salem and Jim Edgar’s Panther Creek provide beautiful open air venues to soak in the goodness of God’s creative glory. Or if you like to venture out, our National Park Service and other tax-funded organizations offer a plethora of thrilling sites all across America. I am happy to help pay to keep our parks open.

5. Education. We’re blessed to have wise school administrators, outstanding teachers and coaches, good bus drivers, and all kinds of helpful and caring support personnel at the PORTA schools. I wish they could all be paid double what they’re making now. Thank you to all who work and serve in our local schools!

6. All the others I don’t have space to mention, like Civil Works, Veterans Affairs, our justice system, postal system, FDA, FCC, FEMA, and more. I have a feeling we don’t even know how much good such governing bodies do for us.

7.  We can be grateful because God ordains and appoints the governing authorities. The Bible says, “the authorities are ministers of God;” so, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:6-7). And if God designs and desires government to work for the good of the people, who am I to argue?

I’ll try to remember all this when I write out my check on April 15.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Cubs win the World Series and Jesus rises from the dead

Here’s something funny for you. As the new baseball season gets into full swing, I keep hearing people talking about how the Chicago Cubs won the World Series two years ago. HaHaHaHa!

I don’t know what medications they’re taking, but the Cubs winning the World Series?! LOL! Impossible! It never happened, people. You’re delusional. Come on back to the real world now, and face the facts that the lovable losers will always be losers.

So, there were some 38,000 people who saw them win the game in person, you say? And more than 40 million who watched it on TV? And you would have me believe that another 5 million showed up in downtown Chicago for a victory parade?

Big deal. It’s a conspiracy, folks! These Cub fans have colluded together to produce the biggest whopper since, well, since the day the disciples of Jesus claimed that He actually rose from the dead! In the immortal words of Vizzini, “Inconceivable!”

Now, that was quite a ruse, wouldn’t you say? Can you imagine a man coming back to life after having been crucified on a cross? Not likely. Do you know what crucifixion does to a man? It sucks his life right out of him. If you could devise the most torturous way to make a man suffer unbearable pain before killing him, you’d crucify him. And the Romans were experts at the craft.

No, there’s no way Jesus escaped that one. His fans likewise are delusional. They said He appeared to them alive and well three days after being killed. They say they touched Him, spoke with Him, and ate with Him. They say later He appeared to more than 500 people at one time. And then He was just “lifted up” to heaven in a cloud. Poof! He’s gone! “Beam me up, Scotty!”

That’s impossible. It never happened, people. Don’t be so na├»ve. Dead men don’t come back to life. And they don’t get beamed up to heaven.

Oh, and get this. They say He’s coming back someday as a King! Yeah, right. Like this one Jewish rebel-rouser who was tried by the authorities and convicted as a criminal is the “Savior of the world” and the “King of kings.” It’s foolishness. This is the biggest scam ever, and people are still falling for it!

The only way this could ever happen – and I mean, the only way – is if somehow God Himself came down from heaven and took on the flesh and blood of a man. Then I suppose He’d have authority to lay His life down, and He’d have authority to take it up again. I guess then it would be impossible for death to hold Him down. And I reckon the whole thing about Jesus being the “sacrifice for sins” and “the resurrection and the life” might actually make some sense.

If He were God then He would be the King of the world. He could have healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind, and cleansed the lepers. He could have turned the water into wine, calmed the raging storm, and walked on the waves of the sea.

If He were God He could give everlasting life to whoever believes in Him. He could turn our mourning into joy. He could give rest to the weary, make beauty from ashes, and replace our darkest night of despair with a peace that passes all understanding.

But that sounds pretty ludicrous, doesn’t it? Just like the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series.

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Monday, March 26, 2018

Don't be a fool

It’s been a while since I’ve locked my keys in my car, but I somehow managed to do it last week. There are few times you feel as foolish as when you’re standing outside your locked car looking through the window at your keys sitting on the console laughing hysterically at your sorry predicament.

That reminds me of the story of the fellow who was feverishly working to navigate the coat hanger alongside the car window in attempt to unlatch the lock. His friend happened upon the scene and offered assistance. The bloke insisted he could do it on his own, so the friend mindlessly moseyed around the car, out of habit reached for the passenger side door, and viola – the door opened! He said, “Dude, did you know the passenger side door is unlocked?” The fella looked up only briefly from his fiddling to say matter-of-factly, “I know; I already got that side.”

Can I say this, friend, with Easter coming this Sunday, April 1 – April Fool’s Day: Don’t be foolish when it comes to matters of eternal significance. The Bible describes the foolishness of those who reject the Lord.

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). It’s the fool who despises godly wisdom and instruction, instead does what is right in his own eyes, and even flaunts his folly for all to see (Proverbs 1:7; 12:15; 13:16)!

It’s the foolish man who builds his house on the sand (Matthew 7:26-27), refusing to obey the words of Jesus even though he hears them plainly.  

It’s the fool who lays up plenty of treasure for himself on earth, building bigger and better barns to store all his stuff, but gives no thought toward seeking a rich relationship with God (Luke 12:13-21) through faith in the Lord and service to others.

And it’s nothing but utter foolishness to trade the truth of God for a lie, to exchange the glory of the immortal God for images of created things, and to refuse to honor the Creator of the universe with gratitude, making up foolish ideas instead of what God should be like and what He should do (Romans 1:18ff.).

Personally, I’ve done some foolish things in my life. Locking my keys in the car is the least of my failures. But by God’s mercy I’ve been fully forgiven. By God’s grace the gates of heaven have been unlocked through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross and His resounding victory over the grave. And by God’s favor He’s given me faith to believe, when I could very easily have traveled a foolish path to destruction.

Friend, let me urge you make the wisest move you’ve ever made and come running to the saving arms of Christ. Repent from your sin, believe in Jesus, and follow Him as your Lord. The door to salvation is open now, dear friend. Run, and don’t delay.

Why not make this prayer your own as you put your trust in Jesus:

“Father, I’ve been a fool for spurning you all this time, thinking I could live life on my own terms, but missing out on all that really matters. I’m running to Your arms of love now, O God, confessing that I am a sinner in need of Your salvation. I turn away from my sin, and I trust wholly in Christ. Jesus, I believe that You took the nails and hung on the cross for me, and that Your blood is enough to forgive all my sin. I believe You rose from the dead, and I now receive You as my Savior and rejoice to follow You as Lord. Thank you for saving me from my foolishness and giving me new life. Amen.”

And if this is your prayer I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment here, call me at 217-632-2488, e-mail me at, or stop by the FBC office sometime at 103 W. Sangamon Ave., Petersburg, IL, and we’ll talk more about this new life in Christ!

Monday, March 19, 2018

What are you waiting for?

It feels like random thoughts day, so here goes…

One of my pet peeves, which sometimes finds me yelling at the radio when I’m all by myself in the car, is when an interviewer asks his guest a question but then goes into a lengthy explanation for why he’s asking the question and often ends up answering it himself! Dude, you invited this expert to be on your show. I know you love to hear the sound of your own voice, but quit babbling. We want to hear what your guest has to say. Just ask the question clearly and let him answer!

I have to give a shout-out to the drama team at PORTA High School. To all the kids on stage and behind the scenes, to the directors and to everyone who had a hand in helping present the musical: You did a fantastic job! Your crazy time and effort invested paid off in an entertaining and engaging performance. I didn’t even know my kid could dance! And thanks, PORTA school community, for keeping the arts alive in school.

The coils on your refrigerator need to be cleaned out every once in a while. Just a public service announcement from someone who discovered that going at least six years without even thinking about it is too long. Otherwise you’ll end up with a big white box in the corner of your kitchen in which to store your melted ice cream.

A little salt to season your steak tastes great. A little salt to flavor your speech with kindness, humility, encouragement, wisdom, and humor does too. Words can either build someone up or tear someone down. Wouldn’t it be nice if our conversations included more grace and less griping, critiquing, and complaining?

Speaking of which, who’s worn out from political ads already? What if we prayed for our leaders in Illinois more than talk about them? Lord, please raise someone up who will lead our state to health; who will reject corruption, perversion, and treachery, and instead will truly serve the people and lead well with integrity, courage, and uprightness.

What are you doing this Sunday at 10:45? Come and hear the Petersburg FBC Choir present, “Here at the Cross: Stories of Forgiveness.” You’ll hear a sweet blend of new songs and old hymns, combined with personal stories of God’s work of forgiveness and grace in the lives of His people. If you’re already perfect, you don’t need to come. But for the rest of us, you’ll be encouraged by what Jesus has done and is doing.

Satan, by the way, is real, and he is a liar and a thief. Just because you can’t see him doesn’t mean his wicked influence in this world isn’t at the root of all things broken. His goal has not changed since the day he deceived Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, which through their disobedience has unleashed the curse of sin into this world. The devil designs to kill, to steal, and to destroy. And he’s having a party of it.

Jesus, on the other hand, is also real, and He is the way, the truth, and the life. On the cross He sacrificed His life for all our sins, bearing the full measure of God’s holy, just, and righteous wrath against sin. And He has appeared to destroy the works of the devil, conquering death and hell by rising from the grave, and promising eternal life to all who repent from sin and believe in Him.

Can I just say again how good it is to know your sins have been wiped off the books, to know that God will not count your sins against you, and to know that there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus? The mercy of God runs deeper than the vilest of your sins. His grace saves even the worst of sinners. But it’s not automatic. You must respond to His offer of forgiveness and come to Jesus by grace through faith.

“For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). So what are you waiting for?

Monday, March 12, 2018

God's Holy Strangers

Followers of Jesus have to be the strangest people on the planet. Not as in “bizarre” strange, like the woman with tattoos covering 96% of her body or the guy shopping the beauty section of Walmart with a toilet plunger on his head. But Christians who base their values and character on the Word of God and stake their entire lives on the story of a cross and an empty tomb look crazy to a godless culture.

This article is a call to Christians to embrace your identity now as “aliens and strangers” on earth, even as you long for your eternal heavenly home. And it’s a plea for unbelievers to join this band of holy strangers.

The Bible says that for believers, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). In other words, this world is not our home. We are temporary sojourners, resident aliens who live by faith as we look forward to the eternal heavenly city God has prepared for us. We know that there are better things yet to come and that the eternal glory that is ours in Christ far outweighs the “light and momentary troubles” we endure on this earth.

See, that already sounds strange to unbelieving ears. It gets stranger.

The world thinks we’re out of our minds for believing that God spoke the universe into existence (Genesis 1; John 1:1-3; Hebrews 11:3; et al), that He authors life from the moment of conception forward, knitting us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-16), and that He purposefully created mankind in His own image as male and female (Genesis 1:27). And so when we reject any theory of creation that rejects God as the Creator, when we call abortion an abomination to God, and when we expose the fallacy of “transgenderism” as a denial of God’s design, we’re labeled as foreigners.

Unbelievers call us insane for believing that sexual activity is to be enjoyed solely within the bounds of marriage, and for agreeing biblically that pre-marital sex, adultery, homosexual behavior, lust, and every other kind of sexual immorality or impurity is a sin (Genesis 2:24-25; Proverbs 5-7; Matthew 5:27-30; Mark 7:20-23; Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Ephesians 5:1-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8; et al).

The ungodly say we’re nuts for forgiving others when they’ve wronged us, rather than seeking revenge. They say we’ve gone off the deep end when we give generously to help others in need. They say we’re mentally ill when we talk about hearing from God, discovering a peace that we can’t explain, or knowing a joy we can’t put into words.

They think we’re strange when we don’t let our children play violent video games, when we decline to indulge in alcohol, when we unsubscribe from cable TV, when we refrain from gossip or slander, and when we refuse to fudge a little on our taxes.

And they call us fools for preaching a message that exclusively declares Jesus to be the only way to heaven. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Seriously, who in their right mind would willingly suffer for a Jewish carpenter who lived some 2,000 years ago? Who would subject themselves to public ridicule, to threats of persecution, to the possibility of imprisonment and even death for the sake of someone they’ve never even met? Yet those who truly know Jesus rejoice that they are counted worthy to suffer dishonor for His name. They know that if they’re insulted for the name of Christ, they are blessed, for they believe a better day is on the way.

Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven…” (Luke 6:22-23).

Christian, embrace your identity as God’s holy strangers on earth, knowing that your real treasure is in heaven. Be okay with not fitting in to the ways of the world, because “friendship with the world is hatred toward God” (James 4:4), and “if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). Be unashamed in calling Jesus your Master and in faithfully following Him in the way of righteousness.

And, listen, if you’ve not yet experienced the joy of knowing Christ and the forgiveness of sins He offers, if you’ve not yet tasted the goodness of God and delighted your soul in His grace, and if you don’t have assurance of eternal life in heaven, then let me urge you to repent from sin, turn to Jesus in faith, and join this band of God’s Holy Strangers. Your friends may think you’ve lost your mind, but you’ll have found your life.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Building Strong Families

So, ideally, the whole world turns to Jesus and in turn we see crime disappear, communities strengthened, schools as safe learning centers, the government running efficiently, the economy robust, and our nation healed.

Because those who are following Christ are not embezzling money, selling drugs, or killing people. They’re caring for the needs of others around them, seeking to build them up, and working in cooperation for the common good. They’re respectful, patient, kind, and tender-hearted. They’re wise in leadership, honest in business, and trustworthy as employees. They’re productive, law-abiding, godly, model citizens.   

That’s not to say that Christians are perfect by any means, but the ways of Jesus are good and right and true. And true followers of Jesus strive to live in His ways.

Are we still having this national discussion about how to have a better America, or not? If so, my answer stands: The world is a better place when Christ is honored as King. And my plea remains: Come to Jesus and surrender your life to Him.

Of course, we’re not living in an ideal world. People have rejected Christ in favor doing whatever seems right in their own self-centered eyes, and even Christians fail to live up to the standards they profess. So where does that leave us as a culture? It leaves us with a wide chasm between what’s ideal and what’s real, and a massive bridge to build in working toward forming a more perfect union.

Here’s my contribution to the discussion: Even if the whole world doesn’t turn to Jesus, we still need to learn this foundational truth: Strong families create strong communities. If we’re looking for practical solutions for our nation’s ills, why aren’t we doing everything we possibly can to promote healthy marriages and loving homes?

Families in disarray lead to communities and cultures in disrepair. I say this in love knowing that so many come from dysfunctional homes, but the evidence clearly bears out the burdens on society that arise from turmoil in the family.

Look up some of the studies on your own and you’ll see that from toxic home environments there is direct correlation to increased crime, alcoholism, domestic abuse, divorce, poverty, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, gambling addictions, and so much more.

In a report from Princeton University and the Brookings Institute in 2015, David Ribar of the University of Melbourne writes: “Reams of social science and medical research convincingly show that children who are raised by their married, biological parents enjoy better physical, cognitive and emotional outcomes, on average, than children raised in other circumstances…[R]esearchers have been able to make a strong case that marriage has causal impacts on outcomes such as children’s schooling, their social and emotional adjustment, and their employment, marriage and mental health as adults.”

Any intellectually honest sociologist, psychologist, teacher, doctor, lawyer, judge, business and community leader – or even politician! – would readily agree. So let’s do all that we can to build strong homes.

But building homes, like building bridges, takes hard work and unwavering commitment to the job. It means laying unshakeable foundations. It means making life choices that support the integrity of the entire structure. It means giving attention to the details of the project and not allowing anyone or anything to interfere with the work.

Will we build the bridge toward healthy homes? Christians, I say let’s lead the way. Is it worth it? I say we can’t afford not to. Is it possible for strong families to restore our dying nation? I say yes, but it might just take the world turning to Jesus first.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The cure for an incurably sick heart

The human heart has been desperately sick for a long time and more deceitful than a fake news outlet. The heart – representing human will and emotions, the core of who we are – is polluted like a squalid stream and follows a crooked path bent on ungodliness. It is incurably sick; no medicine, no religion, no psychology, nor self-help section can heal its critical condition.

The evidence of man’s depravity continues piling up with each day’s headlines: a murderous rampage at a high school in Parkland, Florida, a politician sexually harassing his or her employees, a drunk driver recklessly killing innocent lives, another domestic abuse case, a marriage rocked by infidelity, some 125,000 babies aborted again today, scammers preying on elderly victims, men pretending to be women and vice-versa, a life ruined by drug use, a gambling addiction destroying a family, a schoolyard bully picking on a special needs child, a home invasion leaving a mother beaten and child missing.

Shall I go on? Where would I stop? Who really knows how bad the corruption of the human heart is? It is “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity…full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice…gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (Romans 1:29-32).

So what can we do about it? Should we pass more laws against murdering people? Should we ban all alcohol sales? Should we stone adulterers to death or cut off the hands of thieves? Should we tack another anti-bullying poster to a high school wall or give away more condoms to try to prevent unwanted pregnancies resulting from sexually immoral behavior?

Or could it be that what we really need is a new heart? Perhaps a heart of compassion for others would be nice, and one overflowing with humility, kindness and respect, as well. A selfless, sincere, serving heart would sure go a long way.  Add in patience and forgiveness and now we’re getting somewhere. Oh, and let’s not forget the most important ingredient of all – love, which binds them all together in perfect harmony.

Can we order a new heart like this on Amazon?

Actually, it’s better than ordering online, and certainly far more effective than anything Congress can do, but unfortunately most people don’t want to hear the answer.

The Bible tells us that Jesus died on the cross so that we could be born again – and in Him receive a new heart, new spirit, and new life. Speaking prophetically through Ezekiel God says, “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. But as for those whose heart goes after their detestable things and their abominations, I will bring their deeds upon their own heads, declares the Lord God” (Ezekiel 11:19-21).

If people would only turn in faith to Jesus and follow His ways, we wouldn’t be having such discussions, lamenting the sewage spewing from humanity’s depraved heart. Instead we’d have hearts beating with the love of Christ for one another – because of the love with which He first loved us. And there’s no law that can heal nor change the heart of a nation or community or family like the love of God through Christ Jesus.

Friend, let me urge you in these troubled times to seek the Great Physician, who alone can cure the sickest of hearts and make the foulest clean.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Treasuring marriage as a gift of God's grace

Of all of the incredible gifts God has given to mankind (beyond the gift of eternal life!), one of the greatest has to be the gift of marriage.

Think about it – the Lord Almighty formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. God then surrounded the man with a beautiful garden in a perfect paradise, in which stunning trees and luscious green plants produced good food for the man to eat. And the Lord gave the man fulfilling and meaningful work in tending the garden.

The man was in charge of the garden and had dominion over every creature on the face of the earth. The world was at his fingertips. He had untainted fellowship with God, and sin wasn’t even on the radar. What more could he want? No ESPN yet, of course, nor Harleys to ride, but otherwise he had it made.

But there was something missing. The Lord God said, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18).

The story goes that God approached Adam and told him that He would create for him the most gorgeous creature he’d ever seen, a lovely figure to behold, charming and pleasant in nature, and beautiful in every way. But it would cost him an arm and a leg. Adam thought about it for awhile and countered, “Well, that sounds great, but I’m not sure I can give up an arm and a leg. What can I get for just a rib?” (Ba-dum-ch!)

Maybe not quite like that, but God did take one of Adam’s ribs and with it He made a breathtaking companion in all of her radiant beauty and brought her to the man. Adam declared, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23).

Can you imagine the joy that must have leapt from every fiber in Adam’s being when God introduced him to this incredible new creature, this woman who was designed to be man’s suitable helpmate, and who also just happened to be easy on the eyes?

Do you wonder how their first conversation may have gone? The Bible doesn’t say this exactly, but can you see Adam ambling up to her with a cheesy pick-up line like, “Is it hot out here, or is that just the Holy Spirit burning inside you?”

“I didn’t know angels flew so low.”

“Excuse me, is your name Grace? Because you are amazing.”

“Or is it Faith? ‘Cause you’re the substance of things I’ve hoped for.”

“I’m not usually very prophetic, but I can see us together.”

Warning to single guys: If you ever use any of these lines, you will forever remain single. And if Adam had, well you and I wouldn’t be here today.

What the Bible does tell us about this gift of marriage is that, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). That was our Maker’s gracious purpose from the beginning, affirmed by Jesus in His earthly ministry (Mark 10:6-8), to define the sacred covenant of marriage for all time. And what a gift God has given!

The Bible also says this to us, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4).

Friend, let me urge you to honor marriage. Honor it by keeping it pure, by keeping your marriage vows faithfully, with steadfast love and unwavering devotion. Honor it by refusing to allow an ungodly culture to redefine it in ungodly ways. And honor it by treasuring this gift with much gratitude to the Lord for His great grace.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Ironing out the wrinkles

Press me on this and I’ll confess that I’m a wrinkle-free shirt kind of guy. I mean, who irons stuff anymore? And I’m too cheap to take it to the cleaners. Just throw it in the dryer, set it on wrinkle-free, and when you get it out it’s good enough. Right?

So, Sunday morning I’m feeling like a certain blue-ish / turquoise-ish colored dress shirt is the way to go, along with a pair of brown Dockers, casual shoes, and no tie. I don’t know if it matched well or not. Sometimes you just have to feel it. Predictably, I’m still waiting for GQ to call for that cover shoot.

Of course, when I pulled it out of the closet and wrangled it off the hanger it was painfully apparent that it needed ironed. And not just a little touch up. I can handle a shirt being not perfectly pressed and starched. But this thing needed the full-blown treatment, which is probably why I hadn’t worn it for a really long time.

So should I pick out a different shirt? The thing’s not going to iron itself out. But that would mean I’d have to change pants, wouldn’t it? And if so, then I’d have to change socks and shoes, and maybe even the color of undershirt I had already put on. Do I have time to iron? Do I feel like it?

Oh, the debates that go on in my head just picking out clothes on a Sunday morning! Dress pants or khakis? Dress shirt or something more casual today? What color? Tie or no tie? Sweater vest Sunday? Honestly, I’d be a lot more relaxed in jeans, a t-shirt, and tennis shoes, which some pastors make work. But I haven’t gone there yet.

Well, I ironed the shirt. It was a cotton / polyester blend, so I had to be sure I had the iron on the right setting. Number 4, I think it was. Because if you don’t have enough heat it won’t get the wrinkles out, and if you set it on 6 you might scorch the thing, or shrivel it all up like I did with a silk tie one time.

And I carefully pressed out the creases and lines, one sleeve at a time, then the back, then the front, with special attention around the buttons, and on the collar, applying the right amount of pressure with the right amount of heat, until the shirt looked good and presentable. Aren’t you glad you learned a lesson in ironing today?

You know, as we journey through this life it’s not a wrinkle-free cycle. We get crinkled and crushed, rumpled and furrowed along the way. It’s a broken world; a sin-infected world where the fall-out from our choices (and those of others) can make us feel like a wrinkled up shirt nobody would want to wear in public.

But we have a heavenly Father who loves us, no matter what we look like on the inside or out. He knows we’re messed up. He knows we can’t fix things on our own. And that’s why He sent Jesus into the world – to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. He gave His life on the cross to forgive us for our sins and to make us right with God. He rose from the dead to give eternal life to those who call upon His name in faith. Friend, He invites you to come to Him for life! Take Him up on it!

And let me press this point home in closing. Following Jesus is no easy road. Temptations still tempt. Sin still assaults. Sorrows like sea billows still roll. The stuff of life on earth still causes wrinkles. But our merciful Savior continues to work in us to gently iron out the wrinkles so that we might be presented in splendor, as holy and blameless, and “without spot or wrinkle” (Eph. 5:27) before Him.

Applying the right amount of pressure, the right amount of heat, He sometimes, for a season, for a little while, uses trials in our lives to prove our faith genuine. And the result is always for our good and for His glory. Hold on through the process, dear friend, and rejoice in knowing that our Lord knows how to iron us out for good. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Rescuing lives from the holocaust of abortion

“Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?” (Proverbs 24:11-12)

Can you imagine living in Germany during the Nazi regime? It is almost unthinkable. Did ordinary German citizens know what was happening? Could they have believed that Jews were being exterminated by the scores, by the thousands and tens of thousands, and even millions? Or would they have relied on the bogus propaganda produced by Hitler’s government to alleviate their conscience?  

Anti-Semitism had become so ingrained in the collective mindset that maybe it was easier to simply brush off what they thought might be happening. Perhaps the Jews were, after all, an inferior race and such a threat to German racial purity that a sort of “Final Solution” to the Jewish question was not out of the question.

It was a time of war, and war is, well, let’s just say that the doctrine of hell unveils horrors too graphic to comprehend. And so does war.

But while many stood by in silence, there were some courageous souls who sought to rescue those who were being taken away to death. Accounts detail the heroic efforts of many, including one Dutch student named Marion Pritchard. Riding her bike to class one day she witnessed Nazi soldiers at the children’s home “picking up the kids by an arm or a leg or by the hair” and throwing them into a truck.

“Well, I stopped my bike and looked. Two other women coming down on the street got so furious, they attacked the German soldiers, and they just picked up the women and threw them in the truck after the kids,” she recalls. “I just stood there. I’m one of those people who sat there and watched it happen.”

However, Mrs. Pritchard was outraged by such injustice, and she went on to help save and shelter some 150 Jews from the hands of the Nazis in the next three years.

There is another holocaust happening, and this time it’s on our watch. The deaths of innocent children in the womb has now claimed over 60 million lives since the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. It is not possible for us to say we didn’t know about it. It is foolishness to say these lives are inferior and unworthy of saving. It is callousness and cowardice for us to simply stand in silence and watch it happen.

The Bible clearly describes the handiwork of God in the creation of every single life, starting from Day 1 in the womb. The Psalmist marveled at God’s artistry: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:13-14).

Did you know that at the moment of fertilization all human chromosomes are present, and a unique life begins? Did you know that by day 22 the heart begins to beat with the child’s own blood? Did you know that eyes, legs, and hands begin to develop by the fifth week, and that in the sixth week brain waves are detectable and the mouth and lips are present, and fingers are forming? Did you know that at week 8 every organ is in place, and bones and fingerprints are forming?

Friend, you and I are created in the very image of God, by His intentional and purposeful design, as male and female, carefully and uniquely crafted by the Author of Life. So let us value all life from the moment of conception until the day our Maker calls us home in the sleep of death. And let us courageously rise up to rescue and protect those being led away to the slaughter.

Let me also take a moment to say quickly - in a spirit of compassion and love and grace - that our God readily forgives sin. No matter what you've done or supported or said, it was a demonstration of divine love that "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Friend, why not come to Jesus in humility, with whatever burdens you may be bearing, in whatever guilt and shame may be haunting you, and unload them at the foot of the cross. 

Jesus "bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24). His forgiveness - in all of its fullness and freedom - awaits those who cry out to Him in repentance from sin and faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Our flawed heroes and the flawless Hero

One of my childhood sports heroes was named Julius Erving, more famously known as “Dr. J.” I recall him playing for the Philadelphia 76ers back in the late 70’s and 80’s, wowing basketball fans with his artistic style and signature flying “slam” dunks.

But all heroes have flaws. While excelling and innovating on the hardwood floor, Dr. J’s personal life reveals a disappointing history of adulterous affairs, children born out of wedlock, divorce, deception, heartache, and turmoil. I still marvel at what he did with a basketball in his hands, but his status as a hero has been tainted.

I think about civil rights champion Martin Luther King, Jr. Perhaps no one has furthered the cause of racial equality in America more than King. His status as a hero is well-etched in the American tale, but King is not without personal flaws as well, including widespread accounts of adultery, along with a bad cigarette smoking habit.

And dare I say in this neck of the woods that even our national beloved hero Abraham Lincoln was a man with flaws? By all accounts, his marriage was a mess, he battled with what we would today call clinical depression, and at least one writer records that Lincoln had a penchant for dirty jokes. And that’s not even including some of the decisions he made as President with which many found fault. Yet we hail him today as the “Great Emancipator,” and without his leadership in a critically turbulent time this nation would not be what it is today.

Even when you look in the Bible, narratives about the personal failures of the greatest heroes on the biggest stages abound. “Father” Abraham twice lied about his wife and fathered a child with her Egyptian servant. The legendary Israelite deliverer Moses killed a man and tried to hide the body. The revered king David infamously committed adultery and then had her husband killed, among other sins. And the list could go run long and ugly.

What’s the point? It’s this: there’s not a man nor woman who’s ever walked the face of this planet whose life is truly worthy of our highest praise or emulation, despite their great achievements or inspiring passions – save one. His name is Jesus.

Only Jesus lived a flawless life in faultless obedience to the righteous will of His holy Father in heaven. Only Jesus shows us perfectly how to love one another, how to live in peace and harmony with one another, how to have joy inexpressible and hope unshakeable, and how to find abundant life.

Only Jesus stepped down from heaven into our world to carry out the ultimate rescue mission that would save our souls from eternal death and give us everlasting life. Only Jesus cleanses our sin-stained hearts and makes them white as snow, by the shedding of His blood on the cross. Only Jesus triumphed in victory over death and hell, by His own resurrection from the grave on the third day. And only Jesus provides new life to all who repent from sins and turn to Him in faith.

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

Dear friend, it’s not too late for you to come to Jesus. Each of these earthly “heroes” I’ve mentioned, flaws and all, were still men whom God loved compassionately, whom God has forgiven freely in Christ, and whom God has used mightily in this world. Why not make Jesus the true Hero in your life by trusting Him today?