Translate

Monday, February 22, 2021

Draw Near

 I love our Sunday night men’s Bible studies at the First Baptist Church! There’s a bond of friendship and fellowship that develops quickly when men get together to sharpen one another in the faith like iron sharpens iron.

Guys, if you need a place of connection, a group of men who will encourage you and help you grow, there’s room at the table for you. Give me a call at 217-632-2488 and I’ll give you more details. And I’m not talking about a self-righteous, holier-than-thou lecture hall style meeting, but an authentic gathering of men seeking to be more faithful to our God.

Ladies, we have some great options for women’s studies, as well, and I’d be delighted to help get you connected if you’re interested. 

Our men’s group has been learning from a video teaching series by Dr. Tony Evans called “The Power of Jesus’ Names.” This past week Dr. Evans reflected on two names by which Jesus is revealed: Our Great High Priest and the Lamb of God. 

I have to confess that I while I rely humbly and gratefully upon His role as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29), the description of Jesus as the Great High Priest is one I need to better take to heart. 

Of His permanent priesthood, the author of Hebrews writes, “Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). 

Is that not a mighty word of grace? This High Priest – the one Mediator between God and man, God incarnate, Christ Jesus – has all power and authority to secure the salvation of His people, and He ever-lives to intercede for the saints according to the will of God! I mean, if that doesn’t give you confident assurance in both the strength you need to make it day by day as well as the promised hope for eternal life in Christ, then I don’t know what will! 

Of course, if you’re not a believer then you do not have access to this promise nor the assurance of heaven. And so I would plead with you to draw near to Jesus by His grace through faith now, before it’s too late! 

Tony Evans gives this encouraging word from this study: “Jesus can sympathize. He understands. He feels what you feel. That’s why He has so much compassion. And you and I can access that sympathy and compassion by drawing near to the throne of grace, where we receive mercy and grace to help us in our time of need. 

“But we must take steps to draw near. We must move forward in confidence. If you have a long-distance relationship with Jesus, your Great High Priest, you will never get to witness His priesthood working on your behalf. If you are only a Sunday-morning Christian, you will never experience His priesthood helping you in your times of need. In order to see God intervene in your situations, you need to confidently approach Him through the relationship you have with Jesus, the Great High Priest. You’ve got to draw near.” 

Seriously, men, you know you need this. Let’s draw near together.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Move-on-to-the-next-game life strategies

[A little late in publishing this here...oh, well, hope it's helpful still!]

Well, that was a huge flop. I’m reeling today over the Chiefs’ beatdown by the Bucs in the Super Bowl. I mean, it was ugly. The Bucs seriously played a great game. They were practically flawless. Almost everything they did worked perfectly on offense and defense.

But as a Chiefs’ fan, it was hard to watch. Oh, well, there’s always next year!

What do you do when life beats you down? Do you ever feel like you just got smoked? Nothing you do turns out right. Always a step or two behind. Trying to catch up but you just can’t seem to get on track.

Here are four move-on-to-the-next-game strategies you might be able to use.

1. It’s okay to tell God you’re hurting. Let’s face it, sometimes the circumstances of life stink. We make bad decisions that prove costly. We end up as collateral damage from somebody else’s reckless behavior. Or we simply get caught up in a pandemic that has knocked millions to the ground in all kinds of ways.

Take it to the Lord! “Now let us have a little talk with Jesus, let us tell Him all about our troubles. He will hear our faintest cry, and He will answer by and by.” He really does care about what you’re going through. He loves you more than you know. And you can cry out to Him with your hurts, your pain, your tears, and your fears. “Cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

2. Ask God for help. Not only does He care, He can do something about it. In another song the chorus goes: “Take it to the One who calmed the waters, take it to the One who really cares, take it to the One who made the lame to walk again. Get on your knees and handle with prayer.” 

Jeremiah 32:27 says, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for Me?” If He calmed the raging sea with a word and made the lame to walk again, don’t you think He can come through in your situation? He’s the God of all creation – ask Him for some help.

3. Trust Him to act. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Trust His ways, His provision, His timing, and His purposes. He’s probably not going to ask for your advice in how He should handle it, but His thoughts and His wisdom are much higher than yours, so wait upon the Lord and trust Him even through the valley.

4. Get up and take the next step. You should certainly learn from the past, but you can’t dwell there. “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

In the strength God provides and by the light of His Word, get up and take the next step of faith. Follow where He leads. Obey His voice. You might be down, but you’re not out – not when you belong to Jesus.

And if you don’t yet know Him as Savior, now’s a good time to believe. We need to be ready for the next game.

           

           

Fire in my bones

 What are we to make of the imprisonment and ultimate beheading of John the Baptist?

“For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, ‘It is not lawful for you to have her’” (Matthew 14:3-4).

In other words, John rebuked the king of the land for this immorality and it ended up costing him his life.

I mean, couldn’t he have just kept his mouth shut, mind his own business and let it go. After all, sinners gonna sin, right? Why bother to call it out? Live and let live, bro.

Prophets have never been popular people. Those who do wicked things don’t usually appreciate having their sins exposed by the light of God’s Word.

Jeremiah was another prophet who was imprisoned because he warned the people of impending destruction that God was bringing upon them because of their sin. And when he thought, You know, maybe I’d better just not say anything, “There is in my heart, as it were,” he says, “a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9).

When God plants His Word in the hearts of his heralds, they cannot hold it in. The threats of persecution and even death do not detour them, for they have a sacred charge from the Lord their King, to whom they have pledged their lives, and in whom is their sure reward.

The current cancel culture that seeks to silence every unpopular, politically incorrect voice is not a new phenomenon. And those who preach the exclusivity of the gospel of Jesus Christ and His call to holiness will increasingly face its wrath in this nation.

But the fire in their bones burns for the salvation of souls! The call to “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand,” which both John and Jesus came proclaiming, still compels them to plead with men to turn from their wicked ways and find mercy at the cross of Christ.

Jesus was the light of the world, but He was hated because He testified about the world that its works were evil (John 8:12; 7:7). Yet “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Peter and John (the apostle) had been arrested, warned, and threatened to quit preaching in the name of Jesus. Their response is my appeal to all who claim the name of Jesus: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19).

May the Lord grant us boldness to testify to the truth, unashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16). And may He burn within our hearts the loving compassion for souls that compels us to preach the word of the cross no matter the cost.

Lincoln's take on the Bible

So what would Abe Lincoln think about the way of the USA these days? He was no stranger to conflict and chaos, of course. Issues of freedom, rights, justice, race, and more engulfed this nation in civil war as Lincoln bore the burden of seeking to bring peace and healing to a divided people. Could unity become a possibility? 

What principles guided his decisions? Whom did he consult for help? How did he lead through such turmoil?

There’s one account that offers a glimpse into the mind of a man who faced an impossible challenge, which offers some insight that would serve us well today.

On September 11, 1863, The New York Times reported on a meeting Lincoln held with a committee of the Loyal Colored People of Baltimore. This was just several months following his Emancipation Proclamation, essentially declaring that “all persons held as slaves” (within the rebellious states) “are, and henceforward, shall be free.” Of course, the fight would and must continue, but this executive order paved the way toward the abolition of slavery in America.

Speaking on behalf of the committee, the Rev. S.W. Chase addressed the President with a presentation of a beautiful edition of a Bible in token of their appreciation for his labors. 

In part, Chase said:

“Our hearts will ever feel the most unbounded gratitude toward you. We come forward to present a copy of the Holy Scriptures as a token of respect to you for your active part in the cause of emancipation. This great event will be a matter of history. In future, when our sons shall ask what mean these tokens, they will be told of your mighty acts, and rise up and call you blessed.”

Lincoln’s reply (in part) unveils his heart: “I can only say now, as I have often said before, it has always been a sentiment with me that all mankind should be free. 

“So far as I have been able, so far as came within my sphere, I have always acted as I believed was right and just, and done all I could for the good of mankind…In regard to the great book. I have only to say it is the best gift which God has ever given man.

“All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this book. But for that book we could not know right from wrong. All those things desirable to man are contained in it. I return you my sincere thanks for this very elegant copy of this great book of God which you present."

So how did Lincoln lead this nation through an impassable divide? He led by believing that the Bible alone provides the answer to what is right and what is wrong – and he acted upon that truth. All the good for mankind he desired to achieve was grounded in the principles communicated in this “great book of God.” 

The psalmist wrote: “The sum of your word is truth, and all your righteous rules endure forever” (Psalm 119:160). 

May God grant our leaders today wisdom, courage, and faith to govern according to the truth of God’s righteousness.

 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

The Dream Worth Keeping

 


In his famously convicting and inspiring, “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., drew from his life experience, the U.S. Constitution, and biblical theology to call this nation to racial justice.

He quotes from Amos 5:24 (one of several biblical references in this speech) reflecting God’s own heart saying, “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’”

Not unlike our nation still today, the people of Israel long ago were guilty of a laundry list of sins against God: sexual immorality, apathy for the nation’s demise, violence and robbery, silencing the prophets, and making a mockery of their religion. There’s truly nothing new under the sun!

But the recurring theme throughout Amos was their corruption of justice by oppressing the poor and needy. 

The throne of God sits on a foundation of justice and righteousness. Those who claim His name must share His heart for such values, especially reflected in the way we treat one another. We must learn to hate evil and love good. We must embrace the truth that every human being is made in the image of God – from the moment of conception to natural death, every color, every nation, every tongue, every tribe.

In other words, there’s no place in the heart of a Christian for racial hatred or prejudice of any kind. The cross of Christ purges sin and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

Rather, in His strength, let us lead the way in loving one another just like Jesus did – red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight! Let’s model for the world what it looks like to treat one another with respect and honor and kindness and humility. Let’s wave the banner for righteousness and seek justice for those in need.

The dream of unity and freedom for all can be achieved, but I say only through the transforming work of Christ. Naming and blaming and shaming only hardens hearts, but the gospel of peace – through the blood of Jesus – changes hearts, breaks down every dividing wall of hostility, and reconciles us to God in one body. That’s a dream worth keeping!

 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Learning from 2020 to face the challenges yet to come

What has God has been trying to say to you (and to us – as mortal men, and as churches striving to hear His voice and obey) in light of all that was 2020 and all that is yet come?

I have shared with the Petersburg First Baptist Church one main truth and seven supporting lessons over the past few weeks that I believe God wanted me to say, and thought they might be helpful to you here, as well, in highly summarized form.

First: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10). Amid the chaos and confusion all around, we must remember that God is still on His throne and there will never be a transfer of power to another administration. He alone is God, and His name will be exalted. We rest our souls in this truth. 

Under this reality come seven lessons we must believe and embrace. 

1. Jesus calls his followers to make an “all-in” commitment to Him. “How long will you waver between two opinions? If God is God, follow Him. But if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). You can’t play the part of a Christian on Sunday then live like the devil the rest of the week. You can diversify your financial portfolio, but you’ve got to be sold-out to Jesus.

2. Jesus prepares us to be battle-ready. Yes, we’re in a spiritual war. If you’re all-in following Jesus, then expect to be hated by the world. Expect to be mocked, insulted, threatened, and persecuted. The cancel culture is coming for the church that preaches the gospel. But we are strengthened to stand in the power of His might. See Ephesians 6:10-20.

3. Jesus pleads for the unity of His church. In Christ there is no black or white, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, elephant or donkey. The cross breaks down every dividing wall of hostility. We’re united in Jesus as one body, one in heart and soul, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (Ephesians 4:4-6). Our identity is in Him alone, and we must unite.

4. Jesus commands us to love one another. Followers of Christ are marked by their love – loving the Lord wholeheartedly and loving your neighbor as yourself. When the love of God abides in us, we will lay down our lives for the brothers and we will show special care for the widow and the fatherless, the poor and needy, the weak and the oppressed.

5. Jesus commissions us to make disciples of all nations. We have to be much more intentional about teaching our children to follow in the ways of the Lord. We have to teach, train, equip, and encourage one another in the church to be obedient to the commands of Christ. We have to be the example for others to follow in line with the Word of God.

6. Jesus promises He will come again. This truth keeps our eyes fixed on Jesus and motives us in the faith of godly living. In light of His soon and sudden return, we must be ready, be holy, and be hopeful. “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done” (Revelation 22:12).

7. Jesus sends us out as His witness to the world. Speaking the truth with love, we must warn and plead with men to be reconciled to God in Christ, for those who reject Jesus will be eternally condemned, but those who repent and believe He will save. We’re empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the gospel that brings salvation. We must boldly preach the Word.

Friend, I don’t know what 2021 will bring, but I know that now is the time to follow Jesus, the Holy One who became sin for us on the cross, that we might become the righteousness of God, and rose in victory that we might have eternal life.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Count on You

I don’t know the trials that may come my way today

But I need a saving hand, of this I’m sure

My heart and flesh may fail before the morning fades

And I’m not sure if my faith can endure

 

For all I know, I don’t know what to do

 

But I know you count the stars and call them all by name

And I know you calmed the storm and stilled the raging waves

And I know gave your life and conquered the grave

This I know for sure: I can count on you to save

 

So I’ll trust in your mercy

I’ll rest in your grace

Till my heart finds no other home

I will sing for your glory

I’ll dance in your love

And forever I will worship at your throne


For I know you count the stars and call them all by name

And I know you calmed the storm and stilled the raging waves

And I know gave your life and conquered the grave

This I know for sure: I can count on you to save

Monday, January 11, 2021

Unshakeable Kingdom

I am grateful that in Christ we are receiving a Kingdom that cannot be shaken, because the kingdoms of this world are about to become rubble.

Seriously, what is going on in this nation? Let me answer that question with this one word: godlessness.

When a nation rejects righteousness and applauds wickedness, this is what happens. When we refuse to give God honor and glory as Creator, when we trade the truth of God for lies and worship the creature rather than the Creator, and when we don’t see fit to acknowledge God, judgment falls as God gives us up to do what ought not to be done.

Read Romans 1:18-32 and see if this is not exactly where we are today. Any kingdom or nation filled with all manner of godlessness will not long endure.

But the King of kings will reign forever and ever!

“Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom to establish it and uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:7).

Friend, if you long for that kind of Kingdom, then let me urge you to put your trust in Jesus today! The soul of this nation will not be healed by the Democratic Party, nor will America be made great by the Republicans. Joe Biden is not the answer, and neither is Donald Trump.

“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man in whom there is no salvation” (Psalm 146:3). Rather, let us put our trust in the Lord Almighty who rules over the kings of the earth, who plants nations and uproots them, who blesses the obedience of faith and brings wrath against all ungodliness of men.

Let us seek godliness for the glory of God and the good of this country. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).

Let us open our Bibles and hear from God. “Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, we will certainly not escape if we reject the One who speaks to us from heaven!” (Hebrews 12:25).

The Savior is shouting from heaven for us to repent and call upon His name for mercy, lest this nation soon be shaken! Now is the time to turn to the Lord with all your heart, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

And if you belong to Jesus, then I encourage you to keep praying for this nation, but keep your eyes on the King. “Since we are receiving a Kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful and offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28).

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Dwelling Place

Sitting here at your feet

I just want to know you

Looking into your eyes

Hearing you speak

All the worries of life

Fade in your presence

There’s no place on earth

I’d rather be

 

Chorus

How lovely is your dwelling place

My soul longs, Lord, I yearn for you

My heart sings joyful praise

Your glory turns my highest gaze

To Jesus, You’re my dwelling place

 

Kneeling here at your cross

I just want to thank you

Thinking upon your blood

Poured out for me

All the guilt of my sin

It’s been forgiven

Nailed to the cross

Of Calvary

 

Jesus, You’re my Sun and You’re my Shield

My life to you forever I will yield

Your goodness and your grace

How awesome is this place

Where you draw me near

And make your heart my home

 

Bowing here at your throne

I just want to worship

Hailing you as my King

Ruler of all

All of heaven and earth

Kneel in confession

“Jesus Christ is Lord”

Glory to God!

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Questions?


If you spend any time around children, you know they ask a lot of questions. That’s how they learn. They’re fascinated by life, how things works, why the sky is blue, and where babies come from. We ought to encourage such curiosity and inspire their investigations.

Jesus asked many questions, as the Bible records for us. Not because He didn’t know the answers, but sometimes to spur His own disciples’ thinking toward the faith. Sometimes to turn the tables on His opponents. Sometimes to invite the hurting to come to Him for healing. Sometimes it was simply to question the traditions of a culture that had strayed far from the ways of God.

One of the foundations of good Bible study is a hermeneutic principle called exegesis. Essentially it is an approach to studying the text of Scripture to discover the original intent of meaning. It entails asking questions such as: Who is the author? Who is the audience? What is the historical context in which the text was written? What literary style is the author using? What is the author intending to say, and why? How does this text fit within the framework of the book as a whole? How does it fit within the greater narrative of the entire biblical account?

This process allows the Bible student to “get out of the text” what God is actually saying.

The opposite approach of exegesis is eisegesis, which means to read something into a text, usually one’s own pre-conceived ideas or particular slant of beliefs. In this method the student is not really asking questions seeking to dig out the truth, but rather looking for support to conclusions he’s already drawn.

We ought to be inquisitive seekers of truth, and our quest for truth ought to take us to the Word of God to hear Him speak. God delights to reveal Himself to those who seek Him with all their hearts. And He longs to direct our steps with the light of His Word.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

So when we ask, “What does the Bible say?”, we’re really asking, “What is God saying?”!

What does the Bible say about who God is? What does the Bible say about Jesus? What does the Bible say about eternity? What does the Bible say about sin? What does the Bible say about righteousness and justice? What does the Bible say about how we should live as Christians? What does the Bible say about what happens to those who do not obey the gospel?

Those are tremendously weighty questions every person ought to ask and rest not until finding assurance in the truth of God’s infallible, inerrant, unchanging Word.

Why not come join us at the Petersburg First Baptist Church and join us on this quest, this hunger and thirst for knowing the Lord and following His ways? We meet for worship on Sunday mornings at 10:45 in-person and Facebook Live, and currently have several smaller Life Group Bible studies meeting throughout the week.