Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Night Like No Other

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. - Luke 2:17-18

I try to imagine what it must have been like for those unsuspecting shepherds that night. It began as just another evening in the hill country near Bethlehem as they tended their flocks. The same stars under the same sky. The same smelly sheep they guarded day after day, night after night. The same wolves they had to chase away. The same diseases they cared for among their flock. The same grazing for food and water. The same searching for that lost sheep who was so prone to wander. Another routine night. Weren’t they all?

But not this night. Something was happening that day that would change their world. Something was happening that day that would change the course of history. Something greater than life itself, something supernatural, was happening in that little village of Bethlehem. And the shepherds would never be the same again.

For as they watched their flocks that night, they were suddenly jolted from their dark monotony of the shepherdhood and surrounded by the glory of the Lord in a brilliant display of brightness. In an instant they were terrified – an instinctive response for those who catch a vision of God’s glory. For who among sinful men is worthy to stand in the presence of His majesty?

But just as quickly their fears were relieved as the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid” (Luke 2:10). I did not come here tonight to bring the wrath of God’s judgment upon you, his words implied. I did not come to pronounce a message of doom and destruction, they soon understood. Then perhaps with the most joyous voice of pure delight and utter exhilaration ever heard by human ears, the angel declared: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

Surely in that moment the shepherds knelt there speechless. Astonished. Dazed. As in a dream from which they would surely awaken and resume their same ole watch. But before they could even begin to process this message, “Suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:13-14).

No, this was no ordinary night in Bethlehem. The sheep would be entrusted to God’s care tonight. “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds just stared at one another for a moment and said, ‘Dude, what are we waiting for? Let’s go!’” (Luke 2:15, author’s translation).

I doubt they wasted much time in making tracks to find the baby in that manger. No stops at the drive-through for a sandwich and soda tonight. The message was clear. The invitation was theirs: Behold, your Savior! Bethlehem! Tonight!

And when they arrived and found Mary and Joseph and the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in the manger, just as the angel had said, what a wondrous, heart-pounding, thrilling moment that must have been for these lowly shepherds. Never before had they been summoned to the royal court. Never before had they been delivered an invitation to the ball. But this was a night like no other. There in the manger was the King, the Messiah, the Savior, the Lord – and they were the first to come and worship.

Unable to contain their joy, the shepherds raced through town blaring the news of the awe-inspiring events, giving praise and glory to God for it all. There would be nothing the same about these shepherds any more.

I pray that the wonder of Christ’s coming and the salvation He came to bring will change your life as you believe in Him, and that your heart will be filled with joy, praise and adoration for Christ Jesus this Christmas and always.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Better than Angels

Angels are cool. The Bible records some pretty incredible assignments given by God to angels.

I love the account where Daniel is thrown mercilessly into the den of hungry and ferocious lions, only to be saved unscathed. The king rushed to the den after an anguished, sleepless night calling out, “Daniel, was your God able to deliver you?” And Daniel said, “My God sent His angel and shut the lion’s mouths, so that they have not hurt me.” That would have been a pretty cool assignment.

What about the angel Gabriel, who was called upon to let young Mary in on a special little secret? “Mary, uh, you’re not going to believe this, but I’ve got some news for you that will change the world!” I imagine Gabe could hardly contain his excitement.

Think about the angel who was chosen to appear before the shepherds near Bethlehem, framed in the glory of the Lord as the news of the Savior’s birth was joyously proclaimed. Then suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God as they sang of His glory and peace to men. Talk about a cool assignment!

Angels are cool. They’re popular. They’re safe to talk about. Have you watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” lately? I mean, who’s going to tremble in fear at the sight of the angel Joseph? Have you sent out Christmas cards with pictures of pretty little angels? Decorated your home with angel figurines? They’re non-threatening. Non-offensive. They’re cute. Probably cuddly, too. Ever heard of Angel Soft toilet paper?

Angels are cool, all right, even if you don’t have a biblical clue as to who or what they are or what they do. But we have to be certain that we don’t elevate the status of angels above or on par with that of the One who created them. As mighty and holy and glorious and helpful and cool as angels are, they absolutely pale in comparison to the power and glory and blessing and honor and splendor and majesty of Christ Jesus!

The centerpiece throughout the Bible and the centerpiece throughout creation and history and eternity is, and always has been, and always will be Christ Jesus – God, who became flesh and dwelt among us! Angels are just the messengers; Jesus is the Message! Let us not get caught up in or distracted by angelic warm fuzzy feelings, or by anything else that would divert our eyes and hearts and minds and souls and wills from the One who is to be forever praised!

No angel is ever given the title of “Son.” But Jesus is He who was “promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures…born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:2-4).

No angel is worthy of your worship. But Jesus is He before whom the angels bow as God declares, “Let all the angels of God worship Him” (Heb. 1:6).

No angel will reign for ever and ever on the throne of his own kingdom. But Jesus is He whom the prophet Isaiah foretold: “Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever” (Isa. 9:7).

No angel has ever set a single star in the sky or set the ocean’s boundaries. But Jesus is He of whom the Scripture says, “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or power. All things were created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16).

No angel will ever sit at the place of the Most High in eternal glory. But Jesus is He “who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him” (1 Pet. 3:22).

And no angel can possibly save you from your sins and bring you to God. But Jesus is He “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Pet. 2:24).

Angels are cool, but Jesus is far superior. Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn King!

Monday, December 15, 2008


I cannot tell you who wrote this poem or where to find it. A dear man whose funeral we held today gave a copy of this to me about four years ago. I'll reprint it here in his memory.

Spring will change to summer
The summer into fall
Fall will bring the winter
Yes, time will change them all

Truly the love of Jesus
Will live forevermore
Throughout the endless ages
His promises are sure!

He never changes
Oh! He’s just the same
Now and forever
He will remain

Oh! Heaven and earth will pass away
But one thing is sure
God is eternal
In Him I’m secure!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

That's My King

Here's a link to a video presentation on featuring an inspiring message from S.M. Lockridge. I think you'll enjoy this passionate attempt to describe the indescribable, and be drawn to the worship of Christ Jesus the King.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Memorizing God's Word

If I asked you to recite the Pledge of Allegiance you’d zip through it with ease. If I asked you for the words of your favorite Christmas carol you’d rattle them off in no time. If I asked you for your phone number, your mailing address, your Social Security number or your birth date you’d be able to give them off the top of your head.

But if I asked you to quote a couple of verses in the Bible, could you do it? Word-for-word?

My desire for you is that you would want to know God’s Word so well that you take the steps and make the effort to memorize it. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can’t. You have already memorized slogans from advertisements, lines from your favorite movie and the phone number for pizza delivery. You can memorize God’s Word.

What’s the value of memorizing Scripture? It helps you to know God more as He reveals His truth to you. I have experienced this personally as I’ve memorized His Word. It is amazing how the Holy Spirit reveals understanding and depth of knowledge about the Lord and His ways through committing portions of the Bible to memory.

It helps you to provide a timely word for witnessing or in counseling someone. How often God has used a verse I’ve learned from His Word to give me just the right truth to say at the opportune time! You can be prepared for the many unexpected spiritual encounters and conversations you’ll have by keeping Bible verses in your arsenal.

It helps strengthen your faith. Dr. Don Whitney, a professor I had in seminary wrote this in a wonderful book called Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life: “Memorizing Scripture strengthens your faith because it repeatedly reinforces the truth, often just when you need to hear it.” That’s why I would also add that you should memorize verses word for word, so that you’ll have greater confidence in using God’s Word knowing that it’s His message and not just your vague paraphrase of it.

It helps you to fight against temptations and traps the enemy sets for you. The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God, with which you can battle against the forces of darkness and evil. When Jesus faced the devil in the wilderness, He overcame powerfully by quoting and correctly applying God’s Word in the face of temptation.

It helps guide you in choosing the path you ought to take. At the right time the Holy Spirit will bring to your mind a verse or passage you’ve memorized to help you make the right decision.

The goal of memorizing Scripture is not to take pride in how many verses we can memorize. It’s not an end in and of itself, but it’s to let the word of Christ dwell ever so much more richly within us that the Spirit uses His Word to transform our hearts and minds and lives toward Godliness, that we might become vessels of honor, set apart and ready to do the work God has prepared for us.

Why not start by memorizing Luke 2:8-14 this week? It’s the familiar story of the angels announcing the birth of Christ to the shepherds – you probably already know it pretty well. Learn it word for word.

There are seven verses in that passage, so if you’d like just take one verse per day and in a week you’ll have it memorized. Personally, what I like to do is to read the entire passage out loud over and over again. Read it several times a day if possible. Read it for several days, or several weeks – every day. Before long you’ll be able to recall much of it before you even start working to intentionally memorize it.

If it helps, write it down. Writing out the verse or passage engages additional senses that will help you. Or, draw pictures that help you remember the words. Record yourself speaking it onto a CD or other device that you can take with you and listen to in the car, as you take a walk or do your housework. Whatever works best for you, get the Word of God into you and let the Spirit apply it.

So start working on Luke 2:8-14 [printed below]. You can memorize this passage! And see if that doesn’t bring out a greater joy and adoration in your heart for the Savior this Christmas.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

[Luke 2:8-14, NIV]

Feel free to use the Bible translation of your choice!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giving Thanks

As a shy teenager, Barbara Ann Kipfer started keeping a list of her favorite things. Before long the list began to flow naturally. She found herself adding to it while riding the bus, at the breakfast table and during the middle of the night. Some twenty years and dozens of spiral notebooks later, her list was published as a book. The title? 14,000 Things To Be Happy About.

Could you write such a book? As we celebrate the Thanksgiving Day holiday, does gratitude flow naturally from your heart for your favorite things?

The Bible echoes with the call for God’s people to “give thanks to the Lord.”

But who needs to be told to be thankful? Thanksgiving and praise to God flows naturally from the heart and through the lips of those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ Jesus. How could it be otherwise? When you’ve been rescued from the clutches of death and darkness and brought into the kingdom of the beloved Son of God, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, how could your heart not overflow with thanksgiving?

I love the account in Luke 7 where a Pharisee invites Jesus into his home for dinner. While they’re eating, this woman, who had quite a sinful reputation in town, comes in and disturbs the meal. She brings a jar of expensive perfume and stands at Jesus’ feet, weeping. Then she begins to wet His feet with her tears, bends down to wipe them with her hair and starts kissing them. She took her bottle of Guerlain’s Le Parfum Sur Mesure (or something) and poured it as she anointed the feet of her Savior.

The Pharisee, who was all about outward religious appearances but cold and empty-hearted, was quite put off by this brash display. In his own mind he thought that if Jesus really were a prophet then surely He would know what kind of woman this who was touching Him, and most certainly would not allow any thing of the sort.

But Jesus had something to say to the man with the critical attitude. He told a story that explained the situation. Hear the words of Jesus:

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” (Luke 7:41-42).

The dinner host correctly answered that the one who owed the larger debt would have loved him more. Here’s where Jesus gets to the heart of the matter. While the Pharisee could only see this woman as a wretched sinner still owing a huge debt, Jesus saw her as a grateful woman whose debt had been cancelled. And with that debt cleared from her record, thanksgiving and love flowed naturally.

Jesus turned to the woman and said to His host: “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:44-48).

You may or may not be able to come up with 14,000 things to be happy about, but here’s one to start with: the forgiveness of your sins. If your faith rests in Jesus’ sacrifice for your sins on the cross, you know what it is to be forgiven and cleansed, and given new life in Christ Jesus. That’s my number one – my favorite thing. What’s yours?

Jesus said to the woman with the tainted past and stained reputation: “Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:48, 50). She’s been rescued from her sins, saved from the clutches of death and hell, and brought into the light of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. How could her heart not overflow with love and thanksgiving and praise?

She would have risen up and sang with the psalmist: “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from the hand of the adversary” (Psalm 107:1-2).

Monday, November 24, 2008

True-Hearted Worship [A Thanksgiving Song]

I offer the following verses in thanksgiving and praise to the One whom I worship with ever-increasing desire that my heart be true and that His name be glorified.

Why is my heart so full of thanks
With praises on my tongue?
Why do I smile in my soul
When Jesus songs are sung?
I’ll shout it from the mountain high
Till every ear has heard:
My Jesus loves me this I know,
He told me in His Word

My heart is filled with holy fear
In reverence for my King
Almighty God, the Lord of lords
Who reigns o’er everything
I’ll offer up my very life
The cross I’ll gladly bear
Proclaim salvation in His name
To people everywhere

Give me an undefiled heart
That’s faithful, right and true
Lord, anchor my soul to your Word
Cleanse me through and through
Whom have I, Lord, on earth or heav’n
Apart from You alone?
O may your Spirit take my heart
And bind it to your throne

My heart is filled with peace and joy
In Christ, my great delight
Who saved me from the dark of hell
And brought me to His light
O Christian, join your heart in praise
Give thanks with grateful song
The Lord is good, His faithfulness
Endures forever long.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

One Way Bowling, One Way Salvation

We had a fun time bowling with some of the youth last Saturday. Neither our forms nor our scores were the stuff of the PBA tour, but we enjoyed our time together. Hopefully we didn't damage the lanes or put dents in the gutters!

After lunch and bowling I wanted to take the opportunity to share the gospel with our students. I'm a preacher, you know. You can't miss a moment like this, can you?

Let me ask you, reader, the same question I started the discussion with. How many different ways are there to bowl?

There are many different approaches and many different styles, but there's only one way to knock the pins down - you've gotta use the bowling ball. I can't get a running start, sprint down the lane and do a belly flop gliding with outstretched arms to send the pins flying. I can't take a shop broom and sweep the pins over with a single push. There's only one (right) way to bowl.

That's what I wanted to emphasize with the students. The Bible teaches clearly and emphatically that Jesus is the only way to the Father. As Jesus answered plainly in John 14:6: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

We also read through selected portions of Mark's gospel in chapters 15 and 16 highlighting Jesus' suffering and death, His burial and His resurrection.

Many people believe that there are multiple roads that lead to heaven. It's common to hear things like, "Well, it really doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you believe something. We all pray to the same God." Or, "A loving God wouldn't let anyone go hell." Or, "Yeah, I think I'm good enough to go to heaven."

These statements prove a great lack in understanding the biblical view of salvation and a sad view of the significance of why Jesus came to die on the cross for sinners. If there were any other way that man might possibly be saved from death and hell, then Jesus' suffering and sacrifice would have been absolutely unnecessary!

Here are some other key verses in God's Word that affirm the road to heaven is Jesus alone:

John 1:12 - But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.

John 3:16-17 - For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

Acts 4:12 - Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Acts 16:30-31 - And he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household."

Romans 5:8 - But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 10:9-13 - That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. for "whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."

1 Corinthians 15:1-5 - Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you - unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.

Ephesians 1:13-14 - In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

Ephesians 2:8-9 - For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 - For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.

Titus 3:4-7 - But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

1 Peter 1:3-5 - Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

1 Peter 2:24 - Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness - by whose stripes you were healed.

1 Peter 3:18 - For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.

1 John 5:11-13 - And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

This is just a sampling! I'm just getting warm-up! The whole Bible reveals that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the one and only Savior and Lord.

I asked the students to rate the following sentences based on what they believe to be true. See what you think about them.

1 = No way! 2 = I don’t think so 3 = I don’t know 4 = Might be 5 = Yes, baby!

_____ I will go to heaven someday because I am kind to others.

_____ I will go to heaven because I go to church.

_____ I will go to heaven because God couldn’t possibly do without me there.

_____ I will go to heaven because everybody goes to heaven.

_____ I will go to heaven because I am a pretty good person.

_____ I’m not sure whether I will go to heaven or not.

_____ I will go to heaven because…[answer with your understanding of salvation in your own words]

I praise God for the ones who are sure their sins have been forgiven in Christ and are living their lives in devoted trust, love and obedience to Jesus.

But for some, by their varied answers, there's still much work to be done. I pray that God will pour out His Spirit of Truth upon their hearts, that they will not be dissuaded by the world's distorted views of God and His salvation, and that He will draw them to a true understanding and personal receiving of the gospel of Christ Jesus.

How would you answer that last one in your own words?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Living Better

I’m not a guy who likes to do much shopping. Seriously, shopping for groceries or household stuff is tough enough, but even when I’m looking for something I want I don’t like to shop. I spent an hour browsing around LifeWay Christian Stores the other day looking at books, Bibles and gifts. But when I walked out I was lamenting how much time I wasted.

And to shop for gifts for others – let’s just say you don’t want to hire me to do your Christmas shopping. Once upon a time many moons ago I purchased a department store gift card for my wife’s birthday. Thankfully I lived to tell about it and warn others of the dangers of such foolishness.

Recently with some birthday money I went to the new wide-aisled, well-known local mecca of low prices that bills itself as the place where you will “Save money” and “Live better.” Maybe I should have stayed home and saved my money and lived better.

Anyway, I bought a pair of blue jeans and a black sweater. When I arrived home to put the jeans in the closet and the sweater in the drawer, what do you suppose I did with my other jeans and other shirts?

A. Nothing.
B. Toss them all in the Goodwill pile.
C. Think briefly about getting rid of at least one pair of jeans that are holey.
D. Rejoice that I saved money and now I’m living better.

If you answered “A,” the million’s just 14 questions away. You probably didn’t even need to use a lifeline. My same old jeans are still sitting on the same shelf in the same closet as my new jeans. My same old shirts are still folded up in the same drawer as my new one. I added on to my wardrobe, but I didn’t get rid of one thing.

Here comes the point. There are many people who think they can add Jesus on the same way. They like what He says He can do for them, especially the whole thing about heaven and all. I’m mean, who wants to go to hell? But receiving Jesus is not at all like buying a new pair of pants. You can not simply add Jesus on to your life and keep all the old stuff, too. He’s not interested in occupying a spot on the same shelf in the same closet of your heart as all of your old ways.

The Bible says it this way: “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19). To receive Jesus as your Savior and confess Him as Lord is to turn away from sin. To believe in Jesus is to “put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24), and it’s also to “put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to deceitful lusts” (Ephesians 4:22).

If Jesus is truly your Lord, then you will want to obey His word. You will want to please Him in every way. You will want to “flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).

If Jesus is truly the Lord of your life then you’ll want nothing to do with the old, sinful ways in which you used to live – or may still be trying to live. You’ll have a disdain for everything that even hints of evil and wickedness. You will hate the things God hates, such as dishonest gain, the wrongdoing of others, the worthless idols others cling to, the faithless deeds of men, pride, arrogance, evil behavior, perverse speech, all that is false, robbery and iniquity, worshipping false gods, injustice, unrighteousness, worthless religious festivals, plotting evil against your neighbor, swearing falsely, divorce, violence, false teachings and every wrong path.

Friend, I urge you to come to Jesus, for indeed it by grace through faith in Him you are saved. Eternal life in heaven is the gift of God, while hell is real for those who persist in sin and unbelief. But please know that you cannot just add Jesus on to your old wardrobe. Get rid of all things sinful and keep fleeing those old lusts – and keep pursuing all things Christ. That’s what “living better” is all about.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Yet I Will Rejoice!

It's been a tough week. Plans haven't gone as I wanted. The Marriage Check-up seminar got cancelled last week for lack of participants (only 2 couples had signed up!). Didn't make it to the Pastor's Conference that I was looking forward to. Missed the chance to get together with my old college roommate. Lost my favorite ball cap. Oldest boy's been sick. Wife's been sick and still has a bum foot. Haven't had the study time I'd like to prepare for Sunday. Didn't get my article written for the Ridgway News. Yard still full of leaves. And it's raining, again.

But God is good. I praise Him in all of it. He is the One who is in control - and not me. There's a refreshing thought!

I'm looking forward to Sunday. It's Youth Sunday and I can't wait to see how God is going to keep moving in the hearts and lives of our students. Already there are two who have publicly confessed Christ as Savior and Lord and are ready to take the step of baptism. I pray for more!

There's so much to still rejoice in. The Iron Men men's Bible study that we resumed on Monday night. A cooperative, glad-hearted business meeting Wednesday night. More time at home with my family this week. A strong, biblical message from Grant Medford last Sunday morning. No matter what the circumstances may be, God is God, He is good, and I will rejoice in Him.

"Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior." - Habakkuk 3:17-18

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Post-Election Comments - Presidential Race and Proposition 8

To follow up with my thoughts on the presidential election results, I couldn't agree more with what Dr. Albert Mohler has written on his blog, "America Has Chosen a President," posted Nov. 5. At the risk of appearing to merely parrot the ideas and words of others, I'll refer you in this case to his article. He's a great Christian thinker and a great writer. I could not express my own thoughts any better. It's worth reading.

The bottom line is this: God is still in control. The Lord still reigns and rules from heaven, and He always will.
  • "The king's heart is in the hands of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases." - Proverbs 21:1
  • "The authorities that exist have been established by God." - Romans 13:1b
  • "The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths." - Psalm 135:6
Jesus is still the King of kings and Lord of lords, our only hope for healing. Neither Barack Obama, John McCain, nor anyone other man or woman can bind up the wounds of individual lives, nor heal this land.

Now, more than ever, I believe the call rings out for God's people to truly "humble themselves and pray and seek [His] face and turn from their wicked ways." Then we will also experience the blessings of God's promise: "Then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14).

I've also been checking to see what the status is on the Proposition 8 vote in California. Though supporters have claimed victory, not all votes are in yet, so I will hold off for now on saying this is a major victory.

The sad truth is, as a commenter on yesterday's post said, that this issue of legalizing same sex marriage even appears on the ballot at all. And even if Prop 8 wins, you can see how evenly divided that state remains. No doubt, the fight will wage on.

Gladly, in the two other states in which this issue appeared before voters, Arizona and Florida, the sanctity of marriage was upheld by voters who said they wanted a ban on same sex marriage in their constitutions.

You have to wonder what's in store for America. For some reason, God has chosen to withhold a major windfall of His wrath against the sins of our nation. But to some degree we're already experiencing His judgment.

When you read Romans 1:18-32 you can easily see this country described as the ones who have "exchanged the truth of God for a lie." We're seeing God's wrath being revealed in the way that He has "[given] them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another."

We're seeing God's wrath being revealed in the way He has "[given] them over to shameful lusts." To the extent that He gives us over to our own wicked and shameful desires is judgment enough! How much more to come! The parading of sin and unrighteousness in this land and the approval of such wickedness reveals that to a certain degree God has already given this nation over to her own ways. And that's the judgment we're experiencing.

Read Isaiah 3 concerning the Lord's judgment on Jerusalem and Judah and see if their situation doesn't mirror ours today. "The look on their faces testifies against them; they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves" (Isaiah 3:9).

In the rampant atmosphere of sexual immorality, in the killing of the unborn, in the oppression of the poor, in the greed of man, in the misdirection of our guides...the wrath of God is already being revealed from heaven. And beyond what we're already experiencing, Paul says this in Romans 2:5: "But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentent heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed."

Friend, don't let it be so for you. Return to the Lord and receive God's forgiveness and mercy offered to you through the blood of Jesus. God demonstrated the boundless depths of His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). Receive Jesus by faith, for as many as receive Him, to all who believe in His name, God grants that we may become children of God (John 1:12).

And let us pray for our President-elect, for the choices and decisions he makes in selecting his leadership team, for guiding and signing national policy, for the example he sets and the direction he leads, that wisdom from heaven will prevail.

Let us pray and plead for God to move and act for His own glory through His church on behalf of this land.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

On the Ballot - Seeking God's Truth on Election Day

There's so much I want to say about this nation, the direction we're going, this election and the issues related to it...I hope and I pray that the people of this land aren't making their decisions based upon what the mainstream liberal media has to say, nor upon what conservative talk radio suggests. I sincerely pray for our country to get down on their knees in prayer seeking the Father's will.

Let me just address one topic concerning this year's election - for now. Proposition 8. I’m really interested to see what will happen in California on this vote. Whether for good or bad, the State of California often sets the trends that will soon enough sweep across the rest of the country.

In 2000, the people of California voted 61% in favor of passing Proposition 22, which added a section to the California Family Code to formally define marriage in California as being between a man and a woman. On May 15, 2008, the California Supreme Court in a 4-3 vote ruled this initiative as unconstitutional, thus granting the right of same sex individuals to marry, overturning the will of the people.

I’m praying that God will convict the people of California to once again vote in favor of protecting marriage. I pray that they will rise up against the judicial activism of the California Supreme Court, overwhelmingly pass this measure and send a message to the rest of the country that marriage, as God has designed and ordained it, is to be held in honor by all men (Heb. 13:4). I hope you know where your candidate stands on this issue!

I don’t have enough time to detail all the reasons why allowing same sex couples to marry is a terrible idea in any society. But it is enough to give one. What God has established from the beginning to be true for all nations for all times is this: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Any departure from God’s design for marriage the sexual union within the bounds of marriage, will surely lead to judgment. Think Sodom and Gomorrah.

Here’s how the Bible reveals what God thinks about homosexuality: “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable” (Lev. 18:22).

Is homosexuality forbidden only under the Old Testament law? Of course not – all Scripture is God-breathed. Look at 1 Corinthians 6:9-10: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” See also Romans 1 for a frighteningly true picture of how God pours out His wrath “from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Rom. 1:18).

I’ve not even begun to address the wickedness of abortion that is destroying this land! I’ve not even begun to talk about the many other forms of ungodliness that are tearing apart our nation. But when the Word of God is so clear on a matter, and when the hearts of people are so stubbornly wicked, why should we not expect judgment to fall hard upon this nation?!

The time is now for people everywhere to turn away from evil and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. While there is still time! The Day of Judgment will come!

But there is hope for healing and hope for salvation. Talking about the wicked Paul says: “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).

What about you? Will you repent of sin and follow the ways of the Lord, or will you continue with your own plans, following the stubbornness of your own evil heart?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Refreshing Perspective on Your Vote

This has been a crazy election season, and I'm sure it will only get crazier in the next few days - and for however long it may take to sort out the votes after they've been cast!

Many people get so heated when it comes to politics and their candidate of choice. Even normally mild-mannered Christians transform into partisan maniacs when conversation turns political, on both sides of the aisle. To be sure, this year's election is, as every election is, a crucial turning point in the course of a nation's history, and the responsibility we each have to seek the heart and will of God first and foremost in arriving at our decisions is imperative. Nevertheless, will your faith tumble if your party doesn't win? Will your trust in Christ be bolstered by your party's victory?

I realize there is much at stake for our country next Tuesday, but I believe this refreshing article by John Piper will help you keep a proper biblical perspective. Please read: "Let Christians Vote as Though They Were Not Voting."

Add a comment and let me know what you think.

One Thing, Three Ways

I have one thing on my mind this morning – one passion, one purpose, one prayer: that the name of God would be exalted and glorified as His kingdom comes and His will is done. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

There are three ways in which I have a pressing desire to see His glory magnified. In no certain order, one is in regards to the leadership and direction of this country. Unless you’ve been hiding out in a cave somewhere for the past two years, you are well aware of the fact that next Tuesday, Nov. 4, is Election Day. I’d be willing to bet you’re also about as ready for all of the campaigning and political ads and mudslinging to just go away.

I want to ask you this: are you seeking the Father’s will in regard to who you will vote for next week? Do you want God to be glorified in your choice for President? For Congress? For court benches? Do you want leaders who will follow the paths of righteousness and justice according to the Word of God? “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). God is glorified when men delight in seeking His face and following His ways.

Let me urge you to do your homework before stepping into the voting booth. Please do not merely punch the party ticket you’ve always punched. Know where each candidate stands and what each stands for. And by the way, although either John McCain or Barack Obama will certainly win the presidential election, there are other candidates on the ballot that you might want to check out if you don’t care for either of these.

In any case, the Bible does command us to pray for our leaders. “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

The second way in which I want to see God’s glory displayed is in the keeping of the covenant of marriage. I know I’ve been on this horse for a long time, but I’m staying on as long as I continue to see marriages crumble and as long as the fight to redefine marriage in this country rages on.

To any who question God’s design for marriage, I defer to Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees: “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6). God is glorified as His will, His design, His purpose for marriage is held in honor by all.

With that said, let me invite you to a “Marriage Check-up Seminar” on Saturday, Nov. 8, from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. It will be held at the Saline Baptist Association Center, 3890 Highway 145 South, about five miles south of Harrisburg. Grant and Jennifer Medford of Springfield, IL, will lead the seminar. Grant is the Director of Student and Family Ministries with the Illinois Baptist State Association. There is no cost to you for this event, and a noon lunch will also be provided. I’ll say that again in case you didn’t hear it: This is a FREE seminar that will help your marriage! My wife and I are planning to go, and I would encourage any couple who wants to come to pre-register now by calling 618-252-1440.

Okay, third and final thing for now. I want to see the name of our Lord hallowed among our young people. I know things aren’t like they used to be even %& years ago when I was in school. The things that compete for the attention and affections of our youth today are relentless and reckless. Students are bombarded with more ungodliness and temptations to sin in more accessible and culturally acceptable ways than ever before.

I’m praying and asking you to pray fervently for God’s glory to shine through the lives of our youth as His kingdom comes and His will is done in them and through them. What a spiritual awakening would we see in this county and beyond if the light of Christ Jesus begins to burn brightly in the hearts and lives of our students! Come, Holy Spirit, come!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Loving October

October is quickly coming to an end. I'm sad to see it go.

I've always loved the month of October. For one thing, my birthday falls during this month, though now that my youngest son's birthday is only two days apart from mine, guess who's gets lost in the shuffle? I'm okay with that.

The changing of the colors makes this a beautiful time of the year. I enjoy the crisp coolness in the air. Take a drive around southern Illinois in the fall and you can't miss the beauty of God's creation nor the wisdom of the seasons.

Football's in full gear. The World Series is in swing. Basketball's getting warmed up to take the court. Monopoly's playing at McDonald's. It's the most wonderful time of the year!

But I have had an added reason to love October since I've become a pastor: Pastor Appreciation Month. I don't know what other churches do for their pastors, but I wouldn't trade what Ridgway does for me for anything. Daily when I come into the church office in the morning, someone has left a surprise gift. Yes, I said daily. Here's a short list of some treats left by an unknown giver(s):

  • Angel food cake
  • Snack basket containing Cokes, Sprites, M&M's, chocolates, crackers, Rice Krispie treat and some kind of deviled-egg chocolate thing
  • A bag of Snickers candy bars
  • Edy's Double Fudge Brownie ice cream
  • Gift cards to Starbucks, McDonald's, Cracker Barrel and Mimmo's Pizza
  • Books - lots of books
  • Dental floss
  • Medicated chest rub
  • Post-it Notes
  • Pen and bookmark set
  • A very nice tie from the Glory Beams Sunday School class
  • A Vidal Sassoon personal grooming kit from the Naomi & Ruth Sunday School class - don't ask, it's a long story
  • and, maybe my favorite, well, besides the ice cream - a "Have a Super Day" paperweight that plays the "Superman" theme when you press the button

Pretty amazing stuff. God has blessed me through this church beyond abundant. How can I say thanks? It's the kind of stuff grace is made of. You know I'm loving it!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It's Still My Father's World

This is my Father’s world. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters” (Ps. 24:1-2).

This is my Father’s world. “For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is Mine, and all it contains” (Ps. 50:10-12).

This is my Father’s world. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Gen. 1:1, 31).

This is my Father’s world. “Who has measured the waters in the hallow of His hand, and marked off the heavens by the span, and calculated the dust of the earth by the measure, and weighed the mountains in a balance and the hills in a pair of scales?” (Isa. 40:12).

This is my Father’s world. “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in” (Isa. 40:21-22).

This is my Father’s world. “To whom then will you liken Me that I would be his equal?” says the Holy One. Life up your eyes on high and see who created these stars, the One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing” (Isa. 40:25-26).

This is my Father’s world. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?…Who set its measurements?…Or who stretched the line on it? On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who enclosed the sea with doors when, bursting forth, it went out from the womb; when I made a cloud its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and I placed boundaries on it and set a bolt and doors, and I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther; and here shall your proud waves stop’?” (Job 38:4-11).

This is my Father’s world. “Have you ever in your life commanded the morning, and caused the dawn to know its place, that it might take hold of the ends of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it?…Have you entered into the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of the deep darkness? Have you understood the expanse of the earth?” (Job 38:12-13, 16-18).

This is my Father’s world. “He sends forth springs in the valleys; they flow between the mountains; they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they lift up their voices among the branches. He waters the mountains from His upper chambers; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of His works” (Ps. 104:10-13).

This is my Father’s world. “O Lord, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all; the earth is full of Your possessions…They all wait for You to give them their food in due season. You give to them, they gather it up; You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good” (Ps. 104:24, 27-28).

This is my Father’s world. “He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:15-17).

This is my Father’s world. “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created” (Rev. 4:11).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

My Father's World

I don't usually walk the six blocks from my house to church on Sunday morning, but I'm glad I did this week.

It was a beautiful, bright autumn morning with the sun beaming forth in all its warmth and glory. The trees were displaying the beauty of the fall colors, and the multitudes of birds in the air joined together in a delightful symphony, filling the morning sky with their Maker's praise.

My lips were compelled by the overflow of my heart's praise at the wonder of the Lord's creation to sing, "This Is My Father's World."

The lyrics below were penned by Maltbie D. Babcock over 100 years ago. According to, while a pas­tor in Lock­port, New York, Bab­cock liked to hike in an ar­ea called “the es­carp­ment,” an an­cient up­thrust ledge near Lock­port. It has a mar­vel­ous view of farms, or­chards, and Lake On­tar­io, about 15 miles dis­tant. It is said those walks in the woods in­spired these lyr­ics. The ti­tle re­calls an ex­press­ion Bab­cock used when start­ing a walk: “I’m go­ing out to see my Fa­ther’s world.”

"The heavens are telling the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands" (Ps. 19:1). As you read through - or sing through - the words of this beautiful hymn, let your heart and mind be captivated by the wonders of our Father's creation.

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.

This is my Father’s world, dreaming, I see His face.
I ope my eyes, and in glad surprise cry, “The Lord is in this place.”
This is my Father’s world, from the shining courts above,
The Beloved One, His Only Son,
Came—a pledge of deathless love.

This is my Father’s world, should my heart be ever sad?
The lord is King—let the heavens ring. God reigns—let the earth be glad.
This is my Father’s world. Now closer to Heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth Christ trod.
No place but is holy ground.

This is my Father’s world. I walk a desert lone.
In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze God makes His glory known.
This is my Father’s world, a wanderer I may roam
Whate’er my lot, it matters not,
My heart is still at home.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

FIREPROOF opening this weekend

You may know that the movie, FIREPROOF, opens in theaters nationwide this Friday. I realize that you have a very difficult decision to make in viewing entertainment on Friday night with the first Presidential debate slated to air, so maybe you’d rather see the movie on Saturday instead. Or you could record the debate and watch it later. Whatever works for you.

Our nearest theater in Marion, IL, has sold out the 6:40 showing on Friday night. They were also sold out on Sunday night, but have other showings still available. I'm still hoping my wife and I will be able to attend one of them this opening weekend.

I want you to see this movie, too. I know you could wait until it comes out on DVD, but in order to let Hollywood know that we appreciate movies like this, there needs to be a strong turnout at the box offices on opening weekend.

So many couples, even Bible-believing Christian couples, are missing out on the greater joys of the covenant marriage relationship that God has established and intended for them. FIREPROOF provides a picture of what it’s like when a husband turns away from self-centeredness and begins loving his wife with the love of Christ. Contrary to what the culture seems to think these days, living out a marriage God’s way really does bring a greater joy to both husband and wife.

Hope to see you at the show!

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Love that loves even when it hurts

“How am I supposed to show love to somebody who constantly rejects me?”

This line in the upcoming movie, FIREPROOF, marks the beginning of a revelation in Caleb’s life that will lead him first to the love of Christ and then to a love for his wife.

Are you making plans to see this movie on opening weekend? FIREPROOF opens this Friday, September 26, and will be playing in over 800 theaters nationwide. Your investment of time and ticket prices will be well worth it!

Why am I so sold on FIREPROOF? Because I believe more than anything that seeing this movie will give you hope for your marriage. You might be thinking that it’s way too late to save your marriage, but hold on, dear friend!

You may be saying, “Yeah, but I’ve tried everything to make this marriage work, and nothing’s working! We gave it a shot, but I just can’t give any more. We fight all the time. He’s been unfaithful. She spends more money than we make. We don’t agree on anything. I’m not sure if the love’s even there. Even if I tried to work it out and make things better, how am I supposed to love somebody who constantly rejects me?”

When Caleb Holt (played by Kirk Cameron) asked this question, his father explained that this is the love that Jesus Christ showed to us on the cross. Think about that for a while. Jesus didn’t come to die on the cross because we loved Him and were looking for a way to know Him personally. He suffered and bled and died for those who rejected Him. He sacrificed His body in demonstration of a love that goes beyond all human reason. The Bible says it this way: “But while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

That’s not a love I can figure out. I can’t explain how anyone would willingly die for those who would scoff and torture him. I can’t comprehend a man who could look at the Roman soldiers spitting in His face, crowning Him mockingly with thorns, and driving nails into His hands and feet, and somehow voice an audible prayer to God, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

A true understanding of such a love comes only by divine revelation. God has revealed in His holy Word that He loved this world so much that He gave His one and only Son over to death in our place so that we would not have to suffer His wrath against sin, but instead have everlasting life.

Friend, if you’ll open your heart to God, He will reveal how great His merciful loving-kindness is toward you. Even though you’ve constantly rejected Him, He has shown His love for you. And as long as you’re still breathing, He gives you the invitation to receive His love by receiving Jesus as your Savior and Lord.

In this love God forgives your sin, erases your guilt and removes your shame. In this love God fills you up with peace, with joy and with love. He transforms your life from self-centeredness to Christ-centeredness. He dwells within your heart through faith and keeps you in step with His Spirit so that you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. It’s like being born again. Do you know God’s love for you today?

When God revealed this love to Caleb, he received Christ’s sacrifice for his sins and received new life in Christ. And only then could Caleb begin showing that same Christ-like love to his wife who constantly rejected him. He learned that he could not give a love that he did not have.

What about you? The hope for your marriage is the love of Christ Jesus. The only hope for salvation from death and hell is the love of Christ Jesus. If your marriage or your life needs desperately to be saved or strengthened, cry out to Jesus and fall upon His mercy and grace. He can make your life and your marriage fireproof.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rock Climbing Discipline

I'm still sore from rock climbing. Not a real scaling-the-mountain thing, but a challenging indoor rock wall. The soreness, though, is definitely real.

My family and I had a chance to spend a few days vacationing in tropical St. Louis last week. As a pastor it's important for the vacation time to be spent out of town. Hopefully it's a great opportunity to reaffirm the family bond, enjoy our time with each other, face new adventures together, establish some family traditions, then come back refreshed and ready to get back to work. That's what our week has been for us, and for me.

The rock wall was at the St. Louis Mills mall in the Nascar Speedpark area. On Saturday they had a two-for one deal on wristbands that allowed you access to the go-carts, bumper boats, Lazer Tag, mini-golf and the rock climbing wall. I bought the boys wristbands so they could do as much as they wanted, and I bought some extra tickets so that I could go with them on some things. I wasn't exactly planning on trying out the rock wall.

Did you know that when some muscles don't get used very much, and then all of a sudden you engage them in strenuous activity, they have a way of hollering back at you the next morning?

Tyler wanted to climb the rock wall, and so I joined him. I wasn't even half way up when I fell the first time. But I got up, shook off my embarrassment, and went back up. This time I made it to the top, using those muscles that would soon get even with me.

I went on one more climb on the other wall, and scaled that one, which seemed a bit easier. Tyler also made it to the top on that wall. But after that I was done. I could feel my forearms weakening by the minute, and I knew I had nothing left to give.

I wasn't sure where I wanted to head with this post, but every story has to have a spiritual purpose, right? I think for me the lesson is this: "Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness." (1 Timothy 4:7)

If I had been training my body regularly, I would have been prepared to face the rock wall. I would have eagerly looked forward to such a challenge. Even though the task may still have seemed daunting, I would have known that I could handle it. And my muscles would not have been so irritated at me the next day.

Doesn't it seem like when God places a challenge in front of us that the difference in whether we make it or break it is in our spiritual preparedness? If I am disciplining, or training, myself in the ways of godliness consistently, then the challenges that come my way don't seem so difficult. They may still be daunting, but when I'm fit in the strength that Christ provides, then what can I not handle? What load can I not bear in the sufficiency of God's grace?

We need - and I need - to be daily preparing for the rock climbing walls of life. We train ourselves for the purpose of godliness by feeding on the word of God, praying without ceasing, trusting Him for all things, obeying His commands, seeking His kingdom, relying upon His provision, walking in His guidance, resting in His promises, letting His Holy Spirit direct all our ways, and so on.

Godliness is profitable for all things. I will never have any regrets in following hard after the things of God. The effort, the work, the discipline, the sacrifice - whatever it takes to train myself in the ways of godliness - will all be more than worthwhile.

Lord God Almighty, there is great joy in the ways of godliness, and O how valuable your way is in facing whatever rock walls are set before me. With your help I can advance against the foe. With your help I can scale a wall. Strengthen me in your grace, and strengthen your church in your power. May we discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness, knowing it is profitable for all things.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Thoughts on the Tennessee Valley shooting

My primary reason for writing this post is to answer the question: "What is the Unitarian Universalist church?" I was asked this yesterday and couldn't give a clear answer. All I knew is that they are a very liberal group, but I didn't know really what they believed.

It turns out, they don't really believe in anything. Maybe better said is that they believe that whatever you want to believe is okay. This link will take you a web site that provides some facts and figures concerning this "church," and also gives a summary of their "faith" and a good, biblical response.

The danger in my response is that you may think that I'm being sympathetic toward the murderer. I'm not at all. A man walks in through the open doors of a gathering where people are enjoying a children's program, and he begins shooting. What this man did was horrible. There is no excuse for his actions, and he deserves to be punished to the maximum extent of the law.

I feel terrible for the victims, their families and this church. I also realize that the same thing could easily happen in the church where I pastor, and it could easily happen in just about any church anywhere.

In fact, his rampage causes serious problems for any who would dare to speak out against the Unitarian Universalist "church" for whatever they do or don't believe. I run the risk of being accused of stirring up an environment of hate by saying that I oppose what this "church" represents. I realize that some will see this man's action - and view anyone else together with him who thinks this "church" is false - as being intolerant, hateful and bigoted. Homosexual activists will try to persuade the public and legislators alike that speech and/or action taken against the pro-homosexual views of this "church" must be silenced. They will attempt to create an atmosphere of fear among the public. They will try show that conservatives on this issue are violent and must be stopped.

Anyway, you can see for yourself on their own web site that the Unitarian Universalist "church" is obviously not a true, biblical church by any means. They have no doctrinal belief about God. He/She/It can be whatever you want he/she/it to be. Or you can choose to not believe in a god at all. Or you can believe in many gods. It doesn't really matter.

They describe themselves as a "religious community that encourages you to seek your own spiritual path." That's a long way from Jesus saying: "I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me" (John 14:6). It's a far cry from Jesus declaring: "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:13-14).

Of course, to this "church" there's no point in referring to the Bible because it's just one of many religious books on their shelves which you may or may not look to for inspiration. One member is quoted on their web site: "I claim the Bible as one more chapter, among several religious texts, in the Unitarian Universalist guide to living." (Laura Spencer)

And Jesus certainly holds no special place in this religion. You can find inspiration in Him if that's what you like, but there are various views concerning Jesus, the Bible and Christianity within the UU faith. Obviously, none of them refer to Jesus as Savior and Lord.

There's room in this community of faith for people who claim to be Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists and others. To quote again from their site: "As there is no official Unitarian Universalist creed, Unitarian Universalists are free to search for truth on many paths."

I could continue indefinitely describing this so-called "church" as a false church. Again, for more details see this helpful site for information on a wide range of religions, cults and denominations.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Asking, Seeking and Knocking

"Next to the wonder of seeing my Savior will be, I think, the wonder that I made so little use of the power of prayer." - Dwight L. Moody

Didn't Jesus say, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened"? (Mt. 7:7-8)

And did He not leave His disciples with this promise: "Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it"? (John 14:13-14)

Does not the counsel of God's Word testify to His awesome power available to His people for the asking? Don't we realize that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:16)?

So why do we devote so little of our time and energy to prayer? Is this not the case in the church today?

We find so many ways to keep busy - at work, at home, at recreation and entertainment, even at church activities - but we're missing something huge here. We're missing something supernatural by failing to spend hard time on our knees before the Lord Almighty. We're forfeiting the blessings of God's grace and peace and joy and comfort all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer (they should write a song about that).

The God of all creation invites us to come before His throne of grace with confidence, and He promises there we will receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Heb. 4:16). He says, "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me" (Psalm 50:15). We are invited to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt us at the proper time, "casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Draw me near, O God, nearer, O Lord, to You. Forgive me for making so little use of the power of prayer, when You would so generously pour out Your blessings in abundance. Help me to want to seek after You, and more and more so every day. Make my heart like that of the Psalmist who cried out, "O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water..."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Dropping In and Rocking Out

So the music was loud. Guitars were screeching. Drums were pounding. Voices were ringing. Hair was flying.

It was the Drop In and Rock Out Tour featuring the bands Philmont, Our Hearts Hero and High Flight Society. And professional freestyle skateboarder Tim Byrne.

Yeah, I wish I would have brought my earplugs. I didn’t catch most of the lyrics anyway. But as I sat and watched about 50 young people crowded around the stage, God moved in my heart to pray for them. And He moved in me to devote myself to the obedience of evangelism and discipleship.

Some of these students were probably not saved. They may have heard of Jesus and known about Him. But they didn’t know Him as the Savior of their souls from the clutches of hell. They didn’t know Him as the Lord (the “Boss” as Tim Byrne said) of their lives. No doubt many of these students were living for themselves and not for the One who died for them and was raised from the dead (see 2 Cor. 5:15). I pray that God will prepare their hearts to receive Jesus, believing in His name.

Others have likely made “professions of faith” but aren’t sure about living out what they say they believe in front of their friends and family. It’s one thing to stand for Christ in their youth groups, and another to stand boldly for Jesus at school. Jesus said this: “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33). I think this group includes a ton of people – students and thousands of adults alike. They’ve signed the card, they’ve walked an aisle, they’ve prayed a prayer…but have they truly repented of their sin and let the Spirit of Christ reign in their lives? I wonder, and I pray that God will make them into wholehearted followers of Jesus.

And some in this motley crew of young people were certainly saved and sold out to the gospel of Christ Jesus. What an opportunity to allow God to use them to witness in the power of the Holy Spirit among their friends! A young person on fire for the Lord can make an impact in his or her world more than most adults ever will. I pray that God will keep them strong in His grace, loving, merciful, humble, teachable, useable, zealous and obedient to the faith.

No, it wasn’t exactly my style of music. But I believe that God can take these guitars and skateboards and use them for His glory. Tim Byrne gave a mighty testimony for the Truth last night. I pray that the students heard Him. I know I did.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"It's a bad night to be an athiest."

I love this line from ESPN's Rick Reilly at the end of this story. Check out this demonstration of God's power in the life of Josh Hamilton, From heroin to home run hero.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

You Might Be a Missionary

I came across this list that I'm thinking about using to introduce Jerry and Ruth Moye on Sunday. Jerry and Ruth have been long-time missionaries in Hong Kong, where Jerry currently serves as pastor in a local church, and Ruth teaches in China. I'm looking forward to hearing how the Lord has been and is still using this couple to preach the gospel of Christ Jesus and make disciples of all nations.

We're also sending two of our youth on a week-long mission trip to Metro East St. Louis this week.

I think this list provides a humorous look at missions life - or at least our preconceived ideas of what missions life might be like! If anyone reading this has other suggestions to include, then please respond and we'll see about getting airtime Sunday morning.

You might be a missionary if...
  • You don't think two hours is a long sermon
  • You refer to gravel roads as highways
  • Fitting fifteen people or more into a car seems normal
  • You realize that furlough is not a vacation
  • You do your devotions in another language
  • You speak with authority on the subject of airline travel
  • You can cut grass with a machete but can't start a lawnmower
  • You watch nature documentaries and think how good that animal would taste if it were fried
  • You can't answer the question "Where are you from?"

There are probably some other good ones. Let me know, and I look forward to Sunday morning!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Beautiful Feet

Are your feet beautiful?

Many people claim to have some kind of religious or spiritual belief system, but they often don't want to talk about it. "My faith is private," they'll say. Or, "It's between me and God. It's really nobody else's business."

I read in Reader's Digest (July 2008) an interview with Pierce Brosnan - Agent 007 turned singer/dancer - in which he was asked about his religion. Here's the published report:

Q. Do you still practice the Catholicism you were reared with?

A. I was an altar boy. That never leaves you. So when there are churches around, I go to church. I just went yesterday. I also love the teachings of Buddhist philosophy. It's my own private faith. I don't preach it, but it's a faith that is a comfort to me when the night is long.

I think this type of answer is very common among our generation in this culture. "I agree with this part of that philosophy. I like this part of my upbringing. I like what that verse says in the Bible and what this verse says in the Koran..."

You see how it goes. We just make up our own faith. Discard the stuff you don't like and keep the stuff you do. You just rearrange it all to fit your style and to fit your ideas. In the process you just make up your own god to be whatever you want he/she/it to be. In fact, you become your own god by creating one you like.

And you keep it, for the most part, very private. You don't preach it, at least not too emphatically. Probably for fear of offending someone, or not desiring to impose your off-brand beliefs on anyone, because after all, aren't all beliefs the same? As long as you believe in something? But who's to say that mine is right and yours is wrong. This works for me, but hey, whatever works for you is OK too.

Oh how deceived this generation has become! How far we have wandered from the truth of the Word of God. How little attention we heed from John's Revelation: "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book." (Revelation 22:18-19)

Rather, we are commanded and compelled to preach the Good News of the gospel of Christ Jesus! The reason that the kind of "private faith" doesn't preach well is because it's flawed. It is untrue and unfounded. It is contradictory. It's mixed up and it's wrong.

Those, however, who know what it means to be saved from death and given new life through Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior can't help but tell others about it because we want them to experience this life, too. It's not our own blend of beliefs, but it is the Truth according to the very Word of Almighty God. It's a life of abundance that Jesus came to give, and it's a life everlasting.

You just don't keep Good News to yourself.

Friend, if you don't know Jesus and the power of His salvation and righteousness which saves from sin and death and hell, and assures His followers of the glory of heaven that awaits, then I urge you to call upon Him right now. Jesus will forgive your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness, that you may stand faultless before the Throne on the Day of Judgment. He will give you a new life, for anyone who is in Christ is a new creation - he is born again by the Spirit of God.

Call upon the Lord Jesus today and you will be saved. It's news so good you can't keep it to yourself.

"How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:15)