Monday, November 30, 2009

Experiencing Christ in the Christmas Season

How did December’s calendar get booked so quickly? Is it just me, or do events and activities absolutely multiply this month? My wife and I “calendarized” (her word) our schedules last night, and there’s hardly a day where something’s not written in.

The challenge seems to be, as always, how to experience the true meaning of Christmas in the middle of the Christmas season. Most of the stuff we’ve calendarized relates to ministering in the name of Christ Jesus. Activities include fellowshipping, worshipping, serving, encouraging, giving and evangelizing. Throw in parenting and pastoring, and you’re looking at a pretty healthy set of biblical instructions.

So how’d it all get so crazy? How, in the very process of doing “Christiany” (my word, I think, but maybe I've heard it somewhere before) things, do we lose sight of the One whose birth we celebrate? Doesn’t the true meaning of Christmas revolve around the love of God the Father for mankind – the love from which He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life? Isn’t Jesus the sole reason we celebrate – the One who is the “good news of great joy that will be for all the people,” the Messiah and Lord, Jesus our Savior who will save His people from their sins, Immanuel – God with us?

We don’t want to lose sight of that truth, and the joy and salvation that come with it! We don’t want to lose sight of the merciful and gracious promises of God from centuries before wrapped up in the form of a newborn baby in a manger. We don’t want to lose sight of the sacrifice that Jesus would become for sinners on the cross of Calvary, nor the resurrection victory He won over sin and death. And we don’t want to lose sight of the hope of the glory to be revealed when Christ Jesus comes again as the Almighty King.

So to help us all experience the unique peace and joy and salvation of Christ Jesus this Christmas, let me invite you to come together in worship at the Ridgway First Baptist Church. We’ll do our best to help focus your heart on the reason for the season. We’ll be singing some of your favorite songs of Christmas praise, we’ll be proclaiming the good news of Christ Jesus from the Word of God, and we’ll be giving you plenty of opportunities to bless others in the name of Christ this season.

On Sunday, December 13, the choir will be presenting a special Christmas celebration called “Gather at the Manger.” You won’t want to miss this opportunity to draw near to God and feel the wonder of His presence through this musical presentation.

Listen, I know you’re busy. If I could free up some extra time for you this month, I’d do it. But I urge you to give yourself first to the Lord – before letting your schedule control your life. Give yourself to the Lord Jesus first, and see how He returns the rest and peace to you in supernatural ways.

Maybe you don’t belong to a church at all, and you’re really not sure about this whole “Jesus” thing. Here’s the deal: You don’t have to accept our invitation to come to church services, but I plead with you to not reject the greatest invitation that’s ever been given – and that is the invitation for you to receive the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ the Lord. Christmas is your reminder that God has gone to the greatest lengths imaginable to save you from your sins. You know you have sin in your life – who doesn’t? And it’s that sin that keeps you from experiencing the glory of God, and it’s that sin that will ultimately result in death and hell unless Someone comes to your rescue.

Friend, the King of creation, the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth, has come to your rescue, and He’s invited you to be His guest at the greatest celebration feast ever given. He invites you to repent of your sins and put your faith in His Son Jesus Christ. “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). And, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13).

It would be an utter insult to the Host to decline such a gracious offer, and to do so will confirm your own destruction. Don’t delay! Let His kindness lead you to repentance today.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Memorizing Psalm 63

OK, so nobody took up the challenge to memorize Psalm 100 last week. At least no one who came to church on Sunday ready to recite it before the congregation. I'm telling you, there's something special about committing the Word of God to memory. The effort alone of allowing His Word to sink into your mind and your heart is worth it!

So here's the new challenge I laid out Sunday before the church: Memorize Psalm 63. Yeah, I know, this one has eleven verses, whereas Psalm 100 only has five. No problem, I know you can do it.

And it will be a great blessing not only to you personally, but to the church corporately. Not to draw attention to yourself, but to show that God's Word is to be treasured highly, and to show that through His Word God reveals Himself, His purposes, His plans and His ways to us.

The Scriptures are "more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward" (Psalm 19:10-11).

Psalm 63 (NIV)

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.

I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

They who seek my life will be destroyed;
they will go down to the depths of the earth.
They will be given over to the sword
and become food for jackals.

But the king will rejoice in God;
all who swear by God's name will praise him,
while the mouths of liars will be silent.

Song of Thanksgiving

If you’re looking for a heart-song to sing this Thanksgiving, or an appropriate Scripture to read around the dinner table, I have a suggestion for you. Often times we feel the gratitude somewhere deep inside, but it’s difficult to find the words to express it. We know we should be thankful, for God has blessed us in abundance, but how can we say thanks?

One of the greatest psalms of thanksgiving and praise to God is found in 1 Chronicles 16. The setting is upon the return of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. You’ll remember that the Ark was the primary symbol of God’s presence and power among His people Israel. Because of the faithless superstition of Eli’s wicked sons, the Hebrew tribes were defeated in battle and the Ark was captured by the Philistines. Later, when David was king over Israel his army struck down the Philistines and eventually the Ark was brought back to Jerusalem with much great celebration and rejoicing.

Friend, if you’ve experienced the power of God or have been blessed by His presence in your life, then you have a heart-song to sing. If you know what it is to enter into the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, if you’ve drawn near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, and if your heart has been cleansed from a guilty conscience because of the work of Christ Jesus on the cross, then you have a song of thanks to sing!

So if you’re looking for the words to express your thanksgiving, try offering these as your heart-song to God (1 Chronicles 16:8-36):

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples.

Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; speak of all His wonders.
Glory in His holy name; let the heart of those who seek the Lord be glad.

Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face continually.
Remember His wonderful deeds which He has done, His marvels and the judgments from His mouth, O seed of Israel His servant, Sons of Jacob, His chosen ones!

He is the Lord our God; His judgments are in all the earth.
Remember His covenant forever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations, the covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac.

He also confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant, saying, ‘To you I will give the land of Canaan, as the portion of your inheritance.’

When they were few in number, very few, and strangers in it, and they wandered about from nation to nation, and from one kingdom to another people, He permitted no man to oppress them, and He reproved kings for their sakes, saying, ‘Do not touch My anointed ones, and do My prophets no harm.’

Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.

Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.

For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; He also is to be feared above all gods.

For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.

Splendor and majesty are before Him, strength and joy are in His place.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come before Him; worship the Lord in holy array.

Tremble before Him, all the earth; indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved. Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; and let them say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns.’

Let the sea roar, and all it contains; let the field exult, and all that is in it.

Then the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the Lord; for He is coming to judge the earth.

O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.

Then say, ‘Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather us and deliver us from the nations, to give thanks to Your holy name, and glory in Your praise.’

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting.

Then all the people said, ‘Amen,’ and praised the Lord.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Old One Hundreth

I'm throwing out a little challenge here. We'll see if anyone actually reads this blog and is willing to invest some time in God's Word.

This coming Sunday (Nov. 22) I'm planning to preach from Psalm 100. A Psalm of Thanksgiving.

Here's the challenge: Memorize Psalm 100 (in your favorite translation).

Here's the incentive (besides the great and priceless reward of taking in the Word of God and letting it permeate your being, hearing from the Lord and learning from Him, and delighting in the Lord God who is good and loving and faithful, etc., etc.): the first person to quote this Psalm on Sunday morning will receive a copy of "The Treasury of David," Vol. II, Psalms 58-110, by Charles H. Spurgeon. It's a tremendous treasure of insights into the Psalms and a powerful expression of adoration for the Savior. Oh yeah, you've also got to be willing to recite it before the congregation.

I'll give away other books to anyone else who comes with this Psalm memorized on Sunday, even if you're not the first.

Anyone up for this? See you Sunday.

We've Got It Good - Let's Give Thanks to God

So often we like to complain about things, but, man, we’ve got it good.

I read recently that if the world was represented by 100 people, 53 of them would live on less than $2 a day. Some of you spend more on coffee in a day than that. We’re a rich nation. Maybe you don’t see yourself as having much, but compared to the majority of people in this world, you’ve got it good.

And not only in wealth, but in the peace and freedom our country enjoys. You read every day accounts of violence and oppression in many lands, yet here we’ve got it good. We live in relative peace. You don’t go to bed at night fearing a terrorist attack. We live in great freedom. You don’t worry over breakfast that the government’s going to come in and take over your land, your house, your bank account, your healthcare – oh, wait a minute. Better not go there now.

The point is this: God has blessed us tremendously – individually and nationally. But, oh, how I fear for this nation because we have forgotten God. As the Lord spoke through the prophet Hosea: “Yet I have been the Lord your God since the land of Egypt; and you were not to know any god except Me, for there is no savior besides Me. I cared for you in the wilderness, in the land of drought. As they had their pasture, they became satisfied, and being satisfied, their heart became proud; therefore they forgot Me” (Hosea 13:4-6).

I challenge you to read Hosea or Jeremiah or any of the prophets and see if God doesn’t have the same word for the people in our generation as He did for rebellious Israel!

What will we do? Will we continue to follow our own stubborn, proud, perverted ways and face increasing measures of His righteous judgment? Or will we return to the Lord our God as He still – for now – invites us to do?

Lest we forget the kindness and grace of God toward us, I want to let the words of George Washington remind us to give thanks to the Lord. The following is the text of President Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1789:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

Friday, November 13, 2009

Soon and Very Soon

I don’t know how soon “soon” is, but I know that Christ Jesus the King will return soon. The question is: are you ready?

The revelation John received from the Lord begins this way: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place” (Rev. 1:1).

In the last chapter of Revelation the truth of what is soon to come is further emphasized. “The angel said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place’” (Rev. 22:6).

And in the very next verse in the red letters we read: “Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book.”

And in Rev. 22: 12, again the words of Christ: “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

And in the very next to last verse in the Bible we see once more the urgency of the whole matter: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).

It’s imperative. It’s urgent. It’s imminent. Jesus Himself will come again, and He’s coming soon! Only this time it won’t be as a baby in a manger in the little town of Bethlehem, but as the mighty, conquering King of Glory.

“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matt. 24:30-31).

The question remains, and it’s more pressing now than ever: are you ready? It’s more pressing now than ever because the signs of His coming are clearer now than they’ve ever been. We’re one day closer to that Day now than we’ve ever been.

And no man knows when it will be. Oh, many have made predictions on when the world will end, and so on, and thereby have proven themselves to be false prophets by their failed prophecies. But do not be deceived, dear friend. “The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thess. 5:1-2).

The Bible warns over and over again that we must be ready for that Day. “Be dressed and ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes…You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Luke 12:35-37, 40).

So, are you ready? Are you waiting and watching for His return? Are you longing for that day? Have you put away all sin and turned in faith to Jesus Christ? Have you received Christ Jesus as the Savior and Lord over your life? Don’t wait! You never know what tomorrow may bring! “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Welcoming Ganesha?

I read on the front page of Monday’s (Nov. 2) Evansville Courier and Press a feature on the installation ceremony of a Hindu deity at the Tri-State Hindu Temple in Newburgh. It is a fresh reminder of the absolute blindness that veils the eyes and hearts of so many in our own neighborhoods and throughout the nations.

It’s a sad story. Well-meaning, religious-minded people are celebrating over a 2,200 pound elephant-faced stone carving supposedly designed to represent an image of God. The article states that this particular idol called Ganesha is revered for his wisdom and as the remover of obstacles. The ceremonial offerings and rituals performed during the installation were intended to bring God’s presence into this idol.

It’s heart-breaking because hundreds of millions of Hindus are believing in an empty way of life handed down to them from their forefathers. And not only Hindus, but billions of Muslims, Buddhists and people of all kinds of religions are being deceived and destroyed by the “father of lies” himself.

And it’s not just people of eastern world religions that I’m burdened for; it’s also the people of this nation and people in our own neighborhoods who have fallen for Satan’s schemes. It’s for all those who have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised” (Rom. 1:25) that I am in sorrow. That includes many well-meaning, religious-minded people along with the downright defiant and disobedient, and my heart aches for them to know the Truth.

I am aware that some reading this will call me a closed-minded, intolerant and foolish Bible-thumper. Please understand that I speak not out of hatred toward anyone, but out of love for everyone. The only hatred I have is toward sin. I’m saddened and angered by the consequences of sin, both temporal and eternal. Sin leads to death.

But it’s the love of Christ that compels me (“Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” 1 Cor. 9:16), because the fact is that Jesus gave His very life on the cross for all mankind. The one, true God of the universe showed just how much He loves each and every person in the world by giving His own Son to die! Jesus suffered the blows upon His back. He felt the pain of the nails being driven into His hands and feet. He experienced the humiliation and anguish of the cross. And worst of all, He felt the wrath of God being poured out upon Him as He bore our sins in His body on the tree.

And He did it all for love – for the glory of God. If there was any other way man could be saved from eternal death and hell, if there was any other way to experience true peace and joy, and if there was any other way to have the assurance of an everlasting inheritance in the heavens, then Christ died for nothing. All other religions, in some way or another, are trying to offer man what only the Lord God has already offered exclusively in Christ Jesus.

But not only did Jesus die so that we could be forgiven for our sins, but the proof of His power and authority is in His resurrection from the dead! No other prophet or so-called “god” has conquered the grave! Jesus lives! And “whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

The God of heaven and earth has gone out of His way to display His glory – in His creation and in His Son. He has done nothing but offer this world abundant and eternal life – if only we’ll repent of our sin and receive the forgiveness and new life that Jesus Christ alone gives. “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).

The Lord pleads with you to come to Him and be saved. He is not a “god” that has to be removed from a wooden shipping crate, nor a “god” who must be put to bed at night. “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god’” (Isa. 44:6).

See also, among others: Exodus 20:1-6; Psalm 135; Isaiah 44