Thursday, December 31, 2009

Do It Again in 2010

So here we are about to embark upon a New Year. How many of you thought by the year 2010 we’d be living a little more of the Jetson world than we are? At least our daily transportation system ought not to include driving cars on roads, right?

By the way, do people say the year, “Twenty-Ten,” or is it “Two-thousand ten”? Either way it’s hard to believe we’re a tenth of the way through the 21st century!

On the first Sunday of two-thousand nine I preached a message from John 8:12 where Jesus declared: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” The sermon title was: “Let It Shine in 2009!”

That became something of my axiom for the year, and hopefully the light of Christ has shone through my own life, through my family and through the Ridgway First Baptist Church. Jesus also said in Matthew 5:16: “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” I can’t say it’s shone perfectly, but isn’t it amazing how even a little light can dispel the darkness?

Last week several people from our church went out Christmas caroling to the homes of some of our home-bound members and others. It was well after dark, but thankfully Jerry Cathey wore this funky headband/adjustable spotlight thing and it lit up the way for us to see where we were going. It was quite a sight, actually, but at least no one tripped over cracked sidewalks or turned ankles in potholes.

When we follow the Light of Christ Jesus, we’ll not be walking in darkness. His Word will become for us “a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.” His Spirit dwelling in the hearts of those who belong to Him will illuminate the truth and guide us in His ways. We’ll be able to see the way we should go, and we won’t be tripping over the obstacles that otherwise would cause us to stumble into sin.

This coming Sunday then, I hope to preach a message that serves to help steer our course for the new year. The Lord has been trying to teach me more about faith. I’m not always a real attentive student, however. All I know is that I want to have a greater level of faith in God than I have now. I read the Scriptures and see examples of men and women with the kind of faith that moved mountains, and isn’t that what Jesus said would happen if only we had faith the size of a mustard seed?

Honestly, I don’t see many mountains moving. But I’m ready to. I’m ready to trust so completely in the will of God and the power of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit that nothing becomes impossible. Nothing! Didn’t Jesus say, too, that “everything is possible for him who believes” (Mt. 9:23)?

We trust so readily in our bank accounts, our resources on hand, our human understanding of what can and cannot be done, but do we leave room for God to act supernaturally? We’re so often just like the disciples who see the size of the task ahead of us and say, “How in the world are we going to feed this many people? All we have here are two little fish sticks and five slices of bread. What good is that going to do?”

Yet I believe that God wants to put His glory on display in ways that cannot be explained away. Jesus did it that day by feeding the 5,000 with the young boy’s lunch, and He can do it again in 2010. I believe that Jesus can still heal people with the power of His word, just as He gave sight to the blind men and opened the ears of the deaf, just as He made the lame to leap for joy and cleansed the lepers of their disease.

And even more miraculous than healing the physical body, Jesus can heal the very souls of men. He can take one who is dead in trespasses and sins and make him alive together in Christ. He brings peace to the brokenhearted and joy to the downcast. He replaces despair with hope and ashes with beauty. He even forgives sin and saves “whosoever believeth in Him,” giving everlasting life – a new life – to those who deserve the wages of their sin, which is death and hell.

I can’t wait to see what God has in store for the coming year! I can’t wait to see how He’ll put His glory on display! He’s done it before, and He’ll do it again in 2010!

Monday, December 21, 2009

He's Making a List

Last year at Christmas somebody gave me a snowman tie. I can’t remember who. I think it may have been Amy and the boys. Anyway, you can push a little button on the tie and it will play Christmas tunes.

One of the songs is “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” How many children in the world have modified their behavior at least a little bit around Christmas time because of this song? You know the line: “You’d better watch out / You’d better not pout / You’d better not cry / I’m telling you why / Santa Claus is coming to town.” Parents have used this song for ages to threaten their kids to try to make them be good for goodness’ sake.

See, everybody knows that Santa’s got this list. He knows if you’ve been bad or good. He’s even double-checking to see if he’s got it right. There are presents at stake here! The entire thrill of Christmas is a make or break deal based on which list you’re on.

Nobody wants to be on the naughty list. It’s bad news if you wake up on Christmas morning and all you’ve got in your stocking is a lump of coal. Man, you want to see presents under the tree – with your name on them! That’s what Christmas is all about, right?

Well, not exactly.

Then it’s about the spirit of giving, right? You know, being kind to others, spending time with family, going to basketball games at the holiday tournament, drinking eggnog and blowing your diet on candy canes and cookies?

Uh, maybe we’d better take a look at it all from God’s point of view. Being kind to others, giving, family – those are good things, yes. Basketball – definitely. But there’s a greater purpose. God has a purpose and plan for all that He does.

See, God’s got this list going, too. It’s a book, actually. It’s called the “Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27). In this book are the names of those who belong to the Lamb, who is Jesus, the Messiah. He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). He is “our Passover lamb” who has been sacrificed on the cross (1 Cor. 5:7). He is the “lamb without blemish or defect,” whose precious blood has redeemed us from the empty way of life handed down to us from our forefathers, who was chosen before the creation of the world, and through whom we believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him (cf. 1 Peter 1:18-21).

And nobody gets on this list just by being good. The truth is, we all deserve to be on the naughty list. We’ve all sinned. Not a single one of us is perfect. You may be a better neighbor than State Farm. You may have a coffee mug inscribed with: “World’s Number 1 Dad.” You may have an employee of the month certificate hanging on your wall. None of those things will get your name in the Lamb’s book of life. Even faithful church attendance, giving to the poor and saying your prayers are not enough.

There’s simply no way we can possibly save ourselves. Nothing impure will ever enter into the glory of God in heaven, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

The only way you get your name written in that book is by repenting of your sins and receiving Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. God sent His Son, Jesus, to save us from our sins! He is the Savior who has been born to us; He is Christ the Lord! He came to seek and to save that which was lost. He came with the authority to forgive sins. He came to testify to the truth of His everlasting kingdom.

Even Linus knows what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. It’s not about Christmas pageants or beautifully decorated trees or big family gatherings. It’s about God sending Jesus, who came not to condemn the world, but to save His people from their sins.

There’s more than presents at stake here. The thrill of heaven is a make or break deal based on whether or not your name is written in that book. The message of the Savior is the good news that brings great joy – and it’s for all the people. It’s for you, dear friend.

May your Christmas be filled with the peace of knowing Christ Jesus and the joy of His salvation.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

According to Your Word

For everyone who’s ever been greatly troubled. For everyone who’s ever been afraid. For everyone who’s ever asked, “How can this be?”

Meet Mary. The young Mary from a no-where town called Nazareth. The Mary to whom the angel Gabriel delivered earth-shattering news. The Mary who would carry the Son of God in her womb.

When the angel appeared, Mary was greatly troubled. Yeah, you think? Who wouldn’t be? It’s not every day such a supernatural messenger shows up with a such a startling greeting.

I imagine she was going about her chores, doing whatever work young Jewish girls did back then – which probably did not include texting her friends or watching the Disney Channel after school. When suddenly this other-worldly figure appears with a greeting from the Lord: “Oh, Mary, you have received the richest outpourings of the grace of God! The Lord is with you!”

I think I’d be a little shaken, as well. I know because I watched “The Nativity Story” on DVD, and the angels were a little spooky. Besides the appearance of this angel – in itself a shocking enough event – the Bible tells us that Mary was troubled at his saying, and her mind raced with emotion trying to figure out what this greeting was all about. “What have I done? Why are you here? Am I dreaming? Pinch me if you’re real.”

Very quickly Gabriel spoke reassuringly to Mary: “Mary, you have nothing to be afraid of. God has found favor with you! His grace is all over you!” Wow – who wouldn’t love to hear such a word from God!

Then Gabe dropped the bomb. “Now, listen, Mary, I have something to say that’s going to blow you away. Maybe you’d better sit down. Are you ready for this? You are going to have a baby boy!” Boom. As Mary’s jaw drops to the floor.

“You will name him Jesus. He will be great – the Son of the Most High! The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. What do you think about that?

And Mary, scooping up her jaw, said, “Uh, back up to the part about the baby thing. Did you say that I am going to have a baby? Let me get this straight – I am going to have a baby. Did I hear that right? Me, a virgin girl, no husband, no man. They didn’t teach it this way in biology class. So, how exactly is this going to work?”

Gabriel explained: “Forget what you know about the birds and the bees. God’s doing something supernatural here. Something mysterious and miraculous. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of God will overshadow you. And so, the Son you will bear will be holy, the holy Son of God. Pretty cool, huh?

“Even your cousin Elizabeth is having a baby! That’s not possible either, is it? But she’s already six months pregnant! I want to tell you something, Mary: There’s nothing impossible with God.”

And Mary, in humble submission to the power and promises of God, replied: “I’m not worthy. I’m overwhelmed. I’m simply a servant of the Lord. But I believe what you say. May it be to me according to your word.”

What a beautiful response! What a perfect picture of faith and willingness to go with God’s plan! She didn’t understand it all still. She didn’t know what all would lie ahead – the great blessings nor the deep sorrows. But she accepted the assignment to be God’s chosen vessel through which the Savior of all mankind would enter into our world.

We don’t always understand how God works. We’re often left greatly troubled by the circumstances surrounding us. Even our sincere questions may leave us wondering still over the mysteries of God’s wisdom and ways. But, friend, take heart in this supernatural truth: “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37).

May your humble submission to the power and promises of God’s word prove your faith today.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Light of the Messiah

If you don’t already have plans to be in the house of the Lord this coming Sunday, why not be our special guest at the Ridgway First Baptist Church? We would love the opportunity to welcome you and worship with you.

This Sunday, December 13 at 10:40 a.m., our choir will be presenting a special cantata entitled, “Gather at the Manger.” The songs and the narration of this Christmas celebration will lead us not only to reflect on that nativity scene in Bethlehem, but to rediscover the faithfulness of God in sending a Savior – His Son, Jesus. And realizing this truth will transform your life as you receive Him as your Savior and Lord.

Personally, I’m also excited about the young man who will be singing a solo part in the cantata. You’ll have to come and find out who!

Then at 2:00 Sunday afternoon, if football’s not your thing and if you’re willing to give up your naptime, let me invite you to the SIC community choir’s performance of “The Messiah.” I’m not getting paid to promote this concert, but my wife will be singing in the soprano section and it should be a terrific event. Tickets are $5, and it will be held at the George T. Dennis Visual & Performing Arts Center at Southeastern Illinois College.

As I understand it, in the summer of 1741 a 56-year old composer was at the low point of his musical career. He was suffering from poor health following a stroke, and was in considerable financial difficulty. He wanted to do something different from his previous works, and had been reading from the book of Isaiah.

His heart was captured in the ninth chapter of Isaiah. George Frederick Handel then set out to compose a piece that might somehow display the glory and truth of the text. What he came up with within just 24 days was one of the most majestic and triumphant oratorios ever written, “The Messiah,” concluding with the grand Hallelujah Chorus.

Encompassed in this masterpiece is the lively joy of Isaiah 9:2-7. In this text the prophet speaks of the child to be born, the son that will be given to us. This is the One whose coming will bring the light of dawn upon a nation walking in darkness. This is He who would shine the great light upon those dwelling in the land of the shadow of death. He is Jesus, the Son of God, the promised Messiah!

This is the One who multiplies the nation and increases its joy. This is the One whose victory over the enemy is decisive and sure. This is the One who reigns with a government of peace that will never end. This is He whose kingdom will be established and upheld with justice and righteousness forever and ever. And so we sing, “Hallelujah!”

This is the One whose name is Wonderful Counselor. He guides in perfect wisdom and counsel those who set their hearts to follow His ways. His Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. Walk in His wonderful counsel and you’ll not be led astray.

This is the One whose name is Mighty God. The ultimate victory over sin and wickedness resides in His strength and power. Jesus has indeed already conquered sin and death by His own death upon the cross and His great triumph over the grave, and will one day soon display the full glory and might of His reign. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

This is the One whose name is Everlasting Father. He is without beginning or end, the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega, who was and is and is to come. Jesus Christ, in the heart of a Father, is the same yesterday, today and forever.

This is the One whose name is Prince of Peace. He is the author of peace, the only source of true and perfect peace. Jesus Himself is our peace, who gives us His peace and in whom we have peace even when the troubles of the present world may rage around us, for He indeed has overcome the world.

Friend, if you’re living in the darkness of sin right now, then open your eyes to behold the Light of the world – Jesus Christ! Follow Him, and you’ll never walk in darkness, but you’ll have the light of life!