Friday, December 31, 2010

Hearts to Heaven Introduction

This is the online version of Hearts to Heaven in 2011: 31 Devotions for Meditation and Worship in the Psalms. I plan to post each day's reading at 6:00 a.m. beginning January 1 through January 31. Thanks for following along.

"To You, O Lord, I lift my soul..." (Psalm 25:1)

For Ridgway First Baptist Church [and the extended online community], to the glory of God the Father...

Let me invite you to embark with me upon a 31-day journey through the first 31 chapters in the Psalms. I can’t think of a better way to start the New Year than by immersing ourselves in the Word of God. The psalms serve as good entry point, urging us to lift our hearts to heaven while we walk through the unknown, uncertain and often unsettling days on earth.

This guide is meant to assist you in reading the psalms each day. It’s not a replacement for reading the Bible! You will find some commentary, some application, some devotional stuff and some suggestions for further study.

I want to encourage you to really meditate upon the psalms. We often read the Bible just to “get through” a portion so that we can check the box that says, “I Read My Bible Today.” Slow down. Take time to absorb what you read. Realize that Almighty God reveals Himself in His Word and wants to conform you more into the image of His Son, Jesus. Talk honestly with God through each passage. Listen carefully. Let the Holy Spirit press home what needs pressing! Come humbly, hungry, willing to learn and willing to change.

And worship the Lord! Worship results as we trust God and put His Word into practice, as we praise Him and give Him thanks. Reading and knowing His truth is one thing. Responding rightly is another, and it’s called worship.

May the Lord lift our hearts to heaven in 2011!

Rob Gallion

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hearts to Heaven in 2011

Lord willing, by the first of the year I will have a 2011 devotions in the Psalms project printed and ready to give away. My intent is to encourage you to start the New Year by getting into the Word of God, or rather, by getting the Word of God into you!

I think about the story of Joshua taking on the leadership role in Israel upon Moses’ death. This would be for him a new venture, an overwhelming one, no doubt. After 40 years of suffering in the wilderness for their unbelief, the nation was now ready to move forward and claim the land God had promised Israel long ago.

It was a new day, a new opportunity. New challenges would arise, new problems to overcome, new decisions to make and new directions to take. The past was behind them, the future wide open. Much like the dawning of a New Year.

What new opportunities will 2011 bring? What new challenges will you face? What new decisions will you have to make? What new directions might you take? Year 2010 is nearly gone. For some, you bid it a fond farewell. For others, you’re glad to see it go. Who knows what 2011 will be?

One thing’s for sure: Joshua needed help. To face the new day, to face the unknown, and to face what would have seemed impossible, he would need divine help. Yes, the Lord had promised He would give them this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. It was indeed a beautiful land. Would you have expected anything less from a gracious and sovereign God?

But, there were nations occupying the territory. Some of the inhabitants were giants. Their cities were large and fortified. You don’t just walk in and tell the people to move because God said this land now belongs to you. “So, you see, all you need to do is sign on the dotted line, pack up your things and calmly leave the country, and we’ll take over from here, thank you very much.” No, conquering this land would not be easy, and would not be possible without the power of the Lord.

On a side note, the Canaanites living there at the time were notorious for their moral and spiritual bankruptcy. Records on stone tablets reveal practices of brutality, corruption, infant sacrifice, serpent worship and male and female prostitution. The Bible clearly states that God was using Israel as His instrument of divine judgment against the peoples of this land. Deuteronomy 9:5 makes this plain: “It is not because of your righteousness or integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you…”

So the Lord had a word for Joshua as he prepared to meet the new day. It was a message of promise and encouragement along with a challenge. The promise was that God would give him and the nation of Israel the land – every place where they would set their feet – and that God Himself would be with Joshua as He was with Moses, never leaving and never forsaking him.

The encouragement was to be strong and courageous. Three times in four verses (Joshua 1:6-9) the Lord tells Joshua, “Be strong and courageous.” There was no need to be afraid nor discouraged. God would be with him wherever he went.

The challenge was to obey the Word of God. The Lord told Joshua to be careful to obey all of it, and not turn to the right or to the left. He told him to meditate on the “Book of the Law” day and night, never letting its truth depart from his mouth, so that he would be careful to do everything written in it. Then, God said, when the Word of God got into him he would be prosperous and successful.

Friend, if you desire a prosperous and successful New Year (using God’s greater definitions of prosperous and successful), if you want to be ready to face whatever unknowns, whatever giants, whatever opportunities or problems may abound, then I would urge you to get into the Word of God. Meditate on it day and night, and be careful to obey it fully.

If you don’t have a clue where or how to start, then stop by and pick up a free copy of “Hearts To Heaven in 2011: 31 Devotions for Meditation and Worship in the Psalms.” I'll also try to post each day's reading right here on this blog throughout January. Hope you have a happy New Year in the Lord!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Greatest Story Ever Told

There are so many captivating storylines that go with the narrative surrounding Jesus’ birth. Some miraculous, some mysterious, some inspiring, some amusing. Some dramatic, some ironic, some delightful, some heart-breaking.

I find myself reading the story and wishing that the gospel writers would have provided a little more detail to clear up certain scenes. But then sometimes a little holy imagination can go a long way.

Think about the conversation that Mary would have had with Joseph, the one where she tells him that she’s pregnant. “Joseph, dear, are you sitting down? I have some news to share with you…” Obviously he knows it’s not his baby. An angel visit? A virgin conceiving? No way! Joseph watched the film about that stuff in 5th grade; he knew how these things work.

Then there’s the part about when Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Remember Elizabeth? She’s the mother of John the Baptist, whose pregnancy was also miraculous. She was way past her prime when the angel told her husband, Zechariah, that this couple would bear a son who would make ready for the Lord a people prepared.

Anyway, she’s in the last trimester of her pregnancy when Mary, who has just found out that she’s carrying the Savior of the world, comes to visit. Here’s the part I love: when Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaps for joy! Somehow there’s this supernatural spiritual connection between these unborn children in the wombs of their mothers, and the result is great joy.

And I think about the scene in which Joseph and Mary are preparing to travel to Bethlehem for this census. Mary’s just about to pop (I mean that in a delicate way) and now her husband-to-be wants to take her on this cross-country trip in the family mini-van? Wait, they didn’t even have vehicles back then. They’d be walking? Hiking up and down mountainous terrain? Maybe she’s riding on a donkey, but is that any better than walking?

And seriously, Mary’s father allows her to go? If I would have tried to take my wife on such a journey when she’s nine months along, my father-in-law would have politely suggested I not. On the other hand, perhaps Mary insisted on going with Joseph. Maybe she knew of Micah’s prophesy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and that this was all God’s providence to fulfill it.

You want to talk drama? Look at Herod, the drama king. These wise men roll into town causing no little commotion. They start asking people in Jerusalem where the King of the Jews was to be born. Herod hears of it and whines to himself, “Wait a minute! I’m the king around here!” But he obliges these strange visitors and directs them to Bethlehem.

The story continues with Herod telling the wise men to report back to him when they’ve found Him, so that he, too, may go and (wink, wink) “worship” Him. Of course the wise men are warned in a dream to avoid Herod like the plague, so they take the back roads home. Herod finds out he’s been had, gets furious and orders every baby boy under two years old in Bethlehem to be killed.

Meanwhile, an angel of the Lord has appeared to Joseph in a dream and tells him to take the baby and Mary on the next flight to Egypt.

So many sub-plots and twists and turns and adventures! I don’t have room to tell about Simeon or Anna or the shepherds or the people that argued with a mute Zechariah about what to name his baby. I wish I could tell you about the blindness of all the religious leaders in Jerusalem who figured out from the Scriptures where the Messiah would be born, but would only smile and wave as these foreigners went to worship the very One they were waiting for!

I don’t know all the details of all the stories, but of this I’m sure: every account points to the redemptive plan of God the Father through Jesus Christ the Son. We needed a Savior, and God made good on His promise to save us. He brought it all about perfectly, in His way, in His time, fulfilling every prophecy and thrilling the hearts of every man, woman, boy and girl who finds the true joy and peace and hope and love of Christmas not in presents nor eggnog nor tinsel nor lights, but in the Light of the world, Jesus our salvation, the greatest gift of all, Immanuel, God with us.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

There's Your Christmas Joy, Mr. Grinch

One of the Christmas favorites on TV my boys enjoy watching is, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” You’re probably familiar with the story. Maybe you’ve even seen the movie or experienced the musical. Perhaps you’ve even read Dr. Suess’ book!

The Grinch, of course, is an ugly green-bodied, red-eyed sort-of-cat creature who lives in a cave on the top of Mt. Crumpit. He’s bitter, hateful, jealous and lonely. From his humble dwelling place he can hear the happy sounds of Christmas from the residents far below in Whoville – and he’s not happy about it.

So The Grinch makes plans to steal their presents, their decorations and even their Christmas hams, and does so successfully under the guise of Santa himself, hoping to keep Christmas from coming. Indeed, “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch.”

But no matter how mean he’s been or what evil he’s done, The Grinch can’t stop Christmas. He soon realizes that there’s more to Christmas than lights and presents. In the end, his heart which began “two sizes too small” grows three sizes, and he returns the stolen goods and is welcomed into the Whoville community warmly.

I know the Christmas season can very easily become a joyless burden for some. Maybe you wish you could hibernate all December and come back out when it’s over. Maybe the happy sounds of others just rubs you the wrong way. Perhaps the inglorious over-commercialization of Christmas and all the office parties and family get-togethers and crowded malls and over-done Christmas song remixes on the radio are nearly enough to make you wish that Christmas would just go away.

In some ways, I agree. Who can argue that our culture has certainly created a commercial event that greatly distracts from the very reason Christmas is celebrated?

My family and I went to Carmi last weekend to see “Bethlehem Revisited.” It’s a re-enactment of the village life of Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. You see the Jewish people buying and selling goods at the market, baking bread, weaving blankets, building stuff, tending sheep and goats and otherwise engaged in their daily activities. The Romans, who controlled the region, enlist their soldiers to enforce the law and keep the peace. There’s quite a lot of “hustle and bustle” going on in this little village.

As you’re walking out, however, you pass by a small stable where the animals would be kept. On this night a young couple occupies the stall. It’s quiet. And you notice the woman holding a baby. He looks like a newborn child. No doctors, no bright lights, no crib except a manger. It feels reverent. Like a holy night. The young woman cradles her baby and seems to radiate with an inner joy. The young man stands silently nearby and marvels at this sight. It was a moment of worship. Our youngest son, Toby, said that was his favorite part. It was mine, too.

And there’s the Christmas joy you’re looking for, Mr. Grinch. His name is Jesus. He is called Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” He came as a gift of love to mankind from the Father above. “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…” He came so that we who are sinners by nature and by choice might be forgiven and made clean in the sight of Almighty God. He came so that we who were hostile to God through our sinful natures might become His beloved adopted children. He came so that we who are unable to do anything to earn our own salvation from the wages of our sin (which is death and hell), might receive the mercy and grace of our God through faith in Christ Jesus His Son.

This baby, Jesus, who existed with God from the beginning, and indeed was God in the Trinity, became flesh and dwelt among us. He lived a perfectly obedient life to the Father on earth and became the perfect sinless atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world when He suffered and bled and died upon the cross of Calvary. And He became the victor over death by His resurrection victory on the third day, when He conquered sin and death forevermore. His appearing means peace with God, abundant and eternal life, and unspeakable joy to all who receive Him as Savior and Lord by faith.

If you’re feeling more Grinch-like than you’d care for this Christmas, take your focus off the hustle and bustle of the season and be captivated by the simple truth of Jesus. And come worship with us this Sunday, Dec. 19, at 10:40 a.m. for a special Christmas music worship celebration. We’d love to see you there.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Optional or Essential?

I guess it doesn’t really matter in the end whether or not my icicle lights are working. Christmas will still go on!

Yes, I realize I should have checked them out before I hung them across the front of the house. Before I spent half an hour untangling the lights out of the box. Before I spent another hour and a half attaching the stupid things to the house, in the blistering cold and bone-chilling wind.

My good neighbor, John, was kind enough to point out, as he observed me struggling to sort out the stringy mess, that I should have done this when it was still warm outside. He smiled, but didn’t offer to help.

By the way, what in the world happens in that box during the 11 months the lights sit in the attic? Do they become so disgruntled that they revolt by twisting themselves together? I am pretty sure that when I took them down last year I coiled them neatly before gently placing them in their storage. Were they so angry at not being used that they took revenge by making it nearly impossible to unravel them?

I really don’t understand. Nor do I get how it is that half of the lights decide to quit working. They were doing fine last year. They showed up to work on time, did their job well, filed no complaints. Did they form a union and go on strike? The ones that are working are like the scabs, scorned by the brotherhood, and will no doubt pay the price when they get tucked back inside the box after the holidays?

Anyway, you can’t just have some of the lights working and others not. It takes all of them to get the job done. So unless we get some warmer weather when I can go out and try to negotiate with the union boss, I guess there won’t be any decorative lights brightening up the house for Christmas. It’s all right, though, my neighbor, George, has enough going to cover for me. Maybe I need to ask him what kind of pay and benefits his workers are getting.

Either way, Christmas is not in danger. Hanging up the lights and enjoying their glow is optional.

Unfortunately, it seems many Christians view church attendance in the same way – as optional. “Yeah, it might be nice to go,” they say, “but, hey, it’s optional. If I feel like going, I will. But if there’s something else I’d rather do, then I’ll do that.”

I don’t understand this attitude. Consistent involvement in the church ought to be essential, not optional. The Bible spells it out clearly in Hebrews 10:25: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Friend, maybe you don’t realize that your absence from our worship assembly serves as a source of discouragement rather than encouragement to your fellow Christians.

Don’t get me wrong. There are sometimes legitimate reasons for not coming to church. You may be sick and contagious. You may be at the bedside of a dying loved one. You may be called in to work in an emergency. And please understand that I am very grateful and thrilled that so many do make it their priority to be in the house of the Lord every Sunday morning. But to schedule an event that causes you to miss church, to intentionally plan something else on Sunday morning instead of meeting together with fellow believers to worship God – this I don’t get.

Like a string of Christmas lights, it takes all of us to get the job done. We as Christians have a mission, an assignment from our Savior and Lord. If you’re not in fellowship and cooperation with the church, the work of Christ suffers. His Kingdom will still go on, but you’re missing out on the joy of sharing in the work, and the world is missing out on the beauty of the church’s glow.

Besides, you need the nourishment of the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. You need the fellowship of God’s people. You need the outlet to use your spiritual gifts to serve as you’re called to do.

I urge you to heed this message, to see your participation in church as essential – not optional – and join us this Sunday morning. Sunday School is at 9:30, and our worship service begins at 10:40.

This Sunday we have a special guest speaker coming, so you don’t even have to listen to me preach! That ought to be incentive enough for you to come! Personally, I’m excited to welcome Brad Vinyard from Harrisburg to be with us. Brad and his family are currently in process to becoming full-time international missionaries. You’ll want to hear his story. See you then!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Divine Truth in a Junk-Mail World

Does your e-mail inbox get flooded with all kinds of junk like mine sometimes does? Occasionally I’ll receive something from someone who’s forwarded some information they’ve been forwarded that is considered urgent and serious. The problem is that often what’s being passed along is nothing but urban legend, hoaxes, rumors or misinformation – if not malicious slander.

Some are just plain stupid. I remember receiving one some time ago from the founder of Applebee’s Restaurants. He promised that if I would forward this e-mail to nine friends to help “get our name out to more people in rural communities” then he would send me a confirmation number for a gift certificate worth $50 to his establishment. Maybe I’ll never know whether that one was real or not, since I didn’t do anything but delete it.

Then there are always scam artists out there who go “phishing” to try to steal your credit card information, bank account numbers and other pieces of personal identification. They arrive in your inbox looking like official correspondence from your bank, from the IRS or from other legitimate sources. But if you give out what they’re asking for, you’re really asking for it!

Beyond e-mail, who unquestionably trusts the news media anymore? To me it always feels like when political issues arise we’re not getting a completely objective and unbiased report. You’re hearing the story from the left or from the right, or from whatever leanings the reporter or news outlet maintains.

At times it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s fake. How do you separate the fact from fiction? How can you be sure of what’s true and what’s false? Is there anything today that you can count on to be 100 percent reliable, spin-free, and without any mixture of error?

The answer is a resounding yes! If you’re looking for something you can count on, pick up your Bible and know for certain that you are holding in your hands the infallible, inerrant, unchanging Word of the one, true, everlasting God.

Throughout the ages skeptics and critics have tried to discredit the Bible, they’ve attempted to point out alleged contradictions and generally dismissed its contents as myth. Yet the Holy Scriptures have stood the test of time, they’ve overcome foolish and ignorant men’s feeble arguments, and they have proven themselves to be completely reliable and perfectly true.

The reason the Bible is trustworthy is because its author is trustworthy. The Bible is literally “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). Human writers recorded the Scriptures as they were divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. The Lord God is trustworthy beyond scrutiny, and so is His Book.

And in His Book, God reveals Himself to man. If you read the Bible for human history, read it for literature or read it for inspiration, you’re missing the point. The point is that Almighty God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all that is, wants you to know Him, His purposes and His ways. Read the Bible to seek God!

When you do, and as you let the truth of the message unfold, you’ll see that the Scriptures all testify about Jesus Christ. You’ll see that God’s plan to redeem sinful man, saving him from eternal death and saving him to everlasting life, is fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus. The question then becomes: How will you respond? Will you embrace Christ by faith as the Bible reveals Him, or will you reject your only hope for salvation?

This Christmas, take a close look at what the Bible really says. Examine the prophecies in Isaiah and Micah and elsewhere of the Messiah’s birth long before Jesus came into this world as a baby. Watch as they unfold in Matthew and Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ arrival. Read in wonder as God reveals His great love for you and imprints His truth upon your heart and impresses you to put your faith in Christ.

When it comes to your inbox and other communication avenues in today’s world, I can’t give you any fool-proof instruction. Be discerning. Do some research. Don’t be gullible. But when it comes to the divinely inspired Word of the eternal God, only a fool would not believe.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ready for Revival in GC

So, who’s ready for the Lord to bring revival to Gallatin County? Who’s ready for God to revitalize the hearts of His people and re-energize us with a fresh passion for His glory? Who’s ready for a great awakening?

Who’s ready for Almighty God to drive us to our knees in confession and repentance of sin, in reverential awe of His holiness and power, and in hunger and thirst for righteousness? Who’s ready for the Spirit of God to restore our first love, to rekindle our desire to see Christ exalted, and to re-ignite our unwavering devotion to Him as Lord?

Who’s ready in Ridgway for the Righteous One to take His rightful reign upon the throne of every heart who professes His name? Who’s ready to yield every thought, every attitude, every word and every deed in glad obedience to His will? Who’s ready to leave our comfort zones and follow wherever He may lead?

Who’s ready in Shawneetown for the Savior to shower down His blessings in overflowing abundance? Who’s ready to take Him at His word and trust Him no matter what? Who’s ready to walk by faith and not by sight?

Who’s ready in Junction for Jesus to cleanse each soul from the stain of sin, to blot out every transgression, to wash away your guilt and restore the joy of your salvation? Who’s ready to be purified by His blood, to be washed whiter than snow and to be fully and freely forgiven from every sin? Who’s ready for Christ to create a clean heart in you, to renew a steadfast spirit within you and to restore the joy of your salvation?

Who’s ready in Equality for the Everlasting Father to enlighten the eyes of everyone to His eternal glory in Christ? Who’s ready for the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God to lead and guide your every step? Who’s ready for the Prince of Peace to flood your heart with a supernatural peace that passes all understanding?

Who’s ready in Omaha for the Only God our Savior to receive the glory, majesty, power and authority due His name? Who’s ready now to bow the knee and confess with the tongue that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father? Who’s ready to testify to the greatness of His name, to tell of His mighty acts to the next generation, to proclaim the power of His awesome works and to speak of the glory of His kingdom?

Who’s ready in New Haven for God to do a new work in your life? Who’s ready to live a new life in Christ, being dead to sin and raised with Jesus from the grave? Who’s ready to offer your life as a living sacrifice in view of God’s mercy, to be no longer conformed to the pattern of this world, but transformed by the renewing of your mind in worship to the Lord?

Who’s ready in Old Shawneetown for the Ancient of Days to take His seat on the throne? Who’s ready to see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory? Who’s ready to see the day when all peoples, nations and tribes of every language and every color stand before the throne and cry out together: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb”?

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for it! I want to see God sweep through this county with His saving grace and revive the hearts of all of His people. I want to see the Lord convict every person who’s rejected Jesus of their need for His forgiveness and salvation. I want to see the Holy Spirit jar us out of our complacency and indifference, and refocus our vision on our mission to make disciples of all nations.

I want to see our churches unite, as illustrated wonderfully in Ridgway’s Community Thanksgiving Service, under the umbrella of the gospel of God’s grace to love the Lord wholeheartedly, to build and strengthen the church, and to love and serve others with a selfless, Christ-like heart.

I want to see the kingdom of God take over in Gallatin County. Who’s ready for revival? O Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name! Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven! And we will give you the thanks and praise in Christ Jesus.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What's Your Title?

If they made a movie about your life today, what would the title be?

I think about the apostle Paul and wonder what the marquee would say. Here are a few suggestions: “To Live Is Christ,” “God’s Ambassador to the World,” “Rejoicing in the Lord Always.” Or maybe, “007: Special Agent on Special Assignment.” Here’s one: “Crucified With Christ: Dead Man on a Mission.” “The Chief of Sinners Saved.” “Showcase of Grace.” “God’s Chosen Instrument.” “Radically Saved!”

No matter how you look at it, Paul’s life after his conversion to Christ was focused on taking the Good News to the ends of the earth. Some might call him a radical, or a Jesus freak, or even a fool. The Roman Governor Festus called him insane.

Whatever you say about Paul, one thing is clear: When Jesus changed his life, He really changed him!

You may remember that Paul’s given name was Saul. He grew up in the Jewish tradition, a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” he says. He was very zealous for the law, a member of the religious party called the Pharisees, a true up and coming young leader. And he hated the church of Christ.

In Acts 7 the Bible tells about the murder of a man named Stephen. Stephen was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit…full of grace and power” (Acts 6:5, 8). But when he preached the message of God’s redemption through Jesus, the religious imposters of the day rose up against him and stoned him, and the witnesses laid their garments at the feet of a man named Saul (Acts 7:58).

Saul despised the message and the work of the early Christians. In fact, the Bible also says that “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3). Paul describes his former life in his own words saying, “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (1 Timothy 1:13). He says a few verses later that he was the “worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:16).

But Saul got saved! While he was traveling on the road to Damascus, breathing out threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord and carrying orders from the high priest to imprison any who belonged to the Way, his life took a sudden U-turn. All at once a blinding light from heaven stopped Saul dead in his tracks, and as he fell to the ground a voiced boomed, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4).

When Saul managed to inquire who this was, the Lord responded, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). The Bible says the men traveling with Saul were speechless. It doesn’t say whether or not they soiled their robes, but one would be inclined to think so. They heard the voice but didn’t see a soul. In fact, Saul was blinded, so they led him into the city and for three days he didn’t eat or drink.

Well, to make a long story short, the Lord sent a faithful, somewhat hesitant man named Ananias to come and lay hands on Saul that he might receive his sight, but more importantly, that he might receive the Holy Spirit and be baptized. From there it didn’t take long before Saul was proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God, amazing the people by the radical transformation that the Lord had worked in his life.

Saul, soon after called Paul, never looked back. And he became the greatest missionary, evangelist, preacher of the gospel since Jesus Himself. His life reflected the change that only the mercy and grace of God could bring. Paul says it this way, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16).

Friend, maybe you think because of your life, things you’ve said, things you’ve done, that God could never forgive you. Perhaps you think that you’ve messed up so badly that He couldn’t possibly love you or make anything good out of your life.

Let me urge you to take a closer look at Saul. If God can change a violent, angry murderer like that, don’t you think He can change you, too? Of course He can! Are you willing to let Him? Why not confess your sins in repentance and receive His mercy and grace in Christ Jesus right now? It’s not too late to change the title of your movie.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Being Born Again

I think a lot of people are like Nicodemus. They know about Jesus, but they don’t really know Him.

In John 3 we read that Nicodemus was a member of the Pharisees, a leading religious group of the day. It would take another article and more to describe the Pharisees well. But in a nutshell, while they were the interpreters and teachers of the Old Testament law, they did not practice what they preached, they loved the praise of men, they loved money, and they valued their traditions more than the commandments of God.

Here’s what Jesus said of them in Matthew 15:8-9: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”

And they came to despise Jesus with intense hatred.

Of course, Jesus had some scathing words for them as well: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:27-28).

Am I wrong in observing that there are many people like that – even in our churches – today? People who come to church very faithfully, who go through all of the religious motions, absolutely love their own man-made traditions and rules, say and do the right things when others are watching, make sure everyone knows it when they give a large donation, and are long on self-righteousness and short on grace (especially when it comes to judging the behaviors of others). Everything on the outside looks great, but everything on the inside is rotten.

Still, there’s something about Jesus that does attract people to Him. You certainly can’t deny His miraculous powers. You can’t deny the authority in which He taught. You can’t deny His perfect life of obedience to the will of God.

Nicodemus couldn’t, either, and something made him want to really know Jesus. So he came to Jesus at night seeking answers. He wasn’t prepared for what he heard. Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Born again? What in the world does that mean? Nicodemus didn’t have a clue, and neither do most people. Everybody wants to “see the kingdom of God,” they want to go to heaven. But what’s this about being born again? Aren’t my good deeds enough? The fact that I’m a Jew, I’m a Baptist, I’m a Catholic, I’m religious, I’m an American – isn’t that what it takes? I believe in God. My parents and grandparents have always gone to church. I was baptized when I was an infant, or at age 12, or whatever. I’m a good parent, a good neighbor, a hard worker, a good citizen. I’m not perfect, but who is? Why do I need to be born again?

Friend, the truth of the matter is that every single one of us is a sinner in need of salvation. We don’t deserve one blessing or favor from the Lord, let alone eternal life. Indeed, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

In telling Nicodemus, and us, that we need to be born again, Jesus is saying that just as we were born physically to enter this world, it’s only through a spiritual birth that we enter the kingdom of heaven. That happens as the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, leading us to repentance, and transforms our hearts and lives through faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. The Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

What about you? Do you really know Jesus, or just know about Him? Are you just going through religious motions, or have you been born again? No matter what your life is like or what it’s been like, you can receive new, abundant and eternal life in Christ today.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Crazy Love - Chapter 4 - Ouch!

On Sunday nights the church has been studying God’s radical, unconditional, self-sacrificing love for us. We’re reading and working through a book entitled Crazy Love by Francis Chan, which calls us to examine our response to God in light of His all-out love for us.

The underlying question addressed in this book goes along this line: Why are we satisfied with giving less than all of ourselves to the One who loves us so much that He gave all of Himself for us?

This study leads us to examine how the Bible calls us to live our lives. It’s not enough that we compare ourselves to others and think that we’re pretty much on track spiritually. Our standard for living ought to be the truth of God’s Word, and nothing less. As the author states in the preface, Jesus “never begs us to give Him some small part of ourselves. He commands everything from His followers.”

The first chapter describes the glory of an Almighty, all-knowing, holy, just and eternal Creator God. He alone is worthy of our worship. When we think about the majesty and splendor of God, it ought to bring us to our knees in reverence and awestruck wonder.

Chapter 2 turns the focus toward the reality of our weakness and frailty as human beings whose lives are but vapors and will soon be gone. How we need a Savior!

In the third chapter Chan shows us that even as much as we as parents dearly and immensely love our own children, our love for them is only a faint echo of God’s great love for each and every person He has made. God really cherishes and treasures us more than we’ll ever know. And it’s not because we’re all loveable and cuddly and somehow deserve it, but it’s because God is love, and His love is magnified in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Then we got to chapter 4. Chapter 4 hits like an uppercut to the gut. If this is the God of the Bible, the Creator of heaven and earth, the holy, eternal, all-knowing and all-powerful One who loves us so much that He gave up His Son on the cross so that we could be saved from death and hell and given abundant and everlasting life, and if we’re so fragile and fast-fading, how in the world can we not respond to Him with absolute joy and gratitude and loving devotion to Him?

Yet isn’t this a more typical “Christian” response – something like, “Yeah, OK, I’ll try to cuss less, not drink as much, maybe go to church more often, and if I have a little money left over I might put a $20 in the offering.” Is that really what God wants from us? To give Him a little bit of our leftovers? To try to appease Him by doing something good? To try to not make Him mad?

Chapter 4 is entitled, “Profile of the Lukewarm.” Many (most?) American church-goers today are not living in wholehearted obedience, wholehearted devotion or wholehearted delight in the Lord that ought to typify the lives of those who have been saved by His mercy and grace. And I count myself among those for whom this chapter challenged to the core.

Here are just a few of the profiles of the lukewarm:

“Lukewarm people give money to charity and to the church…as long as it doesn’t impinge on their standard of living.”

“Lukewarm people tend to choose what is popular over what is right…they care more about what people think of their actions than what God thinks of their hearts and lives.”

“Lukewarm people don’t really want to be saved from their sin; they want only to be saved from the penalty of their sin.”

“Lukewarm people call ‘radical’ what Jesus expected of all His followers.”

“Lukewarm people gauge their morality or ‘goodness’ by comparing themselves to the secular world.”

“Lukewarm people say they love Jesus, and He is, indeed, a part of their lives. But only a part. They give Him a section of their time, their money, and their thoughts, but He isn’t allowed to control their lives.”

And by the way, here’s what the Lord says to the lukewarm church in Revelation 3:16: “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” What about you, friend? Will you continue to be satisfied with something far less than what God wants of you, or will you give yourself wholly to Christ today?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Appearing Like Mist, Then Vanishing

Ever notice how short life is? As you look back across the decades and the miles, it’s amazing how quickly time rushes by.

Just a few days ago I was in the 4th grade, playing football out in the back yard with my friends, riding my Suzuki 80 dirt bike all over the neighborhood and collecting Star Wars action figures. Then I think it was yesterday I was off to college, then getting married, working at the Rockford Register Star, holding my firstborn son, going to seminary, becoming pastor of this church and witnessing the birth of our second son. And it must have been just this morning that our boys have grown like weeds, and the next thing you know we’ll be grandparents and then living in a nursing home arguing about politics and religion.

Whew! That was fast! Maybe I’d better slow down and savor the moments while they last.

But isn’t it the truth? The Bible says it this way: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). Life is so temporary here on earth. It’s a mere speck on the eternal timeline of history.

Moses recognized this and prayed to the Lord, “You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning – though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered” (Psalm 90:5). He went on to add, “The length of our days is seventy years – or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10).

The truth is that not a single one of us is guaranteed tomorrow. Have you ever thought about that? I realize that death is not something anyone likes to think about. I’ve had a friend asking me for six years now if I’ve made out a will. Maybe he knows something I don’t know. But it’s true. Death is a respecter of no man. Rich, poor, black, white, young, old, popular, outcast, righteous, wicked – they all face physical death.

And for some, our bodies confirm that truth every day. If you wake up with aches and pains that don’t go away, you know what I’m talking about. If disease has overtaken your body so that it’s a struggle to even make it through the day, you understand this fact more clearly than most. Someone has remarked that you know you’re getting old when almost everything hurts – and what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work!

Can I ask you a question, friend: Are you ready for that day? I can’t really think of any way to “get ready” for death other than living at peace with God through Jesus Christ while we’re given these fleeting moments now. Living at peace with God means trusting in Jesus for eternal salvation. It’s believing that He died on the cross to forgive your sins, and believing that He rose from the dead on the third day and now lives forevermore. It’s turning away from sin and receiving Him as Lord and Savior of your life, yielding your life day by day in glad obedience to His will.

If you’ve never really heard it said before, I want you to hear it now: God loves you more than you could ever possibly know. He loves you immeasurably more than you love yourself, your spouse, your parents or your own children. His love is inexhaustible, unfailing, unending and incredible. And He demonstrated the depth of His love for us “in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

God truly wants every single person on the face of this earth – you included – to know His love and trust in His Son, Jesus. That is the only that we can be saved from eternal death and hell. It’s the only way we can live in peace with God. But it is real peace and a sure salvation, and you can have the assurance of eternal life in heaven if you believe in Jesus.

We only have a few moments left here on earth. And beyond the thought of dying, Jesus Himself could return at any moment to call His people home to heaven, as well! So what are we going to do with the time we’re given? Will we live to please ourselves, to accumulate treasures on earth that won’t last? Or will we live our lives for the glory of God, living at peace with Him through Christ, and as a result loving and serving others?

It’s sobering to realize the fact of death, and though you may not want to, it’s worth thinking about.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thanking God with Joy for His Church in Ridgway

Cleaning up after holding a garage sale a couple of weeks ago, I got caught up in the spirit of throwing things away. You know how it is. At first you don’t really want to throw out anything unless you’re absolutely confident that you’ll never use it again, or find that it’s broken beyond repair, meaning that even duct tape won’t do. Personally, I have a pair of mowing shoes that have nearly disintegrated right out from under my feet, but I can’t bring myself to toss them, even though my wife has pleaded with me to do so.

But then once you get started pitching stuff, you get on this roll where you start thinking there’s nothing you really need anyway. Before long, the thought of getting rid of everything and just living in a camper begins to look pretty appealing.

Unfortunately, I got rolling and threw away one of Amy’s cookie sheets. The reason it was in the garage in the first place is too long a story to include here. Suffice it to say, by the time said cookie sheet came up missing, garbage day had come and gone – and so was her cookie sheet. Now I know the mowing shoes are soon history.

I’m not immune to doing stupid things. A week ago I mentioned this dumb move during church, along with two other really stupid things I’d done that week, things which would require columns of their own. I remember bringing these up in order to make a point, but would probably have to go back to the audio recording to see whether or not they did.

Anyway, I bring it up now to say that on the Monday morning after I’d told this story, I walked in to my office at church and there was a large gift bag on my desk. An accompanying unsigned note held out hope that perhaps this gift would get me out of the dog house with my wife. So with curiosity piqued, I opened the bag and there was a brand new Pampered Chef cookie sheet! Wow! I did a little happy dance right there in my office. And thanked God for a church who is generous and loving in so many ways.

It’s almost embarrassing to tell you how richly the church has blessed me – especially during Pastor Appreciation Month. Rather, I should say how the Lord has blessed my family and me through His people in great abundance. And I don’t mind at all boasting about what God has done! I only say “embarrassing” because I know I don’t deserve it, yet God has been so gracious and kind through the church that I have to give Him praise.

That particular Monday was not an exception. Every day this month when I’ve come in to work there has been a special note of encouragement or thanks along with a unique variety of thoughtful gifts. Just to give you some of the highlights, one day a note directed me to the kitchen freezer where I discovered a container of Edy’s Double Fudge Brownie Ice Cream. Someone knows me really well. On my birthday there was a package of Starbucks Coffee, a coffee mug, two breakfast danishes and a piece of d├ęcor for my shelf with a Bible verse that reads: “Give us this day our daily coffee!” Not sure which Scripture translation that is, but that’s probably how it read in the original Greek.

Did I mention the Third Day CD/DVD set I received one day, along with a gift card to LifeWay Christian Bookstores to pick up Third Day’s new release on Oct. 19? Then there was the “creation” tie I wore to church yesterday. It’s a beautiful black tie with a design of the planets and the verse from Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth.”

This morning I found a card with a great word of appreciation and encouragement, and a note to say use this money to take Amy out for lunch! All of these gifts have arrived anonymously, so while I don’t know whom to thank personally, I will offer thanks to the Lord for His great grace to me and my family, and hope the church reads this and knows that “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:3-6).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Welcoming You to Church and Introducing You to Jesus

I’ve been to quite a few church services before when it was the first time I’d ever been there. Sometimes it can feel a little bit awkward, and that may be the understatement of the year. You just know that everyone is staring at you, wondering who in the world you are and what in the world you’re doing in their church.

And in a smaller church setting, it can really feel a lot like you’re walking in on somebody’s family reunion. Everybody else seems to know each other. They’re talking and laughing and having a good time with each other, but when you walk in they seem to force a smile your way, maybe utter a hello and then go right back on to their conversations.

You’re left there, meanwhile, wondering where you should go and what you should do. If you have kids with you it’s even worse, because you’re looking for the nursery or children’s Sunday School classrooms, and you definitely want to know where the bathrooms are since you realized your youngest child forgot to comb his hair before you left home.

Then there’s the fear of sitting in someone else’s pew! Heaven forbid that you should occupy the space where some long-time member sits, and has sat every single Sunday morning since 1954. I have actually heard (not in our church, thankfully) of a situation where a visiting family was asked to move because they sat down in someone’s spot!

I’d be willing to bet that many people who would like to go to church never end up going simply because of their fear that it’s too uncomfortable attending that first time.

But let me also say that I’ve been to some church services for the first time when I felt right away that I belonged there. I’ve been warmly greeted at the door – even in the parking lot! – and then personally escorted to where I needed to go. I’ve been invited to sit with someone during the services, and have had people invite me to lunch with them afterward.

I don’t know what your experiences have been, but my hope is that if you would set foot on the property entrusted to us at 306 S. Valter St. in Ridgway, you would be welcomed warmly, gladly and lovingly. I hope that you would be received not as some strange alien coming to visit, not as an outsider with questionable motives, but more like a friend whose visit we’ve been expecting.

We’re even going a step further to make it easier for you. This coming Sunday afternoon, October 17, starting around 5:00, we’re planning a fall festival event in the backyard of the church grounds. We’d love for you to come and enjoy, in this informal community-wide get-together, a friendly game of Wiffle Ball, or maybe kickball, roasting some hot dogs and marshmallows, sitting around the fire and just enjoying the fall afternoon. That way you get to avoid the awkwardness of coming to church for the first time, not knowing anybody and wondering which pew belongs to whom. Hopefully, you’ll feel among friends.

And most importantly, our desire is to introduce you, in case you’ve never met Him, to the greatest friend anyone could have. His name is Jesus. He’s from Nazareth in Galilee, by way of Bethlehem in Judea. When you get to know Him, you’ll find that’s He’s always wanting to be with you. Not in an annoying sort-of way, but just because that’s how much He really cares about you. You’ll find that He’s a friend who sticks closer than a brother. In good times and through hard times, He’s always ready to listen and always ready to help.

And, oh yeah, since He is the Almighty Son of the Everlasting God, He’s also able to provide for your every need. He’s able to give you supernatural peace, unspeakable joy and unending hope. His love is the greatest of all loves, for He laid down His very own life for His friends. Since He lived a perfect life on earth and died bearing the sins of all mankind, He’s also able to forgive you completely for your sins and save you from eternal death and hell. And since He rose from the grave, He lives forevermore, and dwells within your heart by His Spirit through faith while He makes arrangements for His friends’ eternal dwelling place in the heavens.

I’m so glad to be called His friend. Do you know Him? Why not come to church this Sunday and let us introduce you!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Sacrifice

On the cross your body torn
Battered from the stripes you’d borne
Bruised from blows unjustified
Beaten, broken, crucified

On the cross your blood flowed down
Seeping from that mocking crown
Dripping from your hands and feet
Pouring from your heart’s last beat

Who would bear such pain and strife
Who would lay down his own life
Who would suffer such disgrace
Who would suffer in my place

Matchless Love, O matchless Love
Matchless gift of God above
Mercy for my sinful soul
Mercy cleansed and made me whole

Jesus, O what love you showed
Saved me from the debt I owed
On the cross you paid the price
Lamb of God, the sacrifice

Sing, my soul, you’ve been set free
Guilt and shame are history
Death has no more sting or claim
Life is yours in Jesus’ name

Praise the Lord who came to save
Jesus triumphed o’er the grave
One day He’ll return as King
Glory in the highest sing

Written by Rob Gallion on the occasion of participating in the Lord’s Supper Service, October 3, 2010

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pleading for the Refreshing Wind of God's Spirit

Fall feels refreshing. We’ve finally escaped from the strength-sapping heat of summer, and when the calendar turns over to October, it comes like a breath of crisp, cool, refreshing air. And I’m so ready to see God turn over a page in my own life, in the life of the church and in the life of this nation, and send a breath of refreshing air over us.

We desperately need revival in the church and a great spiritual awakening across this land. Tell me if I’m wrong, but I believe many once-passionate believers in Christ have lost their spiritual zeal. Many have lost their first love. Some have become lukewarm and some have grown cold. Whether it’s spiritual complacency, apathy, deadness or whatever you call it, we need the refreshing wind of God’s Spirit to blow upon us once more.

Can you imagine if a NASCAR driver like Jimmie Johnson (or pick your favorite) came roaring from the wave of the green flag, took the lead, was running a strong race, but then somewhere along the way began to slowly ease his foot off the pedal? Can you picture what would happen if he thought he’d already done well enough and was so satisfied that he’d led for 100 or so laps that he just thought he could coast toward the finish line? He’d get blown away!

Yet many Christians who know Jesus and have followed Him wholeheartedly, who have stood boldly for His truth and have prayed fervently for the salvation of their family, friends, neighbors and nations throughout the world have slowly let off the gas and seem to be coasting toward the finish line. Maybe they feel they’ve done well enough, or maybe they’re satisfied with the way things are. Maybe they’ve resigned to the world’s philosophies and values and have lost sight of God’s mission for His church.

Now is not the time to coast! Now, more than ever, we need to plead with the Lord to revive His people and awaken this land to their need for a Savior! Now, more than ever, we need to stand strong in the Lord and in the power of His might! Now, more than ever, we need to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus!

I’m talking to you, Christian. I believe that if God will send a great awakening in this land, and the Bible says He wants to save people everywhere from their sins, it will start with a cleansing in the church. We need repentance. We need to confess our lack of love for the Lord, our failure to love our neighbors as we should, our lack of dependence upon Christ and our failure to follow His ways. Are we really denying ourselves? Are we really dying daily to sin? Are we really following wholeheartedly after Jesus?

Jesus gave Himself up on the cross for us. He willingly laid down His life so that we could be forgiven for our sins. He bore the horrific weight of our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. It’s only by His wounds that we have been healed. It’s only because of His sacrifice that we are saved by His grace through faith. What love! What abounding, enduring, unparalleled and unfailing love Almighty God has lavished upon us!

Therefore, we are called, in view of God’s great mercy and in view of His amazing grace, to live for righteousness, to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. And by our good works the light of Christ ought to shine so brightly through us that the world will see and give glory to our Father in heaven.

I pray that the people of God will get on their knees and get thoroughly right with Him in every way. I pray that we’ll stand on our feet and stand strong in His grace. I pray that we’ll serve with His heart and His hands. I pray that we’ll give everything we have for the cause of His kingdom. I pray that we’ll pray passionately that the Lord will send forth laborers into the harvest fields. And I pray that we’ll go with His feet and proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Sin saps our strength as in the heat of summer, but when we confess our sins God will forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We’ll feel the refreshing wind of God’s Spirit as we do. He will revive us again that His people may rejoice in Him. And He will awaken the world to the glory of Christ.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Overcoming Depression through Hope in Christ

I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. But I think I can prescribe for you an antidote for depression. It’s not Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft or any other drug on the market. The cure for depression is a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ.

I’m not trying to minimize your struggle or oversimplify the solution, but I promise you that if you will put your unwavering trust in the Lord, follow wholeheartedly in His ways and keep His love always before you as you seek to love others as He has loved you, then you will experience the joy of the Lord unlike what any drug can give (and without all those nasty side effects).

Joy is a mark of the saving and transforming work of God within the hearts and lives of those who believe. It’s part of the package of “fruit” the Holy Spirit produces in the lives of believers (Galatians 5:22). Those who respond to the grace of God in truth have been rescued “from the domain of darkness and brought into the kingdom of the Son” (Colossians 1:13). They understand that Jesus is the “light of the world,” and that “whoever follows [Him] will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

In John 10:10 Jesus says this: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” If you’re wracked with depression and misery and hopelessness, then the thief, the devil, has stolen what could be yours in Christ – an abundant, sweet and satisfying life!

Listen, I know many, many people deal daily or occasionally with depression. Let’s face it – life is hard. There are so many pressures from so many sources to simply fit in. We’re living in a culture that basically says that if you don’t look like you just stepped off the cover of a fashion magazine, then you’re ugly. If you don’t make enough money to drive a nice car and own all the latest tech gadgets, if you don’t wear the right name brands and if you don’t conform to the right world philosophy and ideology, then our society implies that you are worthless. It’s easy to see how so many could succumb to feelings of despair and despondency.

But God does not want you to live like that. And He’s made it possible so that you don’t have to. Sure, there are times when situations are difficult to endure. God never promised an easy road for anyone. Even to His own disciples Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Christians are not immune to hardship or grief or any other kinds of trouble. But we do have this promise from our Lord in His next breath: “But take heart; I have overcome the world!”

If you’re struggling with depression, dear friend, take this prescription from Psalm 42-43. There the writer faced with his own sense of discouragement cried out, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” Then he answered with this declaration of confidence in the Lord: “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.”

If you’ll put your hope in God, trusting in His Word, in His very great and precious promises, praising Him for His love, His mercy, His grace, His provision, His power, His protection, His presence, His faithfulness and all that’s He’s proven of His riches in Christ Jesus, then you can have victory over depression through Him!

Jesus has overcome the world and all its entrapments. The apostle Paul knew this as well as anyone. Though he faced greater hardships and sufferings and persecutions than most of us will ever know, Paul took heart and never lost hope in Christ. He had a vibrant relationship with Jesus, trusting and following His ways wholeheartedly, and never lost sight of His saving love and the mission God gave him.

Paul put it this way: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

That’s the kind of hope in Christ that can pull anyone out of the pit of depression and into the abundant life that Jesus alone can give.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Kickball Kamikaze

I’m not as young as I used to be. I’m starting to feel more aches and pains than I used to. My body doesn’t heal quite as quickly as it used to. Been there, done that?

On the Sunday night before Labor Day our family got together to celebrate my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. My sister and her husband in Robinson invited the siblings and our families over for dinner. Mom and Dad were there, too. For some unknown reason after dinner we decided to play a game of kickball. Kickball! I don’t think I’d played kickball since 5th grade.

I need to mention at this point that some people in my family are rather competitive when it comes to sports. Namely that would be my two brothers and my brother-in-law. And me. Being the oldest of the siblings I guess have this thing that I feel like I have to show somehow that I still have a little athletic ability left in me. As if it matters.

I should also mention that just about everyone played. That includes my two boys, ages 10 and 5, my niece who’s 8, my other niece who’s 2, my Dad and Mom who are old enough to have celebrated a 40th wedding anniversary, my youngest brother’s wife who recently had surgery on her toe, and, of course, my two competitive brothers and brother-in-law. And me.

My wife, who is not really into kickball, per se, sat out. So did my other sister-in-law, who’s not really into kickball, either. That’s okay; at least she made the cake. And so did my sister, who’s 8 months with child. Excuses, excuses. They sat under the shade tree and cheered.

So we picked teams just like we did in grade school. Popular kids were picked first. We set up bases in the back yard and rolled out the ball. I’ll save you the play-by-play, but I ought to mention that in about the third inning the sideline cheerleaders began to grumble that we weren’t letting the little kids get on base much. Hey, when you’re playing to win you take the easy outs.

Well, my 2-year-old niece, Mallory, was on my team, and our opponents decided mercifully to let her get on base next time. So she kicked it about four feet and ran to first safely. That seemed to please the peanut gallery.

Next batter up was Mom. She legged a drive out into right field played nicely by my Dad, as I recall, who threw to first for the out. Then with keen field awareness, the first baseman fired a perfect strike to second base, to which Mallory was in stride from first. The tag was applied and you had a 4-3-6 double play. Inning over. The crowd groaned.

Anyway, during the course of the game – I’m not bragging, just telling it like it happened – a ball was kicked high in the air down the third base line. I was playing somewhere behind second. I got a great jump on the ball and arrived in time to make a sensational diving catch. The crowd went wild. We watched ESPN later that evening to see if it made the “Plays of the Day.” My 10-year-old was impressed. Anytime you can impress your 10-year-old with your athletic ability, you go for it.

I wasn’t finished yet. An inning or two later another ball was kicked in the air which again I dove for and made another spectacular catch. This time, however, my right knee hit the ground hard. It left a divot larger than most of my fairway swings. I got up like a champion and finished the game. My teammates awarded me the “Defensive Player of the Game” award.

But my knee was sore. No, sore doesn’t really capture it. It hurt. And it still does. Don’t think I did any major damage, but my knee wasn’t the only thing bruised. My ego has taken a bit of a pounding, as well. I’m not as young as I used to be.

I remember my PE teacher from high school, Jack Reeder, telling us in his crusty PE voice then when we started taking things too seriously, “Hey! Nobody’s gonna put your name in the paper tomorrow if you win! Don’t try to be a hero out there!” I knew I should have listened.

Truly God designed our bodies to function here on earth, though it’s clear they’re not made to last forever. Especially when you play competitive kickball like a kamikaze. Makes me long all the more for the day when the Lord Jesus Christ, “who by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (Phil. 3:21).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tool or Fool?

Are you a tool or a fool?

The fool rejects God’s creative design. Despite His incredible handiwork on display day after day and night after night, the fool says in his heart, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1). Even though God has made clear to everyone that His eternal power and divine nature are evident in creation, the fool suppresses the truth by his wickedness and refuses to glorify Him as God or give thanks to Him (see Romans 1:18ff.).

The fool rejects God’s saving desire. Despite God’s astonishing act of love – the fact that He sent Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of all mankind – the fool denies his need for a Savior. Despite God’s unending mercy and unimaginable grace, the fool fails to receive Christ and follows the cravings of his own stubborn heart.

The Bible tells us that God does not want anyone to perish, even though that’s what we all deserve because of our sin. But rather, God wants everyone to come to repentance (see 2 Peter 3:9). That’s why He’s so patient with us. That’s why He hasn’t already executed His righteous judgment against us even though we’ve all but abandoned Him in our pursuit of our own measly, little plans.

One day, however, the Day of the Lord will come and just wrath of God will be poured out in full upon the foolish, disbelieving world. Those who foolishly have rejected God’s amazing offer of abundant life and everlasting salvation through Jesus Christ will face a judgment of described as a “fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42, 50).

But those who have repented of their sin and turned in faith to follow after Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior will be saved from death and hell and “will receive an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:4-5).

Those who follow Jesus are not fools, but tools in the hands of God. They are vessels of honor, instruments of righteousness, having been cleansed from sin by the blood of Christ, and are “set apart as holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Timothy 2:21). God uses them to accomplish His purposes and carry out His work in the world.

What about you, friend? Is your life a tool God is using to build His kingdom? Or are you a fool who lives as if there is no God?

I want to say a special word of thanks to the Ridgway Fire Dept. for allowing us to move our Gospel Night concert indoors last Thursday night. The rain kept us from using the Popcorn Day stage, but the firehouse became a platform for The Whisnants to share the gospel in song, and we’re very grateful. I appreciate everyone who braved the rain to come, and I hope you were encouraged in the Lord.

I’ll also add a public word of thanks to Jill Rhine and the crew who helped with our Popcorn Day float. Great job! Truly we need to remember that we are “one nation under God.”

Also, my wife Amy wants to let all the ladies in the community know that starting on Tuesday, September 21, our church will begin a Bible study for women at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday mornings. They will be working through a course called “Believing God” by Beth Moore. If you would like more information, feel free to call the church office at 272-5921. Any woman, any age is invited to participate.

Finally, children’s church is back at Ridgway First Baptist Church. Children ages 4 to Grade 4 are invited to come and be a part of it every Sunday at 10:40 a.m. Parents, grandparents, guardians – we’d love to see you in our worship services, too!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Testifying to the Gospel of God's Grace

The message I didn’t preach on Sunday would have been from Psalm 31. The Lord led me instead to Acts 20:22-24 where the apostle Paul basically says that his life means nothing to him, if only he may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus had given him. That task is testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.

 That’s the kind of single-minded focus every believer ought to have concerning the mission God has given to us. When it comes to proclaiming what God has done for us through Jesus, we should strive to say sincerely with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). When we truly yield our lives to Jesus as Lord, then the truth is that we will have denied ourselves, taken up our cross and follow Him wherever He leads.

I’m often convicted for my own lack of zeal. Maybe it’s a lack of completely dying to self and living fully in Christ. Perhaps I’m too concerned for my own life rather than offering it to God as a living sacrifice.

Yet in light of the gospel of God’s grace, what could I possibly withhold from Him? He is the One who poured out His mercy through Jesus on the cross. What I deserve because of my sin (and what everyone deserves because of their own sin) is death and hell. Yes, even one single act of rebellion toward God, even one failure to do the good I know I ought to do, is sin. And it’s enough to eternally separate me from His presence.

But, hallelujah, God doesn’t give us what we deserve! Instead, as we come humbly before Him in repentance and faith, acknowledging our absolute inability to save ourselves, receiving His forgiveness for our sins through Christ, then our God mercifully cleanses us from every stain of sin and washes us white as snow!

Friend, do you know how much God loves you? Even though you’ve messed up hundreds of times, even though you’ve said some awful things, even though you’ve done some hurtful things, and even though you’ve lived a self-pleasing, self-centered and self-sufficient life, God in His great love for you still sent His Son to take away your sins!

It’s like the judge before whom a young girl was brought having been fined for speeding. She was clearly guilty of breaking the law, and she had no means to pay the fine. The judge could have dismissed the case, but then he wouldn’t have been a just judge. He could have sentenced her to jail until the fine was paid, but that would have seemed unkind. Instead, he stood up out of his seat, removed his robe, walked away from the bench, took the money owed from his own pocket and paid the debt. You see, the girl was his daughter, and he loved her enough to cover the guilt and set her free.

That’s what our Lord did for us. It’s what He offers today to whosoever will believe in the name of Jesus. He came from heaven to earth, making Himself in human likeness, and paid the penalty we could not pay ourselves by pouring out His righteous wrath against His sinless Son when they crucified Jesus on the cross of Calvary. Because Jesus took our sins upon Himself, anyone who looks to Him for salvation will receive the mercy of God.

And not only will you not get what you do deserve, you will also get what you do not deserve – and that’s the unmerited favor of God, the gospel of His grace. When you turn away from sin and turn in faith to Jesus, you get abundant and everlasting life! You get the joy and the peace and the comfort and the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in you day by day as you walk this earth. And you get the assurance that when your time on earth is through you’ll have an eternal home in heaven in the presence of the living God!

That’s the gospel of God’s grace, of which Paul said he lived to testify. Paul knew that he himself had been the “worst of sinners,” but through the mercy and grace of God he had been saved. And he could not help but testify to what the Lord had done, urging others to believe on Jesus and receive eternal life. One whose life has been saved from eternal death can hardly hold back anything from the One who held back nothing to save us.

Maybe we’ll get to Psalm 31 this Sunday. I want to invite you to come and find out! Feel free to wear your favorite church T-shirt, or Christian T-shirt, or come dressed however you choose. Our worship of our Savior hinges not on what we wear on the outside, but on what we give Him from the inside. Hope to see you then, or better yet, on Thursday night (Sept. 9) also at the Popcorn Stage downtown for a great concert with The Whisnants!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Southern Gospel Concerts and Sunday School Teachers

First up, let me say I appreciate everyone who came out to hear The Lesters last Friday night. Didn’t it feel like you’d been in the presence of God? I believe our Lord was glorified through the message of the music, and I hope each person received a special blessing of encouragement.

I’ll say this about The Lesters – whether they’re singing for thousands or tens, their heart is in it. I can imagine that singing the same songs night after night might become routine, but you’d never know it with this group. It was a real joy to experience worship with them.

That said, I also want to invite you to come hear The Whisnants on Thursday, Sept. 9. The Whisnants are one of the most highly-acclaimed groups in Southern Gospel music, and one I believe is genuinely in it to minister to people as they exalt the name of Christ. You’ll hear it in their songs and testimonies.

That concert will be held on the Popcorn Stage downtown Ridgway beginning at 7:00. And, yes, it’s free! Join us in praying for good weather, and invite someone to come with you. Don’t forget to bring a lawn chair, and if you’d like to listen to The Whisnants while munching on some ribbon fries and sipping a lemon shake-up, well that’d be all right.

Parents, can I have your attention for a moment? Our new Sunday School year starts this coming Sunday, and we would love to invite your children to be a part of it. Some of the best Sunday School teachers in the world are getting ready for their arrival already.

Let me share with you in brief what I shared with the church this past Sunday morning. Here are some principles that define our teachers, and standards we continually want to strive toward as we seek to become even more effective as teachers. And by the way, parents, these principles just as easily apply at home as you seek to become more effective in your role. You can take the first letter of each statement to form the acrostic TEACHER.

Ridgway First Baptist Church teachers:

Train others to follow God’s Word. It’s not our goal simply to fill heads with Bible knowledge. That might work great for answering questions on Jeopardy!, but our aim is to teach students to obey everything that Christ has commanded. His Word is our guide, and we unapologetically want to train people to follow the teachings of Jesus.

Encourage others to grow strong in the faith. We want to help motivate and inspire each other to hold on to the truths of the Christian faith. We seek to build an environment where we’re spurring one another on toward love and good deeds and to stay true to the message of the gospel.

Appeal to God on behalf of their students. If you want to know that someone is praying to the Almighty Maker and Sustainer of heaven and earth on behalf of your children, then bring them to Sunday School. We believe God acts in response to prayer, and as we lift up your children before Him, we trust He will guide, protect and save them.

Care for others with Christ-like love. We are all called to be imitators of God as His beloved children and to walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us. We truly desire to let the love of Christ flow through us as we teach and minister to your children. They may not remember everything they’re taught about the books of the Bible, but they’ll remember they were loved.

Handle the Word of God correctly. A great teacher must first be a great learner. We want our teachers to be saturated in the Scriptures so that the Bible first permeates their own lives, and then they’ll be able to teach others how to feed on God’s unchanging Word.

Evangelize the message of Jesus Christ. The proclamation of Jesus as Lord and Savior is central to everything else we teach. Apart from the truth of His death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and His resurrection victory over the grave, we have nothing to offer but empty moral platitudes. The whole of the Bible focuses on the message of Jesus, and we teach this unashamedly.

Rely upon the Holy Spirit for guidance. If we attempt anything in our own strength, our own wisdom or our own abilities, we’ll fail. But when we rely upon the Holy Spirit to guide us, then how can we go wrong? God is able to take ordinary men and women and transform them into vessels of His grace, and so He does.

Hope to see you in Sunday School this Sunday at 9:30!