Tuesday, March 30, 2010

True Hearts = True Praise

My, how quickly the tide can change.

No doubt many in the crowd on that Sunday who waved their palm branches and spread their cloaks on the ground were also in the crowd that Friday shaking their fists and kicking up dust.

No doubt many in the crowd on that day who joyfully shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” were also among the mob who angrily cried out “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Away with this man!”

No doubt many who lined the road to watch the Messiah ride humbly into town on a donkey also lined the road to watch Him struggling under the weight of His own cross.

How quickly the people’s hero can become the villain. How quickly praise can turn to scorn. How quickly a Savior can become a scoundrel.

What happened? How is it that in just a few days Jesus went from being adored as the King to derided on the cross?

In a word – expectations. The people wanted a Messiah, all right, and they wanted Him to be Jesus. But Jesus was not the kind of Messiah they wanted. They were looking for someone to come and save their nation from the Roman rule, but Jesus came to save souls from Satan’s rule. They were hoping He’d win a military victory over their enemies, but Jesus came to win a spiritual victory over sin and death and hell.

So when they saw that He was not the King they wanted, they quickly turned against Him, just like Jesus had said they would. They were the people of whom Jesus spoke in the parable who hated Him and did not want Him to reign over them as King (see Luke 19:14).

Hmmm, how little the hearts of men have changed since that day! Is that not what we see in our culture in 2010? Don’t get me wrong – people want Jesus to be their Savior, all right. They just want Him to be their version of a Savior. They want a Savior who will give them what they want.

They want a Savior who will give them wealth and career success and advancement opportunities and material blessings. They want a Savior who will grant them good health and keep their kids from getting colds and eliminate disease and sickness and pain in the world.

They want a Savior who will bestow them with worldly pleasures and indulge their pursuits of worldly entertainment. They want a Savior who will cater to their selfish whims and godless ambitions.

What they don’t want is a Savior who will call them to account for their faithlessness. What they don’t want is a Savior who will require them to deny themselves, take up their crosses daily and follow Him. What they don’t want is a Savior who will demand they flee from sin and pursue righteousness.

Just like the crowds in His day, people today will turn against Jesus just as soon as they see that He doesn’t do things according to their own expectations. They may be quick to praise Him as long as they think He’ll satisfy their self-centered desires, but they’ll also be quick to revile Him when things don’t go their way.

The words of the people’s praise were right, but their hearts were not. I wonder about us today. It’s easy to sing songs of praise with our lips on Sunday morning, but does that song remain in the heart on Friday? Even when Jesus doesn’t meet our expectations? Are we still willing to surrender to Him and submit to His ways even when things don’t go our way?

I pray this Easter season – as we reflect upon the death and resurrection of Jesus – that we’ll not only give Him the praise of which He’s worthy, but that it will rise from true hearts, steadfast, loyal and unwavering in our love for Him.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring Is Coming

Spring is coming, and God proves His faithfulness once again.

Has it not seemed like a long, cold winter this year? I’m no meteorologist, nor the son of a meteorologist (although my Dad is an avid viewer of The Weather Channel), but it feels like we’ve had a rougher than normal winter weather pattern here in Southern Illinois. I, for one, am glad Spring is coming.

It’s not that I’m not used to rough winters. Amy and I lived in Rockford, IL, for eight years after we got married, and let me tell you, we endured some cold weather. Our last winter there I remember getting our first major snowfall on Dec. 15, and the snow kept the ground covered until late March.

Then we lived in Kansas City for three years. We thought it was like moving to the tropics compared to Northern Illinois. But though the temperatures didn’t get quite as cold, nor stay so cold for so long, the winter chill still made its presence known. Ice storms seemed to be pretty popular there, including one that covered my car so heavily that it took over an hour to chip through to get in, and somehow manage to carve out about a plate size hole on the windshield to be able to see to drive to work.

So when we came to Southern Illinois we thought we had it made – until our first Christmas dumped almost two feet of snow on us. But we’ve since enjoyed very mild winters for the past few years. This year we made up for it. Did you suppose it had anything to do with the abundance of black woolly-worms crawling around last fall?

Ah, but now the calendar declares Spring has arrived! We’ve even had a few days giving us a foretaste of the warmer weather that awaits. And in the changing of the seasons, from winter to spring, we’re reminded of the faithfulness of our Creator.

The old hymn says it well: “Summer and winter and springtime and harvest / Sun, moon and stars in their courses above / Join with all nature in manifold witness / To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.”

Genesis 1:14 tells us, “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years.’”

Who is the One who sends the rain in due season, so that the ground will yield its crops and the trees of the field their fruit? Who is the One who appoints the sun to shine by day and calls forth the moon and the stars at night? Who is the One who makes the grass grow on the hills, provides food for the cattle and the young raven when they call?

Is it not the Lord God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them – the Lord who remains faithful forever? Is His faithfulness not evident in the beauty of the changing seasons, and in the precision with which He holds all things together?

God’s glory is magnificently displayed throughout His creation. His eternal power and divine nature are clearly seen in the things that He has made. The psalmist thought upon these things and marveled: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4).

And, friend, it is precisely that care, the love God has for us, that inspires our songs of praise and fills our hearts with wonder and awe and gratitude for who He is and what He has done for us.

Maybe you’ve been through a rough season of your own lately. Whether it’s a financial hardship, a broken relationship, a difficult illness or a period of grief – whatever it is – it feels like you’ve been dumped on or iced over. But I want you to know that when you cry out to the Lord for help, Spring is coming!

“Though the sorrow may last for the night, joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). I want to encourage you today, weary one, to look to the Lord and to the strength of His might. Call upon His name and put your hope in Christ Jesus as Savior and Lord.

He will prove His faithfulness once again as He turns your winter into spring. You’ll find that He is a merciful helper and healer, and you will declare with the psalmist: “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (Psalm 30:11-12).

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Game-Changing Moments

Have I mentioned before that I enjoy sports? I mean I’m not a fanatic about it, and I don’t get into sports as much now as I once did, but still this weekend with the opening rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament on TV, you know what I’ll be doing.

One thing I guess that fuels my interest is watching for that game-changing moment. If you saw this year’s Super Bowl between the Colts and the Saints, you know that play. When the Saints came out of the halftime locker room trailing 10-6, they knew they had to make something happen. And on the opening play, the Saints attempted and recovered an onside kick, and six plays later they’re in the endzone with a touchdown, the lead and the momentum that would carry them to victory.

That onside kick was the game-changing moment. You know that in a good game the momentum can swing back and forth, especially in basketball, before one team makes a play that changes the game.

A couple of weekends ago my former college roommate invited me to go with him to St. Louis to watch our Illinois State Redbirds play in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. In the semifinal game against Wichita St., the Redbirds were down but rallying late in the game. They had the ball with a chance to tie, but their star player made a bad pass that led to an easy layup for the other team, and that seemed to seal the loss. I would define that play as the game-changing moment.

There’s a game-changing moment described for us in the Bible, too. This week at Ridgway First Baptist Church we’ve heard some excellent preaching from the Word of God. I think it’s wonderful that our congregation gets to hear some great preaching for a change! In our Sunday morning and evening revival services, evangelist Shane Kastler preached from Ephesians 2:1-10.

When you read the first three verses of this chapter you see what it means to be dead in our sins. As Shane said, every single person is in one of two camps: either you are dead in your sins, or you used to be. Being dead in sin means having a worldly spirit; that is, to be consumed with the things of the world rather than the things of God. It also means you have a satanic spirit, who is at work in those disobey God. And it means you have a disobedient spirit, with no desire to live in a way that pleases the Lord. Those who are dead in their sins live in the “lusts of [the] flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and [are] by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3).

Maybe that describes you right now. Ask yourself this question: “Do I love the things of God, or am I consumed with the things of the world?” Examine yourself to see whether your life is bearing the fruit of righteousness, or not. Being dead spiritually is a terrible place to be, but it’s nothing compared with the horrors of hell that await those who die in their sins.

The good news, however, is that you don’t have to stay dead! Here comes the game-changing moment in the course of all history. Here’s the game-changing play that leads to victory and life, and it’s found in these two words: “But God.” See, all of us deserve to die and go to hell because we’ve all sinned against a holy, righteous and just God. “But God” steals the ball from Satan and scores at the other end, sealing His victory and dooming the devil to defeat.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Eph. 2:4).

That great love with which He loved us was the love He demonstrated when He gave His Son Jesus Christ to die in our place for our sins on the cross. It was while we were dead, while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us. He was “nailed to the cross by the hands of godless men [who] put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:23-24).

Friend, which camp are you in? Are you dead in your sins? Or were you once dead in sin, but now you’re alive with Christ, having been saved by grace through faith?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Real Madness

If you enjoy watching college basketball, like I do, you know that March is a month of madness. I’m not sure if they’re talking about the madness relating to the improbable upsets and Cinderella stories, the furious comebacks and last-second buzzer beaters, or if they mean the craziness of the fans who put their lives on hold when the tournament tips off.

You know what real madness is? It’s rejecting something good for something bad. If you were to offer me a mansion on the hilltop – fully furnished and paid for, with maids and butlers at my beck and call, maybe an indoor swimming pool and hot tub, perhaps a couple of bowling lanes, an adjacent tennis court, beautiful garden and manicured lawn – you know, the stuff of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” or “My Congressman’s Vacation Home,” and if I were to tell you to shove it, and then I went back to my cardboard box under the bridge, you’d call me mad. That’s crazy.

But don’t you know that’s how so many people in our day live? They’ve rejected something good for something bad. Maybe you’re one of them. Friend, you have been offered a glorious home by the Master Builder and Architect Himself! This mansion has more amenities than you could possibly imagine. And it’s not just the mansion itself, it’s all about location, location, location. In this city the streets are paved with gold, the gates are made of pearl, the walls are carved of jasper and the foundations are decorated with every kind of precious stone. In this city the brilliance of the glory of God shines to give it light, and the Lamb – Jesus Christ – is its lamp.

This home in heaven is offered to you today, having been paid for by the Son of God. It’s not just a weekend condo for rent, but an eternal place where God Himself makes His dwelling among men. In this place God will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for He makes all things new. In this city nothing impure will ever enter, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Does that sound like an offer you could turn down? You’d be crazy to reject something this good and go back to your cardboard box under the bridge. Yet that’s exactly what many choose to do in their madness. They thumb their nose at the offer to have this eternal life and receive the riches of an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. They walk away from the abundant life that Christ offers when they follow Him – a life of love, joy, peace, hope, purpose and so much more.

And they go back to their lives of misery and shame. They prove their madness by refusing to come to the One who can save their souls from death and hell. They refuse to come to Christ for forgiveness for theirs sins, cleansing from the corruption of sin, and the full and complete pardon that He offers. And they continue living in their self-destructive ways. That’s nothing but madness. It’s foolishness, and it leads to death.

The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

I want to urge you today, right now, to acknowledge that you are a sinner and in need of God’s forgiveness. Realize that you are unable to save yourself – no amount of good deeds or church attendance or charitable donations will ever get you into heaven. Believe in your heart that Jesus is the sinless Son of God, the One who died in your place on the cross to forgive you for your sins and make you right with God. Then come humbly before the Lord repenting of your sins and your sinfulness. Change your heart and life from wherever you are and whatever you’ve done, to living in a way that pleases and honors the Lord God. Receive by faith the gift He wants to give you this very moment – the gift of eternal life, by receiving Jesus as your Savior and Lord, and in doing so your name will be inscribed in that book of life.

As Moses proclaimed to the Israelites, I say to you today: “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him” (Deut. 30:19-20). It’s an offer you’d be mad to refuse.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Inspecting for Sin Damage

We had a guy come in the church building and do a termite inspection this week. He checked all throughout the building, inside and outside, even climbing into the crawl space underneath to take a closer look. It’s not that we’d been seeing any signs of termite activity, but it’s a good idea to make sure. You can’t necessarily see the damage they may be causing behind the walls.

Maybe you schedule regular termite inspections at your home or place of business. Termites cause an estimated $2.5 billion annually in property damage and repair costs. Most of that damage goes on undetected for up to five years, as the termites work undercover, day and night, eating up the wood hidden within the walls of your home. Often by the time a property owner knows they’re there, it’s already too late to prevent huge losses.

Termites are very well organized and persistent as they scour out new sources of food. Needing only a 1/32 of an inch for an opening, they can easily enter most structures through some means. Once inside they’ll not only eat up wood, but also anything containing cellulose, wallpaper, books, boxes, carpet backing, drywall and furniture.

I remember seeing a “Popeye” show where an army of invading termites goes to battle against Popeye. He tries all kinds of ways to keep them away from his house, but they always eat up every defense. Finally they get to his house and within seconds they’ve reduced it to nothing. Then Popeye pops in a can of spinach and rebuilds his house, this time out of metal from top to bottom, furniture and all. The termites wear themselves out trying unsuccessfully to chew it up, though they do eat the pipe right out of Popeye’s mouth.

So why I am going on and on about termites? No, I didn’t cut a deal with our inspection guy and offer him some free publicity here. But I do see a parallel with the way termites work on a building and the way sin works in our lives.

Sin often goes undetected in our lives for a long time before we really begin seeing the damage it has caused. And by the time we’re forced to deal with it we’re already facing huge losses.

Sin works on us night and day, mostly undercover. The ruin usually comes from the inside out. On the outside everything looks great. But behind the walls sin eats away at the very foundation of our souls, weakening our lives and threatening to destroy us altogether.

And have you noticed that sin doesn’t need much of an opening to enter in? You hardly need to hang a welcome sign inviting sin, for it finds its way in through the smallest of weaknesses, and then summons all its wicked-minded buddies over for a party.

The mastermind of misery, Satan himself, never tires of inflicting as much destruction on us as he possibly can. His modus operandi is to kill, to steal and to destroy. He is a thief, a robber, a liar and a deceiver. He is like a roaring lion, prowling around for someone to devour. He can masquerade as an angel of light, only to lure you into the dark and stab you in the back and leave you for dead.

Maybe you’ve been fooled by his schemes. He entices us to sin by casting doubt upon the Word of God. Remember how Satan handled Eve in the Garden of Eden? He promises pleasure but produces pain. He’s well organized and persistent in his attacks against the church of Christ, against individuals and against nations.

Is it time you had a sin inspection done on your life? Maybe there’s already been much damage caused by sin’s advances. Maybe sin’s reduced you to nothing. But you’re never too far gone that you cannot be saved! As long as you’re still breathing God offers you salvation – not through a can of spinach and a metal house – but through His Son Jesus Christ.

He’s already provided the way, He’s already shown you His mercy and His grace, and He’s already proven His love for you by sending Jesus to die on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. Will you turn away from your sin and receive Jesus as your Savior and Lord today?

Perhaps you don’t see any signs of sin in your life, but it’s still a good idea to do an inspection to make sure sin hasn’t crept in. Not an annual inspection, mind you, but a daily one, as you allow God to search you thoroughly and shine the light of His Word even into the furthest corners of your heart.

I’d like to invite you to join us March 14-17 for revival services. You know you need it. Please come.