Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Reflections on Our Nation's Foundation and Future Direction

Before I forget, let me wish you a happy 4th of July! Celebrating our national independence ought to remind us of the wonderful freedoms we enjoy in this country. We have been blessed beyond measure in these United States, and we owe a great debt of gratitude to our founding fathers for their vision and wisdom in shaping this nation.

Of course, we also owe our heartfelt thanks to every man and woman who has worn the uniform in serving and protecting this land. Hundreds of thousands have paid the ultimate price in gaining and preserving our freedoms. We salute them all, knowing that we would have nothing to celebrate if not for their sacrificial efforts on our behalf.

Most of all, we have the Lord God to thank for what He has done for us. Because our nation’s fathers sought the Lord’s help and relied upon His providential hand for victory, God has rewarded their faith and blessed us richly. Indeed, in a way similar to how God promised His blessings upon His people Israel, we’ve seen His grace shed upon us: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom He has chosen for His heritage” (Psalm 33:12a)!

It is amazing to read in the Old Testament of how God promised such incredible blessings to Israel for their obedience to His ways, while also warning them of the grave dangers that would come from disobedience. If you read Deuteronomy chapter 8 you’ll see how God longs for His people to follow Him and receive His grace.

In that text God speaks through Moses, saying: “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you” (Deut. 8:7-10).

This Scripture is obviously given to Israel as they were nearing their entry into the Promised Land, but to me it’s not too difficult to see the parallels in our nation’s history. What other nation besides Israel has been so blessed as America has been? We have had it so good here, and we have the Lord our God to bless for the good land He has given us.

With that said, in the very next breath Moses also issued a warning to Israel: “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and your gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt…Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the power to get wealth…And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God” (Deut. 8:11-14, 17, 19-20).

Is that not a warning that we need to heed in 21st century America?! By the way, God eventually did bring His judgment upon Israel when they forgot the Lord their God, when they rebelled against His ways, and served and worshiped other gods. After sending many prophets to call the nation back to Him, and after pouring out His kindness and steadfast love toward His people, God used the Babylonians to capture and destroy Jerusalem, as many were put death and some carried into exile out of the land of Judah.

How will history record America’s story? Will the people of this nation return in faithfulness and obedience to the ways of the Lord our God? Or will we forget His commands, boast in ourselves, and suffer the ruin of a once richly-blessed land?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Celebrating God's Faithfulness

Thought I might give you a little heads up on an event coming later this summer that we are getting excited about. Now I could be talking about Vacation Bible School, which I hope you’ll also mark on your calendar for July 11-16, but I’m not. I could be referring to any particular Sunday in which the followers of Christ assemble for worship (I get excited every week), but no.

Would you please write down the date of Sunday, August 15, and plan to come and join us for Ridgway First Baptist Church’s 120th Anniversary Homecoming Celebration? We are so grateful for what our God has done in us and through us and for us in the past, what He is doing now, and what we are confident He’ll do in the future. That’s what we want to celebrate, and what we invite you to celebrate with us on August 15.

The last time we recognized an anniversary was in 1990 when we observed our 100th year of serving Christ as the Ridgway First Baptist Church. This church has a storied history of faith, hope and love, serving our local community and sending out missionaries around the world.

One of my favorite pieces of that history is the leap of faith our membership took to build our current facility. Originally the church was established with just 13 charter members near the corner of Combs and Sycamore streets. The membership had grown to 98 by 1900. But in 1941 an additional numerical growth occurred when the New Zion Baptist Church closed and its members transferred to Ridgway FBC. At that time the congregation voted to relocate and build on the corner of Valter and South streets, which is our present location.

The records show that at that time there the church treasury held just $1.83. Yet the church believed that God would provide and supply their needs as they moved forward in faith. Of course, God did not disappoint. The plans were made, the work began, and the building completed as donations of time, money and materials were given generously, even by people from other denominations.

On September 5, 1943, the new church building was dedicated to the Lord. Then, on August 6, 1944, just three years after the church stepped out in faith with such a meager amount in the treasury, the mortgage was paid off and the note burned.

That’s just one example of the ways in which God has blessed this church abundantly, and how His people have trusted Him wholeheartedly. Today we’re walking in the shadows of some giants in the faith, men and women who have left a tremendous legacy of faithfulness and obedience. And we’re walking in the power of the Holy Spirit of Almighty God, who always leads His faithful ones in the way they should go. Personally, I’m excited to see what the Lord has in store for this church.

We want to extend a warm invitation for everyone in the community to join us on August 15. The invitation also goes out to former members and friends who may have moved out of the area, current members who may not have blessed us with your presence for some time, and anyone who wants to come and celebrate with us.

We have invited former pastor Duane Faulkenberry to bring the message that day. Bro. Duane served as pastor here from 1984-1991, and currently serves Bryan St. Baptist Church in Herrin as pastor. Our music leader for our morning service will be Don Moye. Don grew up in this church and went on to become a music minister at First Baptist Church in Vidalia, GA, where he currently serves as Executive Pastor.

After the morning services we’re planning lunch catered in by the Bar-B-Q Barn in Harrisburg. Following lunch we have a Southern Gospel group called the River City Quartet scheduled to encourage us through their music ministry.

August 15 promises to be a special day of rejoicing in the Lord, fellowship with God’s people and anticipation of His future blessings. How about making plans to join us?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Getting the Missions Message

I didn’t even get to preach last Sunday, but I think they got the message.

Eight of the nine people from our church who went on the Missions Spectacular trip to East St. Louis on Saturday told their stories to the church Sunday morning. And I didn’t mind in the least.

The project was initiated by the Illinois Baptist State Association as a One-Day missions event with opportunities to go to Rockford, Springfield or the Metro East area. In all, over 550 people participated from churches throughout Illinois at one of the three locations.

At the Metro East sites mission projects included church building repairs, food pantry repair work, landscaping, park clean-up, farming, clothes pantry sorting, campus prayer-walking, and taking 100 kids from the Christian Activity Center to the zoo. Our group was assigned, and joined by families from two other churches, to spend the day doing Kids Club activities and Sports Camps at the New Yu Youth Movement in East St. Louis.

The New Yu consists of a core group of several teenagers led by a husband-wife youth ministry team. Three years ago this couple was serving as youth pastors in a church when the adults decided to disband. Rather than abandon the students, however, the Thomas’ carried on their ministry to their students in what is now called the New Yu Youth Movement.

Their website describes their purpose: “We exist to inspire and motivate students to seek Christ, pursue a relationship with Him, accept His unconditional love, connect with other students, and tell someone about Him. We will impact this generation for Christ!”

They meet for worship and fellowship in a dilapidated building in a neighborhood surrounded by vacant lots and modest (at best) homes in need of major repair. The house across the street was occupied, but the grass was grown above waist high. Several unsavory business establishments operate nearby. The Southwestern Illinois Correctional Facility is only blocks away. Do I need to mention that the neighborhood is African-American?

It was into this foreign environment that we ministered the love of Christ for the 70 kids who came to see what was going on. The children ranged in age from just a few months old to late teens. Some of their parents also hung around for a while. We set up gazebo tents and brought games and activities, prepared crafts, grilled hot dogs and served chips, cookies and drinks, did face-painting and told Bible stories.

Our mission was to be witnesses for Christ to the world. Indeed, that is the mission of every follower of Jesus in every generation and in every location. Jesus commissions His disciples plainly with these words: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt. 28:18). And He tells them: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

It felt like we were going to the ends of the earth when we arrived in the heart of East St. Louis. But what a blessing to serve in the kingdom of Christ and obey His command! What a joy and inspiration to serve, if just for a day, alongside this couple who is indeed impacting a generation for Christ! What a delight to express the love of Jesus to these children and their parents and to share the gospel message of salvation with many of them!

I hope we were a blessing to them, but I know we were blessed in abundance.

The Bible says: “For ‘everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Rom. 10:13-15).

I hope the kids of East St. Louis soak in the good news we brought, and call upon the name of the Lord for salvation – just as is my hope and prayer for Ridgway. I’m so thankful for the ones who sacrificed time, money and apprehensions to go in the name of Christ, and for their willingness to tell others about it. That’s a message that’ll preach!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Views from the Upper Deck

My family and I sat through a one hour rain delay at a St. Louis Cardinal’s game on Memorial Day. The game started out with the temperature about 85, sunny skies and a light breeze. That’s about a perfect day for baseball. We’d brought along ponchos and jackets just in case, with the forecast showing a 60 percent chance of rain or thunderstorms. But when we arrived at the stadium it looked so nice out that we left them in the car.

About the second inning I noticed the sky to the west growing increasingly dark. The wind began blowing more briskly and the temperature began to drop. The reason I was able to keep such a keen eye out on the weather is that we were sitting in the Outfield Terrace Reserved seats – the upper deck. Not only were we in the upper deck, we were in the top row of the upper deck. Section 434, Row 11. The nose-bleed seats. And you may not believe this, but my son Tyler actually did get a nosebleed from being so far up in the atmosphere.

In the third inning the flags in the stadium started waving wildly, the sky kept getting darker, streaks of lightning flashed in the sky and peals of thunder rumbled overhead. Napkins and hot dog wrappers began swirling throughout the stands and on the field. Somewhere around 4:00 or so they turned on the stadium lights, and you pretty well knew what was coming.

Just before the fourth inning was to start, the grounds crew rolled out the massive tarp and covered the infield, and it wasn’t long before the rain came pouring down all around. All those poor people in the front row were forced to try to find some shelter.

Turns out ours were the best seats in the house. We had lathered up with sunscreen prior to the game, but didn’t need it because we were sitting under the pavilion in the shade as the umpires said, “Play ball!” (At least I assume he did, but we couldn’t hear from that distance.) Then when the skies opened up we smiled as we stayed dry in our Bob Uecker’s. Not only that, but we also had a nice view of the Mississippi River, the Arch and the freight trains screeching on the tracks behind us, which helped keep our youngest a little more occupied during the long game.

So what if Albert Pujols looked like a miniature action figure on the field below? Who cares if you can’t judge a long fly ball from the upper deck? We were dry and shaded, and enjoyed the day together.

I wasn’t real sure I wanted to go in the first place. This is a very busy week, and there are plenty of other things I need to get done. I love baseball, but knew the day would be costly (even in the cheap seats), and so I waited until the last minute to order tickets. If I would have waited until June 1 to buy tickets for the game on May 31, I would have been too late. But in the end I’m glad we went.

Similarly, many people hesitate to make the commitment to come to Jesus for salvation. They’re not real sure they want to abandon their other plans for Him. They know something of the cost involved, and they’re not quite willing to pay the price. Maybe they’re not sure heaven’s worth it. So they wait and wait and keep waiting.

Unfortunately, there will be a day when it will be too late. No one knows when he will draw his last breath on earth. No one knows when Christ Himself will return as the Scripture declares. Friend, let me plead with you to stop waiting around. Stop putting off till tomorrow what you know you need to do today. You may not have tomorrow. But you have right now, and there’s no better time to turn away from sin and trust in Christ Jesus as Savior and Lord than this very moment.

I promise you this: You will be glad you did. And you’ll wish you had done it sooner. I’ve never known a single soul who’s laid aside his own plans for life and been willing to pay the price to follow after Christ, who has ever been disappointed. You’ll have no regrets, only a supernatural peace and unbending hope and unspeakable joy that comes in the assurance of your reserved seat in the glories of heaven.

Eternity is a long time. With heaven or hell hanging in the balance, you can’t afford to wait until the last minute. Choose to believe in and follow Jesus today and for ever. And whether you’re sitting in heaven’s Diamond Box or in the top row of the upper deck, you’ll have the best seats in the house.