Tuesday, December 27, 2011

...and a Happy New Year

Yes, we got the puppy. And, yes, the look on the boys’ faces when they realized he was ours was priceless. There are a couple of pictures on Facebook if you’d like to look me up and see.

And no, when I dashed to the window early Christmas morning to see if there was a Harley Davidson parked in the driveway with a huge orange and black bow tied to it, I was again this year disappointed. I did end up with a blue PORTA hoodie, so I guess I’m an official Blue Jays fan. Can’t wait to see some high school basketball this winter.

I have to admit, the puppy is really cute. A little whiny, but it’s a sweet whine. He just likes to be with people and needs lots of love. Who doesn’t? I think the Hollidays spoiled him and his siblings from the day they were born. Nothing wrong with that at all.

And while I’ve been the one getting up when he needs to go out at night, I also have to admit that our boys have handled much of the responsibility of caring for him. They’ve helped clean up messes, played outside in the cold and loved on him right away. It’s been a great connection for man and dog. And fun for Dad to watch them together.

Toby’s trying to teach him how to dance. Tyler can’t wait for him to learn to catch Frisbees. Amy’s a sucker for his charm, and I’m gathering as many sermon illustrations as possible. In fact I should probably forewarn you that my Sunday morning preaching may contain an abnormally high number of pet references. Which is probably welcome relief from those who think I use too many sports illustrations.

After two days of animated household debate, we finally came up with a name: Nicolas. Being a Christmas gift we made the connection with jolly old St. Nicolas. Toby had long had in mind to name his dog “Max,” but apparently he imagined a brown dog, and since ours is blonde “Max” just didn’t work. My suggestion of “Tebow” didn’t fly, but after he threw four interceptions Sunday it’s probably for the best.

It’s been a good Christmas.

And speaking of good Christmas, I have to say we had a great week of church. Last Wednesday we sent three groups of carolers out in the community to deliver some Christmas joy in song. As usual for such things, I’m not sure whether the greater blessing belonged to those whom we visited or us.

On Saturday we gathered together for a special Christmas Eve candlelight service. Christmas morning brought us back to praise and worship the One without whom there would be no Christmas, no reason for hope of greater things to come, no lasting joy, no perfect peace and no life filled with abundance and assurance of heaven. Jesus is the not the main reason for celebrating Christmas; He’s the only reason.

Let me also say to all the guests who’ve worshipped with us this week – thank you for joining us! It’s always a delight to welcome any and all who want to come. I hope you experienced something of the love of Christ and the joy of Christian fellowship. And I pray that the message of “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” resonates deeply in your heart.

Indeed, Jesus is the Savior of the world who came to save us from our sins and save us to eternal life. And “whosoever will” may come to Him. So come, walk away from everything else and follow Jesus wholeheartedly. Maybe your life’s not a Christmas wonderland postcard, but when you come to Jesus He’ll make you a new creation and give you new life.

It’s always a good Christmas when Christ is your life. Hope to see you New Year’s Day to worship the One who makes all things new!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Greatest Gift Forever

By the time you read this [scheduled to be printed in this week's Petersburg Observer which comes out Wednesday don't say anything about the following if you read this beforehand!!!] my wife and I will have probably picked up a puppy for our two boys for Christmas. It’s going to be their best Christmas present ever! And it may be the end of my world as I know it. I think I’ve finally lost my mind.

They’ve been asking for a long time. I mean years. Up till now I’ve always stood firm against their sugary pleas and shameless begging. Like a certain American Idol judge refusing to be swayed by the sensitive tears of the newest teen sensation wannabe whose story of rising from the projects to the primetime stage melts the hearts of America. Or the middle-aged guy who never really grew up and got a real job because he always dreamed of being a star. Who cares if they can’t even sing? But I digress.

Our youngest, Toby, has these really big puppy-dog eyes. He’s hard to resist. He knows how to turn on the charm. Parents, keep your girls away or he’ll break their hearts.

And Tyler’s so logical and calculated. He has a counter-argument for every reason I’ve said no (and there are many of them). He could probably create a spreadsheet detailing the advantages of why a boy needs a dog.

Of course, they’ve both made all kinds of promises about how they’ll do all the work in taking care of a puppy. This from one who forgot to wear his glasses to school yesterday, and from the other who spilled his Sunny-D all over the breakfast table just this morning!

I have a feeling I know who will end up taking the dog out in the rain, scooping up poop all over the yard and getting yelled at by the neighbors when he barks up a storm. If I may, allow me to apologize in advance for whatever nuisance we’re about to stir up on Sunny Acres Rd. While I’m at it, maybe I should also apologize to Toby’s teacher, Mrs. Hance, and to Tyler’s 6th grade teachers for any lack of attention the boys may display due to thinking about their new puppy.

But it’s Christmas. And while I realize the weight of responsibility (and financial obligation) involved in pet ownership, as a father I want to give this gift to my children. I can’t wait to see the look on their faces when we bring home the puppy!

I’m excited for them about playing with their new friend, growing up together and creating lifelong memories. I’m anxious to watch them running and chasing and jumping around in the yard. I’m looking forward to hearing their laughter and squeals of delight. I’m eager to see the bonds of companionship and friendship dig deep roots.

I know they’re going to absolutely love it. And I’m going to love providing a little extra joy in their lives.

When you think about it, isn’t that something like the gift of God which we celebrate at Christmas? Our heavenly Father loves His children immeasurably more than I love my own boys. His love is perfect, unfailing, undeserved and unending. He delights in delighting His people with the joy and fellowship of experiencing a personal relationship with Him.

To demonstrate such love, God gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life. He didn’t have to do it, but He did. To show us His love, to give us joy, to bring us peace and to save us from our sins. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

A puppy will be a great gift for our family. But the best gift ever is not a furry, four-legged friend. It’s a merciful and gracious Savior whose name is Jesus. Receive the gift of life in Christ Jesus today. It’ll be your best gift forever. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wise Men Still Seek Him

I’ve done some dumb things in my life, from the mildly ill-advised to the really stupid. When the Bible speaks of the “wise men” from the east, it doesn’t list my name.

Last year I hung up the icicle lights on the front of the house (after finally getting them untangled) before I checked to see if they worked. My thinking was that since they all worked just fine last year, they ought to light up nice and pretty this year. Some did, some didn’t. It looks pretty bad when only a few random sections light up. So after much labor and frustration in trying to figure out a fix, I gave up altogether and we had the only house on the block that looked like we boycotted Christmas.

Failing to check the lights before you hang them up falls in the ill-advised range.

Under the really stupid, well I don’t have nearly enough space to describe them. However, a few years ago my wife started keeping a journal of all the really stupid things I’ve done, so when the book comes out you can read it for yourself.

I’ll share one, for fun. Just over a year ago I was out riding bikes with my two boys. For some unknown reason once in a while I get the urge to try to show off. Which is really stupid, because I was never any good at doing bike stunts when I was 12, let alone doing them at 39. Nobody’s impressed anyway with a grown man popping a wheelie or doing a bunny hop on his Wal-Mart special mountain bike.

But on this particular occasion I was pedaling down our gravel driveway with a pretty good head of steam. Maybe I wanted to see how far I could skid when I hit the brakes. That’s pretty cool to a couple of young boys, right? But instead of applying just the rear brake I hit both front and rear together. Not sure what I was thinking on that one.

There wasn’t much skidding when that front brake locked, and I found myself flying over the handlebars and crash landing headfirst in the rocks. Wasn’t exactly what I’d planned. Thankfully I was able to walk away with only minor cuts, scrapes and a bruised ego. But walking into our church association’s annual meeting that night with taped up hands and scratched face while being introduced as the new moderator was a little embarrassing. And to top it off, the kids were not impressed in the least.

That one went in the journal.

We’ve all done some dumb things in life. Some reckless, some foolish, some that didn’t matter much and some that leave us with lifelong regrets. You can’t undo what’s already been done. But you can choose to live from this day forward in the way of wisdom or in the way of foolishness.

The Bible spells out the two paths we can take. Consistently the Scriptures describe the wise man as being one who fears the Lord and walks faithfully in His commands. The fool is the one who says in his heart, “There is no God,” and who does not follow the ways of the Lord.

Jesus makes a statement in Matthew 7 concerning these two ways to live. He says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock…And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand” (Mt. 7:24, 26).

Both endured severe storms, but only the wise survived. When it comes to your life, are you living wisely or foolishly? That is, are you living in obedience to the Word of Christ, or not?

Even the “wise men” from the east followed the star they were given to find Jesus. The light’s shining now for you, dear friend. Follow it! Maybe you’ve done some really stupid things, but Jesus offers you new life. Wise men still seek Him.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas Mysteries Untangled

Seriously, how in the world do Christmas lights get so tangled up? I know for certain that when I took the lights down last year that I did not just jumble and stuff them into the box. I did my best to carefully, neatly coil them in such a way that I should have been able to free each string and easily lift them out.

But what happens in the tote while they hibernate in the attic all year long is a mystery. Somehow they entangle themselves like a, well, like a string of Christmas lights. I can almost hear them laughing as I try in frustration to separate them.

I shared a little of this experience with the church on Sunday. That evening Sally Sutton brought me a comic she clipped from the newspaper that described the situation. There’s a billboard in a family’s front yard that reads: “World’s Largest Knotted Ball of Christmas Lights.” An arrow points to a perfectly tangled, huge mess of lights. A family poses for a photo in front of the ball. Traffic is backed up to see it. A guy, who I assume to be the homeowner, stands perturbed in front of the billboard. He kind of looks like me.

Like I said, it’s a mystery.

Part of the wonder of Christmas is the mystery of it all. How does a virgin conceive a child? How does the angel Gabriel make a visit to Mary? How does Joseph keep getting angelic messages in dreams? How are the wise men guided by the star? How do reindeer really know how to fly? And how is it that any item of clothing I buy for my wife at Christmas never fits right?

And here’s something to think about. How are all of the ancient prophecies concerning the Messiah fulfilled in one birth, in one person?

Some 700 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the prophet Micah foretold the location of the Savior’s birth (Micah 5:2). Isaiah spoke of the virgin birth, and that He would be heir to David’s throne (Isa. 7:14, 9:7). Hosea prophesied that God would call His Son out of Egypt (Hos. 11:1).

Later, Jeremiah foretold of Herod’s murderous rage against the babies in the region of Bethlehem (Jer. 31:15). Going further back, the patriarch Jacob referred to the coming Messiah saying that He would descend from the tribe of Judah. (Gen. 49:10).

All of these things and more were fulfilled when Jesus was born. Coincidence?

In his book, More Than a Carpenter, Josh McDowell observes that the Old Testament records for us over 300 references to the coming of the Messiah. All these prophecies were made at least 400 years before His birth. Using the science of probability, McDowell figures the chances of even just 48 of these prophecies being fulfilled in one person is 10 to the 157th power. That’s an unfathomable number, unless you’re a super math geek, and then it’s even bigger.

The point is that the coming of Jesus as the Messiah is the fulfillment of ancient prophecy and the revelation of divine mystery. What had long been hidden is now made known, “so that all nations might believe and obey Him” (Rom. 16:26).

His life on earth, His sacrificial death on the cross for the forgiveness of sin and His resurrection from the grave all prove Him to be the one and only Savior. And His promise to come again will also be fulfilled without fail.

Friend, you can absolutely trust the Word of God. You can absolutely rely on the promises God makes. Be assured, dear believer, the best is yet to come. But be warned, ye disobedient, that the worst is also yet to come.

I may never figure out why my lights get so tangled. But you can let the truth of Scripture unravel far greater mysteries this Christmas.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Standing in the Gap this Christmas

So, are you one of those Christmas crazies? You know, the brightest house on the block. Lit up with everything from Santa and reindeer to the angels and elves gathered around the manger. Maybe even some of those huge inflatable snowmen hanging out on your front lawn.

Crazy may not be the right word, but you do tend to go a little overboard. You have a different Christmas sweater for each day of the week, snowflakes on your socks and a wreath on the grill of your SUV. You had your tree up three weeks ago and you think the radio stations that started on Thanksgiving Day playing Christmas songs exclusively waited too long.

Add in the blow-the-budget shopping excursions, holiday baking extravaganzas and a little too much tipsy in the eggnog and you might be a Christmas crazy.

Not that there’s anything wrong with you, per se, but not everybody gets it that way. For many people the holidays don’t bring tidings of comfort and joy, but loneliness, depression and grief. For some, this is certainly not the most wonderful time of the year.

A couple of weeks ago one of the dear, faithful ladies in our church suggested we set up a way for people to call in with prayer needs. Those who might need someone to talk to, or simply ask for someone to pray for them or with them ought to know there’s somewhere to go. Someone who cares.

The only thing wrong with this idea is that I didn’t think of it myself.

So here’s what we’re doing. If you want someone to pray for you this season, call our Prayer-Line at 217-632-5937. That’s a number for the First Baptist Church of Petersburg. You can leave as much or as little information about your situation as you wish. If you’d like for someone to contact you and pray personally with you, give us your name and phone number and someone will call you back.

Whatever you’re going through, major stuff or minor. We will pray for you. And we will keep confidential information confidential. Sealed like a vault. Unless you unload something on us that we would legally be required to report. Then we’ll pray extra hard for you!

The holidays can be tough. You may be missing your deceased husband or mother or child or friend like never before. Maybe you’re dealing with a relationship problem that’s tearing you up. It could be a physical illness that’s got you down. You may be under such a financial strain that you feel you’re about to snap.

Perhaps you see everybody else in the world (seemingly) skipping merrily along humming “White Christmas” while carrying Macy’s bags in both arms as they sip a Starbucks Peppermint Mocha on their way to another party you weren’t invited to, and it just makes you sick. You want to experience some of the joy of the season (without being a Christmas crazy), but you can’t.

We’re here for you, friend. We’re standing in the gap for you this season. Ready to take your name, your need to the throne of Almighty God in heaven. The One whose heart aches for you to find rest for your soul in Him. The One who laid down His life so that you could have a new, abundant and eternal life. The One who wants you to know His joy, His peace, His hope and His salvation for yourself.

We want you to know that you are loved! There’s nothing wrong with you for not decorating like you’ve got stock in Illinois Power. It’s ok that you don’t have any desire to see “Miracle on 34th Street” this year.

Call our Prayer-Line. 217-632-5937. Anytime, day or night. We will pray for you.

Monday, November 21, 2011

When Life's Billows Rock Your World

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever. - Psalm 136:1

When was the last time you used the word “billow” in conversation? It doesn’t come up often with me, either. Except when my wife gets a cold during the night and asks me to get her another “billow, blease.”

A billow is defined by as a great wave or surge of the sea, which must be true because it was on the internet. It could also be used to refer to any surging mass, such as a billow of smoke. You probably knew that. It’s just not a word we use very often. We’re not really sea people around here.

But we can all understand the metaphor of the tumultuous experiences of life being like the great billows of the sea. You may be sailing along just fine upon the surface of quiet waters, when suddenly a storm arises that rocks your world and threatens to throw you overboard. Ever been there?

The death of a loved one. Divorce. Cancer. Depression. The company’s downsizing. Your son calls you from the county jail. The list could go on. The coffee pot’s on the blink.

How do you handle such billows in your life? Where do you go for answers? In whom do you find comfort? Can you make it through the next wave?

There are at least three great hymns of the faith that remind us of God’s goodness and power in the midst of the billows we all face.

One is called “Love Lifted Me.” The third stanza reads:

   Souls in danger, look above
   Jesus completely saves
   He will lift you by His love
   Out of the angry waves
   He’s the Master of the sea
   Billows His will obey
   He your Savior wants to be
   Be saved today

The billows are no match for the might of the Lord. No matter how high the storm surges, its waves can never overwhelm those whose trust is in the saving power of Christ Jesus. Remember the storm the disciples faced on the open sea? And you remember what happened when Jesus literally rebuked the wind and spoke to the waves saying, “Peace! Be still!” Immediately there was a great calm. Billows His will obey.

Another is the moving story penned by Horatio G. Spafford in 1873. I don’t have room to flesh out the details, but in the wake of the drowning deaths of Spafford’s four daughters, the Lord inspired him to write:

   When peace, like a river, attendeth my way
   When sorrows like sea billows roll
   Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say
   It is well, it is well with my soul

Somehow in the midst of this unimaginable tragedy, God flooded Spafford’s soul with a peace that passes all understanding. The Lord never says we won’t face sorrows like sea billows, but He promises He will be with us even through the valley of the shadow of death. And the power of His very presence provides peace for our soul.

Then there’s the song we often sing around Thanksgiving entitled, “Count Your Blessings.” This has always been for me a tremendously encouraging hymn. It’s easy to get down, discouraged, frustrated and burdened with the cares of the world, whether they be thrust upon you or self-inflicted. But when we stop even for a moment and think about the blessings God has poured out upon us, we wonder why we should grumble at all.

   When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed
   When you are discouraged thinking all is lost
   Count your many blessings, name them one by one
   And it will surprise you what the Lord has done

So go ahead and start counting! This Thanksgiving remember that the answer for dealing with life’s billows lies in the power and goodness of Almighty God.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Defining Church

Church. Just the very word brings all kinds of ideas to peoples’ minds. Good, bad or ugly, most people have an opinion about church. You probably have some thoughts on the matter yourself. What do you think about when you hear the word “church”?

For most people, a church is a building. It’s the place you go for weddings, funerals and Sunday morning services, at least at Christmas and Easter. If I were to ask you, “Do you belong to a church?” you would probably answer by saying something like, “Yes, I go to the one with the tall steeple on the corner.” It’s the building, the place.

For others, church is religion. Church is mass or communion or baptism or confirmation. Saying your prayers, giving an offering, bringing in some canned goods for the food pantry. It’s what you do to be religious.

Some conjure up images of dusty old songbooks, long, boring sermons (no one at FBC, of course), Christmas pageants, potluck dinners, Vacation Bible School, revivals, stained glass and wooden pews. It’s the activity and events and stuff they think of first.

Can I challenge your thinking for a moment? The Bible doesn’t describe church as a building, as religion, activity or stuff. Jesus defines church as those who give their lives to follow Him. Not just the Sunday morning crowd, but the 24/7 followers. Not just the ones who stick around while the music suits their taste or while the preaching is entertaining, but those who stick with Jesus no matter what and whatever the cost.

In the sixth chapter of the gospel of John, there’s a huge crowd hanging around Jesus. Why? Because they saw the cool stuff He’d been doing, like healing the sick and turning water into wine. Man, that’ll draw a crowd! And so there’s all these people waiting to see what Jesus will do next. And He doesn’t disappoint.

With a gathering of about 5,000 men plus women and children, Jesus starts handing out free food. The people go crazy. Kind of like the celebration in St. Louis after the Cardinals won the World Series. They’re ready to coronate Him as Israel’s king right then and there. Down with the Romans! The Messiah’s finally here!

Except that’s not the kind of kingship Jesus came for. Not yet, anyway. And these weren’t the kind of followers Jesus was after, either. They were only interested as long as the fish fry was on. As long as the bread sticks kept coming to their table. Oh, and could You do that thing where you turn some water into more wine for us, Jesus?

But when Jesus started saying some hard things, the people didn’t stay. When He started teaching them about His Father in heaven who sent Him to be the true bread from heaven, they didn’t like it. When He told them they must feed on His flesh and drink His blood in order to have eternal life, they got a little creeped out.

What Jesus was saying was that to “eat” His flesh meant to believe in Him. And to “drink His blood” is not to be taken literally either. It means to trust in the shedding of His blood on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus died and rose again so that all of our spiritual hunger and thirst would be fully satisfied in Him. And when we receive His sacrifice for our sins, we also receive the abundant and eternal life He alone can give.

Many of His “followers” walked away that day. They weren’t sold out to Jesus. Just interested in the show. Jesus looked at His closest Twelve disciples and asked them if they wanted to leave, too. Answering for the group, Simon Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).

That’s the church Jesus has in mind. Why not come and truly follow Jesus, and join us in the journey at Petersburg First Baptist Church?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Hope for Anybody!

One of my favorite bands has a song that speaks clearly about the compassion of God. Here’s the chorus:

There is hope for the helpless
Rest for the weary
Love for the broken heart
There is grace and forgiveness
Mercy and healing
He’ll meet you wherever you are
Cry out to Jesus

I bring this up, because, well, I think that every man and woman, boy and girl ought to have Third Day projects in their music library and on their regular play list. And because this song fits perfectly with what I’ve been preaching in Jonah for the past few weeks. You want to talk about a people who did not deserve God’s compassion, it was Ninevah. They were an evil, wicked and violent mess of humanity. And if you’ve seen the VeggieTales movie, you also know they went around slapping people with fishes.

Did God owe them even a chance to turn away from their sin and believe in Him? No! But He gave it to them because He is a compassionate God. Even for Ninevah there’s grace and forgiveness, mercy and healing. God warned them what would happen if they didn’t repent, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. Like Sodom and Gomorrah not pretty. But when they humbled themselves before God and turned from their wicked ways, the Lord showed that mercy triumphs over judgment.

Speaking of Jonah, did God owe His disobedient prophet a second chance? The one who defiantly shook his puny little finger in the face of Almighty God and said, “No, I will not go to Ninevah! Not gonna happen. I’m outta here.” Hardly. But He gave Jonah another chance to obey. By the way, aren’t you glad that your disobedience to God’s command doesn’t land you in the slimy belly of a great fish? Me, too.

Did the father in the parable of the prodigal son owe his rebellious child a great feast, a pair of new sandals for his feet, a ring for his finger or the best robe he could find for him? The one who took the cash and bolted for a far away land, then wasted it all on sex, drugs and rock n’ roll? No!

Did the woman in Luke 7, the one with a reputation as being (ahem) “a woman of the city,” deserve God’s compassion? Uh, no.

Did the much despised, tax-collecting thief Zaccheus deserve to have Jesus come under his roof and eat with him? Did he deserve Christ’s love and forgiveness?

Did Saul from Tarsus, the self-described “worst of sinners,” a violent persecutor of the church in any way deserve the compassion of the Lord?

I’m telling you – there’s hope for anybody! And let me assure you that there’s not a single person on the planet who is in the least bit deserving of God’s grace and forgiveness. None of us are worthy. There is no one righteous, not even one. Sorry to break it to you, but we all deserve death and hell because we’ve all sinned against a holy and righteous God.

But God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love. He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. He proved His love in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And whoever humbles himself before the Lord in repentance and turns in faith to Jesus Christ will be saved. Saved from sin and its wages of death, and saved to abundant and eternal life in Christ.

Maybe nobody’s ever told you this before, so you might want to listen closely: There’s hope for you! Jesus saves! When you cry out to Jesus from wherever you are, you’ll find rest, love, grace, forgiveness, mercy and healing – and so much more!

Of course, if you’d have been listening to Third Day, you’d have known that already! Why not call upon the Lord of compassion right now right where you are?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Feeble Saints, God's Grace and Pastor Installation Service

I had the privilege of preaching at the First Baptist Church in Brownstown, IL, this past Sunday morning. The church was celebrating 25 years having my uncle Olen Evans as their pastor. In case you’re keeping score at home, that’s about 22 years beyond the average tenure of pastors in one church these days.

My uncle has been a hero of the faith throughout my life. Right up there with the men and women of God in Hebrews 11. He has been through the fires and trials, the pains and the sorrows, and the persecutions and sufferings that often accompany the way of Christ. And he’s persevered faithfully through it all. Or maybe I should say that the Lord has been faithful to deliver him through it all.

You didn’t think that following Jesus was all candy and roses, did you?

Some seventeen years ago the doctors said there was nothing else they could do for Olen. Kidney failure. Bone marrow disease. You name it, he’s endured it. At one point his weight plummeted to 79 pounds. They gave him six months to live. But rather than destroy him, the disease led him to a deeper dependence upon the Lord. And God delivered him. The result was a greater longing for heaven, a bolder witness on earth and passionate pursuit of holiness.

In his book, Journeys of a Feeble Saint, Olen also chronicles a period of intense spiritual warfare in his life. His family would often receive threatening phone calls. Doors would slam shut when no one else was around. Their dog’s neck had been sliced open. A family portrait was discovered with all their faces blacked out and a slash mark across my uncle’s throat. They found countless signs of intruders in the house with no forced entry. His family often felt the presence of evil around them. They came home once to find the words “Satan Lives” spray painted in large black letters on their house and occult symbols on the inside.

You didn’t think pastors were immune to danger, did you?

It’s not for no reason that the Bible admonishes us to “put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). It’s not in vain that we’re warned that our “adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

Jesus assured His disciples that just as the people of His day hated Him, they would hate His followers also. He told them plainly that the day would come when they would be put to death on account of His name. No wonder He says that anyone who wants to follow Him must deny himself, take up his cross and follow. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35).

You didn’t think the narrow road that leads to life would be a picnic, did you?

And yet God gives us the grace and the power for victory over the adversary. My uncle is a living testimony of faith in the Lord, and of God’s mercy, goodness, power and faithfulness to deliver him through it all.

I wish I had more room to tell you about how he has personally been an encouragement in my life. Maybe some other time.

I am excited to tell you that he will be bringing the message this Sunday afternoon, November 6, at 3:00 for the Pastor Installation Service at Petersburg First Baptist Church. I’m not real sure what an installation service is. I know what it means to install a microwave oven or a water heater, but how to install a pastor? Guess I’ll find out this Sunday. You can, too. Come and be our guest!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Adjusting to Life in Petersburg

Note: The following article has been submitted for publication in this week's Petersburg Observer.

I want to say thank you to the community of Petersburg for welcoming our family into town. You have received us warmly and have helped us settle in. Wish I had room to tell you how the First Baptist Church has gone out of their way to make our move smooth. We are grateful for the kindness and love they’ve shown us already.

I’ll also say that the school administrators and teachers have been helpful in getting our boys transitioned into a new school. I hope it’s OK to send a special shout out to Mr. Kesler at PORTA Central. He and I are both products of Robinson High School from the 80’s – long hair, short basketball shorts and all. Go Maroons!

Other local pastors and just plain old everyday people have also dropped by or sent a note in the mail to welcome us. Even Petersburg’s “Citizen of the Year” brought over some food on the day we moved in. I think it was Judy’s casserole that sealed the nomination.

On top of all that, Petersburg, you truly have a beautiful town. The picturesque view that greets traffic coming in from the east is nothing short of brilliant.

We’ve been here since mid-August and have enjoyed the various events, activities and businesses Petersburg offers. Compared to the rural farming village from which we came, we’re actually quite impressed with such a smorgasborg of eating options in town. The nearest Pizza Hut or Dairy Queen was about 20 miles away. The nearest Leo’s Pizza or Gillmore’s was about 230 miles, so it’s like we’re big city all of sudden here. Sure beats the QuikMart gas station sandwich – no offense to Casey’s or Ayerco.

By the way, I knew we were arriving in the world when I saw on the Petersburg First Baptist Church website that they were located “one block west of the only stoplight in town.” The only lights in our entire county were the flashing stop sign at the crossroads, and the strobe light flickering from one of the taverns on Saturday nights.

Now, before all the warm and fuzzies fade, I think it’s important to mention the name of the town from which we moved. It’s Ridgway. While that may be of no significance to most readers, some of you have already recognized the connection and that’s why your brow has furrowed and your upper lip is snarled.

Honestly, I wasn’t there in 1973, and I had nothing to do with the fact that the Ridgway Eagles defeated Petersburg PORTA 85-79 in the state basketball tournament. So please don’t hold that against me. I am bound however by the folks in Ridgway to be sure to let you know that they said “Hi.”

Seriously, that was almost 40 years ago. You have gotten over it, haven’t you? If you ever do go to Ridgway, be sure to see the large painted mural on the side of the old grocery store building reminding its residents and visitors alike of their 1973 championship season.

So anyway, thanks for giving us a kind reception into Petersburg. I truly believe the Lord has brought us here for a purpose, and that somehow He’ll use us to glorify His name, to strengthen His church, and to reach our neighbors and the nations with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you’re looking for a church home, come see us at Petersburg First Baptist Church. Jesus calls His church “the light of the world” and compares her to a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. That’s who we are and want to continually live up to be. Join us for Sunday morning worship at 10:45. We’re pretty easy to find, just one block west of the only stoplight in town.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Our Only Hope for Healing

"...if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and heal their land." - 2 Chronicles 7:14

This was God's response to King Solomon's prayer on behalf of Israel. Solomon understood that the nation was solely dependent upon the mercy and grace of God, and if they came under attack or found themselves suffering due to their sin and rebellion against the Lord, that their only hope for healing rested in Him.

Pres. Abraham Lincoln also understood that the only hope for America's healing during the horrific Civil War rested in the hand of Almighty God. See the text of his proclamation for national humiliation, fasting and prayer below. His bold and desperate call for the people of this land to turn to God for help would be largely ignored or ridiculed today. But, oh, how we need to turn to God in repentance and renewal of faith!

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the events of 9/11, may we who claim the name of Christ lead out in truly humbling ourselves before the Lord, praying and seeking His face, and turning from our wicked ways. We are facing desperate times in our land. We are suffering from the righteous judgments of God against our rebellion toward Him, and we are on the fast track to national ruin.

Let us call upon the name of the Lord. He is still our only hope for healing.

By the President of the United States of America. A Proclamation.

Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for National prayer and humiliation.

And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.

And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People?

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown.

But we have forgotten God.

We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the City of Washington, this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty seventh.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward, Secretary of State.

Source: The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Praise from A to Z

One of my favorite chapters in the Psalms is 145. I preached from this chapter my next to last Sunday in Ridgway, then (don't tell anyone) again in Petersburg this past Sunday. The more I read it and meditate on it, the more my heart rises in praise to and adoration of our mighty and compassionate God.

This psalm is an acrostic poem, using the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet to begin each verse. In an attempt to express my own praise to the Lord, I've come up with this offering modeled after the psalmist's poetic work.

Able, God, You’re able
There is nothing You can’t do

Blessed Lord, my Father
Hear my song of praise to You

Compassionate forever
O, how caring toward all men

Deliverer eternal
How You’ve saved me from my sin

Everlasting, evermore
Your kingdom shall endure

Faithful God, so faithful
All Your promises are sure

Gracious God, in Jesus
Blessings pour out from Your heart

Holy, Holy, Holy
Lord Almighty God Thou art

Incomparable, unparalleled
O, who is like You, Lord?

Just, in perfect justice, God
You give each his reward

King of kings, in glory
In majestic, wondrous fame

Lord of lords, one day will
Every tongue proclaim Your name

Merciful and mighty
You are loving, yet so strong

Near to those who cry out
You’re the Help for whom we long

O, the One and Only
Son of God, my Savior, Friend

Prince of Peace, Almighty God
Your praise will never end

Quickly to my rescue
Lord, You come and satisfy

Rock of my salvation
God, Your name I glorify

Savior, blessed Savior
Jesus, stronghold for the weak

True and truly lovely
You’re the treasure that I seek

Unfailing is Your love, O Lord
You never lead astray

Victory is sure to those
Who follow in Your way

Wonderful Your counsel
By Your Word I walk in light

Excellent Your Spirit
Your sweet presence day and night

Yahweh, at Your holy name
I’ll bless You all my days

Zealous for Your glory
May the whole world sing Your praise

Thursday, August 25, 2011


If you follow this blog at all you've noticed that I've taken a little hiatus from posting. My family and I are still transitioning / getting settled into our new home and ministry assignment in Petersburg, IL. Hope you'll stayed tuned for some updates on our move and reports on how the Lord is working.

There's no shortage of material to write about.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

"All the Way My Savior Leads Me"

Thankful for this assurance! Is there ever any reason to question our loving Lord's leading?

All the way my Savior leads me
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy
Who through life has been my guide?
Heavenly peace, divinest comfort
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know whate'er befall me
Jesus doeth all things well
For I know whate'er befall me
Jesus doeth all things well

All the way my Savior leads me
Cheers each winding path I tread
Gives me grace for every trial
Feeds me with the living bread
Though my weary steps may falter
And my soul athirst may be
Gushing from the Rock before me
Lo! a spring of joy I see
Gushing from the Rock before me
Lo! a spring of joy I see

All the way my Savior leads me
Oh, the fullness of His love!
Perfect rest to me is promised
In my Father's house above
When my spirit, clothed immortal
Wings its flight to realms of day
This my song through endless ages
Jesus led me all the way
This my song through endless ages
Jesus led me all the way

Words: Fanny J. Crosby

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

It's Been Good

To Ridgway and the good people of Gallatin County: It’s been good knowin’ ya.

I want you to know that God has blessed us through you. We came to Ridgway seven years ago from Kansas City, making the transition from city life to small town living. And, yes, it was something of a culture shock. And sometimes outsiders ‘round these parts don’t fit in real well.

But you made our adjustment smooth. You welcomed us with kindness and made us feel at home. From the guys at the coffee shop giving me a seat at their table (and enough good sermon material to fill a book), to the wonderful teachers and staff at Gallatin County Schools, and from our friendly neighbors to the friends we’ve made through summer baseball, and many others we’ve encountered along the way, I say thank you for making Ridgway a great place for us to live and work and raise a family.

Let me also say a word of gratitude to God for the friendships and partnerships I’ve had with fellow pastors. Bro. Jack Hall in Shawneetown has been a trustworthy friend, encourager, mentor and co-laborer in the Lord. Bro. Roy Dale Orr at the Junction First Baptist Church has also been a great friend and brother in Christ. Bro. Randy Davis, Director of Missions for the Saline Baptist Association, not only helped pave the way for my arrival in Ridgway when he served as Interim Pastor here in 2004, but has been a constant help ever since.

There’s also a group of pastors from our association who have been meeting for prayer on Wednesday mornings whom I want to acknowledge. I’ve grown more through our prayer times together than in many hours of Bible study on my own. I will miss these men dearly. You need to know that these pastors persevere passionately in prayer for God to bless Southern Illinois with a great outpouring of His presence.

And I’m going to amp up the praise for the Ridgway First Baptist Church. The Lord has truly blessed us through His people here. They have encouraged us greatly, supported us generously, and loved us unconditionally. In short, they’ve taken great care of their pastor and his family in every way, and we’re utterly grateful.

Not everything’s been easy. We’ve enjoyed times of joy and celebration, but we’ve also walked together through seasons of sorrow and hurt. We’ve laughed with one another and cried with one another. That’s what a family does. That’s what the family of God does – the body of believers who comprise the church. And we’ve been blessed to be a part of it.

One of the guys in town jokingly said something about maybe in our new church I won’t have to put up with the likes of J.W. Rider and George Hise. There’s some truth in that! One lesson I’ve learned here is that you never go down in the crawl space of your house when your neighbor is watching. Let’s just say that the openings don’t close and lock themselves.

But honestly, I can only hope that there are men like that in Petersburg. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of men and deacons surrounding me here like J.W. and George, like Mike Moye, Robert Wilson and Ron Woods, and like two giants who have gone on to their heavenly reward, Edgar Sork and Tom Mitchell. These are men who have each made temporal and eternal investments in my life, and whom I believe would literally lay down their lives for me if need be. I pray I’ll find men like that in Petersburg.

And I’m expecting to. God has blessed us richly in every church we’ve ever belonged to. I could easily boast of the people at Trimble Bible Church where I grew up. I could tell some great stories about the saints at College Avenue Baptist Church in Normal, my wife’s home church, and where I attended during college. I could go on and on about Calvary Baptist Church, which became our family in Rockford for eight years. I could brag about the godly people at Loma Vista Baptist Church in Kansas City, where we served for three years while in seminary.

So there’s no reason not to believe that the Lord will keep blessing through His church in Petersburg. In fact, I can’t wait to see what God has in store! And I can’t wait to see what He has in store for His church here in Ridgway. The riches of His grace in Christ Jesus are boundless.

If you’re not experiencing the abundant life Jesus came to give you, then yield your life completely to Him today, and you will! And if you’re ever in Petersburg or around the Springfield area, look us up. We’d love to get together again. God is good, and it’s been good knowin’ ya.

Friday, July 29, 2011

"I Stand Amazed in the Presence"

Here's a song that echoes my own wonder at the amazing love of God in Christ Jesus.

I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene
And wonder how He could love me
A sinner, condemned, unclean

How marvelous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be
How marvelous! How wonderful!
Is my Savior's love for me!

For me it was in the garden
He prayed, "Not my will, but Thine"
He had no tears for His own griefs
But sweat drops of blood for mine

How marvelous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be
How marvelous! How wonderful!
Is my Savior's love for me!

He took my sins and my sorrows
He made them His very own
He bore the burden to Calvary
And suffered and died alone

How marvelous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be
How marvelous! How wonderful!
Is my Savior's love for me!

When with the ransomed in glory
His face I at last shall see
'Twill be my joy through the ages
To sing of His love for me

How marvelous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be
How marvelous! How wonderful!
Is my Savior's love for me!

Words:  Charles H. Gabriel

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Raising Children in Love and Faith

Last week the Lord blessed us with a great Vacation Bible School! I want to thank all of the parents who entrusted their children to us. Your children are precious, and I pray that you’ll continue to instill in them love and faith in the Lord.

We as a church want to do whatever we can to help you raise your children in a way that’s pleasing to God. Listen, I have two boys at home and know how challenging parenting can be. There are all kinds of pressures and temptations and dangers and snares out there. Parenting is hard work. Sometimes it seems overwhelming. I believe we’re battling spiritual forces of darkness that seek to tear families apart. Bringing up your children to become healthy and strong and wise young men and women is no easy task.

But we can help you. If you’re needing a warm, caring church home, then let me encourage you to come and check us out. We have Sunday School classes at 9:30 for all ages, and our worship service starts at 10:40. I know you want what’s best for your children, and if you’ll let us, we can help teach them the ways of the Lord. And God’s ways are always the best ways, even when they fly in the face of the current cultural tide.

And, parents, let me urge you to set the example your children need to see. As a church we can have something of a positive influence upon them, but seriously it’s you who overwhelmingly will set the course for their lives. If they see you treating people with respect, they’ll treat people with respect. If they see you dealing honestly and truthfully, they’ll learn to be honest and truthful. If they see you going out of your way to serve and show love, they’ll learn to serve and love.

Unfortunately, they also pick up on our mistakes in the same way. When we react angrily about situations, they’ll learn to react to things in anger. When we are lazy, they’ll be lazy. We we mismanage our money, they’ll do the same thing.

I don’t have to tell you that children learn more from what they see us do than what we tell them. For example, if you’re a smoker and try to tell your kids not to smoke, I hope that works out for you, but don’t bet on it. If you tell your children it’s good to go to church on Sundays, but you don’t go, then that shows them how unimportant it really is to you.

Parents, I not only want to see your children grow in knowledge and faith in Jesus, but I want the same for you! You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to come to church. We’re not going to put you on the spot, administer any tests or ask you to give an account of your life and confess all your sins publicly.

Rather, we want you to discover the unfailing mercies and riches of God’s grace. We want you to marvel at His sacrificial love for you, to stand in awe of His power and to humble yourself at His holiness. We want you to be assured in His faithfulness, to rest in His provision and to trust in His goodness.

That’s the best thing you can possibly do for your children. If you turn away from sin and start trusting in Jesus, following His ways according to His Word, then you’ll become a better parent. You’ll become a better person. Because here’s what He will do for you – He’ll fill you with His Holy Spirit, who will produce in you things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

And if these characteristics are increasingly evident in your life, then your children will be blessed by them. I’m not saying everything will be perfect or easy. Remember, there’s an adversary we face in this world called Satan whose purpose is to kill, to steal and to destroy. And his aresenal against children, families and the church is vast.

But there is a greater power in Christ than anything this world can throw at us. In His strength you can stand firm. Trust in Jesus. Obey His Word. Yield your life to Him wholeheartedly. And walk this journey of faith together with fellow believers in the church. You need the church, and the church needs you. See you Sunday!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"How Great Thou Art"

If you really pressed me on it, I would probably say this is my favorite hymn.

O Lord my God!
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all
The worlds Thy hands have made
I see the stars
I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout
The universe displayed

Then sings my soul
My Savior, God, to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art
Then sings my soul
My Savior, God, to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art

When through the woods
And forest glades I wander
And hear the birds
Sing sweetly in the trees
When I look down
From lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook
And feel the gentle breeze

Then sings my soul
My Savior, God, to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art
Then sings my soul
My Savior, God, to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art

And when I think
That God, His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die
I scarce can take it in
That on the cross
My burden gladly bearing
He bled and died
To take away my sin

Then sings my soul
My Savior, God, to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art
Then sings my soul
My Savior, God, to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art

When Christ shall come
With shouts of acclamation
And take me home
What joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow
In humble adoration
And there proclaim
My God, how great Thou art

Then sings my soul
My Savior, God, to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art
Then sings my soul
My Savior, God, to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art

Words: Stuart K. Hine

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Going Where the Lord Leads

If you haven’t yet heard, the word on the streets is that Bro. Rob and his family are moving soon. For some this may be unhappy news, but for the rest, please try to contain your excitement at least until we’re gone. LOL!

Let me say first of all that we have truly, truly enjoyed our time in Ridgway. The community has treated us with warm, neighborly kindness and has welcomed us as friends. Ridgway has been a safe and caring place for us to raise our boys, and we have made close connections with many of you. Thank you for making us feel at home in your town for these past seven years.

I also want to emphasize how grateful we are to the Lord for the opportunity to serve at the First Baptist Church. The church has been so gracious and loving toward us – spoiling us, really – that it makes our transition so difficult. If you don’t belong to Ridgway FBC, you need to know that this body of believers took us in with great faith and became family to us. I wholeheartedly encourage you, if you don’t have a loving church home, to come and experience the fellowship of God’s people here.

For the record, our move comes about not because of any problems in the church, but simply in our desire to be faithful in following the will of God. The Lord has opened a door for me to serve as pastor at First Baptist Church in Petersburg, IL, and though I’ve given Him plenty of opportunities to close it, He hasn’t. And so it is by faith, as best as we can discern the Lord’s will, to go where He’s leading.

We often sing the song, “Wherever He Leads I’ll Go.” The chorus ends with this line: “I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so // Wherever He leads I’ll go.” That’s a song, if you sing it sincerely, you’d better be willing to put into action. Otherwise, you’re just offering lip service to God, and He knows your heart. If He calls us to go – wherever that may be – we must be willing to go. And since we know that He loves us with an unfailing, steadfast love, He makes it easy for us to trust that He will never lead us astray.

With that said, I hope it’s clear that I’m not interested in trying to climb any corporate or church ladder, nor are we making this move to be closer to family. Again, it’s simply a matter of faithfulness and obedience. Yes, we will be closer to my wife’s parents, but further away from my side of the family. It’s a trade-off in terms of geography. But the Lord could have called us to North Dakota or New York City and we’d have gone. Our preference of location has nothing to do with it.

The truth is that every believer must be willing to go wherever the Lord leads. He calls us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Him. If we’re not willing to give up anything and everything for the sake of His name, if we’re not willing to leave comfortable homes, if we’re not willing to leave our families and our farms, if we’re not willing to sell off all of our possessions and give to the poor, if we’re not willing to die to our own ambitions, then we cannot be His disciples.

That’s a tough call to heed, but sometimes Jesus asks that we do hard things. And it shouldn’t be that difficult for us to give our lives to Him. After all, He endured the agony of the cross for us. He suffered and bled and died as an innocent man so that we could be reconciled to God. Our sin demanded such a sacrifice, and apart from the forgiveness Jesus offers to us by His blood, we would face God’s righteous wrath as the penalty for our sins, which is death and hell.

But God loved us so much that He has made the way possible for us to be saved – if only we’ll believe in His Son, Jesus, yielding our lives wholeheartedly to Him. Why not repent from your sins and trust in Christ as Savior and Lord today?

My last Sunday here will be August 7. I want to invite you to come to church that morning. I’d love to see you there.

Friday, July 15, 2011

"I Love to Tell the Story"

As Christians - those who have been born of God, brought from darkness into light, from death to life, from enslavement in sin to victory in Christ...those who have an unshakeable hope of everlasting life, a heavenly inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled and unfading, the unfailing promises of God's word - the theme of our lives ought to be telling the story of Jesus and His love.

We are ambassadors of Christ, sent by the Lord to represent Jesus to the world. We are witnesses of His salvation, empowered by His Holy Spirit.

It's a great story, and one that we're compelled to tell. If you know it, you love to tell it.

I love to tell the story
Of unseen things above
Of Jesus and His glory
Of Jesus and His love
I love to tell the story
Because I know 'tis true
It satisfies my longings
As nothing else can do

I love to tell the story
'Twill be my theme in glory
To tell the old, old story
Of Jesus and His love

Words: Katherine Hankey

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Big Apple Adventure, and Praying for America

I’m excited to remind you that our Vacation Bible School starts this coming Sunday! This year’s theme is “Big Apple Adventure.” I’m not real sure what that means, other than the fact that we’re busy transforming the church building into something that looks like New York City.

That would explain all of the large cardboard boxes decorated as skyscrapers and the yellow taxi cab parked out by the door. I understand that if you step onto our main platform area in the sanctuary you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of Times Square. And our missions offering will be received by feeding the parking meter. It should be a fun week.

If you have children from ages 4 through those who have just completed 6th grade, we invite you to come and join us for this Big Apple Adventure. Again, it starts this Sunday, July 17, and goes through Thursday, July 21. We’ll serve a light meal for the children and workers at 5:30 each evening, and VBS goes from 6:00-8:00. Friday, July 22, at 6:00 p.m. will be our Family Night. Hope to see you there!

As I pray about what to write this week, I feel compelled to urge you to pray for our nation. We are facing some challenging times, unprecedented times, and our leaders and our people need prayer more than ever. Our economic crisis could easily and suddenly become a nightmare. Our global peace-keeping mission keeps meaning the loss of more and more of our young men and women in uniform. Our moral descent is picking up speed.

We need to pray for America. And I’m not talking about a “God, bless America” kind of prayer. I’m talking about praying that His name will be honored by this nation. I’m talking about praying that His kingdom’s purposes will become our desire. I’m talking about praying that God will turn the hearts of this stubborn people back to following His ways.

Now, where have we seen this pattern of prayer before? Oh, yes! “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Are we really praying like this? Or are we just mouthing words in vain repetition?

If we really pray that God’s name will be “hallowed,” that is, to be made holy or revered among men, then we need to honor Him as Almighty God and Lord. We’re not doing that as a nation. How can sing “God Bless America” on the Capitol steps or during the seventh inning stretch while not possessing the slightest desire to truly honor Him in the way we think and live?

If we really pray for His kingdom to come, then we need to submit to His reign. The band MercyMe had a song out recently with this line: “How can I further Your kingdom / When I’m so wrapped up in mine?” In order to allow our Father’s kingdom to come, we need to stop building our own. We must be willing to lay down our personal agendas, our self-centered ambitions and our inflated arrogance and seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

And if we really pray for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, then we need to make some radical changes in our lives. How is God’s will done in heaven? It’s obeyed perfectly, completely, gladly, joyfully, without hesitation, without question, without doubt. How is His will done on earth? Not so much. We must repent of insisting on doing our will, following the stubborn, sinful desires of our hearts and living like obeying our Father’s will is optional.

These are perilous times in our nation’s history. I believe we’re on the brink of receiving a swift measure of God’s judgment for our failure to honor Him and follow His ways such as we’ve never seen before. It’s high time to pray, and pray hard and pray in truth. I’m not asking you to pray to try to convince God to do things your way, but to humble yourself and allow Him to conform you to His ways.

Even wicked Ninevah was spared when they believed God, called upon Him for mercy and turned from their evil ways. Perhaps He will relent and turn from His anger against us if we get down on our knees and pray.

Friday, July 8, 2011

"Without Him"

From time to time the Lord reminds me of the truth in this song. The truth is that I need constant, moment-by-moment reminders of this truth. Maybe a string on my finger, a sticky note on my forehead, or just the freshness of having His Word written on the tablet of my heart.

Jesus said in John 15:5 - "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

Without Him, I could do nothing
Without Him, I'd surely fail
Without Him, I would be drifting
Like a ship without a sail

Jesus, O Jesus
Do you know Him today?
Do not turn Him away
O Jesus, O Jesus
Without Him, how lost I would be

Without Him, I could by dying
Without Him, I'd be enslaved
Without Him, life would be hopeless
But with Jesus, thank God, I'm saved

Jesus, O Jesus
Do you know Him today?
Do not turn Him away
O Jesus, O Jesus
Without Him, how lost I would be

Words: Mylon R. LeFevre

Thursday, July 7, 2011

What Makes VBS Special

So maybe what makes Vacation Bible School special are the teachers.

VBS at Ridgway First Baptist Church is right around the corner. We’ll start on Sunday, July 17, and go through Thursday night, July 21. Friday will be our family night. Let me take this space and invite you to bring your children (ages 4 through grade 6) each evening. Or bring your grandchildren, or your neighbor’s kids or whomever you can find. Go out among the highways and the hedges and compel them all to come. We’re planning a light meal at 5:30 every night and VBS will go from 6:00-8:00.

Oh, and don’t miss our Kick-off Party event / registration night! It will be Thursday, July 14, from 5:00 – 7:00. This will be a great opportunity to come and meet some of our VBS workers, enjoy some popcorn and Sno-Cones, hotdogs on the grill, and fun activities. We’re borrowing our association’s Party Trailer, which also includes a large jump house for the kids. Last year we nearly got everything set up for our event when the rain began to fall and we had to close up shop. We trust the Lord will give us a fantastic evening this year.

In an earlier column I mentioned some of our workers in areas such as music, snacks, recreation and crafts. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for all who assist in any way. And even for those who can’t come, many give faithfully to the mission of the church to help promote ministries like VBS. I say thank you to all.

Now I want to recognize those who have volunteered to teach. I think there’s a special bond that develops very quickly between teachers and their students during VBS. It’s amazing how love works like that.

Parents, I want you to know that our teachers have already been praying for your children. By the time VBS rolls around, they will have spent many hours reading and studying the Bible stories, preparing lesson plans and activities, and decorating their rooms to create a warm, friendly environment for your children. Our teachers, and all of our workers, truly care about your children, and we trust that the love shows clearly in everything we do.

That love is the reason we do this in the first place. And it’s not even so much that in love we want to do something nice for the children, but it’s more like a compulsion. Seriously, putting together a week of Vacation Bible School takes a ton of work from a lot of people. It’s a huge time investment. It’s a significant financial investment. If we weren’t compelled by love to do it, we probably wouldn’t. Or if we did without love, then our efforts would be worth nothing.

But love is a tremendous motivator! And the love I’m talking about is the love of God that reached down from heaven and somehow touched our hearts. God in His great mercy put His love on display in sending Jesus to this earth. We want to pour that love into others.

And it’s not like any of us were worthy of it. No, we were sinners in rebellion against God, hostile to Him. We were His enemies. And not only that, but we as sinful people were incapable of doing anything good to merit God’s love.

That’s what makes His love so captivating. God loved this world so much (and that’s you!) that He willingly, mercifully, graciously gave His one and only Son, that whosoever (that’s you again!) believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. Think about it – life and death are on the line, but in Christ we can have ultimate and eternal victory! That’s a message worth telling over and over and over again. It’s a message we’re compelled to tell. We love to tell the story of Jesus and His love.

And so, we invite you to come and be part of our Vacation Bible School this year, where your children will hear the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus.

Here are our teachers, and I hope I haven’t left anyone out! 4’s-K: Becky Mitchell, Aimee Sparrow, Carrie Abell, Tara Funk. Grades 1-2: Becky Seely, Kristi Seely. Grades 3-4: Amy Gallion, June Siler. Grades 5-6: Helen Abell, Marsha Moye, Derek Catiller. And roaming the field and filling in any gaps will be VBS Hall of Famer Theda Miller. Maybe they’re why Vacation Bible School is so special.