Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Under God

Did you hear about the flap over NBC editing out the words “under God” in a piece they did last week?

In their coverage of the U.S. Open Golf Tournament, the network aired a patriotic video segment with school children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Interestingly, the phrase “under God, indivisible” was left on the cutting room floor.

Should we make anything of this? NBC executives offered an apology for what they said was a “mistake.” Was it a simple mistake (it was actually omitted twice), or was this a calculated decision to further a liberal agenda that has no tolerance for God, wants nothing to do with God, doesn’t like God and doesn’t like people who do. Hmmm…you decide.

To me it’s obvious that the mainstream media is fueling an increasingly atheistic culture. And the majority is buying into it hook, line and sinker. We’re living like Israel during the time of the judges, when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). This cultural tide has more or less swept away all things godly. We’re doing whatever we want, whatever we think is right in our own eyes with nary a glance toward following after the ways of the Lord, and often in deliberate defiance against Him.

We’ve taken prayer out of schools and started handing out condoms. We’ve devalued God’s gift of life and legalized the killing of babies in the womb. We’ve spit in the face of the One who ordained marriage. We’ve gone overboard to protect the “rights” of pornographers and producers of violent and graphic video games while failing to protect our children and citizenry. We’ve worshipped the gods of money, fame and pleasure while spurning the God who made us and sustains us.

Our founding fathers must be reeling in their graves. Never in a million years would they have dreamed of the lengths to which this nation has gone to remove all references to Christianity in the United States of America. Read some of the founding documents and you’ll see how readily they recognized God’s sovereign, providential hand birthing and shaping this land.

You may even remember when Pres. Eisenhower signed into law the measure which added the phrase “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. In an accompanying congressional report, the measure read: “From the time of our earliest history our people and our institutions have reflected the traditional concept that our Nation was founded on a fundamental belief in God.”

Yet now we want Him out.

But, listen. My real concern is not with the media or the culture. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that NBC would drop “under God” from the Pledge. I’m not shocked to hear that New York has legalized same-sex marriage. Ungodly people doing ungodly things bothers me, yes, but it doesn't startle me.

My real concern is with the church. We are simply not being the salt and the light in this world as we are called to be. Our witness is silent. Our testimony is weak. Our faith is little. Our compassion is pathetic. Our love is cold. Our righteousness is wretched. Our worship is lip service. In short, our lives are not much reflecting the light and the glory of our Savior Jesus Christ in a dark and twisted generation.

The Lord still has his faithful remnant, to be sure, but the majority of those who claim to be Christians in this nation have been far more influenced by the worldly culture for Satan’s purposes than they have influenced the culture for the Kingdom of Christ. And I am convinced that we are now and will continue to experience the judgment of God for ours sins.

Church, I’m pleading with you (with us) to repent and return to the Lord with all your heart. It’s time to get rid of the foreign gods among us, confess our sins and cry out to God for mercy. It’s time to come before the Lord with fasting, weeping and mourning, and rend our hearts in His presence. It’s time for us to truly come together as one nation under God. For He indeed is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. And “who knows whether He will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him…?” (Joel 2:14).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Honoring Our Fathers and Teaching Our Sons

Having just celebrated Father’s Day on Sunday, I hope you took the opportunity to honor your father. Do you remember some of your father’s best lines? Dads are famous for their pearls of wisdom.

“I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it!”

“If you fall off that rock and break your leg, don’t come running to me.”

“What do you think I am – a bank?"

“Who ever said life was supposed to be fair?”

“You call that a haircut?”

“This is gonna hurt me a lot more than it’s gonna hurt you.”

“This is your last warning.”

“As long as you live under my roof, you live under my rules.”

“No, I do not need to stop and ask for directions.”

And one of my favorites: “I’ll tell you why – because I said so, that’s why.”

If you have a good relationship with him, then make sure he knows how much he means to you. A simple word of thanks or appreciation for his investment in your life goes a long way. And by the way, if you have (or had) a good father, then praise the Lord for such a blessing.

If your relationship with your dad has been rocky at best, then why not do whatever it takes to try to mend some fences? Ask his forgiveness for the ways you’ve messed things up, and be willing to forgive the wrongs you’ve suffered. Or start with smaller steps, but start somewhere. Even broken relationships are not impossible for God to fix. Plead with the Lord for help, and follow His guidance. Maybe things won’t ever be perfect, but the effort will be worthwhile.

For many of you reading this, your father has already passed on. I offer to you my sincerest sympathies and encourage you to honor your dad by living in the way of wisdom and righteousness. “The father of a righteous man has great joy; he who has a wise son delights in him” (Proverbs 23:24). On the other hand, “To have a fool for a son brings grief; there is no joy for the father of a fool” (Proverbs 17:21).

With Father’s Day in mind, thought I’d share two quick pearls of wisdom from the Proverbs. These are time-tested and timely principles for any man, but ones my own dad has modeled and taught me, and which I’m hopefully living out and teaching to my sons, as well.

One – Take a stand for what’s right. Proverbs 1:10: “My son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them.” Men, how many missteps and falls could be avoided if our sons followed this wisdom? How many of our own tragedies would we have not suffered if only we would have not given in to the enticement of sinners?

Instead, teach them with your words and your ways to take a stand for what’s right. Instill confidence in them that doing what’s right is always the right thing to do. Even if it means going against the tide of popularity. Even if it means standing alone when everyone else chases after ungodliness. Even if it means being mocked, ridiculed or shunned. You know that doing what’s right has its own reward, and your sons and daughters will be better men and women for it.

Two – Be faithful to your wife. And by faithful, I mean faithful, which includes not only being physically faithful to your wife, but mentally and emotionally faithful, as well, contra Congressman Weiner, et al. The writer of Proverbs speaks emphatically against the ways of the adulteress. “Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house…He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself. He will get wounds and dishonor, and his disgrace will not be wiped away” (Proverbs 5:8; 6:32-33).

Rather, “Rejoice in the wife of your youth…be intoxicated always in her love” (Proverbs 5:18-19). It’s been said that the best thing a father can do for his sons is to love their mother. When you show your wife the faithfulness and love you promised at the altar, you’re teaching your children the way to love and to cherish and to respect others.

I’m not saying these are easy instructions to follow, but the blessings of living in the way of wisdom are spelled out clearly in God’s Word. To live out this kind of wisdom, start with a healthy “fear of the Lord,” revering Him in His holiness and submitting to His will. “The wise will inherit honor, but fools get disgrace” (Proverbs 3:25).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Nation Off Course (And How to Right the Ship)

Put out a nationwide APB! Call in the Guard! Hold a press conference! Do whatever it takes to get the word out. We’ve lost something in America, and we need to find it quick.

I’m talking about ethics. Our national moral compass has gone haywire. Somehow we’ve lost the values that made this nation great. We need to find it, fix it and steer this ship back on course.

Yes, Virginia, there is still such a thing as right and wrong, truth and falsehood, goodness and evil. I know we’re living in a day where the national motto seems to be: “If it feels good, do it.” I know we’re living in a time when tolerance of anybody and everybody’s ways is the buzzword. I know we’re living in a culture of relativism, where what’s right and true for me may not be right and true for you.

There seems to be no standards anymore in the modern-day mindset. But there are still some things that are moral and some that are immoral. And unless we figure this out, the good ‘ole US of A is in danger of crashing, and crashing hard.

Take, for instance, the issue of marriage. What used to be clear to everyone is now strangely confused. Marriage is the union of one man and one woman who devote themselves to one another for a lifetime of faithfulness and love. It’s always been this way. The biological nature of things teaches this. God’s Word makes this absolutely clear.

Yet our country, as others have done, has lost sight of this foundational fact. We’re bending over backwards trying to change the definition of marriage. We’re doing everything we can to accommodate and legitimize the sinful lifestyle of homosexuality. We glamorize it in the media. We’re teaching its acceptance in the schools. We pounce on those who object labeling them “homophobic.”

No matter what the current laws of the land may say, no matter which way the tide of public opinion may roll, there is still a higher standard that has declared homosexuality to be a sin. God’s Word is neither silent nor ambiguous on the matter. It’s not our place to define what’s right and wrong. God has the word on such things, and for man to ignore God’s truth and create his own is nothing but foolishness. In doing so we’re digging our own grave.

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12).

But let me be quick to say that there is no sin that cannot be forgiven by the blood of Jesus, not even the sin of homosexuality. His mercy extends to whosoever will turn away from sin and trust in Christ, committing to following His ways and yielding their lives to His control.

And so that you don’t think I’m railing on this one issue, let me assure you that homosexuality is not the only sin destroying marriage and families. Many couples are choosing to live together rather than getting married at all. That’s wrong, too. In fact, any sexual activity outside of marriage goes against the way God designed this intimate expression of married love to be. Our culture laughs at the idea of waiting until marriage, and does all it can to encourage sexual promiscuity.

The prophet Isaiah issued a stern warning to Israel, and one that we desperately need to hear today: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight” (Isaiah 5:20).

The Bible also declares: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).

Listen, there are many other issues beyond marriage and sexual immorality that are disgracing this nation. I’m out of space to address them now. But I appeal to those rebelling against God’s ways to repent and come to Christ before His judgment falls. I pray for that our nation might find the godly, moral resolve we’ve lost. I appeal to the church to follow the Lord’s prescription for healing in the land: “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 sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Post-Vacation Random Thoughts (City visit, Locusts, Youth Event, Baptism and the Cubs)

I’m feeling some random thoughts coming on. Getting back after a week of vacation will do that to you.

Speaking of vacation, I maintain that Chicago is a nice place to visit. We navigated the Metra train system into downtown (and back!), hopped aboard a CTA bus to Shedd Aquarium (or close, anyway), and hailed a taxi back to the train station. So we’re broke now, but really enjoyed our city visit. Just wouldn’t want to do it every day.

Is it just me, or is this the year of the locust? I’m talking an invasion of biblical, eighth plague proportions. Maybe not quite that bad, but still. At the base of our back yard trees, empty locust shells lie abandoned by the thousands. Their late evening crescendos have drowned out normal conversations. The children are afraid to go outside. Where have all the cicada-killers gone?

Note to all Jr. High and High School youth: Starting on Wednesday, June 15, and on Wednesdays throughout the summer, you’re invited to come and hang out, play some games, munch on some goodies and hear about the goodness of God. Gallatin County 2011 graduate Derek Catiller has a heart to reach our community’s young people with the love of Christ, and is putting plans in motion to do that. Help us get the word out – Wednesdays at 6:30 at the Ridgway First Baptist Church.

Baptism! This coming Sunday, Lord willing, my son Toby will be making a public declaration of his faith in Christ Jesus in the act of baptism. He’s only six, but he’s pretty sharp on understanding God’s salvation. He has that “child-like faith” that believes in the Lord without putting limits or boundaries on what he believes God can do. He knows that he has sinned (like everyone else), and he knows that Jesus died on the cross to take away his sin. He’s received His forgiveness and he wants to live in a way that pleases Christ.

I’m planning on saying more about the meaning of baptism Sunday, but hear our position from The Baptist Faith & Message: “Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper.”

I want to be as clear as the Montana sky in saying that getting baptized saves no one. Salvation is a gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ our Lord which we receive by faith. There is nothing we can do to earn it, not even getting baptized. In fact, I fear that many on our own membership rolls as well as in other churches mistakenly think that because they were baptized at some stage in their life, they have done what it takes to go to heaven. As they arrive at the pearly gates they’ll hand their baptismal certificate to St. Peter and he’ll usher them on in.

The real question is this: Have you been born again? Have you repented of your sins and turned in faith to Christ? Are you trusting in what Jesus did for you on the cross, or are you trusting in your own works to be saved? Are you following His ways, or are you doing what seems right in your own eyes? Do you love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength? Is His love for others evident in your life? Does His Spirit control you, and are you increasingly being marked by the fruits of the Spirit?

If yes, you’re also welcome to come this Sunday at 10:40 and publicly testify of your wholehearted faith in and unending allegiance to Jesus Christ through baptism. If you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, feel free to call me at 272-5921 and we’d be glad to meet with you.

Final random thought: To my Cub fans friends, we had a great time at Wrigley Field, wore my Cubs hat, cheered for the home team and sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the 7th inning stretch. And watched them drop a 3-1 game to the last-place Astros. Oh well, there’s always next year!