Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Hope of the Nations

Jesus, hope of the nations
Jesus, comfort for all who mourn
You are the source of heaven’s hope on earth
Jesus, light in the darkness
Jesus, truth in each circumstance 
You are the source of heaven’s light on earth

These lines from one of our choir’s songs last week stand out for their relevance in light of the tragedy of last’s week murderous rampage in Newtown, Connecticut. Jesus is our hope and peace in times of trouble. He is a comfort to those who mourn. He is the light in a world of darkness. He is truth in a twisted and perverted generation. 

Those who know Him know that even in the midst of unspeakable horror, evil will not prevail. Jesus has already stepped into the ring with the “ruler of the darkness of this age” and has come out triumphant in His resurrection from the grave. And He gives the hope of eternal life to all who believe in Him. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for the day Jesus comes again to fully exercise His righteous rule over all creation. 

But for now we still live in a fallen world. The “god of this age,” the “roaring lion,” the “thief” who “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” knows his time is running out. We should not be surprised to see an increase of lawlessness. We should not be surprised to see violence on the rise. Satan and his demons are doomed for an everlasting swim in the lake of fire and sulfur, but they will not go out with a whimper. 

Friend, more than ever we need to cling to the cross of Christ for hope. Yes, sin is horrific. And the wages of sin, not just the murder of innocent children, but all sin, is death. But praise God, Jesus bore our sin in his own body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by his wounds we have been healed! That’s the “living hope” that God gives to all who receive His mercy and grace in Christ Jesus.

Friend, more than ever we need to look to Him for comfort. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). We’re walking in that valley now, but the Good Shepherd comforts us with His presence, His power, His protection, His provision. He comforts those who mourn through such terror. Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He is our comfort in times of trouble.

Friend, more than ever we need to live in the light of Jesus. Against the blackest of sin’s darkness, Jesus shines brightly. Isaiah spoke of the Messiah to come saying, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined” (Isaiah 9:2). Then into a sin-darkened world Jesus lit up the scene. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5). Christ himself declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). We’ve witnessed enough of sin’s destruction in this world. Maybe you’ve had enough of sin’s darkness in your own life. It’s time to turn to Jesus.

And friend, more than ever we need to recognize that Jesus is truth in each circumstance. There’s no spin with Jesus. There’s no fine print or hidden clauses. He simply says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Satan is the “father of lies” and the master of deception. He makes promises he cannot keep. He offers pleasure and fame and power but leaves you empty and broken. In a world searching for answers, Jesus is Faithful and True.

As we mourn with those who mourn, let us not lose heart nor give up hope. The world needs to know that Jesus is still the hope of the nations.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

All Is Well

I keep looking at this guitar sitting in my office, thinking about how I wish I could play that silly thing. If only there were some book I could read to make it come to life in my hands. If only I could learn by just watching some of the guitar heroes, or by playing Guitar Hero. It ought to be easier. I mean, shouldn’t there be an app for that? 

I suppose the only way I’m going to play my guitar well is by good old-fashioned practice. And lots of it. In our day and age we want things now. If I want to find out who won the Illini game, I don’t want to wait for the morning newspaper when I can google it now. If I need some extra cash, I don’t want to wait for the bank to open when I can use my ATM card now. If I pull in the drive-thru lane at a local fast-food restaurant, I don’t want to wait an hour for my order when I can get it in a good 20 minutes or so. 

Patience is not my spiritual gift. Neither is learning to play the guitar. I don’t want to spend hours and hours practicing. I just want to pick it up and sound like an Eddie Van Halen or Eric Clapton or Phil Keaggy now. 

Along that line, I didn’t really want to start practicing for our choir’s Christmas cantata back in September, when it was still summer. Who’s thinking Christmas when it’s 90 degrees out? I’d prefer to run through the thing a couple of times in December and see how it goes.

My wife, however, much wiser than I
Knew that songbird wouldn’t fly
So we practiced, and practiced and practiced some more
We practiced until our throats were sore
We practiced at noon, we practiced at night
We practiced before the dawn of light
We sang with our mouths, we sang with our hearts
We sang until we learned our parts
Sometimes we sang fast, sometimes we sang slow
sometimes we let loose with a great crescendo!

Well, with all that singing and practicing, it would be a shame if you didn’t come and hear our choir present the Christmas musical, “All Is Well,” this coming Sunday, December 16, at 10:45 a.m. The First Baptist Church is located at the corner of 7th and Sangamon, just one block west of the only stoplight in town. We would love for you to be our guest. If you don’t already have a church home, then come and be encouraged by the message of the “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

You’ll hear some of the traditional Christmas favorites as well as some newer songs that may soon become your favorite. But most of all, we pray you’ll hear the story about Jesus. In a chaotic and uncertain world that often leaves us lonely, frustrated, disappointed, scarred and broken, Jesus is our hope. Jesus is our peace. Jesus is our joy. Jesus is our salvation. Jesus is our Rock. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us.

He is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is Good Shepherd, the Bread of Life, the Sun of Righteousness and the Light of the world. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. He is the Word made flesh who came to dwell among us. He is the image of the invisible God.

More than ever, we need Jesus. Friend, you don’t have to try to make it on your own when you can follow in footsteps of the Savior. You don’t have to have it all figured out when you can trust in the wisdom of God. You don’t have to be strong enough when you can rest in the arms of the Almighty. You don’t have to fear anyone or anything when you can triumph in the One who is our Resurrection and Life.

Yes, this world may often be chaotic and uncertain, but when you know Jesus, truly all is well. Come and join us this Sunday morning as we sing to glorify His name.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Dangling garland, and how God uses things that don't go according to our plan to accomplish a greater purpose

Perhaps the best part about our “Hanging of the Green” service at church last Sunday  night was the garland that wouldn’t hang right. The right side held up just fine, as did the middle. But not the left side. So it dangled for the rest of the service right over middle of the baptistery like an Oregon pickup truck hanging off the highway overpass. 

This was not the way the service was scripted. The garland was supposed to be hanging proudly, not dangling precariously. And right up front and center for everyone to see. We had guests with us; what would they think?

I had thought the best part of the service was seeing all the children come in ringing their bells, singing songs about Jesus and decorating the tree. The thrill and joy of children at Christmas has a way of keeping the season exciting for us older people, too. 

I had thought the best part of the service was hearing different church members read from the Bible about how Jesus came to be the light of the world, and how His arrival in Bethlehem led the angels to burst forth in joyous praise. Everything else is second to the proclamation of the Word of God and the worship of the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, without whom we wouldn’t have Christmas at all. 

I had thought the best part of the service was listening to Lauren Morrow and Rachel Warren sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Or maybe it was hearing Tiffany Owens sing beautifully the song, “Mary, Did You Know” while her father accompanied her on guitar. Or perhaps it was the choir singing a hymn from their upcoming Christmas cantata, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.” These and other familiar Christmas carols sung we sang together add rich and meaningful flavor to our Christmas experience. 

I had thought the best part of the service was that Logan Withers didn’t set anything on fire when he lit the advent candle. I had thought the best part of the service was that no youth fell off the ladders while hanging up the wreaths. I had thought that Mike Bennett’s professional-quality reading voice as he explained the meaning of some of the decorations was the best part of the service. I had thought that Chery Stacy’s prep work in getting things in place was the best part. I had thought that the teamwork involved from everyone participating was the best part, or maybe it was the soup and sandwiches and snacks we enjoyed afterward. 

As it turned out, however, the one thing that didn’t go well may have been the best part of all. The morning after the service one of our newer members told me that she knew she really felt at home here when we couldn’t get the evergreen to hang up right. 

So no matter how much we can plan and prepare for everything to go “right,” or at least the way we think it should, maybe it’s okay if it doesn’t. God can still (and often does) use our imperfections to accomplish something our best laid plans never could. 

Having his bride-to-be become pregnant was never in Joseph’s plan (especially since he wasn’t even the father), but that worked out pretty well in the end. Watching Jesus get arrested, beaten and crucified wasn’t in the disciples’ plan for their Messiah, but that worked out pretty well in the end, too. 

We don’t have everything figured out here, either. I certainly don’t anyway. But I am more than willing to let Jesus come and “steal my show,” to borrow a line from TobyMac’s newest CD, which my wife let my listen to all the way through on our trip to visit family last week! “So I’ll step out the way, I’ll give You center stage.” 

And, friend, if you’re wanting to feel at home, please know you’re welcome to come and join a bunch of other people who don’t always get it right, but we’re trusting in the One who does. Lord Jesus, take center stage in our lives this Christmas, and always!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Apart from Columbus Day, which happens to also be my birthday, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays of the year. Thanksgiving’s not glitzy or strangely extravagant like Christmas. It’s not disturbingly eerie like Halloween. It’s not quite the drinking party like New Year’s or St. Patty’s Day. 

Thanksgiving is the holiday where you pack the car and go visit your family. You make sure to bring along your boots and gloves because it might snow. You bring the kids’ latest school pictures to hand out to all the relatives. You bring the TobyMac CD your wife got you for your birthday, even though it’s not really her favorite, so you can listen to it on the way, even though you know that by the fourth song she’s going to nicely ask you to turn the volume down so far you might as well turn it off altogether.

Thanksgiving is the holiday where somebody brings a football so that during halftime of the Cowboys game you can go out in the yard and play catch with the guys. And even though you haven’t warmed up at all you still throw it as far as you can to show them you’ve still got a little something left, knowing all along you’ll pay for it in the morning when you feel like your arm’s about to fall off.

Thanksgiving is the holiday where your wife makes some of her delicious potato casserole and brings it to the family gathering. And you know that Uncle Jim is going to fix some of the best stuffing you’ve ever had, and Grandma’s going to make a pecan pie you’ve been waiting for since last year. You always eat way too much at dinner, but you still go back for more dessert because you didn’t have room on your plate the first time.

Thanksgiving is the holiday where you see the cousins whom you remember being about four like last year now in their first semester of college. You see other children running around who look exactly like your cousin did when she was that age. You wonder where the time went, and you realize that you’re now one of the old people.

Thanksgiving is the holiday where you meet some of your in-laws you’ve never met before, even though you’ve been married for over 19 years. Or maybe you have met them at a family reunion or a funeral but you sure don’t remember them.

Thanksgiving is the holiday where you draw names to see for which relative you’re going to buy a Christmas present. You don’t really have a clue what to get, but you let your wife do the shopping anyway, and when they open the gift you’re just as surprised as they are. They say thank you and you graciously receive their appreciation, but secretly nod and give your wife a thumbs up for being such a good gift giver.

And Thanksgiving is the holiday where you ultimately give thanks to God for being such a good gift giver. You realize that every good and perfect gift comes from Him. And while so often you take His blessings for granted, you’re reminded that surely goodness and mercy has indeed been following you all the days of your life, and the promise of dwelling in the house of the Lord forever is an undeserved, unparalleled gift.  

This will be our fourth Thanksgiving without my Granddad. That doesn’t seem possible either. He was a U.S. Army Veteran of WWII and the Korean War, fiercely and lovingly loyal to his country, his community and his family.

Many times when I’d ask him how he was doing, he would say, “Better than I deserve.” I love that answer. Granddad knew something about grace and gratitude that has taught me to be more thankful. Even when life’s not perfect, God is good. He’s good to imperfect people. His grace has saved a wretch like me. I’m doing far better than I deserve. Those who know Jesus know how true this is.

Happy Thanksgiving, and may we all give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanking God for His Word

Do you remember as a child singing the song, “The B-I-B-L-E”? We still sing this with our Kids Klub on Wednesday nights sometimes. I think it’s a great song.

It goes: “The B-I-B-L-E / Yes, that’s the book for me / I stand alone on the Word of God / The B-I-B-L-E!” Pretty simple tune, pretty simply lyrics. Maybe that’s why I like it. I’m pretty sure that’s how I learned how to spell the word “Bible” many years ago. But even more, this song gives us a good reminder that God’s Word alone is the foundation upon which we stand and base our hope.

And so, in this season of Thanksgiving, I thank God for giving us His Word.

I praise God for so many other blessings, too. I thank God for a wife who is loving and faithful, manages a pretty ornery household and directs a pretty mean church choir. If you don’t mind I’m going to put a plug in for our Christmas Cantata coming up Sunday, December 16, at 10:45 a.m. We previewed one song for the church this past Sunday and we’re planning another one this coming Sunday night during our 5:00 “Hanging of the Greens” service. If you don’t already attend church, then we invite you to come anytime, but especially on December 16 to hear the choir.

The Bible says in Proverbs 18:22: “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” I say Amen, and thank you, Lord, for such a good thing!

I thank God for our two energetic boys. The Lord has given me greater insights into His own fatherly compassion for people as I raise and lead these precious gifts. I’m so not adequate for the job, but by His grace I’m helped. And I’m blessed, and thankful.

I thank God for His church. We’re not perfect, but we belong to the One who is. Christ Jesus is building His church. He’s using some pretty raw material, granted, but He knows what He’s doing, and it’s coming along just fine, thank you. There’s great joy and friendship in the fellowship of the church, and I’m grateful to be a block in the building.

There are so many other blessings for which I’m thankful. I don’t have room enough to begin counting them all here. Okay, I’ll begin anyway, randomly. Loyal and genuine friends. Fellow pastors and ministry partners in the work of the gospel. Creation’s beauty. Small town charm. Big city vibe. Good coffee. Reliable internet access. Old hymns. New worship songs. Chocolate chip pancakes and bacon for dinner.

And the list could go on and on. But central to my gratitude for all these joys in life is the Word of God. The Bible is universal, unchanging truth in world of constant change and chaos. God’s Word informs my understanding of His character and His ways. The Bible reveals God’s goodness and mercy, His promises and provision, His faithfulness and His love. God’s Word shows us the pathway to the storehouse of God’s richest blessings, and all who walk in it find the way of abundant and eternal life.

The Bible tells the story of Jesus, God’s salvation offered to mankind to those who believe in Him as Savior and Lord. And therein lies hope for the hopeless, joy to the downtrodden, peace to the burdened and rest to the weary. In Jesus we find comfort for the afflicted, healing for the broken, redemption for the wayward and love for the outcast.

In Jesus there is forgiveness for all our sins, past, present and future. In Jesus there is victory over sin and death and hell. In Jesus there is the assurance of everlasting life, the promise of dwelling forever and ever in that place where, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

I thank God for His Word that gives me this blessed assurance in Christ. Yes, the Bible is the book for me. I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Whatever the outcome may be...

Unless there’s a hanging chad issue or hurricane Sandy has wrecked the voting system, our nation will today elect the one who will lead us for the next four years. Either way, half of the country will be optimistic things will get better while the other half will be sure things can only get worse.

Whoever our next President is, he has been appointed to that office by Almighty God. And whoever it is, we all need to pray long and often for him, and we all need to submit ourselves to and honor the governing authorities.

Appointed by God, did you say, pastor? Yes, I know how the democratic process works. You vote and the guy with the most votes wins. Maybe. Except for that whole electoral college thing, which may mean the guy with the most votes didn’t win. So if we the people are the ones voting, how is it that God appoints a person to such a position?

Here’s how the Bible answers that question in Romans 13:1-2: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

The real authority above all authorities, then, belongs to God alone. Apart from His sovereign purposes and divine wisdom, no king on earth has ever reigned.

Sometimes those authorities God institutes among nations are good and upright men who bring a blessing to the nation. Other times God institutes evil rulers to bring a means of trial or judgment against a people.

Even the Egyptian Pharaoh who enslaved and cruelly oppressed the Israelites was a man whom God appointed. “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). Pharaoh was an evil ruler whom God raised up and used for a greater purpose.

You may also remember the story of Israel’s king Solomon. Though Solomon was blessed beyond measure by the Lord early in his reign, that favor disappeared when the king did evil in the sight of the Lord. God was angry with him because his heart turned away from the Lord and he did not keep God’s commandments. It wasn’t long before the kingdom of Israel was divided, with God raising up an enemy to lead a campaign against His own people for a divine purpose (see 1 Kings 11).

God has the sovereign authority and ability to appoint whomever He ordains into office, and to use them for whatever purpose He desires. That may be to bring blessing, or it may be to bring judgment. There are times when God, in bringing judgment against an unholy and disobedient people, gives them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels – and to face the consequences of their sin. And He may go ahead and appoint the ungodly leader they want to let them keep leading ungodly lives. And if that’s the case, then may God have mercy on that nation!

Whatever the outcome, part of our responsibility as citizens is to pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:2). We are also commanded to “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men,” and “honor the king (1 Peter 2:13, 17). That doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything they do, nor does it mean we sit idly by and allow unrighteousness to go unchallenged. It may even mean that we choose to obey God rather than man if the two conflict. But respecting and honoring authority ought to mark the people of God who recognize that it is God who appoints leaders, and who sometimes also brings them down to accomplish His purposes for His glory.   

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pray and do your homework before voting!

So I understand there’s an election coming up next week. At this point I don’t care who gets elected, just as long as the campaign ads go away. 

To hear the media tell it, the presidential race has pretty much all been decided anyway except in a few “swing” states. Living in downstate Illinois, one has to wonder why bother to even cast a vote. They’ve already colored Illinois blue. Like there’s going to be any other outcome given the Chicago political machine. Maybe if I want my vote to count I should move to Florida or Ohio. Or if I want it to count twice, maybe I should move to Chicago!

I will admit that in the 2008 election I voted for neither candidate on the Democratic or Republican ticket. Perhaps selecting a non-major party’s guy is throwing away your vote, but it wasn’t going to change Illinois’ electoral college count. Plus, at least I voted for a candidate with whose values and positions I agreed. 

There are many factors to look at when evaluating the candidates running for office. For instance, which one has the most charisma? Which candidate is considered hip? Who gets the most celebrity endorsements? Which one looks more presidential on the poster? Those are all important questions to consider, if you don’t have time to research the actual positions and values of the candidates themselves. Not.

Sometimes you can evaluate a candidate based on who’s giving them major campaign donations. Trace the money and you might find out some things. A man, or woman, is known by the people with whom they associate (and accept money from).

Speaking of money, how much is it again that the candidates have spent on their campaigns? According to the New York Times website, Pres. Obama had raised $934 million and Gov. Romney had raised $881 million as of October 17. Of course, that’s only what has been officially recorded with the Federal Election Commission, though non-profit groups do not have to file.

I realize it takes money to run a campaign, but in our current economy and with so many people living in poverty and struggling to pay their bills and put food on the table, something’s wrong with this picture. That kind of cash might even put a slight dent toward paying off our nation’s debt. But I digress.

What I’m suggesting to you is this: Pray, and do some homework before you vote. Perhaps God might want to counsel our thoughts and direct our hearts. After all, He is the One who has blessed this nation in abundance. He is the One who is able to raise up and restore nations, and He is the One who is able to bring them down. He ordains kings and brings princes to ruin. Let’s ask God for help in determining how we should vote.

And please find out what issues the candidates stand for. To give an example, the Obama campaign has released five ads criticizing Romney’s pro-life views while highlighting the President’s commitment to abortion. Look at the party platforms on which the candidates run. While there’s room for good people on either side to debate some of the serious issues concerning healthcare and the economy and foreign policy, there are some issues that are non-negotiable for those who take the Bible seriously.

For me, that at least includes defending the right to life, defending God’s design for marriage, and defending religious liberty, which lays the foundation to the freedoms that we have and enjoy in this nation.

So, pray and do your homework, and vote. And why not come to church Sunday morning at 10:45? We’d love to welcome you! And make plans to join us Sunday night at 6:00 for a gospel concert with “Sons of the Father.” You will be blessed!            

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Life is hard, and we've created many of our own messes...Let's try doing things God's way for a change

Life can be a mess sometimes. Health problems. Relationship difficulties. Emotional wounds. Physical abuse. Spiritual scars. Certainly there are various degrees of struggles and sufferings people face, but none are immune to life’s trials. Whether due to things beyond our control or to our own stupid decisions and actions, life is hard. 

More recently I’ve been hearing about financial hardships plaguing individuals and families. Some of that can be blamed on the economy, as companies downsize and people lose jobs that once seemed secure. As employment seems harder to find. As home values decline. As rent and utilities and gas and food prices increase.

I’ve found, however, that there are usually other factors in the mix. Sometimes health issues cause financial burdens. Sometimes it’s just poor money management or unwise spending. Many times financial problems are rooted in relationship problems. Couples divorce, and single moms or single dads are left to take care of the children on their own, often with zero help from the other parent.

You hear politicians and media outlets talking all the time about the economy. How can we get this economy back on track? How can we create new jobs? Which candidate’s budget plan will best serve our country? How many numbers did you say are in 16 trillion dollars worth of national debt?

Here’s my take. I don’t think it’s an economic issue so much as it is a moral issue. I think if we worked more on building stronger families you’d see a stronger economy. I think if we helped people make wise decisions, you’d see a brighter economy. I think if we cared for others more there would be less dependence on government assistance.

If people didn’t spend billions upon billions of dollars on tobacco and alcohol and gambling and pornography we’d be a healthier nation. If we weren’t so consumed with buying every latest gadget that we think will make our lives easier, if we could do without the biggest house we thought we could afford, and if we would invest more in building the kingdom of God than in building our own empires we’d be a sturdier nation. Things like selfishness and dishonesty and jealousy and greed and immorality of all kinds effect not just individuals, but entire nations.

Why not invest in building our nation’s character instead of catering to ungodliness? We sing “God Bless America” on the steps of the Capitol and during the 7th inning of every baseball game, but then go back to the office to draft legislation that protects abortion practices and gives homosexuals the right to “marry,” and barely finish the song before flagging down the beer man for another drink.

How do we expect God to keep blessing a nation that keeps rejecting Him? “Righteous exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). I believe God would open up blessings upon this land like we’ve never seen before, if only we would listen to Him, submit to Him and walk in His ways. But in rejecting His teachings and His ways, He will also give us over to our own stubborn hearts and we will reap the destruction of following our own counsel.

Before it’s too late, let’s turn to the Lord. My hope for this nation has absolutely nothing to do with who gets elected in November. My hope rests in the mercy and grace of God through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Let’s repent of our selfish ways and embrace the love of our Father. Let’s see His goodness and mercy poured out on a nation that fears Him and follows Jesus in faithful obedience.

Even wicked Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah and was spared. God’s patience with us now and kindness toward us should lead us to our knees in repentance.    

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Experiencing Blessings

We have affectionally nicknamed our yard-digging, landmine-leaving, butt-scratching, shoe-chewing, tail-chasing, fur-flying, booming-barking, anything-left-on-the-table-grabbing, overgrown puppy “Blessing.” Cute, don’t you think? So instead of yelling at the dog for doing things dogs love to do, we simply and gently say (theoretically), “Oh, Nicolas, you’re such a Blessing!” Sometimes it helps.

I asked my family the other day if they understood the meaning of the word blessing. In my mind I’m thinking of the classic line by Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Anyway, Toby provided a pretty good answer. He said, “It’s something good.” From a soon-to-be eight-year-old’s perspective, our dog is something good. He’s a good playmate and a good friend. Of course, Toby’s not the one waking up when the dog barks in the middle of the night or the one filling holes in the back yard with dirt or avoiding landmines in the yard. But he’s part of our family, as a pet, and yes, he’s a blessing.

Friend, just in case you’ve been fed some false theology somewhere along the way, I want you to know that God does desire to bless you. He wants to give you something good. He’s not an ogre in the sky frowning down on mankind. He’s not stalking your every move with a lightning bolt in His hand waiting for you to get out of line. The Bible describes the Lord God in such recurring themes as, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps. 103:8, et al).

For those who hear His voice and follow Him, He is a Good Shepherd to them. They know that “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6). That’s something good! That’s a blessing.

Here are a few other snapshots from the Psalms of ways in which God desires to give you something good:

“The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” (Psalm 34:10).

“For the Lord God is a sun and a shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless” (Psalm 84:11).

“Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things” (Psalm 107:9). 

This list throughout Scripture goes on and on, lasting longer than the Energizer Bunny. You simply cannot exhaust the goodness and mercy of our God. He showed us love even when we were rebelling in sin against Him. He gave His only Son, Jesus, to die a torturous and humiliating death on the cross to prove that love. He offers forgiveness and salvation to those who come to Him through Christ. He gives a peace that passes all understanding, joy that words cannot express and hope that endures beyond the grave. 

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). 

Are you experiencing the blessings of that abundant life today? I know I am, and I long to know Him more. I long to have a more grateful heart, though I know I am blessed beyond measure. My wife and two boys are precious and priceless gifts from God’s hand. The call God has given me to preach and serve Him is an abundant-life kind of blessing. The church family is a rich blessing as we work together for the sake of the Kingdom of God and build up one another in love. Living in this nation of freedom and opportunity is a display of God’s blessings of grace. There’s so much more and much more yet to come. 

Follow Christ in obedient faith, and even though there will be less than lovely circumstances surrounding you, you’ll still experience the riches of His blessings.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Joel Osteen is an embarrassing "Christian" spokesperson

If I ever see another interview with Joel Osteen representing “Christianity” on a major TV news program, I think I might hurl. 

Please do not be deceived by his winning smile, designer suits or immense popularity. Despite the tens of thousands of people that attend his weekend services at Lakewood Church in Houston, and the multitudes more who watch on TV, and the millions who have read his books, Joel Osteen’s message serves up nothing more than an ear-tickling, feel-good theology of “affirmation without salvation,” a phrase borrowed from Dr. Al Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. 

Osteen is painful to watch on such interviews as given recently on CNN’s “Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien.” He was introduced as “one of the most recognizable faces in Christianity in America today.” Yet, he is unable to give clear answers on decisive issues. He fumbles around for words and refuses to take a bold stand for biblical truth. You don’t hear him mention the name of Jesus in these interviews. You don’t hear him speak of the gospel. You don’t see him pointing people to the cross. 

While he may be the darling of the masses and the face of Christianity for mass media, he makes a terrible and embarrassing spokesperson for Christ. 

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you’” (Jeremiah 23:16-17). 

One thing Osteen says he doesn’t do is preach against sin. He doesn’t like to be negative, so he just avoids issues that might make people feel bad. You’re sure not likely to hear him preach as both John the Baptist and Jesus did, urging their listeners to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). 

“But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds” (Jeremiah 23:22). 

Think about this. Let’s say you go to the doctor for a routine physical. He finds that something’s wrong with your heart. But instead of telling you about it and telling you what you need to have done about it, he just smiles and says everything’s great. You’re going to be fine. Just keep on being the best you that you can possibly be. 

You’d call that doctor a fraud. He’s not doing his job, and he doesn’t need to be practicing medicine. Pastors are called to be shepherds of the flock that is under their care. Often that means encouraging them in the faith. Sometimes it means rescuing them from danger and pleading with them to turn from the error of their ways.

The Scripture is our authority, and gives us the authority as we preach the word to “correct, rebuke and encourage, with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:2-4). That time has come indeed.

There are plenty of strong, yet humble, Christian shepherds who are not afraid to speak the truth in love. Joel Osteen is not one of them.     


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Stay in Class and Keep the Faith

Just because you sign up for a class, it doesn’t mean you automatically get credit for it. I had a friend in college who signed up for five classes one semester, a fairly typical 15 hour load. But Rodney wasn’t real interested in going to class. 

We had one class together, Economics 101. Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9:00 a.m. with Prof. Ostrosky. We met in Edwards Hall, in Capen Auditorium on the campus of Illinois State University. There were more students in that class than in my entire high school. So if you missed a class now and then, it’s not like anyone noticed. But you kind of need to show up once in a while to know what’s going on. Like when the tests will be, and what information you’ll need to know for the tests. That kind of thing. 

Well, we had a test coming up and Rodney wasn’t exactly prepared for it. The night before as I was fervently studying (at least the way I recall it), Rodney was at a loss. It was just too late to cram for what he didn’t even know he needed to know. The tests were always multiple choice, so Rodney made a choice to go all “C.” That’s right, figuring he would at least get a few correct, Rodney decided to mark every answer “C.” 

As it turned out, he did get some right. When I told this story Sunday morning, I said he got six right. But I think it may have only been four. Either way, you can’t really expect much more. However, when Rodney found out that 12 of the answers on that test were “B,” you can imagine his frustration. Even 12 out of 20 is still a failing grade, but he was upset that he went with all C’s instead of B’s. 

Mind you, he wasn’t thinking, “You know, I really should have gone to class more. I really should have read the book. I really should have studied for this test.” No, he was mad because he picked “C” instead of “B.” 

It wasn’t long after this that Rodney dropped Economics 101. In fact, it wasn’t long before Rodney dropped three other classes, as well. By the end of the semester, Rodney was carrying just three credit hours. And it seems like one of those was bowling. He was a good guy, but not surprisingly, that was Rodney’s last semester at ISU. 

He signed up for the class, but he didn’t get credit for the class. 

Many “good” people sign up for salvation, too, but not all get credit for it. Just because you raised your hand at the end of a sermon or walked an aisle and shook a preacher’s hand, signed your name on a card or even got wet in a baptistery at some point in your life, it doesn’t automatically mean you’re saved. 

On the day of judgment there will be many people standing before God who think they’re good and going to heaven. They’ll have their church attendance records in hand, their contribution statements on file and many of their good deeds accounted for. But instead of hearing, “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” they will be shocked and mortified to hear, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). It will not just be a few and not just some. The Bible says “many.” 

You may be able to keep up religious appearances for a long time. You may have fooled everyone around you and even deceived yourself. But the Lord knows your heart. He knows whether you’ve truly repented of your sins and surrendered your life in faith and obedience to Jesus as Savior and Lord. He knows if you’re walking faithfully in His ways and His will, according to His Word, or not. He knows those who are truly His. 

And those who do belong to Him will endure to the end because He will keep them from stumbling. They won’t give up, drop out or fall away. 

If you’ve wandered from the Lord, or never really knew Him, the time to come back is now. Run to Him while the day of His favor and salvation remains.    

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Truth about God and Eternal Life

For the first time in a long time, I actually mowed the yard twice last week. Praise God for the rain! And we pray, like my first year college roommate Swannie said to the ladies serving at the cafeteria, “Keep it coming!” And for those of you keeping score at home, my lawnmower battery finally gave up the ghost after six-plus years of faithful service. So I shelled out some cash for a new one, and the next time I mowed, and also for the first time in a long time, I was able to fire up the mower and finish the entire yard without a single mechanical incident or operator-induced error. Nice. 

By the way, I don’t know how you mow your yard, but I seem to never mow the same way twice. I have a general pattern I usually follow to start, but I always end up taking a different route. It may not look like the golf course at Pebble Beach, but as long as the grass (and weeds) get cut, it doesn’t really matter how I got there. 

In contrast to that philosophy, however, stands the matter of salvation. Many people say that there are numerous ways to get to heaven. They say that it doesn’t matter what pattern your life takes, which route or religion you follow, or how you live, since all roads lead to heaven. Usually they’ll say something like, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe something…as long as you’re sincere…as long as you have faith.” But the object of that “faith” or sincerity of belief doesn’t require definition. Any religious “god” or generic view of a “god” will do. 

I read a survey recently which revealed that 77% of Protestant pastors firmly believe that Christianity alone contained the truth about God and eternal life. The article didn’t specify which pastors identified themselves as “Protestant,” but generally speaking the term refers to non-Roman Catholic varieties of Western Christianity. 77%. That’s a strong majority if you’re talking election results, but that also means that 23% of Protestant pastors do not firmly believe that Christianity offers the only way to heaven. I don’t know about you, but I find that problematic. 

If this survey truly reflects the beliefs of these pastors (for the record, I’m not a big fan of surveys), then on any given Sunday nearly 1 of every 4 pastors preaching in Protestant churches are not convinced that the message of the gospel is the truth. And the survey showed that a significantly less number of church-goers believed in the exclusivity of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s not a surprise. 

Here’s why, among other things, I find this troubling. If there’s any other way for a person to go to heaven besides through faith in Jesus, then His sacrifice on the cross becomes completely unnecessary. The pain and suffering and humiliation Jesus experienced through the crucifixion becomes a waste if there’s another way to be saved. 

Not only that, but we make Him out to be a liar, because Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Essentially, we invalidate the message of the Bible altogether if Christianity does not offer the only avenue to eternal life. 

Now I realize that truth doesn’t fit in with our culture’s attitude of accommodation toward other religions, including those of Muslim background. Have we not bent over backwards to be sure not to offend our Muslim neighbors? And this in light of the horrific acts of terror committed against this nation eleven years ago? I don’t get it. 

What I’m saying is that we who claim the name of Jesus – especially in the pulpit! – need to stand boldly on the truth of the gospel more than ever before. Without apology. Without compromise. If the message of the cross is offensive, so be it. Better to be hated by the world and remain a friend of God, than to cozy up to the world and lose your soul.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Once For All

The little Baptist boy went with his young Catholic friend one Sunday to the Catholic church. It was quite different from what he was used to. With nearly every thing the priest did and every symbolic act, he would ask, “What does that mean?” And his friend would explain why they did what they did.

The next Sunday the same two boys attended the Baptist church together. Like his friend the week before, the Catholic boy was curious about what was taking place. At one point during the service the Baptist preacher stepped up to the pulpit, took off his watch and laid it down on the pulpit in front of him. The Catholic boy asked, “What does that mean?” The Baptist boy responded, “Oh, that don’t mean nothing.”

Seems preachers are always getting a ribbing for long sermons. Personally, I don’t even wear a watch, but the church here is kind enough to have a big clock mounted directly in my view at the back of the sanctuary. Like that could stop me.

This past Sunday I’m sure I preached for 40 minutes. Maybe more. And believe me, I could have gone longer. I love studying God’s Word. If I had three hours to preach I’m sure it would not be enough to adequately showcase all the gems found in the text.

But don’t worry. I’m not actually planning to go three hours this Sunday. Just know that I could. Which really ought to make you thankful for 40 minute sermons. This past Sunday morning I mentioned there were five areas in which I believe the church at large has compromised with the culture in distorting the grace of God and denying the lordship of Jesus Christ. I only got to one. Hopefully we’ll get to the others soon. 

But there’s another point I should have expanded on from the text that I didn’t get to. We were looking in the book of Jude and focusing in on verses 3-4. Here’s verse 3: “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” I can’t re-preach the entire message here (unless you’ve got 40 minutes to spare), but I want you to take note of the phrase “once for all.”

This phrase is used at least six times in the New Testament referring to Jesus’ once and for all sacrifice for sins. It means there’s no other sacrifice ever necessary. You can’t add anything to it nor subtract anything from it. His death is all-sufficient for the forgiveness of our sins, our redemption and righteousness. Nothing else is needed.

In Jude verse 3, this phrase means that the gospel of our faith which has been delivered to the people of God is likewise all-sufficient. There’s no other word needed. You can’t add anything to it nor subtract anything from it. God’s Word, His truth, His message as delivered in the Holy Scriptures is fixed and complete.  

In our day, as Jude’s day and as in many generations before and since, it seems certain people want to edit the Bible to fit the times or their preferences about God or to justify their lifestyles. So they, in effect, take a Sharpie and mark through the things they don’t agree with, and write in the margin the things they want it to say. Friend, may I warn you from the Word of God that is dangerous and deadly ground. 

The authority of the Bible is not up for discussion or debate. It’s not a document to which we need add amendments, edit for content or alter in any way. Rather, it is true and unchanging, pure and holy, living and active, convicting and enlightening. And it’s able to make you wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

May the saints of God take the responsibility to cherish the Word of God dearly, study the Word diligently, live out the Word obediently, teach and preach the Word boldly, and fight for the faith untiringly.                      

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Accountability in an Age of Transparency

Does it ever feel like the internet is getting scary? I was looking up information about motorcycle parts the other day. Now every time I go to a site with any banner ads, guess what ads I’m getting? You got it – ads for motorcycle parts.

Everything you do online might as well be printed in the Observer. I remember back in the mid 90’s (1990’s, that is) when our company began giving everyone e-mail addresses. They told us to not send anything via e-mail that we wouldn’t want published on the front page of the next day’s newspaper. It was sound advice.

Five years ago in China our friends cautioned us in sending e-mail back to the States that everything we did would probably be monitored. Of course there, even the snail mail we sent was likely to be opened before it ever left the Chinese post office.

It baffles me to read some of the posts and comments I come across on Facebook. Do these “friends” not know that any potential employer or college admissions officer or future spouse will likely be reading anything and everything they print? 

And what’s with all the surveillance cameras everywhere you go? Makes you think George Orwell knew something long before his time. Even a deer can’t walk through the woods in the middle of the night without being captured on a trail camera.

What I’m saying is not breaking news. We’re living in an age of transparency. Every word you speak, every keystroke you make, every thing you do and perhaps even every thought you think could wind up on tonight’s newscast. Or go viral on the internet.

Makes you want to be pretty careful about the way you live, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t it? But let me offer you an even greater motivation to live a clean and unashamed life. Ultimately you will not answer to your friends, to your boss, to your government or to the public. It would be bad enough if they all knew and judged everything about you.

But the Bible says that we all will one day answer to Almighty God, the Perfect and Righteous Judge. Hear the word of Lord from Hebrews 4:12-13: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

What that means is exactly what it says. Read it again. God is the One to whom we must give account. His word sets the standard by which we live, and by which the very thoughts and attitudes of our hearts are measured. You can’t hide anything from God. No careless word ever spoken has He missed. No deed done in secret has escaped His vision. No impure thought or harmful intent has ever gone unnoticed by the Judge.

Don’t know about you, but that’s pretty scary to me. In fact, if that were the end of the story, who among us would be able to stand before Him at all? But, praise God, the One enthroned as Judge is also the One exalted as Savior! We’d all be doomed to everlasting death in hell because of our sin, but Jesus took the Judge’s sentence for our crimes upon Himself! And He rose from the grave in dramatic victory over sin and death!

Friend, that victory can be yours today. Receive His salvation by repenting of your sinfulness and believing that Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. Believe that He rose from the dead to bring eternal life, and yield your life to Him by following Jesus in joyful obedience as Savior and Lord.

Then on the Day of Judgment you need not be ashamed nor fear eternal condemnation. Instead, you’ll be singing with the saints:

Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Heaven's Hope for Life's Breakdowns

My lawn mower gives me fits. Not that I’ve used it much lately, but it has rained just enough to make the weeds grow up nice and pretty. So I got the mower out for only the second time since early June. That time was to knock down some weeds, also.

I think “fits” fits the description for my reactions to my mower’s tribulations. There’s a laundry list of breakdowns and meltdowns we’ve gone through together. Admittedly, I’m to blame for some of the misfortunes, like when I thought I had enough clearance to mow over the water meter cover. That’ll mess up some blades pretty quick. And I guess not changing the oil or air filter often enough isn’t good for an engine either.

About three years ago I was all set to junk it. Every time I tried to start it all I’d get was some huffing and sputtering and a thick cloud of black smoke. So I had a friend help me haul it a local small engine mechanic he uses. The guy took a fast look at it and went off on all things Briggs & Stratton. As I recall he didn’t like much of anything that wasn’t Kohler or Craftsman. He said it was shot. 

I didn’t know any better. So I was ready to bite the bullet and spring for a new, or at least less abused used, mower. But before I said my final good-riddance, my neighbor came over to look at it. And would you know that for a $4.99 fuel line cut-off valve and some fresh motor oil, he had the silly thing running again? 

That’s the same good neighbor that also helped me out when a pin snapped and a wheel came off when I was mowing one day. And the one who, when I tried and failed to fire it up for the first time one spring, suggested I jump start it. Man, I’ve been ready to call it dead for a long time, but it keeps doing the Energizer bunny thing on me. 

For the record, I need to add that this mower was given to me seven years ago by my brother-in-law. He said he had to get rid of it due to allergies with the grass at their new house, but I think it was to prevent a different kind of headache. I shouldn’t complain. It was free for the pick-up, and I’ve used it a lot. It’s been a good investment. 

So last weekend, after again jump starting the mower, I was zipping around the yard trimming weeds, when at a stop to pick up a stray dog toy, the drive belt gave out. You know by now I’m not a mechanic. How I wish I would have paid more attention when my Dad tried to show me how to fix things rather than shooting hoops and collecting baseball cards! Well, to make a three and a half hour long story short, I did manage to replace the drive belt and we’re back on the road again. 

Here’s my point. Sometimes you may feel like a broken down and worthless old mower. Does it ever seem like life is just one problem after another? Feel like nobody cares a thing for you? Maybe you think people look at you more like a bother than a brother or friend. Ever feel like if they hauled you off to the junk heap it would be a so-long and good riddance and don’t let the door hit you on the way out? 

If so, before you do anything else today, here’s what I want you to do: go get a Bible and read Psalm 31. The author, David, finds himself once again in a hopeless and dire situation. He’s a menace to his enemies, the contempt of his neighbors and a dread to his friends. Affliction, distress, sorrow, grief, anguish and weakness grip him like a vice. 

Does he cave in? Does he cower in fear? Does he wring his hands in despair? No, he lifts his heart to heaven because that’s his only hope. His deliverance and salvation come from Christ alone, and his cry for mercy reaches the ears of the Almighty, whose goodness and faithfulness and unfailing love are poured out upon those who fear Him. His trust is the Lord, and he finds Him to be his rock of refuge. You can too, dear friend.  

“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord” (Psalm 31:24).    

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Blessing of Family

So we went to the beach on our family vacation and it rained every day. Not the pleasant little light afternoon showers, but pouring rain and thunderstorms. The kind where you’re able to finish 1,000 piece puzzles and watch exciting Olympic events like handball and equestrian. Who gets the medal, the rider or the horse?

I would like to know how some of these activities become Olympic sports. Maybe in 2016 they’ll decide to include foosball and darts and pool. Fishing could be an Olympic sport. So could checkers and cheerleading. How about fantasy baseball? And why not poker? I mean, who doesn’t enjoy watching a bunch of creepy looking characters sit around a table playing poker? But I digress.

And did you know that gas is about 40-50 cents higher in Illinois than in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida, and probably every other state in the union? Do you ever sense, as you pump your Illinois gas, that you’re helping pay some ritzy couple’s $7,500 a month rent in a swanky Lake Shore Drive high rise? Along with their yacht, their BMW and all the bling they can buy. Makes you feel like you’re making a real difference in the world.

But I’m not really complaining about going on vacation. Despite the rain and the gas prices we had a great time. There wasn’t a day we weren’t able to spend at least some time on the beach. We saw the sun occasionally, collected quite a few seashells, caught some waves and built fortified sand castles. And 30 hours round trip driving plus multiple bathroom and food stops wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be.

The best part, though, was simply spending time with my family. We’re back now. Back to work. Back to church activities. Back to football practice. Back to taking care of the dog. Back to cleaning house. Back to school next week. Back to real life. But it’s been nice to be together for a week without all these responsibilities. I didn’t even take my laptop along, nor did I miss it.

One of God’s greatest blessings to mankind is the family. Before He established nations, before the first king, before the invention of football and before shopping malls, God created the family. It wasn’t good for man to be alone. So God made a woman from Adam’s rib and brought her to him to be a perfect helper and companion, one who would be “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23).

And even though we sometimes take each other for granted, and even though we’re imperfect people who can be selfish, stubborn and stupid, we need each other. We were made for each other. We complement each other.

I am thankful for my wife. I can’t imagine where I’d be without her. We celebrated our 19th anniversary last week. Not every day has been a walk in the park, but it’s been a joyous journey. In any marriage relationship there are good times and bad, but it’s for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, and in sickness and in health till death do us part. We are committed to one another in a bond of love, sealed with the love of Christ Jesus Himself.

And I’m grateful to the Lord for the blessing of children. We have two boys whom we love dearly. Yes, there are challenges all the time, and we haven’t yet reached teenage years. But our boys are a precious and delightful gift, and I thank God for giving us the joy and responsibility of raising them up in the way they should go.

I appreciate the church giving us some time for family vacation. But it’s also good to be back together with the family of God. Friend, if you’re looking for family, we welcome you to be part of ours at the First Baptist Church.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Chick-Fil-A, Marriage, Homosexuality, Outrageous Politicians, Sin and God's Amazing Grace

I’ve got issues. 

Most of you know that I’m not a politically-charged kind of guy. FBC church-goers don’t hear politically-motivated messages. I’ve never preached on gun control laws. I’ve never addressed the President’s healthcare plan from the pulpit. I’ve never discussed Homeland Security or foreign aid policies during a Sunday morning sermon. Frankly, I’m willing to leave most of these issues to the talking heads and bloggers.

I am, however, a biblically-charged kind of guy.  And when biblical issues start becoming political hot buttons, it’s no time for silence. We are living in such uncertain, chaotic, confusing days that followers of Christ need to start speaking out in defense of the faith before we no longer have an opportunity to do so.

Case in point: the big controversy over Chick-fil-A. Have you heard about this?

Recently, company president Dan Cathy stated in an interview with Baptist Press, “We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit… We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families.” That was the most “controversial” part of the article I could find. You may read more at

I guess I fail to see the hatred and discrimination against gays in such statements that some others have found. Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno, for example, has gone ballistic. He’s exercising his aldermanic privileges to block Chick-fil-A from constructing a new store in his ward. The Chicago Tribune reported that Moreno referred to Cathy’s “bigoted, homophobic comments” in defending his actions.

Not surprisingly, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has completely affirmed the alderman’s decision, saying, “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values. They disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents.” Hmmm. Any Chicagoans take issue with that?

Elsewhere, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino told the Boston Herald that he would block any attempt for the franchise to open in his city.

Jim Henson Co., creator of Muppets films and TV shows, backed out of a deal to create characters for the chain’s kid’s meals. Instead they donated payments they had received from Chick-fil-A to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination.

What’s going on here? These self-appointed enlightenment police are saying that believing in God’s design for marriage – and being willing to state that publicly – makes you a bigoted hater disqualified for doing business in their land where they give approval and applause to those who are practicing what God says ought not to be done.

How long will it be before you’re asked to state your position on the subject, knowing your answer will determine whether or not you will have the right to buy or sell in the marketplace? Don’t think it could happen? Just watch. The acceptance of homosexual relationships and legalization of same-sex marriage is quickly becoming a defining issue in this land. Not to mention, divisive, explosive and dangerous.

And just for the record, God’s word could not be clearer in declaring it a sin. But like others sins, such as theft and lust and greed and lying and gossip, homosexual sin is not unforgivable. God can redeem anyone out of that, or any, lifestyle! His mercy is deep enough to forgive you and to save you. His power is strong enough to break the chains enslaving you and free you to live in righteousness. His grace is sufficient enough to strengthen you and transform you. He loves us so much that even while we are yet sinners, Christ died for us! The Good News is still good news!

Like I said, I’ve got issues. I can’t keep silent. There’s too much at stake. More than ever, we need the gospel of Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

When a Nation No Longer Fears the Lord...

No matter how “tolerant” we become as a culture, there will still always be some things that are right and some things that are wrong. No matter how we spin the truth or redefine our values, there will still be good and bad, black and white, righteousness and wickedness, morality and immorality, noble and evil.

You can’t just walk into a movie theater or a classroom or an army base and start shooting people. That’s wrong. That’s wicked. That’s evil.

Our contemporary, progressive culture likes to think that what’s right for you may not be right for me, and what’s wrong for you may not be wrong for me. We enjoy making up our own rules and determining our own standards of morality. We like doing whatever is right in our own eyes. Whatever we want. We’re living out the psalmist’s word concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: “There is no fear of God before his eyes. For he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin” (Psalm 36:1-2).

But it’s not working out well at all. 

Acts of violence like we witnessed in Colorado are happening way too often. Why? Because our culture no longer fears the Lord, nor are we teaching the next generation to fear God. And when we no longer look in reverence toward His majesty, when we no longer dread His displeasure, when we no longer have an obedient regard for His sovereign authority, then what’s stopping us from creating our own standards of right and wrong and doing whatever in the world we want? Even if it means killing others. 

Our culture glorifies violence. Look at video games sales. lists the top 10 selling games in June 2012 with titles such as Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Diablo III, Max Payne 3, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3. In case you’re wondering, all these are rated M for combat, horror/suspense, shooting and the like. It’s not Pac-Man or Frogger or Mario. 

These are role-playing games where you shoot people dead. The more people you kill, the farther you advance. And when reports show that gamers spend an average of about eight hours a week playing, well, you do the math. Is it any wonder that some of these combat/killing fantasies get played out in real life?

I could go on talking about the frequency and intensity of aggressive behavior and violence in the movies, television and the internet. But it’s not just that the media and entertainment industry produces these things. The problem is that we’re buying it up.

And it’s not just violence. Our culture glorifies and craves sexual immorality, sensuality, greed and every kind of impurity. So it’s not surprising when all sorts of problems arise, such as pre-marital sex, adultery, divorce, homosexuality, sexual abuse and many others. It’s not surprising when out-of-control greed, gambling and obsession with money and stuff lead to financial ruin and all kinds of evil. It’s not surprising when alcohol and drugs and other addictions destroy families and individuals.

Why? Because we no longer fear the Lord. We have no regard for obedience to God and His holy Word. Instead, we’re writing our own rules as we go along, doing all our stubborn, foolish hearts desire. And we’re reaping the ruinous rewards for it.

Unless this nation begins to steer the ship back to the biblical standards from which we came, from which God shed His grace upon us, we will continue to drift with the current of popular opinion and it won’t be long before we crash upon the rocks.

May God grant comfort and peace to the people in Colorado. And may we the church get down on our knees and pray and seek His face and turn from our wicked ways. The Lord will hear from heaven, forgive our sins and heal our land. Amen.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Come to VBS!

Did you know that our Vacation Bible School just two days away? Parents, grandparents – if you have children from the ages of going into Kindergarten through just finished 6th grade, we’d love to invite them to be a part of VBS. It’s from 6-9 p.m. starting Sunday, July 22. The First Baptist Church is located at 103 W. Sangamon Ave., just one block west of the stoplight.
If you grew up going to VBS then I hope you know how valuable this week can be in the lives of your own children or grandchildren. I’m 40 years old now, but I can still remember some of the songs we sang and some of the games we played and some of the crafts we made in VBS at Trimble Bible Church where I grew up. I remember some of my teachers and some of the great stories of the faith we learned about from the Bible.
In fact, one specific craft I made in VBS I have kept to this day. At least I think it’s still in a box somewhere in the house. We were learning about the 10 Commandments. They gave each of us a wood plaque, a bottle of glue, some lacquer wood finish, and a piece of paper with the commandments printed on it. Oh, and some matches. In hindsight, I struggle to see how somebody thought this was a good idea. You know, how boys like to play with glue, get it all over their hands, let it dry, then gross out the girls by peeling it off. And the matches.
I suppose the point was to give the document a more authentic look. We lit a match and burned away the edges, leaving the 10 Commandments surrounded in a singed frame as if the fire on Mt. Sinai was still smoldering. I don’t recall anybody getting hurt, and the finished product was quite nice. Maybe it would have been better if they spent more time teaching us to obey God’s commands instead of letting us play with fire. They probably did. I probably didn’t listen as well as I should have.
I can’t tell you what our craft leaders have prepared for your children this year. But I hope they won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t involve playing with matches. I do know we have teachers and workers who will love your children with the love of Jesus. Long after the snacks have settled and the songs have faded to memory, we’ll have done our job well if your children come home knowing that God is awesome and He loves them so much that He gave us Jesus. Let your children come to hear that message.
Let them come so that we can tell them about the wonders of God’s power. Let them come so that we can excite them to marvel at His greatness. Let them come so that we can show them a glimpse of God’s love. Let them come so that we can share about the gift of salvation. Let them come so that we can allow God to draw them to faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord.
And parents, the message is not just for children. We want your whole family to come to know Jesus personally. He gave His life on the cross for you, for the forgiveness of your sins – no matter what you’ve done, and to save you from the wages of those sins, which is death and hell. You may not be able to keep those 10 Commandments any better than I can. But Jesus rose from the grave to triumph over sin and death in a glorious display of His power and victory. And He is able to save us by His grace.

Why not call upon the name of the Lord right now? Turn away from sin and turn to Him in faith. Yield your life wholly to Him and experience His love, His joy, His peace and His power in a world that is filled with uncertainty, temptations, trials and pains. Receive the gift of God which is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord, and live in His power and victory. It sure beats playing with fire.