Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Cleansing and Refreshing Forgiveness of Christ

It’s not my favorite thing in the world, but yesterday I mowed the yard for the first time this spring. A few days later than most of my neighbors, but done nonetheless. The first of some 30-40 times this year, I suppose, although I’m not one of those guys who mows his yard every three days. I had a neighbor like that in Ridgway. His lawn looked like a golf course. Mine always looked like it needed to be cut.

Really I’m just glad my mower started. It didn’t want to, and flat out refused, actually. The thought momentarily crossed my mind that perhaps I could get out of mowing and hire someone else to do it. Until I did the math, and even paying $3.95 a gallon for gas is still much cheaper than paying somebody to mow. And buying a new mower, well, that’s not in the budget, either.

Then I remembered that last year when the Bolen threw a fit, my neighbor came over and jump-started it. So I dug out a set of jumper cables and basically forced my lawn tractor into submission. Kind of like how I wish our puppy would learn to stay down off the kitchen table. Not that I’m thinking of using jumper cables to do the job, though.

This year, however, I’m teaching my 12-year-old son to mow. Yesterday he got his first lawn-cutting experience in by taking a few laps around the yard, and did a pretty decent job. Now we’ll see if his mother will let him take a turn with the weed eater.

Perhaps one of the reasons I’m not terribly thrilled with mowing the yard has to do with seasonal allergies. Someone suggested I wear a mask when I mow, but that just doesn’t look cool. Another reason is all the dust that kicks up and cakes from head to toe. Maybe if I took better care of the lawn there wouldn’t be as much dust, I understand. But it is what it is. I just don’t like to be all itchy and sneezy (my spell-checker says this isn’t a word but I’m using it anyway) and covered in dust.

So the first thing that happens when I finish mowing is that I go take a shower. There’s nothing like rinsing and cleansing all the grime away. It feels revitalizingly good. It’s refreshing. Amy lets me back in the house. 

And isn’t that like what happens when we let the Lord Jesus Christ cleanse us from the grime of sin in our lives? The dust of disobedience covers us from head to toe, and our souls itch to unload the guilt and shame of our sin. But when we repent from our sins and turn to Jesus, He forgives our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

King David, as well as anyone, knew what it was to be guilty of sin. Adultery. Conspiracy. Murder. By his own account he said his bones wasted away, he felt the Lord’s hand heavy upon him, and his strength was dried up as in the heat of summer.

But he also knew, perhaps better than anyone, how good it was to be forgiven. When he confessed his sin to God and did not cover up his iniquity, he found this to be true: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Ps. 32:1). You can read his passionate prayer of repentance to the Lord in Psalm 51.

He was refreshed in body and soul. And God let him back in the house.

Friend, can I lovingly urge you to do the same? Don’t pretend that you haven’t sinned. Don’t try to cover it up. You can’t fool God. You need the cleansing that Jesus alone offers. His blood shed on Calvary is the shower of forgiveness that washes away our sins. Yes, even your sins can be blotted out, removed as far as the east is from the west. You can enjoy times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.

The songwriter says it well:

   My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought
   My sin, not in part, but the whole
   Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more
   Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul

Come to Jesus, and see how good it is to be forgiven.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Acknowledging God as Creator

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

One of the most essential, foundational, universal truths exists in this first statement in the Scripture. This fact is as non-negotiable as water is wet and as chocolate pie tastes yummy. The Lord God Almighty created the heavens and the earth.

Every building has a builder. Every novel has an author. Every piece of artwork has an artist. Somebody had to make that chocolate pie. And creation has a Creator.

Of course the Bible is unmistakably clear about this. Not only in Genesis but throughout the Scripture this truth is affirmed in numerous ways. You simply can’t believe the Bible and not believe God is the Creator. Let me offer a brief sampling:

“You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship You” (Nehemiah 9:6). 

“This is what the Lord says…It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry host” (Isaiah 45:11-12).

“Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3).

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (Revelation 4:11).

The list could go on and on. Read through Job 38-42. Read Psalm 136. Read Isaiah 40. Hebrews 1. Colossians 1. Romans 1. God is not only the Maker but also the Sustainer and Sovereign Ruler over His creation.

Personally, I take great comfort in knowing that we’re not just here by chance. The God who set the world in motion and keeps it going is the God who has a purpose and plan for every one of us. He’s the One who loves us and gives new, abundant and eternal life to those who repent from sin and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

But even those who aren’t convinced that all Scripture is “God-breathed” really have no excuse for rejecting this truth. I once heard a preacher on the radio explain it something like this: Look at the watch you’re wearing. Think about every piece of every part that went into making that watch. Before that watch was ever made, imagine if every single piece that it would take to make that watch was lying out on a table. Then imagine if you put all of those pieces into a Ziplock baggie.

How long do you suppose it would take to keep shaking that bag until suddenly all of the parts came together, assembling themselves in the form of that watch to create a timepiece that began ticking and kept perfect time? Not likely! But isn’t that something of how you have to explain the existence of the universe apart from a Creator?

Don’t you just know it somewhere in the depths of your being that there is a Creator – as you stand along the shore of the ocean stretching out so vast and mysterious before you? As you gaze into the sky on a cloudless night and are mesmerized by the multitude of stars and wonder what’s out there. As you plant the tiny seed in the ground and watch it grow to harvest. As you witness the birth of a baby, a new life conceived in the womb and now taking his first breath in the world.

If you’re honest with yourself, that’s got to resonate in your soul. God has made it plain. There is no excuse for not acknowledging Him by honoring Him and thanking Him. I think I’ll acknowledge Him now as I enjoy a piece of chocolate pie!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Serving Jesus Willingly

I want to first of all say thanks to everyone who came to the showing of “Courageous” last Friday night. I told you it was a powerful film. That makes three times I’ve seen it now, and I believe it hits home a little harder each time.

Let me also say thanks to a terrific group of volunteers from the church that made this evening possible. From the ladies working the kitchen to the childcare workers to the greeters and usher and counselors and everybody in between, thank you for caring about families in our community and serving Jesus willingly by serving others.

Speaking of serving Jesus willingly, let me introduce you to a man named Sam Winger. For 21 years Sam has willingly served the needs of the needy in the name of Jesus through Serving Jesus Willingly Urban Ministries in Springfield.

Our church had the pleasure of getting acquainted with Sam this past weekend. On Saturday we had a group of nine children and seven adults participate in Children’s Ministry Day. Our team’s ministry assignment for the day was to work on site at SJW on South Grand Ave. The day consisted primarily of sorting clothes for give-away, dismantling and disposing of an unsolicited organ donation (the kind with keys and pedals, as opposed to say a heart or kidney or something), eating lunch, which was the days’ highlight for some, and doing yard work. 

We were paired with another church group from Medora, IL. Together, and with the children doing most of the work, in just three hours we filled nearly 40 yard bags with leaves, sticks and thousands upon thousands of sweet gum balls. 

Can I just say how encouraging it is to see so many children getting involved in such meaningful service toward others? It wasn’t just our group. We were one of about 50 churches across Illinois participating in this event. Nearly 700 children and their adult leaders (many parents) spent Saturday making blankets for crisis pregnancy centers, playing games with residents at nursing homes, collecting canned goods for the hungry, delivering food to firefighters, making cards for the elderly and much more. If you’re tempted to look down upon today’s youth, you should have been there Saturday! 

But perhaps the best thing about the whole day for us was meeting Sam. I don’t have room to tell you much, but I will tell you that Sam’s heart for helping others puts mine to shame. At 75 years of age he doesn’t have to do this day in and day out. As a widower he doesn’t have to put the needs of others first. But he does, and does it willingly. There’s always a song in his heart and often on his lips. 

And let me say the center of why he is so willing is Jesus. His mission is to bring Christ, “the hope of glory,” to those without hope. His statement of faith goes like this: “We believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died to save all mankind from their sins, and that He is our only Savior…” That’s why Sam does what he does. 

Then talk about serving! Sam gives away clothes, food and household items and provides emergency help as needed. He also gives away Bibles, prays for his community, leads men’s Bible studies, and looks for every available opportunity to spread the Good News. Each month his ministry serves some 200-400 people in Springfield. 

Serving. Jesus. Willingly. 

I’m also glad Sam came to worship with us in Petersburg Sunday morning. He shared more of his love for the Lord and his love for others. I hope it becomes contagious. I need to get infected with this kind of love, and I pray it for the church as a whole. I think we’re getting there! Maybe the children will keep passing the bug around! Maybe the movie night volunteers will keep it going. Let’s keep serving Jesus willingly!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tornado Hits Close to Home

Last week’s tornadoes in Southern Illinois hit a little too close to home. Our former home, anyway. Prior to moving to Petersburg in August last year, we lived in Ridgway, IL, the “Popcorn Capital of the World,” home of the Dinger baseball bats, and a town now recovering from the devastation an EF-4 twister left behind as it quickly roared through the village early last Tuesday morning.

Most of the media coverage appropriately focused on Harrisburg, where six people were killed, over a hundred injured and hundreds of homes and businesses damaged or destroyed. I did not personally know any of the deceased, but some of my pastor friends in Harrisburg conducted their funerals over the weekend.

Ridgway is about 20 miles east of Harrisburg, a town of about 900. Nearly half of the village’s 400 structures have been damaged or destroyed. Thankfully no lives were lost. The house we used to live in was not damaged, but homes only a block away suffered great loss. The local hardware store was demolished. And a particularly visible and majestic landmark, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, was practically reduced to a pile of rubble. 

As far as I’m aware, the building with the painted mural highlighting the Ridway Eagles’ 1973 State Basketball Championship – the year in which they defeated the Porta Blue Jays on their way to the title – still stands. Just thought I’d let you know.

The St. Joseph’s church was like the Titanic, magnificent in appearance and seemingly indestructible. If you have a chance to go online to view some of the pictures of this church building, try to find what it looked like before the tornado inflicted its wrath. It’s hard to believe it’s gone.

On one hand a church building is just a building. It’s a structure made of brick and mortar, wood and stone. It’s a lifeless piece of property.

But on the other hand, any church member will tell you there’s an undeniable emotional and spiritual attachment to the building. For many in the heavily Catholic community of Ridgway, their own forefathers erected the walls of that building with their blood, sweat and tears. Many have sacrificed financially and physically to maintain and improve the building. Generations of family and friends have been baptized there, raised there, married there and buried there. It’s more than just a building.

Personally, many of the friends I had in Ridgway were Catholic, which may come as a shock to some old-school Baptists and to hardline Catholics! But I say that to say that I hurt for them in this loss. On Sunday I had the chance to speak on the phone with my friend Stephen Beatty, St. Joseph’s priest. While he understands the sorrow this tragedy has brought upon the members and the community, he’s also very encouraged the church will emerge stronger than ever. As he said reflecting on recovery efforts, “The church is not the building. The church is the people going around picking up bricks.”

True indeed. Our God is a God who brings good out of trouble. He is a Shelter in the storm, a Refuge for the hurting, a Healer of the broken and an ever-present Help in time of need. Friend, may I say that whatever storm you’re going through today, look to the King who sits enthroned above the raging rapids, the howling winds and the fiercest downpour. He is the faithful and Almighty One who gives strength to His people, turns their mourning into dancing and clothes them with gladness.

Yes, weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5). That storm hit pretty close to home, but God’s strengthening His people, drawing the lost to seek Him, and getting the glory through it. May His name be praised!