Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Free Gifts Are Awesome: Motorcycles and Salvation

So in case you haven’t yet heard, last week I won a Harley Davidson motorcycle in a raffle drawing. Read that again: I won a Harley Davidson motorcycle! On a ticket that I didn’t even buy. Talk about some unbelievable news! This sounds too good to be true. And if it turns out I’m dreaming, don’t wake me up.

When Bo Collins called from Tallula and told me I had won, my first reaction was to think this was some kind of prank. I’ve often joked around with others about wanting to have a Harley, and the conversation has even made its way into Sunday morning sermon material occasionally. But never did I actually plan on getting a motorcycle. At least not anytime soon. I thought somebody was pulling a good one on me.

But when he invited me to come on over and see for myself, well, it was worth the effort even if I was being set up. Then when I got there the crew insisted I go ahead and sit on it, start it up and take it for a spin. Nobody in their right mind would let me ride their bike if this were not for real. Although, it wasn’t until Bo handed me the title that it truly sank in that I was now the owner of a Harley Davidson motorcycle.

It’s not a brand new Harley, and it’s not a Super Glide Custom or a Heritage Softail Classic. Maybe some day. It’s a used 1988 Sportster 883. But, man, if somebody’s going to give you a bike, believe me, you take it and you’re thrilled!

But there’s better news than that! I didn’t deserve the gift of a motorcycle, and somebody else paid the price for it. Nor do I deserve the gift of eternal life, and somebody else paid the price for that, too. Only the gift of eternal life is one that will last forever and ever. Someday that bike is going to quit working, rust out, get stolen or crashed. But the gift of salvation will never quit, never fail, never disappear and never disappoint. There’s no greater gift than the salvation God offers in Christ Jesus the Lord.

See, I was a sinner, by nature and by choice, like everyone else. I don’t deserve heaven, and neither do you. We’ve all sinned against the holiness of God, whether a little or a lot. There is no one righteous, not even one! And the Bible clearly says that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a). That’s what we all really deserve: death!

But thank God that He made a way for us to be saved from death, and saved to everlasting life! He displayed the greatness of His love for us in that “even while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus lived the perfect, sinless life that we never could, and His blood shed on the cross became the only way in which our sins could be forgiven and our hearts made perfectly clean. He paid the price for us.

Yes, the wages of sin is death, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23b). Talk about unbelievable news! Maybe you think that’s too good to be true, but isn’t it worth finding out? If I had not believed Bo when he called, I would not be the owner of a Harley today. And, friend, if you don’t believe in Jesus as the Son of God, then you’re not the owner of eternal life, either.

The gift is offered freely, “for everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Jesus is handing you the title to eternal life! The question is: will you believe Him and receive Him as Savior and Lord? Will you call upon Jesus today and be saved from death to life? Not even the thrill of riding a motorcycle holds a candle to the thrill of living everyday in the power and strength of Christ Jesus.

On a final note, I’m looking forward to seeing you at the First Baptist Church’s block party this Friday evening from 5-8. Let me personally invite you to come and bring the whole family for free food and games, fun activities, live music, a cakewalk and a whole lot more. Should be a great night for a community get-together!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Delighting in the God of the Word

The end of May is an exciting time in life. The weather’s warm, the days are long and there are so many great outdoor activities to enjoy. The school year is ending, the kids are all abuzz about summer, and vacations plans are being drawn up. Man, sometimes it just feels good to be alive!

I’m getting excited about our church’s block party coming up on Friday night, June 1, from 5-8. That’s next Friday! This will be my first taste of what I’m told is quite a community event. Let me just say, you’re invited to come and enjoy the fun. We’ll have free food, live music, children’s games and activities, the big inflatable bounce house and games, a cake walk and much more. Bring the whole family and let’s have a party!

And speaking of end of school stuff, let me again say congratulations to the Class of 2012! I had the honor of speaking at this year’s Baccalaureate service at PORTA High School last Sunday night. What an outstanding group of young men and women representing the school and the community. It was humbling to be able to address them and pray for them, and I’m grateful for the experience.

The message the Lord gave me for the students came from Psalm 1. This psalm highlights the blessings God pours out upon the one who follows His ways, while warning the wicked of the disastrous outcome of their way. And when it comes down to it, there’s really only two ways to live: the way of the righteous or the way of the wicked.

Verse 6 of Psalm 1 says this: “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” Friend, let me assure you that the Lord indeed watches over the way of the righteous. He’s got His eyes on them, guarding their way and guiding their steps. He never leaves them nor forsakes them. He provides for their needs, comforts them, cares for them, protects them and satisfies the longings of their souls.

God is not stingy in His blessings toward His people, but generously showers them with mercy and grace all the days of their lives, while assuring them of His promise that they will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. 

And let me add that these “righteous” are only made righteous through Jesus. The Bible clearly says that there is no one righteous, not even one (apart from Christ). You can’t be nice enough to be righteous. You can’t give enough money to the church or charity. You can’t volunteer at the food pantry or teach Sunday School or do anything else to become righteous. That’s why we need a Savior!

Jesus did what we are incapable of doing – living a perfect life. That’s why His atoning death on the cross and His triumphant resurrection from the grave provide the only means of our salvation. “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

The question is this: Whom will you follow?

The one the Lord blesses is the one who does not follow the ways of the ungodly world. He does not follow the foolish advice of godless people. He does not follow the rebellious road of those who reject God’s commands. Why would he? The way of the wicked will perish. It is a useless path that leads only to destruction and death.

Rather, the one who receives the blessings of the Lord finds his delight in the Word of God! He can’t get enough of it! To him the words of Scripture are treasures far more valuable than silver or gold. Because that’s where we encounter the Holy One of God, whose word brings abundant, victorious and eternal life.

God’s richest blessings await those who delight themselves in the Word of God and in the God of the Word. May those blessings be yours as you follow Christ Jesus!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What's America Asking For?

“God bless America.” What do we really mean when we say that? Does this phrase mean anything at all? Are we truly addressing God as Lord and asking for His blessing, and are we willing to be the kind of people that God would indeed bless?

You may know that last week President Obama came out in an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC News that he now favors same-sex marriage. He had been waffling on this issue for some time, having supported it while running for state office in Illinois in 1996, but in campaigning for Senate in 2004 and then President in 2008 saying that he believed marriage is the union between a man and a woman.

He has more recently said that his feelings about this issue are constantly “evolving.” Of course, his actions as President have displayed his real stance on the subject. While saying he opposed same-sex marriage, he has done just about everything in his power to promote the social causes of homosexuals and undermine the traditional view of marriage.

Even last week while North Carolina became the 30th state to vote to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, President Obama publicly expressed his disappointment at the result. His evolution on this matter comes as no surprise.

I want to go on record to publicly express my disappointment in a leader who claims to be a Christian but seems to have no regard for the Word of the Lord. How can our nation expect God to bless us when we spurn Him at every turn? How can we continue to reject His instructions and then call on Him to bless America? How can we say we want His blessing but refuse to do things His way?

God has clearly spelled out His design for marriage. Jesus responded to critics in His day concerning divorce by saying, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6). Wouldn’t the same answer apply to critics today who want to redefine what God has intended from the beginning? 

In the book of Judges, a telling rebuke on the sinful, rebellious attitude of Israel in that day reads, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Couldn’t that be said of us today in America?

And in Romans 1:17, the Bible says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” That passage goes on to talk about how men who claimed to be wise became fools, because although they “knew” God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Specifically, it mentions how “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity…and dishonorable passions…, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:24, 26-27).

And we have now a President who, as a professing Christian, ought to know God’s Word about such things, but gives approval to those who practice them. If we follow this course we are asking not for God’s blessing on America, but His wrath.

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). If we really want God to bless America, let the people of God humble themselves and pray and seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways. God will hear from heaven, will forgive our sins and heal our land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Relating to One Another in the Church

Lord, give your church your heart for loving one another.

"Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"  Matthew 22:37-39

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."  John 13:34-35

"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."  John 15:12-13

"This is my command: Love each other."  John 15:17

"Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves."  Romans 12:10

"Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited."  Romans 12:16

"Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law."  Romans 13:8

"Love does no harm to its neighbor."  Romans 13:10a

"Therefore, let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put a stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way."  Romans 14:13

"Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God."  Romans 15:7

"I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no division among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought."  1 Corinthians 1:10

"But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other."  1 Corinthians 12:24b-25

"You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other."  Galatians 5:13-15

"Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other."  Galatians 5:26

"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love."  Ephesians 4:2

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."  Ephesians 4:29

"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."  Ephesians 4:32

"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."  Ephesians 5:1-2

"Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs..."  Ephesians 5:19

"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."  Ephesians 5:21

"...being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."  Philippians 4:2b-4

"Do not lie to each other..."  Colossians 3:9a

"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which bind them all together in perfect unity."  Colossians 3:12-14

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God."  Colossians 3:16

"May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you."  1 Thessalonians 3:12

"Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other...Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more."  1 Thessalonians 4:9-10

"Therefore encourage each other with these words."  1 Thessalonians 4:18

"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idel, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else."  1 Thessalonians 5:11-15

"But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness."  Hebrews 3:13

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the day approaching."  Hebrews 10:24-25

"Keep on loving each other as brothers."  Hebrews 13:1

"Brothers, do not slander one another."  James 4:11a

"Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!"  James 5:9

"Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed..."  James 5:16a

"Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart."  1 Peter 1:22

"Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble."  1 Peter 3:8

"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others..."  1 Peter 4:8-10a

"All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'"  1 Peter 5:5

"But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin."  1 John 1:7

"This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another."  1 John 3:11

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers."  1 John 3:16

"And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us."  1 John 3:23

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God."  1 John 4:7a

"Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us."  1 John 4:11-12

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

Let me be the first to send out a Happy Mother’s Day greeting to all the wonderful mothers in Petersburg - and from wherever you've logged in throughout the world wide web. 

I see you rocking your baby to sleep at three in the morning. I see your tender touch as you hold her in your arms. I see you beam as you describe the way you’re sure she said, “Momma,” even though to everyone else it sounded more like, “hmbmh.” I see you making the choo-choo train sounds as you vainly attempt to slide a spoonful of mashed carrots into her mouth. You may feel like nothing more than a diaper changing machine sometimes, but you do it all in love for your baby.

I see you, young mother, getting your children up and fixing breakfast, helping them get dressed and off to school. I see you staying up late to help them with their homework. I see you getting them involved in baseball and softball and swimming and soccer and karate and gymnastics and cheerleading and dance and music and art and Boys Scouts and 4-H and all that stuff. You may feel like a taxi service many days, but you want the best for your children, and you’re there for them in love.

I see you, mother of teenagers, struggling to figure out who this person is in your home, and what he did with your son. I see you praying for her late at night when nothing you say seems to get through to her. I see you giving them more responsibilities and freedoms, yet still guarding and protecting their precious and pliable hearts. You may feel sometimes like you’re beating your head against a brick wall, but you’re not about to give up on them, you’re not going to lose them, and you’re never going to stop loving them.

I see you, military mom, unable to hold back the tears as you watch your son or your daughter march off to the unknown. I see you raising your flag and proudly standing by his side from across the ocean. I see you nervously watching the news and waiting for the phone to ring and breathing a prayer of relief when you hear her voice again. You may feel like you’re living in a surreal world, but you’re hanging in there and your love has never been stronger.

I see you, precious grandmother, raising up your grandchildren just when you thought you’d already done this once and were ready to move on to real grandparenting, where you could spoil them and hand them back at the end of a long day. I see your loving patience and your kind wisdom as you brace for the challenges today and for the years yet to come. You feel like this wasn’t what you signed up for, but your love for those poor little ones fuels you and you’re just glad to be able to do it.

And I see you, dear mother, who has suffered the excruciating heartbreak of losing your child. I see you who have grieved for your child who was miscarried. I see your tears and your pain, though more importantly, God sees your hurt and He knows the tears you’ve cried and He cares you with a compassionate, empathizing love, for He too knows what it’s like to see His Son die. 

I see you, barren woman, who so desperately wants to have a child, but it hasn’t happened and you don’t know why. I see your cries to the Lord and your frustration over His silence. May your trust rest in His unfailing love and salvation.

I see you, mother of regret, who has lived with the silent anguish of having aborted your child. O, woman, there is forgiveness and healing in the name of Jesus, whose blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins is sufficient for cleansing away all guilt and shame.

And I see you, godly mother, leading your children to know and love the Lord. I see you teaching them to honor and obey His Word. I see you displaying His gentleness and humility, His mercy and grace, His kindness, forgiveness and compassion and patience. I see you embody His servant heart in the way you interact day by day with your children. I see you longing to impress His truth upon their hearts, and I see you on your knees interceding with them before the Father in heaven. I know you're not perfect and sometimes you feel like a failure, but your love is reaching their hearts and they are growing strong in the faith, largely because of the example they see in you.

Keep pressing on, mom, and know that God is using you in shaping the lives of these precious children into the image of His own Son.

To you all, I say Happy Mother’s Day. May God bless you richly.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Loving God and Loving Others

Some thoughts from 1 John 4:20-21 as I prepare to preach this morning "Living in Love and Living Love Out."

"If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this command we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother."

You simply cannot hate your brother and be a true Christian. Many professing Christians say they love God, but they don't love one another. And they're living a lie.

You can talk about knowing God, you can talk about being in the light, you can say you have fellowship with Him...but the proof is not in your words; it’s in your actions. Specifically, it's in your obedience to the Lord's command to love one another. You may do a lot of other things in the church, serving in various ways, putting money in the offering plate, singing in the choir, teaching Sunday School, and a host of others, but if you’re not loving one another you’re living in disobedience to Christ's command, and you really don’t know Him at all. You’re not walking in the light. You’re not in fellowship with Him. You don’t have eternal life.

So examine your life. Take a good, long, hard look at your heart. 

If this word hurts, then good. Better for it to hurt now while you can still do something about it, than for it to hurt later when it's too late. Listen, you don’t want to be deceived this whole time thinking you’re good, that you’re in...and then stand before the Lord Almighty on that day of judgment and hear Him say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” And you will say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” And he will answer, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. – Matthew 25:41-46

O God, teach us to love. Forgive us for when we've failed to keep this simple, yet essential command. Help us to love one another. We can't do it on our own. We need your help. We need your love to flow through us if we're going to do this love thing well at all. Give us a heart of compassion, of mercy, of grace. Open our eyes to see the needs of people all around us who are hurting and broken and in need of your love. Give us courage and faith to step out and meet those needs. Let us do it in your name, and in the power of your Spirit within us. Amen.