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.