Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Following the Star

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” – Matthew 2:1-2
Was there any chance the journey of the magi would end without finding the King of kings? I say no way. 

God had given these wise men a sign from heaven – a brilliant star – to guide their journey. He had given them a desire in their heart to come and worship the King. And when they put feet to their faith in pursuit of the One worthy of their treasures, the Lord magnificently rewarded their quest. 

“When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” - Matthew 2:10-11 

Do you know, friend, that when you seek the Lord with all your heart, you will find Him? And when you find Him you’ll, too, rejoice with great joy, worshiping Him as King and offering your treasures in glad and grateful adoration. 

When king David neared the end of his life, his gave this charge to his son, Solomon: 

“Know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him he will cast you off forever” (1 Chronicles 28:9). 

God will not hide himself from those who truly seek him. He is not elusive. He will not lead you astray. He will not leave you with regret. He will not disappoint. 

But He will reward your earnest, seeking faith. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). 

He delights to reveal Himself to those who seek Him with longing hearts. To those who cry out to Him in brokenness, in despair, in trouble, He is never far away. To those who refuse to be satisfied with a superficial knowledge of the Savior or ritualistic religion, and are willing to pursue Him wholeheartedly, the Lord is pleased to grant greater revelations of His glory than most men will ever know. 

Do you need a star to help guide your way to Jesus? Seek Him through the Bible and it will glow for you. Seek Him in the church and the light will shine. Seek Him in prayer through the power of the Holy Spirit and you will discover His glory radiating in brilliant display. Keep following the star and you’ll soon find the joy of worshipping the King of kings. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Wonder of the Impossible

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God. – Luke 1:34-37
Let’s leave room for the wonder of the impossible this Christmas, and see what miracles God has in store.

Not the wonder of how Santa gets down the chimney to put gifts under the tree. Not the wonder of how reindeer know how to fly. Not the wonder of, “How in the world am I going to pay for all this stuff?” And not the wonder of, “What on earth was I thinking when I invited all these people over for dinner?”

Leaving room for the wonder means letting God be God. Let’s face it: we don’t often understand the ways of God. We don’t always know how He does what He does or even why He does it. But that’s okay. Since we can trust that He is perfectly good, we don’t have to know all the details of His plans. It’s okay to leave room for God to accomplish His will in any way He wants, through whomever He chooses, using whatever means He desires. Mary certainly did. So did Elizabeth.

For truly there is nothing impossible with God. If He can create life through a virgin womb, He can certainly create a way for you where there seems to be no way. If He can open the womb of a barren woman to conceive, He can open up a way for you through the most impossible circumstances you face.

Your lonely heart is not impossible for God to comfort. Your addiction is not impossible for God to break. Your broken marriage is not impossible for God to fix. Your illness is not impossible for God to heal. Your sin is not impossible for Him to forgive. Whatever you’re facing today that seems impossible to you is not too difficult for God.

“Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17).
Turn in faith to the Lord God this Christmas through Jesus, and in wonder watch Him do the impossible.

And if you don’t have a church home, let me invite you to join us this Sunday morning at 10:45 at the First Baptist Church in Petersburg for a Christmas worship celebration. Then on Christmas Eve, next Tuesday, we’ll gather for a special Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at 9:00 p.m. We’d love to welcome you!

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Great Nevertheless

It’s “The Great Nevertheless.” It is the heart of the Christmas season and, indeed, of life itself. It is the remedy for the deepest miseries we face; the cure for the darkest of despairs. And it just may be the Christmas miracle you need this year.

In the days of Isaiah the prophet, in the 8th century B.C., the people of Israel were just about as rebellious against God as they could be. The Lord had blessed them in such abundance with His goodness and mercy that they should have been forever loyal to Him. He promised His very presence among them, that He would be their sanctuary, their strength, their Savior. But rather than turn to Him in faith, they turned their back in spite.

They were looking to make unholy alliances with the wicked Assyrians for their protection, when they should have been trusting in the mighty hand of God. They were seeking the fortune-tellers, mediums and spiritists for direction and guidance when they should have been consulting the wisdom of God. They did not regard the Lord as holy. They did not have a reverential fear of Him. They did not wait upon the Lord nor trust in Him. They failed to recognized the signs and wonders that He had done in their midst, and they ignored the promises He made in His Word.

Hmmm. It’s a good thing we’re not following that path today, huh?

Instead of walking in His light, they were stumbling over the Living Stone, and the Lord said they would fall and be broken in His judgment against them for their sin. They would be ensnared and captured. They would wander through the land dejected and hungry, and when they become famished they would become enraged and curse their God and King. They would look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness, and the gloom of anguish. And they would be thrust into utter darkness.

The situation could not have been more dire. Perhaps, friend, you’re in a situation today that could not be darker. Whether by your own sinful desires and decisions, or by circumstances far beyond your control, maybe you find yourself facing the deepest gloom of anguish you’ve ever known.

Let me introduce you to “The Great Nevertheless.” After Isaiah spells out the case against Israel, he then offers them a hope of grace and glory that is yet to come that would shatter the shadows of gloom forever – a hope offered to you, as well:

“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress...The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned…” (Isaiah 9:1-2).

There it is, the great “Nevertheless.” God gives His people a promise that He will shine a light upon them so great that it will dispel the darkness and distress eternally. And He would do it by sending forth a child to be born, His very own Son, Jesus, the Word who was made flesh and dwelt among us. And the darkness wouldn’t stand a chance. 

Christmas is all about the coming of Jesus Christ from heaven to earth, bringing salvation to mankind, turning our darkness into light, our anguish into glory, our sorrow into joy, our oppression into freedom, our terror into triumph and defeat into victory. 

It’s a message of hope and salvation, this great “Nevertheless.” That though our sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow. Though weeping may endure for the night, joy comes in the morning. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

If you’re in need of a Christmas miracle this year, trust in Christ as your sanctuary, your strength, your salvation – and you’ll be walking in the light of life. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Welcome, October!

Last week I said that The Observer ought to cover the PORTA football team, and, lo and behold, I bought a copy of the paper and right there on the front page was a great write-up of the game. I didn’t see a byline, but to whomever wrote that article – nice job! 

October has always been my favorite month. On the sports front you’ve got football season in full swing, post-season baseball (yes, Cubs fans, there is baseball in October), and even basketball practices get started. Sorry, hockey fans, I’ve tried to like your sport but I just can’t. It’s a good time to be a sports fan. 

Weatherwise, I enjoy the cooler mornings and warmer afternoons, and the transformation of the leaves into beautiful fall colors always highlights the season. “For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy” (Psalm 92:4). There’s even some good motorcycle riding left in October. 

Then there’s the fact that my birthday is in October, the 12th to be exact. I suppose everyone’s favorite month is the one in which their birthday falls. Maybe I’m just a kid, but I secretly still enjoy the special attention. However, with my youngest son’s birthday coming just two days after mine, much of that attention over the past nine years has been diverted to Toby. Oh, well. I’m going to stop counting pretty soon anyway. 

And to top off October, I’ve found out that along with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, National Book Month, National CyberSecurity Awareness Month and National Bullying Prevention Month, among a host of others, this is also Pastor Appreciation Month. 

A couple of weeks ago I came home to find two long-bearded thugs in my garage messing around with my motorcycle. Listen, if there’s anything you don’t do, you don’t mess around with another man’s wife and you don’t even think about touching his motorcycle. But before I could show them my best Karate Kid “Crane Kick,” it turns out the intruders were installing a new windshield on my bike. The whole operation, as I understand, was even being financed by a couple of tough gangs in town that like to refer to themselves as “Senior Men” and “The Ladies” Sunday School classes. 

I would say the whole thing smells fishy to me, but not as fishy as the Jay Leno line someone posted on Facebook recently: “The National Aquarium in Washington is going to close. But don’t worry. If you’re in D.C. and you still want to smell something fishy, stop by the White House. They’ve gone from ‘Change you can believe in’ to ‘Changing the story until you believe it.’” Oh, the things I could say about the state of our political absurdity and chaos. America voted for change, and we’re sure getting it. 

Last week I got a letter in the mail from my current health insurance provider stating that the new law (Obamacare) requires that I have maternity benefits. Talk about change! All I know is that if my wife finds out that I’m pregnant, heads are gonna roll!

If I could change anything about October it would be our culture’s fascination with the dead, our appetite for fright and enjoyment of all the ghosts and goblins and witches and wickedness we see around Halloween. Clearly for a Christian, we are called to walk in the light of Christ Jesus and have nothing to do with the deeds of darkness. And yes, I’m talking about the horror movies and TV shows portraying (and glorifying) all sorts of violence, gore and death. I’m talking about haunted houses that feast on terrifying young and old with evil images, scary scenes and the dread of darkness.

“God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Christ Jesus has called His followers out of darkness and into His marvelous light. Jesus said, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46). You’re not walking in the light when you’re walking through dark haunted houses, watching horror movies or reading books about zombies.

There is so much more, so much that’s better and true and good and wholesome and hope-filled and peaceful and life-giving when we’re living by the light of Christ Jesus and shining out that light into the darkness of the world. And let me offer my appreciation to my fellow pastors who preach that word of the gospel. May the Lord bless you and His church as you stay faithful in the work! Enjoy October!


Thursday, October 3, 2013

"Smarter than my Dad"

“…and that’s the day I got smarter than my Dad,” Toby grinned as he talked with me about what he was going to tell his friends at school. Unfortunately, I could hardly disagree with him. 

After all, when he pointed out the nail in the front driver’s side tire, it really was a bonehead move for me to pull it out. And that against my 8-year-old’s counsel to leave it in. I’m not sure what I expected to happen. Maybe that it would not have actually pierced the inner tube or that perhaps it would not leak, miraculously. Hey, if Jesus can stop the wind from blowing on the sea, surely He could stop the air from leaking from my tire.

All I know is that nails do not belong in tires, and I wanted it gone. Of course, the hissing that immediately followed my blunder quickly deflated my pride and served as confirmation to Toby that he just got smarter than his Dad. 

At least I can still beat him in arm wrestling. Wish I could say the same about my 13-year-old. We usually end in a draw, but I should note that he always wants to take me on when my right arm is already physically exhausted from playing the guitar or writing newspaper articles or strenuous texting. I think they must be beefing him up in football. 

Speaking of football, the PORTA Junior High teams are doing well. If you missed the home games, you’ll have to travel to catch the last couple away, but it might be worth the trip. The 8th graders are undefeated (as of this writing) so far this year, having gone 8-0 last year. They have some great players on the team, but the coaches have really drilled the fundamentals of the game into them, taught them well, praised them enough but not too much, and have been tough on them when needed. Go watch a game and you’ll see how well they execute. 

Then, speaking of football (again), was last Friday night’s homecoming game not one of the most thrilling high school football games you’ve ever seen? Big plays, clutch catches, blocked kicks, fumble recovery, Manning-like offense for Auburn, an AP-like running game for the Bluejays, overtime, an extra point through the uprights for the win. You name it, this game had everything but defense as PORTA electrified the home crowd with a 56-55 overtime win. Great job, Bluejays! Go take down the Bullets this weekend!

The Springfield paper had a nice write-up of the game in Sunday’s Sports section. They reported Jesse Setzer carried for 359 rushing yards breaking the school record set in 1988 by Bart Jones. The article also noted the Auburn QB threw 7 touchdown passes – also a school record. I’m one of those guys who will watch a game and then want to read about it in the paper the next day. I even like box scores. Weird, huh?

Somebody ought to cover the football team for The Observer. Even if you get the news nearly a week later, I think people would be interested in reading about our high school sports, wouldn’t they? I would so do it, too, if I weren’t already busy messing with car tires and arm wrestling with my boys.

Amy might write this one up in her journal. I thought it would be good for the boys to learn how to change a tire, so I had them come out to the garage with me, to learn from the master. Space will thankfully spare me from embarrassing myself here, but let’s just say it didn’t go as well as I would have hoped. Big thanks to Bill Hodges for bailing me out! I probably should have had Toby walk me through it since he’s smarter than me.

Finally, a biker’s wave goes out to the guys who rode their motorcycles for Bike to Church Sunday last week! Even had one pedal in to church. Next step, we need to get a group together and ride! Just want to let everyone know, even bikers, there is room at the cross for all who turn in faith to Christ Jesus. Hope to see you Sunday!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Does God grade on the curve?

How good do you think you have to be in order to go to heaven? You may have wondered about this from time to time. Thinking about things of eternity is healthy. It’s heavy, too. We’re so often caught up in just getting through the day that we hardly have time to think deeply. We’re so ingrained in our culture toward the 20-second sound bites, reading headlines, scanning Facebook posts or 140-characters or less tweets, that’s it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep our minds engaged in weighty matters without getting easily distracted. But heaven is a topic worth contemplating long and hard.

So, how good do you think one has to be? Does God grade on the curve? Everyone knows that no one is perfect, so do you just have to be better than most? Or, as long as you’re good most of the time, isn’t that good enough? If you’re a faithful spouse, a loving parent, a productive employee or a model citizen, is that good enough to go to heaven? Or does it take all that plus volunteering at the blood drive, working at the food pantry, coaching your kid’s soccer team, helping with 4-H and giving money to charity?

How good is good enough for God? Is regular church attendance good enough? What about serving on the missions committee or teaching a Sunday School class? What about ministering at the nursing home or chaperoning the next youth group outing? Now that ought to earn you a special seat in heaven if anything will, right?!

It’s impossible to be perfectly good, but surely, at least if you don’t do anything terrible like killing someone or abusing children or robbing a bank that ought to score some points you can cash in for eternal rewards. Won’t there be some kind of heavenly scales with all your good deeds going on one side and your bad deeds on the other, and whichever outweighs the other will determine whether you go to heaven or not?

Somebody once jokingly said, “My greatest fear is standing behind Mother Theresa in the Final Judgment line and hearing God say to her, ‘You know, you really should have done more.’” 

Friend, let me tell you what the Bible says: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). God says that because we have all sinned, we all fall short of His glory. That is to say, that no one can be good enough to go to heaven. You can list every good work on your resume and hand it to God at the gate, but it won’t be enough. God is perfectly holy and righteous, and we’re not. There is no amount of good things we can do to earn a seat in heaven. In fact, because of our sin, what we really deserve is death, eternal separation from God in hell.

But here’s the good news: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)! Whosoever! That’s you! That’s me! In His great love and mercy and grace, God has made a way possible for us to be saved from death and hell and saved to eternal life in heaven. That way is by believing in Jesus as Savior and Lord of your life. That means repenting of your sins and trusting in the forgiveness Jesus offers to you by His death in your place on the cross and in His triumphant victory over the grave.

The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9), but no matter what your past has been like or what your present condition, you can be made righteous in God’s eyes through faith in Jesus and through Him only. And no, even Mother Theresa won’t get in based on what she’s done. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Neither you nor I can be good enough to go heaven, but we can receive by faith the “gift of God which is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Why not come to Jesus today?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Back to Church

If you haven’t been to church lately, why not come this Sunday? Whether that’s the First Baptist Church, or the one you belong to but, you know, it’s been awhile since you’ve been there, matters not, as long as they worship Jesus as Lord and Savior, teach truth from the Bible and don’t serve lethal doses of red Kool-aide.

What are you doing this Sunday anyway that’s more important than encountering Almighty God in worship? Oh, you have a good excuse for not going to church? I totally get where you’re coming from. Here’s why I stopped going to ballgames:

1)      Whenever I go to a game, they ask for money.

2)      The other fans don’t seem to care about me.

3)      The seats are too hard.

4)      The weather is too cold/hot/rainy/windy.

5)      The coach never visits me.

6)      The referee makes calls I don’t agree with.

7) Some of the games go into overtime and make me late for dinner.

8)      The band plays songs I don’t know.

9)      My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up.

10)  I know more than the coaches do anyway.

11)  I can be just as good a fan at the lake.

[* For the record: This list is not my own. It's out there in many variations in various places. I would cite the original source if I knew it.]

Okay, you’re right. I haven’t stopped going to ballgames. It would make me a hypocrite to say one thing and do another, and I don’t really want to give you any more ammunition to skip church because of all the hypocrites there.

I’ve read of motivational speaker Zig Ziglar inviting a friend to go to church with him. The man answered, “Well, I’d like to go, but the church is so full of hypocrites.” Ziglar responded, “That’s okay. There’s always room for one more.”

So, what’s your best excuse for not going to church? Any of the above sound familiar? Or, do you have a real, valid reason, like, “Someone in the church offended me”? Here’s my tender, kind-hearted, pastoral response to such an excuse: “Get over it.”

Seriously. Get over it. Forgive them and go on with life. Don’t let one person keep you from a right relationship with God. “But I love God,” you say. “It’s just that I can’t stand to be around His children.” And if that’s your attitude, then let me ask you how many friends you have who can’t stand your own children? I didn’t think so.

The Bible commands us to forgive one another. That’s not optional, nor conditional. I’m not saying your hurt isn’t real or that the wound is not deep. But your love for the Lord is revealed in your obedience to His commands, and your disobedience to the Lord reveals your lack of love. Regardless of whether the other person has admitted wrong or apologized, your job is to obey, “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). Nobody said following Jesus would be easy.

Let me challenge you to stop making excuses and come back to church. If you’re a professing Christian, you do need to be part of the fellowship of God’s people. You need the church body and the body needs you! (See 1 Corinthians 12 for details.)

Here’s what will happen. You will be welcomed with love and joy, not loathing and judgment. Whether you’ve been away for years or have never set foot inside the doors of the church for fear the walls will cave in, go to church this Sunday.

To be upfront, it’s not merely church attendance we want for you. We want you to know and love Jesus, love His people and get in on His mission to reach others with the gospel. That happens in the context of church. Come, encounter God in worship!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

What's your story?

Well, it’s only taken two years, but I finally got a tire swing hung up for Toby over the weekend. I should have done it two years ago. That was one of his favorite things to do at our previous house, and he was disappointed to not have a place for one here. So after lopping off a few low hanging branches, we found a place for it. I don’t like to get in a big hurry about things.

Two years, though, is how long we’ve been in Petersburg now. Some days it seems we just unpacked yesterday, and other days it feels like we’ve been here for years. Maybe I’m remembering wrong, but didn’t I have a full head of hair when we arrived?

Seriously, it does take some time to adjust to a new environment, but the church has received us as family in the Lord, and the community has welcomed us well. We’ve made an effort to get involved in some community events, and certainly our children’s school activities have given us many opportunities to get to know people.

If I haven’t yet met you, I’m sorry. Juggling church-related ministry, home life and all the extra-curriculars proves to be challenging and time-consuming. Feel free to come up and introduce yourself, though, if you see me out and about. I’d love to chat with you and hear your story.

Everyone has a story. Your upbringing, your circumstances, your experiences, your passions, your decisions, your attitudes, your worldview, your investments, your family, your friends, your work, and more, all weave together in creating the narrative of your life. Each story is unique. Some are pleasant, some are painful. Some are inspiring, some are tiring. Some are full of light and truth, some are full of darkness and deception.  

What’s your story like? How have you arrived at the place where you are today? Are you happy with what’s been written so far? Grateful? Angry? Encouraged? Disappointed?

Think about what’s already happened. You can’t change the past nor can you relive it. Maybe you’d like to, but what’s been done can’t be undone or duplicated. The next chapter starts with a blank page, just waiting to be written. What will it say? How will your choices and reactions and attitudes contribute to what the future holds?

Listen, I don’t know your past. I probably don’t know much about your present, and I certainly don’t know what’s in your immediate future. But I do know your eternal destiny will come down to this: Those who repent from sin, embrace Jesus as the Son of God and follow Him as Lord and Savior will be forever with Him in heaven, while those who reject Jesus are condemned already because of their unbelief.

The final outcome of your story does not have to be dictated by your past. If you’ve not yet come to a point of turning away from sin and believing in the good news that Jesus Christ came from heaven to earth, died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins and rose to everlasting life, then let me urge you run to Him in faith today.

No matter what your life’s been like so far, we are all sinners in need of a Savior. Jesus is the Savior we need and for which our souls long to embrace. Jesus is the light of the world, and whoever follows Him will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12).

Why not start that next chapter with an opening line something like this: “And then Jesus came to my rescue.” Then see how the light starts shattering the darkness.

That’s my story. And if I can help you along the way, please let me know. That’s what we’re here for as a church. Don’t waste another day. Do what you should have done two years ago, or more. Some things are worth getting in a hurry about.

Been awhile...

I see that I haven't posted anything here for over two months! Not that I've been flooded with e-mail from loyal readers wondering what's going on. But for those interested, I'll try to get back on track.

Most of what I do post comes directly from what I submit to the Petersburg Observer, our weekly newspaper, which they are kind enough to publish. So if you do not receive that paper, or just prefer reading online anyway, then here you go.

And, yes, feel free to respond with comments. I'd love to hear from either one of my readers.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

VBS is coming soon!

And finally, to whichever little guy left the Block Party without his size 6 Garanimals sandals, we found them and would be happy to return them to you.

Did you know that our Vacation Bible School is coming July 21-25? That’s less than four weeks away! Good thing they don’t give me much to do. Just show up, hang out, smile and look pretty. I think I can get three out of those four things done anyway. 

Let me encourage you to plan on bringing your K-6th grade children for a terrific week of VBS. We might do it a little differently than when you were a kid, but there’s still upbeat music, tasty snacks, fun crafts, crazy rec games and solid Bible stories. 

Here are two things I can guarantee will happen.

One, we will show the love of Christ to your children. We’ll show it by words and actions of kindness and respect toward your children. We’ll reflect it in the way we enjoy the time getting to know them. We’ll display it in our attitudes of servant leadership. We’ll do it by providing a safe environment with proper behavioral boundaries. We’ll do it by praying for your children and by sharing the good news of salvation with them. We’ll model it in the 1 Corinthians 13 style of biblical, Christ-like love.

No, we’re not perfect, and we won’t love perfectly. Honestly, it’s not even in our human nature to love others like Jesus. But we have been given a new nature in Christ, and in the power of His Spirit abiding in our hearts we let Him live in us and do the loving through us. So we can’t even take the credit if we get this right. If we love well, then to God be the glory, and that’s our number one desire anyway!

Two, your children will come home and drive you crazy with continual singing of the songs they’ll be learning. Not that driving you crazy is our goal, you understand. Just saying you may have to raise your own crazy bar higher to allow your children to sing at home, in the car, at the grocery store, in the doctor’s office or wherever else they may be when the urge to unloosen the tongue hits.

Remember, while such singing may start pushing the needle on the crazy-meter into the yellow (I’m a parent, too, and I have my limits, as well), these songs are rich with the truths of God’s Word that you want them to hold in their hearts. Think about it. You may not have a single verse in the Bible memorized, but you can probably sing “Jesus Loves Me” and “Amazing Grace” and others word for word. Music drives the message home and helps it stick. Praise God for what our children will be learning through those songs that may drive you and me crazy!

So, if I haven’t deterred you from bringing your children or grandchildren or nieces or nephews or stray neighborhood kids you happen to find along the way, we’d love to invite you to come to Vacation Bible School! The dates again are July 21-25, Sunday through Thursday, from 6:00-9:00 each night. The last night will include a Family Night opportunity for you to come and see what the kids have been doing all week. It will be held at the First Baptist Church, 103 W. Sangamon Ave., just one block west of the only stop light in town.

Speaking of VBS, many of our former VBS children are now in our youth group and are continuing to learn and grow in the faith and serve others for the sake of Christ. This Sunday, June 30, why not come and hear from many of them about their recent mission trip? Some of them will also be leading in music. We are blessed with leaders who invest in our young people for the advancement of the kingdom of God, and youth who have a heart to follow after Jesus. Join us in worship this Sunday at 10:45 a.m. for a special time of encouragement in the Lord!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Block Party thank you's and Father's Day encouragement to Dads

To everyone who attended our Block Party last Friday night: Thank you for coming, and I hope you enjoyed the event! We were delighted to welcome you. The Lord blessed us with terrific weather, a great turn-out, an outstanding group of servant volunteers and lots of donated cakes. If you left without getting a cake, I’m sorry, but hope you were able to make up for it with some Sno-Cones or cotton candy.

To the New Jerusalem Singers: Thank you for doing an awesome job! You all played some great old gospel songs, were flexible with the schedule and conveyed a joyful, Christ-like spirit in your music. Thanks for letting me sing along on the last one, too! When you make it to Nashville, don’t forget us little people.

To Bob Swaar: Thank you for bringing your train ride over to Petersburg! You were a hit! It looked like every ride was packed. The kids (and adults) loved it, and it seemed to me that you were having the time of your life, as well.

To those who filled out a prayer card: We are praying for you. Sometimes life gets messy, and maybe it’s not turned out at all like you hoped it would. Let me remind you that God is able to help you in your time of need. He is able strengthen you in your weakness, comfort you in sorrow and surprise you with peace and joy in the midst of life’s hardships. Keep calling upon His name, and we’ll be on our knees with you.

To the First Baptist Church: Thank you for investing your time and resources to make this a wonderful community outreach event! Yes, it was a lot of work, but I hope you saw the some of the fruit of your labor in the precious faces and bright smiles of the children and their families. Our mission continues to mean glorifying God by shining the light of Christ Jesus into our neighbor and throughout the nations. The fields are still white unto harvest, the laborers are few and the gospel is still the power of salvation to everyone who believes. Let’s keep going in the power of the Holy Spirit!

To those who may be looking for a church home: I hope you’ll join us in the journey. We’re not a perfect church. We’re made up of people who have walked the same path you’re on right now. We’ve got baggage, too. But we know that in Jesus we have been washed clean from our sins, are being made holy in the image of Christ and are looking forward to better things (heavenly things) yet to come. We’ve found that God is our Refuge and Strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Ps. 46:1). We know that He is our Good Shepherd, the One who is Faithful and True, whose love is unfailing with mercies unending and grace overflowing though we’re undeserving.

We’ve not “arrived” spiritually, but we’re growing and learning to trust and obey our Savior more and more each day. We’d love for you to experience what it means to have a saving relationship with Jesus, what it means to be a part of the family of God, and what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Why not come and join us this coming Sunday at 9:30 for Sunday School, 10:40 for worship? I think you’ll be glad you did.

And finally, to all the Dads doing your best to raise your children right: Thanks for being there for your sons and daughters. You have an incredible responsibility, yet an awesome privilege. I know because when I look at my own two boys I am reminded of what a blessing this is, but also what an overwhelming task lies before me. There’s only so much time we have to shape and guide and train them in the way they should go, and I don’t know about you, but I want to honor the Lord in the way I raise my boys. Let’s set them a godly example by our own lives, men, and be intentional about investing in them, praying always for them, and instilling the truth of God’s Word and the way of righteousness into their hearts. It’s not always easy, but by God’s grace we can do this.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Free Block Party Time!

If you don’t already have plans for this Friday night (June 14), from 5-8, let me invite you to our Block Party. Bring the whole family, because there really is something for everyone. We’re at the corner of 7th and Sangamon (Petersburg, IL), just one block west of the only stoplight in town. 

For the children there will be the big inflatable bounce house, which is really a great opportunity to bounce as high as you can and crash land into the walls and other small children while laughing and giggling all the way. With arms and legs flying all over the place, there’s a good reason why they make you take your shoes off before entering.

Another inflatable is the Bungee Run. That’s the one where you’re hooked on to a large bungee cord, you take off running and when you reach the end of the rope it jerks you back, you go tumbling and everyone has a good laugh at your expense. 

We’ll also have other games and prizes that the young ones enjoy, as well as do some face painting. Just don’t let your kids ask for a Cubs logo on their cheek because we’d rather keep the atmosphere positive. Oh, and Sno-Cones, popcorn and cotton candy. 

Personally, I’m not a big fan of cotton candy. What is cotton candy anyway? Sugar swirled on a stick? My stomach can’t take too much of that, nor do I really want to end up with sticky stuff all over my face and fingers. But if you don’t mind your kids bouncing off the walls on a sugar high and getting everything they touch sticky, then go for it. Mine will probably do the same. 

Back this year we’ve also invited Bob Swaar to come over with his train ride! Then there’s the dunk tank, the ever-popular cake walk (I bet County Market loves it when churches or other organizations have a cake walk), and free hot dogs and hamburgers and chips for everyone.

And for your musical enjoyment, do we have a variety of entertainment scheduled for you! From 5-6, Christian rap/hip hop artist Zach Ayappa will be on stage. Zach was here last year and got the crowd up on their feet when he broke it down and dropped the beat. If you want to see Zach and get your shirt signed, or your back as at least one young man did last year, then be there early and be ready to hip and hop.

The other end of that spectrum will feature The New Jerusalem Singers, a Southern Gospel group complete with cowboy hats, vests, bolo ties and at least one pink country guitar. If that’s a little more your style, then make sure you find your way over to the stage area around 6, and, yes, feel free to tap your toes, clap, raise your hands or even dance if you want to. 

Did I mention that everything’s free? No tickets, no armbands, no cover charge. The First Baptist Church desires to glorify God by shining the light and love of Jesus into our community, and this is one way we do that. As much as we want you to enjoy the event and have fun, we also want you to see the joy of Christ in us, and ultimately to be drawn to Him by God’s grace through faith. We’re not in business to sell you anything. Our prayer is that you will receive “the free gift of God [which] is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). 

This year we are also making available a prayer station. If you have something going on in your life you just want someone from the church to pray about with you, we’d be glad to do so. We really do care about you, and this is another way to show it. 

So we hope to see you along with the whole family this Friday night! Maybe we’ll even provide a hand washing station for all those sticky fingers!


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

In awe of our Creator

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

That’s not complicated. I’m not saying I understand exactly how it all came together scientifically, but I have a feeling that any explanation would be way over my head anyway. I am good with knowing, “And God said, ‘Let there be light’” and land and sky and space and seas and plants and trees and sun and moon and stars and living creatures of every kind, including the ones He made in His very own image – mankind.

Not everyone believes this to be true. Some subscribe to the Big Bang Theory, a complicated theory of the universe’s origins which, for most, dismisses the role of a Creator. And some adhere to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, another awkward, complicated attempt to describe the process by which the human race stepped out of the swamp and onto the scene. Again, most who endorse Darwinism exclude God from the picture.

The Bible does not endeavor to provide a defense of God as the Creator, nor does it seek to detail the scientific process by which God created all things. It simply says that He did create the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. It’s stated as a matter of fact, without apology, so that we might stand in awe of our Maker’s might and power and purposes and creativity and beauty and sovereignty and reign over the world; and ultimately, that we might trust in Jesus for our salvation from sin and death.

Not only in Genesis, but throughout Scripture this truth is affirmed. Here are just a few additional glimpses of God’s revelation as Creator given to us in His Word.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers” (Psalm 24:1-2).

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-14).

The psalmists praised the Lord God for the wonder of His creation, and we would do well to do likewise. Read more in Psalms 8, 50, 65, 97, 104 and 121 for starters.

The Lord also answered Job by speaking of His creation and sovereignty: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements…Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds it garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’” (Job 38:4-11).

Take a few minutes and read the entirety of God’s conversation in Job 38-42, and see if your heart does not melt (like Job’s) in awe of God’s greatness and power.

And what does God tell us in Isaiah? “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? Says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see. Who created all these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing…Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 40:25-26, 28).

I could go on, but I think you know that the Bible does not stutter nor confuse the issue. Today, why not acknowledge our Creator and worship with the heavenly beings, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11).

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Don't ignore this great salvation

Who’s ready for some summer?! With the weather finally warming up and school winding down, baseball season in full swing and hot dogs cooking on the grill, I say let the summer begin! Now, if someone would only come and clear out all the gnats and mosquitoes so that we could actually enjoy the outdoors, that would be great.

Congratulations, by the way, to all the PORTA High School graduates. I trust that even as you look forward to all that lies ahead, you will also look back with gratitude for those who have invested their lives in yours. Your parents and family, teachers, coaches and administrators, and many others have helped guide and shape your life. And I’m sure to see you walk across that stage will bring a wide smile to their face and fullness of a good kind of pride on the inside.

I was pleased to see quite a number of the graduates and their families attend Baccalaureate Sunday night. In addition to some excellent singing by several graduates, you heard a straight from the heart, straight from the Bible kind of message from Pastor James McMillion, and I hope you were paying attention. He spoke the truth, exposing the foolishness of living in sin and pointing the way to wisdom by living in Christ. I can only say “Amen,” and let you know that I’m praying for you to choose Jesus.

Seriously, choosing to follow the way of the Lord is a no-brainer. As the Bible says in Hebrews 2:3, “How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” The answer to this rhetorical question is, “We won’t.”

Jesus has come to bring great salvation to “whosoever believeth in Him.” He lived the perfect, sinless life that neither you nor I could live. He died a sacrificial death on the cross, taking our place, bearing the righteous wrath of God for our sin and removing every trace of rebellion from our permanent record. He then defeated and defied death, flexing His muscle in victory over sin and the grave by rising on the third day and sitting even now in the seat of authority and power at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Friend, I’m telling you, greater than the might of any earthly army, greater than the accomplishments of any Billboard artist or Nobel Prize recipient, greater than a blue ribbon at any music or athletic event or any county fair, Jesus has destroyed the one who holds the power of death and has delivered us from the wages of sin that we might rise with Him to everlasting life in heaven. “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).

Please don’t ignore this great salvation. If Storm Team 20 Chief Meteorologist Ric Kearbey says you’re in the path of a deadly tornado and you’d better take shelter immediately, how foolish it would be to neglect the warning, grab another bag of Doritos and switch to Cartoon Network like nothing’s happening.

I’m saying look out the window and check out the size of that funnel cloud! Hear the oncoming roar and know that you need to find a way of escape! The storm of God’s judgment against those who reject His great salvation is on the way, and there is no way out if you ignore the one and only One who is mighty to save – Jesus.

Sadly, many people choose to neglect this salvation to their own peril. If you don’t think God could possibly bring such judgment, read about what happened in Noah’s generation. Look at what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah. See what punishment God brought upon Israel when they refused to obey His commandments.

Friend, I’m urging you to turn to Jesus. He will rescue you out of the darkness of sin and deliver you into the kingdom of light, where life in Christ is abundant and where heaven will be eternal glory, free from tears, pain, death and mosquitoes forever.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Where the heart is

In a couple of weeks my family and I are planning to go “home.” We’ve had the joy of seeing e-mail, text and Facebook photos of our three little nieces who have all been born within the past three months, but we’re really looking forward to seeing them face to face. Pictures stir the heart, but seeing them and holding them completes the joy.

All three of my siblings and their families, as well as my parents, live in my hometown of Robinson, IL. It’s only a three and a half hour drive, but it sure is hard to find time to visit, especially when you “work weekends” and kids are in school and have all kinds of extra curricular activities going on. 

So even though I haven’t lived there for 24 years, it’s still home to me. I went to college at ISU in Normal (Amy’s hometown), got married and lived in Rockford for eight years, moved to Kansas City for three while going to seminary, was called to Ridgway (IL) in my first pastorate where we served for seven years, and have now been in Petersburg for nearly two. That’s probably more information than you wanted to know. 

But if you’re still reading, I’m giving you a little of my life story to say that “home” is a term I use loosely. Perhaps you’ve moved around the country so much you can’t even identify with the concept. If your parents are gone and siblings scattered, there may not be such a place you would even call home anymore. 

You’ve heard the expression, “Home is where the heart is.” I think somewhere deep inside we all have a longing for belonging. Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came (wish I would have thought that line up myself).

God has wired us in such a way that we want to share our heart with family and friends. We need each other to help bear the weight and carry the load. We need the encouragement and support, and sometimes the caring correction that comes in close relationships. We’re made to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. We want to love and be loved, to trust and be trusted, and know that at the end of the day, no matter what, somebody will be there for you.  

We want a place to call home. And while this life provides that in part, it’s kind of like seeing pictures of what’s yet to come. There’s joy in good relationships, but it’s not a complete or perfect joy. Friends can come and go. Family may even let you down. And death is a common enemy to all. 

Here’s the deal. Our heavenly Father has also wired us to long for something better, an eternal home, where our joy will be perfected, where “the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 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 21:3-4). 

So we live in this world as strangers and aliens, longing for a better country, looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. As believers in Christ Jesus our true citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await the return of our Savior to bring us to that dwelling place He’s gone to prepare for us. 

That’s where my heart is. And while my heart is stirred by going “home” to visit family, there’s a greater and more complete and perfect joy in knowing that someday I’ll see Jesus face to face. 

If your heart longs to find a heavenly home, come join us this Sunday in church and we’ll tell you about it. Or better yet, call me today. I’ll buy you a cup of coffee, open up the Bible and let Jesus speak truth to your heart.       

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Grace for Mothers and Others (which is better than UGLY)

So, one of the most lucrative made-for-Hallmark holiday moments is right around the corner, and if you haven’t bought your mother an obligatory card or a token gift you’re probably going to be banished to the island of Unequivocal Guilt Levels You (aka, UGLY), where all of the bad children go when they fail to come through on that one particular day of the entire year when how you treat your mother makes all the difference. 

I’m not against mothers, you understand. I was born to one, as you probably were, too. And I have been incredibly blessed to have been raised by a wonderful, godly mother. You may have been, too. Praise God for mothers who fear the Lord and train up their children in the way they should go! 

But if you detected a hint of sarcasm in that opening paragraph, I assure you my objections are aimed not at mothers but at the disproportionate value attached to that one day. I could literally be a thoughtless, ungrateful, disrespectful, rebellious jerk of a son for 364 days of the year, but if I score a nice card and a decent gift on Mother’s Day, I’m good for another year. On the other hand, if I treat my mom like a queen throughout the year but blow it on Mother’s Day, it’s UGLY for me. 

Okay, that may not be exactly how it works, but there’s some validity there.

All I’m saying is that we ought to honor our mothers every day. If it helps you to have a special day once a year to remember to do that, fine. But in light of the fact that, first of all, we are commanded by God to do so, and secondly, that our mothers have poured more love and care and prayer into us than we’ll ever know, we should make every effort to show them honor, appreciation and love while we have the opportunity.

I’m done ranting now.

With that said, I also realize that Mother’s Day is not a happy time for everyone. I know of some moms who have lost a child, and the pain of this day for them is unbearable. Other mothers have children who have wandered far from the faith in which they were raised. Still others are reminded of the grief and shame of having aborted a baby, and others of the fact that they didn’t do such a great job of being a mom.

It’s true that not everyone has had a good mom. If that’s your case, then please know that I truly hurt for you. May the Lord God himself shelter you under his wings of love and protection that you might rest securely in his abundant grace.

Speaking of grace, maybe you’re a mom who knows that you’ve blown it. What can you do but fall upon the mercy and grace of a great God and Savior whose arms are strong enough to catch you, the One who is also more than able to make a masterpiece out of a mess? Yes, even you! A favorite song of mine says it well:

There is grace and forgiveness
Mercy and healing
He’ll meet you wherever you are
Cry out to Jesus.

Maybe you’ve been living on the island of UGLY, but I assure you on the authority of the Word of God that there is hope and a way of salvation for you. Jesus didn’t come and lay down his life on the cross for perfect people. He came for sinful wretches like you and me. Don’t think your sin is too much for him to bear, either. He came for thieves and liars and adulterers and prostitutes and lepers and murderers and the demon-possessed. It’s all in the Bible; look it up.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). You may be a wretch, but you’re also a “whosoever,” and, praise God, his amazing grace has saved a wretch like me! He can save you, too, dear friend. Cry out to Jesus, and you’ll find grace.

And by the way, I did get a card and gift for my mom (or at least my wife got it for me), just in case you were wondering.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Confident faith in Christ through the chaos of life

The news has been wild and crazy lately. I’m not really a news junkie, but probably watched more TV coverage than I needed to. The Boston Marathon bombings and ensuing manhunt for the suspects proved to be excruciatingly riveting drama. Then you had the fertilizer plant explosion that rocked West, Texas, leaving more trauma in its wake, which would have been headline news for a week if not for Boston.

There was the mind-numbing shooting in the small town of Manchester not too far away just last week which left five family members dead, with a six-year-old girl barely surviving the senseless attack.

On top of that we’ve been dealing locally with major flooding issues in our own state and in communities not far from here. The mayor of Beardstown has declared a state of emergency as he watches the river rising on the way to record levels. My family and I had been keeping a pretty close eye on the waters rising from the Sangamon River and creeping through the field across from the parsonage. Thankfully the Lord set the boundaries and the waters receded before reaching the house. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Life is filled with uncertainty, chaos and calamity, but Jesus fills us with peace and comfort and hope in the midst of the confusion. God does not intend that we live in fear, but in faith. And when we know Him as our Sovereign Lord, our Strong Tower, our Great Shepherd and our Mighty Defender, we can rest safely in His arms even though the world may come unglued all around us. 

The villainous adversary, the prince of darkness, the mastermind of mayhem may wreak havoc of every sort in this world and in your life, but his schemes and his power are no match for the supreme Ruler of heaven and earth. Yes, the battle is fierce as we face temptations of every kind, waves of sorrow and grief, encounters with despair and hopelessness and trials that threaten to undo us. But God is greater! The King of glory is the Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle, who is able to save and rescue and deliver us from every confrontation and tribulation known to man. 

Are you resting securely in Him? As the old song goes:

What have I to dread?
What have I to fear?
Leaning on the everlasting arms
I have blessed peace
With my Lord so near
Leaning on the everlasting arms
Leaning, leaning
Safe and secure from all alarms
Leaning, leaning
Leaning on the everlasting arms

In one the Bible’s most familiar stories, a young shepherd boy named David was squaring off against a towering opponent in one of the greatest UFC matches of all time. The giant struck fear into the heart of every warrior. No doubt even the announcer would have trembled in saying, “In this corner, standing over nine feet tall, weighing in at a mass that’s off the scales, wearing a bronze helmet and 125 pounds of body armor… ladies and gentlemen, the heavyweight champion of the world – Goliaaaaath!” 

Las Vegas had the odds so high you couldn’t even place a bet. But the giant was no match for the one whose trust was in the name of the Lord. David could never defeat this enemy on his own, but he had absolute confidence that God would be victorious. “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel,” (1 Samuel 17:45). And indeed, the battle belonged that day to the Lord, and the knock out was a stunning upset. 

Friend, if you will put your trust in the name of the Lord Almighty, He will be your help in time of trouble. He will be your shelter in the raging storm. He will be your deliverer in seasons of despair. He will be your rock of refuge and your strong fortress when the darkness closes in. He will be your shield and defender from the attacks of the enemy. And don’t you know that the Lord Jesus will be your salvation from sin and death, for “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). 

This world may get even crazier, but God will never be defeated or dethroned. 

He cannot fail
He must prevail
Have faith in God
Have faith in God!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Come get your pardon

Here's a story I used in church recently about the depth of God’s desire to show forth His mercy and His grace. This comes from the files of the great preacher D.L. Moody. I'll add my thoughts in the closing paragraph.

When I was in Ohio a few years ago, I was invited to preach in the State prison. Eleven hundred convicts were brought into the chapel, and all sat in front of me.

After I had finished preaching, the chaplain said to me, “Mr. Moody, I want to tell you of a scene which occurred in this room. A few years ago, our commissioners went to the Governor of the State, and got him to promise that he would pardon five men for good behaviour. The Governor consented, with this understanding—that the record was to be kept secret, and that at the end of six months the five men highest on the roll should receive a pardon, regardless of who or what they were. At the end of six months the prisoners were all brought into the chapel. The commissioners came; the president stood on the platform, and putting his hand in his pocket, brought out some papers, and said – ‘I hold in my hand pardons for five men.’”

The chaplain told me he never witnessed anything on earth like it. Every man was as still as death. Many were deadly pale. The suspense was awful; it seemed as if every heart had ceased to beat. The commissioner went on to tell them how they had got the pardon; but the chaplain interrupted him.

“Before you make your speech, read out the names. This suspense is awful.”

So he read out the first name, “Reuben Johnson will come and get his pardon;” and he held it out, but none came forward.

He said to the warden, “Are all the prisoners here?” The warden told him they were all there. Then he said again, “Reuben Johnson will come and get his pardon. It is signed and sealed by the Governor. He is a free man.”

Not one moved. The chaplain looked right down where Reuben was. He was well known; he had been nineteen years there, and many were looking round to see him spring to his feet. But he himself was looking round to see the fortunate man who had got his pardon. Finally the chaplain had caught his eye, and said, “Reuben, you are the man.”

Reuben turned round and looked behind him to see where Reuben was. The chaplain said the second time, “Reuben, you are the man;” and the second time he looked round, thinking it must be some other Reuben. He had to say three times, “Reuben, come and get your pardon.” 

At last the truth began to steal over the old man. He got up, came along down the hall, trembling from head to foot, and when he got the pardon he looked at it, and went back to his seat, buried his face in his hands and wept. When the prisoners got into the ranks to go back to their cells, Reuben got into the ranks, too, and the chaplain had to call him, “Reuben, get out of the ranks; you are a free man, you are no longer a prisoner.”

And Reuben stepped out of the ranks. He was free!

Friend, this can be your story of freedom and breakthrough! Only God doesn’t base His grace upon your good behavior, for there is no one righteous. We have all sinned and deserve the just penalty of death. But, praise God, in His mercy He offers a pardon to whosoever will receive it by repentance and faith in Jesus. The liar, the thief, the adulterer and the homosexual. The greedy and the arrogant. Even the murderer who detonated the bomb in Boston. And you. Will you take it?

Whatever you’ve done, whatever you’ve been, freedom can be yours in Christ Jesus today. Come and get your pardon!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Let's Pray

In recognition of National Day of Prayer on Thursday, May 2, allow me to share with you the following prayer from Pastor Greg Laurie, this year’s Honorary Chairman of the NDP Task Force. And let me invite you to come and join together with fellow believers from various Christian denominations at 12:00 noon on the south lawn of the Menard County Courthouse as we call upon the name of the Lord.

The theme verse for this year’s event is taken from Matthew 12:21, “In His name the nations will put their hope.” Indeed, as Isaiah prophesied long before Jesus was sent from the Father into our world, Christ is the only One who offers true, everlasting hope. 

The hope of the nations will never be found in a President or in the next American Idol or rising sports hero. The hope of the nations will never be found in the latest medical breakthrough or greatest technological advance. The hope of the nations will never come in stock market gains, peace treaties, government policies or Hollywood productions.

Jesus is the hope of the nations. He is the Creator and Sustainer of the heavens and the earth. He is the Sovereign Ruler and Supreme Justice. He is the King of righteousness and King of glory. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty! He is our Rock and Redeemer, Provider and Protector, Comforter and Friend. He is the Shelter in the storm, the Tower of Refuge, our Shield and Defender, our Shepherd and our Savior.

And friend, may I say to you that not only is Jesus the hope of the nations, but He’s the hope of the longing of your soul. Put your trust in Him, for He is the hope that will never fail and never disappoint. He is the living hope, an anchor for your soul, because He has conquered death by rising from the dead and lives forevermore. 

If our nation will return in humble repentance and trust in Christ Jesus, we’ll find the steadfast and sure and unshakeable hope of resting securely on the faithfulness of Almighty God. And so will you. As you read through Pastor Laurie’s prayer, please internalize this and make it your own prayer to God on behalf of this land.

Father, we come to You to pray for our nation, the United States of America.

How You have blessed us through the years, Lord! We rightly sing, “America, America, God shed His grace on thee.” Yet we see trouble in our culture today. We see the breakdown of the family, crippling addictions, and random acts of horrific violence. 

Lord, we need Your help in America. In recent days, we have done our best to remove Your Word and Your counsel from our courtrooms, classrooms and culture. It seems, as President Lincoln once said, that we have “forgotten God.” But Lord, You have not forgotten us! You can bless and help and revive our country again.

Scripture tells us that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). Lord, in Your mercy, we ask that You would exalt our country again. We have had a number of great awakenings in America. We have experienced times of refreshing, and revivals that changed not only the spiritual but also the moral landscape. As the psalmist said, “Will You not revive us again, so that Your people may rejoice in You” (Psalm 85:6)?

That is our prayer for America today, Lord. Send a mighty spiritual awakening that will turn the hearts of men and women, boys and girls back to you. You have told us if we will humble ourselves and pray, and seek Your face and turn from our wicked ways, that You will forgive our sins and heal our land (2 Chronicles7:14).

Forgive us today, Lord, and heal this troubled land that we love so much.

We ask all of this in the name of Jesus Christ.