Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ready to go?

The Sunday School teacher asked her class, “How many of you want to go to heaven?” They all raised their hands, except one little girl. After class the teacher asked her, “Why didn’t you raise your hand?” She replied, “I want to go to heaven, but my mother said I have to go straight home after Sunday School.” 

Funny. I mean, who doesn’t want to go to heaven, right? Especially when you consider the alternative, and I’m not talking annihilation or re-incarnation. Heaven ought to be the longing of every soul. We’d be foolish to not want to go.

One of the wisest men of all-time was Solomon, who wrote that God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11), meaning that somewhere deep within each and every soul lies the sense that there is life beyond the present state of existence here on earth. And the Bible does not stutter in saying that the two options are heaven or hell.

So it’s good and right that we should desire to go to heaven, but not everyone does. Heaven is not an automatic destination. 

I’d like to take a vacation to Hawaii. I hear it’s a beautiful place. I’ve seen pictures and talked to people who have been there, and it sounds like a wonderful place to go. If my Sunday School teacher asked who’d like to go to Hawaii, I would definitely raise my hand. But just because I want to go doesn’t mean that I will.

Jesus said it this way, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). This is a sobering truth. Not everyone who wants to go to heaven will be there. Those who will enter the kingdom of heaven will be those who do the will of the Father.

What is that will? It’s to believe in His Son, Jesus. That means to confess that we can’t be good enough to get to heaven. That means to repent of our sinfulness and self-sufficiency and self-rule and self-righteousness, and depend completely upon what God has done for us in Christ, yielding our lives in faith and obedience to Him.

The Bible says this, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Jesus again, in John 14:6, says, “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Friend, there is no other way to heaven. You don’t make it in on the faith of your parents or grandparents. You don’t get there by trying to follow a list of religious rules, by going to church, by being a good husband or neighbor or citizen of the U.S.A.

This week we remember that Jesus laid down His life on the cross of Calvary. When Jesus took the stripes on His back and when He took the nails in His hands, He did it so that we could be saved from death and hell and made righteous before a Holy God. All by the grace of God. All for His glory. And all for our good.

Death is a frightening proposition for most people, but it doesn’t have to be. The grave does not have the final word. On the third day, which we celebrate as Easter, Jesus rose from the dead in a triumphal display of His power and victory over death and over sin forevermore. And He still lives today as the Savior and King, the Everlasting One, who was and is and is to come. And it is by His resurrection victory that we who belong to Him also have the assurance of eternal life with Him in heaven. 

Friend, have you come to Jesus for forgiveness and cleansing from your sin? Are you trusting in Christ alone as your salvation? I don’t know about you, but heaven’s looking pretty sweet to me. What about you? I’m ready to go, even if I don’t make it straight home after Sunday School.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

WWJW - What Would Jesus Watch?

may be one of the few who has never watched an episode of Duck Dynasty. If I had cable, I would, probably, at least check it out. Although if I had cable I might be too captivated with ESPN to ever switch the channels.

But that’s only if I could wrestle the remote away from my boys who would be glued to some absurd braincell-draining attempt at children’s programming on the Cartoon Network. What ever happened to Bugs Bunny or Tom and Jerry? Where did the Super Friends go? Or The Flintstones? Now that was some quality television right there.

Speaking of cable, why is it not yet possible to subscribe only to the channels you want to watch? I don’t need 250 choices. I don’t want 250 choices. Let me pick out the few that I would actually watch and forget the rest. I don’t want the junk that comes with it available in my house. There’s enough poison on the major networks already to make you sick. If it weren’t for March Madness and the NFL and occasional news reports and weather updates, I’d be ready to unplug my TV and drop it at the Courthouse parking lot.

So why is Duck Dynasty such a hit? Isn’t the show about a backwoods Louisiana redneck family with scruffy beards who like to hunt ducks? What’s the draw in that?

I’m told that the Robertson clan enjoys some good clean fun, eats together as a family and aren’t ashamed of their faith in Jesus. Wow! Maybe that’s such a radical departure from just about everything else in the media that viewers are compelled to see what’s going on. Who would have thought a show that doesn’t rely on sexual innuendos or immoral storylines, doesn’t glorify violence or feed an appetite for the perverse, and doesn’t mock Christianity or applaud wickedness could actually attract an audience?

Almost makes you long for the days of I Love Lucy and The Brady Bunch. 

I’m not telling you to take a baseball bat to your 55 inch Panasonic, but don’t you think it’s worth evaluating what kinds of stuff we put before our eyes and in our ears and into our minds? Isn’t it true that a man reaps what he sows? If you are planting filth and perversion and all kinds of wickedness into your mind by consuming the garbage available on TV and every other form of media, your life is going to produce trash.

And parents, if I may be so bold, let me urge you to shield your children from the refuse of the media world. They need you to set and enforce boundaries. You can’t feed them a diet of Pringles and Ding-Dongs and Coke and expect them to be healthy. Neither can you nourish them with the depravity that’s so prevalent in our culture. Be the parent. Set the example yourself, first, and guard their hearts from the waste piles of the world. It may not be easy. Expect a battle. But it’s one worth fighting and winning.

Christians, remember the popular WWJD question? Let me change out one letter and make it WWJW – What Would Jesus Watch? If you, as a child of God with the Spirit of Christ dwelling in you, would answer this before going to the movies, before surfing the internet, before turning on the TV, might it change your viewing habits? Or think on it this way. If Jesus were present in the flesh with you, sitting at your side as a friend, would you still watch the shows you watch? Or would you be ashamed at what you subjected His eyes to see? Oh, be careful little eyes what you see! For the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little eyes what you see.

Our church this week has been blessed in our revival services. God is changing hearts and lives for His glory. He’s convicting us of sin and leading us by His kindness to repentance. He’s compelling us by His love to seek Him and His righteousness. We need a revival of godliness. May God turn our eyes from worthless things to true worship.

In the meantime, I think I’ll start to grow a long, scruffy beard.      

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sing it the way it's written

My wife has a great ear for music. Me, I enjoy music very much. I have an appreciation for good music, which depending on your definition of “good,” can range from such classical pieces as Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” to the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” and all the way to “Goodnight My Someone” from “The Music Man” and the children’s church gem, “God Is So Good.” 

I even like to sing. Not that anybody from Sony has been calling and begging me to sign a record deal, but I do get calls from my boys urging me to stop singing around the house. Secretly I think they like me making up silly songs and being goofy at home, but they would never admit it. 

All that to say that I am a fan of music, but I’m not a musician. Amy, on the other hand, knows music. Her definition of “good” music far eclipses mine. When I get in the car after she’s been driving, I always have to change the radio station from classical music of Bach and Mozart to something that sounds more like TobyMac or Jars of Clay. 

Amy’s also directing our church choir as we are preparing for an Easter musical. You should come, by the way, and hear us on Easter Sunday morning at 10:45. We’re also planning to sing one selection from that piece on the morning our Revival Services start, March 17. If you don’t have a church home, you should come and be our guest. And plan to attend our Revival Services if you can, March 17-20. We’d love to have you. 

So anyway, we’re rehearsing these songs, and I’m telling you, if one person in the entire choir goes off key or gets behind, she doesn’t miss it. And she’s not afraid to stop the music and make sure we all get it right. She knows how the song’s supposed to go, and if it doesn’t go the way it’s written, we need to fix it. She’s tough, but she’s good. 

And the end product sounds wonderful. 

Now what would be so wrong, you may ask, if the choir director just let everyone sing the songs however they felt they wanted to? So what if one or two people are kind of making up their own parts somewhere between bass and tenor? Who cares if an alto wants to hold out a note for an extra beat, or if a soprano likes to take a breath in the middle of a word? They’re not hurting anyone, are they? And besides, who is the choir director to tell somebody else how they should sing? 

It would be a pretty awful and chaotic sound. You know, though, that’s exactly what happens when people start doing whatever they think is right, even if it’s not. For example, the major social and moral issue facing our generation and our state is the “gay marriage” agenda. That part is not written in the score. Somebody needs to say, “Stop the music! You can’t sing it that way. You’re off key. Let’s work on this and get it right.” 

Not everybody has to sing the exact same parts, I get that. But when a couple of basses are defiantly singing the wrong notes and refuse to change and demand that everyone else in the choir accept it, that’s not going to work. Yes, it does hurt the choir, and it recoils the ears of the listening world. The end result is an awful, chaotic noise. 

Listen, God can and has changed the lives of many sinners, including homosexuals, and transformed them by His mercy and grace into living reflections of His glory. He offers forgiveness and cleansing for whosoever repents and turns in faith to Jesus, who gave His life on the cross for the forgiveness of all sins. Don’t reject His gift of salvation! Come to Him, and find rest for your soul. Come to Christ for life!

God has composed life in such a way that when we’re living according to His written Word, it’s a beautiful sound. He knows life better than my wife knows music. There is a right way and there are wrong ways. It’s time to follow His lead.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Hallowed be Thy name

It amazes me how fast time flies when I’m preaching. Perhaps no one in the congregation feels the same way, but sometimes I don’t cover nearly as much ground as I had intended to. Although I often cover some ground I did not intend to.

With that in mind, here’s the rest of what I wanted to say this past Sunday morning. If you weren’t there, I’ll start with some context.

God is holy. He alone is majestic in holiness. He is set apart. He is perfectly good in the absolute sense of the word. He is perfect in power, in wisdom and in deed. There is no blemish on His record. There never will be. He does all things well.

And He is adamant that all men recognize and honor His holiness. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims His handiwork. The winds and waves gladly obey the voice of their Creator. The mountains and the hills break forth into singing, and the trees of the field clap their hands as the sovereign God reigns magnificently over them. Among the gods and idols of the world there is none like the Lord Almighty. He is not interested in sharing the platform of His glory with another.

So as we look at how the Lord spoke through the prophet Ezekiel, we see God’s concern for His holy name. As much as the heavens speak of God’s glory, God has set apart His own people to reflect His glory in this world even more. That was His desire for Israel all along, that they would be a “light for the nations,” showcasing the salvation and grace and mercy and holiness and righteousness and glory of their God.

When Israel rebelled against God, in spite of all the great things He had done for them, His name was profaned. In Ezekiel 36 we see specifically that God indicts them for defiling the land by the impurity of their ways and their deeds. And in His holy and righteous wrath, after repeated calls to repentance were ignored, God scattered His people among the nations in judgment. Even as they came to the surrounding nations, they continued to profane His holy name.

Therefore, God said He was about to act for the sake of His holy name. In other words, He was about to begin of work of restoration for His reputation. It wasn’t because the people were worthy, but for His own glory God showered them with mercy and grace. He said He would gather them from the nations and bring them back to their own land. He would cleanse them from their sins. He would give them a new heart and a new spirit. He would give them His Spirit within them to cause them to walk in obedience to His ways. He would make the fields produce abundantly for them. He would make the desolate land like the garden of Eden and the ruined cities would become inhabited and fortified. Everyone would see it and know that the Lord is the holy and righteous God.

By way of application, this ought to lead God’s people to repentance. If we’re not living by the standard of God’s Word and His truth, then we are likewise profaning the holy name of our God, and we need to confess that and turn from every way and deed that brings reproach to His holiness.

A second application is that this ought to also lead us to long for God’s glory. When we claim the name of Jesus, our lives ought to reflect His glory through our wholehearted obedience to Word of God. Our greatest desire should be to glorify God in all that we do, in all that we say and in all that we think. We should spend our lives in pursuit of holiness, righteousness, faith, love and peace. We should delight in the things God delights in and despise the things God despises. 

If God is so concerned that His name be hallowed and honored as holy among men, that must become our heart’s longing and our life’s devotion as well.