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.