Thursday, December 25, 2014

Good News of Great Joy for All the People

No, the announcement of the Savior’s birth did not come first to the religious elite in the hallowed halls of Jerusalem, nor to the political powers in Rome, and not even to the CNN News Room in Atlanta, but to common, poor shepherds in the fields outside of the little town of Bethlehem as they kept watch over the flocks by night.

Lowly, powerless, insignificant, nameless shepherds. Hardly the movers and shakers of their day. Shepherds who were accustomed to facing all kinds of fears and bearing the stigma and shame of high society. How often do you suppose these shepherds may have wondered if God noticed them at all? If He really cared for them? Or if He even existed? Life certainly wasn’t blowing them any kisses.

Yet on that night with the brilliant light of God’s glory shining about them, and with the joy they discovered when they found the baby lying in the manger, every question was answered and every doubt and fear erased. This message of good news of great joy is indeed for all the people. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). And even these shepherds recognized their great significance in the eyes of heaven.

Friend, no matter how lowly or insignificant you feel, or how shamefully others may treat you, how common, poor, powerless, hopeless or helpless you feel, this message of salvation through Jesus Christ the Lord is still good news of great joy for all people. You are of such great worth in the eyes of heaven that Jesus came to give His life for you. The depth of God’s love for you is demonstrated at the cross, where mercy flows freely and grace abounds richly to all who believe.

Let me invite you to come and hear the First Baptist Church choir reprise “The Song of Christmas” this coming Sunday night, Dec. 28, at 6:00. We presented this musical this past Sunday, and if you heard it I think you’ll attest that it’s worth hearing again and worth inviting a friend to come with you. All are welcome and encouraged to come.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

10 reasons to rest assured that I'm officially in the Christmas spirit

Just in case you’re still wondering whether or not I’m a Scrooge, here’s a Top Ten list of reasons to rest assured that I’m officially in the Christmas spirit, whatever that means, exactly.

1. I wish people “Merry Christmas,” rather than Happy Holidays. If you want to say Happy Holidays, that’s fine with me. I take no offense. Just don’t take offense at me wishing you a Merry Christmas, either. And if your store chooses to eliminate the word Christmas from its vocabulary and advertising campaign in in the name of political correctness, then don’t be surprised if I do my shopping elsewhere. Which probably isn’t a big deal to you anyway since I don’t really do much shopping. So there.

2. I have a Christmas decoration in my office at church. As a matter of fact, it’s Santa Claus in a black leather jacket, dark sunglasses, jeans and boots riding a big red motorcycle. And when you start the engine he rocks out to “Born to Be Wild.”

3. We have a Christmas tree up at our house with all the ornaments we’ve accumulated over the past 21 years, and then some. And there’s a star on top. Not like the exploding trees they have on display at the Festival of Trees. What’s up with that anyway? Somebody needs to explain to me the concept of why the tops of all the trees look like somebody blew something up.

4. Gifts. When it comes to giving and receiving gifts, mostly receiving, I’m still like a kid at…well, Christmas.

5. The Nutcracker. The family and I went to the Sangamon Auditorium this past weekend to watch a fine performance of people ballet dancing. The sets and costumes were pretty impressive. It was weird, too, which is a compliment because the story takes place as a dream, and dreams are weird, so it was a good weird, I guess.

6. I look forward to family gatherings. We truly are blessed by God with good relationships on both sides of the family. Christmas gives us a chance to get together and enjoy our time, of which we never have enough.

7. Christmas cookies, puppy chow (the snack mix, not the dog food), white chocolate covered pretzels, cherry cheesecake, pecan pie, chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies, ice cream, bacon.

8. The scenes of Christmas decorating the town. Lights and nativity displays in tasteful moderation. Not the huge inflatable Santa in your front yard or the reindeer stable thing, but nicely decorated homes illuminating the neighborhoods. Unless the outdoor snow globe is your thing, then it’s cool with me, too.

9. I’m singing in the choir for the Petersburg First Baptist Church’s Christmas cantata this coming Sunday morning at 10:45. I have to because my wife is the choir director. It’s called “The Song of Christmas,” and I would love for you to come, too, and we’ll share in the Christmas spirit together.

10. Being reminded that the message of Christmas is Jesus. That He is the light of the world and the hope of the nations, who came preaching good news to the poor, binding up the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty to the captives, announcing the year of the Lord’s favor, and comforting all who mourn. He came radiating the glory of God. He came abounding with the love of God for mankind. He came to seek and to save the lost by dying in our place on the cross, then rising in victory over sin and death and hell forever. He came as a baby born to a virgin girl named Mary in the little town of Bethlehem, but will one day come again on the clouds of heaven in power and great glory as the mighty King of kings. O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Demolishing Hostility, Making Peace Possible

I am tempted to write about the race relations problem plaguing America. But it’s Christmas. Can’t we just all get along?

One of the most significant things Jesus came to earth to accomplish involved some demolition. Jesus destroyed the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles. He broke down the barrier and made the two one. He brought peace by reconciling both races to God through Himself on the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

It is no small miracle that in the church belonging to Jesus you will find all shades and hues of skin tone. “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.” Remember that song? Jesus truly does love all the little children of the world. And He showed it by dying on the cross for every race under the sun.

His blood is equally effective to cleanse the sins and stains of children from China as it is for the children of Chile and Chad and Chattanooga. The mercy and grace of Christ is just as full and free to folks in Finland as it is to folks in Florence and Frankfurt and Fort Wayne. In His love God pursues people from Paris just as passionately as He pursues people from Pakistan and Paraguay and Petersburg.

The book of Revelation in the Bible describes a scene the apostle John witnesses in heaven. “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10).

It’s a beautiful picture of the nations from every corner of the earth gladly singing for joy and praising our one and only Savior and God, because He has destroyed the walls of hostility and made peace possible through Himself.

Friend, may I suggest that if you don’t really care for people of other nationalities or skin colors while you’re on this planet, you probably won’t enjoy heaven much at all. Let me go a step further and say that there is absolutely no place in the heart of a follower of Jesus to harbor hatred or prejudice against people from other races. And on top of that, I’d be questioning my own experience of God’s salvation if I’m not willing to extend that salvation to someone else because they’re not my same color, don’t speak my language or don’t come from my side of the tracks.

We’re all in the same boat no matter what we look like. We are human beings, each one fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. Each one who has sinned against our Maker and is deserving of His wrath. Yet, each one who is loved deeply by the Almighty and offered the same gift of salvation from death and hell by the sacrifice of Christ Jesus on the cross. And each one who must repent of his sin and receive the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Christmas Truce of 1914. Five months into World War I, on Christmas Eve, many German and British troops began singing Christmas carols to each other across the lines. As Christmas Day’s first light began to shine, some German troops came out of their trenches unarmed, drew near the Allied lines across no-man’s land, and called out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ languages. The Allied soldiers hesitantly emerged as well and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged gifts of cigarettes and plum pudding and sang carols and songs together.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to see the hostility on the streets of Los Angeles, New York City and Ferguson demolished this Christmas? Aren’t all things possible with God?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Scrooged and Un-scrooged

I feel like a Scrooge. So sue me if I don’t really want to listen to Christmas songs on the radio 24/7 from now until Christmas Day. Forgive me if my desire to watch another Christmas special on TV hasn’t yet peaked, and may not register much above “eh.” And banish me to the island of misfit toys if I don’t give to every charity and bell-ringing organization in the world asking for my money.

I’m not against Christmas. I think the whole “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” thing was a pretty good idea. I mean, that is the reason we have Christmas in the first place, isn’t it? If it weren’t for Jesus there would be no Christmas. I think we ought to celebrate what happened when Jesus came from heaven to earth every single day by rejoicing in His grace and living for His glory.

I am, however, against too much Christmas. Commercial Christmas, that is. And remakes of beloved Christmas carols such as “O Holy Night” that sound like something out of an 80’s long-haired rock band. And sappy Hallmark-ish Christmas-y movies. And Christmas pageants and productions that glorify Santa but snub the Savior.

If we really want to capture “The Christmas Spirit” we need to seek the Christ whose Spirit fills our hearts with peace and joy and hope and goodness and kindness and love for one another. We need to think about the reason Jesus came in the first place, which was to bring salvation to mankind, because otherwise we’d be sunk dead in our sins with no hope of ever finding peace with God.

But Jesus offered His sinless life for us on the cross that we might be forgiven and made righteous in Him. This is the depth of God’s love for you, dear friend, that even while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And not only did He come to save us from death and hell, but also to give abundant and everlasting life to whosoever believeth in Him. I think I remember reading that in a Book somewhere. Maybe you have, too.

Truly it is an amazing story. May I suggest that spending some quiet time reading through the first few chapters of Matthew and Luke in the Bible and allowing the story to captivate your heart might just lead you to the most joyous Christmas you’ve ever experienced?

Invest a few moments imaging yourself in the role of Mary or Joseph. What emotions must have engulfed Mary’s spirit when the angel came announcing such a mysterious, miraculous message? Why was she the one chosen by God to carry the King of kings in her womb and give birth to the Author of Life? How can this be, she wondered? No wonder she burst forth in song, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).

And how did Joseph even begin to process what happened in his dreams? Could the long-awaited Messiah really be coming? Are the sacred prophecies truly beginning to unfold before my very eyes? Is my sweet Mary really to be the mother of my Savior? Which would make me His earthly father…? How shall I raise the Son of God?

The lights and the decorations and the trees and the sounds of the season are great (as are the gifts!), don’t get me wrong. And, yes, I even give some extra money to the Salvation Army. But in the midst of all the tinsel and garland let’s not forget the incredible story of our Savior who came from heaven to earth, to a little village called Bethlehem, then on to the hill called Calvary, then who rose up from the grave, appeared among men and ascended back into heaven where He is now seated at the right hand of His Father in glory, and will one day soon come again to receive those whose trust is in Him for salvation.

That’s a Christmas worth celebrating! Okay, I’m un-scrooged now.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Of all the rich blessings that come from the grace of God, the greatest is the gift of salvation. I’m grateful for every good and perfect gift that comes down from our Father in heaven, but the abundant, eternal life He gives in Christ Jesus far outshines them all.

Have you thanked God for your salvation today? 

Or have you even received His gift of everlasting life yet?

Sometimes in passing thought I wonder where I’d be without Him. What would my life be like if Jesus had not have called me to believe in Him? What if I had flat out rejected His sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of all my sin? What if I had despised His mercy and grace and the promise of heaven?

Maybe I could get by in this world. Go to work, make some money, try to hold a family together. Maybe even make an effort to do some good for others, coach my kid’s baseball team, give some money to the food pantry or the Red Cross once in a while. I could feel pretty good about myself. Be a good, productive citizen. But what assurance for better things to come would I really have to look forward to?

Or perhaps I’d be the guy who couldn’t hold down a job. Maybe I’d be the alcoholic who lived in secret shame, or the homeless man who lost his house and whose wife kicked him out to the street for gambling all our money away. Maybe you’d be reading about me on in the police blotter for abusing kids or holding up a gas station.

It is sobering and saddening to think about living without the life and hope of Jesus. You just can’t find the kind of meaning and fulfillment in life apart from Him. You can’t find the kind of strength or help you need to make it without Him. It’s foolish to even try. There’s just no other way. All other roads will ultimately lead to emptiness, frustration, disappointment, regret and death. 

Friend, if you have not yet come to Jesus for eternal salvation, then I have some good news for you. Today can be a brand new day, the beginning of a brand new life. The Bible says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

That’s got your name written all over it. You are immeasurably loved by the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth, the King of kings and Lord of Lords. But because our sins have separated us from Him, we deserve His wrath rather than His mercy. And no amount of good deeds could ever earn any of us favor with a holy and righteous God.

Jesus, however, is God’s perfect provision for our sin: “But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved…” (Ephesians 2:4-5). This is the amazing grace that is greater than our sin! Jesus took our sin upon Himself on the cross that we might die to sin and live for righteousness.

In the words of the famous hymn: “And when I think that God, His Son not sparing, sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in; that on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin.”

So what do we have to do in order to receive this forgiveness for sin and the assurance of everlasting life? Repent of sin and believe in Jesus. That’s it. You can call upon the name of the Lord right now, receiving Him as your Savior and Lord.

And you’ll agree with me that of all the blessings that come from the gracious hand of God, the greatest of all is the gift of salvation in Jesus. “Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul. Thank you, Lord, for making me whole. Thank you, Lord, for giving to me, Thy great salvation so rich and free.”

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Our Transparent Community Thanksgiving Service

In the name of transparency, I want to let you know exactly what’s in store for you if you vote with your feet to attend this year’s Community Thanksgiving Service.

That line is intended to speak in contrast to the current White House administration which promised to be the most transparent this nation has ever seen. As it has played out however, they’ve been doing nothing but covering up, misleading, deceiving, distancing, backpedaling and eating their empty promises. When South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson rudely interrupted the President’s joint session speech to Congress in 2009 yelling out, “You lie!” at least he was telling the truth.

In the news this past week (not the main stream lap dog news media, mind you), videos have surfaced unveiling some telling footage featuring one of the major advisors to the Affordable Care Act. The infamous consultant is Jonathan Gruber, MIT professor and Obamacare architect, who was paid $400,000 through contracts with the Department of Health and Human Services in 2009, in addition to other state contracts of $1.6 million to help design the health law.

You need to look up some of the videos to get the full impact of Gruber’s arrogance and condescension, but here are a couple of lines. “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” he said at the University of Pennsylvania in 2013. “And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass.”

And this: “This [Affordable Care Act] was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies.” If I had more space, there’s plenty more material indicting the administration’s intentionally dishonest approach. But you get the idea. You’re not stupid.

Now that’s what I call true transparency. This has been quite a revealing behind-the-scenes look at what many of the leading liberal elitists really think, but are usually careful to not say publicly. Yet they’re not even blushing as they brush this news aside.

Nancy Pelosi (should I even waste the ink on her comments?) has touted Gruber’s work in helping craft the healthcare plan. After his comments have gone public however, Pelosi now claims she doesn’t even know who he is, nor did he help write the bill.

Seriously, you can look all this stuff up. Not on the main stream news, however.

And President Obama himself is, of course, distancing himself from Gruber, calling him “some advisor who never worked on our staff.” Just some advisor, huh? Records show Gruber has visited the White House more than a dozen times, with one of the meetings in the Oval Office with Pres. Obama, which Gruber bragged about on a PBS “Frontline” interview in 2012, as they ironed out the bill.

The healthcare fiasco is just one of many news items which make it seem to me like we’re just not getting the whole story. Think IRS scandal, Benghazi, Fast and Furious, Immigration issues, birth certificate (oh, I forgot, that one’s been settled, right?).

So when it comes to transparency you may not get it from Washington, but you will get it here without the spin. The Community Thanksgiving Service to be held this Sunday, Nov. 23, at 7:00 p.m. at the Petersburg First Baptist Church will be a worship and thanksgiving celebration to the Lord Almighty. We will sing praise songs and hymns. We will pray. We will read the Bible. There will be a gospel-centered message. We will receive an offering. We will offer a mix of healthy and unhealthy snacks after the service.

I’m not lying. Pastors from at least seven churches are planning to be there, and I hope you are, too. We think you’re smart enough to make a good decision and join us!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thanking God

 It’s a good day to be alive in Petersburg, IL! If you were able to get up and out of bed this morning, eat a decent meal or two or three today, take a hot shower, wear some warm clothes, go to work or school or enjoy retirement, then I hope you’ll agree with me.

God’s “common grace” abounds as He delights to show His favor to mankind. The blessings of everyday things we often take for granted are truly gifts from the hand of God, intended to lead us to praise and thank Him, and ultimately to lead us to the greatest gift of all – eternal life in Christ Jesus.

Have you thanked God lately for the home you live in? “Wait a minute,” you say. “God didn’t give me that home. I worked hard to earn enough money to buy it!”

But who do you think gave you the ability to earn wealth? Who providentially opened the door for the job you have? Who wired your mind and crafted your hands to be able to learn your trade or succeed in your profession? Who instills within the heart of man the desire to research, accomplish and teach? Who gives man the responsibility to care for his family, his community and his world, and impresses upon him the willingness to strive for the good of his fellow man?

In just two weeks many of us will be sitting around tables full of food with our families in warm homes, maybe cheering on a favorite football team or watching a spectacular parade in New York City. We’ll know that we’re supposed to be thankful, but will we address our gratitude to the proper Source? Here’s where many miss the message.

I want to offer a very practical way of helping you express your thanks where the thanks is truly due. Rather than saying, “I’m thankful for my family. I’m thankful for my friends. I’m thankful for my health,” or whatever else it is, turn your attention to the Giver of such blessings. Perhaps say it like this with gratitude from your heart, “God, thank You for the blessing of my family. Thank You, Lord, for my faithful friends. Father in heaven, I give You thanks for the health You’ve given me.”

And while we’re on the subject, why not give God thanks for the freedoms we have in this nation, and for the men and women in uniform who have put their lives on the line for us? The Lord has surely been gracious to us in America.

Thank You, Father, for the blessings and opportunities and freedoms You’ve given us. And thank You for all those who have sacrificed so much for this nation, and for those serving even now to protect us from the evil schemes of our enemies and to promote the greater good throughout the world. Please cover them with Your strong hand of protection. Provide for their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Remind them of Your presence and Your promises as they call upon Your name. Bless their families at home with Your peace that passes all understanding, given freely to those who pray to You with thanksgiving. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Friend, may I suggest even now, for the next two weeks and beyond, that you ask God to continue to cultivate within you a heart of gratitude to Him? Take note of the everyday blessings of life, and give thanks to God for them all. Choose gratitude rather than grumbling, complaining and whining. Count your many blessings and see what God has done! It’s a good day to be alive!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Pastor Appreciation Blessings

Ever wonder what it would be like to go to your own funeral? Wouldn’t you like to hear how people remembered you, what they thought of you, what kind of impact you made in their lives?

Hopefully people would actually show up and have some nice things to say!

This past Sunday I didn’t attend my own funeral (thankfully), but people did show up and say some nice things in appreciation of their pastor. In fact, it was rather a blessing to my family and me to hear several speak and to read many notes of kindness and encouragement from the congregation. The accolades were actually somewhat embarrassing, and the generosity was quite overwhelming. 

To borrow a line from an old Toby Mac song, “Love was in the house and the house was packed.” 

Can I just say that God is good? Sometimes He blows me away with His goodness. And the times when I’m not being blown away I’m not really paying attention. Have you ever heard this line somewhere before, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever”? Which days does that leave out? 

Now, I’m not real sure that I deserve any of the compliments handed out Sunday. If there’s any good thing in me at all, if I’ve helped anyone out along the way, if I’ve pointed anyone to the Lord, if I’ve made a difference in this world at all, the credit all goes to Jesus. 

Steve Baughman, the king of awesome Christian T-shirts, was wearing one on Sunday that would have fit me perfectly (metaphorically speaking). It said on the front: “I’m not the man I ought to be”, and to that I say Amen. I know what the Bible says about being a godly man, and I can assure you that you will not find my bald headed photo in the dictionary under the entry “looks like Jesus.” And it’s not just because I don’t have beautifully flowing long brown hair and a nice no-shave November beard, both of which of course Jesus had because that’s how He looks in all the artwork painted by European painters in the Renaissance. Such an Anglo-looking man for a first-century Jew, too. Curious. 

But the back of Steve’s shirt highlights my spiritual journey well: “Thank God I’m not the man I used to be.” Apart from the transforming work of Christ in my life, apart from His daily goodness and mercy, apart from the unceasing faithfulness of the Lord, I don’t know where I’d be, but it sure wouldn’t be in the pulpit on Sunday. 

It’s only because of Jesus that I know I’m forgiven and freed of sin’s penalty and power. It’s only because of Jesus that I know I’m clothed with the righteousness and holiness of Christ. It’s only because of Jesus that I know I’ve been given new life and have an inheritance kept in heaven for me that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading. 

I’m not all that I ought to be, but thank God I’m no longer dead in sin. I have been made alive with Christ by His grace because of the richness and greatness of God’s love, demonstrated to the full through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus on the cross and His triumphant resurrection victory over the grave. Amen! 

I wish everyone had a chance to endure, I mean, experience such a blessing of hearing others tell you how much you mean to them. Why not tell someone you love today how much you appreciate them – before the funeral?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Exposing Satan's Lies; Revealing the Truth of Jesus

I really wanted to write an article this week exposing Islam to be a false religion. I intended to use this space to pose some questions like: If Islamic terrorists groups such as ISIS are not truly representative of the Muslim religion, then why is there not a great outcry among mainstream, peace-loving Muslims condemning such acts of terror? Why isn’t more action being taken to root out potential Islamic terrorists from our own country? Why do our nation’s leaders seem so quick to defend Islam while mounting increasing attacks on Christianity? 

Have we forgotten 9/11? What about the sniper attacks in 2002? The Boston Marathon bombings? Have we missed the news on the Ft. Hood shooter? Have we ignored the recent beheading in Moore, Oklahoma, and the killer’s conversion to Islam, his disdain for America, admiration for jihad terrorists, and desire to see Sharia law enforced? Who else hijacks planes and plants bombs and beheads innocent victims all in the name of religion, shouting Islamic phrases about bringing praise to Allah?

But maybe I don’t know enough about Islam to write a piece that would reflect their beliefs and practices accurately. I don’t really know what most Muslims think about the “radical” extremists who murder, rape and pillage as they seek to establish a broad Islamic state. And I sure don’t know why the politically correct establishment can’t tell the difference between workplace violence and radical Islamic terrorism.

What I do know, however, is the truth of the Word of God. The Bible – not the Qur’an, not the Book of Mormon, nor any other “sacred text” – is God-breathed, inspired by the Holy Spirit, completely true and unchanging, tells the all-time greatest story that’s ever been told and compels us to believe word for word.

For central to this incredible story lies the truth that Jesus Christ came from heaven to earth as the Son of God to take on the likeness of man, that He died on a cross to forgive the sins of mankind, that He triumphed over sin and death by rising from the dead, that He ascended into heaven, and that one day He will come again and bring salvation to all who believe in Him while executing judgment on all who reject Him.

That’s the story of a holy God against whom we all have sinned and deserve the sentence of death and hell, but who in the riches of His love sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. That’s the story of mercy and grace. It’s a story of redemption, and it’s available to all.

In fact, part of the beauty of this story is that salvation is offered freely in Jesus to all who call upon His name in truth. That includes the Jews and the Gentiles alike. It includes both men and women. It includes people from every nation under heaven, every tongue, every tribe. In Christ there is pardon from sin to all who repent of their wicked ways and receive the mercy of Christ Jesus.

The Bible says the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God, so don’t be fooled. The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, swindlers – they’re all disqualified (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11). Sin disqualifies us all. But those who are washed clean of their sins in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will indeed inherit the promise of everlasting life in heaven.

Jesus is our only Savior and our only hope. Not Mohammad. Not Buddha. Not Confucius. Not Moses. But Jesus. And only in Him are lives truly changed, set free from the chains of sin and given the breath of life. May Satan’s deceptions be exposed, and may the truth of Jesus Christ prevail. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Barry the Betta

Recently we have welcomed a new member to our family: Barry, the betta fish. Don’t ask me why his name is Barry; Toby named him. I don’t think there’s any political connection, but living in a fishbowl puts both the president and the fish in the same water.

Can you imagine what it would be like to have your every move tracked, every decision judged, every golf outing scrutinized, every vacation criticized, and every fundraising event analyzed? The guy can’t eat without somebody counting his calories (and the cost of the meal to taxpayers). He can’t read a book or attend church without someone inferring his motives by whom he’s allowing to influence him. The guy can’t even take a smoke break without someone making it into a headline.

It’s kind of like being monitored by the NSA.

It’s tough to be Barry. He lives all by himself in a one-gallon aquarium on the center of the kitchen table. Please don’t call PETA on us. He needs to be insulated from the wild of the sea otherwise he’d get eaten alive. He’s no match for the hardened enemies who would destroy him. They’re not interested in peace treaties or dialogue. Their only intent is to make him an appetizer.

I’m not sure if Barry likes living in the fishbowl or not. He likes to be the king of the waters, though. He swims around like he’s looking for a fight. If he could, I’m sure he’d make all kinds of changes, to the climate, the conditions, the culture. He’d think they would all be positive, progressive changes that would lead to a better future – at least his version of a better future – even though there are good reasons why the stability of the current structures have worked well for the success of fish for a long time. 

But he’s only a fish. What does he know?

The thing is, he doesn’t even realize that he’s not really in control of his own destiny. There is a greater King who reigns over all the fish of the sea (and those in aquariums). And He rules with wisdom, power and love. This King is an awesome King. Even though some fish despise the King’s rule and set themselves together against Him, raging and plotting to overthrow Him, their efforts are all in vain.

In fact, the King laughs at their futile attempts. They are to Him a school of minnows strategizing over how to destroy the great white shark. Then He warns the rulers of the sea to bow before His throne, or else they will face the fury of His wrath.

Those who serve Him with fear and tremble before Him with rejoicing will find that His ways are good and right and just. They will know the great blessing that comes by taking refuge in Him. Would that all the fish recognize the gracious King and turn to Him for salvation!

Barry’s only going to last for a couple more years. His time in the fishbowl is running short. How will he live out his remaining days? Will he continue to fight against the provisions and protections and purposes and promises of the King, or will he yield himself in trust and thanksgiving and service and love to the One who placed Him there?

I’d better row this column to shore. I think Barry needs some more food. And lots of prayer.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Longing for revival in the church

If you were at First Baptist Church Sunday morning, you may skip this article and go read the funnies. Otherwise, allow me to share a few thoughts from the message. Then you can decide whether or not you wished you would have read the funny section instead. 

This week our nation is celebrating Independence Day. And, indeed, there is much to celebrate. We enjoy freedoms in this land like no other nation on earth, and for this we owe the gratitude to God. Our founding fathers recognized their own dependence upon the “protection of divine Providence” as they declared their independence from Great Britain. They made their case “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world,” and grounded their convictions under the self-evident truth “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” 

I’m certain that it would be very curious to a John Adams and the 55 other signers of the Declaration of Independence as to how and why this nation has abandoned her reliance upon the Lord God. But we have. Just look at the ungodly decisions this country has made to legally allow the killing of unborn children – where innocent blood is on our hands. Look at the arrogance and audacity of judges to redefine the God-ordained institution of marriage. Look at the rampant sexual immorality that pervades this land, where the God-blessed boundaries have all been mocked. Look at the soul-numbing violence portrayed through certain genres of music, through video games and in the movies – and then unshockingly played out in real life by some. 

Space permits me from going on, but you get the point. Our national morality has predictably plummeted because we have quit looking to God for help. And we are suffering the consequences economically, politically, socially and spiritually. Perhaps we have already reached the point where God’s righteous wrath that has been kindled upon this nation will not be quenched. 

Such it was in the days of Josiah, the king of Judah, where the nation had so provoked the Lord to anger by their evil practices that He was about to bring swift disaster upon them. But because Josiah turned to the Lord with all his heart, God stayed His hand of wrath in his generation. See 2 Kings 22-23 for details. 

Listen, friend, I don’t know how long before we reap the full measure of the Almighty’s judgment against us for our rebellion against Him, but I do believe He will spare us from disaster if we’ll turn wholeheartedly to Him in repentance and faith. 

For Josiah, the turning came when they got into the Word of God. That’s where we need to start, as well. We need to submit to the truth and authority of the Bible. We need to recognize the implications of our disobedience and repent of our sins. We need to humble ourselves before God and commit to walk in His ways. We need to get rid of the idols that keep us from following the Lord and return to worshipping Him as Lord. 

Christians, it begins with us. I would love to see a spiritual renewal spread throughout this land. But I’m not waiting for it to come through Washington. I’m not expecting the courts to right the ship. I’m not counting on Congress to legislate a reformation. If revival comes, it will come through the church belonging to Christ Jesus, walking in the ways of Christ according to the Word of Christ. 

I long to see this generation of believers rise up and radiate the glory of Christ, not just in America, but throughout the world. My prayer is that of the psalmist who wrote: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine up us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” (Psalm 67:1-3).  

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

If it were me...

If it were me, I’d make a watch battery that would last more than a year. Why do most batteries die so soon, especially in flashlights? And shouldn’t lightbulbs last for years and years? Are batteries and lightbulbs the only things we can’t improve upon in our advanced technological age?

If it were me, I’d find a way to enforce journalistic credibility in the media. I’m sorry, but I can hardly read, listen to or watch a news report today without detecting the overt political/social bias behind it – whether right or left. Every story has a spin. Whatever happened to fair, unbiased, honest, objective journalism?

Walter Cronkite would sign-off saying, “And that’s the way it is,” and for the most part, what he reported was the way it was. Today, however, it depends on who’s covering the story asking, “How can we make this story conform to our political/social agenda?” That’s a long way from asking the old who, what, where, when and why.

If it were me, I’d open a Chick-Fil-A in Petersburg. Or maybe a Taco Bell.

If it were me, I think I’d search for the lost IRS e-mails in the same place as Flight MH 370. Okay, seriously, you mean to tell me that the IRS can keep tabs on millions upon millions of taxpayers’ documents and expect households to produce seven years of tax information upon demand, but when they come under fire themselves the potentially incriminating e-mails are just lost? No way.

If it were me and I was opening a meat market, I would not post flyers with a picture of a dog on it. That’s just me.

If it were me, I would ban any form of transgender “reassignment surgeries” and all related nonsense that finds this nation bending over backwards attempting to eliminate the distinctions between male and female. You may or may not know that your tax dollars are being used to fund “sex-change” operations through Medicare, that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is “open” to lifting the ban on transgendered individuals serving in the military, and that Pres. Obama has championed the cause of transgender rights and affirmed this behavior far more than any other president in U.S. history.

At the same time, our neighbors to the north in a recent Vancouver school board decision will begin allowing gender-confused students and their parents to use “sex-neutral third person” pronouns of “xe, xem, and xyr” instead of “he/she” and “him/her.” Students may also choose their preferred washroom based on their “perceived gender.” You think that sounds ridiculous, but it’s already happening in the good ‘ole USA, too.

People truly suffering from gender-identity issues need help, not applause. They need help understanding their unique and significant roles as male or female. They need help in dealing with underlying psychological and/or spiritual issues that have confused them terribly. They need to know that God does not make mistakes, but that when He created them in His own image, whether male or female, He had a plan for them.

They need the gospel, just like everyone else. The Bible tells us clearly that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And since sin leads to death and hell, and because we cannot earn heaven by our own merit, we need Jesus. The only way anyone will be saved from death to everlasting life is through Christ. “No one comes to the Father except through Me,” Jesus declared (John 14:6).

Friend, no matter where you’re at in life – straight, crooked or confused – Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, to offer repentance and forgiveness of sins, and to give abundant and eternal life to “whosoever believeth in Him.”

If it were me, I’d choose new life in Christ over the way of sin that leads to death.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Random Day Celebration

I’m unofficially designating today as Random Day. Actually, many of my days are pretty random, as are many of my thoughts. So why don’t we spend the next few moments together in this column celebrating Random Day?   

First Random Day topic: Community Block Party. Can I just say a big “Thank you!” to everyone who came last Friday night? We had a great time and hope you enjoyed the event. We had nearly 60 volunteers from the church serving in various ways, and I am blessed to pastor such a giving group of believers. There would be so many people to thank for going above and beyond that I would be afraid of leaving someone out if I began naming names. So let me again say how grateful I am for all your help.

I would, however, be remiss if I failed to give a shout out to Ray, Cindy and Bob – the New Jerusalem Singers – for blessing us with great gospel songs throughout the evening. I need to also give a word of thanks to Bob and Sarah Jane Swaar for providing the train rides. You are two of the most pleasant and patient people I’ve ever met. 

And to all who came whether by yourself or with your family, we are so glad you were there! I hope you sensed the grace of God and His joyous presence among us. If you don’t attend church regularly, let me invite you to come and be our guest this Sunday morning. We would love to welcome you.

Random Day topic No. 2: Father’s Day. I was happy to recognize so many men in church this past Sunday for Father’s Day. Guys, you have the responsibility to lead your families in the ways of the Lord. Thanks for taking that lead by making worship a priority in your life, and I trust that each and every day you’ll set the pace by investing time in the Word of God and prayer, by living a life of integrity and by showing this confused world what it means to be a true man of God. I’m praying for you, men. Stand strong!

Random Day topic No. 3: The deal to free U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for the release of five of the Taliban’s top operatives from Guantanamo Bay prison. Wait, that’s old news now. Nevermind.

Random Day topic No. 4: Benghazi. Wait, that’s old news, too. Isn’t it? What about the IRS scandal, Obamacare or the VA nightmare? Eh, not today.

Random Day topic No. 5: The World Cup. Does anyone around here even follow hockey? Just kidding. I don’t personally have any interest in the Stanley Cup, either.

Random Day topic No. 6: Vacation Bible School. Parents, mark your calendar for the week of July 20-24 for the First Baptist Church’s VBS. This year’s “Agency D3” theme will invite children to come discover, decide and defend the truth about who Jesus really is. Those who have finished Pre-K through completion of 6th grade are welcome.

Random Day topic No. 7: Leviticus. I’ve just re-read the book of Leviticus. It’s in the Bible. There’s probably a reason we don’t spend a lot of time reading through Leviticus. Allow me to sum up the main theme for you, in case you haven’t taken the time to read it, or just don’t really want to. God is holy, and He demands holiness from His people. That kind of personal holiness may have looked differently to the people of Israel than the way we’d apply it to ourselves today, but the truth remains. Because God is holy, we must likewise deal with our sin and strive for to live holy lives in Christ.

The bad news is that we can’t do it on our own – believe me, I’ve tried, and can’t. But the Good News is that Jesus came to take away our sins once for all time when He offered Himself on the cross as a sacrifice for sin, and He is in the business of making holy those who come to Him through faith. And He certainly does the job well, if we’ll trust Him to do it for us. There’s nothing random about the way God works. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Exploring the Character of God

What’s your perception of God? It seems everyone has some opinion. Some think of Him as a frustrated and angry God just waiting for someone to step out of line so he can zap the miscreant with a bolt of lightning. Others view God as an older grandfatherly type who doesn’t want to bother anyone, who thinks it’s great when people decide to show up at his house, but understands if you can’t make it. And, of course, some just don’t think of God at all. It’s easier to live life the way they want to live it if they can find a way to try to shut God out of the picture altogether. 

But opinions are cheap. They’re worthless, really, if not grounded in truth. If, in my opinion, I think water ought to boil at 211 degrees and freeze at 33, my opinion means nothing. I’m only showing myself to be ignorant and foolish for rejecting the truth and believing a lie. Truth triumphs over my opinion.

So it is with our understanding of God. The truth about God according to the Bible trumps every opinion we can come up with. The existence of God, or the character, nature and attributes of God are not up for debate. And the sooner we come to grips with the God of the Bible, the better.

The psalmist says of Him: “For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land” (Psalm 95:3-5).

Upon the Lord’s deliverance of the people of Israel out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, Moses and the Israelites sang this song: “Your right hand, O Lord, was majestic in power. Your right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy. In the greatness of your majesty you threw down those who opposed you. You unleashed your burning anger; it consumed them like stubble…Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:6-7, 11). 

When David was rescued by the Lord from the hand of Saul, he burst forth in praise: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior – from violent men you save me. I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies” (2 Samuel 22:2-4).

When Jesus asked His followers who they thought He was, Peter exclaimed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). And the mighty King of kings, the One who is the true God in the flesh, affirmed Peter’s great confession of faith.

If only we understood more about the holiness of God. If only we learned more of His greatness and majesty. If only we could grasp something of His glory. If only we realized His goodness and mercy, His righteousness and justice, His love and faithfulness and wisdom and grace.

How quickly we would see our sin and our utter unworthiness to stand before Him. How quickly we would seek the salvation that He offers in Christ Jesus and run to Him for mercy. How quickly we would offer our lives in joyful obedience to His will. How quickly we would want to please Him by living in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ Jesus. And how quickly we would find in Him richer blessings of joy, peace, hope, satisfaction and purpose in life beyond anything we’ve ever known.

Let me invite you to join us at the First Baptist Church in Petersburg for Sunday School at 9:30 a.m. over the next several weeks as we explore the character of God, and allow the Almighty to reveal Himself in truth as we seek Him in His Word.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Who'd like a free lunch?

Who said that there’s no such thing as a free lunch? I understand the concept, but I beg to differ. And if you come to our annual Community Block Party this Friday night, June 13, from 5-8, I think you’ll agree with me. We are geared up for a great evening to enjoy the company and conversation with our neighbors, while providing fun and entertainment for the whole family.

And, yes, it’s all free. The cotton candy, Sno-cones, popcorn – they’re all free. The hamburgers and hotdogs? Free. The face painting, carnival games and bounce houses? Free, free, free. Even the music of the New Jerusalem Singers? Yes! It’s free! As is the petting zoo, the cake walk and the dunk tank.

And the good news is that you’re invited to come and enjoy it all! We’ll be set up on the corner of 7th and Sangamon in Petersburg, right in front of the First Baptist Church, just one block west of the only stoplight in town. No tickets, no admission charge, no kidding. It’s all free for you.

God has generously blessed us with the free gift of salvation in Christ Jesus, and we delight in sharing His love with our community. Truly, the best things in life are free.

Of course, that free gift of eternal life did indeed come at a price. In fact, it cost Jesus his life on the cross. It’s only free to us because the price for our forgiveness from sin and our righteousness in Christ has been paid in full. As the old song goes, “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain; He washed it white as snow.”

That means there’s nothing you or I can do to buy our way to heaven. There’s nothing we can do to earn it, nor is there any amount of good deeds we have done or could do to deserve it. God’s standard is perfection, and none of us measures up, no matter how good we think we are. It doesn’t matter that you’re a better person than your obnoxious neighbor or lying co-worker. It doesn’t matter that you’re a good citizen, a proud veteran, a decent parent or a charitable giver. We’re not perfect.

Rather, what we really do deserve is death. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). That means that because all of us have sinned against God, we deserve to face His righteous and just wrath against sin. And no one has the charm or wit or power to escape His judgment.

But the good news is that God also loves us with an incomprehensible love. He doesn’t want any to perish, but desires that all would come to repentance. In His love God sent His Son, Jesus, into this world to live the perfect, sinless life that none of us are capable of living. And when Jesus gave His life on Calvary, it was the righteous dying for the unrighteous, the spotless Lamb of God absorbing the full and fierce force of God’s wrath against sin, so that we don’t have to. So that we, though guilty, could go free.

Why would anyone not receive the pardon offered by God’s grace in Christ Jesus? Why would anyone not acknowledge his sinfulness before a Holy God, repent and believe the good news of Jesus? Why would anyone not receive Jesus as Savior and Lord of his life, and enjoy the abundant and eternal life He alone can offer? Why would anyone not run to Jesus, unloading the guilt and shame of sin, experiencing the white-as-snow washing away of sin, and trusting in the mercy and grace and peace and love and joy and hope that’s found in a personal relationship with the King of all kings and Almighty Savior of the world?

Yes, it cost Jesus his life, but it’s a free lunch for you. Will you receive His offer of salvation?  

Come and join us Friday night for the Block Party. Who doesn’t like free?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dear Graduate, Here's my prayer for you

To the graduating class of 2014: May your passion for what is right be a blazing fire in your life, and may the pathway of wrong be a road you avoid at all costs.

There is still such a thing as right, and there is still such a thing as wrong. Do what’s right, and don’t do what’s wrong. That’s pretty simple, but it’s my prayer for you.

In our culture, however, the definition of the terms has been muddied in recent years. Let me take a quick shot at clearing up the waters.

Live a life of integrity. Pursue the things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. Follow the way of righteousness, faith, love and peace. Treat others with compassion and kindness, humility and patience. Be quick to forgive. Be trustworthy, respectful and grateful. Look for ways to serve others, help the poor and encourage the weary. Last time I checked, these things are all still right.

But avoid all forms of sexual immorality, impurity and greed. The world may promise that these things will bring pleasure, but it’s wrong. Any fleeting pleasure you feel will be gone in a heartbeat, while the guilt and shame hang around like an unwanted guest who can’t take a hint. Stay away from your so-called “friends” who urge you to join them in their foolish schemes and evil deeds. Don’t follow along with the crowd when they plunge into the flood of wild parties and destructive behavior. Don’t give yourself to drunkenness, hostility, jealousy, angry outbursts, selfish ambition, quarreling, slander, lying and causing divisions.

Do you know what “YOLO” means? My family and I were on vacation at Panama City Beach a few years ago when I first saw this term on T-shirts and hats at some of the local shops. It’s an acronym for “You Only Live Once,” but in context, for those who ascribe to this philosophy (especially while on Spring Break) it means, “I’m about to do something really, really stupid!”

Dear graduate, I’m urging you, and praying for you, to passionately live for what is right and be quick to reject every wrong path. I don’t want you to do something stupid that will lead to your demise, but to follow the way that’s right and leads to your good.

But you’re going to need some divine help to do it. Your greatest resolve and most tenacious self-determination will not be enough. The prince of this world – Satan – is too formidable an enemy for you to battle in your own strength. You cannot win. And, sadly, many aren’t even trying to fight anymore. But the stakes are too high to give up or give in.

The good news is that God is more than willing to give you all the help you need to enjoy life by living it the way He intended – doing things the right way – His way. Here’s how: Receive Jesus as the Savior and Lord of your life. When you give your life to Christ and let Him live in you and through you, your life will be richer and more meaningful and more satisfying than anything you could ever imagine.

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy, but I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). He will not only give you abundant life here and now, but He will also give you everlasting life in heaven. You don’t have to do anything but believe.

As I pray for you, graduate, I pray that the eyes of your heart will be enlightened to see the greatness and glory of Christ Jesus, to turn from every wrong and sinful path, and to delight in following Jesus, the One who makes our passion for living the right way a blazing fire.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

We need a values fix

Last Saturday I was mowing the yard when I began smelling burning rubber. That’s never a good sign, especially when accompanied by a sputtering mower. I didn’t stop right away of course, because I only had a little lawn left to mow, and if the thing would just hang in there for five minutes I could finish the job and make the yard look great. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. The transmission belt was done, and so was my mowing for the day. You can’t run a mower with a frayed, worn, broken belt.

Nor can you run a nation with a frayed, worn, broken values system. The rubber is burning and the motor is sputtering. We’re not going to get the job done of keeping this country great if our once-strong moral values are reduced to threads. But that’s exactly what’s happening right here in America, in case you haven’t noticed. 

Latest case in point: last week the St. Louis Rams made Michael Sam the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL. Upon his selection, an emotional Sam turned to his boyfriend and kissed him for the entire ESPN viewing audience to witness. 

The reactions to the kiss have been mixed. One former Super Bowl champion wrote via Twitter that he felt this was inappropriate, considering younger children may have been watching the draft. He says he has received death threats against him and his family for his comments. 

A current Miami Dolphins player, Don Jones, also tweeted that this behavior was “disgusting.” The Dolphins quickly reprimanded Jones, fining him an undisclosed amount of money, and barred him from team activities until he completes “training for his recent comments made on social media.” 

So let me see if I’ve got this straight (no pun intended). If I exercise my First Amendment rights to speak out against what I believe is a disgusting behavior, I am risking a fine from my employer, ordered to take “training” to either change my mind about what I believe is right and wrong, or at least to keep my mouth shut and by my silence give approval, and probably receive death threats against me and my family. 

You might also remember the Mayor of Chicago vowed to keep Chick-Fil-A out of town because their values didn’t align with Chicago’s values. This was after COO Dan Cathy publicly affirmed traditional marriage. You’re not allowed to believe same sex marriage is wrong in Chicago and still expect to do business.

Then there was the flap regarding Phil Robertson’s comments about his belief that homosexuality is wrong – even quoting the Bible as his source! – which led to the A&E network temporarily dropping Duck Dynasty after a public outcry against Phil. 

You need to know there’s also a bill in the U.S. Senate instructing the government to monitor and analyze speech in media looking for anything it considers “hate speech.” While purporting to prevent those who might “advocate or encourage violent acts or hate crimes,” S.2219 is also believed to be a tool for silencing those who speak against homosexuality, whether on a church’s website or posts on your individual Facebook page. 

Some people, not surprisingly, are offering Michael Sam their gleeful support. President Obama said this: “The President congratulates Michael Sam, the Rams and the NFL for taking an important step forward today in our Nation’s journey.” 

There’s a lot more than a transmission belt burning up in America, and the issue of the normalization and acceptance of homosexual behavior (and the silencing of those opposed) remains at the forefront of our cultural disintegration. 

If I don’t get that mower fixed, the yard will soon be a mess. Likewise, if we don’t get our values fixed soon, this nation will be a wreck. Thankfully, God still offers forgiveness to all who repent of sin and turn in faith to follow the ways of Christ Jesus. His value system never wears out.