Wednesday, April 23, 2014

It's Time to Pray

I don’t think we can even begin to imagine the blessings that God would be willing to pour out upon a people who truly seek Him and pray for His will to be done. The Bible is loaded with prayer promises, such as Jesus taught: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7). 

And since God is all-wise, all-powerful, loving, faithful, merciful and gracious, His will in every situation is always for the best – for our good and for His glory.  

So why is it that we don’t pray more persistently and more passionately for His will to be done? I am convinced that individual lives, families, communities, states and nations would be much stronger and healthier if we would call upon the name of the Lord. Perhaps we’re facing such perilous times because we have not asked God for help. 

Rev. Billy Graham once said, “Heaven is full of answers to prayers for which no one ever bothered to ask.” 

It’s time to start asking. Let me invite you to come out and pray on Thursday, May 1, at 12:00 noon on the west lawn of the Menard County Courthouse for the National Day of Prayer. Let us call upon the Lord, asking for His help and healing. 

I want to share with you a prayer written by Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of Billy Graham and 2014 Honorary Chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. May these words reflect our own hearts’ desire for our Father’s will to be done: 

Lord of the Universe. Lord of this planet. Lord of the nations. Lord of our hearts. 

On this National Day of Prayer, we look to You…

In the darkness, You are our Light. 

In the storm, You are our Anchor. 

In our weakness, You are our Strength. 

In our grief, You are our Comfort. 

In our despair, You are our Hope. 

In our confusion, You are our Wisdom. 

In time of terrorism, You are our Shield. 

In time of war, You are our Peace. 

In times of uncertainty, You are the Rock on which we stand. 

We make our prayer to You using the words of the prophet Daniel: 

“O Lord, You are the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and keep His commandments. You are merciful and forgiving. You are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame because we have sinned against You, and done wrong. We have turned away from Your commands and principles. We have turned away from You.” 

Yet You have promised in 2 Chronicles 7, that if we–a people identified with You–would humble ourselves, pray, seek Your face, and turn from our wicked ways, then You would hear our prayer, forgive our sin and heal our land. 

So we choose to stop pointing our finger at the sins of others, and examine our own hearts and lives. We choose to acknowledge our own sin–our neglect and defiance and ignorance and even rejection of You. This day we choose to repent. 

In response to our heartfelt repentance, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Father of Jesus Christ, in keeping with all Your righteous acts and according to Your promise, turn away Your anger and Your wrath from the United States of America. Hear the prayers and petitions offered to You on this National Day of Prayer, as we give You our full attention. Give ear, our God, and hear; open Your eyes and see. We do not make requests of You because we are righteous, but because of Your great mercy. 

For the glory of Your Name hear our prayer, forgive our sin, and heal our land. 

We ask this in the name of Your Son Jesus Christ who offers us salvation from Your judgment, forgiveness for our sin, and reconciliation with You through His own blood shed on the Cross. Amen.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Jesus - our only hope of glory

A 16-year-old sophomore in Pennsylvania calmly walks into school and stabs 21 people. Another fatal shooting spree at Fort Hood leaves four dead and 14 wounded.  Some madman opens fire on a Jewish community center and an assisted living facility killing three. Every day there’s breaking news of another spree of violence. 

Then there’s the alarming problem of increased human trafficking (slavery) not just in a few third-world countries somewhere else, but right here in our nation. There are gambling addictions, drug and alcohol addictions, pornography addictions and who knows what other addictions that are destroying lives and tearing families apart. 

There seems to be an unquenchable thirst for sexual immorality, impurity, lust, jealousy, quarreling, selfish ambition, dissension, anger, hatred and falsehood that has seeped into and taken over our cultural mentality, and it’s crumbling our foundations and rotting out the very walls that have held this nation together, strong and secure. 

We are in a mess. What in the world is going on?! 

Could it be that we’re simply suffering the effects of what happens when a culture becomes godless and jettisons biblical values? When sin goes unchecked and people do whatever seems right in their own eyes? When we reject the ways of the Lord and applaud the ways of the wicked? That is why – more than ever – we need to return to the hope of the gospel of Christ Jesus. And we’d better do it sooner than later. 

Don’t expect Washington to get it all figured out and straightened up. Neither laws nor politicians can change the wickedness of men’s hearts. Don’t wait for Hollywood to recognize the moral poison it’s spewing out and decide to clean up its act. The media wouldn’t even produce the kind of garbage they do if viewers weren’t craving it. Don’t think higher education holds the key to getting the ship back on course. Many of our nation’s leading universities are awash in atheistic thought and immorality. 

What we need is Jesus. In the words of Christian rock band Petra: “When will this world see that we need Jesus? If we open our eyes we will all realize that He loves us.” He is our truly only hope. Without Christ, we’re done. We’re sunk. If we don’t repent and get right with God through Jesus, we’re only going to see the chaos and confusion and violence and immorality escalate exponentially to our grave destruction. 

It’s only by God’s patient, loving grace that we’re not already feeling the full brunt of His displeasure. But if we continue to flaunt our sin in His face, it surely won’t be long until we are completely undone by His judgment. 

Church, I’m calling us to get on our knees and humbly seek the Lord and turn from our own sins first and foremost. How can we expect God to bless and heal our land if we’re not seeking His face and following His ways? How can we possibly expect the lost to come to Jesus if they don’t see Jesus living in us? 

And I’m calling us, church, to rise up and proclaim the gospel of Christ Jesus. Pastors, lead the charge for the sake of the kingdom! Don’t compromise the truth at the risk of offending someone in your congregation, but unleash the Word of God in all of its grand and glorious and life-changing power. Call your people to repentance and holiness in Christ. Tell them they’ve spent enough time already doing what pagans choose to do, and plead with them to crucify the flesh with its passions and desires, and to walk in step with the Holy Spirit in the light of God’s life-giving Word. 

This Sunday – Easter Sunday – is the perfect time to proclaim the meaning of the cross and the power of the resurrection. The world needs Jesus, our only hope of glory. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

I Will Embrace the Cross

 In case you haven’t received an official invitation yet, let me invite you to join us at the First Baptist Church this coming Sunday morning, April 13, at 10:45 as our choir presents the Easter cantata, “I Will Embrace the Cross.” Yes, it’s only Palm Sunday, but the message still sings. So, if you don’t already attend a Christ-centered church that preaches the gospel in all its grand and glorious truth, we’d love for you to be our guest.

We’ve had a good time learning the songs in this musical. The energy of celebration and worship in a few of the numbers has even led some of our altos to raise theirs hands in the air, which is a bold expression of praise for many Baptists.

We are typically hands-in-pocket singers, perhaps daring occasionally to tap fingers on the pew, maybe do some light clapping along or even uttering a sporadic “Amen” if a particular song grips us in a special way. So if you see us raising the roof you’ll know the Spirit’s moving!

You’ll also hear in this cantata some deeper, personally reflective songs that God has used to draw us to worship with grateful and sincere hearts. There is one called “Your Blood Covers It All” which powerfully reminds us that what Jesus did for us on the cross covers “all my sins, all my shame, all my secrets, all my chains.”

How can we think about the suffering Jesus endured for us without being moved to brokenness and repentance? How can we ever question His love for us, His unceasing mercies or overflowing grace? How can we possibly choose the paths of sin when Christ has given us new joy, new peace, new satisfaction and new life?

This is the good news of which we sing. This is the simple, yet life-changing gospel message that we want the world to hear. The apostle Paul says it this way:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for ours sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).

Paul never got over what Jesus did for him. Paul knew that he was unworthy to be called an apostle. He was a self-described “chief of sinners.” He was a blasphemer, persecutor and violent opponent of the church. But all that changed when the grace of the Lord shone into the midst of his darkness, because Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners and transform them into trophies of His grace.

Like Paul. Like the thief on the cross and the tax-collecting thief Zacchaeus. Like the immoral woman at the well, and the “woman of the city,” and the woman caught in the act of adultery. Like the demon-possessed and the blind and the lepers and the lame who believed in Him. Like you and like me and like whosoever believes in Jesus for salvation, turning away from sin and turning in faith to the One whose blood shed on the cross offers forgiveness and mercy and everlasting life and eternal joy.

Friend, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). That’s why we sing! That’s why we celebrate! Jesus has saved us and changed us so that we’re no longer walking in darkness, but by following the One who is the light of the world, by taking up our cross to follow, we’re walking in the light of life!

Why not come to Christ today? Don’t wait. Don’t keep making excuses. Don’t let your past keep you in darkness. The blazing light of heaven’s glory is shining for you now. His blood covers all your sin, and the His victory over death has been won. It’s time to follow Jesus and declare with Him, “I Will Embrace the Cross.”