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.