Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Taking back the yard

The mole in my yard is winning. I mean, absolutely kicking my butt. He’s creating havoc, tearing up the yard and leaving his mark. I’m not happy. 

And he’s gloating about it, the little vermin. I saw him doing what appeared to be something like a touchdown dance. There should have been a flag for taunting. 

I think he’s got friends, too. Maybe a whole team. The kind of team that plays dirty (pun intended). Like the Oakland Raiders of the 1970’s, whom Steelers coach Chuck Noll called “the criminal element of the NFL.” If that reference is too old for some of my younger readers, think an entire roster of players like Ndamukong Suh. 

But he doesn’t belong here. He’s not welcome. We don’t put up with that type of behavior in this league. I’m the commissioner of my yard and it’s past time to do something about it. We’ll see if I have any more authority over the situation than Roger Goodell had over Tom Brady in the “Deflategate” debacle. 

It’s not like I haven’t tried. Really, I have. But apparently my efforts have been too futile for such a conniving, scheming rodent. A friend gave me two of those sonar traps that are supposed to drive away moles and gophers. They’ve become nothing more than “base” for a friendly mole game of tunnel tag. 

Another friend loaned me a spring-loaded trap. I set it where I knew the critter was digging, but no luck. I think the pesky creature is using it as a work out gym, doing some push-ups with the spikes, getting stronger to impress his lady friends. 

I even bought some poison peanuts and dropped the pellets into the tunnels around the yard. Eats it like popcorn while watching the game and left me a thank you note for hooking him up with the snacks. Nothing fazes this guy. 

Well, I have had enough. I’ve been too tolerant. I’ve given up too easily. But no more. This is one enemy that’s going down. Whatever it takes. I’m taking back my yard! 

You know, there’s a greater enemy than moles invading our territory. Our chief adversary is the devil, and he is a cruel foe. He’s caused enough damage to our families and homes already. He’s wreaked havoc in our communities and cities. He’s torn up plenty of patches of this nation’s landscape and has an appetite for even greater destruction. He’s tunneled into the fabric of many churches and left mounds of dirt in his wake. He’s burrowed his way into the soul of America’s culture with wicked schemes, evil intention and detestable lying. And he’s kicking our collective butts. 

My fellow Christians, we have been too complacent. We’ve given in too easily. We’ve allowed Satan a foothold, and now he’s gloating over dead babies killed in the womb, a growing cultural acceptance of homosexuality and all things sexually immoral, the confusion over gender identity and increasing suppression of religious freedom, along with his many other sinful victories over the collective conscience of this nation. 

Well, I’ve had enough. Satan doesn’t belong here. Not in my yard. Not in my life. Not in my home. Not in my church. And unlike the NFL commissioner, I have authority in Christ to do something about it. James 4:7 says: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” I also have the power of the Holy Spirit within me and the sword of God’s Word in my arsenal, and the truth is that He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world. 

Satan is a defeated foe. Jesus took care of that battle on the cross and by rising from the dead in resounding victory. That victory belongs to all who belong to Christ. 

It’s time to live in victory over Satan and his schemes. Let’s take back our yard in the name of Jesus!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Prayer for the Umpqua Community College family

Lord God in heaven, we’ve witnessed this scene way too many times already. The school shooting last week in Oregon leaves another community devastated by grief and sorrow. And though we’re separated by 2,000 miles we feel the heartache of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors who are staggering in sadness from such a senseless act of murder.

But God, it’s almost beginning to numb our conscience. The news hardly surprises us anymore. We’re not losing any sleep over this. There are other stories to cover. The Umpqua community will deal with their loss and move on. And soon we’ll hear of another deranged madman killing children in some other school somewhere else. 

I’m asking you, Father, to please keep our hearts compassionate for those who are suffering. It’s been reported that these victims were targeted for their Christian faith. They are brothers and sisters in Christ who were not ashamed to declare their trust in Jesus, even when it meant they would die. Thank you for giving them the courage to honor You with their dying breath. May You reward them richly for their sacrifice. 

Let us, as a church, not fail to weep with those who weep and suffer together with those who suffer. As one body in Christ may we encourage them and care for them in their time of need. Father, I pray that Your grace will be sufficient in their weakness. I pray that Your strength will help them and that You will uphold them with Your righteous right hand. I pray, O God, that You, the Great Shepherd, will lead them by Your goodness and mercy, that You will comfort them with Your protection and provision, and as they walk through this valley of the shadow of death, may they know that You are with them to comfort them every step of the way. 

O Lord, our Rock of Refuge, our Shelter in the Storm, our Strong Tower and Mighty Deliverer, we pray further believing that You will somehow work this evil out for good. May salvation arise from the desolation. May beauty rise from the ashes. May joy come in the morning and dancing replace the sorrow. Lord God, for what You are doing and will keep doing to bring healing and hope and peace to those who seek Your face, we praise You and give You thanks. It just may be, Father, that multitudes turn away from sin and come to faith in Jesus through this tragedy. May it be so. Amen. 

Abba, our Father, we live in a broken, sinful world, full of anger, hatred, confusion, chaos, and despair. We confess that we have brought judgment on ourselves because we have rejected Your commands. We have gone away, like sheep, and turned to our own ways. We have stubbornly rebelled and chased after the desires of our evil hearts, and all the while refused to listen to Your voice calling us back to the paths of righteousness. And our nation lies in ruins. 

Jesus, You are our only hope! We don’t need new laws. We don’t need band-aid solutions that mask the underlying problems. We need major surgery. We need a heart transplant. We need to recognize our sin, confess it and repent, and return to You before it’s too late. O God Almighty, I am pleading with You to drive us to our knees, seeking Your face and turning from our wicked ways. O Lord, make us desperate as we pray, desperate for Your help, desperate for Your presence, desperate for Your salvation. 

Apart from You, Lord Jesus, we are sunk. We’re seeing the ship sinking deeper and deeper as we take our eyes off of You. But Your Word gives me hope, and my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus, our Savior and King. For our nation, for our communities, for our children and their families, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.      

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Facebook for Christians

The Christian’s Definitive Guide to Being a Good Facebook Friend

Never thought this would be the title of my first book, but I think it needs to be written. If you’re on Facebook you probably know why. 

It’s a work in progress at this point. Let me rephrase that: I’m making it up as I go. But at least I have a few ideas on the subject. Let’s see if some of these make sense. 

Chapter 1 – “Some people shouldn’t be on Facebook at all” 

Should you? If you’re not already, there’s probably a good reason for that. If you don’t normally get along with people, you shouldn’t be on Facebook. If you struggle with time management or are easily addicted to games, you shouldn’t be on Facebook. If you are so insecure that you need people to like you in order to feel good about yourself, you shouldn’t be on Facebook. If you’re a bully or a jerk or an egotist, you shouldn’t be on Facebook. If you’re on the lam or in the witness protection program, you shouldn’t be on Facebook. There’s more, but you’ll have to wait until the book comes out. 

Chapter 2 – “There are some good reasons to be on Facebook” 

Paul (from the Bible) would have been on Facebook. He would have used this as an avenue to reach more people for the gospel. He would have prayed for the people who posted a prayer request to their status. He would have looked for ways to build up those who needed a word of encouragement. He would have kept in contact with his churches. He would have smiled at your daughter’s dance recital video, sent you a birthday greeting, and tried that recipe you posted for the cheesy potato casserole. I’m sure of it. 

Chapter 3 – “Think, brother, think before you post” 

You do realize, I hope, that everything you say, everything you like, every comment you make is “out there” for the world to see. Your boss (and other potential employers after you get fired for badmouthing your boss), your husband or wife, your children, your child’s teacher, your pastor, your friends, your enemies, our government, the Chinese government, the Russians…you post it, it’s out there. Undeletable. Forever. Think, think, think before you post. 

Chapter 4 – “Not everything you think you should post should be posted” 

People are going to unfriend me after reading this chapter. You shouldn’t post it if it comes across sounding arrogant and boastful. You shouldn’t post it if it comes across sounding angry and judgmental. You shouldn’t post it if it’s not 100%, verifiably true. And, of course, not everything that is true needs to be posted! You shouldn’t post it if it even hints of anything sexually immoral, impure, crude, foolish or questionable. You shouldn’t post it if you’re complaining, whining or grumbling. You shouldn’t post it if it has the potential to slander or tear someone down, or could be considered gossip. Much more could be said in this chapter. Just wait until the book hits the shelves! 

Chapter 5 – “Purposeful Posting” 

Here’s the chapter where what’s good about Facebook can be used to purposefully impact people’s lives for the Kingdom of God. Post words of encouragement and testimonies of God’s love. Post truth in love that points people to Jesus. Post sincere requests for prayer. Post pics of your family for out of town friends (as long as it’s not always, “Look at how wonderfully talented and perfect my children are.”). Post Scripture verses that mean something special to you, and explain why. Post with humility and thanksgiving, with love, compassion and kindness. Post on purpose to elevate Jesus, encourage one another, and engage the world with the gospel. 

Additional chapters/appendices include: 

"What's a #Hashtag?"
"Creative #Hashtagging"
"Why is my newsfeed loaded with nothing but junk mail?"
"How can I make money off of Facebook?"
"Help! Somebody added me to a group that I don't want to be in!"
"How should I lovingly tell my Christian friend that he/she is being a rotten witness for Christ on Facebook?"
"Has anyone's opinion ever been changed by arguing about an issue on Facebook?"
"So, if I type 'Amen' in the comments field for those money-will-come-to-you posts, how much should I expect to get?"

That’s all I’ve got so far. What suggestions would you add for the book? Friend me on Facebook and let me know!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Standing for the faith - my take on the Kim Davis story

Note: I'm a little late in posting this article. The news moves on. But for what it's still worth...

I guess I’m a sucker for controversy. Honestly, I intentionally try to not write about a lot of things I could write about because (1) I think you probably tire of hearing it, (2) I get sick of it myself, and (3) really there are other good things to discuss.

But neither can I stick my head in the sand and pretend like the vultures circling overhead doesn’t mean something’s dying here. And since you can’t count on the mainstream media to tell it straight, I feel like occasionally I need to expose some of the bosh. At least for the both of my readers who might be interested. 

So, you’ve heard about the county clerk in Kentucky who was actually sent to jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. To some she’s a hero. To others she’s a criminal. Whatever your opinion about whether she was right or wrong, the fact that she was sent to jail over this ought to be very troubling. 

If you’re easily offended, you probably better stop reading now. It’s been fun being friends, but come back next week and we’ll talk about how the Bears are doing, or the weather, or something. Talking religion and politics at the dinner table doesn’t always lead to harmonious relationships. 

Here’s my take. I admire Kim Davis for standing firm for her faith. The woman was willing to go to jail before compromising her conscience. I believe her conscience is in the right. As a Christian, she simply could not give her recognition and approval for that which is an abomination to God, no matter what the court says. The Bible is clear. Marriage is the union of one man and one woman bound together in a lifetime covenant. Homosexuality is a sin. There are times when it is right to obey God rather than man. 

One could argue that Davis should have simply resigned her office, as a number of other county clerks throughout the U.S. have done since the Supreme Court’s ruling regarding same-sex marriage. That’s exactly what the liberals would love to see happen. If all Christian influence would disappear from the public sphere, if we’ll just keep our faith to ourselves and go away quietly, then the march to a godless culture, government tyranny and suppression of religious freedom can proceed unchecked. 

The directive is clear: If you don’t bow down to the golden statue of homosexual affirmation, then you’re going to be thrown into the fiery furnace. The day will come when writing this article or preaching the biblical view of marriage will land me in jail. The opposition to Jesus and His followers is mounting quickly, and the heat is rising. 

If I had the space I’d insert here a short digression concerning the “rule of law” comments made by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. You know, the one where he said that “no public official is above the law.” I could only wish that the same principle applied evenly across the board. But I guess the President not following immigration laws doesn’t count, nor does Hillary’s disregard for classified information laws, nor the IRS’s illegal targeting of conservative groups, etc., etc., etc. But a county clerk from Kentucky goes to jail when she refuses to serve the gods of this age. 

I’ll close with this. Jesus spoke very plainly concerning the cost of following Him. Hatred, persecution, and even death for His name are sure to come. But listen to this: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:34-38). I’d rather lose my life here and save it for eternity than forfeit my soul and have Jesus be ashamed of me when He comes. 

Let us stand unashamed for the faith with faith, love and courage in Jesus’ name.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Let's go to the War Room

It’s time to go to war. Or more specifically, to the war room.

I say that having watched the movie “War Room” recently. It’s not often that I promote or endorse movies. In fact, most of the film that comes out of Hollywood would be better served lining the bottom of your birdcage. But when it comes out of Albany, Georgia, from the lens of the Kendrick brothers, you’re in for an inspiring treat.

Yes, it’s a faith story about the power of prayer. And not just a generic “saying prayers” kind of praying like you’re sort of floating thoughts up to the sky, but a passionate, purposeful crying out to our Father in heaven for help.

I also say it’s time to go to war knowing that when the enemy prowls around like a roaring lion, he’s not playing games. He’s looking for someone to devour. Satan is the mastermind of destruction. He is the father of lies. He’s the thief whose desire is to kill, steal and destroy. He is the enemy of everything that’s good and right and true. He’s tearing up families, ripping lives apart and causing chaos all over this country. And multitudes from the White House to the town square and from urban ghettos to suburban mansions are blindly (or willfully?) falling for and following his perverse schemes.

It’s time for war. And I say that it’s time to go to war because even though the bombs are bursting all around us, we’re living like we’re on a cruise ship rather than a battleship. My fellow Christians soldiers, we’ve gone largely AWOL while our families and neighborhoods and communities and nation suffer relentless, merciless attack. 

We need to go to the war room. That’s where we seek the King for the battle plan. That’s where we receive the leadership and guidance of the One who is “the King of glory, the Lord, strong and mighty, the, Lord mighty in battle!” (Psalm 24:8). That’s where we take comfort and confidence in our great, victorious Warrior, knowing with full assurance that the battle belongs to Him. 

Here’s the deal. It’s not a gun problem. It’s not racism. It’s not an income-inequality issue. It’s not about hate. It’s not the Confederate flag. It’s not mental illness. It’s not healthcare. It’s not a lack of education. It’s not Wall Street’s fault. It’s not about illegal immigration. It’s not drugs or alcohol. It’s not gay marriage. It’s more than Planned Parenthood. It’s not gambling, pornography, the right-wing or the liberals. 

What we are dealing with are spiritual forces of evil at work in the world all around us. And until we figure out who the real adversary is and how to stand strong in the strength of the Lord we’re going to lose the war. As Gen. Douglas MacArthur astutely said, “In war there is no substitute for victory.”

Christians, let’s go to the war room and fight the battle in prayer. Let us put on the full armor of God so that we can stand firm in these evil days. Let us “take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication…and keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…” (Ephesians 6:16-18). 

Let’s go to the war room. “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). 

We need the divine power of the “Ruler of the kings of the earth” to fight this war for us. And fight He will, for our Defender is strong, and none can stand against Him. 

Let’s go to the war room.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Jesus makes all things new

“Need a fresh start? Jesus makes all things new.”

This message has been on our church’s sign for a couple of weeks now, and I have to say, I love this truth. I mean, who doesn’t need a fresh start from time to time? Who doesn’t wish once in a while that you could have a do-over? We all make mistakes. We all say things we wish we could unsay and do things we wish we’d never done. 

Is a fresh start even possible? 

Or maybe you need more than a fresh start. You need a complete overhaul. Life just hasn’t turned out the way you thought it would. You’ve made your fair share of bad decisions, you’ve had some things that didn’t go your way, or perhaps you’ve been a victim of horrible circumstances beyond your control. You might even be living a nightmare and simply wish you could wake up and things would be all better. 

You wonder sometimes how things could possibly get worse, but do you believe things could possibly get better? 

Dear friend, no matter what has come your way, no matter what mistakes you’ve made, no matter what troubles and turmoil you may be going through, Jesus makes all things new. And with Jesus all things are possible. 

Can you imagine a life with no tears, no pain, no sorrow and no death? Can you envision living in a place where there is no such thing as sin? Where there are no shootings to report on the evening news? No plane crashes, no Muslim terrorist attacks, no Planned Parenthood abortions? No child abuse, no starving children, no homeless families? No lying tongues, no e-mail scandals, no political campaigns? No racial hatred, no arrogance, no greed, no bitterness, no obscenities. No arthritis, no dementia, no heart disease, no cancer? 

Can you imagine a life with filled with only love and kindness and joy and peace? 

I can. I can see it as clearly as I can see the sun that Jesus makes all things new. New life. New purpose. New hope. New joy. I can see it by faith and know that day is coming. 

One of the most beautiful and glorious pictures painted for us in the Scriptures is found near the very end of Revelation. It’s a scene that reveals a new heaven and a new earth, where the former things are truly things of the past. The first heaven and the first earth have passed away, and with it the curse of sin and suffering that has infected mankind with all kinds of pain and sorrow, tragedy and death. 

And there’s a description of the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. In this place God chooses to make His dwelling place among men, to live among His very own people – those who belong to Him through Jesus Christ. 

And in this place there’s no need of the sun or the moon, for the glory of God gives it light, and the lamp is the Lamb – Christ Jesus. There is no darkness there. No more night. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. 

Friend, there is hope for you because Jesus makes all things new. And He will begin the work of making you into a new creation the moment you yield Him your heart. Repent of your sin and believe in Jesus for salvation. He’ll ink your name into His book of life, and you’ll start walking in newness of life. 

The message on our sign at the corner of Sangamon and 7th might change, but know that the Word of the Lord stands forever. Fresh starts start now.   

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Good thing

Last Friday my wife and I celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary. Friend, I’m telling you by experience, God is good! When they talk about “marrying up,” they’re referring to the way God brought an angel from heaven and placed her in my arms.

When we stood before God and those assembled at College Avenue Baptist Church in Normal, IL, on August 7, 1993, we surely didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into, but we vowed to love, honor and cherish one another for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health as long as we both shall live.

As much as I wish I could say that the journey has been nothing but smooth sailing, that’s not always the case. Some days are worse than better. Some seasons of life have been poorer than richer. And sometimes sickness has prevailed over health.

Then there are days I’m just not very likeable, much less loveable. There are days I fail to honor my wife as I should. And as long as I’m being honest, I haven’t always cherished her like I promised I would.

About a year ago it was high time to clean the garage. For the record, it’s high time again. I think it’s always high time to clean the garage. I really don’t understand how a garage can completely clutter itself overnight, but I’ve seen it happen.

Amy and I were working on it together, but she’s much more organized about things than I am. Personally, I was happy with all the loose screws, assorted wrenches and all kinds of doohickeys floating around in the bottom of my toolbox. I was okay with the lawn chairs leaning up against the wall, extension cords hanging from the ceiling or old motorcycle parts cluttering the workbench. Amy, uh, not so much.

In that moment where we didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye on how thoroughly the garage should be cleaned and organized, the promise I’d made in 1993 to love, honor and cherish my wife wasn’t really materializing. As I recall, I reacted by arguing, raising a stink and saying something stupid. And when that didn’t work, I begrudgingly gave in while sporting a rotten attitude that pretty much ruined the day for everyone.

I don’t know about you, but I have this tendency to favor my own opinions and want to do things my way. But that kind of mindset doesn’t usually make for a great marriage, especially when I’m called as a Christian man to give myself up for my wife as an act of love – the way Jesus gave up His life for His bride, the church (Ephesians 5:25).

You know how the story ends, don’t you? So we cleaned and organized the garage the way my wife wanted it done (despite my little temper tantrum), and lo and behold, it turned out great. Tools were organized. Boxes were labeled. Camping supplies and automotive products were arranged neatly on shelves. Even the doohickeys found a home. And I felt like a fool for being so childish and selfish.

Do you know what’s held us together for 22 years? Do you want to know the secret to a great marriage when so many other well-meaning couples don’t make it?

Here’s my best answer. The “secret” is the glue of Christ Jesus. It’s only by the grace of God that our marriage is what it is. We can make a loving commitment to one another, but it’s because of Him that forgiveness and mercy happen in our home. It’s because of Him that serving one another in love takes place. It’s because of Him that we seek to build one another up. It’s because of Him that patience and kindness can replace envy, arrogance and rudeness. It’s because of Him that I don’t insist on my own way, become irritable or resentful (at least on my good days).

That’s love in action, made possible because Jesus holds us together. My wife truly is my “good thing” (Proverbs 18:22), and I thank God for such a gift.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

It's time to end the slaughter of abortion in America

In the land of the free and the home of the brave, in the nation whose Declaration recognizes that our Creator has given each one certain inalienable rights – foremost of which is “Life,” and in a society which upholds God’s command, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13), it is unconscionable that taking the lives of babies in the womb is accepted.

America, we have been duped. Under the guise of women’s rights and freedom of choice, we have fallen for the lie that the child conceived in the mother’s womb is nothing more than fetal tissue. We have been deceived into believing that she is free to decide whether to keep the pregnancy or terminate it, like making a choice on whether to keep the gym membership or cancel it. For 42 years we have granted the legal right to abortion and have left some 55 million dead babies in our wake. 

It’s time to end the slaughter. It’s time for abortion to become absolutely, unequivocally unacceptable. It’s time to end abortion in America. 

Even if you’re not a Bible-believing Christian, you have to recognize the barbarity of what’s going on with the largest abortion provider in America, Planned Parenthood. Recent undercover videos have demonstrated the depth of depravity within this evil organization. We now know that at least some of its doctors have been harvesting and selling selected organs from the children they destroy in the womb. Apparently, they carefully crush the baby in such a way that they can still extract his or her heart, lungs and liver intact. And the cavalier manner in which they describe their grisly work has left those with a conscience in revulsion. 

We’ve got to rise up and say, “Enough!” We cannot continue to allow this bloodshed on our watch. As if the act of abortion is not an abomination already, the added atrocities committed by Planned Parenthood must compel us to stop the massacres. 

The science on the matter is settled. Life begins at conception. At conception a new DNA structure is created that’s embedded in each individual for the rest of his or her life. And consider these facts. A baby’s heart begins beating as early as 18-21 days after fertilization. Brain waves can be detected at 40 days. Within the first trimester of pregnancy the baby has defined fingers and toes, eyes, ears, mouth and nose! That doesn’t sound like a glob of immaterial tissue to me, nor has it ever to any mother who has rejoiced in the excitement of new life being formed day-by-day inside her womb. 

And not only is the science settled, the theology has long been established. In the Bible we read of the psalmist’s delight in the work of God: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in the secret place, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:14-16). 

To anyone who has ever had an abortion, encouraged someone to have an one, supported lawmakers who justify it or who have stood by silently while this holocaust has happened, yes, the blood is on our hands. But the gospel tells us that every sin and every stain and every trace of guilt can be washed away by the precious blood of Jesus shed on the cross of Calvary.  He is the God of forgiveness and grace, who cleanses and restores. His mercies are new every morning. By His wounds we are healed.  

Now is the time to cry out to Jesus for mercy and repent of our sin. Now is the time to pray for abortion to end. Now is the time to defend the weak and helpless – the unborn. Now is the time to use our vote and our voice to choose life.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Are you ready for Jesus to come again?

In case you missed church this past Sunday, let me summarize four indisputable truths we covered concerning the second coming of Jesus. And here’s why I believe this doctrine is important to remember – it’s easy for Christians to grow weary as we live this life of faith. The promises of greater things to come can sometimes seem so distant we wonder if they’ll ever come true. When evil seems to be gaining an upper hand in our world, and while many of the cherished values we hold dear are now mocked and sin is celebrated, we can begin to question whether we’re on the right side of history or not. 

Friend, let me assure you that God is not aloof or indifferent to the situation. He hasn’t been caught off guard nor does He need to decide what to do. His plan has not failed, nor is He silent. Rather, His voice resounds clearly through His Word, urging us to take heart, for Christ has overcome the world, and pleading for us to keep holding unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. 

So, here are four indisputable truths about the second coming of Jesus that ought to fuel our faith as we keep walking in the way of the Lord. 

One – Jesus really is coming again! Let us not overlook or miss this truth. The Lord will keep His promise. He always has and always will. Throughout the gospels Jesus speaks matter-of-factly about His return. The Old Testament prophets foretell it. The New Testament writers anticipate it. Jesus reveals it in Revelation in no uncertain terms, including three times in the very last chapter of the Bible: “Behold, I am coming soon” (Rev. 22:7, 12, 20). Be encouraged, dear Christian! Jesus is coming again! 

Two – We don’t know when He will come, but we know it will be soon. In Matthew 24:36 Jesus says, “Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” How foolish for people to speculate on dates and times of the end! When He comes it will be like a thief in the night. But we do know that the signs that point to Jesus’ return are unfolding before us. They are the beginning of birth pains (Matthew 24:8), meaning that the hour is drawing near. 

Three – Jesus’ coming means salvation for the righteous; and judgment for the wicked. In Matthew 25 we read of the final judgment: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne…and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats…Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of  the world.’…Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’…And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” When He comes, it will be for salvation and judgment. 

Four – Jesus’ coming means that we need to stay awake and be ready. The only way to be ready for that day is to know Jesus as Savior and Lord, faithfully obeying Him in doing the work He has called us to do. “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes” (Matthew 24:46). Paul writes it this way: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession, who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14). 

The only question is: Are you ready for Jesus to come again? Don’t get caught on the wrong side of history. Walk in the way of the Lord, for He is faithful.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Teaching children to trust in Jesus for life

This week in Vacation Bible School the children are learning how to trust in Jesus for life. I’d say that’s a pretty important subject, wouldn’t you? In a messed up world where wrong seems right and right seems wrong, and where you don’t always know who to trust, we unapologetically want to anchor children to the solid rock of Christ Jesus.

And we are giving our absolute best effort to teach Jesus according to the Bible. We want the children to not only know who Jesus is, but to lead them to love, trust and obey Him here and now, even as they look forward to His promise of greater things yet to come. And hopefully, we are also demonstrating what living by faith in Jesus looks like.

Parents and grandparents, thank you for seeing the value of bringing your children to church. Thank you for entrusting them to us, if even for a few days of VBS. Your children are a delight, a joy, brimming with energy, excitement and potential. I want you to know how much we love them and care for them.

And if you’re not actively involved in church elsewhere, please know you are encouraged to come and join us for Sunday School every Sunday morning at 9:30, followed by our Worship Celebration at 10:45. We’ll also be starting Kids Klub back up on Wednesday nights in September, as well as Children’s Church and Children’s Choir.

The Bible tells us how important children were to Jesus, and our desire is to show that same love to your children. “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God,” Jesus said. “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of a God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:14-16)

As a church, however, our time with your children is limited, and our influence in their lives is nothing compared to the influence in their homes. Parents and grandparents, I want to encourage you – plead with you – to raise your children in the ways of the Lord. If you’re already doing so, I applaud you! If not, now’s the perfect time to begin.

What in the world does that look like, you may be wondering? If you will, allow me to give a few brief thoughts, in classic three-point preaching outline.

First, start seeing the vision of what your family life would look like when Jesus rules your home. Where love for one another characterizes your relationships. Where respect and honor, encouragement and comfort, and mercy and grace flow freely. Where kindness, patience, joy, peace, faithfulness, gentleness, humility and forgiveness set the tone of your home. That’s a pretty compelling picture for any household!

Next, be intentional about how to make this vision come to life. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul writes: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Could you say that to your children? You need to be an intentional follower of Jesus yourself if you want your children to follow Jesus. That will then mean at least teaching them the word of Christ – how to walk in faith and obedience to the Lord, loving the Lord wholeheartedly, loving one another, worshiping and serving in the local church, seeking to reach the lost with the gospel of Christ Jesus and making disciples of all nations. For starters, anyway.

Third, pray and believe. By pray, I mean, pray without ceasing. Don’t ever quit praying. Pray for your children, and pray with your children. And believe that God will do the part that only God can do – the work of making them into new creations in Christ and transforming them more and more into His image. In other words, you be diligent to do what you’re supposed to do, and trust God for the results.

We live in perilous times. We need an anchor to keep our souls “steadfast and sure while the billows roll.” For this, we have Jesus – for life. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Walking in the Way at VBS

You remember going to Vacation Bible School, don’t you? VBS seems to be one of those childhood experiences that most of us recall with fondness. I bet some of you could go back 50, 60 or 70 years and pull out some snapshots of friends, craft projects, memory verses or Bible songs that have found a home in your heart all this time.

For me it’s been more than 35 years since my early VBS days at Trimble Bible Church, but it sure doesn’t seem like it.

This coming week we will host VBS at the First Baptist Church. And my prayer is that your children and/or grandchildren will have such a joyful experience that it will lodge in their hearts and minds for the rest of their lives. 

Our theme this year is “Journey off the Map,” where our aim is to lead children to know that Jesus is our ultimate Guide and life and can be trusted to take us into the uncharted territories of obedience to God. The journey begins this Sunday, July 19, and runs through Thursday, July 23, from 6:00-9:00 each evening. All children who have just finished Pre-K up through those who have just finished 6th grade are invited to come. 

I don’t have to tell you that times aren’t what they used to be. I’m not just talking about the fact that today’s country music shouldn’t even qualify as country music. 

Let’s face it. Your children and/or grandchildren are growing up in a world that’s completely foreign to the one in which most of us were raised. Our culture now has a different set of values, different priorities, different languages, different technologies, different social demographics, different educational systems, different governmental influence, and a different definition of marriage and family. It’s just not the same. 

Change can be good or bad, and there have been some of both. But one of my big concerns for the younger generation is that many of the cultural lines between right and wrong have not only been blurred – they’ve been erased. 

There are myriad voices speaking enticingly into their headphones every day trying to lure them away from the path you’ve taught them to walk, and those voices are getting louder and louder every day. Our children face pressures and temptations and opportunities to sin that you and I would never have even known existed. We have unwittingly made it easy for immorality to flourish, and have created a culture where doing so doesn’t seem so bad. 

Can I tell you that we as a church are praying for your children? Personally, I’m not ashamed to say that I’m praying that God will save your children from the way of sin and death. I’m praying that they will put their faith wholeheartedly in Jesus – in His death on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins and in His victorious resurrection from the dead. I’m praying that they will know Him, worship Him and follow Him as Lord and King of their lives. 

I’m praying that they will love Him more than anyone or anything else. I’m praying that they will choose to keep obeying His Word no matter what the cost. I’m praying that their lives will shine brightly with the holiness and light of Christ Jesus as a witness for all the world to see, and that God will use them to advance the work of His Kingdom in their homes, their schools, their neighborhoods, communities and world. 

I’m praying that the words of Isaiah 30:21 which they’ll learn in VBS next week will be one of the snapshots they’ll keep hidden in their hearts for the rest of their lives: “And whenever you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear this command behind you: This is the way. Walk in it.”