Monday, December 19, 2016

The Simple Message of Christmas

The message is quite simple, really. Profound, mysterious, glorious, earth-shattering, life-transforming, awe-inspiring, and simple:

The baby born in Bethlehem was God the Son.

He was God, and He became flesh. The Maker of the heavens and the earth, the One who made the stars in the sky and holds all things together, the One who marks the boundaries of the ocean and owns the cattle on a thousand hills, the One who breathed the breath of life into mankind and knows the number of our days, He who is the everlasting God stepped into our shoes and walked among us.
Jesus, the Son of God who existed in perfect unity with God the Father and the God the Holy Spirit from the beginning, took on humanity’s flesh and blood by entering this world as a baby boy through the womb of the virgin Mary. He “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…born in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7). The King of all kings “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). He is rightfully called “Immanuel, which means, God with us” (Matthew 1:23).
Truth. Unbelievable, yet believable truth. Simple. Truth.

And in His life He accomplished for us His mission – to seek and to save the lost by His death and resurrection. It is indeed “good news of great joy…for all the people” (Luke 2:10); for true to His name, this baby they called Jesus came to “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

What does that mean for us? Nothing less than everlasting life for those who receive Him. Forgiveness of our sins. Peace with God. Hope that never disappoints. Love that never goes away. Adoption into the family of God. Abundant life. Purpose in living. Victory over sin. God’s power working in us. God’s presence alive in us. And so, so much more!

The Bible says, “He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11-12). And those who believe and belong to Him will know the unspeakable joy and unending treasure of dwelling in His presence for all eternity. 

How can you be sure of this great hope? It is sure because God is faithful. 

Let me ask you, friend: Do you believe in Jesus? Don’t make the fatal mistake of those who received Him not. Instead, make this Christmas more memorable than ever by simply believing in Christ as Savior and Lord. 

“Come to Bethlehem, and see 
Him whose birth the angels sing; 
Come, adore on bended knee 
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.” 

And join us this Sunday – Christmas morning – at a special 10:00 worship celebration at Petersburg First Baptist Church, where we’ll come joyful and triumphant to adore Him, Christ the Lord! 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Jesus and Judgment

I’ve discovered a good way to turn off a conversation. You know that person who always seems to call or show up right as you’re about to make an important phone call, are headed out the door, or having dinner? The one who doesn’t know how to take a hint, who would consume your entire day if you let him, and whose favorite topic in the world is himself?

Here it is: bring up the subject of hell. It’s a proven non-starter, and almost always guaranteed to keep your untimely guest moving right along. And if you’re really needing to keep things short, introduce the name of Jesus into the conversation and watch how quickly you find yourself freed. Works like a charm.

Of course, I would hope that such weighty and sobering subjects might actually lead to a much more serious discussion, especially given that eternal stakes are hanging in the balance. But most people would simply rather not even think about it.

Can I say something, if you’re still reading, that is? I want to say this in love and compassion toward you, but with gravity of heart because of the magnitude of the truth: The day of God’s judgment will come soon enough, where the righteous will receive their heavenly reward, while the wicked will be condemned to the fiery furnace of hell.

If you’ll stay with me for a moment, allow me to unpack this briefly.

In no uncertain terms the Scriptures tell us that at the close of this age the Lord will judge the world. We read in Acts 17:30-32, for example: “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

The fact is that we will all be held accountable to God. Christ Jesus will come in all His glory and will sit on His glorious throne. The nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another. His judgments will be righteous and just, for He knows the hearts of all men, all their thoughts and intentions, their deeds and their words, and everything hidden will be exposed by the light of His presence.

The result of His judgment will be eternal life for the righteous and eternal punishment for the unrighteous.

The righteous are those who have been saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus. They have humbled themselves in repentance, confessed their sins before the Lord, received His forgiveness, have been born again, and endure through faith and obedience to Jesus their Lord and Savior. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Those who will be condemned are those who do not believe in the name of Jesus (John 3:18). They have refused God’s merciful and gracious offer of forgiveness in Christ, and will suffer the wages for their sins, which is death and hell (Romans 6:23). Jesus speaking of hell describes it as an eternal, fiery furnace: “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:42).

I cannot sugarcoat this truth for you. All I can do is pray for you and plead for you to repent and flee the wrath to come when Jesus returns as Judge. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Maybe you didn’t want to hear that today, but if you’ve hung around long enough, maybe it’s exactly what you need. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Letting the Word of Christ Take Root

Quick recap for you from this past Sunday’s message at FBC.

In Matthew 13 we find Jesus speaking to the crowds in parables. Parables are real life stories used to illustrate spiritual truth. Here He’s unveiling some remarkable mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven to those who are receptive to His word, while confirming the dull hearts of those who reject His message.

In what’s called the Parable of the Sower (which I’d rename the Parable of the Soil, but nobody asked!), Jesus shows four types of responses to the message of the Kingdom. Let me suggest, for maximum value, that you read Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23 first. And it would be helpful for you to consider what kind of response you’ve personally made to Jesus as you read.

The first kind of response Jesus identifies for us is the hard heart. This is the person who hears the Word but has zero interest. His heart has become cold and calloused to spiritual things. He’s the one described in Romans 1 who has suppressed the truth about God because of his own unrighteousness. He claims to be wise, and he often exhibits a proud, self-sufficient, self-righteous attitude, but he’s become a fool, and his foolish heart has been darkened. He despises wisdom and instruction, and lives as if there is no God. He loves to sin, falls deeper and deeper in love with all kinds of sinful deeds, and even rises to applaud others who likewise do what ought not to be done.

The second kind of response Jesus tells us is the shallow heart. This is the person who hears the message of the Kingdom and seems to embrace it wholeheartedly. Like new growth in rocky soil, this person appears to be flourishing in her newfound faith. She’s zealous in church attendance, Bible study, and wants to serve immediately. She may have even walked an aisle or signed a card or gotten baptized. But sooner or later, when troubles or persecutions arise on account of the Word, her supposed faith withers. There was never any genuine repentance or brokenness over her sin, and no real transformation. She certainly is not willing to endure suffering for the sake of Christ. Her feelings were stirred for a while, but there’s no root, and her soul remained unchanged.

Another kind of response Jesus points out is the divided heart. This is the person who hears the message of Christ and appears to grow like a true disciple, but ultimately proves himself to be another pretender when his affection for riches and allegiance to worldly cares take precedence over his professed loyalty to Jesus. His first love is not for Christ. He loves the things of the world, but the love of the Father is not in him. The Word is soon choked out by his pursuit of wealth and pleasure, and his life bears no fruit.

The fourth kind of response is the one Jesus highlights as the only true, saving response to the message of the Kingdom. This is the person who hears the gospel message, understands it, learns to trust and obey it, and keeps persevering in it. She is the one who puts away all filthiness and wickedness and humbly receives the word planted, which is able to save her soul. She is convicted of her sin, genuinely repents, and turns in faith to the Lord Jesus. And her life yields much spiritual fruit for the Kingdom of God.

What kind of personal response have you made to the message of Christ and His Kingdom? Why not humble your heart today to receive His Word? Then let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly and keep on abiding in Christ, and your life will bear fruit in abundance. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Back-to-School Prayer

Here’s my back-to-school prayer as we gear up for another year.

“Our Father in heaven, in a world filled with dangers, toils and snares, we look to You because You reign on Your heavenly throne with infinite wisdom, matchless power, and unfailing love. You are the great King above all kings, and there is none like You. You are majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, and the God of wonders. Your name is great and greatly to be praised. We rejoice in knowing that You are gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

In light of Your goodness, we lift up our children as they begin this new school year. Lord, we boldly ask in the name of Jesus that You will invade our schools with the light of the gospel. We pray for a spiritual awakening, that many hearts will turn away from sin and turn in faith to Christ Jesus for salvation. We ask, O God, for Your Holy Spirit to fill every heart and every hallway with the glory of Your presence.

We pray that in view of the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ Jesus, You will lead Your followers in our schools to be beacons of righteousness. By Your transforming power, may a spirit of kindness, goodness, and encouragement toward others rule in their words, their attitudes and their actions. May love and peace and joy flow like rivers of grace bringing refreshing life to all they encounter.

We pray that there will be an environment of patience, meekness, honor and respect in every classroom, on every school bus, and in every extra-curricular activity. Give our children a humble submission to the authority of those who lead them, and may those in authority govern with wisdom, compassion, justice and humility of service.

Holy Father, we ask that You will guide our children to live with self-control, that they would embrace what’s right and reject all wrong. Lead them not into temptation, but deliver them from evil. Shape their own will to desire nothing less than to know and to seek and to do Your will.

We further pray that You will continue to watch over their ways and protect them from all harm – physically, emotionally, spiritually. Provide for their needs. Guide them in the way of truth. Make learning a delight for them. Surround them with godly influences. Help them build strong friendships, to learn loyalty, gratitude, teamwork, diligence, perseverance and initiative. Teach them wise time-management skills, how to express their uniqueness and creativity in Christ-honoring ways, and how to become leaders who can impact the world today and future generations for good.

And Father, for every teacher, administrator, secretary, aide, coach, cook, bus driver and school board member, we pray likewise for Your hand and Your wisdom to guide them in every decision, in every action, and in every way. We thank you for their willingness to invest positively in this generation of students.

Finally, Lord Jesus, we pray for each home to be a safe haven of rest and joy. Bless our homes and families with the light of Your presence. Make Your face to shine upon us, be gracious to us, and give us peace. In Jesus name we pray, amen.”

Monday, August 1, 2016

Warning Signs

Here’s a real warning sign at the Newcastle (South Wales) Tramway Authority: “Touching Wires Causes Instant Death. $200 Fine”. I’m thinking, that’s a pretty steep fine, especially for someone who has just been killed in a tragic accident.

Here’s another one: “Do Not Pee on the Electric Fence.” Self-explanatory. Just a bad, bad idea on several levels.

One more: “Caution – Water on Road During Rain.” You don’t say.

There’s a reason warning signs exist. I suppose there are plenty of chumps who give good reason for posting the most obvious of signs, but on the whole I’m grateful for someone who cares enough about me to warn me of possible dangers.

You know, the Bible comes complete with warnings for us, as well. And it’s because God cares enough about us to tell us of potential pitfalls and to keep us spiritually safe. The truth is that we can all act pretty foolishly and recklessly at times, as well as being ignorant to dangers all around, so we would be wise to heed the warnings.

What are some of those warnings to which we need to pay attention? Good question! Here are just three, for starters.

WARNING against forgetting God. “And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish” (Deuteronomy 8:19). The Lord God was so zealous for his people, had blessed them so abundantly, and had promised so much more good to them if they would keep His commandments, that it would have been ridiculously foolish of them to turn their back on Him. But you know how people are, and even his chosen and beloved Israel ultimately failed to heed the warning.

WARNING against the adulteress. “And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth. Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, for many a victim she has laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death” (Proverbs 7:24-27). We could multiply the biblical warnings against sexual immorality, but this passage makes it plain. To be sure, God created the act of intimacy to be a wonderful thing in the context of the husband and wife relationship. But to ignore the warning is to go for a swim when the sign clearly says that alligators are in the water.

WARNING against false teachers. “And Jesus answered them, ‘See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray’” (Matthew 24:4-5). Again, there are numerous warnings in Scripture urging believers to be on guard against false teachers and false prophets, but here Jesus specifically cautions His disciples to make sure they are not led astray. How tragic that though the path to abundant and eternal life in heaven is clearly marked in Christ Jesus, many will wander away in disbelief and find themselves lost without a trace.

Friend, let us not be foolish or reckless, but wise enough to pay close attention to the biblical warnings and experience the great reward of faithfully following the ways of the Lord.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

God's Glory on Display

How big is the universe? Have you ever wondered about that? When you gaze up at the stars in the night sky, do you ever think about the vastness of the world we live in?

Consider for a moment some of the following astronomical facts. Disclaimer: If you’re not into “mind-blowing” experiences, you may not want to read any further, but if you’re up for some deep contemplation I believe you’ll find this as fascinating as I do.

Let’s start with the sun, at the center of our solar system. When we see the sun, we’re viewing an object 93 million miles away. If you were able to book a flight to the sun, it would take a commercial jet flying at 550 mph about 19 years to get you there. I think that’s a non-stop flight. If you’d prefer to drive the interstellar highway, at 60 mph you’d need 177 years to do it – not counting stops for restrooms or fill-ups.

The sun is amazingly huge. You thought Earth was large, with a diameter of 7,917.5 miles. Compare that to the nearly 865,000 miles of the sun! You could line up 109 Earths across the face of the sun. Another way of thinking about it is that if the sun were the size of a beach ball, Earth would be the size of a pea, and you could put a million of them inside.

But the sun is just an average-sized star among the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy. One of those stars is named Betelguese (yes, pronounced “Beetlejuice”), a red supergiant some 700 times bigger than the sun and about 14,000 times brighter – or much more. That star, by the way, is like the 9th brightest in our galaxy and is part of the Orion constellation. If you see it while star-gazing, you’re peering 640 light years into space.

That’s beyond my capacity to understand, but one astronomer has noted that if the sun were the size of a BB, the star Betelguese would be the size of a Toyota Camry and located about 12,500 miles away.

Now, if you’re still tracking and your mind’s not blown yet, let’s take another step. We haven’t even begun to explore the reaches of our Milky Way galaxy, which stretches about 100,000 light years in diameter and bulges about 1,000 light years thick, looking like a disc. The Milky Way contains some 100-400 billion stars, maybe more. And most experts believe each star has at least one planet, which would mean hundreds of billions of planets in our galaxy, beyond the 8 or 9 (poor Pluto!) in our solar system.

And here’s more just to keep the wheels turning – our galaxy is only one of an estimated 100 billion galaxies in our universe! Think about that for a while. I say, “Wow!”

I’m sharing all this not to help you answer a couple of questions on Jeopardy!, but to join together in singing the praises of the One who masterminded, purposed, and created all things. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19.1). What an amazingly mighty, glorious God we serve!

Monday, June 20, 2016

God's grace no matter how life turns out

“So, no one told you life was gonna be this way?”

It’s a rare case, indeed, where everything you’ve ever dreamed of has fallen perfectly into place. The job you love. The beauty queen wife, or millionaire husband. The immaculate two-story home in the best neighborhood in town. The exotic vacations all over the world. Or whatever else your heart desires.

How’s life turning out for you so far? Yeah, I thought so. I’m guessing the “Friends” theme song opening line probably applies to most of us.

Who could have anticipated how that accident or health issue would take life in a completely different direction? Who would have known the company would downsize like that? Who would have thought your “till death do us part” spouse would have left you with “four hungry children and a crop in the field” (to borrow another lyric, from the legendary Kenny Rogers)?

Friend, maybe you’ve had some bad times, lived through some sad times, but this time the hurtin’s for real. If that’s you, let me lovingly point you to the One who knows your pain, who feels your hurt and is able to heal like nothing or nobody else. His name is Jesus. And He’s able to turn your mourning into dancing, your despair into gladness, your suffering into praise, and your ashes into beauty.

How? In a word: grace. The grace of God truly is amazing. It can save a wretch like me. It can find the lost. It can open the eyes of the blind. It is, as Puritan Pastor Matthew Henry put it, the “free, undeserved goodness and favor of God to mankind,” ultimately and beautifully displayed all that Christ accomplished for us on the cross and in His resurrection victory over the grave.

Do you want healing for your hurting heart? God’s grace is sufficient in your time of weakness, for our God pours out His favor on those who trust in the work of Christ.

Author Jerry Bridges said it this way, “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”

Friend, today is the day of God’s favor. In Christ Jesus there is grace upon grace. And it’s available to you now, even in the midst of your hurt.

So, maybe life hasn’t turned out the way you wanted – or maybe it has. Either way, we are all in need of the grace of God. And when we turn in faith to the Lord Jesus, we find life abundant and eternal, and far better than anything we’ve ever dreamed.

Same refrain because we still need Jesus

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, let me say it again: This world desperately and urgently needs Jesus. Lives are wrecked with sin. Families are in disarray. Communities are fractured. America is in trouble. The world is a mess. And our only hope is Jesus.

We are in a great spiritual war. The devil knows his time is short. There will soon come a day when the Almighty Judge of the universe will deal swiftly and decisively with him and all his minions forever. But for now he has intensified his efforts to wreak unspeakable havoc upon this world through all kinds of violent and wicked means.

How else do you explain the hatred of the human heart found among those who are bent on murder? The latest mass killing in Orlando reminds us once again that Satan has greatly deceived those who pledge their allegiance to ISIS and other such terrorist groups and ungodly causes. He has filled their minds with lies, blinded their eyes to truth and captured their souls to do his will. And his will has always been to kill, to steal and to destroy (John 10:10).

How else do you explain the depravity of those who buy and sell young girls into the sex trade? How else do you explain the vileness of men who commit shameless acts of impurity with other men? How else do you explain the horrible evil of rape? How else do you explain the utter cruelty of child abuse? How else do you explain the rampant, ruinous addictions to everything from alcohol to heroin to gambling to pornography and so much more? How else do you explain any and every sin that grips the soul?

The Bible tells us that the devil is the enemy who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He is the “father of lies” (John 8:44), and the “deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:8). And judging by the state of world affairs, he’s doing a brutally good job of “blinding the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

But, friend, let me assure you that Satan’s schemes are no match for the matchless power of Jesus Christ. Jesus has already triumphed over him through the cross and the victory of the empty grave. He has already conquered, and will soon crush Satan under his feet forever.

Let me urge you to turn in repentance from sin and put your faith in Jesus today while the mercy and grace of God still beckons you. “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). For apart from salvation in Christ, we all are dead in our sins, held captive by the devil, and bound for eternal destruction. But in Christ Jesus there is freedom and forgiveness and life abundant and eternal.

The world may be a mess, and it’s going to get messier, but Jesus is still the glorious hope for all mankind. And that’s a message worth repeating.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Community Block Party, Memorial Day recognition, prayer for our leaders

So what are you and your family doing this Friday night? I hope you’re planning to come to the Community Block Party on the corner of Seventh and Sangamon at the First Baptist Church. It’s a free, fun, family-friendly community event, and I think you’re going to love it!

We’ll have the usual attractions such as bounce houses for the kids, a petting zoo, dunk tank, carnival games, and the ever-popular cakewalk. You’ll also be encouraged by the music of the New Jerusalem singers, as well as a few songs thrown in by our Youth Worship Band. And, of course, the cotton candy, Sno-cones, popcorn, and hamburgers are always a big hit.

And it’s all free! So, come and enjoy! Hang out with your neighbors. Petersburg is a great place to live and raise a family. Let’s build some community together this Friday night from 5-8 at the Petersburg First Baptist Church!

Hey, while you’re still reading, let’s remember to thank God for our service men and women who have died in defense of this great nation. Memorial Day calls us to be mindful of the incredible sacrifices made by those who have gone before us, and we owe a deep debt of gratitude for their willingness to lay down their lives.

Who can argue that America has been the recipient – as Abraham Lincoln phrased it – “of the choicest bounties of Heaven”? And even though we face great challenges to some of the foundational characteristics of our nation, we’re still richly blessed by God and the grace He has shed upon us.

As we remember those who have given the “last full measure of devotion” (Lincoln, again), may we also remember to pray for those currently serving throughout the world, protecting and preserving the cause of freedom.

And, finally, let us also pray for our nation’s leaders, from the White House to the Statehouse and to every town and village authority. Since we are living in such uncertain and chaotic days, we need to ask God to grant wisdom in great measure for every decision made.

I pray that God will bring repentance and faith to our leaders, leading them to a knowledge of the truth of Christ Jesus that they may be saved. I pray that He will grant them a desire to see righteousness exalted. I pray that our nation’s leaders will see the need to strengthen families, to promote goodness and oppose evil.

May the Lord lead us to humility before Him, great gratitude for His blessings, and a renewed hunger to honor Him in all that we do – in Petersburg, and all across this land.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Grace greater than our sin

There was a king who was so wicked that he burned his own sons as a sacrificial offering. He filled the city with innocent blood. He practiced sorcery and witchcraft, and dealt with mediums and psychics. He worshiped the stars and set up idols in the temple of God. His detestable practices also led the people far away from the Lord.

There was another king who, rather than going out with his men to battle, stayed home and soon began lusting after a beautiful, married woman. He sent to have the woman brought to him, and she became pregnant. In a desperate attempt to cover up his wrongdoing, the king called the woman’s husband home from battle to be with her. The soldier honorably refused, so the king plotted and had him killed.

There was a man who brimmed with hatred toward the followers of Jesus. He nodded in approval as Christians were stoned to death. He locked up many saints in prison. He punished them severely, tried to make them renounce Jesus, and was so full of fury that he chased them down in foreign cities with violent intentions. And all the while he thought he was doing God a favor.

There was a woman who had earned quite a town-wide reputation as, let’s say, a woman of ill-repute.

There was a tax collector who cheated the people out of their hard-earned money. He betrayed them, defrauded them, and indulged his life with stolen goods.

There was a man who said he’d lay down his life for Jesus, but when things didn’t go like he thought they should, he quickly and cowardly claimed his didn’t even know the man. Not once. Not twice. But three times.

There was a whole church full of people who came from lifestyles of sexual immorality, idolatry, prostitution, homosexuality, thievery, greed, drunkenness, lying and cheating. 

What do all of these people have in common?

For one, they all deserved to suffer the consequences of their sins. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). And if God, in His perfect righteousness and holiness, gave them up to their depraved hearts, dishonorable passions, debased minds then they wouldn’t stand a snowball’s chance in…well, hell.

But that’s not how their stories end.

Each of these crooked and corrupt characters discovered that’s God’s mercy and grace reaches even the most notorious of sinners. Each one of these biblical individuals was drawn by the loving-kindness of the Lord to humble themselves before God in repentance and faith in Christ. Each one God rescued from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the Kingdom of His beloved Son, who purchased their freedom and forgave their sin (cf. Colossians 1:13-14). Each of them received the “free gift of God [which] is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).   

Friend, whatever your struggles, whatever your sin, even though we all likewise deserve death, your story doesn’t have to end in anguish. You, too, can find freedom and salvation in the mercy and grace of Christ Jesus. You, too, can share in the gift of life that’s in Christ Jesus our Lord. Why not humble yourself and turn to the Lord today?

Monday, May 16, 2016

A plea for discernment

One of the most glaring faults in our day is our failure to exercise discernment.

The Merriam-Webster simple definition of discernment is this: “able to see and understand people, things or situations clearly and intelligently.” It has to do with the ability to distinguish one thing from another, making wise and good judgments.

We use discernment when we decide whether or not to watch a certain movie, when we evaluate potential babysitters for our children, and when we think about news sources from which we choose to receive our information. It’s the process of making careful distinctions about truth and error, right and wrong, good and bad.

Unfortunately, not everything you read on the internet is true. You can’t entrust the welfare of your children to just anyone. And not every movie is worth watching. We make decisions on these things – and much more – all the time, and the difference between making good judgments and poor decisions is critical.

In our generation, just like it’s been for all time, we also need to be discerning when it comes to listening to pundits, preachers and politicians. Not every “expert” knows everything. Not every preacher teaches the gospel. And not every politician tells the truth. That’s a shocker, huh? Sometimes they leave out things they don’t want you to know. Sometimes they intentionally deceive you. Sometimes they tell outright lies.

So how can you and I become more discerning in a culture that’s becoming increasingly deceptive and with the stakes becoming increasingly high?

Let me suggest that the best way to distinguish truth from falsehood is to know the Word of God – and to know the God of the Word. You didn’t expect me to say you ought to start watching “The View” did you? It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of knowing biblical truth and framing your worldview by its righteous standard.

If you are a Christian it is your responsibility to exercise discernment according to the Scripture. The Bible says in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We also read in 2 Thessalonians 5:21, “…but test everything; hold fast what is good.”

The way to discern the will of God rather than conforming to the sinful patterns of this world, the way to hold fast to what is good while rejecting what is wrong, is to get into the heart of God’s Word and get the Word of God into our hearts and minds. Friend, let me urge you to read the Bible, study it, meditate on it, memorize it and obey it.

Our confused and crooked culture desperately needs to see the faithful witness of God’s people living out the truth of His Word, speaking the truth in love, and holding out the light of salvation through Jesus Christ. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

To the Class of 2016

When I graduated from Robinson High School back in the dark ages of 1989, I’m sure I thought I knew everything I needed to know. Oh my, how I wish I could go back and relearn all the stuff I should have learned in the first place. Experience has proven to be a pretty good teacher, though, despite the rigorous course work she demands.

So with some life lessons learned along the way (and many more sure to come), here are three foundational truths I’d like to offer to the Class of 2016 as a blueprint for anchoring your life on a solid foundation in a world where everyone else (it seems) is building houses on the sand.

One – The Bible is the true compass for life’s navigation. No other book nor any other voice speaks truth like the living Word of the King of kings – unchanging, uncompromising, in every age and every culture. It will never steer you wrong.

In its pages the divine Author reveals Himself to us as the holy, creative, sovereign, majestic, righteous, just, faithful, merciful, compassionate, gracious, loving, omniscient, omnipotent, omni-present God of the universe, for starters. And woven throughout the entire biblical narrative is Jesus, the One who offers redemption for sinful mankind like you and me so that we may know the life that is truly life.

Friends, instead of sticking our finger in the air to see which way the wind’s blowing or basing our beliefs on how we feel in the moment or what seems right in our own eyes, let’s dig into the Word of God to see what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s true and what’s false, which path leads to life and which one leads to death.

Two – Prayer is the key to the throne room of heaven. When we come to God through faith in the name of Jesus, all of heaven’s resources are unlocked and unleashed. God hears our prayers and shows Himself to be our strong and mighty tower, a rock of refuge and a shelter in the storm. Provision for our needs, forgiveness for our sins, victory over temptation and abiding fellowship with our Father are ours when we pray.

Friends, you’re going to face some impossible, unbearable circumstances in life. But instead of caving in to fear, worry, guilt or despair, make prayer with God become as natural as breathing. Turn the key of prayer and you’ll be living in the joy and peace of the Lord with the assurance of His presence and His help in those difficult days.

Three – The Church is the movement God uses to impact this world for good. Causes fade away. Civic clubs run their course. Governments falter. Nations crumble. But Jesus said, “upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

The Church will not only endure when everything else disappears, but also is the means by which this world is incalculably enriched through her godly influence.

Friends, instead of linking arms with the world’s wicked and foolish scoffers, get plugged into a community of Christ-followers. That’s where you’ll be strengthened in grace. That’s where you’ll grow in wisdom and understanding. That’s where you’ll be anchored in truth and love. And that’s where you’ll make an invaluable difference in this world for both now and eternity.

Who knows where your next steps will lead? But if you follow this blueprint, you’ll be building your life on solid ground.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Dear Heavenly Father

Thursday, May 5, is the National Day of Prayer. Let me invite you right up front here to join us for a community-wide prayer gathering at 12 noon on the west lawn of the Menard County Courthouse. This event is a non-denominational, non-political gathering of people who choose to assemble together for the purpose of prayer.

And while I want to compel you to see how urgently we need to pray, I believe the even more pressing concern is for us to see how desperately we need God.

Yes, the two are certainly related – prayer and God. But many people pray for the sake of praying without truly recognizing the One they profess to address. In other words, it’s very possible to go through the motions of prayer as part of a religious routine, saying the right words, perhaps, and yet not really be communicating with the Lord.

I say we’re in dire need of getting in touch with God.

Here is this year’s national prayer as written by Dr. Tony Evans. I encourage you to make these words your own as you call out to our Father in prayer, and I hope to see you this Thursday!

“Dear heavenly Father, we come to You today as a humble people desperate for Your supernatural intervention on behalf of our beloved nation.  First, we thank You for all the blessings You have bestowed on our land, blessings that have allowed us to bring so much good and benefit to not only our own citizens but also to the rest of the world. The very ideals upon which this country was founded were based on biblical truths, no matter how some try to rewrite history to deny that very fact today.

This is why our hearts are so broken over how You continue to be marginalized and dismissed by both our people and our institutions. We are also saddened by the fact that Your people have contributed greatly to the spiritual apathy that now engulfs us. Our satisfaction in remaining religious without being fully committed to living out the truths of Your Word has caused us to become co-conspirators with the forces of evil that are destroying us as a society.

It is for this reason that we personally and collectively repent of our carnality and recommit ourselves to becoming visible and verbal disciples of Jesus Christ. Enable us, by Your Spirit, to no longer be secret agent Christians but rather to publicly declare and live out Your truth in a spirit of love so that You feel welcome in our country once again.

Thank You for Your promise to hear our prayers when we call to You with hearts of repentance and obedience, which is how we are appealing to You today, Father. On behalf of Your church, we affirm afresh the priority You are to us that You would fill every dimension of our lives as we seek to bring You glory through the advancement of Your kingdom in our personal lives, our family lives, and in the lives of our churches and our government leaders. We confidently invite heaven’s intervention into all the affairs of our nation and we praise You in advance for Your answer.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”

Monday, April 25, 2016

Connecting to Sunday School

I agree with McGary – we do have some outstanding Sunday School teachers at First Baptist Church! From the nursery all the way up to senior adults, we have teachers who love the Lord first and foremost, who love the church family dearly, and who want to make an eternal impact for the Kingdom of God right here in Petersburg, Illinois, and all throughout the world.

It’s a privilege to work together with such a faithful, devoted team.

And I don’t mind making this plea to you, that if you aren’t actively involved in a church that’s leading you to become a more fully devoted follower of Jesus, then let me invite you to come and check out our Sunday School. It’s not just for kids!

Let me share with you briefly at least three things you can expect by participating in Sunday School.  

Encouragement. You know how, “Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came”? Sunday School provides that environment for you on a deeper level than any bar ever will. We care for each other, pray for each other, and love each other with Christ-like love. Get involved in a Sunday School class and you’ll find people who will give you encouragement in your life.

Equipping. We unapologetically teach biblical truth to equip you to live the kind of life that pleases God. We teach not only for information, but for transformation. Our desire is that your life will be changed by the power of Christ, so that you will live out the faith, and in so doing find purpose, contentment, joy and peace like never before.

Engagement. Not referring to finding a potential mate (although who knows?), but finding opportunities to engage in hands-on mission work. Our church is active in reaching our community and beyond with the message of salvation in Christ, and you can be a part of it. Our classes and church have been involved recently in such projects as: serving at the Baptist Children’s Home in Carmi, Ronald McDonald House, Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree ministry, Streator Baptist Camp, Lake Sallateeska Baptist Camp, Mary Bryant Home for the Blind, supporting Compassion International, ministering at the Children’s Activity Center in East St. Louis, Sunny Acres Nursing Home, Countryside Estates, Menard County Food Pantry, and more!

Some people mistakenly think they can live a good Christian life apart from being connected with the church. It’s not possible. I’m appealing to you who profess to know Jesus but are disconnected from church. A soldier who tries to take on the enemy apart from his battalion will soon find out how foolish and dangerous that is. But a strong army doing battle together can accomplish great victories.

If you’ve been disconnected and think you can do okay spiritually without the church, let me urge you to reconsider and come join us this coming Sunday at Petersburg First Baptist Church. Sunday School for all ages starts at 9:30. We’d love to see you there!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Come, Lord Jesus!

On some days, especially those in which the evils of sin in our world hit closer to home, my heart cries out, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20). 

Do you ever feel that way? Do you long for the day when God’s justice against the wicked will be carried out swiftly and speedily? The psalmist in crying out for justice exclaims, “Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked” (Psalm 3:7). 

Do you yearn for the day when the sorrows of this life will be no more, when there will be no more tears, no more death, no more mourning, no more pain? When God Himself will dwell with us His people as their God? 

That Day is coming, dear friend, and it will be soon. So hold on. 

Do you wait for the day when violence will be replaced with peace? When deception disappears in light of truth? When immorality surrenders to purity? When evil is overcome by goodness? When wrongs are made right? When God avenges the blood of His people? When the very presence of sin will be banished forever? 

That Day is on the way, even though we’ll endure days when it seems it can’t come quick enough. 

The Lord is the supreme Judge of all the earth, and all are held accountable to His righteous judgment. He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness through His Son, Jesus (Acts 17:3), where the righteous will be rewarded with everlasting life, while the wicked will be brought to everlasting destruction. The Bible could not be clearer on this point. 

Jesus speaks of this coming Day: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats…

“And he 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.” (Matthew 25:31-32, 34, 41, 46). 

Talk about a sobering word. Are you ready for that Day? Jesus came and suffered and died on the cross so that your sins could be forgiven, so that you could be made righteous in Him, and so that you could have assurance of everlasting life. He took the wrath of God’s judgment upon Himself so that by believing in Him you would be saved.

Why not turn in repentance and faith to Christ right now and receive the free gift of everlasting life? And you’ll also discover that the Lord blesses His people with the goodness and mercy of His presence, even as we wait and pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Monday, April 11, 2016

What are you thinking, Boss?

Bruce Springsteen, you’ve had some great songs, man. You rocked my generation back in the 80s. “Glory Days,” “Born to Run,” “Brilliant Disguise,” and, of course, “Born in the U.S.A.” to name a few. And I guess you’re still at it. That’s pretty impressive, a 66-year-old still rocking the house, still living the dream, still making the girls swoon.

And like many other entertainers, you have a voice and a platform. You have opinions and convictions, and I like the fact that you’re willing to stand up for what you believe. I hear you when you say, “Some things are more important than a rock show.”

So you cancelled your show in North Carolina last Sunday because you felt that the “bathroom law” recently signed there by Gov. McCrory pushes our country backwards instead of forwards. This is the law that protects our women and children from intrusion in public restrooms by men who claim they think they’re women. 

You believe this bill discriminates against the rights of transgender people to use whichever restroom they choose based on their personal gender identity, rather than on their biological, God-given chromosomes. 

But, man, I have to disagree with you on this one. Maybe it’s the cool and politically correct thing to do, supporting issues like this, and I don’t have any reason to think you’d be concerned about being biblically correct, but even from a common sense view of what’s right and wrong, what’s good for society and what’s bad, this is a no-brainer. Respectfully, I say to you and PayPal and Disney and the NFL and all the other corporate PC’ers who love to throw their weight around threatening to pull business from states that seek to protect the welfare of its citizens and refuse to encourage perverted behavior: Have your lost your blessed mind? 

You’re not only opening the doors for people who are seriously confused about their sexual identity, you’re also giving free access to sexual predators who just might fake a transgender look in order to get a peek into a women’s bathroom or locker room. Or worse. I sure wouldn’t want my wife, my young nieces, or any girl or woman to have to worry when they go to the bathroom at the mall or change clothes at the gym or swimming pool that some dude in a dress and a wig might follow them in with no questions asked. In what world is that right? 

Before you call me a hater, let me say that I’m with you on this part – that I, too, am concerned about people who consider themselves transgender. But the way to address our concerns is not to celebrate their “courage” for expressing their depravity nor to accommodate their deviant desires, but to get them the help they desperately need. And I believe the best help we can lovingly and compassionately give them is the life-saving and life-transforming gospel of Jesus Christ, who can take all of our messed up minds and make us into a masterpiece of His mercy and grace – for His glory and for our good. There’s hope for anyone who comes to Jesus, and that’s a song worth rockin’ to! 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Donkey basketball, home improvement, taxes, eroding first amendment rights and gospel hope for sinners

Random thoughts for your amusement and/or contemplation, and/or disposal. 

Donkey basketball. I have to admit that even though I was skeptical, it did provide some entertainment. For the first five minutes anyway. After that I was ready to go. I wonder what Coach Rathgeb thought about allowing a bunch of donkeys to tromp around on the basketball court? Not sure how this ever got started or became a thing, but I can now say that I am cultured enough to have experienced donkey basketball. 

Installing a new light fixture and ceiling tiles in our laundry room is really stretching my handyman skills. I seem to have a knack for turning an afternoon project into a multi-day crusade. It’s all trial and error – mostly error.

This year I did my own taxes, for the first time in about 15 years. Not feeling tons of love for Caesar right now. Can understand why the tax collectors in Jesus’ time were so despised. I’ll give Caesar what belongs to him, but he seems to be taking more all the time. What’s that bumper sticker say? “I love my country. It’s my government I fear.” 

Have you read about the state’s intrusion on the rights of the Timber Creek Bed & Breakfast in Paxton, IL? The owner refused to rent his facilities for a homosexual couple’s celebration of their same-sex union because of his Christian beliefs, and a judge has ordered a fine of $80,000 and is attempting to force the owner to offer his facility to this couple. 

In a statement, owner Jim Walder said in part: “To be absolutely clear, we cannot host a same-sex wedding even though fines and penalties have been imposed by the Illinois Human Rights Commission. Our policy will not be changing. We are not looking for a fight, but when immoral laws are purposely passed (or deemed constitutional) that blatantly conflict with God’s Word and when the heavy hand of government tries to force us as Christians to embrace sinful behavior, we have a moral obligation to resist and stand for biblical truth. “It is better to obey God than men” (Acts 5:29). 

America is still a great nation, but “the times they are a-changin.” Just wait until they try to force pastors to perform same-sex “marriages” in whatever Christian church they choose. Just wait until calling homosexuality a sin is deemed “hate speech” and you are fined or imprisoned for your crime. 

Mark it down – the more that we stubbornly continue to forsake the ways of the Lord and embrace our own sinful desires, the more wrath we’re storing up for ourselves on the day when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 

Let me assure you that hope for better things to come is not in the government, but in the God who rules in righteousness and is still in the business of saving sinners. Homosexuals, adulterers, tax evaders, drunkards, thieves, liars, murderers, and all. 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 still good news today, even for those who have been acting like donkeys. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Jesus still lives!

I know we’re past Easter now, but I want to remind you that Jesus is still risen! It’s not like He just crawls out of the tomb once a year and then goes back into hiding until Easter rolls around again. I’m sure you know that, but the question is this: What impact does Jesus’ resurrection make on my life every day?

I’m glad you asked, and if you don’t mind I’ll answer with a couple of thoughts from the message I preached Easter Sunday morning at Petersburg First Baptist Church.

For one, Jesus’ resurrection victory means that you can have new life. Because He died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins, and because He conquered sin and death by rising on the third day, you truly can be born again to new life. 

The Bible tells us that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Maybe you’re living in spiritual darkness or feeling weighed down with the load of your guilt and shame, but the good news is that you can experience new life by repenting of your sins and believing in the name of Jesus today. 

If you reject Jesus, you’ll keep living in the same old ways with the same old results while headed in the same old direction that leads to death. But, friend, even now Jesus is calling you to trust in Him to know that your sins are forgiven by His blood and start living the new life of righteousness that’s yours in Christ. 

A second truth of Jesus’ resurrection is that you can have a transformed life. Not only has the penalty of sin been removed in Christ, but the power of sin has also been broken. Satan has been utterly defeated, and sin no longer has power to enslave those who have been set free in Jesus. 

The Bible says, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6). Perhaps you’re a Christian, but you’re living a defeated life. It seems you can’t break free from the old patterns of sin. You just can’t resist the temptations that come your way, and you’re struggling to live the holy life you’re called to in Christ. 

If you refuse to truly die to your sins or to offer your life as a living sacrifice to the Lord, then you’ll remain enslaved to sin and never gain the spiritual victory and freedom that could be yours. But, friend, even now Jesus is praying that your faith may not fail, and that you will be continually transformed into His own likeness as you deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow Him. 

We ought to celebrate the resurrection victory of Jesus every single day. For only in Him will we truly find life abundant and everlasting. Come and join us at the First Baptist Church and we’ll help you discover the impact of Jesus’ resurrection in your life.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Healing and Hope for Your Brokenness and Despair

Do you need healing today, friend? Have you been wounded, battered, rejected, abandoned, hurt? Have the disappointments and broken promises of others left you feeling used and abused? Have your own bad decisions driven you to the place where you feel like giving up because you really just don’t care anymore?

I know that you can’t undo the past, but I also know that you can find healing and hope for the future. 

This week we remember the tragic and glorious events of some 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem that give hope to the hopeless and healing for the brokenhearted. 

It’s available in Jesus who became the curse for our sin on the cross, that we might be redeemed and made righteous in Him. It’s offered to you in Christ who defeated sin and death by rising in triumphant victory over the grave on the third day. 

From a song I’ve recently heard on the radio: “No matter the bumps / No matter the bruises / No matter the scars / Still the truth is / The cross has made / The cross has made you flawless // No matter the hurt / Or how deep the wound is / No matter the pain / Still the truth is / The cross has made / The cross has made you flawless.” 

And from a book I’ve recently read: “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6). 

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). 

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25). 

I’m not saying that following Jesus as Lord and Savior will exempt you from life’s struggles. In fact, you’ll find that this narrow road is hard; but it’s the road that leads to abundant and eternal life, where true healing and hope are found. 

Why not come and celebrate Jesus’ resurrection victory with us at Petersburg First Baptist Church this Sunday at 10:45? We don’t have everything figured out either, and we’re not perfect. We’re still learning day by day what it means to live by faith in Christ and for His glory. But we’re convinced that He’s alive and that better things are yet to come, and that apart from His grace we’d be still be living in brokenness and despair. 

If you need healing and hope, come discover it in Christ. He is risen indeed!