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.”