Monday, August 19, 2019

Praying our kids back to school

I hope the school year is off to a good start for everyone. We helped our oldest son move-in to his sophomore year at college last week, and our youngest starts his freshman year in high school. It’s an exciting season – maybe a little nervousness (or a lot!) for some, but a new path full of adventure awaits at every turn.

One thing is for sure: Our students need our prayers for the journey. And so do our school staff. And so do all of their families. Thankfully, God hears and answers prayer!

In case you’ve been living on a remote island somewhere lately, you know that things ain’t like they used to be. I could only begin to scratch the surface in saying that an increased lack of respect creates many classroom headaches, or that drug and alcohol issues are probably more prevalent than most people realize, or that cursing, gossiping, bullying, gender identity issues, lack of parental support, mental health problems, financial concerns, teacher shortages, or a host of other things are worse than they were when we were in school.

And aren’t you glad that not every stupid and embarrassing thing you did in school got captured on video and posted to social media for all the world to see?

And what about the constant burden of trying to prevent your school from becoming the next Columbine (or Sandy Hook or Virginia Tech or Stoneman Douglas or Northern Illinois or you name it)? I never once worried that someone may walk into my high school and try to kill people. But students today think about that.

Let me urge you, parents, grandparents, concerned community citizens – pray for this school year!

Ask God to shield our students from all harm. Pray that God will fill their hearts and minds with what is good, that He’ll surround them with positive friends and influences, that they’ll be respectful and kind to one another, and that they’ll grow in knowledge and wisdom.

Pray, too, for all the teachers, administrators, school board members, coaches, kitchen staff, bus drivers, aides, custodians, and other school staff. Ask the Lord to give them grace and wisdom and patience and love for their students. Pray that they’ll find joy in what they do, and that their lives would serve as a good role model for the students.

And pray for the families of all the above. Let’s ask God to fill their homes with stability and security. Let’s pray for environments of love, encouragement, discipline, and peace. Ask our Father in heaven to lay foundations of godliness and grace in Christ Jesus as parents seek to train their children in the ways of the Lord.

Friend, your prayers can make a difference. We call upon the name of the One for whom nothing is impossible, a God of goodness and mercy, whose “way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him” (Psalm 18:30).

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Changed lives

Do you believe the gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to save and change lives? I do! History provides overwhelming evidence of men and women whose lives were transformed by the mercy and grace of God.

Think about the apostle Paul. Before his encounter with the risen Savior, he hated Jesus, and he hated anyone who liked Jesus. By his own admission, he was the “chief of sinners,” but Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and Paul’s life was forever changed.

Then there’s Mary Magdalene, a woman with seven demons (Luke 8:2), and some say she was the ill-reputed “woman of the city, who was a sinner” (Luke 7:37). But she found freedom and forgiveness in Christ and became one of his most devoted followers.

No one is beyond the reach of God’s mercy.

John Newton was a slave trader, a drunk, an obscene and vile man. But Jesus came to his rescue, turned him from his sinful ways, and used him mightily to preach the gospel. Newton later wrote one of the most beloved hymns of all time, a song which detailed his own conversion, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

Again I say, no one is beyond the reach of God’s mercy!

What if the madman who went hunting for humans in El Paso had heard and believed the gospel? The hatred in his heart would have been dissolved and 22 innocent people would still be alive today, because the gospel drives men to repent from sinful motives like racism and replaces it with reconciliation and brotherly love.

What if Jeffrey Epstein had heard and believed the gospel? His young female victims would have been spared from his depraved advances, because the gospel gives men freedom from sexual sin and does not exploit or abuse others for one’s own selfish and sinful desires.

Friend, I don’t know where your journey has taken you, what you’ve done, what you’ve said, or who you’ve hurt along the way. But I do know this: You are not beyond the reach of God’s mercy. God loves you, and He is patient with you, not wishing that any would perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

Count me as one who’s life has been changed by the power of the gospel, as well. And yours can be, too. Turn away from sin today, believing that Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness for your sin and rose from the dead to give you new, abundant, and eternal life.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Can we please bring back the Golden Rule?

Maybe you’ve heard the story of two guys golfing one day near a cemetery. As the one was preparing to putt, a hearse turned into the cemetery. The guy immediately looks up, drops his putter, removes his cap, and bows his head. After a couple of minutes he gets back to the game and finishes his round.

When the men return to the clubhouse, his friend mentions how moved he was by the respect shown to the deceased. The man acknowledged him saying, “I really feel it was the least I could do for her; after all we were married for the last 34 years.”

Okay, so maybe that’s not the best example, but wouldn’t you love to see real respect for one another become part of the fiber of our nation? Where have you gone, Aretha Franklin?

Let’s make it a personal crusade to be polite, kind, and considerate of others. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with everyone about everything, but surely we can find a way to have healthy conversations about controversial topics without being angry, rude, or hostile, and without resorting to yelling and name-calling like spoiled little 2nd graders.

Let’s bring back the “Golden Rule:” Treating other people like you’d want them to treat you. We can do that, can’t we?

Parents, it starts with us. Take responsibility for teaching your children respect for other people. Model it for them and instill it into their way of life.

If your children hear you often talking bad about your boss, berating your spouse, dissing the President, slamming their teachers, complaining about this person and whining about that situation, you’re training them to be disrespectful.

But if they hear you speaking respectfully about people – from the mighty to the lowly, rich and poor alike – even when you may not see things from the same perspective, they’ll learn to show civility and courtesy toward all people. 

Adults, it takes all of us. I know it’s the rage in this age to get outraged over every perceived offense and every slight injustice, but can’t we learn to be patient and kind with others? Can we give people the benefit of the doubt and not assume everyone’s out to make your life miserable? Can we learn to really listen before we speak and discern the truth before we judge? Can we at least be nice, and not obnoxious, when dealing with people even when we disagree?

Isn’t that how you’d like to be treated?

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Jesus, Matthew 7:12).

Monday, July 22, 2019

Zooming in to Focus on Jesus!

Hard to believe the summer is winding down so quickly! Here it is the end of July, school will be starting back up in just a few weeks, and before you know it, we’ll be seeing the leaves change colors and feeling the cool morning air of autumn.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, one big event remains at First Baptist Church: VBS!

Our Vacation Bible School starts next Monday, July 29, and we’d love to invite all children from age 4 – 6th grade to come and join us! It’s from 6:00-8:00 each evening, Monday through Thursday, and we’ll have VBS Family Day on Sunday, Aug. 4, at 10:45 am, followed by a good old-fashioned potluck dinner.

This year’s theme verse is John 20:31, “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

We’ll zoom in to the Scriptures to focus on four accounts which show Jesus to be the Son of God. Maybe I say this every year, but I think it’s important for you to know right up front that our desire is that as we help your children see Jesus more clearly, we pray that God will open their hearts to believe in Him as Savior and Lord.

And we want that for you, too. Listen, there’s nothing more important than knowing Jesus. It’s literally a matter of life and death – eternal life and eternal death.

“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12).

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:17-18).

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).

The choice could not be more clear. Do you believe in Jesus the Son of God who came to save you from sin by dying in your place on the cross, taking the full weight of God’s wrath upon himself so that we could be forgiven, cleansed, and made new?

Do you believe in Jesus who rose from the dead on the third day, showed himself alive to his followers, then ascended back into heaven where he sits at the Father’s right hand?

Do you believe in Jesus who promises that he will one day return and take his church to be with him forever in the Father’s house?

Jesus declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Friend, my pray for you, your children, and your grandchildren, is that God will give you faith to believe; that you will turn from your sins, find forgiveness and freedom in Christ, and follow Him as Savior and Master and King. For by believing you will have life in his name.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Godliness makes a nation great

Happy 4th of July! Hope you’re celebrating our nation’s freedom with joy and gratitude.

And while I appreciate President Trump’s desire to make America great again, let me offer the biblical prescription for making America or any nation great: “Godliness makes a nation great, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34 NLT).

Godliness makes a nation great. Not its cultural diversity, not its GNP, not its arts and entertainment districts, not its technology, not its healthcare, not its athletic successes, not its military might, not its political structure, but its godliness. 

Godliness exalts a nation because godly behavior leads to such things as the working out of justice among its citizens, mercy and compassion for the weak, respect for God-ordained authority, love for one’s neighbor, honesty and integrity in the workplace and the marketplace, attitudes of humility and acts of kindness toward each other, and reverence for the commands of God which always lead to the well-being of any community or nation.

Godliness makes a nation great, because godly people seek to build others up and never tear them down. Godly people stay faithful to their marriage vows and avoid the snares of sexual immorality. Godly people raise their children in the discipline and instruction of Lord. Godly people manage their finances well and don’t gamble their homes away. Godly people control their appetites and aren’t addicted to harmful desires such as drugs and alcohol.

Godliness makes a nation great, because godly people (who are able) work diligently and refuse to take advantage of the system. Godly people learn contentment and keep themselves from the love of money. Godly people make wise decisions in the home, in business, in community affairs, in the courts, in the schools, and in every facet of life, while rejecting the foolishness of corrupt courses of action.

Living in a nation full of such people sounds great, doesn't it?

Sin, on the other hand, is a disgrace to any people. It is a disgrace to accept and applaud the things that God abhors. The Bible is not unclear as to what is godly and what is ungodly. Where women shout their abortions, where the LGBT crowd march proudly through city streets, where pornography and alcohol flow freely, and where lying lips, injustice, arrogance, and greed often appear virtuous, national disgrace follows like the stench of a sewer plant.

Where violence seems to be an answer, where strife and discord are sown in plenty, where tempers flare quickly, where truth is traded for lies, where words fly unfiltered, and where fools flaunt their folly, the people bear disgrace and destruction for their sin.

This is why we need the gospel, because apart from the saving and transforming work of Jesus Christ in our lives, none of us can live a godly life. We’ve all sinned, fallen short of the glory of God, and deserve His wrath. But in the power of His Holy Spirit dwelling in the hearts of believers, we can faithfully walk the path of godliness.   

In Jesus and according to the light of His Word, we can become a great nation. Let’s celebrate this 4th of July with gratitude for God’s grace, pleas for His mercy, and a commitment in Christ that we will be godly people for His glory and for the national good.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Avoiding the Sin of Sexual Immorality

Not all preaching leaves you with warm and fuzzy feelings when you head home. Sometimes the truth exposes sin and the Spirit convicts and you know some things in your life need to change – and change quickly.

And if you’re willing to undergo spiritual surgery to remove the cancer of sin and follow the remedy of the resurrected life then the outcome can truly be the holy life that God desires in you. Which is better than dying.

One such area of sin that plagues our generation is sexual immorality. I preached this past Sunday on the topic, as uncomfortable as that conversation sometimes is, because we need to clearly hear what God has to say about the subject, rather than allowing Hollywood or the music industry or friends (or anyone else!) to shape our values and beliefs.

Thankfully, God’s Word doesn’t leave us guessing.

“Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14) sounds pretty clear. So do the words of Jesus, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).

So does Romans 1:26-27 (NLT): “That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.”

And just to cover all the bases, Paul writes to the church, “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints…for you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure…has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:3, 5).

Friend, make no mistake – God’s not messing around here. The consequences of sexual immorality of all kinds ought to be enough to scare the sin out of anyone. In Revelation 21:8 we read: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Does that mean there’s no hope for those who have sinned? Of course not. Jesus died for every sin, and those who confess and repent find forgiveness and grace. But I want to plead with you in Christ-like love to avoid sexual immorality – and pursue the holy life you’re called to in the Lord.

So enjoy the gift of sex within the bounds of marriage (Proverbs 5:15-19), but heed the strong warning about temptation to sexual sin:

“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 7:25-27).