Monday, July 27, 2020

Congrats to the Class of who's ready for 2020-21?

Let me start with a loud shout out to Mr. Brue, Mrs. McMahan, and everyone else who made the Class of 2020 PORTA High School graduation ceremony happen last Saturday night! You have gone to great lengths to give these seniors a memorable and honorable finale to their PORTA career, and I think I speak on behalf on many in our community in saying thank you!

I know you have many additional and seemingly impossible challenges on your plate right now, but in the midst of it all you sent the seniors out in style. Great job!

Let me also add publicly that the First Baptist Church prays for you regularly as you navigate through the ever-changing recommendations for what school will look like in 2020-21. Whatever happens will not be ideal for anyone, and it may not work for some, but we’re asking God to guide you in wisdom toward the best possible solutions for our families.

To the graduating class of 2020, way to hang in there! Perhaps the life lessons you’ve learned in flexibility, perseverance, and self-motivation (you did learn that, right?) will prove to be of greater value than the math class you would have coasted through anyway those last few weeks (with apologies to Mrs. Owens!).

Teachers – you also deserve a round of applause from the community! I bet they didn’t teach you how to do online instructional videos in college or prepare you for remote learning possibilities, but thank you for your diligence in reaching out to your students through a very challenging time. And even now as you wonder what’s going to happen in just a few short weeks, well, the Chris Farley meme Mr. Davis posted on Facebook pretty well sums it up!

You’ll have to see Farley’s facial expression (and hair) for full effect, but it says, “2020 teachers when they realize they have to provide in class instruction, live zoom instruction, online instruction for those who missed the live instruction, teach subjects they normally don’t teach and send work home for those who cannot access online content…” It’s LOL good!

A word to families and students, here, as well. My counsel to you is to make the best of whatever happens. I know that there are all kinds of worries and concerns and complications and what-ifs out there, and you’re having to decide between sending children to school, doing online learning, or even considering homeschool options. I pray God will give you wisdom to do what is best for your children in your situation, and by His help to do so without grumbling or complaining, but rather with patience, grace, encouragement, and love.

Friend, let me remind you that God cares about your situation, whether school decisions, family issues, job concerns, money troubles, or whatever. There’s no detail too small or mountain too large for Him to handle. “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears” (Psalm 18:6).

Monday, July 20, 2020

Treasuring Marriage

Maybe you’ve heard about the empty-nest couple, as the husband took off his glasses and lay his head on his wife’s lap she said “You know, without your glasses on you look just like the young handsome man I married.” He replied, “Without my glasses, you still look pretty good, too.”

It’s a good thing that marriages survive on more than good looks!

To all who are married and have stuck it out through good times and bad, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, and plan to keep doing so until death parts your ways, I offer you my most sincere commendation and appreciation. I’d give you a medal if I had one!

Marriage is a wonderful gift from God. It’s His divine design for the good of mankind, for companionship, friendship, intimacy, help, encouragement, strength, security, and joy. God knew what He was doing when He created a woman for Adam from his rib, “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” as Adam described this exciting new creature in the garden.

The Bible says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). In affirming this truth, Jesus went on to say, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6).

Contrary to popular opinion, marriage is not a man-made institution subject to change with the cultural tide. It’s God’s original blueprint for the flourishing of the human race. His design for marriage is for one man to be united with one woman in a lifetime covenant of faithfulness and love. It’s a perfect plan. And it’s the height of arrogance and foolishness for anyone to dismiss or attempt to redefine what God has perfectly created for good.

“Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4).

I want to encourage you to honor marriage! Treasure your marriage by thanking God for the gift of your spouse, by praying with and for your spouse, by asking God to make you a better husband or wife, by learning to praise and encourage rather than critique and put down, by listening well, by loving sacrificially and respecting one another graciously, by resolving to work things out, by asking for forgiveness when needed and freely granting forgiveness, by choosing to overlook some faults and maintaining realistic expectations.

And if you’re not married, will you seek to be a champion for God’s way of doing marriage? For the blessing of every area of community life – economically, socially, mentally, emotionally, morally, spiritually?

My in-laws are celebrating 58 years of marriage this week. My parents’ 50th wedding anniversary is in September. Amy and I will celebrate 27 years in a couple of weeks. Good, strong, thriving marriages aren’t based on good looks and they aren’t built on sand. It takes hard work, commitment, faithfulness, and love. But firm on the foundation of God’s grace, a marriage covenant can indeed last a lifetime.

Are you hearing the gospel?

If you haven’t heard a good toe-stepping, sin-revealing, soul-convicting message lately, then you may not be hearing from the Word of God. I’m not talking about angry hellfire and brimstone screaming from the pulpit, but if you can walk out of a church service week after week thinking about how good you are, or if you can read the Bible and conclude that you just need to try a little harder or do a little more, then you’re not hearing the gospel.

The revelation of a God who is holy and majestic and righteous and just ought to leave us humbled and broken that we are such sinful creatures. When Isaiah saw the vision of God’s glory it left him saying, “Woe is me! For I am undone; for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5).

Truth is, we’re all unclean, born with a sinful nature inherited from Adam. It’s not just that we do sinful things, say unkind things, or think bad thoughts, which is all true enough; sin is in our blood like green on grass.

And contrary to popular opinion, there’s nothing we can do to be “good enough” to earn a trip to heaven. Like asking Hulk Hogan (in his prime) to uproot a giant sequoia tree with his bare hands, we are utterly and wholly incapable of attaining a right standing before God on our own. No amount of religious deeds, no perfect church attendance, no dollar amount of an offering can atone for our sin.

It gets worse (before it gets better). The Bible says that because of our sin we deserve to die, to face God’s righteous wrath and just sentence of eternal condemnation in hell. It ought to be a sobering and woeful thought!

But the good news is that God has made a way for us to be saved! “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved…through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9).

This God who made the heavens and the earth, the sea and sky and all that is within it, this sovereign, glorious, holy and all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present Lord offers the gift of forgiveness and mercy and grace to all who come to Him through faith in His Son, Christ Jesus.

Friend, if you’re feeling conviction of sin and know that you need forgiveness, call out to Him now in repentance and faith. Receive Him as Savior and follow Him as the Lord of your life, and you’ll know the joy of this new, abundant, and eternal life that Jesus alone can give.

Are you hearing it yet?


Well, we’ve been meeting in person at the Petersburg First Baptist Church building for worship for four weeks now, and yes, it’s a little stilted still, a little awkward, a little different, but it’s all good.

To be honest, I was getting pretty exhausted with recording our services, preaching to a lifeless camera which never once cracked a smile at my attempts toward humor or gave me an “Amen!” or even shot back a quizzical look over a point I was trying to make. There’s nothing like communicating to an actual live congregation!

There’s a reason God calls His people to assemble themselves together regularly. We need each other. We need the face to face interaction, the eye contact, the smiles, the body language. We need the security of just being together, the sense of unity, acceptance, and fellowship. We need the experience of God’s presence permeating the hearts of those who gather in the name of the Lord to pray, sing, and hear His voice through His Word.

Now, I fully realize that not everyone feels comfortable with coming back to the building yet for health concerns, and I wholeheartedly respect that decision. While we are doing our best to keep all necessary safety measures in place, some people may need to keep opting out for a while. And those in the higher risk categories ought to carefully evaluate the risks.

Also, if you are sick, or if someone in your family is sick, then we would politely ask you to stay home. We’re still live-streaming our services on Facebook and uploading them to YouTube and our website where you can watch from home at your convenience.

Maybe it’s an overabundance of caution, maybe it’s not enough. All I know is that God is in control of all things and He is our help in all things, so we’ll keep looking to Him for wisdom, guidance, and grace, and seek to be faithful to His leading.

Either way, we are reminded that the church is not just the one-hour Sunday morning crowd. In fact, I’ve been encouraged and delighted to see many ways in which the people of God continue living in faith, serving one another in love, and shining out the gospel of Jesus.

Indeed, the church is un-cancelable!

Jesus declared, “Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18

Friend, if you belong to Jesus then let me urge you to renew your devotion to the Lord and to His church. Whether you’re able to meet in person with us (or your own local church), or whether you need to stay home during this season, keep walking in step with the Holy Spirit according to the truth of God’s Word, as we strive to “be” the church and not just people who “go” to church!

And if you’re looking for a church home, we’d love to welcome you.

Can we keep it?

“With liberty and justice for all,” America’s promise of freely pursuing a happy life still stands. It stands as a beacon of hope to those who seek to exercise and enjoy these unalienable rights endowed to them by their Creator. It stands as a torchlight drawing the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

But let us be assured that such a promise can only be kept when those living in its light live right.

The whole idea of America rests upon “we the people” embracing and embodying the fundamental values that gave birth to this nation, nurtured its growth, and inspired its greatness – the values grounded upon the teaching of Scripture.

If you have a chance to read Eric Metaxas’ enlightening book, “If You Can Keep It,” please do. The whole premise of the work flows from a short conversation that took place in the summer of 1787. Emerging from a room in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall on the last day of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was approached by a Mrs. Powell who shot her question directly: “Well, doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?”

Franklin answered succinctly, “A republic, madam – if you can keep it.”

If you can keep it. If this nation would rise, if this nation would prosper, if this nation would truly be a “more perfect union,” then it would wholly depend upon the people to self-govern according to the principles of God’s Word.

John Adams said it this way: “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity.”

Andrew Jackson said: “That book [the Bible], sir, is the bedrock on which our republic rests.”

And George Washington: “The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.”

We are a nation upon which God has shed His grace because He is gracious and because He blesses those who seek Him.

But we are in grave danger today. In our ongoing quest for freedom and justice to prevail, we have neglected the weightier matter of righteousness. We have forgotten God – or better said, we have rejected God – and our individual and corporate sins prevent the promise of “Blessings of Liberty” from reaching its fulfillment.

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).

Now is the time to repent and return to righteousness. We need to recognize our sin as sin against a holy God, and confess that we have forsaken the way of the Lord in favor of indulging our ungodly appetites for greed, sexual immorality, impurity, power, strife, violence, drunkenness, and all kinds of evil which we’ve substituted for good.

We need to come to Jesus, without whom we will not be saved from the wrath of God to come upon the sons of disobedience. We need to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,” (Titus 2:12), as His mercy and grace and love lead our hearts to Him in humility, gratitude, and obedience.

And we need to walk in the life-transforming power of the Holy Spirit, by faith, according to the truth of God’s Word, apart from whom we cannot please God.

Will we keep the promise of America? May God have mercy.

Poor Wendy

I never thought I’d be one those people. You know, the kind that push their pet around in a stroller, but here I am, walking our puppy Wendy around our neighborhood in a pet stroller that we ordered from Amazon.

In fact, I’d have probably laughed secretly and wondered how someone could spoil their furry little friend so rottenly. Those were the kind of people who put air conditioners in their doghouses and buy the little booties for when they go on a walk in the rain. The kind of people who treat their dogs to a spa day and hire a professional photographer to do a photo shoot with the pooch wearing sunglasses and a tutu.

Don’t get me wrong. I like pets, but I’m not over the top about it. They’re high maintenance. You’re always vacuuming, sweeping, cleaning, entertaining, playing, taking them out to do their business, making arrangements when you want to go somewhere or feeling like you can’t go anywhere. You have to remember their shots, flea and tick meds, heartworm pills.

And then sometimes your small and excitable puppy jumps out of the car and breaks her front legs. It was parked, but she couldn’t wait to get out and somehow landed awkwardly, frantically yelping in the most pitiable way you’ve ever heard. Of course, we took her to the vet, who met on a holiday no less, and decided we’d attempt to set her legs and cast them (as opposed to doing surgery). We’d check in two weeks to see how it well she was healing.

The right leg was looking okay, but the left was not. The options were limited: living with a bad leg that would likely be always painful, or perform surgery to try to fix it. I felt a little embarrassed to ask how much this thing was going to cost. I mean, how much is too much? Where do you draw the line to say we can’t afford to do whatever we can to help her?

It’s crazy how attached we become to these little ankle-biters, this eight-pound Velcro pup who just wants to be with you every moment of every day – when you’re eating, sleeping, doing yard work, watching TV, reading, going to the bathroom, everything.

So, she’s recovering well so far from her surgery, and hopefully in a couple months will be back on her feet running around again.

Isn’t that like the love of God for us? There is no line, no boundary, no limit to His love. He gave up His Son to die in our place so that we could be healed from the pain and penalty of sin. “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Friend, if you ever start to feel like your life is not worth saving, look to the cross, where our Savior bled and died so that you could be forgiven, healed, made right with God, and promised a home in heaven. Why not turn to Him in faith today and be saved?