Monday, February 22, 2021

Draw Near

 I love our Sunday night men’s Bible studies at the First Baptist Church! There’s a bond of friendship and fellowship that develops quickly when men get together to sharpen one another in the faith like iron sharpens iron.

Guys, if you need a place of connection, a group of men who will encourage you and help you grow, there’s room at the table for you. Give me a call at 217-632-2488 and I’ll give you more details. And I’m not talking about a self-righteous, holier-than-thou lecture hall style meeting, but an authentic gathering of men seeking to be more faithful to our God.

Ladies, we have some great options for women’s studies, as well, and I’d be delighted to help get you connected if you’re interested. 

Our men’s group has been learning from a video teaching series by Dr. Tony Evans called “The Power of Jesus’ Names.” This past week Dr. Evans reflected on two names by which Jesus is revealed: Our Great High Priest and the Lamb of God. 

I have to confess that I while I rely humbly and gratefully upon His role as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29), the description of Jesus as the Great High Priest is one I need to better take to heart. 

Of His permanent priesthood, the author of Hebrews writes, “Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). 

Is that not a mighty word of grace? This High Priest – the one Mediator between God and man, God incarnate, Christ Jesus – has all power and authority to secure the salvation of His people, and He ever-lives to intercede for the saints according to the will of God! I mean, if that doesn’t give you confident assurance in both the strength you need to make it day by day as well as the promised hope for eternal life in Christ, then I don’t know what will! 

Of course, if you’re not a believer then you do not have access to this promise nor the assurance of heaven. And so I would plead with you to draw near to Jesus by His grace through faith now, before it’s too late! 

Tony Evans gives this encouraging word from this study: “Jesus can sympathize. He understands. He feels what you feel. That’s why He has so much compassion. And you and I can access that sympathy and compassion by drawing near to the throne of grace, where we receive mercy and grace to help us in our time of need. 

“But we must take steps to draw near. We must move forward in confidence. If you have a long-distance relationship with Jesus, your Great High Priest, you will never get to witness His priesthood working on your behalf. If you are only a Sunday-morning Christian, you will never experience His priesthood helping you in your times of need. In order to see God intervene in your situations, you need to confidently approach Him through the relationship you have with Jesus, the Great High Priest. You’ve got to draw near.” 

Seriously, men, you know you need this. Let’s draw near together.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Move-on-to-the-next-game life strategies

[A little late in publishing this here...oh, well, hope it's helpful still!]

Well, that was a huge flop. I’m reeling today over the Chiefs’ beatdown by the Bucs in the Super Bowl. I mean, it was ugly. The Bucs seriously played a great game. They were practically flawless. Almost everything they did worked perfectly on offense and defense.

But as a Chiefs’ fan, it was hard to watch. Oh, well, there’s always next year!

What do you do when life beats you down? Do you ever feel like you just got smoked? Nothing you do turns out right. Always a step or two behind. Trying to catch up but you just can’t seem to get on track.

Here are four move-on-to-the-next-game strategies you might be able to use.

1. It’s okay to tell God you’re hurting. Let’s face it, sometimes the circumstances of life stink. We make bad decisions that prove costly. We end up as collateral damage from somebody else’s reckless behavior. Or we simply get caught up in a pandemic that has knocked millions to the ground in all kinds of ways.

Take it to the Lord! “Now let us have a little talk with Jesus, let us tell Him all about our troubles. He will hear our faintest cry, and He will answer by and by.” He really does care about what you’re going through. He loves you more than you know. And you can cry out to Him with your hurts, your pain, your tears, and your fears. “Cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

2. Ask God for help. Not only does He care, He can do something about it. In another song the chorus goes: “Take it to the One who calmed the waters, take it to the One who really cares, take it to the One who made the lame to walk again. Get on your knees and handle with prayer.” 

Jeremiah 32:27 says, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for Me?” If He calmed the raging sea with a word and made the lame to walk again, don’t you think He can come through in your situation? He’s the God of all creation – ask Him for some help.

3. Trust Him to act. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Trust His ways, His provision, His timing, and His purposes. He’s probably not going to ask for your advice in how He should handle it, but His thoughts and His wisdom are much higher than yours, so wait upon the Lord and trust Him even through the valley.

4. Get up and take the next step. You should certainly learn from the past, but you can’t dwell there. “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

In the strength God provides and by the light of His Word, get up and take the next step of faith. Follow where He leads. Obey His voice. You might be down, but you’re not out – not when you belong to Jesus.

And if you don’t yet know Him as Savior, now’s a good time to believe. We need to be ready for the next game.



Fire in my bones

 What are we to make of the imprisonment and ultimate beheading of John the Baptist?

“For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, ‘It is not lawful for you to have her’” (Matthew 14:3-4).

In other words, John rebuked the king of the land for this immorality and it ended up costing him his life.

I mean, couldn’t he have just kept his mouth shut, mind his own business and let it go. After all, sinners gonna sin, right? Why bother to call it out? Live and let live, bro.

Prophets have never been popular people. Those who do wicked things don’t usually appreciate having their sins exposed by the light of God’s Word.

Jeremiah was another prophet who was imprisoned because he warned the people of impending destruction that God was bringing upon them because of their sin. And when he thought, You know, maybe I’d better just not say anything, “There is in my heart, as it were,” he says, “a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9).

When God plants His Word in the hearts of his heralds, they cannot hold it in. The threats of persecution and even death do not detour them, for they have a sacred charge from the Lord their King, to whom they have pledged their lives, and in whom is their sure reward.

The current cancel culture that seeks to silence every unpopular, politically incorrect voice is not a new phenomenon. And those who preach the exclusivity of the gospel of Jesus Christ and His call to holiness will increasingly face its wrath in this nation.

But the fire in their bones burns for the salvation of souls! The call to “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand,” which both John and Jesus came proclaiming, still compels them to plead with men to turn from their wicked ways and find mercy at the cross of Christ.

Jesus was the light of the world, but He was hated because He testified about the world that its works were evil (John 8:12; 7:7). Yet “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Peter and John (the apostle) had been arrested, warned, and threatened to quit preaching in the name of Jesus. Their response is my appeal to all who claim the name of Jesus: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19).

May the Lord grant us boldness to testify to the truth, unashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16). And may He burn within our hearts the loving compassion for souls that compels us to preach the word of the cross no matter the cost.

Lincoln's take on the Bible

So what would Abe Lincoln think about the way of the USA these days? He was no stranger to conflict and chaos, of course. Issues of freedom, rights, justice, race, and more engulfed this nation in civil war as Lincoln bore the burden of seeking to bring peace and healing to a divided people. Could unity become a possibility? 

What principles guided his decisions? Whom did he consult for help? How did he lead through such turmoil?

There’s one account that offers a glimpse into the mind of a man who faced an impossible challenge, which offers some insight that would serve us well today.

On September 11, 1863, The New York Times reported on a meeting Lincoln held with a committee of the Loyal Colored People of Baltimore. This was just several months following his Emancipation Proclamation, essentially declaring that “all persons held as slaves” (within the rebellious states) “are, and henceforward, shall be free.” Of course, the fight would and must continue, but this executive order paved the way toward the abolition of slavery in America.

Speaking on behalf of the committee, the Rev. S.W. Chase addressed the President with a presentation of a beautiful edition of a Bible in token of their appreciation for his labors. 

In part, Chase said:

“Our hearts will ever feel the most unbounded gratitude toward you. We come forward to present a copy of the Holy Scriptures as a token of respect to you for your active part in the cause of emancipation. This great event will be a matter of history. In future, when our sons shall ask what mean these tokens, they will be told of your mighty acts, and rise up and call you blessed.”

Lincoln’s reply (in part) unveils his heart: “I can only say now, as I have often said before, it has always been a sentiment with me that all mankind should be free. 

“So far as I have been able, so far as came within my sphere, I have always acted as I believed was right and just, and done all I could for the good of mankind…In regard to the great book. I have only to say it is the best gift which God has ever given man.

“All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this book. But for that book we could not know right from wrong. All those things desirable to man are contained in it. I return you my sincere thanks for this very elegant copy of this great book of God which you present."

So how did Lincoln lead this nation through an impassable divide? He led by believing that the Bible alone provides the answer to what is right and what is wrong – and he acted upon that truth. All the good for mankind he desired to achieve was grounded in the principles communicated in this “great book of God.” 

The psalmist wrote: “The sum of your word is truth, and all your righteous rules endure forever” (Psalm 119:160). 

May God grant our leaders today wisdom, courage, and faith to govern according to the truth of God’s righteousness.