Monday, September 20, 2021

Learn to discern truth from error

I’m going to “borrow” some material for this article today from our Bible Studies for Life curriculum that we use for Sunday School. The question of relevance is this: How can we know whether something is true or not? 

You don’t need me to tell you that with the explosion of information sources in this digital age, some of the things you hear and read and see aren’t presented exactly the way it is. Spinning a story to make it fit one’s preferred narrative, editing out the parts they don’t want you to know about, or outright bald-faced lying, however, are nothing new. 

So how can we filter through the “misinformation” to discern truth from error? I’m glad you asked! 

Here’s how our Bible study laid it out as we studied from 1 John 2:18-29, and I think these serve as helpful principles as we learn to discern what’s true. 

1. Be biblical. When we study to know and understand God’s Word – which is trustworthy and true – we’ll have a standard through which our decisions, our thoughts, our worldview, our lifestyle, our habits, and our responses to questions and problems and issues in our culture must be filtered. 

2. Be devoted to God. As we yield ourselves in whole-hearted devotion to the Lord, our hearts and minds will become fixed on the God of truth who loves and cares for us. We can trust Him to guide us in truth and guard us from the deceptions that seem to dominate the landscape. 

3. Be holy. Believers in Christ are set apart from the world. They have put away falsehood and are truthful and honest in thought, word, and deed. They do not spread lies or seek to manipulate information for selfish purposes. They learn to discern truth because they walk in truth.   

4. Be wise. When dealing with truth and error, wisdom is essential. That’s because many issues cannot be figured out with our finite minds. As Christians, we have the mind of Christ, and we should use it! 

5. Be prayerful. Because we are flooded with fabrications in our culture, we need the spiritual power that comes only through prayer. And when we take our questions to God and ask for His divine and powerful intervention, we should expect in faith that He will grant us the help we need to discern truth from error. 

Scammers, schemers, swindlers, and all who peddle in lies will find themselves shut out from the gates of heaven (Rev. 22:15). But disciples of Jesus have “an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth (1 John 2:20), and we have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit who “will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). 

You want to know the truth? It’s found in Jesus, who declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Praying through troubled times (like 9/11)

[Note: This article was written for our local newspaper on September 13, 2021]

I’m still thinking about the events of 9/11, as we look back now 20 years later pondering this defining moment in our history. I don’t even know how to process it all to this day, but I do know that there’s a sovereign God in heaven who knows our hearts and whose Spirit intercedes for the saints with groanings too deep for words. 

Here are four prayer points we took to the Lord this past Sunday morning at Petersburg FBC. There are many more ways to keep praying, obviously, but if you’re struggling to find some handles on how to pray through your hurts and fears, maybe this can be a starting point. 

1. Let’s thank God for His presence in our times of troubles. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Over and over again in Scripture and in our own life experiences, the Lord has proven His promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us. When the wheels come off, when darkness seems to gain the upper hand, when terror strikes, when health fails, when the factory closes, when the fire burns, when the waters rise, when children rebel, when friends turn against you – whatever trouble comes your way, turn to the One who is our refuge and strength, a shelter in the storm, the anchor for our souls. 

2. Let’s pray that God would thwart the wicked plans of evildoers. I have no problem praying against the forces of darkness, for I know that God can confuse an entire invading army and clog their chariots’ wheels. He can turn them against each other, blind their eyes, bend their swords, melt their hearts, and foil their schemes. He can send the hornet to drive them away, rain down hailstones upon them, cast a dense fog, send a destroying angel, or use disease or a plague to kill them. “Lord, do not let evil people have their way. Do not let their evil schemes succeed, or they will become proud” (Psalm 140:8). 

3. Let’s pray for our nation’s leaders. We would be wise to ask God to grant wisdom to those who make decisions on behalf of this country. Let’s pray for strong and courageous leaders who will seek righteousness over political correctness. Let’s ask the Lord to raise up men and women in positions of influence who will look to unite us rather than divide us. Let’s call out to God for our leaders to know truth and reject lies. Let’s ask God to enable our leaders and “we the people” to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty…” 

4. Let’s ask God to take what Satan intends for evil and use it to save many lives. God has a pretty impressive track record of doing just that – the ultimate victory being the resurrection of Jesus from the evil crucifixion at the hands of lawless men. Let’s keep praying that as people search for answers in the midst of life’s troubles, that God will guide their hearts to the truth of Christ Jesus and His salvation. Let’s ask God to send His church into the harvest fields with the saving power of the gospel to lovingly and clearly proclaim the hope, the joy, the peace, and the life that’s found only in the One who bore our sins, died in our place, conquered the grave, and by His grace gives eternal life to all who believe.

Got compassion?

It seems like what seems to be missing in many circles today is this: compassion. Compassion is a compound word from the Latin literally meaning “with suffering,” that is, feeling concern for the suffering of others with a desire to help alleviate their burden. 

We are overloaded with information in our world regarding the troubles of other people. And I don’t know about you, but I’m afraid that my own heart sometimes becomes numb to the hurts surrounding me.

Maybe saying “overloaded” is too mild; it’s more like we’re bombarded with accounts of problems – whether in our own community or across the globe. And our emotions get shellshocked. We can’t bear every burden or ease every need. So it feels easier and safer, perhaps, to hunker down in our own bunker, ignoring the blasts all around and hoping there’s not too much damage when we finally emerge to see what’s going on. 

We have a text prayer-chain through church. In the past week there have been 18 (if I’m counting correctly) different requests people have put out for prayer. I also know we need to be praying diligently for the people of Afghanistan who are facing some horrific prospects under the terror of the Taliban. We need to pray for our own nation’s leaders to make right and wise decisions, and for our military personnel’s safety and well-being. 

There are always people in the path of the next hurricane, or threatened by wildfires, or flooding. There are always children at St. Jude’s Hospital who need special care, and there are always children who need care who can’t even get to St. Jude’s. There are always elderly people with all kinds of needs. There are always poor people who could use a helping hand or a hot meal. There are always widows and orphans to look after. There are always victims of violence and abuse who need protection and refuge. There are always families grieving over the death of a loved one. 

Do you see where I’m going here? How much compassion capacity do you have for each of these burdens? But when we stop caring, our hearts grow cold, bitter, and selfish while the suffering around us multiplies. 

Personally, I don’t have enough, and nobody can solve every problem. But I know Someone who does and who can. 

“Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). God never runs out of compassion for your need, dear friend. His mercies are new every morning, His love never fails, and His grace is sufficient in every weakness. 

So here’s my prayer. Lord, help me to feel what you feel for the hurts and needs of people. Give me your heart of compassion and strengthen me to show mercy. Let my love not be in word or thought alone, but in action and in truth. Move me to feed the hungry, give a cup of cold water to the thirsty, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, visit the sick, care for the prisoners, serve the widows and orphans, and help those whom You put in my path in their hour of need. 

Most of all, let me point them to You as the One who is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit, the Savior who loved us so deeply that You suffered in our place on the cross, taking our greatest burden – sin – and making it Your own, so that we might be healed, restored, and made new.

Ready to meet your Maker?

[Note: This article was written for our local newspaper August 23, 2021.]

When you have a big event coming up, you prepare for it. Whether it’s a vacation at the beach or a weekend camping trip, you have to make arrangements before you go. If you have a wedding to plan or a baby on the way, you spend months getting ready for the big day. Even having company over for dinner means that you have to make some plans. 

I want to remind you that there’s a big event coming soon, and I want you to be ready for it. Like it or not, every one of us will face the reality of our own physical death, unless Jesus makes His return beforehand. It’s not something you can put on your calendar, but you must be ready for it. 

And I’m not just talking about making funeral arrangements and drafting a will or figuring out who’s going to get your stuff. That’s important, but making spiritual preparation is eternally more important. 

Are you ready to meet your Maker? Do you know what will happen to you when you die? If Jesus were to come back today, would you be prepared for His arrival? 

Nobody wants to think about dying, but I’m telling you that life is so uncertain. Have you been keeping up with the news lately? 

In Afghanistan, Islamic terrorists known as the Taliban have seized control of the nation’s capital as they seek to enforce Sharia law; murdering, raping, and pillaging as they go. 

An earthquake in Haiti last week claimed the lives of over 2,000 people, injuring thousands more, and wreaking further havoc upon an already troubled land. 

A torrential rain of up to 17 inches in less than 24 hours just east of Nashville led to flash flooding that has taken at least 22 lives, even as search efforts continue for many more missing. 

People are still dying from cancer, heart disease, accidents, and COVID-related issues. People are dying from violence in our own nation every day – and it’s not just relegated to crime-infested inner cities, either. 

I’m not trying to scare you but prepare you. Death and taxes are both certainties – and I’m paying my taxes already. 

The good news is that you can be ready when that day comes. And if you’re ready, you don’t have to fear death or dying or be uncertain of what lies beyond the curtain. 

Listen, the Bible tells us clearly that through Jesus – and only through Jesus – we can be saved from eternal death in hell and saved to eternal life in heaven. 

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). 

So what about you? Do you believe this? Do you believe that Jesus gave His own life on the cross, bearing your sins and absorbing God’s wrath in your place so that you can be forgiven and made right with God? Do you believe that Jesus defeated death by rising from the grave on the third day? Do you believe that only by repenting from sin and trusting in Him you can be saved? Have you received the gift of eternal life through Jesus as Savior and Lord? 

Why not come to Jesus today? Right now. Make this your heart’s cry as you put your faith in Him: Jesus, I know that I need you and I confess that I have sinned against you. I believe you died on the cross for my sin and rose to life again. Forgive me, cleanse me, and make me new. Be the Lord of my life and help me to follow you in faith and obedience from this day forward. Thank you for saving me! Amen!


Waver no longer

I want to ask you the same question Elijah asked the people of Israel: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). 

The Baal deity in Canaanite religion was typically associated with fertility. Elijah was a prophet of the Lord who announced a famine throughout the land. The showdown on Mt. Carmel would prove which God was true. 

“You call upon the name of your god,” Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal, “and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answer by fire, he is God” (1 Kings 18:24). 

You probably know how the scene unfolds. The prophets of Baal made fools of themselves calling out to their god, but there was no voice, and no one answered. Of course not, because there is no other God but the Lord. 

When Elijah’s turn came, he prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back” (1 Kings 18:36-37). 

And the fire fell. The false god proved lifeless. The false prophets were seized and slaughtered. The people of Israel fell on their faces in recognition of the Lord alone as God. And soon the rain came. 

Friend, we can no longer waver between opinions. We can no longer claim to follow the Lord as God while flirting with the gods of this age. You cannot serve God and money. You cannot serve God and fame. You cannot serve God and immorality. You shall have no other gods before Me, says the Lord. 

It is time to draw the line and declare that the Lord alone is the one, true, living, and eternal God. He alone is the Maker of the heavens and the earth, righteous, just, sovereign, omnipotent, faithful, merciful, gracious, kind, loving, majestic, and glorious. He is the only one who hears and answers the prayers of His people. 

And He alone is worthy of the full devotion of our lives. He alone is worth following wholeheartedly in confident faith, glad obedience, and unshakeable hope. 

What’s more, we have even greater assurance than Elijah because we know that this is the God who became man – Jesus, the image of the invisible God, the radiance of God’s glory, the Word made flesh. And He is the One who died in our place on the cross to pay the penalty for sin and who rose again in victory over death. 

“And 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). 

Waver no longer. Turn to Jesus alone as Savior and Lord, and follow Him with undivided allegiance.

How's your worship?

When you hear about the marvelous things God does, I hope it makes you want to sing! I hope that when you think about God’s salvation you want to have a little dance party right then and there! And when you consider His unfailing love and great faithfulness, I hope you raise your hands in the air and make a joyful noise to the Lord!

Or maybe you drop to your knees in silence or fall prostrate on your face in gratitude and humility, crying tears of joy with heart overwhelmed by the mercy and grace of our God.

The mode of worship may vary, but the heart of the worshiper will overflow with joy. 

The one thing you can’t do is be unmoved. Those who know God worship Him in spirit and truth. They’re engaged in mind and heart, soul and strength. They don’t recite prayers mechanically but pray to Him relationally. They don’t just show up to church and sleepwalk through the motions, but actively seek the presence of the Lord. They don’t mumble mindlessly through the words of a hymn, but sing with joy to the One who has delivered them from death and given them new, abundant, and eternal life. 

They think about His greatness and marvel over His majesty. They delight in the ways of the Lord and draw near to Him in love. They meditate on His Word, cling to His promises, and strive to please Him in every way. 

How’s your worship? 

Those who know the Lord learn to love the things God loves and hate the things God hates. They learn to deny themselves rather than to indulge themselves. They learn that the only way to find true life is to lose their life for the sake of Jesus. And they learn that giving up everything to follow Christ is the best investment they could ever make.

He is their treasure above all treasures. He is their strength and their song. He is their peace, their joy, and their sure hope for all that’s yet to come.

“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:

‘Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.

Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel’” (Isaiah 12:3-6).

If you know you need to get back to the heart of worship, let me invite you to join us Sunday mornings at 10:45 at the Petersburg First Baptist Church. We’d love to welcome you as we seek the Lord together. But don’t wait until Sunday – open your eyes to the wonders of God’s handiwork in creation and open your heart to the Word of truth in Scripture. You’ll soon find that the marvelous things of Christ will make your heart sing for joy.

Let's teach our children to follow the ways of the Lord

It’s time to build some deeper faith in Christ!

And I say that because much of this world has gone delusional. If you don’t think there’s a war going on for the hearts and minds and souls and bodies of our children, then you’re not paying attention. From LGBT lobbyists to Planned Parenthood to divisive race theorists to Marxists idealogues and more, the battle is raging to capture your children to corruption. 

Oh, it’s under the guise of virtues like equality, love, and justice, but make no mistake, the goal of glorifying things immoral and seducing our children to sinful desires is evident. Even Satan masquerades as an angel of light, but his ambition is always to steal, kill, and destroy.

If you think I’m overreacting, do some homework. See if you agree with the Chicago Public School District’s decision to make condoms available to 5th graders. Or take a listen to the video posted to YouTube by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus as they expressly proclaim that their goal is to convert your children. Read up on which libraries are hosting drag queen story hours, which PBS Kids shows highlight sexual themes, like the Blues Clues pride parade sing-a-long, and which school districts are adopting radical sex education initiatives that introduce young children to homosexuality, gender fluidity and transition, masturbation, contraception, abortion, and seek even to push the envelope on pedophilia!

Parents, we must be vigilant in this fight. We must seek to protect our children. 

The best way I know how to do this is to first fight the battle on our knees in prayer. Let’s ask God to drive out the enemy and surround our children with His love. 

Then let’s be diligent in teaching them the ways of the Lord with grace and truth. God’s Word is still our instruction manual for training up our children in the right way. Let’s practice it ourselves, and let’s be unashamed in teaching our children to follow the paths of righteousness.

In other words, we need Jesus. We need His life-saving and life-transforming grace to help us shape and mold our children into the young men and women He’s created them to be. 

May the light of the gospel dispel the darkness, to the glory of God.