Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Is God with Us?

The final Sunday in Advent 2010 reminds us that Immanuel - God is with us. This is something we find encouraging, but challenging as we struggle to understand what this means. Think of the beginning of the Bible. In Genesis 3:8 God comes to walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening. In earlier Genesis passages we overhear regular discussion between God and Adam. Before sin entered the world the relationship between God and man was close and intimate.

Sin brought separation. Sin brought stress in the relationship between God and man. Sin causes man to wonder if God cares. Sin causes man to wonder if God is even there.

In Isaiah 8:8,10 the prophet tells us the Messiah will be called Immanuel and the people of Israel must have wondered what this would mean. They were far from God when this prophecy was delivered. Many of them had rejected God and pursued their own gods. They were all facing a time of suffering as a punishment for their disobedience. As foreign armies invaded their villages and took them captive they must have felt alone and isolated from God. We’ve all been there. We’ve felt depressed and cut off. To hear the prophet declare that God would be with them should have brought them hope. To some it did. To many, though, it did not. They were too far from God to care.

The 400 years from the close of the Old Testament to Jesus was an age where the Heavens were still. It wasn’t that God had nothing new to say. Instead, He was calling His people to remember the covenants, prophecies and writings that had brought them to this point in their relationship with Him. All the while He was preparing to fulfill His promises.

One fall night as shepherds were grazing their sheep on a hillside near Bethlehem angels appeared in overwhelming brilliance. It was time for the promise to be fully revealed. Immanuel was born. He was really here.

It was an unlikely birth. In an unlikely place. To unlikely people. Yet the promise was being fulfilled. Immanuel was a reality.

Throughout the Gospels, God was with us. He ate with us. Talked with us. Walked with us. Healed us. Taught us.

Then, one day He died for us. And three days later He rose for us.

There was another promise, though, that told us we weren’t to a place of permanent Immanuel. We read it in John 14. Though He left physically - for the time being - He promised He would still be with us. It was so important He repeated it moments before He ascended back in Heaven. Jesus says in Matthew 28 He will be with us always.

Immanuel is hard to grasp because Jesus is not taking lunch appointments today. He doesn’t have an office downtown with a lobby where we sit and wait to talk with Him. But still, He is Immanuel.

The Holy Spirit is our Immanuel. Praying with us. Teaching us. Disciplining us. Helping us.

The promise is very much still true. God is with us. Immanuel.

Though it may be hard to understand. It is reality. You can know Immanuel and feel the effects of this relationship. Through His word, His church and His Spirit - God is with us. Seek Him today.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Great Healer

The third week of the 2010 Advent season is upon us. This week we are focusing on how Jesus heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, causes the lame to walk, and restores mobility to the lame. There are countless stories in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John of Jesus restoring the health of those that were close to Him, those that He passed by along the road and those brought to Him while He was teaching. The healing ministry of Jesus Christ was a significant part of His earthly ministry.

It was important for two reasons. First, death, decay and sickness are all a part of the curse that rests on humanity because of our rebellion against God. In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve were escorted outside of God’s close presence because of their disobedience. But the Bible tells us that sin has even more effect on us that separation from God. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 8 that all of creation is groaning to be free of this decay and deterioration. In addition, in that chapter Paul says the creation, which includes people, has been subjected to futility that leads to an ongoing cycle of decay in all of creation. Finally, in Romans 6 we learn that the wages of sin is death. When Jesus healed people He was showing His authority over sickness. Even more, He was showing that He has authority over sin and has ability to take away our sin.

The healing of Christ is also important because it shows His character. On more than one occasion we see Jesus very emotional when He was healing the sick or raising the dead. This matters because it shows us that Jesus cares about us. God loves the people of the world and desires to show sympathy to them. Through the healings Christ performed we learn about the love of God.

It was a combination of His power and His love that took Him to the cross. It was there Jesus died as a substitute for us. He took the consequence of our sin upon Himself at the cross as He suffered and died in our place. At the cross He accomplished more than just physical healing, He brought the healing needed to overcome the eternal consequence of sin.

Many people live as if cancer, heart disease or other illnesses are the end of the world. In one sense they can be as they may lead to death. And if this world is all you’re counting on then it will be the end of your world. But the Bible clearly teaches there is more than this life. In John 14 and 1 Corinthians 15 we clearly read that there will be a resurrection of the followers of Christ to be with Christ forever. The resurrection will be ultimate and eternal healing that we all long to receive.

As Christmas approaches, worship the Savior born in a manger that came to heal the sick. He heals the body and the soul.

Change Your Ways

This is the second week of the 2010 Advent season and this week we focus on the change that God has called us to make in our lives. It is a change from a life of sin to a life of love and dependence upon God. It is a change that only God can enable and, ultimately, only He can accomplish in our lives. Yet, we are called to join fully and wholeheartedly with Him in this change.

The Son of God was born in the manger to bring more than wisdom and moral teaching to the world. As good as those things are, Jesus brought something that is gloriously impossible for humans to accomplish. That is the changing of a human heart so that we live lives that are pleasing in God’s eyes.

When we think of our sin, as mentioned earlier, we need to think beyond just a list of do’s and don’ts. Too often people think of the Christian faith as simply trying to appease God by doing more things that they believe will make Him happy versus what they believe will anger Him. The Christian faith is about much more than this. It is about realizing that God is our Creator and He has made us for a purpose. That purpose is to be in relationship with Him and to find our greatest joy in knowing and loving Him. We confuse this when we simply treat God as if He is the great warden in the sky who will zap us when we disobey beyond His level of tolerance.

What is sin? Sin is placing anyone or anything in God’s place in our life. John Calvin said the heart is an idol factory and humans are experts at idol manufacturing. Idolatry is replacing God on the throne of your life and putting something else there. Perhaps you’ve put yourself there. Maybe you’ve put accomplishments or possessions there. You might have put a relationship in that place. What does your life ultimately rotate around? That is your ruler.

The Bible calls us to a right relationship with our Creator, which includes Him being the Lord of our lives. To come to this point we need to repent of our idol work. Repenting is more than saying we’re sorry, though. Repenting is seeking God’s forgiveness and turning away from our wrong attitudes or actions. We turn toward Christ. It is through faith and dependence upon Him that we are able to live a life that is pleasing to God. The Bible says God will punish our sins. Jesus took the punishment for those that will believe in Him when He was crucified and offers forgiveness to those who will receive it. He is the Savior and Redeemer for the world! When we trust in Christ’s work of forgiveness at the cross and empty tomb (Easter) we are able to see real change begin in our lives.

To continue this change God has given wonderful gifts in His Holy Spirit, His Word and the local church to come alongside us. This Christmas receive the gift of a changed life that God gives to show you grace and joy.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Preparing to Eat

This Sunday - the second Sunday of Advent 2010 - we are preparing to take the Lord's Supper together. It is a special and sacred time when we remember what the church has been remembering for nearly 2,000 years.

We will remember and rejoice in the life, death and resurrection of our Savior. We will remember our hope. There is a stern warning, though, as we approach the Lord's table. Paul passes it along in 1 Corinthians 11,

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. [28] Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. [29] For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. [30] That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. [31] But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. [32] But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
(1 Corinthians 11:27-32 ESV)

As we prepare our hearts to take of the Lord's Supper may we pray as David did in Psalm 139,

[23] Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
[24] And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
(Psalm 139:23-24 ESV)

As we search our hearts may we also have courage to take action. Such as David did in Psalm 51,

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
[2] Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

[3] For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
[4] Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
[5] Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
[6] Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

[7] Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
[8] Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
[9] Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
[10] Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
[11] Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
[12] Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

[13] Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
[14] Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
[15] O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
[16] For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
[17] The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

[18] Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
[19] then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
(Psalm 51 ESV)

May we do the work of preparing our hearts as we approach the Lord's table this Lord's Day.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Light Shining in Darkness

Light Shining in Darkness
November 29, 2010

We grew up in the country. Kids that lived in the city would call it the boondocks when they came to visit. I miss living in the country. Especially at night. Far from the city lights the sky was so clear during the winter. There were so many stars and the moon seemed so close. The nights during a full moon were a special treat. The night seemed like day because the moonlight was so radiant and bright. The nights provide such a contrast in the country because of the deep darkness one night and just a few nights later there would the evening sky would be radiant with the moon’s brilliance.

Christmas is quite a contrast. Scripture says that the world is dark. The Bible says we live in darkness with a great need for the light. Even more, Jesus said He is the light the world desperately needs. Several questions quickly come to my mind. First, do you realize you live in darkness apart from the grace of God? Do I? Our reasoning, wisdom, decision-making and desires are not based on the light when we are far from God. When we live by own accord we do not make decisions that honor God. Most often our good deeds are only accomplished to benefit ourselves. We are a people in need of the light of Christ. We need the baby in the manger.

This truth leads to the second question, do you desire the light? Maybe you’re happy living in the darkness. Maybe you’ve given up on finding the light. Maybe you’ve never been pointed to the light. Here’s what the prophet Isaiah said about the darkness and the light. “But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish…e people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” (Isaiah 9:1,2) What is this light they have seen? Isaiah answers, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Light can be found. When you turn away from a sinful and rebellious way of living through repentance and forgiveness you can grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ and you can walk in the light instead of darkness. Make no mistake, though, the lighted path is not an easy one. But it is a path worth walking.

Christmas is about the light shining in the darkness. The world is in great need of direction, perspective and understanding. The world needs light. Jesus is the light.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Purposeful Love

Have you ever thought about the purpose of someone’s love? When a couple is married they purpose to love one another through any circumstance of life until one of them dies. When a child is born, parents purpose to love that child’s so that their needs will be met and they will know care and encouragement. Whether you realize it or not, there is a purpose to every ounce of love you extend to someone else.

Jesus’ love was a purposeful love. He loved for a couple of reasons. He loved God and others to bring glory to God. That is, to declare how good God is. He tells us this in John 17:1. He also purposed His love to serve others. In Mark 10:45 Jesus says that He did not come to Earth to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.

As we follow Jesus’ example let us think about these purposes of love. Again, they are to bring glory to God and to serve others. As you think about the love you share with others, are those your purposes? Are there other purposes to your love?

There are times when we love others to make ourselves feel good. There are times we love others to get what we want. There are times we love others so others will think highly of us. As you think about your relationships you will see that there have times like this in your life. These self-centered attitudes can easily creep into our hearts and destroy something that started with great intentions. When this happens, your love has not been centered on God or others. It has been centered on you. Even when it appeared you were serving someone else, your love was purposed on your self.

How do we overcome this selfishness? First, be aware of it. What are your motives for showing love to that other person? Second, don’t ask what you are going to get out of sharing your love. Look for the benefits of others and don’t worry about how you’ll be promoted, recognized, thanked or loved in return. Finally, seek God’s help. Our hearts are evil. They are centered upon self. We need the working of Christ in our lives to make us outwardly focused on God and others.

There is a purpose to your love. Be willing to explore the purpose of your love so that your love may be pure.

Monday, October 18, 2010

You Can't Earn God's Love

Did you the know Old Testament of the Bible contains over 600 commands from God? In the first century AD, the Jewish religious leaders had studied these laws in such detail that they tell us there are 365 negative ones and 248 positive ones. The negative ones are things people should not do and the positive ones are things people should do. One day, Jesus was in a discussion with religious leaders and they asked Him to sum up all of these laws in one sentence. Sounds challenging, doesn’t it? Sounds important, doesn’t it? What is revolutionary, though, is how Jesus answered their question.

In Mark 12 Jesus says that the most important commandment is to love God with all of one’s heart, soul, mind and strength. He goes further to add that loving others is just behind this commandment. Jesus directly calls people to love God here, but you need to know that this is a recurring theme throughout the entire Bible. And, it is certainly a recurring theme in Jesus’ ministry.

So, how do you love God? That is question with many answers. We often define how we love by what others do for us. Isn’t that the way we define love when it comes to human relationships? We love family members and friends because of the way they care and provide for us. Their words or actions are their expressions of love toward us.

But often we do not define our love for God this way. We define our love for God by what we do for Him. Many of us are actually trying to earn God’s love through our obedience to Him. Instead of allowing our love for Him to drive us to obedience, we try to earn His love through obedience. Make sense? It can be a bit confusing so let me explain a little more.

Here in our Southern Kentucky culture we often think that as we attend our local church we show our love for God. There may be no joy in our going to hear the preaching of God’s word, sing praises to Him or encouraging other believers. Yet, we go because it is our duty to show God we love Him. While it is right to attend church on a regular basis (Hebrews 10:25), we are not called to go to church to show God we love Him. We are called to go to church because we love God.

Did you hear the difference?

Our action is not to earn God’s love. Our action is because of God’s love for us. We don’t act to earn God’s love. We act to express our love for God. Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Love comes first. Obedience follows. Do you love God? Don’t obey to earn His love. Obey God because you enjoy His love and want to love Him back.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why Does Church Membership Matter?

Church membership, though not directly mandated in the New Testament, does seem to be implied in the New Testament. Here's a helpful blog from a friend, Ben Simpson, who is the pastor of West Main Baptist Church in Alexandria, TN. Read carefully and it will be a great help to you.

Monday, October 04, 2010

God the Deliverer

God's great desire is to deliver you for His glory. And He is really serious about this. He is at work to deliver you even if you don't know that you need to be delivered. Because the truth is you need to be delivered from something all the time.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (ESV)

God is willing to bring you to a point of desperation so you will learn to trust Him. Are you there yet? I've been there recently. Only when we humble ourselves before Him, stand firm in the faith and trust Him will we find the relief He longs to give and we long to receive.

Where are you along the road of suffering? Are you on the highway of denial or hard-headedness? Have you found the exit that leads to peace? You'll spot it by its sign which reads "Faith in Christ". Will you follow His lead?

Friday, October 01, 2010

Satisfaction in Suffering

Suffering is never easy, but the Bible says it is useful. Here's a sermon I preached at West Main Baptist Church in Alexandria, TN on Tuesday, September 28, 2010. Listen and let me know what you think.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Rebel Restored

What is sin? What comes to your mind? Would you call yourself a sinner? If so, could you name three specific sins you committed today? Are there sinful actions or attitudes in your life recently? While many believe sin exists and would reluctantly acknowledge that we sin we are often slow to list the specific sins we are struggling with at the moment. Let’s ask another question and that is why do we struggle with sin?

In Psalm 32, David uses three words to describe his offense against God. He calls it transgression, sin and iniquity. Remember the psalms are poems and a poet is very intentional in word choice. David is not trying to avoid a redundant use of the word sin as he uses these three different words. He is trying to teach us a lesson.

The word transgression has a meaning of rebellion. It is open, undefiled rebellion against God. David simply did not want to obey God. He rejected God’s authority, command and leadership in his life and chose lust, adultery and murder instead.

The word sin has a meaning of disobeying the law of God. David was a student of God’s Word and he knew the commands of God. Yet, in his sinfulness he disregarded those commands and chose to do what he pleased. His desires became his law.

The final word, iniquity, has a sense of knowing deep down what is right and doing the opposite. We might understand this by thinking of times we went against our own common sense. God has stamped certain laws in the human heart and there is a universal understanding that certain actions are simply wrong. Ultimately, we disobey God when we reject these things we know to be right.

So what is sin? It is rebellion against God, rejecting what He commands and doing what we please. In essence, it is making us the god of our lives. We want to be king, lord and ruler. Sin is how we carry this out.

But there is hope. God promises forgiveness to those that seek it. Psalm 32 is not about sin only. It is also about forgiveness and the joy of obedience. David says the burdening weight of his disobedience was lifted off of him when he repented. He says God replaced it with comfort and rest. Not only those, but freedom from guilt and shame as well. Want to know this hope and peace? Surrender your rebellion, embrace Christ and find the rest He freely gives.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Real Hope for Real Life

Hope for hope’s sake is no hope at all. Do you ever hope for hope’s sake? Do you ever find yourself offering reassurance hoping that everything will somehow work out in the end? Your intentions are good; you just don’t have any basis for your faith. Sometimes we say these things because we don’t have anything else to say and we don’t want there to be empty air in a moment that seems really important. Hope, though, must be anchored to something real and powerful if it is going to bring true comfort.

Peter says in his New Testament letter of 1 Peter that Jesus Christ has lived, died and been resurrected so that He may give His followers a living hope. What is living hope you may ask? Well, Peter uses this phrase to help us see that God is actively at work in the lives of everyone that loves Him. It is not hope that simply points back to a time when one’s relationship with Jesus Christ began. It is not hope that simply points forward to a time when Jesus will return or a Christian dies and goes to Heaven. Living hope certainly includes those moments, but it includes much more. Living hope is the promise that God is aware of every aspect of the Christian’s life and, even more, is actively at work in every one of those aspects. God cares for those that love Him and follow Him.

The basis of this living hope is not just a hope that God is in Heaven looking down. No, it is wrapped in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These are important facts. Jesus’ life stands as a substitute for His followers. Though we disobey and rebel, Jesus has lived perfectly and God allows His perfection to substitute for our disobedience when we follow Him. Jesus’ death stands as a substitute as well. The Bible says the punishment for our rebellion against God is death. But the Bible also says that Jesus died as a substitute for all those that will follow Him. Followers of Jesus can have the assurance of life now and forever with Christ because He died as our substitute. The resurrection of Jesus is significant because it shows the power of God to make these promises true. Through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead God proved that all things are indeed possible with Him.

While this is a short and basic explanation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ it is a basis for real hope. Hope must be rooted in something real and powerful if it is to offer hope at all. This hope is not a magic formula for your life. A life of real hope calls for commitment to Christ, seeking repentance of your sin, and a new life empowered by the Holy Spirit of God. But it is a life of hope. Powerful hope that is anchored to a real Savior.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Are You Hospitable?

I was reading in 1 Peter today and read this verse in 1 Peter 4:9, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Let’s see how our definition of hospitality compares with Peter’s intent.

In the ancient setting this hospitality could have meant to show kindness to strangers who were in need as they traveled. It seems that much of the ancient nomadic culture was based upon the hope that people would share food and offer a place of rest for traveling strangers.

As I looked at the word I can’t help but see the word hospital. We all know what that is. It is a place for the hurting to find care, relief and recovery. Peter says that Christians ought to be hospitable people.

Finally, as I think about this sentence I see the phrase “one another”. It seems that Peter may have strangers in mind, but he is also thinking more specifically. As he is writing this letter, Christians are headed toward intense persecution.

Because of the persecution some of them will lose possessions and homes. If this is the case then Peter is calling on the other Christians to be generous in sharing with those who have been persecuted.

Because of the persecution some of them will lose family members to imprisonment or even martyrdom. The call for hospitality in those cases will be even more serious.

I wonder if we would be willing to share even when we know it will bring us great inconvenience. Would we be willing to sacrifice on a long-term basis to meet the needs of others? Would we sacrifice our privacy in order to allow another follower of Jesus to live with us when they have lost a family member or home? I fear that in our modern church the term hospitality makes us think of a cookout or game night. While it is good to gather in this way, the New Testament has a much deeper and more sacrificial view of hospitality.

Christian, hear Peter’s call to sacrificially care for someone that is hurting without grumbling. It is service for the sake of the Gospel.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Will You Live by Faith?

Is there more to life than this? Have you ever asked, “Is this it?” All of us have probably asked that question at one time or another. Frustration and disappointment make for quick friends and can stay longer than they’re welcome. These feelings especially seem to appear when we count on our own abilities. Everyone’s intellect and strength are limited, but often we act like they are limitless. This is when frustration and disappointment usually come calling.

Many of us get stuck, though, thinking that this life is about what we can accomplish or acquire. When those things fail to bring lasting satisfaction we find ourselves stuck in a rut. Followers of Jesus fall in this trap as well. We have tried to limit what God can do to what we can do. Sure we pray for miracles and expect great things from Him, but the truth is that we don’t live very faith-dependent lives regularly. Rarely do we take great risks that only God can achieve. Rarely do we actually live on faith.

Friend, do not be mistaken. We cannot earn God’s forgiveness or impress Him to win His favor. Peace with God comes only through His gracious forgiveness made available to Christians through the life, substitutionary death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We only know His strength, favor and power through faith when we turn away from our self-sufficiency and live dependently upon Him.

It is a strange concept. When children grow up we mark their maturity by their independence. When Christians grow in the faith the Bible marks their maturity by their dependence upon God. We are never supposed to aim at self-sufficiency. That is not a flaw in humanity; it is God’s design.

If you are weary because you’ve been trying to earn God’s favor or you’ve been trying to supply all your own needs please know there is good news. God desires to lift your burden. He desires to bring you gracious aid. You must turn to Him though. You must work by His plan. You must give Him control of your life and abide with Him through the changes He will make to your planning, decision-making and scorekeeping. There is more to life than meets the eyes. Bring your dissatisfaction to God and see what He will do with it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Will You Be There?

Where will you be on this day?

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Revelation 7:9-17

Monday, June 07, 2010

Earnest Love

Earnest Love
June 7, 2010

Earnest is a word that we don’t use much. I hear it occasionally and even use it sometimes, but I don’t think about its definition very often. Honestly, I thought it meant to be really serious. However, I have recently discovered that the Bible uses this word in a different way.

In 1 Peter 1:22-25, Peter talks about the love that Christians should have for one another that eventually spills over to those that are not followers of Jesus. It is there that our word of the day appears. Peter says that Christians are to love one another earnestly. If the definition of earnest was serious it would make sense when Peter speaks of this love, but he intends more.

In this use of the word earnest Peter has the word sacrifice in mind. In this context he is using a word that was often used when people talked of skin stretching across a bone. He wants the reader to think about stretching or being caused to stretch. When was the last time you loved someone to the point that is caused you to sacrifice or be stretched?

We may love others, but it is rare that we are willing to be stretched in showing that love. It isn’t very often that we are willing really take a risk to show our love to others. When was the last time you risked your reputation, your money or your possessions to show love to someone else? When was the last time you stretched yourself to the limit to show love to God?

When we take risks it is often because we believe we are going to get something in return. That is not the way of love. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13, ESV)

God models this earnest love for us. Heaven stretched to earth to show the love of God. Jesus sacrificed His life on the cross to show His love. Will you receive that love? Will you reflect that love? May you do so earnestly.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Worthwhile Suffering

I suppose when we value the outcome, we’ll endure many things. People will eat tasteless food for months to be able to fit in clothes they’ve outgrown. People will allow doctors to cut and wound them to the point of inflicting great pain because they believe it will bring relief and healing. People will make limitless sacrifices if they believe it would bring a desirable outcome.

When you think about suffering, do you think about the outcome that will be produced? We fuss, gripe, complain and are given to bad attitudes during times of suffering and it is generally because we do not believe there is any valuable result from our suffering. When we face suffering in this way or with this attitude we are wrong. Suffering brings an outcome. And it should not be just any outcome. God desires that suffering bring a helpful outcome.

Listen to what the Bible says about the suffering of Christians, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5, ESV)

For those who have been made right with God by the work of Jesus and have peace with God because of the grace He has shown them, they can rest assured that God is using their suffering for good. We see that suffering sets a process in motion that will ultimately lead to a stronger character and a better hope. What is the hope? Well, the hope is that our pain is leading us in a direction. Acts 14:22 says that through many trials believers will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Christians can know that God is using suffering to prepare them to be in His presence and to know the full joy of relationship with Him forever. Would you consider that a worthwhile outcome?

Suffering isn’t limited to benefits in eternity, though.

The previous passage says that God desires to use suffering to build greater character. Suffering build endurance. Suffering makes us better encouragers. Suffering makes us better sympathizers. Suffering makes us realize what really matters. Suffering makes us better.

How do you deal with suffering? We can endure just about anything if we know that it provides a worthwhile return. Is the Kingdom of Heaven a worthwhile return to you? Is an increased character a worthwhile return to you? If so, suffer well. If not, think through what gives you real hope to see if its returns are as valuable as the returns God offers suffering?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

God at Work

God is kind to us. He is at work in our lives when we do not realize it. Today I read about the angels God sent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. In verse 16 we hear the angels took Lot and his family by the hand because they were hesitant to leave. The writer tells us it was an act of kindness by God.

In a very different scenario, a friend of mine had surgery to remove cancer in a kidney yesterday. The doctors only found the cancer because they were doing a scan to find out the reason for the man's lower back pain. There were bones spurs and other problems causing the back pain, but the tests revealed a much more serious problem in the cancer. This morning he is cancer free because his back pain led to the discovery.

Never think that God is not working in your life. Our job is not to doubt, but to try to trace the work of His loving hand.

Monday, May 03, 2010

The Lord Is A Stronghold

Life is fragile. The rising waters of this weekend’s rains make us well aware how quickly we can lose the control we believe we have over life. In a short amount of time our homes, possessions and security can be washed away. Though we don’t face physical disaster like this often, we regularly face overwhelming situations. How do you handle those situations? Are you prepared with a plan of action? Or, do you simply wait and respond in the hour of great distress?

When it comes to facing adversity there are several things that are certain. First, difficulty will come. We can know this as truth. In a million different shapes and sizes, we will all struggle at times in life. The second thing we can know, though we don’t often take advantage of this truth, is that God offers help. In Psalm 9:9-10 we hear, “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.”

What is a stronghold? The psalmist mentions it twice so it must be important. A stronghold is a place of security that is unreachable by an attacker. It is a rare place of ultimate security. We long for these strongholds. We try to construct them for ourselves. And, they may endure much of our struggle. However, when the greatest troubles of life come even the most durable self-made strongholds crumble. But the psalmist has great confidence in the stronghold he refers to. It is because this stronghold is not one that is man-made. In fact, it is not made at all. It is the Everlasting God.

Do you realize that God desires and even offers to be your stronghold? In love and mercy He offers this invitation to you. Now, there are some requirements to gain access to this stronghold. There is the turning away from selfish rebellion and the desire to be the king of the fortress. This fortress has a King and needs no other. This means you will have to surrender things like pride and arrogance. You must realize your plan may not be the best plan, and the King of this fortress may choose a different process for dealing with your struggle.

In addition, to gain access to this fortress there is the requirement of trust. Many of us struggle with trust. Especially when we’re hurting and confused. It is difficult to turn loose of control, even if it’s only a false sense of control. God calls you trust Him.

What assurance do you have? David says God will not forsake those who trust Him. Reassuring, isn’t it. Perhaps people or organizations have walked away from you in times of trouble. God won’t. Will you turn today, ask His forgiveness for your rebellion and begin to trust Him?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Lessons from God and Benjamin

It was four years ago today that our son, Benjamin, was stillborn. While there is still sorrow, God has been very gracious and faithful in using his life. On Wednesday, April 21, I shared our story and some lessons that God has taught us at Immanuel Baptist. I called the testimony Lessons from God and Benjamin. I hope you are encouraged to hear how God works even through our pain. He never wastes a hurt.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Where Do You Find Assurance?

Perhaps someone has asked you, “If you died today, how do you know you would go to Heaven?” or “If you died tonight, where would you wake up?” I know I have had people from a few different religious groups ask this question. None of us delight in spending much time thinking about what will happen to us when we die, but the truth is that death is a reality that none escape. What if where you go when you die has an effect on the way you live? Notice, I didn’t ask what if the way you live has an effect on where you go when you die. I said it the other way around. I said it this way because the Bible makes this statement.

In 1 Peter 1, Peter says that those who place their faith in Jesus Christ have been born to a living hope with an inheritance that is stored in Heaven where it is imperishable and undefiled. He says this promise, then, should lead Christians to a life of obedience and holiness. So, a Christian’s belief that they will be in Heaven with Christ at the moment of death should have a great impact on their life.

Two questions come to mind. First, how do you know if you will be in Heaven with Christ when you die? Second, if you believe you will be in Heaven with Christ when you die, are you growing in obedience to His teaching and holy living?

To answer the first question, the Bible is clear that we cannot earn salvation. In Ephesians 2:8-10 we learn that God’s forgiveness and pardon is a gift of God’s grace and cannot be earned. You cannot be good enough or smart enough to earn God’s pardon. Forgiveness from Christ is given when we repent of our sins and turn to Christ for forgiveness and leadership in life. Jesus Christ is able to give this forgiveness because of His perfect life and substitutionary death on the cross. The Gospel is the promise that Christ has taken the punishment we deserve and it is a call for us to repent of our sins and make Him the Lord of our lives. It makes little difference that you grew up in the Bible belt or that you or your family has been in church for a long time. The only true peace with God comes from forgiveness from Jesus Christ.

This salvation should bring more than just the hope of Heaven though. The mercy of Jesus Christ causes Christians to live differently. Christians should turn away from selfishness and pride and be known for their love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. While Christians are not perfect in these areas, there should be real change. Perhaps you believe yourself to be a Christian, but do not see these changes. While the process is a slow one at times, if it is not present perhaps you should examine your basis of salvation. Why not talk today with someone you believe to be a true Christian? It is worth considering as life now and evermore rests upon it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Lesson from Suffering

Suffering is something that no one can escape. I am often reminded when preaching a funeral that one day I’ll be mourning the loss of someone in my family. I will be the one seeking the comfort rather than simply trying to give it. I think we often overlook the great lesson of humility that should come with suffering. Suffering causes us to ask questions that we don’t like to face. These questions are usually very difficult for us to answer. Yet, rather than being angry when we are stumped, perhaps a better solution would be to learn humility.

Suffering is a great leveling force. When we are faced with a terminal illness or condition our money makes little difference. When people are suffering I haven’t heard them long for more accolades or prestige. No, the cry is the same for everyone – relief. Even the desire for relief is humbling. If we could deliver it to ourselves, we would. Wouldn’t you agree that it is humbling to long for relief and be unable to find it? We are devastated by the reality that we are not self-sufficient after all. We are left to realize that we are indeed finite. We are left to realize that the world keeps turning even when we are on the sick bed. Those are stark revelations for many of us. Our pride fuels us to think that everyone is need of our intellect, opinions or abilities. Suffering humbles us and teaches us this is not so.

Suffering also hurts our pride because we realize we need help from others. Often we will settle for something that is less than the best because we are protecting our pride. We are award-winning actors as we try to make others believe we can manage for ourselves. However, when real suffering comes we can’t help but call for help. When others have to bathe us or help us to the bathroom our pride can’t last. Suffering brings this humility.

I can’t help but think of how God uses this process. Suffering causes us to realize that we need others. And, how we need our Creator. We are reminded of how frail and needy we are. We believe our bodies to be strong, but they can be broken in a second. We believe our spirit to be persevering, but it can be brought low in an instant. We may go to extreme measures to hide it, but the truth is we are needy people.

Will you look for humility in suffering? Perhaps you’ve known it before, but have forgotten. Won’t you remember to serve others? One day you will need to be served by others. Won’t you comfort those who grieve? One day you will need to be comforted? Don’t waste the suffering God intends to use for good. Learn from it, help others and turn to Him for help.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

It Was Love

It was love that carried Him from the table to the cross.
It was love that caused Him to be betrayed by a kiss.
It was love that coped with the whip’s strong blow.
It was love.

It was love that relentlessly drove Him to the hill.
It was love that received the hammer’s blows.
It was love that restrained His cries for relief.
It was love.

It was love that offered up His life.
It was love that opened not His mouth.
It was love that overflowed as blood.
It was love.

It was love that sin was poured upon Him.
It was love that shame was worn as a robe.
It was love that sorrow was endured.
It was love.

It was love that salvation was accomplished.
It was love that sunset brought anguish.
It was love that sunrise brought resurrection.
It was love.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Humility Before Honor

Proverbs 15:33 says, “The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.”
In each proverb thoughts are intentionally linked together. Isn’t it interesting that the fear of the Lord, instruction and wisdom are linked together with humility? Many times instruction puffs us up. Not so with the wisdom that comes from knowing and loving God. When we learn of God’s justice, love, mercy, strength and His countless other attributes we should be humbled.

Humility is more than just an attitude though. It is an action. Humility displays itself in the way we treat others. It’s not that we think we ought to serve others, but we actually serve others. Meekness is thinking of others as better than you. This doesn’t mean you’re worthless. It means your find your greatest joy in looking for ways to serve others and then acting on your investigative work. Meekness is the attitude that brings about humility, but humility is more than an attitude – it is an action.

Many of us believe we are humble. Yet, is there evidence to prove this in your life? When was the last time you put your own interest aside and spent time serving your family, your friends, your co-workers, your neighbors, your church family? When was the last time you put down the remote and gave your family your undivided attention? When was the last time you gave a gift or sent a card without any desire to be thanked? When was the last time you heard of a need in someone’s life and you secretly met that need without anyone else knowing about it? We all like to think of ourselves as humble, but would there be enough evidence to support your claim?

This type of thinking flies in the face of our nature. Our nature tells us to eat or be eaten. Our nature moves us to be greedy, to hoard, and to think only of ourselves. There must be a change within us for our desire to move away from our self-centered interest and focus on serving others. According to this proverb, this shift only happens in light of the instruction of the Lord. It is there that we learn humility is better than honor. It is there that we learn it is more blessed to give than to receive. It is in this instruction that we learn that the last shall be first. Even if these truths aren’t recognized in this life, they will be in the one to come.

Humility is indeed greater than honor and can only be attained through the instruction of the Lord.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Find It Here - Easter Radio Commercials

Here are the three Easter commercials we have airing on local radio. Tell a friend about them and use them to invite folks to join us on Easter Sunday!

Immanuel Easter Commercial 2010 01
Immanuel Easter Commercial 2010 02
Immanuel Easter Commercial 2010 03

Monday, March 15, 2010

Knowing God

What can be known about God by observing nature? In Barren County we live in a beautiful area that is filled with mysterious caves, beautiful lakes and rivers and intriguing wildlife. Perhaps there are many people that would consider nature to be their sanctuary as its beauty brings hope and encouragement when we admire it.

On the other hand, we’ve experienced the shock of nature’s destruction. We’ve watched in awe as thousands have lost their lives and homes due to terrible earthquakes and resulting floods. It has been overwhelming to see the hopelessness and powerlessness of humanity over this destructive force that leaves us fearing aftershocks and recalculating the rotational axis of the Earth.

Quickly we learn about the creativity and the power of the Designer. We learn that He has a brush with a multitude colors and an imagination more vivid than any of us. We also learn that we are in need of a Protector who can shield us when nature shakes out of control. But does any of this truly help us to know Him?

Indeed, we can know about Him, but He desires more. And, deep down we all desire more. Maybe you’ve found yourself wandering the forest or fishing the shore as you claimed you were connecting with God. While those things are relaxing, they don’t allow us to truly know God. In those places we learn about God, but we don’t come to know Him.

Passages such as Matthew 11:25-30 tell us that ultimately God wants us to know Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. The Bible does not say that God reveals Himself to us most clearly in nature, but in the life of Jesus Christ. Passages such as John 3:16 help us realize that if we want to see God’s love fully demonstrated to us we must look to Jesus. We can see God’s love in the world that He has provided for us and in the protection He offers to us in the face of destruction, but we only truly receive His love when we turn to Jesus Christ. Keep nature in its proper place this spring. Enjoy its beauty. Celebrate the new life it represents. But be reminded that nature is only a reflection of its Creator.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Inheritance to Come

The Apostle Peter delivered God's Words powerfully when he wrote,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:3-9 (ESV)

This is what I read to my grandfather on Friday morning when we had some quiet moments together. I clued into the passage because of the phrase 'living hope', but was stunned when I began to read through the promises of the Christian's inheritance. By the power of the resurrection, the Christian's inheritance is imperishable, undefiled and unfading. And, it is being kept for them by the power of God.

Often we think of the inheritance as what we leave behind, not what is to come. But God sees things differently. What a revolutionary idea! The inheritance left behind perishes, is never perfect and always fades away. So, of these two inheritances, which do you want? Who is the true benefactor?

As I read this passage I couldn't help but be excited for him. I couldn't help but be excited for me. There is a mystery that surrounds death and this mystery causes fear and anxiety, but the hope of what occurs in the very next breath showing bring joy that overshadows this fear for the Christian. This wonderful inheritance, secured by God Himself, is one breath away for the follower of Jesus.

Oh the joy that will be known by the Christian when they fully receive the salvation bought by Christ's great love. May this coming joy fill us with hope even now. I hope it encouraged Pop as he now lives in the reality of cancer. I know this truth (and Pop's longing for it) encouraged me.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Family Update

It is cancer. The words no one wants to hear. So, Pop's tumor is malignant and now we wait to see what the treatment and options will be. For those of you who have emailed, called and talked to us in person - thank you. Your prayers and encouraging words are wonderful gifts.

Now, Pop has been moved to a rehabilitation center where he will have the opportunity to work on the mobility of his hip. After that we'll see what the Doctors want to do to treat the cancer.

Over the past couple of days I have been thinking about how I can think through this and be an encouragement to my family. An article comes to mind that was written some years ago. It is by John Piper and was written while he dealt with his own cancer. If you've never read it I would encourage you to read this and use it as a tool in dealing with your own cancer or that of someone you love.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hope That Will Not Fail

I have a prayer request for you all. My 83 year old grandfather in GA is not doing well. He fell about three weeks ago and broke his hip. That is now repaired, but there have been many complications to the point that they inserted a feeding tube yesterday. The valve/flap that helps food flow to his stomach and air to his lungs is not functioning. It is stuck and everything is flowing to his lungs. Therefore, any food, liquid or medication would cause very dangerous pneumonia immediately. Hence, the feeding tube. As they inserted the feeding tube yesterday, the Dr found a tumor. It is at the base of his esophagus and just above all of his major organs. They took a biopsy of it and we are now waiting to see if it is cancerous. The Dr seemed to think it will be. If so, they will not be able to operate on it and it will probably be a very fast spreading type that gets into his vital organs quickly. We are all very anxious to hear the test results and there is also much sadness mixed in.

God has been very gracious to me. All of my grandparents, parents and siblings, all of which are Christians, are still living. God has given them as a gift to me for a long time. They have all had a great impact on my life. Now, it looks as if that could begin to change. I suppose I have known this day was coming, but it is hard to prepare for it when it is not reality. Please pray that God would give my parents (who are in GA now) the wisdom to know what to do in caring for Pop and for my Grandmother as well. Pray that we will be focused on the hope of Christ despite the news that comes to us. Pray that God will be honored in the way our family acts and deals with the days ahead. Pray that God would give us joy through our sorrow.

Thank you for your prayers.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

How God Speaks

God has spoken to humanity. He still speaks to humanity. Do you know how? Are you listening?

God has spoken through Jesus Christ.
John 1:1 says that the Word became flesh and lived among us. John 1:14 says, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."

God has spoken through His decrees.
These are found in Genesis in the creation accounts in the early chapters of Genesis. We hear more about this in Psalm 33:6, "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host."

God has spoken through direct address.
We hear in Exodus 20:1-3, "And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me."

God has spoken through human lips.
This comes through the prophets. Hear Deuteronomy 18:18-20, "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him." We also see this in the New Testament through the Gospel writers and the writers of the Apostles. Listen to 1 Corinthians 14:37, "If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord." Here Paul is calling all of those that believe they are called to speak on behalf of God should be certain they are speaking consistently with the Word of God.

This leads to the final way God speaks.

God has spoken through the written Word which is the Bible.

Hear God's command to Isaiah which helps us understand God's desire for His Word to be recorded. Isaiah 30:8, "And now, go, write it before them on a tablet and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come as a witness forever."

God loves us. He desires to communicate with us. Will you listen?

Monday, March 01, 2010

Are You Afraid?

What intimidates you? I’m sure something quickly pops into your mind. It’s uncontrollable. You can’t stop the thoughts. That’s because we’re all afraid of something. Did you know that God does not desire for us to live this way. He desires that we live with peace and confidence in Christ. He does not want us to live a live of fear and insecurity.

Where does your strength originate? Carefully consider this question. Don’t give a knee jerk reaction here. Think about it. If you have any strength at all, there must be a source. One of the great differences between the Christian faith and many other modern philosophies is the originating source of inner strength. Many other religions teach that strength comes from within. We are in need of locating that strength inside our own minds or hearts and tapping into it. While the Bible does speak about the human spirit, Ephesians 4:23 being one example, it is not the human spirit that produces the ultimate, ongoing, life-sustaining strength we need in our lives.

Three times in the first nine verses of the book of Joshua God commands Joshua to be strong and courageous. If you read Joshua 1:1-9 and think it sounds like a pep talk you are right on track. God is leading Joshua to carry the nation of Israel forward into the Promised Land of Canaan. Yet, in this pep talk God is careful to point out to Joshua that He will be the source of His strength. Not the military or the leadership’s wise decision-making, but God Himself will deliver confidence and victory.

What is Joshua’s responsibility? It is to meditate daily upon the Word of God. To meditate on God’s Word is to read, think about and apply God’s word to one’s life and decisions. Again, we are talking about our source of strength and we see that it is to come from God. When Joshua is tempted to be afraid, he should remember the strong promises of God. He should look back at God’s proven track record. He should reflect on the character and nature of God revealed in Scripture. This will prove to be a faithful source of strength for Joshua and for you.

Fears – we all have them. Ever since Adam and Eve hid from God in the Garden of Eden, people have been hiding from all kinds of things. The good news is that you can come on out now and stop your hiding. You can be strong and courageous. But your strength and courage will only be true and lasting if your life is anchored by God and His Word.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Hope of Suffering

In more than one place the Bible calls suffering Christians to rejoice. Sounds strange to our ears, huh? It almost sounds illogical. It is not a call to go out and seek suffering because you are a glutton for punishment, but it is a call to properly face suffering realizing that there is good to be found in it.

The logic is found when we read passages such as this in Romans 5, “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

The writer of this passage, the Apostle Paul, does not get very specific when he speaks of suffering in this passage and we are left to understand that he is referring to a wide range of suffering. Most likely if you are breathing, there is some area in your life that brings you suffering. Let’s think about these characteristics that Paul mentions and think about his words of encouragement. His list includes endurance, character, hope and God’s love.

How many problems are you enduring today that are bigger than the problems you endured a few years ago? Our life is progressive. As we grow and age our problems become more complex. God brings suffering into our lives to help us deal with problems on all sorts of scales. When we pass the finish line of smaller problems our strength is built so we can face larger problems with more strength and wisdom. Can you find encouragement in knowing that you are being prepared today to endure what is around the bend?

Not only does God build endurance, He also desires to build character. Once we have endured smaller problems we should be able to handle future problems with a steadier hand. It is the person that is always prone to drama or the belief that the world is about to come to an end that shows they are not learning endurance and are, therefore, lacking character.

From character, hope is built. Once we know God is faithful and that He has given us the ability to endure we will view the world and our problems differently. Our attitudes ought to be one of encouragement even when life is hard. This hope is not built on simple positive thinking though, it is built on the truth that God has shown us great love. After all, it was through great suffering that God’s love is best demonstrated through the work of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.

Problems will come your way. As you look upon them, what are you learning? Is your perspective one of finding true hope in God?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Protecting a Life

There is a magazine I look at often that charts the progress of babies as they grow in their mother’s womb. It is a fascinating magazine that tells of the process of the infant during the time of fetal development. It speaks of their brain and body development and even talks about when the baby starts hearing and recognizing sounds and voices outside of the womb. Even more, there are pictures that match the progress of the baby’s development in every month of the nine-month pregnancy process. It is simply an amazing miracle to see the baby grow and develop. I’m not sure how anyone can look at these pictures and come to any other conclusion than to realize this is a real person growing and developing inside their mother.

Over the years we have had a number of ultrasounds while my wife has been pregnant. Every one of those experiences has made a tremendous impact of me. From the time we hear the baby’s heartbeat for the first time to the point we see the images of our baby just weeks before their delivery, the ultrasounds have brought tears to our eyes. Currently, the Kentucky General Assembly is considering a bill that would require mother’s seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound before they make their final decision on whether or not to abort their baby. The mother’s are not forced to view the ultrasound, but they would be required to have one. The bill is called SB 38. It has already passed the State Senate on January 25, and was sent to the House of Representative’s Health and Welfare Committee on February 1. This committee, made up of a 14 legislators, must approve the bill’s passage to the floor for a vote by the entire House. I am praying that it will come to a vote on the floor of the House and be passed. If you’re interested in knowing who is on the Health and Welfare Committee you can find out by going to www.lrc.ky.gov/committee/standing/H&W(H)/members.htm.

Most people I talk to want to know all of the facts before making a decision concerning a medical procedure. Shouldn’t pregnant women be given these facts before making the decision on whether or not to abort a baby? Perhaps you would say that the woman should not be forced to view an ultrasound if she doesn’t want to. Please remember, SB 38 calls for the ultrasound to take place, but not for the forcing of the woman to view it.

I must wonder, though, who speaks for the unborn? Obviously, a baby in utero cannot speak for itself. Perhaps this ultrasound would give this young life a voice while growing in its mother’s womb. House and Welfare Committee, thank you for your service to the Commonwealth. I’m praying that you will do all that is within your power to protect life.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Just Listen to Yourself

How often do you listen to what you’re saying? When you speak to others in conversation or instruction, do you take note of your tone of voice or the way you are talking to the other person? Often we are so busy trying to convey our own message that we don’t think about what we are saying and how we are saying whatever it is. I wonder if you would want to be talked to in the way you talk to others? Perhaps that’s a good place to start in this self-examination.

Would You Talk to Yourself Like That?
In Ephesians 4:31-32, the Apostle Paul says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Think about each of those words for a moment. Bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice. We would not want to be on the receiving end of comments or actions featuring those attributes. So, in the same way we ought to be careful to avoid speaking to others in that way. It will take intentionally listening to our words if change is going to come.

We are, though, supposed to fill our language with kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness. Those are words we long to hear. Those are the tones we need to hear. When someone speaks to us in these ways, we are usually listening closely. Words spoken to us in kindness and tenderheartedness express love, concern and care. The earsplitting words previously mentioned express no love, only harshness. Who wants to be rubbed by words that are as coarse as sand paper? Not me. And probably not you either.

How Would Christ Speak?
There’s more to this story though. Paul says that we should treat one another this way because Christ treats us this way. To the disobedient and rebellious Christ offers forgiveness. To the wayward and down trodden He offers mercy and kindness. To the broken and hurting He offers tenderheartedness. We should express this love to one another because we have received it from Christ. I wonder if you have received it. Your words can only reflect His love when you have received it. If you have received the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, I wonder if you are extending it to others through your conversation. It will take paying attention. Are you listening to what you’re saying?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Want to be Free from Guilt?

Guilt is heavy. It is a great weight around our necks. Many of us carry guilt for things we have said, done or even wanted to do. We battle these accusations in our mind and wonder if we can ever be free from the shame and the embarrassment that seems to be ever near. Whether anyone else knows of these offenses or not, the guilt is heavy and wants to derail our lives.

Guilt Does Not Surprise God
God knows this. He is not surprised by the affect of our sinful living or thinking. Likewise, it should not be a great surprise to us either, but often it is and we don't know how to deal with it. What brings lasting joy in your life? What brings satisfaction? Isn't that what you want to replace this guilt and shame? Followers of Jesus know that joy comes when we walk with Him. When we are consistently obedient to what Jesus teaches us, and how He directs us to live we are able to be satisfied. Why would we be surprised, then, to find that there is great pain and separation when we try to make our own way. Yet, usually we are surprised. We don't think about the consequences of our actions. We either refuse to follow Jesus or we simply forget. Then, we are grieved and held in the bondage of our guilt and shame. We don't have to live this way.

God Desires for You to Live Blamelessly
In Ephesians 1 we hear that Jesus has come to create for Himself a people that are holy and blameless. They are a people set apart to love God, follow Him and have this liberty and confidence in Christ in their lives. They are a people who are freely forgiven by Jesus and are called to hold this truth dear and apply this freedom to their thinking and living. Jesus knows this freedom because of His obedience to the Father. He knew it when He walked the Earth and He knows it now. He desires to bring you this relief from shame and guilt. He wants to deliver healing and restoration to your heart.

Have you wondered how David carried on after his scandalous sins of adultery and conspiracy to murder? How was David able to move forward and live victoriously for God's glory? Many of us would consider our lives ruined. We would be convinced that God was going to put us on a shelf until we die. Yet, David didn't live this way. Why not? He understood the power and scope of God's forgiveness. He knew he would bear the scars of his sin, but he also knew God would free him from the weight of the shame of his sin. Listen to what he said in Psalm 32,

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
 2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

5 I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

6 Therefore let everyone who is godly 
offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
they shall not reach him. 
7 You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
 9 Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
or it will not stay near you.

10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
 11 Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

I can think of four "r's" that will help you overcome guilt like David did. Here they are: repentance, recovery, remembering and rejoicing.

David acknowledged and confessed his sin to God in verse 5. Relief came when he stopped trying to hide it. Repentance will lead us to make good the wrongs that we have done and to seek the forgiveness we need. It is a difficult step, but it is the first step that must be taken.

We need God's forgiveness. God promises to give it. David knew that he had received. In verse 5 we hear him say directly that God had forgiven him. It was no question. It was a statement of fact. He would live in this truth from now on.

David proclaimed that God was his strength and hiding place in verse 7. We must be quick to remember that God is our help. He is able to give us the courage and hope we need. If we stop dwelling on this truth...if we forget we will be led to begin looking solely on ourselves, others or something else for strength. We must remember! We must continually remind ourselves (out loud if necessary) that God is our strength and His way of living is best. Then, we must seek His ways in His Word and by joining with His people.

The great psalmist knew of the pain of hiding his sin and feeling the accompanying guilt and shame. Now he knew forgiveness. Now he knew joy. His song returned. His heart was returned to gratefulness. God delivered him and he could sing again.

It is a process, but you can sing again. God will deliver you when you seek Him. Christ has come to set us free. He has carried our sin and shame, nailed it to the cross and defeated it by overcoming even death. Will you seek His help in throwing off this dead weight of shame and guilt in your life?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Generous Love

Would you consider yourself a loving person? Do you think others view you as loving? The Apostle Paul says that if we are followers of Christ we will follow His pattern of becoming poor for the sake of others. This state of intentional poverty is to be a display of love. Let's think about what it means.

Sometimes our poverty is expressed in humility as we are right in a situation and are called to respond to others in gentleness and kindness rather than pride and self-righteousness. We can show this loving poverty by serving others. Most often it is messy when we serve someone. Whether they are an elderly person needing physical assistance, an addict going through the pain of walking away from a substance or a person suffering the agony of divorce. Caring for people drives us to our knees and should give us a real sense of our spiritual poverty. And by that I mean our poverty is our great need for Christ, His strength and His help. In reality, we have nothing without Him.

There are times, though, when this poverty is financial. These are the times that Christians are to sacrifice to give money to help the poor, other Christians or those affected by disaster. Read this verse from 2 Corinthians 8:8-15 to hear Paul’s thoughts,

I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 10 And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 11 So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. 12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”

An interesting phrase in those verses is found in verse 14. Paul says that, “your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.” In the economy of the Kingdom of God, we are always looking to help one another. It is not a welfare state where the rich stay rich forever and the poor stay poor forever. As we live within the Kingdom of God here on Earth we know that there will be an ebb and flow of times of abundance and times of need. Paul says that we should give when we are in a season of abundance and trust that we will receive in our time of need. The fairness is not that we all make the same income at all times. The fairness is that we are willing to share with those who are in need. We know that Paul calls Christians to work hard, so there is no precedent for anyone to be a persistent mooch. Yet, there are genuine times when people are and will be in need. Christians show their love by sharing the resources God has given them whatever those resources may be.

Now, do you consider yourself a loving person? Do you have room to love others more? May your love be proven by your generosity…in whatever form it may flow.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Relief May Not Look Like What You Think

I was listening to radio news recently as I drove home from one of our Worship Services. It was the most intense radio report I had ever heard. The reporter was deeply concerned about a group of babies that were in an orphanage. He believed they would die if aid didn’t come to them immediately. In anger he declared that there were several aid agencies and government forces that knew their specific location, but had not shown up to deliver any supplies that were desperately needed. As he talked his intensity increased and he finally said plainly, “If aid doesn’t arrive these children are going to die.” Needless to say there were numerous thoughts rushing through my mind.

In an instant I began wondering if there was anything I could do. The disaster area was thousands of miles away from me and I couldn’t get there any time soon in my car. I began to think of anyone that I might know that could do something. I couldn’t think of anyone except God that could direct aid to them. Then I had a thought that many of you might find strange. What if they die? Is that the worst thing that could happen to them? For a number of reasons I believe that infants go to Heaven when they die. I’m not going to write a theological treatise on that here, but I do believe the Bible supports the idea. What if they die? If what I believe the Bible teaches is correct, they would take their next breath in Heaven. They would have escaped the disaster and God would have provided relief to them. No, it’s not what we would think of as relief. It’s probably not what the reporter had in mind. He was begging for baby formula, clean water and diapers. Those are necessary supplies, but there is more than one type of relief that God can offer.

Make sure you understand that I don’t believe that everyone instantly goes to Heaven when they die. The Bible is very clear. Jesus says in John 14:6 that no one comes to Father except he places his faith in Jesus. People of account who don’t repent of their sins, seek Jesus’ forgiveness and follow Him will have no access to God according to the Bible. But for those that will trust and love Jesus there is great hope. In fact, there is no greater hope. The Bible says, “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.” (1 Corinthians 15:42-43, ESV) That sounds like relief to me.

In addition to the relief of resurrection, I believe a person’s love for Christ ought to drive them to be even more charitable. The cited passage plainly tells us of our weakness. Therefore, we ought to aid our fellow citizens of Earth with the greatest of effort. So, I hope you will give and serve generously when others are in need, but don’t forget relief comes in many ways.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Helping the Churches of Haiti

This evening I have become aware of two pastors that I respect that are working to help the Christian church in Haiti. Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald are on the way to Haiti to gather information and establish ways churches around the world can help the churches of Haiti. I am excited about how God will use them. I hope you will join me in praying for these men and the team they are taking with them. In addition, I hope you will continue to pray for the people of Haiti. I've spent a bit of time looking at pictures of the devastation and the make-shift morgues. It's so overwhelming. I can't imagine what it must be like to be there. I hope you'll do all you can to help these people find hope in Christ.

Here's a link to the Churches Helping Churches website.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Mercy and Faithfulness

This Psalm seems very fitting for the events of this week. We are people in desperate need of God’s mercy. I hope we realize it.

Let Your Glory Be over All the Earth
Psalm 57

1 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.
2 I cry out to God Most High,
to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
3 He will send from heaven and save me;
he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah
God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!
4 My soul is in the midst of lions;
I lie down amid fiery beasts—
the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.
5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!
6 They set a net for my steps;
my soul was bowed down.
They dug a pit in my way,
but they have fallen into it themselves. Selah
7 My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!
8 Awake, my glory!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!
9 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
10 For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!

Monday, January 11, 2010

What Influences You?

Here's the video featuring some thoughts from Ephesians 2. Hope they are helpful to you!

Ephesians Two Overview, Part 1 from Brandon Porter on Vimeo.

Discerning What Influences You

Our 20-month-old son just stares at the television and says, “Elmo?” He is starting to push buttons on the front of the TV hoping it will make one of his best friends magically appear. He is our first child with an Elmo obsession as we surpassed this era with our other children. It’s interesting to watch our children as they interact with technology. Our seven-year-old boys and even our five-year-old daughter are fairly familiar with the computer already. They can navigate their favorite websites and play games with ease. I don’t really remember teaching them very much when it comes to using the computer. I don’t think their Mother did either. It’s almost as if it were just engrained in them. Amazing. I remember the first time I surfed on the web. It was following graduation from high school and the connection was so slow, but it was amazing to realize the entire world was at my fingertips.

A lot has changed since then when it comes to the Internet and technology. iPods, HDTV, hi-speed connections and on and on we could go. However, something hasn’t changed with the introduction of all of the technology. That is the need for discernment. What we watch, listen to and look at really does have an impact on us. The shows we watch on TV or the Internet will cause us to think about what we value and desire. They will certainly carry influence and they may even cause us to change our minds.

This isn’t new. Since Adam and Eve walked the Earth there has been a competition for influence. Who is right? Who is wrong? What is best? What do you desire? Those questions have been wrestled with over and over. It’s a shame that we don’t think them through when it comes to media. Whether that is from television, video games, movies or magazines we often just check-out when it comes to these influencers. We seem to have the notion that they are neutral. Do you think this column is neutral? It’s in a form of media. I am certainly not neutral and am working to make an influence on you. Movie directors, music producers, screenwriters, bloggers and all other types of artists are trying to influence you as well. Do you realize that? Are you practicing discernment?

So what do you do? If your desire is to please God then you must think of how these influencers are affecting you. Paul helps us in this thinking as he writes, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9 (ESV)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Brit Hume, Tiger Woods and Jesus

Brit Hume's comments concerning Tiger Woods are a week old now, but I wonder if you have seen it. If not, take a look...

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Learning to Grieve

Grieving is hard work. If you are not prepared for this work most likely it will be even worse than you can imagine. I don’t think I’ve ever served a grieving family and heard them say, “This is much easier than we thought it was going to be.” I am convinced that if you are going to grieve well, and you should grieve, you must be as prepared as you can be.

When grief comes you will not be able to function in it with exact and meticulous detail because every situation will be different in severity, depth and intensity. However, I believe the Bible clearly lays out a foundation for us to stand on in our times of grief. One place we can learn this pattern is Psalm 102.

A Pattern for Suffering
In Psalm 102 we see David grieve deeply. We’re not exactly sure why, but whatever he is going through is intense. Along with several normal characteristics of grief it would appear that we seem him lose his appetite, suffer from sleeplessness, and even face depression. Yet, in this passage we see him deal with his grief well and God helps us learn how to deal with our own grief as we observe David.

A pattern seems to emerge that helps David move through the grief process in verses 13-22. We’re not sure how long it takes for him to move through this pattern, but it does seem to be consistent both times. The pattern seems to go something like this:
1. David cries out to God declaring His sovereignty and eternal control of life.
2. God hears David and has pity on him.
3. David remembers God’s promises to him and His people.
4. David looks forward to how God will use the current grief to bring good in the future.
Though we don’t actually see these elements lived out in this psalm, in other places we have the opportunity to see God working these things out. Know that God was faithful in keeping the promises He made to David and God did use David’s times of grief to bring about good.

Learning to Grieve Well
How can you apply this pattern? Well, every time I go to the funeral home I am reminded of how feeble I am. My life, just like every life on this planet, will end in death. God is the only one that has the power to conquer death. The redeemed of Christ only receive eternal life with God when it is given to them by Christ. Death should humble us. It should make us realize that God is everlasting and sovereign, and we are not. Not only should we realize it, but it should drive us to worship God as the Supreme Creator of all things. Facing grief should drive us to remember God’s control and to worship Him for it. In addition, focusing on God’s strength should help align true perspective. Often our problems and hurts fall out of perspective. They become bigger than us and even bigger than God. That is a distorted perspective and one that is never true. Death should remind us that we are small and God is big. When viewed correctly, this truth should bring comfort and rest.

The other steps of this pattern strengthen this perspective. By remembering God’s promises we remember His goodness and His holiness. We remember that He has promised His people that He will love them, be near at the time of death and deliver them through death. We find such promises from Jesus in John 14, from God Himself in Psalm 116:15 and in other places such as 1 Thessalonians 4. At the same time we hear of the separation from God that comes when the unrepentant person dies. Jesus’ teaching of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 reinforces this idea and passages like Hebrews 9:27 remind us that just as death is appointed, judgment is as well. In grief we should focus on the promises of God.

Find Joy In a Time of Grief

The believer should find comfort and joy in these promises as they have witnessed God’s faithful work not only in Scripture, but in their own lives as well. It is from God’s faithful work in the past that we also have hope that He will repeat that work in the future. Though the believer cannot be sure how God will use their pain for good, they believe He will. This brings hope. It fuels perseverance and endurance during grief. Psalm 102 teaches us that this hope should even lead to joy as the believer knows God will not waste their pain, but will use it for good in their life and the lives of others.

Grieving is hard work. But hope can be found in it. Grieving will be different for everyone and it can be unpredictable in its effects on a person. However, we can use the basic pattern here and by applying to it our broken hearts find hope in God. What will your perspective be when it is your time to grieve?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Facing a Storm of Sorrow

When was a time you faced deep grief? Perhaps it was when you lost someone you loved. That isn’t the only time we grieve, though. Divorce brings grief. Even severe arguments that bring a deep divide cause grief. Certainly we could list many other causes of grief, but more than focusing on the grief itself or the cause of the grief let’s see how the Bible deals with grief. We’ll use Psalm 31 as a focus.

In Psalm 31, David deeply admits the sorrow of his heart. Here we learn that grief is real and is acceptable. The Bible acknowledges that there is real pain in our lives. Our hearts are broken from time to time. Sometimes the hurt is deeper than others, but it is real. Do not be surprised, then, when you face the sorrow of grief. Everyone that loves faces it at some time in life.

In this passage we see some interesting focal points. The first looks at the hurt. David not only acknowledges the hurt, but he looks to the one that caused it in his life. For him it was people that wanted to do him harm. Perhaps that is true for you, but it may not be a specific person that has brought this pain to you. It could be a circumstance or some other event that has brought pain to your life. We see another focus though. David also looks at others around him. He realizes that this hurt affects the way they look at him. He feels their gaze as they know he is in real distress. I remember the first time I went out in public after suffering the loss of a child. It felt as if everyone was looking at me and whispering, “There’s the guy who just lost a baby. We better avoid him.” Of course that probably wasn’t true of everyone around me, but I certainly felt that way.

However, even through the reality of grief we see David’s most consistent and most important focus is on God. Psalm 31 is made up of 24 verses. In these 24 verses we hear David remind himself at least 30 times of God’s strength. He remains grounded in the reality that his grief is real and strong, but God is greater and is able to deliver him and comfort him. David sees his grief and its affects, but his focus is on God. He works to direct his mind to remember the love, help and faithfulness of God. He cries to God and knows that God hears him. His deepest focus is not on the reality of grief, but on the reality of God.

Know that grief is real. And it is coming to your house. Where will you turn in your storm of sorrow?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

A Look into Ephesians

In January and February 2010 we hope to work through the book of Ephesians on Sunday mornings. Below is a video that offers from brief thoughts about the first chapter of Ephesians. Join us each week at ImmanuelGlasgow.org as we offer the Sunday morning sermon for download, a Scripture memory verse for the week and a video with some thoughts about the specific chapter of Ephesians we've just covered.

Ephesians One Overview from Brandon Porter on Vimeo.

After watching the video or listening to the other resources, come back here and let's dialogue about what God is saying to us in His Word. We hope these resources will be very helpful to you as we live intentionally for the glory of God in 2010!