God of the Dirt

From the Hebrew language of ancient Genesis, we learn that Adam was created and formed by God. “From the dust of the ground” the Lord of heaven and earth created our first parent, much like a potter creates and fashions something uniquely gorgeous out of a lump of common clay. In regard to human nature, the Bible captures and expresses this vivid imagery more than once. Even the patriarch Abraham would later understand that we, as human beings created in God’s own image, must trace our ultimate origins to the dirt of the ground (Genesis 18:27).

I’m so glad that God stooped down.

Later, when the Lord would bury Moses, the Pentateuch offers only a few hints at what our Sovereign Creator performed in the dirt (Deuteronomy 34:5-6). In a burial spot known only to God there in the land of Moab, the physical body of Israel’s national champion was returned to the ground by the Lord Himself. Perhaps that hero status granted Moses by the people was the reason why God kept the burial location secret. Knowing the restlessness of our hearts and our penchant for idolatry, perhaps God was protecting us from ourselves.

I’m so glad that God stooped down.

And, in a more familiar story, our Lord rescued a desperate woman who had been caught red-handed in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11). I don’t know what Jesus wrote there in the dirt, but it was more than enough to secure the rescue of this lady from her angry accusers. My guess is that Jesus exposed the shameful hypocrisy of those who wanted to enact “justice” by hurling their rocks at one who was no worse than they. Can’t you just hear those stones, one by one, falling to the ground? Each stone must have stirred up the dust as it hit the dirt, a reminder of the filth of self-righteous judgmentalism which characterizes this fallen planet, where every human system remains shackled by the bondage of depravity.

I’m so glad that God stooped down.

Two thousand years ago, on a hill called Calvary, a bloody Roman cross would land with a cruel thud in the dirt of the ground! But make no mistake about it, neither the Romans nor the Jews were the ultimate arbiters of the events of that day. On the sin-striped back of Jesus, our redemption was accomplished then and there “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Isaiah 53:10; Acts 2:23). It was God who purposed and planted the Cross. For us, according to His infinite wisdom and grace, God met perfect justice with perfect love.

I’m so glad that God stooped down.

Friends, I am of the dust of the earth, and to dust I will soon return. But, because the holy God of the universe condescended to become man, and has stooped down to meet me in Jesus Christ, the dirt in which my body will be laid will not be the end of my story … but only the beginning.

I’m so glad that God stooped down.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Whatever Happened to History?

On Tuesday of this week, The Guardian reported that nearly two-thirds of young adults in the United States are unaware that six million people died in the Holocaust. Among adults between the ages of 18 and 39, 23% said they believed that the Holocaust was a myth. Almost half of that same group could not name a single ghetto or concentration camp established during World War II.

In an age where a universe of information lies literally at our fingertips, how can this possibly be?

According to a report by the National Assessment of Education Progress, the teaching of U.S. history to American students – specifically – lags behind all other subjects in our nation’s schools. The latest NAEP survey found that proficiency levels for 4th-, 8th- and 12th-grade students are in the 20th, 18th, and 12th percentiles, respectively.

Why?

If someone from another country desires to become a U.S. citizen, the legal requirement is U.S. residency for five years. After five years, as part of the standards for citizenship, a history test is administered. Despite language hurdles in most cases, 91% of the people pass. In all fifty states, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation gave the exact same test to native-born citizens, but a majority failed the test in every state except Vermont!

What in the world is going on?

Though not without our blind spots, America is an exceptional nation. By the grace of God, American exceptionalism is a reality in no small measure because of notable leaders like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan. We ought to be learning and teaching about these heroes (each of them, admittedly, quite human), along with Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy. But many of our schools seem to be glossing over not only the history of our American presidents but also the legacies of other critical thinkers and shapers of our democratic republic – if they’re presented at all.

Equally important, America’s Black History – which ought to be remembered and celebrated by all of us – is rich with significance. We should know all about the humble tenacity of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, and how their courage blessed not only our society but Western Civilization. Likewise should our children know and understand these things, and their children after them. We need to know who signed the Emancipation Proclamation, as do successive generations need familiarity with that part of our history. Our kids should be learning about exceptional Americans like Justice Clarence Thomas, who is the second African-American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court and currently its longest-serving justice. What I’m trying to say is that history – all of it – matters.

I’d like to state it plainly, now: our ignorance of history is dividing us.

If I may, I’ll share a few personal observations on the subject – quite literally – at hand …

An appreciation for history does not mean an endorsement of everything that’s happened.

There seems to be a common misunderstanding today: if I honor a hero from the past, I’m agreeing with everything that person ever said or did. Nonsense! Were that the case, nobody would ever be honored. Ever. While not everything in our history is good, everything in our history happened – so it’s true. And nobody can move forward, in a healthy way, unless we’re guided by the truth. I don’t know about you, but 2020 has made me ready to move forward with gusto! Attempting to erase or eradicate history is no path forward.

A key element of our walk with God is remembering what He has done in us, and in the world.

If we’re in Christ, God has brought us out of slavery to sin, and into a love relationship with Himself. We must never forget that! Our faith starts there and rests on that foundation of truth. If anyone should ever be perpetually concerned about history, it should be the people of God. Think about the nation of Israel. So much of what God required of them had to do with remembering where they had been – and from what troubles God had delivered them. Many of their prayers were focused on history, as well as most of their divinely ordained celebrations. Passover and the Lord’s Supper are historical markers in large measure.

The Bible is chock-full of important history, so surely history matters!

We tend to think of history as only looking back. Not so! Because of the grace of God in Jesus Christ, we can now view all of history through the lens of God’s unbridled and unending faithfulness. He is Lord over every chapter of history! He is the Sovereign over every corner, and every ruler, of the earth! So history helps us look up to God! And history helps us look forward – confidently – to tomorrow. That confidence does not come from our trust in any earthly hero – living or dead – but in the One who is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

In 1948 Winston Churchill famously admonished the House of Commons: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” But how can we learn from it if we don’t even know it?

You and I are called to something better. Perhaps the truth will bring us together.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Perfect Love 4.0

Well, this blog posting will wrap up this particular series. Thanks for hanging in there with me! I’ve really enjoyed pondering some of the practical applications of First John 4:18. You likely have it memorized by now: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

As promised, I want to introduce you to my friend Frozen. I’ve actually given him a name because he’s so central to the real-life experience of “grace” experienced by so many people. You know that Frozen is around whenever you feel like you don’t know what to do next. Maybe you know the feeling. Maybe you know it well.

Ever felt like a deer in the headlights? We all have, at one time or another.

When a deer perceives a physical threat from an oncoming vehicle, the deer’s instinct signals the deer to turn around and go back the way it came. Up to that point in time, the deer was experiencing safety and comfort. All was right with the world. Now that there’s been an activated alarm mechanism, though, it really doesn’t matter that the deer could easily make it to the other side of the road. On autopilot, the deer will turn around and re-cross the highway – even if it means going back into and through dangerous traffic. That’s why there are so many auto accidents involving deer here in Western Kentucky, where we have lots of beautiful deer. The deer simply can’t help it. Their reaction is absolutely automatic. On rare occasion, you will see a deer actually continue to cross the road. When that happens, however, you can rest assured that the deer did not feel threatened – and that its basic survival instinct was not activated.

Here’s my theory: you and I are a lot like deer. When “all is right with the world,” we can prance around with the best of them. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) But, when we feel threatened, we make lots of shortsighted and illogical decisions. Those ancient Israelites have nothing on us when it comes to failing in faith – just when we need it most! Sometimes, we’d rather wander around in the desert than do the hard work of forging forward in our fears. But – and here’s the part that we can’t forget from this series – what often looks like a faith failure is really a failure at LOVE.

Fear has to do with punishment. Hmmm.

In 1857, when missionary David Livingstone traveled home from Africa, he gave a strong challenge to his students at the University of Cambridge. Livingstone’s goal was to convince the young people that a life in service to others was perhaps life’s greatest blessing but in disguise. You see, when you and I think about forsaking all earthly comforts to serve strangers, we think about all that we would be giving up. But David Livingstone was making a colossal point: “Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter?”

Our missionary forefather was describing “perfect” love, almost in a kind of sequence. 1. We love others and do good to (and for) them. 2. We experience the joy of knowing that our lives have value and purpose, in that we’re making a contribution to the world. 3. As we minister and serve, we enjoy peace of mind, in no small measure because we’ve chosen to devote ourselves to things of eternal consequence. 4. Because we see God’s love working in and through us, we gain confidence and hope in the glorious destiny which Christ has promised us, which awaits us, and which can’t ever be taken away from us!

Let me say it like this: when love is completed in action, fears subside. When I see that my love has been transformed from “talk” to “walk,” I have confidence to stand before the Lord – because I know that Christ must own me. On the day when I will need it most – the Day of Judgment – I know that Christ’s righteousness will be more than enough for my perfect pardon. So, the gospel becomes more and more real to me, as I learn to love other people more and more.

Livingstone’s point: love looks like a great sacrifice, but it’s in fact a great gain.

So, how do we conquer our fears by love? Let’s face it: we have lots of fears, everything from spiders to crowds to losing a job. During COVID-19, fear has become epidemic, but how do we kiss Frozen goodbye?

First of all: always remember the gospel! Jesus has taken care of eternity on my account, and He’s promised that my life – even here and now – is of far more value than birds and lilies. If you’re in Christ, the same goes for you.

Now, let me describe for you some “gospel-robbers” which I allow to creep into my soul from time to time. As you recognize any of them in your own life, I’m challenging you to forsake them by faith …

  1. I don’t have perfect understanding of a difficult situation in which I find myself, so I allow myself to become numb. Cars and planes crash in fog. Moving out of “foggy” spiritual conditions requires moving with faith in the best direction that I can discern from my finite perspective. That’s O.K. because God will shine light when I need it. He steers moving ships. Solicit the prayers of others … seek wise counsel … but keep moving!
  2. I really know what I need to do, but I can’t seem to do it because I’m going to disappoint somebody. Welcome to reality – we are going to disappoint somebody! People pleasing can get so unchecked that it becomes idolatrous and paralyzing. Love God more. (P.S. When it comes to people-pleasing, how’s that working out for you?)
  3. This is related to #2, but a subtle twist: I feel like I have to be in the middle of the road on every issue. I can’t take a stand, because it will be controversial. I can’t do the right thing, because nobody will understand. I can’t break the barriers of dysfunction in my home, or in my organization, because nobody’s ever done it that way before. Helpful reminder: people in the middle of the road get run over. If God has called you to stand up and be counted: don’t delay! Delayed obedience is disobedience.
  4. I want people to read my mind. (Did I actually just admit that?) Time’s too short for that, friends. Speak the truth IN LOVE, and watch what God will do! He is shaking it up right now – in nearly every area of our lives – and we can trust Him to bless even our smallest efforts at doing the right thing.
  5. I’ve forgotten to choose joy. Perhaps that gnawing depression is because I’ve forgotten to worship in the storm. God may be moving you to something different, or He may be keeping you right where you are – but changing your character. Only He knows! When it’s time, you’ll know what you need to know. But, for now, you can know that you need to worship!

All five of these can land you – like a panicked deer – right smack-dab in the middle of dangerous traffic. Fight each one, and know that I’m fighting with you – because we’re aiming for nothing less than perfect love!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Perfect Love 3.0

In my first blog posting in this series, I introduced you to three of our notable enemies: “Failure, Freaked, and Frozen!” It was my humorous attempt to personify some of our more common fears. We’re taking a look at First John 4:18, and considering all of the myriad ways in which we tend to shy away from God’s grace – both theologically and experientially. By way of reminder, here’s God’s promise: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. And we’ve already established this important truth: faith is not the antidote to fear, but love is.

So what is “perfected” love? We get some clues from the text, and from the context. Consider Verses 16 and 17, for example: … God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us … The key to perfected love is abiding in God. To abide in God is to abide in love.

Now peek back at Verse 12, and you will discover something vitally important: … if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. If we put all of this together, I think here’s what we can conclude: “perfected” love happens when God’s love – in and through us – comes into action. Let me say it like this: PERFECTED LOVE IS GOD’S LOVE EXPRESSING ITSELF IN OUR LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER.

This is super important, I believe, or we will jump to a wrong conclusion. When most of us hear the word “perfected,” we think of something being changed from imperfect to flawless. But the Greek word that John uses here does not normally mean that. Instead, it generally means “accomplished,” “completed,” or “finished.” If your goal is to make it to Nashville before the concert starts, and you’re in fact there for the opener, your trip – in this linguistic sense – has been “perfected.”

So, when I love my neighbor who is hungry, I don’t just talk about giving him something to eat – I actually give him something to eat! This side of heaven, I won’t execute that perfectly (in either action or intent), but my gift can be nonetheless an expression of “perfect” love because it’s God’s love put into action. In fact, John goes on to explain its eternal significance from our perspective (back to Verse 17): … that we may have confidence for the day of judgment. You and I gain much-needed spiritual confidence, especially in a season of uncertainty and doubt, when we see God at work in our lives!

Now let’s get back to this dude I named Freaked. I see him everywhere I look. This coronavirus crisis is not the first of its kind, and there have been a couple of dozen similar pandemics throughout history. But this one has rattled us. We didn’t live through the Antonine Plague or the Black Death or the Spanish Flu. It’s my contention that the 2020 lockdown, combined with a general distrust of the “experts” at a level I’ve never seen before, has created a gnawing and relentless fear of the unknown lying just below the surface of our lives.

In a moment, and it happens without warning, you and I become Freaked. What shall we do?

We will choose to grow up.

You know how it is with tiny babies. If the stuffed toy is out of plain sight, it doesn’t exist. At a certain point in time, however – when you hide the toy – the child keeps looking for it. They’ve reached an important stage in their maturity. Here’s what you and I can do right now: we can remember and recall the love of God! Yes, times are uncertain. Yes, solutions are unclear. Yes, circumstances are troublesome and turbulent. But … YES, the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever!

We will choose to love up.

John makes it clear that we haven’t “seen” God (Verse 12). We get it. But you and I can promote the reassuring knowledge of God – even in this moment of COVID-19 craziness – by intentionally loving each other. Deeply and sacrificially. Here is the bottom line regarding much of what we’re learning in this series: the more love that we give to others, the more fear will disappear! And think about all the things that leave the room when fear gets kicked out – things like unhealthy competition, jealousy, resentment, and gossip. Love is the way out of those dark and destructive behaviors.

We will choose to live up.

You and I are the Lord’s redeemed! We are His people and the sheep of His pasture! We are loved with an everlasting love! In Christ, you and I couldn’t be in a safer place if we tried. Paul Washer says it like this, “I have given Christ countless reasons not to love me. None of them changed His mind.”

Choosing UP with you!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Perfect Love 2.0

Last week I mentioned my plan to develop further my thoughts on fear and the gospel. I’ll continue to base this blog “mini-series” on First John 4:18. For purposes of review, then, here it is: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

Perfect love. That’s what our souls really long for, friends. So how can you and I walk, while still in this broken world, in the freedom of that kind of amazing and divine love? That’s the million-dollar question.

I was just given another book on Winston Churchill. If you’ve ever heard me talk about my trips to London, you’ve probably heard me talk about the time I spent at the Churchill War Rooms on King Charles Street. Absolutely fascinating! (And I recommend it highly once we’re able to scoot back and forth across the pond again.)

Here’s the deal about Churchill: he was a failure. At least at first. That’s what makes his story so intriguing to me. Winston Churchill absolutely refused to be defined by his failures. (Could that be the secret to success?) This is an encouraging thought from my perspective because we’re all guaranteed to fail. And we’ll fail at more than one thing. And we’ll fail more than once. It sounds cliché, but I’m saying it anyway: failure isn’t final. Surely we Christians ought to understand that – we’re the people who actually celebrate how Good Friday was followed by Easter!

I can assure you that past failures dog most of your family and friends. Perhaps they dog you. But I can also assure you that God has called you to an identity that is not marked primarily by your mistakes and regrets – or even by your worst sins. Please let that sink in. What God has for you in Christ is so much better!

Let’s start with the big picture of the world and of our lives: the Fall of humanity marks the greatest failure in history. You and I were “there” in the sense that Adam and Eve, our first parents, represented us. They rebelled. We inherited their sinful nature, which we validated by our own behavior. We’re still validating it in this sense: every person sins. That might seem like a sad thought, but it’s actually a liberating thought: my sins are not unexpected or unusual! And it is my lack of perfection which drives me to Jesus. I need a Savior, and He’s the perfect fit! The quicker I can accept the reality of human nature in general, and of my own nature in particular, the quicker I can abandon any thought of my ever achieving a perfect track record. The only perfect record I’ll ever have is the record of Christ! But that is more than enough, and I can make peace with my sin in the light of my Savior’s grace. That’s probably the best place to start overcoming my past regrets. (I’m not saying that all of our failures are the result of our sin, but it is my observation that failures precipitated by personal sin are the hardest ones to put behind us.)

And, before we go any further, I want to highlight the importance of repentance and confession. I wouldn’t want anyone to read this blog posting and conclude that Pastor Charles just wants us to forget about the past. I do want us to put the past behind us, but only if it’s covered by the blood of Christ. So, in case you’ve never really thought about it, to repent is to change one’s attitude and behavior. It’s a fruit of hearing and believing the truth of the gospel. Confession is simply “saying the same thing” about our sin that God says. First John 1:9 promises that God forgives us when we seek His forgiveness – that God “cleanses us from all unrighteousness.” Wow! That is the basis for a clear conscience, and I never want to omit the critical theology underlying the freedom. (Side note: don’t fall into the trap of not forgiving yourself. If God has forgiven us, who are we to exact a higher standard? That can be a subtle form of pride, so fight against it!)

One of the reasons why we can’t leave the past in the past is that we tend to crave justification. Keep that one in check. We’re naturally blame-shifters – back to Adam and Eve – and we’re nearly incessantly looking for someone to validate our legitimacy and accomplishments. So you can imagine how a “failure” – of any kind – works against that. But here’s the deal: the approval that we think we’ll find in others, we can find only in God. Make that gospel shift in your own soul and rehearse it every day! Read and reread Galatians 2:16. Hide that one in your heart, and let Jesus be all the justification that you’ll ever need.

And here’s a positive angle on this whole dilemma: trust God – and it’s O.K. to ask Him to help you with this – to use your past failures as present blessings! Hasn’t He promised that in Romans 8:28? God can use our “failures” to teach us a million important lessons and to wean us from self-addiction – nothing could be better or more helpful than that! What joy can be produced in us as we melt away and as Jesus gets larger than life!

Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz was interviewed during the 1972 Games. Hear this incredible line: “If I swim six and win six, I’ll be a hero. If I swim seven and win six, I’ll be a failure.” That’s the kind of performance trap into which you and I can fall at the drop of a hat. Whenever and however that happens, you can know that we’re running around searching for something which we’ve already been given in Christ: acceptance! Because we are His, acceptance is already ours.

So let’s grow up and stop nursing our past failures. They happened. Done. Over and out. But they’re not us. In Christ, you and I are “accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6).

Accepted in the Beloved!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Perfect Love

I’ve been thinking a lot about fear. Fear. FEAR. Maybe it’s because of the pandemic. Who knows? But I’m convinced that we’re walking around with a whole lot more fear than we’re aware of – and that it’s doing a whole lot more harm than we might imagine.

Please let me explain. Sometimes our fears express themselves in obvious ways: I don’t like snakes, so I break out in a sweat when I see a copperhead on my driveway! Obvious. At other times, however, our fears are more subtle. The signs of fear aren’t as clear. Perhaps I’m fearing an upcoming appointment with a doctor, but I find myself angrily snapping at one of my kids. Not quite as obviously fear, but fear nonetheless, which I can discern if I’ll allow myself the time and energy to process the real source of what seems – at surface level – more like impatience or irritation.

Sometimes fear expresses itself as obsessive talking or some form of compulsive ritualistic behavior. If I put all my energy into arranging and rearranging the books on my shelf, that can feel like a medicine which soothes – temporarily at least – my fear of some life situation over which I have absolutely no control at all. What I’m saying is that we don’t always know when we’re afraid, and certainly not the extent of our fear in the moment.

In our Christian circles, and I see this more and more in these days of COVID-19, people speak of “faith” as being the antidote to fear. I know what they mean by that: we must trust God with every dimension of our lives, and not succumb to the false notion that we can create some kind of reality which is devoid of all risk. Of course that’s true, but I’d like to offer a slight course correction if I may. Faith is not the antidote to fear, but love is. Love is the antidote to fear. I believe that with everything in me.

On this point, I’d like to beckon the matchless wisdom of the Scriptures. Specifically, I find First John 4:18 to be highly instructive for my own heart, and perhaps it will strike a chord with you: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

I hope that I can make sense of what I want to express by way of this statement because I really think this matters: any love that doesn’t come from God eventually breeds anxiety. Where divine love isn’t, fear is. You see, friends, human love demands human meriting. You and I are kind of hardwired that way. We’re generally comfortable with the idea of earning, and we’re generally nervous about the idea of freely receiving. That’s why understanding grace isn’t natural for us: only the Spirit of Christ can open our eyes to comprehend the free grace of Jesus! Until we really grasp the good news of the gospel, all we can experience is imperfect love. Even our best-intentioned friends and family members love us imperfectly. And how do we love others? Let’s be honest: unbelievably imperfectly! We’re entirely human after all.

Only the God who knows us fully can love us with a love that is truly unconditional! Let that sink in.

And it’s that love, and that love only, which casts out fear. That’s what the Bible means by “perfect love.”

While we’re rolling along here, I’d like to expand our horizons. Fear never travels alone. In fact, Fear has some relentlessly stubborn companions. I don’t have to introduce you to Failure, Freaked, and Frozen, because you’re already well acquainted. You and I have some God-given healthy fears, of course, but we’re also dogged by some nasty fears which always try to run the show. We need love. We need the gospel. We need Jesus.

With your blessing, I’d like to further unpack some of these themes in my next few blog postings. Until then, I’ll leave you with the words of the angel who spoke peace to those frightened shepherds near Bethlehem: “FEAR NOT!”

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Bring the Heat

“I do not think the devil cares how many churches you build, if only you have lukewarm preachers and lukewarm people in them.” That’s a sobering quote from Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

Even more sobering is a quote from Jesus (Revelation 3:16): “Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Christ’s words were included in a letter to the proud church at Laodicea, but surely they are also words of warning for every generation.

The city of Laodicea, near what is now Denizli (Turkey), got its water from a location about five miles away. Remarkably, the Romans had pioneered a system of wooden pipes which was quite impressive. But, though the water started out the perfect temperature for a nice bath, by the time it reached this modern city it was no longer hot. It wasn’t fresh, because the long journey through the aqueducts had filled it with sediment. Nor was it cold. The water was lukewarm. So, as Jesus confronts these wayward people, He capitalizes on their daily grind to make His point.

Friends, lukewarm water is about as refreshing as a stagnant puddle. And we must understand something exceptionally important about this text: Christ isn’t telling these people that they’re “less devout” or “less passionate” than others, but He is telling them that they’re condemned. They are deceived. These people think they’re smart, and they think they’re rich, and Jesus makes it clear that they’re neither. They think they belong to Christ, but they clearly do not.

A lukewarm person feels spiritually self-sufficient. In A.D. 60, Laodicea had been completely destroyed by a major earthquake. Instead of accepting foreign aid, the citizens rebuilt the city on their own. But their “success story” had gone to their heads, and they now viewed themselves as strong and in fact invincible. This erroneous self-assessment was symptomatic of a crippled spiritual self-understanding as well.

A lukewarm person banks on their own goodness. Speaking of banking, Laodicea was a strategic center of commerce, and particularly a finance mecca. When Jesus labeled the Laodiceans “poor,” they likely had no idea what He meant. We know that our Lord was referring to their spiritual condition, but that probably escaped them. For those of us whose eyes have been opened to see the folly of our own “goodness,” this is a clarion wakeup call: amazing grace, how sweet the sound! We have no righteousness but Christ’s.

A lukewarm person walks by sight, and not by faith. Instead of leaning on the everlasting arms, the Laodiceans were leaning on themselves. After all, there’s no reason to trust God when you’re trusting in what you’ve achieved and attained. The Laodiceans took tremendous pride in their advanced medical community, particularly in their eye doctors. It must have been a rude awakening for Jesus to declare them “blind.” How thankful you and I should be for the marvelous gospel of Christ which has given us resurrection life by the power of the Holy Spirit!

A lukewarm person imagines themself as better than others. It’s easy to think highly of yourself when the standard of righteousness is you. That’s why it’s so natural for us to see the sin in other people’s lives more quickly and clearly than we see our own. Jesus used the word “naked” to describe these people. Imagine that! Laodicea was a textile center, where fabrics for the world’s most gorgeous clothing could be found. But they were the last to know that everything in which they prided themselves only exposed their spiritual bankruptcy and shame.

In the same passage, our Lord Jesus promises that He “stands at the door and knocks.” His gracious invitation is incredibly good news in light of our propensity to trample over Christ’s righteousness in blind allegiance to our own.

The English Puritan Walter Marshall said it like this: “Your heart is addicted to salvation by works.”

Lukewarm.

O God, may it never be said of us!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

SoCal Showdown

In California, the decision by the elders of Grace Community Church to defy their governor’s coronavirus lockdown orders for churches has caused quite a stir. A nationwide stir in fact! GCC is the congregation in Sun Valley (metro L.A.) where Pastor John MacArthur leads at the helm, and the church has served for decades as a training ground for sound doctrine and expositional preaching. Grace Church models Christian hospitality by hosting a widely influential annual conference for pastors from around the world, which I’ve attended about a dozen times over the years. (As I’m writing this blog posting, Pastor John is being threatened with significant fines and possible jail time, and the church is facing the loss of its utilities.)

How are we to interpret this development? What I’d like to do today is walk you through my personal take on the key issues which are at stake for all of us. I recognize that, even here at First Baptist Paducah, we’re not all in complete agreement about masks and mandates. That being acknowledged, perhaps all of us can benefit from an attempted objective analysis of our calling to serve Christ faithfully within this present pandemic context. (This is not by any stretch an exhaustive treatment of this subject, but at least it’s a start.)

Our general posture should be obedience toward government.

Probably the most concise Biblical instruction on this point is found in Romans 13:1-7. In general, the institution of human government is designed by God to promote order, peace, and safety. These are never achieved perfectly this side of heaven, but we are to view the authorities over us as gifts from the Lord, and instruments of His gracious righteousness here on earth. Jesus taught us plainly (Matthew 22:21) that we should give to “Caesar” what we rightfully owe him. Just as anarchy is a form of godless chaos, so is proper government a blessing for all of humankind.

We are called to worship God alongside other believers.

Hebrews 10:25 makes this abundantly clear, as does the entire narrative of Scripture. We gather together regularly to sing praise, participate in the ordinances of the church, and come under the preaching of God’s Word, among other things. These corporate functions of the local church are central to the Christian life, and not to be neglected by any one of us. That being said, we must recognize that restrictions on building use are not the same as outright restrictions against the gospel, so each situation where freedom feels curtailed requires nuanced consideration in the light of Biblical wisdom.

We should be promoters of peace as we demonstrate selfless love for our neighbor.

We weren’t put here to pick an unnecessary fight, or to enflame people with needlessly divisive rhetoric. Again, I’ll take you to Matthew 22, but this time to Verses 33-40. I hope that I’m advising you correctly when I say that you and I should accommodate public health advisories and restrictions whenever and wherever that is possible. The reason is simple: it is a practical demonstration of love for our neighbors. Adherence to such rules may mean some temporary discomfort for us, but the positive Christian witness is worth the cost.

There are exceptional circumstances when fidelity to Christ demands disobedience to government.

As I unpacked recently as part of our current sermon series, Acts 5:29 is an example of appropriate and righteous civil disobedience. As major contributors to the canon of Scripture, both Paul and Peter would teach respect for secular authority, but both men would be executed by the Roman Empire for refusing to cease preaching the gospel. Similarly, we remember glowing examples from the Old Testament, such as some of my favorite Bible heroes: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3:1-30). Jesus is always our highest authority, but it’s my contention that civil disobedience is justified only when we face a true and unresolvable conflict between divine law and human law.

We should contend for religious freedom for all people.

It should be a concern for us that, in Nevada for example, casinos and churches are treated differently in terms of autonomy and restrictiveness. It should matter to us that California’s Governor Newsom is encouraging shouting when it happens at protests but forbidding singing when it happens in pews. These discrepancies sow seeds of distrust among the general public, and thus weaken the fabric of our democracy. The Free Exercise Clause of our First Amendment should matter to all of us, and we should seek to preserve and protect it. In America, the Bill of Rights exists to defend all minorities, including religious minorities. Religious freedom, specifically, is a taste of spiritual freedom, generally. And the very best way to preserve religious liberty is to exercise it regularly.

We should be humble and gracious in attitude and behavior.

This principle applies to our interactions with fellow believers, and with the watching world. Just like nobody else has all the answers right now, we must acknowledge that neither do we. We’re all learning about a virus that wasn’t even on our radar screen in early 2020, and we owe each other the benefit of the doubt. Kindness, compassion, and civility always matter for followers of Christ, whether we’re talking about our response to a mask-wearing regulation, or our compliance with mandated mechanisms for contact tracing. We can disagree with policies, but we should seek to do so graciously. We always represent the King of Kings!

As we recognize the impermanence, instability, and limitations of this world and its power structures, we should long zealously for our real home.

Let’s get real for a minute. There are two extremes to be avoided right now. One is a posture so fearful that every act of government is viewed as a sinister conspiracy against us. The other is a perspective so naive that we give up our precious and hard-earned liberties without so much as a squabble. Let’s seek to avoid both extremes, friends! But here’s the deal: in human history, rarely are “emergency powers” easily relinquished once the emergency has passed. That’s simply not the nature of power. Our world has been changed by COVID-19, and we shouldn’t expect to recover the fullness of the “normal” we used to know. When you and I are tempted to grow despondent over that, we need to remember that we’re only pilgrims here. We mustn’t, ultimately, count on any human court to save the day. Our supreme trust is in the Savior par excellence, and He has told us that this world is not our home.

We’ve a better home awaitin’!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Seven Striking Statements

From my vantage point, what’s often called “The Olivet Discourse” in Matthew 24 speaks distinctively to our present global crisis. And it’s not just anyone’s voice in my ear that drowns out all the others right now, but it’s the very voice of Jesus. The very words of Jesus. Jesus.

This is not a blog posting on the general subject of eschatology, or an essay in support of any particular “end-times” theological position, but it’s simply a pastoral perspective on the brokenness that is all around us. We are broken right now, friends. Terribly broken. Sometimes I’ll bet you’re wondering if the world and its systems are unraveling right before our eyes.

What I’m going to attempt today is a brief devotional based on seven of the profound warnings found in this great text, and it is my contention that these warnings nearly jump off the proverbial page! Perhaps you’ll find them of some value.

  1. “See that no one leads you astray.”

This is perhaps the dominant theme of this critical communication by Christ. Jesus is speaking to us here, and He is reminding you and me to keep our eyes wide open! Surely this applies perfectly to a cultural climate where every arm of media and messaging is suspect, and where nearly everyone competes to be the voice of authority. So much so that we’re skeptical of every “authority”. Don’t fall asleep! Test the spirits! Walk straight ahead, in the light of God’s truth, and don’t let yourself be pulled to the left or the right!

  1. “See that you are not alarmed.”

Keep your head! This is a time for shrewd cool-headedness, not foolish hot-headedness. Through each of its chapters, all of human history is moving steadily toward its overarching and ultimate purpose: the kingdom and glory of the Lord manifested on earth as it is in heaven! Matthew 24 is a vivid and gorgeous reminder of God’s absolute sovereignty over every symptomatic (I’m referring to the disease of sin) outbreak of global chaos. You and I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but we know who holds tomorrow!

  1. “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.”

I believe that Christ’s statement here is descriptive of disruptive disagreement and discord at the macro- and the micro-level. Predicted conflict is one thing when we think about Russia threatening one of its European neighbors, but it’s an entirely different thing when we consider large groups of evangelical Christians in America writing each other off over their differing views on COVID-19. This is not theoretical. It is happening now. This single pandemic has indelibly unsettled relationships in governments, churches, and homes. And it’s not over, so heads up!

  1. “They will deliver you up to tribulation.”

I don’t like writing it any more than you like reading it, but read it we must. Jesus has sounded the alarm! We can try to explain it away, or we can humble ourselves, and cry out to our faithful Father for the divine grace that we need to walk through this present disease and its accompanying spiritual darkness. I don’t have to tell you that, when people get scared, they’ll stomp on anybody whom they perceive to be the culprit. But Christ’s admonition for us (Matthew 10:16) remains: “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

  1. “You will be hated.”

Ouch. I guess it’s that simple. You and I will strive to proclaim the truth, but our truthful words won’t always fall on open ears and tender hearts. You and I will live as pursuers of peace and justice, but from our angle that trek won’t always go well, at least not this side of heaven. Jesus was despised and rejected. Should you and I expect better treatment? When we adjust our life expectations to fit the Biblical narrative, instead of trying to adjust the Biblical narrative to fit our life expectations, we can experience a kind of contentment that we never knew was possible. We need that. Now.

  1. “Many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.”

Many, not few. Jesus is clear. As truth, and even the nature of truth itself becomes more and more occluded and uncertain, so will the spiritual casualties steadily mount all around us! We must expect it because our Lord has spoken it. If that malaise is indeed what we’re beginning to see now, I cannot tell you with absolute certainty, but I can challenge you to assess the situation for yourself. When I see the ire on Twitter aimed at professing believers by professing believers, my mind races to this chapter. Only God knows the details for sure, and Jesus made that clear. But we must always be alert and vigilant as we interpret the times.

  1. “The love of many will grow cold.”

I think this is the heart of the matter. (Pun fully intended.) False teachers may be partly responsible for this enlarging lovelessness. Some of the explanation may be the persecution and fear of death which mark the period of history which Jesus is describing here. But I want to challenge you to ponder this question: when it comes to our own gospel fidelity, could this be our most vulnerable spot? What I’m saying is that you and I must never allow the pervasive bitterness and rage of the majority culture, which is nearly undeniable at present, to invade and capture our own souls.

God, heal us! God, restore us! God, revive us! God, enflame us with Your love!

Jesus doesn’t leave us hopeless, does He? So back to our text for one more look …

“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

There it is. And there is here. Your marching orders, and mine, are clear: “Endure.”

Endure.

Endure.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Faith Under Fire

We remember the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Before Bonhoeffer was martyred for standing against the brutal Nazi regime, he penned that famous line to remind us that sacrifice and suffering are part of the Christian life. The way of the cross was the way of Jesus, and it will be our way too. There is no other way for the true follower of Christ.

But we forget that. Whether we acknowledge it openly or not, we all fall into the trap of thinking that real suffering is for believers in other parts of the world. Not here. And, before you know it, we’re attempting to line up our understanding of Christianity with our American experience, instead of lining up our thinking with the Bible. If we had kept God’s Word front and center, we would have remembered our Lord’s clear teaching (Matthew 16:24-26): “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?”

Perhaps, friend, you’re suffering right now, and trying to make sense of it. You are not alone, and you likely know that, but that knowledge doesn’t make everything better all at once. Suffering is hard. So hard! And we’re never really prepared for it. There seems always to be an element of shock that comes with a new round of suffering: “Why me?” “Why now?” “Why this?”

My purpose in sharing today’s blog posting is to help you fly higher over your life, even if for only a moment, so that you can see your circumstances just a little more clearly. I need that vantage point, for myself, on a regular basis. Sometimes I have to ask a trusted sister or brother in Christ to speak into my ears the grace and truth of a bigger gospel story. When I’m suffering alone, and disconnected from other believers, it’s next to impossible for me to see the bigger and wonderful story which God is writing in and through my life. And He’s using my suffering, among many other tools, in order to accomplish that work of eternal value.

When you feel like you’re in the FIRE of suffering, I want to share with you a little acrostic that I’ve worked up that may bring some understanding, acceptance, and peace. I hope you find it helpful. But, before we go any further, I want you to read slowly Romans 5:1-4. (I purposefully won’t include that text here, so that you’ll open the Scriptures for yourself. That’s super important today.)

Fallenness.

In this great passage, Paul is helping us understand what it means that we have been “justified” in Christ. Notice that our justification is all the work of Christ. And notice that Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf is the only reason we have peace with God. But why did Christ have to die for us? Because our world is spiritually broken. I’m emphasizing our “fallen” nature because I want you to wrap your heart around the condition of the entire human race, as well as the condition of every world philosophy, system, and government. It’s all broken. Sometimes you and I suffer simply because this world is not functioning the way it was designed to function. It’s as simple as that. Coming to terms with the general fallenness of humankind might be the first step toward embracing our present suffering.

Irresponsibility.

Let’s face the facts. Everybody we know is a sinner in thought, word, and deed. And so are we. All of us have made more than our share of absolutely terrible choices. We continue to make poor and destructive choices, at least on occasion. When we make sinful and selfish decisions, we suffer, and others suffer directly or indirectly. What I’m saying is that you and I contribute to some of the circumstances which result in our suffering. (Not all, but some. It’s important to remember that detail.) Here’s my point: though personal suffering tempts us to employ the “blame game” indiscriminately, we should seek to avoid that. Ask the Lord to search your heart. Paul says that we have “access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” If and when we need forgiveness, it is ours for the asking. Perhaps we’ll even find ourselves, like Jesus, praying for our enemies to be forgiven.

Rescue.

Sometimes our suffering is God’s discipline. We rarely even speak of this, perhaps because we’re so afraid to connect those dots. But that just goes to show that you and I don’t understand God’s discipline: His discipline is love (Hebrews 12:5-11). All His ways are love. God wants nothing but the very best for us! Consider again Paul’s words to the Romans: Christ is pouring His amazing grace into our thirsty souls over and over again! The Holy Spirit is ours, and we are His, and His great work in us is all of grace. This is true even in seasons of chastisement. It is all for our good, and for His glory.

Empowerment.

We can’t get away from this beautiful passage without noticing God’s highest plans for us, in and through the fiery trials we face: endurance, character, and hope. These become realities in us only through our sufferings. What I’m saying is that, though you and I want to avoid suffering, God wants to redeem suffering! His ways are not our ways, but His ways can be trusted. Next to Jesus, I think Tim Keller says it best: “Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.”

So, heads up, my beloved church family! We’re almost home!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts