Toward a Gospel Culture (Part 2)

Last week I introduced the topic of the importance of creating a gospel culture in the church. Perhaps you’ve been thinking about that. I certainly have. What I’d like to do today is to expand a little bit further on the subject.

As you and I begin to walk in the grace of Christ, and by that, I mean that we’re personally experiencing the freedom of grace and sharing it with others, everything changes. We find ourselves more mindful of our own sin, and less concerned with focusing on the faults of others. That in and of itself is a seismic cultural shift! But we don’t want to be mindful of our sin so that we can wallow in it, or loathe ourselves, rather we want to be aware of our sin so that we can do our part to repair our damaged relationships. Jesus offers us a funny but serious mental picture of a man who has a huge log sticking out of his own head, but he’s obsessed with removing the tiny splinter from the eye of his brother (Matthew 7:1-5). That’s where we find Christ’s “judge not, that you be not judged” in its proper context.

You see, friends, a gospel culture humbles all of us. When the good news of Jesus is being lived out in, through, and among us, we quickly discover that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. A gospel culture frees us from dangerous and destructive judgmentalism. That’s the power of experienced grace!

There’s a huge difference between hearing about something, and experiencing something. I’ve watched the Masters Tournament on television, but I’ve stood on the Swilcan Bridge. Which do you think I most remember? Hearing about grace is wonderful, because we begin to understand it. But, really experiencing grace sets us on the adventure of a lifetime! We begin to understand our new identity in Christ. We begin to understand the freedom of our salvation. We begin to understand the joys of radical obedience. We begin to triumph over our fears. We begin to love as we’ve been loved. We begin to worship God with all our heart. We begin to walk in victory over our past regrets and our crippling shame!

I’d like to quote a prayer by Scotty Smith: “Jesus, we’re thankful today for the healing truths of the Scriptures, and the liberating power of the gospel. Especially where shame lingers, doing its dastardly, disintegrating work. Indeed, the elimination of all shame is one of the things we’re most looking forward to when You return. Never again will we feel dis-graced, only fully-graced. Never again will we hide in plain sight, because of the wounds that took our voices, hearts, and dignity. Never again will we feel the contemptuous, paralyzing power of shame! There won’t be any desire to cover up, look down, or run away … O, blessed thought … O, glorious freedom!”

This side of heaven, you and I may feel at times like disfigured lepers who must hide the reality of our condition. The stronghold of our past mistakes can feel so intense that we feel compelled to try to disguise our disfigurement. But, now that we’re in Jesus, we can by faith hold our head up high! We sold our soul for a bowl of soup, but we’ve been bought back at a tremendous price!

Did you know that our Lord Jesus took upon Himself the full weight of your guilt, and mine? Did you know that Jesus obliterated the criminal charges that were justly hanging over our heads? Did you know that Jesus was disgraced so that you and I could be full of grace? Ah, the wonders of Calvary’s love! Sheila Walsh arrested my heart with two simple lines: “Grace was never meant to be rationed, something we nibble on to get us through tough times. It is meant to soak us to and through the skin, and fill us so full that we can hardly catch our breath.”

So let’s deeply desire that experiential freedom for one another. In the church, let’s help each other crawl out of the despair that marks a life trapped in the shadows, and let’s step into the healing and joy that can be found only in the burning brightness of the gospel!  

Romans 10:11 promises that believers in Christ will never be put to shame. I’m counting on that! And I’m calling on you to count on it with me! Let’s stand, together, on that promise!

Before this is over, I hope that you and I can hardly catch our breath.

Pastor Charles

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Toward a Gospel Culture

If the Lord permits, I think that I’ll spend a few weeks unpacking what it means for us, as followers of Christ and members of His body, to create and embrace a gospel culture. After all, you and I are gospel people!

Since our church family just completed a long journey through the Book of Acts, I’ll share with you a critical insight from the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer. Commenting on the believers whose lives and ministries we just studied, Dr. Schaeffer rightly observed: “One cannot explain the explosive dynamite, the dunamis, of the early church apart from the fact that they practiced two things simultaneously: orthodoxy of doctrine and orthodoxy of community in the midst of the visible church, a community which the world could see. By the grace of God, therefore, the church must be known simultaneously for its purity of doctrine and the reality of its community. Our churches have so often been only preaching points with very little emphasis on community, but exhibition of the love of God in practice is beautiful and must be there.”

I’m simply trying to point out that, though gospel culture starts with sound doctrine (preaching and teaching), sound doctrine is only the beginning. In order for the gospel of Jesus to truly permeate our experience of “life together” (community), the life of Christ must extend well beyond the Sunday morning sermon. It must color every dimension of our relationships with each other. A gospel-centered pulpit is a must-have, but it’s when the saints in the pews are giving real-life grace to one another that the church is enjoying a gospel culture. That’s when the Holy Spirit can make us a safe place, where we’re all able to admit our own brokenness and to grow together from there. And that’s where the real beauty begins.

First Baptist Paducah, are we a safe place?

I’m inviting each of you to help me answer that question in the days ahead. And, if we conclude that we’re not a safe place, my prayer is that we will do whatever it takes to remedy that, and to create the type of church community which we all need (and secretly crave).

Here’s the deal: we want Christ’s gospel to press in on us at every level! That means that we’re not just passively hearing it preached, but that we’re actively living it out!

So let’s start this miniseries by my offering a few goals for our family of faith …

1. We want each person to feel free to be themselves. We all have plenty of room to grow, and there’s no denying that, but we want everybody to feel loved right where they are.

2. We want to feel free to confess our sins. We want to be, for each other, such a grace-filled community that nobody feels looked down upon (or gossiped about) because they came clean about how they’re really doing.

3. We want to be able to express our needs without having to fear that we’ll be labeled, ridiculed, or marginalized simply because we have needs. (Humans have needs.)

4. We want our church to be a space where it’s perfectly O.K., for anyone and everyone, to be “under construction.” We’re not there yet, friends. We want the climate of our gatherings, and in fact that of all of our interactions, to be a climate of patience and hope. Hope in God. Hope in and for each other.

The Apostle Paul’s great love chapter includes a powerful reminder: Love … believes all things (1 Corinthians 13:7). If you ask me, that means that you and I are to major in giving each other the benefit of the doubt. Maybe, just maybe, that’s where the grace-fuse gets lit!

More next week …

Pastor Charles

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Torn Asunder

Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, and Luke 23:45 describe an astonishing event. Upon the death of Jesus, the curtain – or veil – of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. There was an accompanying earthquake, according to the Scriptures, but the veil was so large (likely 60 feet long by 30 feet wide) that it could not have been torn in two by simply falling to the ground. God had to tear the curtain.

The curtain was a physical barricade. It was more like a wall of separation, which the Israelites clearly understood. At the center of the temple was the Holy of Holies, where the presence of God would rest. Thus, the clear separation was required. Only the high priest could enter, and only once a year – on the Day of Atonement – could he pass through that intimidating veil. In your mind’s eye, picture a curtain at least six stories tall. On behalf of the people, the priest’s uniquely symbolic role was to offer a substitutionary atonement for their sins. The message to everybody was perfectly clear: God is on the other side, and you can never go there.

If the Talmud is completely accurate in its description, the size of the temple veil was so daunting that 300 priests were needed to maneuver it. Ponder that for a moment. You thought our local Quilt Show featured some impressive works of art. This curtain was nothing short of awe-inspiring, and its intentional presence was a profound theological declaration in and of itself. In fact, the prescribed ceremony surrounding the veil was to be taken so seriously that an inappropriate method of entry into the Holy of Holies meant the immediate death of the offending priest. That huge curtain was the visible backdrop of a sad spiritual reality: between God and His creatures is a chasm so large that it defies description. “The wages of sin is death.”

But no longer! The Cross of Christ changed everything. By His own atoning sacrifice on our behalf, our Lord Jesus became for us the Way into the Holy of Holies. As our Great High Priest, Christ secured for us permanent access to God the Father. Now we need no human advocate, and we can speak directly to God anytime, and from anywhere. As the Mediator of a New Covenant, Christ gave His life to accomplish our complete forgiveness. The veil was not torn randomly, but it was torn with intention “from top to bottom.” God’s own hand split the enormous curtain right down the middle. And it was torn apart on Good Friday, precisely upon the loud death cry of our divine substitute: “It is finished!”

At that exact moment, the Lord of the universe flung open the doors of heaven. I believe that the massive and ornate temple curtain symbolized the best that humankind can craft with human hands. Its exquisite beauty represented our best designs, and our best efforts. Its specific details pointed to all of the specific laws of God which call every human being to perfection, but which leave every human being wanting. When it comes to the righteousness which God demands, you see, our very best efforts are never enough. We needed God’s very best instead!

And the veil was not torn from bottom to top. God came down to save. Our redemption came by God’s initiative, and by God’s initiative alone. Grace didn’t start with us. Grace never starts with us. Grace always starts with God. You and I are simply the recipients of such marvelous and unmerited love. “But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Early Jewish tradition held that the temple veil was the thickness of the palm of a man’s hand. We can’t know the curtain’s thickness with certainty, and the actual measurements really don’t matter. Because, however thick that veil was, it represented a barrier that no human being could ever overcome.

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Pastor Charles

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Deconstructing Deconstruction

There’s a huge movement underfoot in America. It’s often referred to as “deconstruction.” By that, I mean that a person decides to release themselves from the boundaries, and in fact much of the identity, which they held previously. Often it includes leaving behind once-honored traditions and values, and the related expectations, connected to one’s childhood and formative years. It is a deliberate shucking off of old patterns of belief, with the hope of discovering one’s authentic self. So we can think of “faith deconstruction” – which we’re seeing a lot of right now – as a person’s transformative quest for personal liberation from all religious understandings which no longer serve them well.

We’re seeing this pattern of deconstruction now trending among people who once considered themselves to be evangelical followers of Christ. A number of Christian “celebrities” have moved in this direction. On a broader scale, the largest “Christian” adoption agency in the U.S. has decided suddenly – at least it appears “sudden” from the perspective of onlookers – to place children with same-sex couples. In fact entire congregations are being shaken by cultural and theological evolutions which are some form of faith deconstruction. Not far from home, a prominent megachurch in Nashville embraced unbiblical sexual ethics just a few years ago, and today the church’s website indicates a clear questioning of doctrinal orthodoxy in general. That trajectory may not surprise you in light of the congregation’s earlier departure from Scripture, but it’s still quite alarming.

How should we respond?

First of all, I contend that we should recognize the value of authenticity, particularly among younger adults. We who are a little older should be the first to admit that some of this deconstruction we have brought on ourselves, by creating religious communities which have in fact not been honest and transparent – particularly when it comes to telling the truth about our own sin. All too often we’ve created church climates which give the impression that “we all have our act together – see how nice we look!” This has bred a spirit of pharisaic self-righteousness, which has been a huge turn-off to Gen Y and beyond. We should repent of that hypocrisy, and fast. (Isn’t it interesting how reversing a negative trend “out there” usually starts with reversing course in my own heart?)

Secondly, I think that we should come to terms with how poorly we have carried out, in many cases, the process of discipleship. Our easy-believism is catching up with us, friends. We have downplayed repentance, and we have assumed that thirty minutes a week of listening to a teacher explain the Bible is sufficient preparation for a young person who’s going out into a world where the pervasive ideologies exalt everything other than Christ. Said another way, the culture has discipled our young people better than we have discipled them. We need to own this, I believe, and make immediate changes to the ways in which we attempt to accomplish lifelong Christian discipleship among the body of Christ.

Thirdly, my hope is that we will humble ourselves to the point where people – all people – will feel free to be part of our fellowship, even if they’re walking through our doors will all kinds of serious faith struggles. People are drowning in grief and shame. People are starving for affirmation. People are bombarded with broken relationships, and broken dreams. People are suffering from a national crisis in mental healthcare. This is no time for the church to communicate any sense of moral superiority or any hint of “us four, no more,” but this is the time for the church to open wide her arms. Surely that is the way of Jesus for such a time as this.

Fourth and last, I’m urging you to put your arm around somebody younger. Tell them you believe in them. Tell them you’re on their team, and praying for them. (And actually pray for them, regularly.) Tell them that you’d love to be their friend through the ups and downs of life. Remind them over and over again that our strength is in our Savior and His gospel, and not in us. Live out the precepts of the Word before their eyes. Your steady encouragement of a younger person – whether they’re far from God or not – may be more life-giving than you could ever imagine! Ask God to break your heart, and then give it a chance.

Part of our own faith journey includes wrestling through our own doubts and fears. (Don’t even tell me you have no doubts. I know better.) What a great time to be honest about that! What a great time to invite others into the places where our faith is still under construction! What a great time to get real with each other, for God’s glory!

Perhaps real is the way to revival.

Pastor Charles

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To Forgive, Divine

We’re drowning in it. Unforgiveness.

The folks at Harvard are right. I’ll quote Dr. Tyler VanderWeele: “Forgiving a person who has wronged you is never easy, but dwelling on those events and reliving them over and over can fill your mind with negative thoughts and suppressed anger. Yet, when you learn to forgive, you are no longer trapped by the past actions of others and can finally feel free.”

This really matters. I mean, really matters! In Christ, you and I are called to forgive. Our new nature in Jesus enables it. We’re to be pursuers of peace on earth. And, where there is no peace, you and I are called to bring agape love.

I’d like to tell you a story from Spain. There was a father and his son who, over the course of their lives, had become extremely bitter toward each other. After years of verbal battles, the son finally left home angry, never to return. The father began to search for his son, but he was unable to find him anywhere. After months of frantic searching, the father came to the end of his resources, and sat down in a coffee shop in utter desperation. Suddenly the man had an idea. The father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. It said simply this: “Dear Paco: Please meet me in front of the men’s clothing shop at 2:00 p.m. on Friday. You are forgiven. I love you. Your father.” That Friday, at 2:00 in the afternoon, 800 Pacos showed up. All of those men were searching for forgiveness, and love, from their dads.

We’re wired for love. We all mess up, and we all mess up terribly. We all need forgiveness, from God and from others. Ephesians 4:32 is packed with punch in this regard. As new creations in Christ, our disposition toward others is to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving. Why? Because we’ve been forgiven! When you forgive, and when I forgive, we are expressing the very heart of God!

Forgiveness is not excusing. Forgiveness is not forgetting (though we may end up forgetting). Forgiveness is not overlooking. Forgiveness may or may not result in reconciliation. And forgiveness is always undeserved. We must also understand that forgiveness is much, much more than a feeling. In fact it’s not really even about conjuring up a feeling of some kind. Forgiveness, if we are to understand it Biblically, is all about sincerely committing ourselves to a promise: a promise never to hold this offense against the offender. Never again. In that profound sense, we set the offender free.

But, when we forgive, it also sets us free! You see, friends, forgiveness does not erase the past – after all, you and I don’t even have the power to do that – but forgiveness chooses to look upon the past with grace. Lewis B. Smedes used to say it like this: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

I’ll get brutally honest now. I want to tell you what most often imprisons me in unforgiveness. It’s my desire to control. In my sin, I can live under the illusion – and it is just that – that I can hold my offender hostage by keeping the offense alive. Nonsense! Any feeling I ever have of superiority – and that’s what it is! – will shipwreck my capacity to forgive. Any attempt to justify my unforgiveness will do the same kind of damage to my soul. If I’m ever going to forgive, I have to die to the illusion of control. Perhaps you can relate. But here’s the cool part: when I forgive, my vision is clear again!

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Jesus couldn’t have been more clear. By His words, and by His life.

We are without excuse.

Pastor Charles

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A Long Way Off

When I really think about the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” in Luke 15:11-32, I wonder if I’ve ever really gotten it: God loves sinners! It’s really that simple, but I tend to make it much, much more complicated.

It’s a fascinating story told by Jesus, and our thoughts tend to focus on the “rebel” son. He wants his dad’s assets, and he wants them now. He says, in effect, to his father: “I wish you were dead.” It’s kind of gross, and it’s extremely disrespectful. We can see it clearly: “It’s all about me.”

But what about the older brother … the “righteous” son? I think the key to understanding this dude is found not in the parable itself, but in the chapter’s first two verses: Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

The older brother is just as headstrong as we found the younger brother to be when he left home with all his stuff. The older brother is just as angry with his father as the younger brother had been, but for different reasons. The older brother doesn’t want his dad to show any love to his wayward brother. Again, “It’s all about me.” For a dad who’s all about love, that is not much different than your son wanting you to be dead.

I think you get my point. Both guys are messed up, but in different ways. But not really. Because they both really want dad to be somebody’s he’s not. The exciting part of the story is when the younger brother finally gets it – I don’t deny that – but I just wanted to make the point that both brothers are dogged by the same pride.

So here’s the scary part for me: maybe I’m the older brother. The one who doesn’t get it, at all. The one who is angry, and who refuses to come to the party. The one who is self-righteous, and clueless about it. The one who thinks that he’s on the right track, but doesn’t see the oncoming train. The one who thinks that he’s “serving” and “obeying” just fine.

There is a Pharisee in me, you see. I don’t like to think about it, but it’s true. There is a part of me that loves to feel superior to others. To feel like I deserve God’s love and kindness. To feel proud of my spiritual status. To feel confident in my piety and devotion. So when I see someone “less deserving” receiving blessings from the Lord, I can resent it – if I’m left to wallow in my own foolish, selfish pride.

I can forget grace. I can forget that the chasm of sin is so wide that nothing I do can bridge it. I can forget that God loves first. (I can be quite forgetful.)

And here’s the thing about Pharisees. They’re the hardest to reach with the good news of the gospel. They’re the hardest to penetrate with the truth. They’re the last to know that the party was really the place to be.

I’m grateful that we have a Father who loves us while we’re still a long way off!

So, my friends, whether you feel today like you’re near or far, come home. God loves sinners of all stripes, you see. So please come home.

The party is waiting.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

The (In)Equality Act

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the so-called Equality Act, which elevates sexual orientation and gender identity to the level of race as determined by federal civil rights law. As this legislation heads to the Senate, followers of Christ should be concerned. Surely the Lord would have us remain watchful and prayerful, and to do our best to understand the confusing times in which we live, that we might wisely exercise the liberties of our citizenship for God’s glory.

There are multiple ways in which I could attempt to describe why I believe that the Equality Act is ill-advised and potentially dangerous, but I will tell you my primary cause for alarm: the law would treat individuals and groups that believe that people are created male and female, and that male and female are created for each other, as the legal equivalent of racists.

In speaking out against the Equality Act, I have expressed on social media my concerns about faith-based adoption and foster care agencies, medical professionals, and female athletes. I’ve also articulated my concerns about religious freedoms in general, which are threatened by the Equality Act, so I won’t spend more time exploring my thoughts on those thorny issues. None of my concerns along those lines has waned, but my hope is to approach this from a different angle today.

Fundamentally, I believe that the Equality Act attempts to enshrine into American law a deeply flawed understanding of human nature. I would go as far as calling the Equality Act inhumane. I know that I’ve just made a very strong statement, but I will try to explain what I mean.

There is a profound sense in which God, universally, has implanted into the soul of every person a basic understanding of right and wrong. Some refer to this innate sense of morality as natural law, and it is known by us simply by virtue of our being created in God’s image. Natural law cannot save a person, and it is marred by sin, but it nevertheless underlies and informs human reason and conscience. It is my contention that the Equality Act is a direct attack on human nature because it blatantly ignores scientific evidence, history, philosophy, and theology as they illumine our understanding of personhood. In short, the Equality Act, by seeking to obscure any notion of biological gender, seeks to invalidate an absolutely essential dimension of what it means to be a human being.

Then there is the revealed law of God, which we find in the Bible. As Christians, we embrace the good news of the gospel because the “bad news” of God’s law has declared us guilty before a holy Creator. The law has exposed us for who we are, lawbreakers, and so we find refuge in the grace of Jesus Christ, whose sacrificial and substitutionary death on the cross rescues us from the just penalty of our sin. The first chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Romans indicts unbelievers who “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” In light of all that the apostle describes there, I can’t imagine a better example of deliberate truth suppression than enacting a law which seeks to erase maleness and femaleness, which God has designed to be complimentary reflections of His own nature. Anti-God is anti-human.

We want all people to be treated with dignity and respect. We want all people who are struggling with gender dysphoria to receive excellent and compassionate care. We want all people to be protected by equal justice under the law. But, though it purports to afford such protection for some, the Equality Act is a frontal assault against all who believe that “in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27).

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Windy City Wisdom

I don’t have to tell you that digital technology is quickly creating a cultural climate in which those who embrace the latest moral norms can call for the outright “cancellation” of any who oppose the controlling agenda. The reach of these cancellations, and the immediacy of the unfortunate results, is unprecedented. The relentless demands of our cancel culture are rooted in a postmodern worldview, in that all truth claims are deemed subjective and individualized.

What we’re observing before our very eyes, friends, is a societal shift of seismic proportions, by which “tolerance” is becoming frighteningly intolerant. Personally, I find the saddest dimension of all of this to be that people are becoming less and less willing to maintain meaningful relationships with those who see the world differently than they. But wasn’t that diverse ideological mosaic promised to be the beauty and benefit of multiculturalism? What a tragedy we’re experiencing! Who wants to live in an echo chamber of nothing but their own ideas?

But hold on just a second. At the University of Chicago, an online journal called the Chicago Thinker, written by a growing group of students at the university, has emerged. Despite the firm grip of our crippling cancel culture, some new voices are being heard. I find this development surprisingly hopeful because it signals for us that there are a few Gen-Zers out there who are willing to declare that enough is enough.

C.T.’s official mission statement sets the tone and the primary goal of these determined students: “We demand not to be coddled. Embracing the experience of unfettered inquiry and free expression is precisely the point of these years of intense study: to rigorously confront and challenge our most deeply-held beliefs, and to emerge from the experience as more thoughtful, informed human beings.” That, to me, sounds like a real college education. Imagine that!

In the days of His earthly ministry, our Lord Jesus walked and served among many who were marginalized by the mob in power. We could talk about the woman at the well, or we could talk about Zacchaeus the tax collector, or we could talk about many others. What we would discover is that the “mob” was often the self-righteous religious crowd. I mention that in the hopes that you and I will always stay humble in our cultural assessments. The problem is all too often us.

Perhaps the most powerful illustration of cancel culture in the Bible is the woman caught in adultery (John 8). I don’t know what Jesus wrote in the dirt before the woman’s accusers, but it was enough to convict the hearts of those who wanted her stoned to death: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” We are not to cancel; we are to forgive. We are not to cancel; we are to show kindness and compassion. We are not to cancel; we are to give life to the canceled. Jesus called the canceled His friends.

I don’t like the cancel culture, because I care about truth. And I care about truth, because God cares about truth. My hypothesis is that the very best environment which we can create for the discovery of truth is an environment where every voice is heard. Honest and healthy dialogue and debate serve everybody well. I think that’s also the environment which is most respectful of all of God’s image-bearers.

Like Pontius Pilate, there will always be truth deniers, especially when it comes to the gospel. And it’s easier for truth deniers to cancel their perceived enemies than to be confronted with the reality of their own sin. This battle for the truth rages at a major international university, and it rages in our own backyards.

But canceling always backfires in the end. The tomb is empty.

Pastor Charles

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Blankets White

For to the snow he says, “Fall on the earth” … (Job 37:6).

When God speaks the word, it snows. It’s just that simple. In this verse, the Bible is reminding us that the Lord sends to us the calm weather as well as the storm. The snow, like everything else, is God’s. Every snowflake leaves the heavens at His appointed moment. Every snowflake falls to the earth for His eternal glory. Every snowflake melts away, and returns to water the ground, at His divine command.

Perhaps the most obvious difference between the believer and the unbeliever is this: the believer looks at the forces of nature and praises God for His power displayed in and through them, while the unbeliever looks at the same phenomena and interprets them as random and meaningless. So, my point today is to urge you not to miss the absolute magnificence of this winter wonderland! It is happening all around us for the praise of God.

Expanding on Psalm 19, Jonathan Edwards expressed his own sense of wonder – while calling us to join him in it – like this: “The declaration of God’s perfections is mentioned in Scripture as the ultimate end of Creation. That is, the open display of God’s excellent works and ways is the happy result of bringing the world into being … ‘the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge’ … this leads us to one conclusion: when God manifests his perfections and displays his attributes in the world, he does so for his own glory. This can only mean that the glory of God is the ultimate end of Creation.”

Frankly, friends, I’m sorry that our school-age children seem to be losing the snow day. Modern technology means that we can connect virtually regardless of the weather conditions, but please don’t put away the snow day on the shelf of history without at least a good fight over it. After all, there’s nothing wrong with pausing and enjoying – in fact, it’s entirely right to do so! I know that, for the adults among us, snow can mean scraping windshields and rescheduling important appointments. But don’t forget what it can mean for kids: the sledding and the snow forts and the snowmen and the snow cream! So get out there and dive in, if you can. As I said in my sermon Sunday: “We weren’t meant to Zoom forever.”

Please don’t be a deist. A deist believes that God made all things but then stepped back so that some things – like snowstorms – can just run their natural course without His intervention. Nonsense! God’s fingerprints are on every flake.

Johannes Kepler, whom we now recognize as the father of modern astronomy, was troubled by a fellow scientist who publicly denied the existence of God. This unbelieving scientist was like all other “unbelievers” – he simply believed in the wrong things. He contended that the universe came into being by itself, through simple mechanical means. Kepler, in an effort to convince his friend of the existence of a sovereign Creator, constructed an elaborate model of our solar system. The model was complete with planets and moons, and all of it circled the sun. As Kepler’s friend admired the impressive model, he exclaimed, “How beautiful! Who made it?” Kepler replied, “No one made it. It made itself.” His friend looked skeptically at Kepler and said, “Nonsense. Tell me who made it.” At which point Kepler made this simple but stunning observation: “Friend, you say that this little toy could not make itself. Yet it is but a weak imitation of this great universe, which I understood you to believe made itself.”

There you have it. It makes no sense not to notice God, when everywhere we look we see evidence of God.

But that’s not all. A snowfall is a glorious reminder of Jesus! The sacrifice of Christ permanently washes us “whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7). Because of a blood-red cross, you and I are covered by a snow-white grace! So, as you look out across the snow-covered landscapes in your corner of the world, remind yourself of the good news of the gospel.

I am stopped in my tracks every time I hear Nichole Nordeman, or our First Baptist Paducah choir, sing …

And everything in time and under heaven
Finally falls asleep
Wrapped in blankets white, all creation
Shivers underneath
And still I notice you
When branches crack
And in my breath on frosted glass
Even now in death, You open doors for life to enter
You are winter …

So let’s all embrace it. Soon it will be spring. And we don’t want to miss now.

After all, y’all … what’s not to love?

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

The Long Way Home

You were probably as blessed as I by Toyota’s Super Bowl commercial featuring the impressive but humble athlete, Jessica Tatiana Long. Alexandra DeSanctis of the National Review called it “the most touching ad during the Super Bowl.” In terms of overall popularity among all of the other high-priced advertisements this year (the average was $5.5 million per 30-second spot, down just slightly from 2020), this particular ad earned the number-five spot when the evening was said and done. The ad’s punchline was this: “We believe there is hope and strength in all of us.”

In case you missed the ad, or in case you’re unfamiliar with the backstory, Jessica Long is a 28-year-old American swimmer who has won 13 Paralympic gold medals, making her the second-most decorated Paralympian in history. She and her brother were born in Bratsk, Russia, but were adopted by an eager American family from Baltimore. Jessica was one-year-old at the time of her adoption and then had to undergo the amputation of both of her legs, below the knee, shortly thereafter. The tragic amputation was necessitated by a complex medical condition, and more than a dozen additional surgeries have followed.

The 60-second game night commercial took us back in time to the events leading up to Jessica’s adoption, and it highlighted a conversation between Jessica’s adoptive mother and the adoption worker …

Caseworker: “Mrs. Long, we’ve found a baby girl for your adoption, but there are some things you need to know. She’s in Siberia, and she was born with a rare condition. Her legs will need to be amputated … her legs will need to be amputated … I know this is difficult to hear … her life, it won’t be easy.”

Mom: “It might not be easy, but it will be amazing. I can’t wait to meet her.”

(Charles chokes back tears.) We call that grace.

Jessica began her swimming career in the backyard of her grandparents’ home on Sunday afternoons. She ended up, for a season, in the same training group as Michael Phelps. That was under Bob Bowman, the head men’s coach for the 2016 Team USA in Rio. That same year, Jessica was quoted: “Winning gold medals is incredible and obviously it’s what I want to do, but there’s something so special about having a little girl who has just lost her leg from cancer come up and tell me I’m her hero.” And I’ll share with you another quote from Tokyo in 2020 because it capture’s Jessica’s indomitable spirit: “Every day, I walk with two heavy prosthetics. I may be a Paralympic athlete, but that doesn’t take away the fact that walking is hard. The water has always given me so much freedom. Since I was a little girl, the water has been this place in my life where I just didn’t feel the weight.”

There is probably nothing in the entire Bible that pictures the grace of God toward us more beautifully than does the doctrine of our spiritual adoption. IN JESUS CHRIST, you and I are given a new name, a permanent identity, a forever family, an inexhaustible supply of provision and protection, and an irreversible inheritance! And all of these things we simply freely receive from God. In this life, just like for a child who has been physically adopted, we may struggle with whether or not we are really that loved … can we really believe such good news? … but the truth is: yes, we really are that loved! You and I need to look no further than the cross. Lord, help us remember!

I would encourage you to read and to reread until you’re filled with joy, Ephesians 1:3-6. You and I are the handpicked, and unreservedly loved, children of the living God! We are the Beloved. And that unequivocal status of endearment can never be changed.

Here’s to the wonder of adoption! Here’s to the dignity of every life! Here’s to Jessica Long!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts