Shnorhk’ (Grace)

 

 

 

 

Some Arminians are Armenians, and some Armenians are Arminians. Somehow I felt predestined to share that thought with you. Hopefully, you chuckled by your own free will, but I did want to make a point: Arminians and Armenians are not the same people groups. Eileen and I have been hanging out with the Armenians.

And some Georgians. And some Russians. And some Iranians. And even a few Azerbaijanis. It’s been a terrific ten days! Thank you for praying for us. We’re flying home full of gospel joy.

Though Christianity landed in Armenia in 301 A.D., making it the first Christian nation in the world, and though most Armenians still consider “Armenian” and “Christian” to be synonymous, many Armenians have never heard a clear presentation of Christ’s gospel. In a country of just over three million people, there exists a long history of turmoil and suffering. The most awful chapter of that history began in 1915 when the Ottoman Empire deported and systematically exterminated 1.5 million Armenians. That led to the coining of the term “genocide” in 1943.

Armenia also controls Nagorno-Karabakh, a hotly contested enclave along the border with Azerbaijan, which is marked by violence and random shootings. Because of this ongoing conflict, Azerbaijan and Turkey have attempted to punish Armenia through trade blockades. As Eileen and I have served here with Armenia Relief Mission, we have met a number of women whose husbands left the country to work in Russia.

Some of these men send home financial support on a regular basis; others have completely disappeared, leaving their families in desperate situations.

Economically, conditions are slowly improving since our first mission trip to Armenia in 2006, but there is still widespread unemployment and poverty in this predominantly mountainous country. (I included a photo of Mt. Ararat, but you’ll have to really zoom in if you want to see Noah and his family.)

So this year we focused our teaching on encouragement from the Scriptures. Eileen taught the women the entire book of Galatians.

 

 

I, by the people’s request, talked about spiritual gifts, and ministry to the Millennial generation. Sunday I preached on “the heart of a servant” from the story of Mary and Martha. I particularly attempted to debunk the lie of the prosperity gospel, which unfortunately has been exported to Armenia by American preachers.

Armenians, like everybody else, need a solid Biblical theology

of suffering. We need to know what I reminded our international gathering Sunday morning: “The Lord is my portion.”

Eileen and I are so grateful to serve a church that is thoroughly committed to the Great Commission. Lord willing, I’ll see you Sunday if not before. Grace ’til then.

 

 

 

 

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Love-All

I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around this reality, but Janice Foster is with the Lord. Don’t get me wrong: my heart is thrilled by the thought of Janice meeting Jesus face-to-face; it’s just that I can’t imagine not reading another of her prayer updates, or seeing her smiling face in one of the hallways here at First Baptist Paducah.

Since I will be on the mission field on the other side of the globe Saturday, and unable to preach Janice’s funeral sermon, I wanted to devote my blog space today to honoring this amazing lady and devoted servant of Christ. As I write, I am both brokenhearted and overjoyed at the same time. I was not ready to say goodbye. It was way, way too soon for me. Perhaps you know exactly how I feel.

A strong and godly woman is not created by a formula or by a prescription, but by a mighty working of the Holy Spirit! Such was Janice. Janice reminded me of Deborah, the godly judge of Israel (see Judges 4 and 5). Both women were strategic leaders with stellar judgment. Deborah not only prophesied God’s Word, and performed the functions of her office according to God’s Word, but she even sang God’s Word. The Bible seems to be making a point: Deborah was a conduit of God’s blessing, wherever and however she served because Deborah belonged to God.

Quite beautifully similarly, Janice belonged to God. Every member of her family knew it. Her fellow teachers, and her former students, knew it. Our entire community knew it. For Janice, her commitment to the gospel was her life. She was who she was, and who she was was in Christ.

Much like Deborah, Janice was regal, valiant, and wise. Have you ever seen anyone face such serious health challenges with as much courageous optimism? Have you ever known anyone more capable of convincing you that the glass was half-full, instead of half-empty? Have you ever been more routinely blessed by the enduring friendship of anyone more faithful than Janice?

And here’s another amazing observation about our one-of-a-kind Janice: if you wanted a truthful answer to your question, Janice was your go-to comrade. There would be no spin or fanfare, but you would get the truth. I don’t have to tell you that truth is a priceless commodity these days, and I can’t begin to verbalize to you how much I’m going to miss that breath of fresh air.

Not only that, but Janice expressed the truth in love. She was as bighearted as she was brave-hearted. I will never forget Janice and Lynn waiting and praying with me while Eileen underwent a major surgery. Whether she was arranging flowers with artistry, serving a lonely neighbor in need, or orchestrating a large-scale event with excellence, Janice loved people. In that sense, Janice not only resembled Deborah, but she resembled Christ (John 1:14). Whether Janice was on or off the tennis court, the beauty and grace of her uncommon life preached a single message: LOVE-ALL.

Janice is now with Jesus. And, like our Savior, Janice is alive and well. We will see her again soon. For the treasured gift to us that was our dear sister, Janice Housman Foster, we give God thanks and praise. Into Your trustworthy hands, O Lord, we commit her spirit.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Bleeding in Ten Thousand Ways

Nobody likes to talk about this, but here goes. Mental illness. Few churches are prepared to deal with it. Even worse, many pastors won’t even mention it. That’s a shame, actually, since it only contributes to the culture of stigma and silence surrounding this subject.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four Americans suffers from some kind of mental illness. Let that statistic sink in for a moment. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there’s pain in every pew. When it comes to conditions like significant depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder, rates are highest among those living below the poverty line. One in 15 American adults experiences social anxiety disorder – a condition resulting in significant fear and distress in situations where their words or actions may be exposed to the scrutiny of others. And 21.4 percent of 13- to 18-year-olds will experience a severe mental disorder at some point during their lifetime.

Heartbreaking as those stats are, friends, we must not run from mental health challenges. Remember: we’ve been called by Christ to nurture body, soul, and mind. Mental health and spiritual health are interwoven, whether we like it or not. God cares about suffering, and He has called us to minister to the suffering.

Please hear me out on this: sometimes psychiatric symptoms are exacerbated by sin, but many times psychiatric symptoms are not the result of personal sin. Please read that sentence again. All illness is ultimately linked to the problem of sin, of course, but we need to make every effort to destigmatize mental illness so that we can love our neighbors as we have been loved.

All of us walk through valleys of depressed feelings or occasional anxieties, but some of our sisters and brothers are struggling daily with mental health issues of an intense and crippling nature. The great British preacher, Charles Spurgeon (1834 – 1892), said it like this: “The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.” Even as I write this blog posting, I feel the weight of Spurgeon’s words. They were true then, and they are true now. They have always been true.

In the wake of the suicide of Jarrid Wilson – a bright, up-and-coming, evangelical pastor known for his outspoken passion for Christ followers struggling with depression – how can we “be there” for each other for such a time as this?

We can help everyone build a network of friends. This is one of the goals of our new philosophy for Life Groups, because discipleship is so much more than simply disseminating Biblical information. It is the life of Christ shared person-to-person. We’re in it together, and we need to make sure that everybody’s in.

We can show each other patience. We’re all going to test each other’s nerves from time to time. And people who are seriously struggling with life can demand an inordinate amount of attention. We’ll have to go back again and again to that deep well of Christ’s Spirit, trusting our Lord to restore our own soul – so that we’ll have something of eternal value to give away (when we would otherwise just be frustrated).

We can listen attentively. That is real love, and that is real friendship. That is the climate for real life transformation, which usually begins with the simple acknowledgment that “something isn’t right, and I need help.”

We can love our neighbor. As I asked Sunday: “Who is my neighbor?” And as I answered Sunday: “Anybody who needs me.” I’m so glad that Jesus made this point abundantly clear in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We’re all going to be up, and we’re all going to be down. When we’re up, the privilege is ours to do everything we can to lift up others.

We can assist people in finding appropriate medical and professional help. That goes a long way toward the needed destigmatization. That goes a long way toward undoing erroneous views of sin. That goes a long way toward being the hands and feet of Christ in this hurting world – and among this hurting generation.

We can identify with the sufferings of Christ. People who suffer mentally sometimes experience the heart of Jesus in ways unknown to those who do not. All human suffering can be fertile ground for resilient Christian character, and for unexplainable Christian hope.

We can celebrate the gospel! He who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead is still in the business of transforming tragedies into triumphs! Even in our darkest trials, WE ARE NOT ALONE! No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37-39).

Friends, if you need help, please call on me. If I can’t help, I will make every effort to get you the resources that you need. There is no shame in seeking help. We are all human, and we are all susceptible to the ailments which plague this fallen planet. Our desire is for First Baptist Paducah to be the No-Shame Zone.

We, like the Apostle Paul, may have to wrestle with a thorn in our side which does not abate. Perhaps this will come in the form of mental illness, in our life – or in the life of someone we dearly love. Regardless, Beloved of God, our comfort from Christ remains unwavering: “My grace is sufficient.”

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Passion?

Eileen and I really enjoyed traveling to Atlanta with some of our young adults for “Passion” last winter. As I was making my hotel reservations for this year’s conference, it struck me just how blessed we are – as a church family – to have the opportunity to make major moves forward in the area of college-age ministry. These bright and bold young adults are already among us. They, and many of their friends, are waiting to see if we’re going to take them seriously. Let’s do it! So, if you’ll allow me to do so today, I’d like to walk us through some important considerations in this regard.

 Life is not about us.

 This reminder always fits, and I’d like to quote the Apostle Paul on this one (Galatians 2:20): “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” If you and I can crawl out of our bubble – and even out of ourselves – for just a moment, I think we’ll discover that we need to invest in eternity. I don’t mean “invest” in some self-absorbed “what return will I gain from it?” kind of way, but here’s what I’m thinking: I’m thinking that these terrific young adults are the place for us to start investing!

The time is now to embrace college-age adults.

This year’s incoming freshman class at my alma mater, the University of Kentucky, is the largest in history. Though you and I don’t live in a university town like Lexington, we do live in a vibrant community – with an award-winning community college and a growing number of students – and we are surrounded by plenty of young adults who need to know Christ. Are you and I willing to recognize the significance of the current boom just past the end of our nose?

Many young adults feel like they’re in big trouble.

 “Generation Z” – and I recognize that the term hasn’t really caught on widely yet – is marked by a number of profound fears about the future. That’s why they’re delaying many of the milestones which were celebrated earlier in life by previous generations. Many come from broken homes. Many have not witnessed healthy relationships among adults, and have been robbed by social media of some basic social skills. Even though we might consider some of Gen Z’s fears unfounded, the fears are real nonetheless. It’s our chance to love and serve.

 Few young adults feel a general sense of happiness.

This may surprise you, but general “contentment” scores are at an all-time low when people are asked to rate their own emotional well-being. Young adults are stressed and depressed. Many are experiencing extreme restlessness. A general feeling of hopelessness seems to have reached an all-time high. Those of us who’ve walked with Christ for a while – through the up’s and the down’s – can be a valuable asset if we’ll steward (and package) our experience with grace.

Like nearly everybody else, today’s young people are way, way too busy.

There’s a “big” event somewhere every day, and life has become something of a constant battle for attention. Every generation can relate to this reality on some level, but young adults – because of multiple pressures and proclivities – are feeling the sting of hyperactivity on steroids right now. In Christ, and in redemptive relationships with these young folks, we can provide a respite and a breath of fresh air.

These years can be a spiritual shipwreck.

You’ve likely read about the sharp rise of the “nones” in recent years: American young people who profess no religious identity or affiliation whatsoever. No interest in church. No doctrinal convictions. No sense of loyalty to the professed faith of their parents. There has never been a generation in history which has “given up on God” in such obvious and wholesale ways. Sounds like our mission to me.

These years can also be “the best of times” spiritually.

You and I can’t forget what it’s like to be single and childless. Relatively speaking, those times in life are marked with little responsibility. Spiritually speaking, it’s the season of life that presents the most tremendous spiritual opportunity when it comes to things like “turning the campus upside down with the gospel” and “taking Christ to the nations.”

The decisions made by young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 formidably shape the rest of their lives.

I don’t have to tell you how much well-grounded guidance is needed during that stage of life. Perhaps not always appreciated, but needed nonetheless. It’s fundamentally imperative that believers and churches exert tremendous positive influence for Christ during those critical years.

Many young adults want to be mentored.

Let me tell you what I’ve discovered: the expectations are low. They don’t expect that our discipleship will be anything formal or fancy. These young adults just want us to “do life” with them, to help them navigate a few rough spots, and to offer them a little hope from time to time. By God’s grace and for His glory, we can do this.

We must keep the main thing the main thing.

If we’re going to do this right, we can’t get sidetracked by arguments about politics, body art, or what one wears to church. We are God’s people, and our only real Hero is CHRIST. It’s His gospel that is our banner and our identity. He is why we can have much in common with people with whom we don’t think we have much in common. Matt Chandler asks: “What does it look like to live a life worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ? It looks like walking with, loving with, and doing life with those who are different from you. What binds you together is Christ.”

The older adult must extend the first hand of friendship.

Let me state it plainly: many of the young adults around here don’t think that you’re really interested in a friendship with them. But they want one with you. So don’t wait. Go the extra mile. Discover their world, and step on in. Children’s ministry may fall into our lap, as we enjoy a relatively captive audience during those years, but that is so not the case when it comes to college-age ministry. Older adults can’t take a “no” or a “no show” personally. For every “yes” to one of our invitations, that young person probably said “no” to twenty-five other people and events.

Today’s college-age young people will be tomorrow’s movers and shakers.

The time is now for us to pour ourselves into this amazing generation. It is incumbent upon us to do what we can today to invest in the young adults who are looking to us for wisdom, experience, and grace. Indeed tomorrow’s church leaders need our vote of confidence today. Let them know Christ matters. Let them know they matter. Let them know!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

The Doctrine of Dorian

Regaining strength at this point? Unexpected, but happening. For an amateur meteorologist like myself, this has been the most puzzling and unpredictable hurricane I’ve ever observed. How many different paths have been proposed? How many watches and warnings have been issued, only to be rescinded? When is the last time you remember any storm sitting still – hour upon hour – and wreaking havoc on the helpless people below?

More questions than answers.

Since I was a little boy, I have always loved weather, weather maps, and weather forecasts. But this early hurricane season has been a stretch in terms of putting all of us in our place. It reminds me of Mark 4, where “a great windstorm arose” as the disciples and Jesus were in the boat. The Bible records that the storm grew so intense that “the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.” From the perspective of those men, there was severe danger all around – and they felt helpless. An imminent threat was upon them, yet Jesus was asleep.

I thought I’d take some time this morning to talk with you about our storms in general – meteorological and otherwise. Please allow me to make a few practical applications from Mark 4, as well as a few observations about the now-upgraded Category 3 hurricane moving in on Charleston – and perhaps even Myrtle Beach.

  1. No storm, of any real threat at least, seems necessary or purposeful when it’s upon us. Even when it’s been predicted, it’s unsettling to us at best. We know that storms are coming – at least we assent to that in theory – but in our humanness, we’re also nearly always caught off guard by storms when they strike. We can lose our sense of peace in an instant and usually do.
  1. Storms – and Dorian is a perfect example of this – re-confront us with the problem of evil and suffering in our world. No theology can make perfect sense of it this side of heaven. We know that Christ has overcome the world, but it’s hard to see why countless lives have to be lost in the Bahamas. If you completely understand that, then you’re farther along than I. What I’m trying to say, friends, is that you and I have to live for God even in those seasons when we have more questions than answers.
  1. There is wonder, if we can possibly grasp it, in the unpredictability of the world around us: storms and all! When we can’t decipher the next 24 hours, we are forced to remember that “the Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” That great passage from God’s songbook goes on to say that “he founded it upon the seas …” There truly is no rogue hurricane. There is no senseless cyclone or tornado. There is no Mother Nature, but there is a Father God. And He is always, always good.
  1. It’s certainly O.K. for us to pray for God to steer one of our life’s storms harmlessly out to sea. He wants to hear all of our requests. But you and I must be watchful and ready to accept the reality that such may not be His plan. (Facing reality is sometimes a necessary part of our faith.) Sometimes we have to hunker down and wait. Sometimes we have to board up the windows in a season of uncertainty, trusting our Creator to restore our vision later on when only He knows is best.
  1. The process of aging may, and in fact should, strengthen our faith – but aging does not take away all fear. In fact, some of our fears get magnified as we face seasons of life where we feel battered by what can seem like loss upon loss. We desperately need the encouragement of our sisters and brothers in Christ when we’re in the eye of the storm. So hold tightly to each other now so that your crew will be intact when you need them.
  1. Just as Jesus was asleep in that boat, so it may appear to us at times like nothing is happening for our good. But this is never true. We have it on excellent authority that everything around us – and in fact, everything happening to us – is purposed for our good and for God’s glory! When a crisis strikes close to home, we must remember that Christ is always closer. God is for us, always.
  1. And just as Dorian will soon join the annals of history, it may be that even the wackiness of our weather is God’s daily memo to us that: “This too shall pass.” This too shall pass. So keep your chin up, Beloved of God, and keep your eyes tilted skyward. Our Christ will take us soon to a place of far-fairer skies.

It would do us some good today to respond like the disciples: “with great fear.” Not fear of Dorian, mind you, but fear of the God who rules over Dorian. He also rules over us. “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?”

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Best. Work. Ever.

Believe it or not, Labor Day is upon us!

It’s really more than a federal holiday. It’s more than a chance to celebrate the many social and economic contributions of American workers. And it’s more than a day at the lake. For those of us who follow Christ, Labor Day is an opportunity to think about our work – whatever that work is – as a high and noble calling of Almighty God.

You and I are part of a holy stewardship over the good creation of God which goes all the way back to Genesis 1:26. Though our work carries with it aspects which feel at times more like burdens than blessings, if you really think about it, we are immeasurably blessed simply to be able to work.

Sometimes on our jobs, we let normal frustrations get the best of us. This is a Biblical reality since our mandate to “toil” the earth was part of the fallout from our expulsion from the Garden of Eden. In other words, when we sinned and fell in Adam – and as guilty rebels incurred the curse of a holy God – something about our work fell with us. Labor, like everything else about our world, became marred by sin. In our present experience, our work is fallen and imperfect.

So work is not always fun and pleasure – we all understand that – but you and I can never lose sight of the bigger picture! Whatever our vocation or field of endeavor, it is GOD who makes possible both our creativity and our productivity. In that sense all our work is sacred. There is nothing “secular” about any job accomplished by a child of God. Just as you and I respect the sacredness of God’s work when He created the heavens and the earth, so we must value the inherent dignity which our Creator has infused into all work. Whatever we do, we do for God’s glory (First Corinthians 10:31).

What ought to be even more delight for us is the significance of what Christ has done so that you and I can rest even while we’re still working. Let that sink in. And I’m talking about more than a weekly day of rest, though “Sabbath” certainly points to Christ. What I mean is simply this: in the ultimate sense, when Jesus cried, “It is finished,” He meant it. Christ had perfectly obeyed the Father for us. Christ had perfectly become the sacrificial substitute for us. Christ had perfectly accomplished perfect righteousness for us.

So, though you and I do our work with passion before God’s own eyes, we never work to earn His approval. We never have to labor to earn His love. You see, my friends, performance-based religion has been crucified – and the god of legalism has been exposed as a false god.

On this side of the Cross, all our labors can be labors of love. Everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil – this is God’s gift to man (Ecclesiastes 3:13). Enjoy!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Chariots of Fire

God confirms the call of Elisha in a remarkable way (Second Kings 2): Elijah is taken up into heaven, before Elisha’s very eyes, in a whirlwind of chariots of fire! Other than that, it was an ordinary day.

Following that, in the sixth chapter, those chariots of fire appear again – this time to confirm the Lord’s presence and protection when neither could be observed with human eyes. In specific answer to a desperate prayer, a young man is enabled to see clearly – and to know and understand as a result – that all is well.

When the Spirit of God moves among us in power, our situation can turn on a dime! I hope that you will let that reality encourage you today.

You and I don’t always get a vision of fiery horses and chariots, do we? Sometimes we desperately need to know that God is near – especially when we feel like we can’t even see enough to take one more step – but find ourselves in seemingly visionless territory. Maybe you can relate.

What are some things which we know to be true of our current situation? I will share a few in the hopes that you can latch on to at least one.

  1. God wants to display His sovereign glory in and through our pain.

After a lifetime of pain – everything from being emotionally abandoned by his father to chronic respiratory disease – C.S. Lewis finally had to bury his beloved wife, Joy. After only a short season of marriage, Joy had endured a fierce battle with cancer, but the disease finally prevailed. Lewis captured his own suffering in these words: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” You and I become most vividly aware of God’s character in and through our suffering. Here’s how I think that works: chapter after chapter of suffering actually accomplishes something beautiful in us – it peels away us from us until we see just how weak we really are. “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

  1. God wants us to seek Him with all our heart.

Let’s face the facts. There are seasons when God’s trusted and manifest presence is not our continual experience. Perhaps we’ve become negligent in our spiritual walk. Perhaps we’ve become too busy or distracted. Perhaps we’ve become consumed by idolatry. In any event, God desires to use what we perceive as “the distance between us” to motivate us to seek His holy presence again. “Presence” is a common translation of the Hebrew word for “face.” What I’m saying is that God wants us to seek His face. God wants us to claim the access which we have to him through Christ and to come boldly before Him in honesty and humility. He longs for our worship and praise. Like the expectant and faithful father of the prodigal son, God delights whenever you and I decide to come home.

  1. God wants to restore our broken dreams or to give us new ones.

The Lord calls us to believe that He can make the impossible possible. Sometimes that looks like restoring to order the brokenness of our shattered dreams (perhaps you prefer to think of them as plans). Sometimes that looks like His lifting our heads just long enough for us to be able to see something new which He has planned for us. (New to us, that is – never new to Him.) Think about it like this: were God never to disrupt us along the journey of life, would we ever open our hearts to new possibilities and opportunities? Were you and I never to hit a bump along the road, would we ever even think about the finiteness of our own abilities – or recognize the wonder that is ours to be able to hold Christ’s hand when the forest grows dark, and when He alone is our light and our salvation?

  1. God wants to mend our broken relationships.

Sometimes the way for us is rocky, and the visibility is low because God is getting our attention. He wants to repair a wound or to put back together a severed relationship. This often takes time. It always takes grace. First, God must secure our undivided attention, which we often don’t give Him when we perceive that things in our world are going swimmingly. We’ve already talked about the compassionate presence of God, and how much we need that. But what happens when our heart has been refilled? Well, God wants to use our joyful appreciation to make us who He wants us to be: selfless lovers of others for the Lord’s own glory! What I’m saying is that God wants the love of Christ to overflow from us – from our identity re-rooted in His grace – in such a way that forgiveness and hope prevail. Only God can do that.

  1. God wants us to see beyond earthly shadows into ultimate reality.

No matter how old we are – or how much we think we already know – God has more for us to learn. So go ahead and – just like a child – imagine yourself right smack dab in the middle of the Bible story – because that’s exactly where you are! After all, we’re talking about the one true and living God “whom no one has ever seen or can see” (First Timothy 6:16). When Moses reminds God’s people to keep God’s story alive, I think he’s telling them to make the Exodus their own story and to keep it fresh for the next generation – and the one after that. Friends, you may not be in a fiery furnace or a lion’s den – literally speaking – but make no mistake about it: every trial in your current experience is part of God’s unstoppable and sovereign plan to bless you and everyone who follows in your footsteps of faith. So you and I can hope, even in our struggle.

  1. God wants to refuel us for future service and mission.

Your present problems are not just about the present. God is molding you and shaping you for greater things. He is preparing you and fashioning you for a chapter of your life for which you must be prepared right now. He will not keep you on the bench forever. Soon you will be back in the game – here or in heaven – and you will understand that these tears were not the end of the story. You have been created for eternity! The lessons from this present tribulation are good ones. Necessary ones. Hopeful ones. God is so much more invested in turning your situation around than you could ever be – in fact, He’s promised to use “all these things” for your good and for His glory. So put on your armor, and stand! You will not be ultimately defeated. You have that on good authority: “It is finished.”

  1. God wants our complete trust, even in the dark.

With regularity, you and I need a course correction. No fun, I’ll readily admit, but needed. We have to remember what we often forget: God’s love includes God’s discipline. The people of Judah were in for a tough season of judgment and repentance, yet the prophet could wisely affirm (Habakkuk 3:17-19): Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. Even when you and I do not understand what is happening around us, we know who does. Worship Him! Worship the Light, even when darkness seems to be winning!

Sometimes, my friends, God’s very best can be embraced only through eyes of faith.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

“Come”

We learn from Matthew’s Gospel that one of the earthly ministries of our Lord Jesus was to “proclaim justice.” You and I serve an amazing Christ: He offers justice where there is no justice! Sooner or later, Jesus will make everything right.

Now I know what you may be thinking: “Yeah, yeah, yeah … more of that Second-Coming stuff.” No. Not really. We don’t have to wait entirely. Jesus began the process of making things right when the Holy Spirit promised His coming to our first parents (Genesis 3:15). Jesus’ heel was bruised while stomping on Satan’s head when Christ died on the cross for our sins. That already happened. But the promise of the Bible is the removal from our lives of the power of evil forever.

Now that’s justice. What greater injustice is there than sin itself? It will be gone. Entirely! Martin Luther remarked: “We must have a Savior who is able to redeem us from the power of the devil, and also from sin and death. For if He is an ordinary human being, He is not our Redeemer. But if, as the Son of God, He sheds His blood to cleanse us from all sins, then the devil must give way and let us rest in peace.”

Jesus is like a fishhook hidden under the minnow of His humanity. The devil snapped at the hook when Christ died on the cross, but couldn’t hold on. Our enemy ended up with a lethal blow himself because Christ could not be held by death and the grave. Jesus, my friends, rose again!

But here we are now, swimming at times in what seems like a sea of injustice. We know that Jesus has promised to give us rest, and in fact to be our rest, but sometimes we’re not so sure that we’re going to make it home in one piece.

When Jesus walked the earth, the Jewish people were burdened with 628 different commands and requirements in the Pharisaical religion of their day. 628 of them! I have enough trouble with ten commandments. Don’t you? Is it any wonder that people flocked to Jesus, who spoke with such gentle and loving authority, and who told of a Heavenly Father whose true children obey Him out of love for Him? Jesus spoke of “easy” yokes and “light” burdens. Sounds good to me.

You know what a yoke is, don’t you? It slipped over the shoulders of a beast of burden and allowed the animal to pull a plow or a wagon. Jesus probably made them in Joseph’s carpentry shop. A carpenter could take his time and get it right, or do a hurried job and make life miserable for the animal. You know what kind of job Jesus did for us. And a yoke could be built for two animals to pull the load together. Christ’s yoke is easy and His burden is light because Jesus is right here carrying our burdens with us!

Let’s face the facts. Sometimes we Christians don’t do a very good job at portraying Jesus as the Hope of broken people. Sometimes the church breaks hearts by overburdening folks with demands and expectations which are manmade – expectations which God never gave us.

But Jesus is right here to uplift us and to strengthen us if only we will put away our grudges …

and hard feelings …

and frozen anger …

and come to CHRIST for healing.

Come.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

The Search (Part 5)

Today we’ll wrap up this look at postmodernism. Thanks for hanging in there with me!

We’ve established the phenomenon. It started within the fields of art and architecture, but postmodernism has expanded into a philosophy and worldview which is based on the premise that all truth is relative. You don’t even have to imagine the damage this has caused – and continues to cause – in academia, civic life, and pop culture. Where “there are no absolutes,” there can be absolute disaster. In some ways, all of Western Civilization is at risk.

But let’s be clear about an even more sinister danger: postmodernism can change the way in which people hear a sermon. It can change the way in which people hear the gospel. How does that work?

First of all, people drenched in postmodernism often view authoritative truth claims within the context of oppression. In other words, if anyone claims to have the truth, it is likely that he or she is merely attempting to exert power. The German philosopher and philologist, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900), espoused that there is no such thing as good and evil – only good and bad. What was his point? That we don’t need to allow for any morality which comes from outside of us – and that we certainly don’t need any moral standards coming from God. Nietzsche influenced the modern world with the notion that to embrace God is the same thing as enslaving ourselves to the obliteration of our human potential.

Secondly, our friends who’ve been raised in postmodernism have a very difficult time believing that “what’s right for one person – in a moral sense – is right for everybody.” In a postmodern world, that doctrine feels frighteningly uninformed. Instead, this perspective feels better: “right” is whatever you want it to be. Quite ironically, the only person who is “wrong” in our postmodern world is the person who holds to absolute truth.

Thirdly, the postmodernist has been whipped into shape, by the winds of the day, to believe that Christianity is inherently arrogant, egotistical, and – most offensively – intolerant. This mantra is reiterated by cultural and media icons on a daily basis.

So, when we put these three together, what happens? Let’s say that unbelieving John Doe is invited to the First Evangelical Church of Elm Grove. The pastor happens to be preaching from John 14, and makes the claim in his sermon that there is only one way to eternal life, and that the way is Jesus Christ …

What are John’s initial reactions?

“Wow, that guy’s got some ego, talking like that!”

“How in the world does he know what’s right for my Muslim neighbor? Absurd!”

“The people who buy into this stuff are most likely ignorant, and most certainly unloving.”

I may be playing up the drama just a tad to make my point, but I don’t think it’s too far a stretch. To make exclusive truth claims about an exclusive Christ is regarded as the epitome of intolerance in our day. And to even suggest that there is a universal moral code which has been issued by a sovereign God – utterly preposterous by postmodern standards and sensibilities! It just doesn’t fit with how most people understand pluralism today.

So where do we go from here?

  1. We allow Christ to define us. We are, as His followers, designed to be “cross” cultural. By that I mean: guided by Scripture, sometimes we are cultural, sometimes we are multicultural, and sometimes we are countercultural. We are people of the Word, and our source of authority is the Word.
  2. We embrace our neighbors. Whenever and wherever we can, we find common ground on which to stand with them. We regard ourselves as a missional people, and we live on mission – as if we were serving on a foreign mission field – wherever we are in our postmodern world. We share Christ in word and deed, and we share Him within the context of genuine relationship whenever possible.
  3. We radically pursue holiness. For the glory of God, we consistently ask ourselves the question: “am I allowing God and the gospel to delineate my holiness?” If we’ve fallen into either licentiousness or legalism, we repent and change course immediately. “Grace and truth” – that’s us!
  4. We concern ourselves more with Christ than comfort. Enough said.

Thanks for journeying with me. I wish you knew how much I love you.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

The Search (Part 4)

So, friends, we’re continuing to think about the phenomenon of postmodernism.

I was born in the 1960s. I don’t think I was the culprit, but the 1960s ended up being a mess on many levels. There were the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Robert F. Kennedy. (You may remember exactly where you were, and exactly what you were doing when those terrible things happened.) There was the political and military chaos of Vietnam. I’ve just scratched the surface, of course, but suffice it to say that it was an unsettled and turbulent decade.

Some things were good, and even exceptionally invigorating, during those same years. I remember the tremendous progress of our nation’s space program, for example. But, as I’ve pondered the demise of objective truth claims, I can see how the seeds of postmodernism were sown and preserved in the social incubator that became the middle of the 20th century.

Here’s how I believe that may have transpired. People thought about all of the “progress” of the scientific age, which was undeniable, but then they observed the near-collapse of the social structures all around them. It left Average Joe and Joanne subtly wondering: “Is faith in science all that it’s cracked up to be?”

So, many folks concluded, perhaps unconsciously: rationalism has failed. Perhaps we should doubt the authorities and deconstruct the collective consciousness. Maybe we should undo all of “the powers that be.”

Strengthened by time, this became a long list of societal “we don’t wants”: parental control, church control, military control, government control … you name it. So, with all of the supposed philosophical freedom which we tried to create, we amped up the general distrust in authority. This bit us in the proverbial hind parts!

Maybe facts aren’t really knowable after all.

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25).

Thanks for thinking out loud with me. Your thoughts?

More next week.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts