Hope for a Broken People

As I write this on Wednesday afternoon, our highest leaders in government are considering the second impeachment of President Donald Trump.

“The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” I can’t help but remember the words of the report of his brother as it reached the ears of Nehemiah (1:3). In the very next verse, we read that the prophet did the only thing that he could do in the wake of such devastating news: “I sat down and wept … before the God of heaven.”

What you and I have witnessed over the last few days and weeks will likely disturb us for the foreseeable future. It’s time to weep before the God of heaven.

Nehemiah lived in a similar day. Everyone had contributed to the ruin. (And I’m sure that they were about as quick to own that, personally, as we!) There was much sinful behavior from which to repent. Everybody had disobeyed God, on multiple levels and in multiple ways. And the Lord, with a broken heart, had delivered the people into the hands of their enemies. At that point, the cultural erosion became undeniable and dramatic.

Precisely when a political situation degenerates into full-blown anarchy – in the strictest sense – I’m not exactly sure. But I am convinced, by Scripture and history, that Planet Earth has seen more than enough seasons of moral anarchy: “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” The Bible tells the story over and over again. Trouble erupts. The people seek God. God delivers. The people rejoice. The people forget. Trouble erupts. Rinse and repeat.

So Hanani, Nehemiah’s brother, comes back to Babylon – the place of exile – with a burden for Jerusalem that is nearly unbearable for Nehemiah to bear. What Nehemiah does next is exceptionally instructional for us, if we will permit such instruction from God’s Word.

But, before I remind you of what Nehemiah did, I want to share with you some other options which are before us. They’re not good options, mind you, but they’re options.

  1. We can abandon our distinctions. This feels like the easiest way out of a pickle. We can live according to the spirit of the lawlessness of our day. We can deny any accountability to a transcendent standard. We can embrace moral apathy. We can pretend that right and wrong are simply meaningless words and relative designations. We can declare that truth can’t be known or even found. We can become just like the unbelieving world around us. We’ll fit right in, like a hand in a glove.
  2. We can abandon our responsibilities. This is a slightly different option, in the sense that we care – we can still get worked up by the newsfeeds on our phone – but we don’t do anything about anything. We just gripe and complain, and moan and groan, and chime in when the finger-pointing gets all hot and heavy. (Like now.) This is what you call throwing up your hands in utter defeat, for all practical purposes. Cheap talk. No action. No salt. No light. (Those are just too much trouble.)
  3. We can abandon our convictions. After all, this God-thing doesn’t seem to be working out too well. Let’s just make man the measure of all things. That’s easier anyway. We’ll solve the world’s problems by human achievement, and by the incredible power of human reasoning – and human rationale. We’ll fix America by decreasing joblessness, and restriping our roadways, and inventing the next best smartphone. It’ll all be great. Just wait and see. We’ll bypass “we can’t consider God,” and go all the way to “there ain’t no God to consider.”

I think you can see that those three options aren’t so swell. We’ve tried them before, and they’ll work next time about as well as they worked last time.

Or … wait for it … we can abandon ourselves. That’s what Nehemiah did, and that’s what he led God’s people to do. Between “trouble erupts” and “the people seek God,” there is always a moment of “the people come to the end of themselves.” Friends, we ought not expect such a moment in our country, unless and until such a moment captures the church. Repentance always begins at home. And this time will be no exception.

Nehemiah fasted and prayed. Nehemiah listened for the promptings of the Holy Spirit so that he could keep his head on straight in a crooked generation. Nehemiah sought the Word of the living God and humbled himself before it. Risking his own life, Nehemiah laid down his plans and picked up God’s.

And one of the greatest nationwide revivals in global history was poured out upon a broken people. Who can do this? Only God. Only God. Only God. But you and I can hope, and pray, for this. Here. Now. God.

With a heavy heart, I hope.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Too Close to Call?

No, I’m not talking about the Senate runoff in Georgia. I’m talking about Psalm 90, the only psalm attributed to Moses.

For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night (Psalm 90:4). In contrast with the timelessness of God, which this gorgeous psalm so clearly establishes, you and I are left with a vivid reminder. The durations of our lives – whether or not we reach “old age” by our standards – are exceptionally short. Against the backdrop of eternity, my earthly lifespan is a drop in the bucket, and so is yours.

Sometimes we think: “Why hasn’t God done anything about my trouble? Why is He waiting to deliver me from this?” I’m sure the Israelites trapped in Egypt felt the same way. Same with those who lived between the last Old Testament prophet and the birth of Christ. Hundreds of years of waiting, over multiple generations, while “nothing” happens. Or so it seems to us.

But the reality is, when it comes to God, “nothing” is never happening! (Please pardon my double negative.) God is always perfectly orchestrating everything for our good and for His glory. The Everlasting God can afford to wait, you see, and in fact, His “waiting” is an outworking of His kindness and patience toward you and me. We may not understand how His love is on display while we wait, but it is. Always. For us, every second of life is a gift, so we don’t want to be charged with wasting time – we have a lot to do while we’re here! But, for our God who orders all things well, no time is ever wasted. Even our suffering – you know, when we’re waiting on God to change our circumstances, but He seemingly isn’t – is producing qualities of eternal worth and beauty in us. And in others.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Psalm 90 is all fluffy and easy to swallow. Quite the opposite in fact. Yes, we learn who God is, and who we aren’t – but that doesn’t mean that our struggles feel automatically easier. So we live for a brief time, and then we get “swept away as with a flood” … all is well … No! This is not easy. This is not simplistic. This doesn’t wrap up all our troubles with bright packaging and a pretty ribbon.

But the wonder of this psalm comes in the last few verses, where we learn what to ask of our great God while we’re waiting. Check it out. While you and I are pilgrims here, God wants us to petition Him for certain specific things. Things which can come only from Him. We can ask for His wisdom. We can ask for His mercy. We can ask for tangible reminders of His steadfast love. We can ask for a spirit of joy, and a heart of gladness. We can ask that our lives prove profitable for Christ’s kingdom. We can ask for His sustaining power, for us and for our children. We can even ask for God’s favor: that He “establish the work of our hands!”

In fact, friends, we ought to ask the Lord regularly for all of these things. We think that we’re doing all of the waiting, but God is waiting on us to ask. As we seek the Lord for all of these great things, we’re actively waiting. Charles Spurgeon said it like this: Keep the posture of an upright man, ready for action, expecting further orders, cheerfully and patiently awaiting the directing voice; and it will not be long ere God shall say to you, as distinctly as Moses said it to the people of Israel, ‘Go forward.’ If the Lord Jehovah makes us wait, let us do so with our whole hearts; for blessed are all they that wait for Him. He is worth waiting for. The waiting itself is beneficial to us: it tries faith, exercises patience, trains submission, and endears the blessing when it comes. The Lord’s people have always been a waiting people.” Amen.

I know, I know: sometimes it’s harder to wait than to work. But you and I must wait hopefully. The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is the only proof we need that God is for us! Even when we don’t understand what He’s doing, or why it’s taking so long for Him to get it done, we can wait for Him full of resurrection hope! Think about it like this: God is absolutely committed to giving us absolutely everything that we would ask for if we knew everything that He knew. That thought humbles me, and thrills me, all at the same time.

Too close to call? No way. God is too close not to call!

Our Sovereign God, 2021 is here, and we’re calling on nobody but You …

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Hindsight: 2020

God doesn’t waste any time. Let me clarify: God doesn’t waste any time. By that I mean that God, at every point in history, is always absolutely purposeful in all of His actions. Nothing which we have experienced this year has been outside the scope of God’s gracious providence. I need no other verse than Ephesians 1:11 to clearly substantiate that amazing truth. When we speak of the providence of God, we’re including everything that makes up His purposeful sovereignty in the world – and every dimension of His purposeful sovereignty in each one of our lives. We can trust Him. I’m not just reminding you of that, but I’m reminding myself of that as 2020 grinds to a screeching halt. Lord willing, the year that many have been trying for months to kick to the curb will soon be in our rearview mirror.

But make no mistake about it: 2020 was no accident. We needed 2020, in about a million different ways, or it would never have happened. God is in absolute control of 2020, and God is in absolute control of all of the fallout from it.

God’s providence is His universal power over every single design and detail – both large and small – which is worked through natural and material things. All of the causes, along with all of the resulting effects, fall under the larger umbrella of: “This is my Father’s world.” God’s own Word explains for us the providence behind His actions, even when we can’t fully understand or interpret some of those actions. It is through God’s Word that you and I begin to grasp the truth: the vast powers which we see in nature, and in history, are not just random and obscure forces – but they are intentional instruments of our Creator’s personal government. That’s why we call the doctrine divine providence. Isaiah was quite right: the government really rests upon Christ’s shoulders!

So you and I must affirm that God directly intervenes in every natural and historical disaster, pandemic or otherwise. This might seem like a frightening notion at first – and on a healthy level it is – but that simple affirmation is also a source of great comfort for us. When we are trusting in a sovereign God, we can find meaning and purpose in occurrences that would otherwise seem like senselessness on steroids.

Next year will bring us its share of both joy and sorrow, and each moment will be part of God’s gracious plan to do us nothing but good. The perfect mixture of sunshine and rain will come our way, and the glory of God – as always – will serve as the perfect backdrop for what we perceive to be the highs and lows of a calendar year. All of it, perfectly timed. And nothing coming to us that isn’t sifted through the fingers of the God who holds us in His hand, and who loves us more deeply than we ever imagined! And, when those times of suffering come our way, we’ll choose to remember that we’ve been claimed by a Jesus for whom suffering is no alien experience. So we will pour out our hearts before His throne of grace, knowing that He hears every longing of our souls, that He felt the sting of that moment long before we, and that no tear will be wasted in the good providence of God.

I think it’s important that we also recognize that a deep knowledge of God’s providence is much more than a simple acceptance of the things which come our way. You and I can smile at the future, and in a strong sense embrace it with gusto, because we know to whom it belongs. Our Savior is immutable – changeless – and He is a solid Rock for us when nothing else seems stable or certain at all. Do we know what the new year will bring? Not at all. But we know who does. And that is enough. Tomorrow, here on earth, isn’t promised to any of us. But we can embrace tomorrow in the sense that we – left here to finish our task, or with the Lord forever – are in the best of care. I wouldn’t trade “in Christ” for every bank account on earth, would you? No sparrow falls without His knowledge. No ocean roars without His consent. No cross is taken up by any one of us which is not for our good and His glory.

And God is in absolute control of 2021. So, friends, Happy New Year! The tomb is still empty! Together we walk into an uncertain future, but, not really. Because we know, and are loved by, the One who holds every tomorrow in His hands. So sleep well tonight, and fear not tomorrow. Our great God is already there.

With you, trusting Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Merry!

Certain dimensions of 2020 haven’t felt all that merry, have they? It’s left some folks wondering if “Merry Christmas” fits at all this year. I would submit to you, humbly but with conviction, that “Merry” fits now more than ever!

In the English-speaking world, the “Merry Christmas” greeting appears to date back to at least 1534, when it was written in London in a letter sent from Bishop John Fisher of Cambridge University to Henry VIII’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell – the English lawyer and statesman. In that same era, the song “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” arrived on the scene and spread rather widely. “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” was first published in 1760. In 1843, the first commercially-sold Christmas card was worded: “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.” And, in that same year, Charles Dickens further popularized “Merry Christmas” by using it 21 times in his novella, A Christmas Carol.

In fact, A Christmas Carol changed the culture in England – even beyond the precise wording of the Christmas greeting. The entire country experienced a noticeable uptick in charitable contributions right after it was published. But, in the 1920s, “merry” almost lost its holiday status in England and Australia. Many people started equating the term with overindulgence and wanted to distance themselves from those kinds of celebrations. That’s why, to this day, you often hear “Happy Christmas” in England and Australia. When it comes to Christmas here at home, though, “Merry” is still the star of the show. And I would make the case that to wish someone a “Merry Christmas” or a “Happy Christmas” – in terms of intrinsic meaning – would be virtually one and the same. To try to split hairs between cheer and contentment, if you ask me, would be barking up the wrong Christmas tree.

So, back to our 2020 nuttiness and strife, I think we find ourselves in a situation similar to that of Bob Cratchit’s wife (Emily in some adaptations): because of what we know of grace, can we lift a toast to Scrooge? Will we let the hardships of this year win the day? Will we allow our obvious discontentment – which, unfortunately, coronavirus has managed to expose – get the best of us? Those are questions worth asking ourselves and answering candidly. A little honest self-reflection might benefit all of us as we bid adieu to this trying year.

Because here’s the reality: nothing that makes Christmas “Christmas” has changed. The Savior has come! He has lived and died, and risen again, for us! In Christ, God has given us every good thing that we will ever need! Like Ebenezer Scrooge, we need to be reminded of the things that really matter. It’s the fruit of Christ’s Spirit that we need – far more than we need another $600. (Please forgive me. I couldn’t resist.)

The Light of the world has come into our midst, and no virus can obscure that. The glory of the gospel has invaded our souls, and no crisis can reverse that. The Son of God has ascended to the throne of our hearts, and no pandemic can threaten that. You see, friends, what makes Christmas Christmas can’t be stopped. So you and I have about a billion incredible reasons to be merry! 2020, you’ll have to try again.

My family and I are grateful to God to be living among you in Paducah, and worshipping the Lord here with you. As I approach eight years of serving as your senior pastor, I’m sure that you’ve heard a few complaints about me. Truth is: I’m far, far worse than all of those comments put together. But Jesus is awesome. And, even in a pandemic year, He remains alive and well. And He’s good. And He’s full of grace, for us.

So, God rest you merry. Merry Christmas!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Between Already and Not Yet

When I learned Sunday afternoon that the vaccine had landed at Louisville International Airport, I rejoiced. Please allow me to explain.

Whether or not you plan to take the COVID-19 vaccination, I think you will agree with me that we are immensely blessed to have it already making the rounds among our most vulnerable populations. You and I are privileged to have excellent healthcare available to us, in general, and this is another example of the abundance of God’s common grace. In a year marked by distress and disappointment, so many people worked tirelessly to make this vaccine happen. Surely we must praise the Lord for the gifts of wisdom and perseverance which we receive at the hands of scientists, researchers, doctors, and others who help make moments like this happen.

But there is another reality that confronts us even as news of this life-saving medical breakthrough spreads far and wide, and that is this: people are dying. In fact, they’re passing from this life to the next at an alarming rate. People are still dying. The monster virus that has nearly scared the world to death still bares his venomous fangs, even while the antidote has begun to be administered.

You and I live between two worlds. There is the world of the here and now, which we can see. And there is the world of eternity which we can grasp only by faith. Both worlds are real. And, in an amazing sense which characterizes the life of the Christian pilgrim this side of heaven, both worlds are as close to us as the air we breathe. We live between two worlds.

So we wait. Jesus has promised to come back for us, so that we may be with Him forever (John 14:1-3). Our citizenship in that new country is secure. In many ways, our hearts are already there, in the land of our heavenly treasures. But, at the same time, the electric bill is due. I have a burn on my finger from carelessly grabbing a pot on the stove. And, some people I love are standing on my last nerve. Can you relate? In my best moments, I can practically see the Celestial City. But, on my normal days, I fantasize about running certain bad drivers off the road.

This is life between Christ’s first and second comings. People are being rescued, but the human race is still fallen. The kingdom of God is advancing, while the powers of darkness still seduce. You and I are learning to love selflessly, though sometimes we step on each other, each of us struggling to be rightly recognized as the star pupil in Christ’s School of Humility. LOL.

So, at least for me, the celebrated vaccine of the hour is a powerful symbol of our Christian hope. It is a bright token of amazing grace, while a global pandemic rages on. Sin still scorches and scars the planet, but the gospel will have the last word. The old me still wants to snuff out the new me, but Christ in me has won, and He will win.

Yes, we wait. But we wait with eager hope. Because of Christmas, we know that heaven can touch earth, even when culture, politics, and the religious establishment are shrouded in chaos and despair. We can’t yet see Him with 20/20 vision, but the Light of the world has come!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Fake (Good) News

I suppose that the holiday season is as good as any to unpack an issue that has been weighing heavily on me for some time. We hear a lot about “fake news” these days, but I have to tell you that I’m much more concerned about fake news in the church.

At the core of the most precious body of doctrine (Christian teaching) which we possess is the doctrine of justification by faith. In fact, Martin Luther said it unequivocally: “Justification is the article by which the church stands and falls (justificatio est articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae).” And I would like to be unequivocally clear on this point: if you don’t have justification by faith, you don’t have Christianity. There is no gospel without justification by faith. And, just to be crystal clear: we’re talking about justification by faith alone.

What does it mean? Well, that’s why I highlighted that word “alone.” When we speak of justification, we’re referring to a person’s right standing with God. So you can see why this doctrinal point matters tremendously. The gospel of Jesus Christ announces the way – and the only way – by which a sinner can come into right standing with a perfectly holy God.

So, “justification by faith” means that faith – and faith alone – is the only instrument by which a person can lay hold of the righteousness of Christ. The perfect righteousness of Christ is the ground of our justification and is imputed (credited) to us when we trust in Jesus alone for salvation. The Father then declares us righteous in His sight, enabling us to inherit eternal life. This is accomplished entirely apart from any works which we perform. (If you’re not thoroughly familiar with the term “justification by faith,” I would encourage you to read this paragraph again. And perhaps again.)

I’m being very intentional with every word today because these are matters of life and death. I often hear people speaking about “accepting Christ,” and I want to address this. There is a sense in which we accept Christ. I’ll quote John 1:12-13 here: But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. So, yes, we receive Christ. But look carefully at everything in that passage. Our receiving Christ is not just a matter of a decision that we make. In fact, look very carefully. The text explicitly says that we – in human strength – can’t even make that decision: nor of the will of man. That’s a powerful declaration. John is saying, and Jesus will expand on this in John 3, that our being “born again” is an act of God.

That is why I much prefer to speak of trusting in Christ. That phrase more accurately encompasses the totality of what it means for a person to have saving faith in Jesus. It is not just “accepting,” but it is completely relying upon Christ’s righteousness – and not my own. I think you will agree with me that “trusting” is a much stronger word – and more doctrinally precise – than “accepting,” because I can accept something without being completely committed to it. Think about that. A lot of Americans “accept” the results of a presidential election (this statement has nothing to do with 2020, so please don’t get distracted by that) while wishing that the outcome had been different. My “acceptance” may or may not be accompanied by, “I’m all in.” I think you see the point I’m making: when it comes to matters of saving faith, we want to understand and articulate things as correctly as we can. That’s why I don’t urge children to “invite Jesus into your heart.” Is that notion completely erroneous? No. But, there are many ways to express a gospel invitation which are much closer to the actual words – and in fact the doctrines – which we find in the Scriptures.

And here’s my overarching concern, and the reason for my blog posting today: I think we’ve gotten very careless with the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

Now, let’s take all of this one step further. Because here’s why it matters: when we move away from justification by faith, we likely don’t even realize it. In fact, we’ve probably bought into a cheap substitute for the gospel, while never even realizing that we left the gospel behind. So what I’d like to do, with the remaining strength in my fingers, is to lay out for you three common gospel deviations. May the Holy Spirit add His conviction to this warning if I’m on base at all …

1.  I know that I’m a Christian, so it doesn’t matter how I live.

We might call this liberalism. Or we might call it licentiousness. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it “cheap grace.”  But, whatever we call it, it stinks. Let me tell you what’s wrong with this mindset, in a nutshell: it’s an attempt at justification without sanctification. But the Bible is clear (Romans 8:29): For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son … Predestined is a strong word, and the believer’s holiness is predestined – it’s as good as done (see also Verse 30). Sanctification always follows justification. Let me say it like this: God loves us where we are, but He doesn’t leave us where we are! A person who is truly converted to Christ is being transformed into the likeness of our Savior. Period. Of course it matters how we live. THE EYES OF THIS PERSON ARE NOT ON CHRIST.

2.  I know that I’m a Christian because I feel it in my heart.

Again, this may be only a subtle move off-center. Why do I say that? Because there is a sense in which you and I can expect an “internal” assurance of our salvation (Romans 8:16): The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God … But that promise is not the Lord’s urging of us to rely on a feeling! In fact, we’re going to need much more than a feeling just to get through the rest of the things we’re told to expect in that same chapter, like weakness and suffering. If we only look within for assurance, we can’t possibly be looking at the finished work of Christ on the cross. And we must never allow any subjective experience to override in significance the objective reality of what Jesus has accomplished for us. THE EYES OF THIS PERSON ARE NOT ON CHRIST.

3.I know that I’m a Christian because I’m doing the right things.

We might call this legalism. We might call it moralism. We might even call it the gospel of self-help. Just to be candid, there’s a lot of this nonsense on the radio in our neck of the woods. In fact, I’ve even heard some Baptists around here proudly announce that they don’t need to concern themselves with the doctrines of the Reformation. Well, here’s my response to that: I don’t care if you ever quote Luther or Calvin or Zwingli, but you better make sure that you’re feeding your people the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Because, if you’re not, you’re leading them straight to hell. It seems like Romans 8 has been powerful as I’ve explored today’s subject, so I’ll point there one more time (Romans 8:3-4): For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Simply put: there is not enough “good behavior” in the world by which we will ever be able to justify ourselves! THE EYES OF THIS PERSON ARE NOT ON CHRIST.

I hope you see that each one of these phony “gospels” fails the test. Not one of them is really trusting in Jesus, and in Jesus alone. Friends, these false gospels are everywhere. Literally, everywhere.

Let’s face it. Fake good news is bad news. I hope you’ll pray with me that God will revive the real gospel in our day, and in our midst!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Unstuffing the Stuffed Stuff

Get a grip! Mind over matter! Suck it up, buttercup!

Sound familiar? You and I have become experts at “overcoming” our emotions, but I’d like to suggest today that – when it comes to those emotions which make us uncomfortable – the avoidance of them can’t last forever. As I stated Monday on Facebook: “I’m no psychologist, but I’ve learned a lot about the human soul over the last 31 years of pastoral ministry.” So, I’d like to expand on the thoughts which I started there because I think that the craziness of 2020 has caused most of us to suppress some negative emotions which we’re going to have to deal with, sooner or later. And my money is on sooner.

Why have we stuffed all those emotions this year? We’ve done it to survive. My theory is that, when we’re under significant pressure, we stuff stuff (I just made up that term, but I think I like it) – without even realizing it – in an attempt to keep life as “normal” as possible. There’s been a lot of that going on in our lives in recent months, as we have attempted to combat the madness and unpredictability of 2020.

So, amidst all of that obvious unpredictability, here’s my prediction: grief is coming. I predict that 2021, for many of us, will include waves of unexpected and unexplainable grief. Feel free to tell me next year that I got it all wrong – I welcome that – but it’s still my prediction.

Classic Christian anthropology assigns two primary characteristics to our souls: the intellect and the will. Our intellect and our will mirror the very nature of God Himself – they flow from the fact that we are created in God’s image. Animals do not have an intellect or a will in the sense that humans do, and that is a critical distinction between humans and animals. When we think of the “flesh,” we think of all of our bodily urges from “I’m exhausted” to “That girl looks off-the-charts amazing – how quickly can we plan a honeymoon?” to “I’m dying” to “Where is the Krispy Kreme?” But you and I are more than even all of that. Much more, in fact. There is also the “heart” at the very core of our personhood. Holy Scripture affirms this: Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23). And, in the universe of the human heart, there is the world of our emotions.

Now, there is a very real sense in which we are in control of our emotions. I certainly don’t have to act on every angry or vengeful feeling that comes my way. Can you even imagine a society where we all behaved that terribly, all the time? In other words, it is within our power to nourish and foster – and perhaps I’ll even use the word “tame” (bring under control) – some of our emotions. But, there is another sense in which our emotions are entirely out of our control. To demonstrate this, I would submit to you Exhibit A and Exhibit B, from your own life. Exhibit A: You didn’t get a wink of sleep last night. (I’m betting on at least a little agitation.) Exhibit B: When you woke up this December morning, instead of gray and cold when you went outside, all you saw and felt was cloudless sunshine and a warm, gentle breeze. (I’m betting on some surprise happiness.)

Self-control is a good thing and in fact a fruit of the Holy Spirit. But emotional suppression can cause serious trouble. Because here’s the deal: no matter how hard we try to suppress them, negative emotions don’t go away. In fact, they can destroy us from within. Or they tend to ooze out later, and often in harmful ways.

I think you can expect some grief. Here’s why: 2020 has cost you some things. I think about our high school and college seniors who missed much of their senior year – and perhaps their graduations. That’s not a big deal, unless you’re the senior. As COVID-19 has marched on undeterred, it’s happening again to another batch of seniors. (And this is just one tiny example.) So, when the grief comes, own it. Don’t deny it. It’s O.K. to wait for the right time to express negative emotions, as long as you express them. For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven … a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3-4). Feelings of disappointment and fear and powerlessness are normal; it is suppressing them that is unhealthy. If you try to suppress those feelings forever, you’ll find the “ooze” looking more like numbness or depression or uncontrollable anger or self-destructive behavior. Or, all of the above. Our enemy can, and indeed does, capitalize on our suppressed emotions – they’re part of his arsenal of weaponry to be used against us when the moment is right.

Friends, grief doesn’t always look like grief. But grief is a normal part of life. So give yourself permission to grieve. Jesus wept with His friends. Think about that. Jesus prayed with loud cries and tears. Think about that. Do we think we’re stronger than Jesus? God invites us to be honest and to fully engage our emotions. His shoulders are broad enough for our sorrows. We’re counting on that for 2021!

And we are going to need each other. Times like these require acute sensitivity to the needs of others. We’re all paying a price for the social distance, and it’s a steep price. We’re to grieve with other grievers (Romans 12:15). And, because we’ve all lived under the “suck it up” mantra, we might have to encourage lament – for ourselves, and for others. We’re unaccustomed to it. We’re helping each other break up strange ground. In uncharted territory, we’re holding up each other’s arms (and hearts). Post-pandemic, people will have physical, emotional, and psychological scars.

On a more personal note, my own soul is particularly blessed – in this season of widespread distress – by the words of the ancient prophet, 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 high places.

Strange as this season may be, It is abundantly clear that the God of our salvation is here with us! Let’s help each other unstuff the stuffed stuff so that we can rejoice in Christ, and tread on high places!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

The Power of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving can change our lives! I’m talking about more than a day on our calendar, of course, but I’m referring to a heart posture which can revolutionize how we see the world – and how we see our own circumstances.

God is good. That’s a given. God deserves our thanks. That’s also a given. But, as quickly as I can acknowledge both of those things to be true, I’m also able to identify my own reluctance to thank God as I should. I’m admitting that sad fact right here, and right now, on Thanksgiving Eve.

American Greetings did some market research and discovered that most Americans – three out of five – aren’t even interested in thinking about thanksgiving. They’re all for the turkey and dressing, and maybe the football, but would rather take a pass when it comes to inventorying their manifold blessings. In short, we’re more ungrateful than we might have imagined. My suspicion is that it’s all too easy for Christ followers to fall right in line when it comes to this epidemic of ingratitude. I need to hear my grandmother’s voice again: “Count your blessings.”

Here’s a game-changer, friends (First Thessalonians 5:16-18): Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

“Rejoice always?” Why would God command me to do something that He knows I won’t – and in fact can’t – do? I mean, for goodness’ sake, I’m likely to pout or make a snarky remark (at least in my head) before I finish this blog posting. Here’s why God raises the bar, I think: He wants His standards to prove me a sinner so that I’ll never forget my need for a Savior!

So I can’t let my weakness drive me to despair – though it has the potential to do so if I don’t rehearse the gospel on a regular basis – but I must lean into Jesus for the spirit of rejoicing that I can’t manufacture on my own. My sanctification really is, at its core, Christ’s life lived in and through me (and many days in spite of me). Imagine this: I can look to my Lord to produce the rejoicing in me when my joy-tank has run dry. How marvelous! The same is true when I’ve lost my will to pray. And the same must be true when my thanksgiving meter isn’t pointing in a positive direction.

Here’s why it matters: thanksgiving changes everything! But here’s the deal: I don’t have to feel thankful before I can start thanking God. In fact, sometimes I have to thank God before I’ll have any “thankful” feelings at all. When I do express what I know to be true about God’s goodness – and just start thanking Him despite my cruddy feelings (or lack thereof), God never fails to begin to give me glimpses of His glory sprinkled against the backdrop of whatever situation seems to be dragging me down.

I need that right now. Do you? Let me give you an example from my little corner of the world: I’m upset about government overreach, and the perceived loss of our liberties. Is it as bad as I think it is? Probably not, since I’m the emotional creature that I am, but this COVID-19 craziness can feel downright suffocating if I stay too long away from the fount of living water! And that’s just one of multiple concerns on my current radar screen. I’ll bet you have a panoramic radar screen too. My point is: there are lots of reasons why thanksgiving might escape us this year – right now – if we don’t purpose to seek the Lord for the work of grace in us that each one of us so desperately needs.

Though I don’t always do it perfectly, friends, I’m telling you that there’s tremendous power in what I’m sharing with you today. Thanksgiving is more than a duty. It’s more than a list of blessings. It’s more than a holiday. Thanksgiving is profound spiritual victory in your life and mine! In an age of ingratitude and self-absorption and practical atheism, genuine thanksgiving smashes our idols, renews our zeal for Christ, and restores our sagging souls. I would submit to you that Satan’s strongholds in our lives are diminished when we look up to God with a thankful heart, because real thankfulness – especially during a season of difficulty like the one we’re in now – is a sacrificial attitude which is simply and sweetly pleasing to our gracious Lord.

And He is so worth it. So, so worth it.

We all know that the trappings of the holiday won’t look the same this year. Most of us, by and large, have accepted that by now. Perhaps, though, the thanksgiving which we’ll experience in 2020 will be a taste of something even better.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Free and Fair

This is not meant as a politically partisan post, on any level, but it is a post about my concerns regarding our American republic. My prayer is that my words will be “heard” in the spirit of grace with which I will attempt to communicate them.

I am very apprehensive about the integrity of our recent national election. Never in a million years did I imagine that I would ever have to say something like that! This is the United States of America, after all. We are not Venezuela. We are not a banana republic. We are descendants of the Pilgrims, whose steadfast convictions about personal freedom made their way into our nation’s earliest governing documents. And here’s why I’m deeply concerned: if you and I can’t trust that our votes are counted fairly, then the very foundation of our self-government is gone.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that I know that Joe Biden lost the election. Far from it, in fact. Mr. Biden may well have won the election, just as the current numbers and media projections indicate. But my concern is that there are some very credible people alleging that voter fraud was a serious issue in the swing states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Perhaps this is just more political drama, as if we haven’t had enough of that in 2020. But my suspicion is that this is more than political theatre. So I don’t want to get into the weeds today about this particular allegation vs. that particular defense – we have courts in which those matters can and should be settled – I simply want to raise the issue of why election integrity ought to matter to every American. And to every follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is not about defending President Trump. In fact, I’ll quote Warren Christopher, former Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton: “The importance of getting it right outweighs the importance of rushing to judgment.” Those words came out of the Bush-Gore election controversy in November 2000. They still apply.

Let me share four observations which I believe are worthy of our prayerful and careful attention today …

  1. We’re losing “truth” in general. According to the Pew Research Center, most Americans think that we’re in the middle of a “crisis in facts and truth.” This is why more and more people distrust our basic institutions. The truth is, both Democrats and Republicans are concerned about “fake news,” but the disagreement comes in the form of what media outlets can be trusted for reliable information. Statistically, Americans say that rampant misinformation has a colossal impact on our confidence in government (68%) and in each other (54%).
  2. We’re being manipulated by the high-tech giants. We’re all at risk of losing our freedom of speech whenever viewpoint discrimination is allowed. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need or want those who control social media “protecting” me from views and opinions which they consider to be untrue or potentially harmful to me. It’s time for all of us to put on our big-boy and big-girl pants and seek the truth for ourselves! That’s America as it was meant to be. Censorship isn’t freedom.
  3. We need to understand that, when it comes to voting, computers may not be our friends. I’ll quote from a presentation made before the Presidential Advisory Committee on Election Integrity (Manchester, NH, 2017) by Andrew Appel, who is a professor of computer science at Princeton University: “It’s easy to make a cheating vote-stealing program that isn’t detected by logic and accuracy testing! Every voting machine (just like any other kind of computer) has an internal clock, so it knows when it’s election day. So you just make your cheating program cheat only on election day, after 8am. Since the LATA [“logic and accuracy testing”] is done before election day, the cheating program will be on its ‘best behavior’ when LATA is done.” I find those words chilling, friends. In fact I was stunned when I read them in my research for this blog posting. It’s “easy” to cheat!?! Not being a computer guru myself, I would have imagined precisely the opposite.
  4. We owe the priority of a free and fair 2020 election to our children and grandchildren. Elections are essential to the healthy governance of our nation, and to the promotion and flourishing of freedom around the world! I graciously submit to you my conviction that the most fundamental principle at the core of a credible election is that it truly reflects the free expression of the will of the people. This mandates that we work together toward inclusivity, transparency, and accountability at every level of government – and across the political spectrum. We must insist upon nothing less, in my humble opinion.

And, while we wait, don’t lose heart! Our American Founders very wisely established a division of powers for times such as this. We can all side with James Madison: “All men having power ought to be distrusted.” What did he mean by that? I think Madison meant that we all need accountability. Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. That’s how America works best.

If people are making dishonest claims about election fraud, I pray that the Lord will silence and sideline them before they cause any more harm. But, if people are attempting to cover up election fraud, my prayer is that the Lord will expose both their actions and intentions. America needs to know the truth. That, I think, should be your prayer and mine. It should be a bipartisan desire and effort. It should bring us together, right now, out of a shared respect for the integrity of our American vote.

Our nation desperately needs the wisdom of Almighty God: “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight” (Proverbs 11:1).

May God save America from becoming a banana republic without the bananas.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Follow the Science?

These days I hear a lot of folks bragging that they “follow the science” – as if nobody else cares anything at all about science. So I thought I would address this today. Please bear with me, friends.

Let me be more specific: a number of people try to make the claim that Christians frame science as a challenge to our faith. In other words, it seems to be the perspective of many public commentators that Christ-followers like to make it our business to dispute, or to disparage, science. I need to point out here and now: that’s simply not true! Science is no enemy of Christianity or the gospel.

Recently you may have seen the popular placard, where “SCIENCE IS REAL” is touted amidst a bunch of other political slogans. In fact I’ll include a picture of one of those yard signs. The subtle message is: “If you don’t agree with my politics, in addition to being generally unenlightened, you’re on the wrong side of science too.” That’s the issue that I want to take up today.

Most Christians are not anti-science at all. But it’s quite obvious that no sensible person can go along with every proclamation which is made in the name of “science.” Were we to do that, we would be changing our belief system regularly, if not daily. (“Give us two weeks to flatten the curve.” LOL.) Let me say it another way: Christians aren’t anti-science, but we are opposed to some things which are advanced under the umbrella of “science.” And we’re not on board with those things simply because they’re largely, if not entirely, scientifically unsubstantiated. And isn’t that a respect for, and the pursuit of, real science? Science is not just a celebration of the latest hypothesis, but it is hypothesis tested by experimentation. As objective observations are made, reasonable conclusions are drawn based upon that which is observed. And repeated. Because “science” has become so politicized – like nearly everything else in our popular culture – we seem to be in danger of abandoning the scientific method entirely.

It’s interesting to me that the “follow the science” crowd often does not want us to “follow the science” when it comes to biological gender. Facebook now allows you to choose from over 50 genders as you personalize your profile. And the “follow the science” crowd doesn’t often want to speak of unborn babies as full persons endowed with all of the intrinsic characteristics which make them fully human. I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get my point: “science” isn’t always science.

What many people really want us to do is to accept the theory of evolution as if it were established scientific fact. There’s just one problem with that: evolution is not established scientific fact. Not even close. In fact, evolution can’t even answer the most fundamental question: how did it all start? More than ridiculous is the idea that “it just happened.” It is science that reminds us that nothing can never create something (First Law of Thermodynamics). Create something from nothing? Toward the end of his life, Stephen Hawking decided that it can be done, but only in the quantum realm. I’ll translate that for you: “we don’t know, and you couldn’t understand it anyway, so just trust me.” Check out The Grand Design. You’ll discover there more than you ever wanted to know about eleven-dimensional M-theory. But what you’ll also discover there is that an avowed atheist will set aside science, when necessary, in order to maintain the desired godless worldview. Said Hawking: “Science makes God unnecessary.”

It is not “anti-science” for you and me to stand upon God’s Word, in the sense that we take God at His word regarding how He created the world, and how He created humankind. We may not all agree on some of the finer points regarding Creation, because the Bible doesn’t answer all our questions, but we can all agree that God was there – and that we weren’t! Science can’t answer the questions of origins at all – it’s simply not possible for science to do so – so all we’re doing is looking to the only source of truth which we have available to us: the words of the Creator Himself. I find it ironic that we’re accused of fearing the truth, when in fact we’re seeking the truth. We believe that God is the only one who cannot lie (Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2). He is the Truth (John 14:6)!

So who’s really following the science? I’d say that’s an excellent question.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts