Let Freedom Ring

In May 2017, the army detained three Christian believers who were gathering firewood, and forcibly took them into custody. Their bodies were found later; they had been tortured and killed. The gruesome scene I’m describing happened in the Kachin State of Myanmar, once known as Burma.

I want you to meet my new friend, Shawng Htoi. Shawng and I enjoyed breakfast this morning, discussing the land once evangelized by the great missionary William Carey, and the unique complexities and struggles of living out Christ’s gospel among the Burmese. Of particular concern to Shawng is how the church can help revive Christian truths and democratic principles in such a war-torn nation. In that part of God’s world, the persecution of well over four million Christians can be both intense and brutal.

In Myanmar, thousands and thousands of Christians live in IDP (“internally displaced”) camps. They have limited access to food and healthcare. Other Christ followers have their properties invaded by Buddhist, Muslim, or tribal authorities. The Radical Buddhist movement Ma Ba Tha proclaims itself as the protector of Buddhism, the country’s national religion.

In strikingly sharp contrast, America’s rich heritage of religious liberty can only be described as groundbreaking on the global stage. Enshrined in our Bill of Rights, and drawn from the Bible’s absolutely radical affirmation of every person created in God’s own image, we have been uniquely gifted with a freedom unparalleled in human history. I wish I could tell you that I’m consciously thankful for our religious freedom every day, but the truth is that I often need a wake-up call. Today mine came in the form of Shawng.

As we enter the season of turkeys and trimmings, please don’t forget the Pilgrims. Our Sovereign Lord transformed the pain of their persecution into the constitutional republic which you and I would inherit. Some people despise the notion of American exceptionalism, but I am not among them. All you have to do is look beyond your nose to discover how difficult it is for peaceful democracy and basic freedom to take hold and flourish. Here and now, we are blessed.

Let’s make sure to live out our uncommon blessing by taking Christ’s gracious good news to Myanmar, and to every other corner of the earth. It was Carey who said: “To know the will of God, we need an open Bible and an open map.”

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Gates Open Wide

Sometimes it gets lost in the trick-or-treating, but don’t let it. Happy Reformation! Reformation Day was October 31, to be exact. It was that date in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. I had the privilege of being there in 1995, so I’ll include an old pic. (Just to be clear: I’m not old, just the photo.)

Why did the Reformation matter? Because the old religious system was very broken. Not just in the buying and selling of indulgences like tickets to heaven, but in the understanding of how a sinful person is justified before a holy God. Without the Reformation, there was no assurance of heaven for anyone – as a person’s confidence in eternal life could be no greater than that person’s confidence in their own sinlessness. Try that on for size.

If all we can get from God is some kind of enabling grace that modifies our behavior until we’re somehow worthy of salvation, I’m closing up shop and going home. That is no gospel. That is no comfort at all, in life or in death (Romans 3:23).

The Reformation mattered. It still matters.

When he was a young man, Martin Luther was terrified of death. He realized his own terror when he was nearly struck by lightning in a violent thunderstorm. But God used that moment to ignite Luther’s journey toward understanding salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The Bible had taught that all along, but the truth of it had been eclipsed by religiosity and pride.

Check out Romans 1:16-17 today. Read it to your kids or grandkids. In German, as in Hebrew, Greek, and even Latin, “justice” and “righteousness” are the exact same word! The gospel of Jesus is “good news” only when we understand this, friends: a justified (“saved”) person lives by a gift of God – that is, by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). God credits us with righteousness because Christ endured the just punishment for our unrighteousness. We died with Him. We live with Him. We will be raised with Him.

Once Luther understood that, the truths of the gospel were reawakened for many people all over the world. Including us! There was tremendous opposition, of course, but that is always the reality whenever THE TRUTH is proclaimed.

Do you love the gospel? Does even the thought of it make you smile? Are you grateful for grace? Martin Luther, now transformed by Christ’s Spirit, recorded: “I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”

The “Father of the English Bible,” William Tyndale, would pay a steep price for trusting firmly in Christ. Tyndale found the good news of Christ so incredibly marvelous that he called the gospel “merry, glad, and joyful tidings.” It was such good news for Tyndale that he could be strangled and burned at the stake with a song in his heart which made him “sing, dance, and leap for joy!”

Please don’t miss it.

Today we say “farewell for now” to our dear friend, Pam. I’m so glad that I know that Pam is with the Lord. She has passed through gates open wide. You see, I’m not counting on Pam’s righteousness for her resurrection. I’m counting on Christ’s. Hallelujah!

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Sex and the Gospel

Now that I have your attention …

Last night, as Pastor Steve headed off for the Philippines, I enjoyed the privilege of teaching our students. My assigned text was Proverbs 5. Here is the main theme which I developed for the kids: “Sex is like fire. In your fireplace, it keeps you warm. Outside your fireplace, it burns your house down!” I hope I captured the spirit and wisdom of that great chapter.

Needless to say, this is a subject which strikes close to home. For all of us, the lure toward ignoring God’s “guardrails of grace” (my term from last night) is an ever-present danger. In response to a question about the secret to getting beyond sexual temptation, an 80-year-old once remarked: “You’ll have to ask an 81-year-old.”

Please allow me to share my observations from many years as an observer of popular culture, and particularly of those ideas which tend to invade (or even be created by) our evangelical subculture. I have seen both of these mindsets alive and well. Both are wrong. Both severely miss God’s mark.

  1. Sex is a dirty word.

It’s a necessary evil at best. It shouldn’t be talked about in polite company. The goal of life is to wrestle our flesh to the ground, and to prevail over our carnal appetites. When it comes to our sexuality, there is no celebration – but only a problem with which to contend as long as we live. Sex is bad.

  1. Sex is everything.

Life is all about sex. Life is all about pleasure. Life is all about getting what I want, when I want it. When it comes to sexuality, whatever I feel, I ought to do – because, obviously, I am no stronger than my natural urges. The real secret to freedom is to pursue whatever kind of sex I crave. Sex is god.

Both mindsets are serious distortions of God’s truth. That makes both, lies.

Sex is one of God’s best gifts – it was given by Him for us. It was also given by Him for His glory. But never forget this: your sexuality is an important part of who you are, but it is not you. You are more than your sexuality. I feel the need to clarify that because our culture is presently trying to convince all of us that we “are” whatever we are tempted by. Thank God that’s absolutely not true (First Corinthians 10:13)!

We live in a world that has gone sexually insane. This is no time for silence on the part of God’s people! This is the time for us to shine brightly with an understanding and proclamation of human sexuality that is both Biblical and bold! This is the time for us to love and embrace all kinds of people trapped in every kind of sexual dysfunction and distraction … and to see them captivated by the wonder and joy of King Jesus! Whether they know it or not, every one of them already bears the image of their gracious Creator.

Whatever your sexual temptation, you are not alone. Because our world is broken and desperately in need of a Savior, you and I are battered every day by an onslaught of godless corruptions of the one thing which God designed to be the most beautiful representation of the love between Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:31-32). Like everything else, the picture of sex has been distorted.

Will you join me in helping us all – students and octogenarians alike – recapture a vision of something beautiful?

… “Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away, for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come …” (Song of Solomon 2:10-12).

 

Pastor Charles

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Autumn in New England

Mystery Trip 2018 is off to a great start! 21 of us from First Baptist Paducah landed in Boston on Wednesday, and we hit the ground running. The USS Constitution was one of our first stops, where we climbed aboard to get a taste of the harbor and the history which make the city famous. Quincy Market, Faneuil Hall, dinner at the Bull and Finch (home of “Cheers”), and the kickoff of our highly competitive cell phone photo contest rounded out Day 1.

With the entire region experiencing near-ecstasy cheering on their beloved Red Sox, we began yesterday at the Paul Revere House, and walked from there to “The Old North Church” … then it was across the Charles River to Cambridge and Harvard University … then it was a gorgeous drive out to Lexington and Concord. It was more than a full day, and more than a few bowls of clam chowder mysteriously disappeared along the way.

Today we’re diving head-first into the history and charm of Providence, Rhode Island. We’re soaking up a renewed appreciation for religious liberty in America by exploring the profound influences of Roger Williams. Launching from a guided tour of the First Baptist Church in America, we’re taking in some of the most beautiful sites in the Northeast, including the mansions and coastline of Newport. We’ll enjoy walking, shopping, and dinner by the sea.

Tomorrow we’ll take in Plymouth and the Monument to the Forefathers, rich with even more church history. Then we’ll check into our hotel on Cape Cod. There will be much more to see and do there, including an island tour on Martha’s Vineyard.

Truly grateful to our gracious God for the amazing gift of Christian fellowship, we are having a blast simply hanging out together. And, should any Redcoats appear on the horizon, Glenda is more than ready!

 

Pastor Charles

 

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Fake Faith?

Yesterday I received an Email from one of our church members who relayed a conversation she had at work. In a nutshell, her coworker was talking about “faith,” but it was apparent to our fellow church member that the “faith” being described was suspect at best. Because I believe that this issue of “faith” impacts so many of us who are engaging in the public square, I wanted to share with you an expanded version of my Email response which I penned yesterday. I hope that you find this helpful, as you seek to know Christ and make Him known.

First of all, let me say that our culture largely misunderstands the word “faith.” It’s about as common to misunderstand faith as it is to believe that we become angels when we die, or to believe that good people go to heaven. The workplace conversation relayed to me typifies that.

Let me try to break this down. Many people out there think that “faith” is the goal – as if there were something of value in simply having “faith.”

The Bible presents faith as the means by which we know Christ – so the matter of ultimate importance is Christ, not “faith.” We evangelicals contend for “faith alone” – that was a cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation. Absolutely we do! But what makes faith saving faith is its object: CHRIST! If the object of a person’s faith is not Christ, then there’s not enough faith in the world to merit or produce one thing of value.

Faith is the instrument that God uses to bring us into a saving relationship with Himself. But that does not make faith the basis of our salvation. Faith is merely the channel by which God grants us salvation. B.B. Warfield once said: “The saving power of faith resides thus not in itself, but in the Almighty Savior on whom it rests … It is not, strictly speaking, even faith in Christ that saves, but that Christ saves through faith.”

You can think of our faith as the conduit by which we know Christ, and that’s important to understand so that we never think we’re earning God’s favor by our own works. But that doesn’t make “faith” the object: the object must always be Christ.

Please don’t ever forget this part. Biblical faith has three essential aspects (I’ll include the Latin word for each):

  • Our faith must include content (notitia). What we believe matters. For example, I must believe that Christ is the Son of God, that He is my Savior, that on the Cross He provided an atonement for my sin, that He rose from the dead in victory, and the like. I must believe the gospel.
  • Our faith must include conviction (assensus). I must believe that the gospel is true. A person can know about the Christian faith and yet not believe that it is true. I’m not implying that you and I can never have a doubt, but I’m simply saying that our “faith” will be accompanied by intellectual affirmation and conviction if we are saved – if we truly belong to Christ. Before anyone can really trust in Jesus Christ, that person must believe that Christ indeed is the Savior – that He is who He claimed to be.
  • Our faith must include personal trust and reliance (fiducia). This means more than mere intellectual assent. It means that I’m all in. I’m trusting with all of me. I’m trusting with my life.

So you can see why we might need to ask more questions when somebody tells us they have “faith.” Faith in what? Faith in whom?

Furthermore, many people today misunderstand “faith” to be nothing more than positive or wishful thinking. The notion is something like this: if you believe it sincerely enough, it’s true. More sincerity equals more faith. Think about how ridiculous that is. No normal person operates under that assumption for five minutes when it comes to determining whether or not the elevator is safe, or what day the tax bill is due.

This is why our culture now demands moral relativism in the area of “religion.” From every corner, we hear cries of: “Don’t you dare claim to tell me – or even claim to know – what is true and what is not!” We have actually come to believe that “he has his truth” and “she has her truth” … and that both “truths” can be true – even when they contradict. Nonsense! We’ve lost our mind, and – as a relatively civilized society – we’re drowning in this stuff.

Again, the weakness is the belief that “faith” in and of itself is where the value lies. The value lies in Christ.

“All it takes is faith and trust.” Wonderful words of Jesus. When did He say that? What’s the verse? Oh … that’s right. That wasn’t Jesus. It was Peter Pan.

So glad that you’re out there sharing THE TRUTH (John 14:6)!

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Ain’t Gonna Study

Last night I was captivated by Isaiah 2:1-5.

The Prophet Isaiah, more than seven centuries before the birth of Christ, was sent to warn the nation of Judah – the southern kingdom – that God was very displeased with them. Israel, Judah’s northern neighbor, was being threatened by a growing, aggressive Assyrian military. In a bold political move, Israel’s king joined forces with the kings of Aram (now Syria) to thwart an Assyrian takeover of Israel. This new coalition asked Judah’s King Ahaz to get on board. But Ahaz chose instead to make a deal with Tiglath-Pileser, the king of Assyria. In 722-721 B.C., Assyria overran Israel and dispersed the northern tribes. Judah survived, but at the steep price of having betrayed her own kinsmen.

As this chapter begins to unfold, God’s heart is broken over Judah’s behavior. Remember, Judah is where Jerusalem was located – the city of Solomon’s temple. Isaiah calls Jerusalem and the temple “the mountain of the Lord.” This is God’s mountain, but the people occupying it are acting like they don’t even know God. They’ve made a diabolical deal to serve their own foolish and short-sighted interests. Their selfishness has resulted in war. Tens of thousands are now dead.

If you have your Bible open, go back and read Chapter 1 as well. The displeasure of God over the wickedness of Judah is deep. The Lord is not pleased with the people’s services or their sacrifices, because neither is accompanied by a sincere desire for God’s justice. Nor are the people striving to implement God’s justice when it comes to their own actions. They are not caring for or defending the oppressed, the fatherless, the widows, and others over whom society has trampled. They have grown cold. Their love is gone.

I would point out that Verse 18 is a ray of hope. It’s almost like God just “can’t” dish out bad news without offering the hope of the gospel. I love that about God!

So Chapter 2 contains this new vision …

  • God’s mountain will be chief among all mountains.
  • All  the nations will stream to it.
  • Many peoples (from all ethnic groups) will come.
  • God will show all of them who He really is, and He will teach them how to find life – and to live – in Him.
  • Instead of fighting with each other – their natural impulse – the people will be brought together by God.
  • There will be no need for military strategy or prowess anymore, because “the light of the Lord” will bring Peace on Earth!

I don’t know about you, but that sure sounds like good news to me!

Not just because of the events surrounding the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, but certainly highlighted by them, I don’t have to tell you that our own nation is sorely divided. Is that the understatement of the day? You don’t have to be a dictator or a demonstrator – you don’t have to be a Hutu or a Tutsi, or a Democrat, or a Republican – to be at war with your neighbor. Just look around. Regarding our current American landscape, quite frankly, I don’t think we stand a chance at reconciliation without Jesus.

Without a clear victory of Christ’s glorious gospel in our divided day, there may be no turning back from our national anger.

My only hope is in the mountain of the Lord. There, and there only, do I stand.

 

Pastor Charles

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The Spat in the Hat

Sometimes, as the senior pastor of this amazing congregation, I’m forced into debates I don’t like. At all. This is one of them. However, if I don’t address this, I will be forsaking what God has called me to do: to lead this body of believers into understanding and applying God’s Word as it relates to us here and now. So I will wade in, kicking and screaming …

This Sunday my text will be Esther 2:19-23. As we continue to explore the depths of this great story, my intention is to focus on the wisdom of Mordecai as he learned to always THINK AHEAD – both for his sake, and for Esther’s sake. And ultimately for the sake of the people of God.

As the Holy Spirit has been dealing with me this week, He has forced my hand to make an application of this text as it relates to a debate which has arisen among some of our church members regarding the propriety (or not) of men wearing hats in a worship service. What are we to do?

You may be thinking, in regard to your particular position on this issue: “Most people at FBC Paducah see this the way I do.” If that’s what you’re thinking, may I say something to you in love? You’re making a factually incorrect assumption. We have about as many opinions on this as we have people, all the way from “that’s the most disrespectful thing I can imagine” to “who cares, as long as they’re wearing pants.”

You may also be thinking that this is only a generational issue. That’s true in part, but not entirely. These emotionally-charged issues are deeper than older vs. younger. But I would say this: if we don’t learn how to work through controversies like this as a family of faith, then we will quickly lose one of our greatest assets, and that is the fact that we are a multigenerational church called to serve Christ together in love.

So, on Sunday, we will drink deeply not only from the Old Testament Book of Esther, but from the New Testament Book of First Corinthians. We need you to be part of the journey. You matter.

Maybe you’re not worked up about hats, one way or the other. Fine. But you will be able to apply this teaching (“Lord willing,” said the pastor, humbly) to other areas of church life and ministry about which sincere sisters and brothers in Christ find themselves in disagreement.

Please be in prayer for an outpouring of God’s Spirit “for such a time as this!”

If you were thinking of skipping or sleeping in, don’t.

 

Pastor Charles

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On Reading Well

I’m devouring On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior. Maybe you don’t miss high school English as much as I, but I’ll bet you your lunch money that you won’t be disappointed if you give this new release a try (Brazos Press).

Here’s the format: Professor Prior explores Christian virtues as they figure prominently in twelve key selections of Western literature. From Henry Fielding to Flannery O’Connor. Perhaps you’ve never read The Great Gatsby. Here’s your chance to get up-close-and-personal with the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald by exploring the “ongoing tension that has always defined American culture.” Prior is referring to the struggle which you and I face every day: will I deny myself some pleasures so that I can pursue what matters most (am I willing to trade the good for the best?) … or will I live far beyond my means so that I can — like the credit card companies promise — have it all now?

You’ll learn how to read closely, and you’ll learn how to read slowly. You’ll learn how classical and Christian thinkers have contributed not just breadth and depth to modern civilization, but artistry and grace as well.

You’ll learn how to appreciate words. That’s good for us as a people formed (and being reformed) by the Word (John 1:1), don’t you think? Is there a difference between being kind and being nice? You bet your bottom dollar there is! Sound etymology leads to … well, I’ll cut to the chase, a better life.

You’ll meet Ethan Frome, as you think about what C.S. Lewis called “the most unpopular of the Christian virtues.” Here’s my favorite part of Prior’s commentary: “In his desires for beauty, friendship, affirmation, and respect, Ethan is like all of us. His situation is hard. He is a man born into hard conditions, with untapped potential, exposed to just enough of life beyond the narrow constraints of the life he inherited so as to dream, only to see those dreams frustrated.”

As you fall in love with literature you may have missed, you may find yourself befriending more than a few of the characters. There’s even a section of probing questions at the end of On Reading Well, in case you want to explore this book as a family, with a friend, or as part of your book club. So grab your copy and get going!

I think you’ll be drawn in from the moment you dive in. Happy reading!

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

One Small Step

What a week!

We are a fragile lot, you and I. Yes, we sprint along like strong and steady gazelles, but then everything turns on a dime. That was our Monday, and our Tuesday. And … well, you get the point.

What we thought was a simple infection ended up becoming, for my bride, an emergency surgery. Already trying to recover from surgery, it felt like: one step forward, two steps back. Can you relate?

Because of you, friends, Eileen and I could not have experienced more love, support, and encouragement. Thank you. You have been terrific compatriots. You have been the rainbow beyond the gray clouds. You ARE grace extraordinaire!

It is more than comforting to know that every one of our steps is ordered and established by God (Psalm 37:23-25; Proverbs 16:9). Even the steps which feel to us like baby steps. Even the steps which feel backwards.

This morning we are more than grateful for a few steps down a hospital corridor. Thank you, Jesus. As by faith we run the race of life, the “stumbles” along our road surely and stealthily bless us with renewed appreciation for our seemingly minor victories.

One day soon we shall take what seems like one more small step. But it will be in reality like Neil Armstrong’s giant leap. We will leap into eternity. Because Christ first stepped forward in our place … to a cruel cross, a borrowed grave, and then into Paradise … you and I will leap into an eternity free from sin, sickness, and even death.

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Shake a leg ’til then.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

#sicem

Sunday I preached on the wonder of work! Based on the Bible’s cultural mandate found in Genesis 1:26-28, I tried to present a strong case for the revival of the Protestant Work Ethic. I contend that we, as Christ followers, need to recover our calling to lead in culture, government, industry, and plain-old hard work in general.

In case you think this subject is irrelevant, that very afternoon a once-famous actor from the 80’s Cosby Show was publicly shamed for his “menial job” at Trader Joe’s (a grocery store). So Geoffrey Owens makes $11 an hour as a cashier? Friends, that might be the most honorable job on Earth – just like yours. As far as I’m concerned, shame on the shamers. We thought Bill Cosby was the example we ought to follow. Turns out it was Owens.

So I’ve been thinking about this a lot. We are to have dominion over the earth, subdue it, and develop its latent potential. As God’s image-bearers – and this was reiterated in abbreviated form to Noah in Genesis 9:1 – you and I are the only ones who can fulfill the cultural mandate as it was truly intended – because we know that God’s glory is the bottom line. The end goal. The prize! Unbelievers don’t (can’t) understand that.

We were not purchased by the blood of Christ so that we could cocoon ourselves off in some corner fearing the “secular” world and its dangers, but we have been uniquely commissioned to bring the light of Christ into every sphere of the public square. We are to light up the marketplace with creativity, ingenuity, and gospel passion. Through hard work and perseverance at whatever temporary post where we’re divinely assigned, we are to lead by example. Soli Deo Gloria.

Then I noticed Chip and Joanna Gaines on Twitter. What were they doing? Just enjoying a Baylor football game. Against Abilene Christian, if you’re interested in the details. I’m super proud of our “Fixer Upper” friends, not just because they’re brave enough to take their new baby, Crew, to a game (along with siblings Drake, Ella Rose, Duke, and Emmie Kay, of course) – but because they’re brave enough to live out their Christian faith before a watching world.

They’re willing to lead in a winsome way. They’re willing to take the hits that come their way when they’re charged with antiquated notions of morality. They’re willing to stay the course as a family of faith. And, may I add – and this is just as important – they’re willing to work hard as excellent home designers. That is ministry.

I stole “#sicem” from Joanna’s post on social media. Being the son of an diehard Texas Aggie, I certainly know what “Sic ‘Em” means! It means “go get ‘em.” And, I realized in the moment, that that’s what I’ve been wanting to tell you all week.

You are where you are supposed to be, at least for now. Your job as a high-profile exec, or a janitor, or a mom of five is a high calling in Jesus Christ.

I’ll close with something Burt Reynolds, who died just yesterday, said at age 82: “I don’t know why I think this, but maybe I’ve got my best work ahead. Maybe I’ll be putting my teeth in the glass, and maybe it will be a very different kind of role, but I want to do something.”

Sic ‘Em!

 

Pastor Charles

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