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

The Search (Part 3)

I really appreciate your interactions with me on this series topic and rather sobering subject. After my last blog posting, a gentleman from our church texted me this message: “Charles, I have never been challenged by someone saying to me that there is no such thing as absolute truth. But if I am so challenged, I will ask them if they are absolutely sure.”

Brilliant! I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Today let’s ask ourselves this question: what did modernism mean for the church? Asked another way: since we’ve left behind the cultural sway of modernism, what else have we left behind?

We’ve left behind a climate in which people are searching for the truth. This postmodern, and in many ways post-Christian, context in which we find ourselves casts doubt not only on the ability of a person to discover the truth, but it also daily asks the question: can truth be known at all (does truth even exist)? Modernism meant: absolute truth exists; absolute truth can be discovered; and absolute truth can be known. Those days are gone.

We’ve left behind the widespread conviction that Christianity, and the Judeo-Christian ethic in general, are a sturdy foundation for the advancement of human flourishing. As you observe today’s media reports, you get the distinct impression that Christians have never done anything good for the world. Never mind widespread advancements in education for everyone, healthcare for the needy, promotion of the arts, care for the poor, elevating the status of women, and ministry to the orphan and widow – and much of that accomplished in Christ’s name since the days of the early church – you would think that Christians should be feared. It used to be that the average person, by and large, accepted the fact that Christianity – as a belief system – rests upon an unshakeable foundation of truth. (Thus we in the church promoted apologetics and sound, reasonable thinking under the Lordship of Christ.) Now we are finding that our presuppositions about truth, and truth claims, sound foreign in the ears of most of the people around us.

We’ve left behind the generalized assumption that the church can expect to enjoy a prominent place in the marketplace of ideas. Again, those days are gone. People are skeptical and suspicious of us. They consider us anti-truth and anti-science. They regard us as both culturally and intellectually irrelevant. Similarly, no pastor today should expect to be respected simply because of his position or title. That simply is not the world in which we now find ourselves.

We’ve left behind the belief that the Christian faith is inherently personal. And, in all honesty, this might be a good thing. The tenets of modernism tended to reduce the gospel to “my personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” You may remember: “I come to the garden alone …” The sentiment is sweet, but my aloneness with Jesus is only part of my story. The whole truth is: we were created and redeemed to be in community (Romans 12:1-5). I personally think it’s a wonderful development that we’re rediscovering what it really means to “do life” with other followers of Christ. It was always designed to work that way – so maybe we’re going to get back to something really, really important. Rugged individualism and the Bible are largely at odds after all. Could postmodernism have a plus-side for us? Please stay tuned.

Finally, we’ve left behind the notion that Christ-followers can expect to live peacefully and comfortably in this life. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that persecution – and I’m not talking about the “Starbucks reneging on their red Christmas cups” variety – may well loom on our horizon. Our Lord told us to expect as much. But, again, I note for the second time in this blog posting, this might be a very good development in disguise. Personal security is of some value, of course, but Christ’s gospel never called us to minimize all risk for ourselves and for those whom we love. The gospel is risk. We can no longer expect to live out our lives within a comfortable American context where the church remains untouched by the evil and confusion of our day.

Friends, we have our work cut out for us! But it’s good gospel work, and that’s who we are, and that’s our high calling – so let’s be us!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

The Search (Part 2)

Thanks to those of you who expressed an interest in this topic! We’ve taken up the subject of postmodernism and its takeover of our current cultural landscape. In my last blog posting, I shared with you a little of the history of modernism, from its birth during what is now generally referred to as the Enlightenment. We can’t understand postmodernism without understanding modernism. (So if you need to go back and read, please do.)

In his response to last week’s blog, Kent Buchanan made this observation: “Relativism is the prevailing foundation of thought today. It’s really built on … the idea that … my truth may be different than yours.” Well said. That’s the crazy soup we’re in, friends! Kent went on to explain how we’re drowning in a sea of personal experience, in which even the notion of any real truth gets lost.

Do me a favor and check out a really cool verse: First Chronicles 12:32.

In the early days of Israel’s monarchy, David is about to be crowned King of Israel. Saul is dead and the Benjamites have other ideas about the successor to the throne. But the other tribes are in favor of David as their king, and they meet in Hebron to turn the kingdom of Saul over to him. The political climate is very tense. Sound familiar? Two hundred leaders of the tribe of Issachar are described in this verse. The ESV uses the word “understanding,” and it’s from the Hebrew word binah – which communicates “to have insight” and “to act with prudence.” The sons of Issachar know how to analyze a situation carefully because they know what their times are all about!

That’s who you and I want to be for such a time as this. We need to understand where our culture is headed. We need to understand how to apply God’s Word to that cultural runaway train.

So let’s think about modernism for another moment or two. I made the point last time that modernism didn’t ultimately satisfy the human race. (Only God can satisfy, right?) But we may have jumped from the proverbial frying pan into the fire. When people were under the sway of modernism, at least they tried to govern themselves by reason, intelligence, and science. Those things are not God, but I think you might agree with me that they’re better channel markers than unchecked personal experience. The same thing can be said regarding a general respect for authority, a clear sense of right and wrong, and the ability to think (and reason) critically. I could offer other examples, of course, but each of these has fallen on hard times as we’ve tried to push away – both as a culture and as a society – any ultimate notion of “true truth.”

In American business, we often see a CEO under intense scrutiny and pressure whenever his or her company is not keeping pace with market trends. When Fiat Chrysler lags in sales, and when the CEO is unable to convince people that a turnaround is possible, the board demands a new CEO who can “git ‘er done.” (The Opryland Hotel used to have that phrase on their in-room phones. It marked the button to push when you needed help with something right now.)

How happy are the fans of a basketball-driven university when its team is losing routinely?

How excited are the hometown loyalists of a football-dominated city when its team’s performance is downright cruddy?

We see it in sports. We see it in business. We see it in education. And we see it in almost every other sphere of life. Every age of history has its unique opportunities. And every age of history has its unique challenges.

But we were made for opportunities and challenges.

This is ours.

Your thoughts?

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

The Search

What I think I’ll do for the next few blog postings is take on the subject of “meaning” – as in, “what is the meaning of life?” You may be wondering if I have a little too much time on my hands. Hardly! But this sparks my interest, and so I’ll share a few thoughts and we’ll see where this goes …

We live in culture that’s been nearly overrun by the idea that “there is no absolute truth.” If you’re over 40, you find that thought a little bizarre. If you’re under 40, you’re not all that surprised that such a notion as the un-know-ability (my term, and admittedly a strange term) of truth has caught on. You’ve heard some version of “we can’t really know that” – at least in the public square – for much of your life. If you’re 40, well, I don’t know exactly how to classify you. (But enjoy it.)

“There is a God to whom we will one day answer.”

“We can’t really know that.”

“There is a right and wrong.”

“We can’t really know that either.”

This is the spirit of postmodernism. It’s the spirit of our age. But, when it comes to real life, people seem to apply “we can’t really know that” rather selectively. When you ask your dentist if you have a cavity, he or she is unlikely to respond – at least after an x-ray – “We can’t really know that.” If you hear that from your dentist on a regular basis, you might want to find another dentist. Quickly. On a level deep down in our souls, we inherently recognize that “we can’t know that” is far from satisfying. And far from helpful.

But postmodernism contends, with everything in it kicking and screaming, that there is no absolute truth.

How did we land here? Well, for starters, the Enlightenment failed to deliver. After the “dark” Middle Ages, people in Europe – and later in North America – believed that the path forward for the human race was the illumination of intellect and culture. Think about the late 17th century and the early 18th century, particularly, and on a broader scale think about what some historians call the “long 18th century” – stretching from about 1685 to 1815. Why were those years so important? Because everybody believed that the world was getting better. It was the “Age of Reason,” and it meant the reorientation of communications, philosophy, politics, and even science according to all of the new discoveries that were being made – and on the basis of all of the truth that was being learned and absorbed because of all of those amazing discoveries.

Even in the 20th century, when I was born, I have a vivid childhood memory. The mother of one of my friends died of cancer. Her death shook our little town, as she was admired by many, and she left behind young children. As a kid, I distinctly remember thinking: “I will not have to worry about cancer when I grow up. It will be cured.” That was an example of the “modern” mind, wasn’t it? I was sure that the answer to our problems would be found in the gaining of new information – which must surely be right around the corner.

But modernism didn’t deliver. At least in part, that’s why we’re here in this world of postmodernism.

I’d be stoked to hear your thoughts on the subject, and we’ll pick up here next week.

Much love in Christ,

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Penultimate

This week I am vividly reminded that I do not write my story. I never have. I never will.

I’ve rediscovered that I don’t even control the appearance of my story. Not only is someone else writing my story, but someone else is providing the colorful and glossy illustrations!

Only God. Only God writes my story. Each and every chapter. Each and every bend in the road. Those few moments along the way when I feel like “I’m in control” or “I’ve got this” are mere illusions. The “ashes to ashes” of the old English burial service is a far better descriptor of who I really am.

This morning my mind wanders back to the Church at Corinth. If you loved money and a good time, Corinth was the place to be. Corinth was a Greek city-state which was marked by wealth and luxury, and right in the middle of it all was a group of Christ followers who had been planted there for God’s glory. Friends, there are strong parallels between Corinth and our contemporary culture. Said another way, Corinth is not that far from Paducah.

Many of the Corinthian believers regarded themselves as prominent and respected citizens. They were women and men enjoying a certain status and influence. As you well know, it’s not always easy to keep your head on straight when you’ve got lots of toys and distractions. So, among the Corinthians, the gospel message – this “foolish” message of Christ’s Cross – didn’t always occupy the place of centrality where it belonged. Some church folks would become ashamed of the gospel. Certain teachers would minimize or obscure the gospel, just to be validated by the wider community. And many professing Christians would end up not wanting to be identified with the gospel, in the long run, because they craved so badly that life of “I’m in control” that still dogs you and me.

Enter Paul. What did the apostle remind them (First Corinthians 3:18)? Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.

The world, and even the church, may love us for a moment. But, sooner or later, we’re likely to be labeled fools. This may be one of the harder parts of your story, and of mine. We may be misunderstood, maligned, and marginalized – but that may be the moment when we finally discover the wisdom of God.

Here’s what I’m discovering about what I need in order to go the distance with Christ. Maybe you’ll be able to relate …

I need humility. For goodness’ sake, I need to get over me. That’s it, really. Easier said than done, of course. But perhaps the victory of the Christian life.

I need detachment. In certain seasons when my finite mind can’t make sense of anything that’s happening, I need to step back and remember the thesis of this blog posting: “I do not write my story.” When I grasp that truth, I can breathe a sigh of relief, because – though I’m certainly in my story – I am not my story’s Hero.

I need armor. I’ve been enlisted for battle. Whether I remember my charge or not, I’m supposed to be destroying strongholds of spiritual darkness. The same goes for you. There’s not a chance in this world that we can do this in our own power. We need the Spirit and strength and steadiness of God for such a time as this.

And I need more than a small dose of humor. I’m not talking about laughing at anybody else – I’m talking about the ability to laugh at me! Did I really think that I was in control? That must be the absolutely funniest one-liner of the day!

I’m following the Son of God, whom the priests called a fool, and I’m blessed just to be along for the ride. I don’t write the story, but the fact that my name is written in the Book is more than enough.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

A Brighter Day

Eileen and I came home from Birmingham encouraged. Very encouraged! What I feared would be exceptionally controversial was not controversial at all, and our denomination did the right thing. It’s never easy to admit “sin in the camp,” but real freedom comes only when we tell the truth. And I’m happy to report to you that the Southern Baptist Convention voted overwhelmingly to take a strong stand against both sexual abuse and racism – not just in words but in substantive action. Today is a brighter day for a denomination experiencing steady numerical decline. Now our 52,000 churches and congregations have a path forward.

What you need to know is this: individual churches that mishandle or cover up claims of abuse will be removed from the SBC.

The “lawyer” in me must also inform you that these constitutional amendments must be ratified by a two-thirds vote next year in Orlando, but – based on the historical movement I just observed – I think that’s just a technicality at this point. I can remember, not too many years ago when the SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis was nearly tone deaf to the pleas of a woman who claimed former sexual abuse by SBC church leaders. Tone deaf no longer! By God’s grace and for His glory, we’ve come a long way. We must, like President J.D. Greear articulated so well at this year’s meeting, admit that the media actually did our convention a huge favor by “shining light on this evil.” Speaking to whom evangelicals often refer to as “the secular media,” Pastor J.D. said: “You are not our enemy.”

Monday I was invited to a late-night rollout of the Caring Well Challenge, which has been diligently put together with tremendous input from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It’s a local-church plan for training church leaders on the ground to prevent abuse. Eileen has agreed to lead First Baptist Paducah through this Challenge. Please stay tuned – this will involve nearly all of us at one point or another.

I’ll steal another of Greear’s lines: this was a “defining moment … a very, very significant moment in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention.” Indeed it was. Indeed it is.

What I most loved was how unifying and worshipful was the climate at the convention center. You could feel the palpable sorrow in the room. You could see the tears, and hear the pain. But you could also sense the beginning of healing. Real healing I pray.

Though I graduated from an SBC seminary, in my early ministry years I was extremely reluctant to get involved in the SBC. In my mind and heart, the convention represented needless infighting over trivial matters that had little or nothing to do with the gospel of Christ. I’m so hoping I’m being proven dead wrong.

So you can imagine how encouraged I was by this year’s annual meeting theme: Gospel Above All. Amen and amen! As the messengers elected the most diverse slate of leaders ever in its history – in terms of age, race, ethnicity, and even geography – it felt like I was watching critical history unfold. It felt like the annual theme was being lived out, as the common denominator among all those women and men was nothing or no one but Jesus.

Friends, who could have imagined that the Houston Chronicle might be used by the Lord to help usher in – for a huge swath of God’s people here and now – a brighter day?

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Overlord

It was the largest ever airborne and amphibious invasion.

It turned the tide of Nazi occupation.

It turned the course of global history.

D-Day. 75 years have passed. This week we remember. At the landing beaches surrounding Normandy, and at the American Cemetery, veterans of World War II are being treated like heroes, as they should be. Indeed they were, and are, our heroes. I know that you’ve seen lots of photos, so I’ll choose only one: this was Wednesday’s celebration and military parade at Portsmouth, England.

President Donald Trump said it remarkably eloquently yesterday morning, and I’m sure that his words will live on: “You are the pride of our nation. You are the glory of our republic. And we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.” France’s President Emmanuel Macron said it like this: “We know what we owe to you, veterans: our freedom.” Both men were spot on: an entire generation sacrificed that you and I might live in freedom.

Since 1995 I have carried with me the sense of horror that I experienced when I walked onto the grounds of Buchenwald concentration camp that summer. I was doing the tourist thing while Eileen, who worked for the U.S. government, did depositions in Berlin – so I was all alone in feeling what it must have been like when horses pulled German artillery into the rooms where victims were hung from hooks. Where men were told that they were going to receive needed medical treatment, only to be shot from behind in the back of the neck when they stood to have their height measured in the “clinic” – and where women left bloody patches all over the walls as evidence in the plaster of their desperate death throes. All while much of the world looked the other way.

The war would not end until September 2, 1945, but D-Day changed everything. It was the decisive victory, and all because the bravest of soldiers were willing to cross the English Channel, storm the fortified coastline, and defeat their “undefeatable” enemy!

So today I’m fixated on the “Operation Overlord” of June 6, 1944. In regard to D-Day itself, the Lutheran theologian Oscar Cullmann once wrote that “there is something about all this that has close resemblance to the Christian experience.” I agree. I’m not sure if I know exactly what he meant, but I’m going to give this a try.

First of all, the wounded and bleeding soldiers would have had no way to know that it was a victory. It certainly would not have felt much like a victory when you were dodging bullets! Have you ever had a day like that? Even when you know and believe the gospel, our daily trials don’t always feel like wins, do they?

Secondly, there would be many tough days ahead. The war was not over. There would be some real encouragement stemming from the results of D-Day, but there also would be more steep hills to climb. Can you relate? Every morning I pray for my family: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Why do I pray that? Because each new day, in spite of the promise that it holds, also brings with it a whole new crop of “dangers, toils, and snares” (borrowing from John Newton).

Thirdly, God Himself has invaded history! That’s the glory of what we, as Christ followers, hold dear: God has come to us! God is with us! God will be with us forever! He has proven that on the cross and in the empty tomb!

Lastly, our enemy is surely defeated. Though we can’t see that win fully yet, final victory has been assured. Christ has “secured an eternal redemption” for us (Hebrews 9:12). He has paid our sin debt in full. “The ruler of this world has been cast out” (John 12:31). The devil may make a lot of noise ‘round here, but he’s as good as done. Because Christ lives in and through us, who are forever His people, the Prince of Darkness is going down like a drunken fighter. Not only that, but the Bible promises that you and I are being set free by the Spirit to live a new life of righteousness and joy (John 6:38-39; 10:10; First John 3:8; and so many other verses that I can’t cite them all).

So you and I have all kinds of freedom to celebrate this week!

Christ Jesus is the Overlord, friends. He is, and forever will be, Lord over all.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts