Blankets White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

The Long Way Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

The Horrors of Hate

Some of this is quite graphic. For that, I apologize, but I want you to know what is happening in China. (This is not for your young children.)

I’ve been reading up on China’s internment camps, and – quite frankly – I’m having trouble sleeping. China’s northwest Xinjiang region seems to be the brutal regime’s center for its government indoctrination activities. I’m horrified by what I’m discovering. This unspeakable brutality is not limited to how certain Muslim minority populations are treated. Some Kazakhs (a Turkic ethnic group mainly in the Ural Mountains) and some Christian Uyghurs (mostly converts from Islam) are sent to these facilities as well, and I was surprised to learn that some members of the Han Chinese majority likewise are exiled to suffer within this sprawling network of “vocational training centers.”

I understand from reliable sources that other people groups are being targeted under the radar screen. We’re talking well more than a million people at this point, and you know as well as I that any publicized number from the communist government is grossly underestimated. What is happening is slavery and torture. All because any totalitarian government must stamp out every opposing voice, as well as any other voice which can’t be completely trusted for its total loyalty to the power at the top.

What most horrified me was taking into my own soul just how inhumanely the women and girls are regarded and treated. They are regularly, and often daily, left stripped of their clothing and handcuffed in their cells – while they await routinized rituals of gang rape. The assaults are not just physical, but they are intentionally mentally and psychologically torturous. The indoctrination is a total assault on the personhood of its victims, while the damage inflicted on our Creator’s image-bearers defies description. I won’t go into any more detail here, though I could, except to say that electric shock is used regularly to maximize the fear factor throughout the camps. It appears that the goal is, literally, to drive the dissidents out of their minds.

This is a human rights crisis if ever there were one.

How did China’s government land in this state of total moral bankruptcy? I think we need to think through our answer to this question thoroughly. If we don’t understand the disease itself, we’ll focus only on the symptoms. And, if we focus only on the symptoms, we’ll never discover the cure. China’s embrace of totalitarian brutality didn’t start in 1949 under Mao Zedong. More than a century earlier, the ideology of Karl Marx began to steamroll across the global stage. Marx absolutely loathed the idea of a free market. He contended that the market should be totally controlled by the state. Now, that sounds like amoral economic theory, but the reality is that the market – in the real world – includes the marketplace of ideas. That’s where this becomes more than a political concern, but a human concern.

In other words, if your desire is to completely control the market, then you have to completely control the thinking behind the market. You already know how well things worked out for Marx: a hundred million dead, entire economies collapsed, and entire communities destroyed. Similarly, Lenin believed that perfecting the government rested on one main issue: will the communists smash the capitalists first, or will it be the other way around? Because, in order for communism to prevail, you must have a ruling class possessing absolute power. That’s why democracy – and freedom in general – is an inherent threat to a totalitarian regime.

Rod Dreher makes a number of fascinating observations along these lines. One that almost made me wreck my car is this (I was listening to a podcast, so it’s not an exact quote): “When everything is politicized, you’ve reached totalitarianism.” Wow. Too close to home. Dreher believes that one of the reasons why Americans are susceptible to totalitarianism right now is because we have forgotten – or we are ignoring – history. But, and this is vitally important, Dreher also reminds us that “politics is no substitute for personal holiness.” What we need in our world, more than anything else is revival.

And that serves to remind me … as a Christ-follower, an amateur theologian, and a lover of the God’s Word and God’s world, I can’t end my analysis of any current event – in China or Possum Trot – with the events themselves, nor with a look at human history. I have to look even below that surface. If the Bible is to be taken seriously, then the ultimate ailment afflicting the human race is – and always is – sin. “All have sinned …” That would include the communists and the capitalists, and everybody in between, so you and I must keep our eyes on Jesus … lest we be blinded by our own false sense of self-righteousness. Let me say it absolutely clearly: I will advocate for freedom until my last breath, but the freedom I most need is freedom from sin and self.

When I think about the vast empire which is China today – and I have stood on the Great Wall and seen it with my own eyes – then I must see it through the tear-filled eyes of my Lord, who died for the Chinese people. Surely His heart breaks over these atrocities. Surely He is moving you and me to care, for such a time as this. The cure for hate is love, and there will be no love where there is no light. Here’s the miracle: despite the government’s insistence that there is no God, and its mounting persecution of believers, the church in China is growing! For this, we give God thanks and praise! Wherever there is the light of Christ, there is hope for people. Perhaps you and I will be praying for China like never before.

With you … for the global gospel,

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Remember

I write these words on International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2021. Today marks the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi German death camp, Auschwitz. Six million Jews were systematically terminated in 35 countries. Adding to the horror of that period, an additional three to four million people, whom the government deemed inferior and undesirable “enemies of the state,” perished at the hands of the Nazis. By remembering, we seek to do our part to make certain that no group of people is ever dehumanized to the point of disposability.

As Christ-followers who take the Scriptures seriously, an overarching and sobering doctrine never escapes us. We recognize that the intrinsic depravity of human nature tilts every chapter of history toward the basic disregard of human life. This sad reality is proven throughout the ages, from Cain and Abel in early Genesis to this year’s violence in our nation’s streets. It can feel overwhelmingly disheartening to consider the incredible cruelty with which people can treat others who are made in God’s image, while at the same time it inspires us to long for our Lord’s return to make all things right.

We ought to take the time to remember every genocide: the Armenians, the Cambodians, the Kurds, and so on. We ought to remember the atrocities of the Serbs, and Mao in China, and the Soviet atheists. We ought to remember Rwanda, and Darfur, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In examples large and small, the reality of humans acting inhumanely hits all too close to home. Solzhenitsyn got it right: “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

And, friends, we ought to remember the American genocide of the unborn. Not six million, but sixty million. Consistent with the Bible’s warnings in regard to human depravity, the origins and history of Planned Parenthood are steeped in white supremacy and racial hatred. Pro-abortion advocates are forced to argue that human beings inside the womb are not people, and thus they attempt to reason that the legal termination of pregnancy is not genocide. But I have never read or heard a single cogent explanation as to how a human can be a non-person. Even our legal system acknowledges this inconsistency: when a pregnant woman is murdered, the murderer is usually charged with a double homicide.

My goal today is not to depress you, but to summon you to humble prayer. As a nation, we are a people in desperate need of the hope of Christ’s gospel. If hearts don’t change, behavior never will. And, as the church, we are a people in desperate need of the fruit of Christ’s Spirit. When it comes to the sanctity of human life, we will never change a single mind by browbeating or shaming. In fact, our desire should be to do neither. It is the kindness of God that leads sinners to repentance. You and I, as mere recipients of undeserved grace, must seek the Lord for the humility that we need right now. At this critical moment in history, we must embody the life-giving light of supernatural kindness amidst a culture that is increasingly blinded by spiritual darkness.

To defend the most defenseless among us will require a bold gentleness, a steady tact, and a pervasive winsomeness that aren’t naturally ours. But right now counts forever, so try we must. Perhaps remembering whose image we bear will be our most important act of remembering. So, please remember.

And, as you remember, may love and light be yours in abundance!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

The Gray Zone

Today I want to take up the subject of the gray zone. No, I’m not talking about Chicago winters, which can seem to hang on until May – though I remember them well. Nor the world of law. And I’m not talking about the independent news website or anything connected to the U.S. Army. Nor am I intending to conjure up images connected to sports terminology of any kind. Instead, today I’m pondering those long spiritual seasons of waiting and wondering: “God, are You still there?” I call it the gray zone.

In the eleventh chapter of Matthew (check out the first six verses), John the Baptist finds himself in the gray zone. We believe that John was imprisoned in Machaerus, a fortress built by Herod the Great. You may remember that Herod had it in for John because John had called out the king for his sexual immorality. So John’s ministry lasted a short two years. The John who had enjoyed the privilege of introducing our Lord Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” and who had experienced the special honor of baptizing Jesus as well, comes to the end of what he can understand. Think about that. John is so despondent over his unjust confinement that he sends a desperate question to Christ: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” A heavenly window had been opened, and John had uniquely observed God the Father’s absolute approval of God the Son, but … by now … John is not so sure.

I’ll bet you can relate.

Technically speaking, Jesus answers John’s question by sending back to him Messianic quotes from Isaiah. Jesus confirms that His own ministry is perfectly in line with legitimate Old Testament expectations. But – here’s the part that I don’t want you to miss – not one of the words or actions of Jesus results in any change in John’s immediate circumstances. Think about that. The lame are being set free, miraculously, to leap for joy … but John the Baptist will remain behind bars. Let that sink in.

And then, the clincher: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Those words of Jesus are the equivalent of: “Blessed is the one who does not fall away on account of me.”

It would be easier – much easier – for us to accept this account if we could establish from the text that John’s own bad behavior had landed him in this predicament. But precisely the opposite is true. The following verses serve only to establish that John is a fine man, by any estimation. By Christ’s own testimony: “Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” But the calling of John is to suffer in seclusion, and not even to understand why all of this is happening to him. My hope today is that you and I will crawl into the story, and recognize that there are times when our calling is precisely the same. The gray zone is, sometimes, our zone.

When we are waiting on some situation in our lives to change, and when it doesn’t seem to be changing, that is the perfect time for doubts to creep into our psyches. Second thoughts. Woulda. Shoulda. Coulda. Been there? John was entirely human, and that’s where he found himself: “I must have made some mistake!” Christ-followers must often walk through seriously dark nights of the soul, and at least some confusion is guaranteed. Some people report that their moments of doubting seem to have eased into days of doubting. But, sometimes, days of doubting can rush headlong into weeks and months of doubting. You get the picture.

But what do we learn from John? It might feel like a train wreck, even when I’m on the right track. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where our faith is tested, and strengthened for the days ahead. This is where we lean not on our own understanding.

But, instead, this is where we know that our sovereign Lord is directing our path. He is always illuminating the way forward, but sometimes we get just enough light for the next half-step. God hasn’t promised us ease along the entire road, friends, but He has promised us all the wisdom required for the journey – if we will only ask. I’m just reminding you to ask. Right now. Ask.

Many years later, Corrie ten Boom would languish under the evils of the Nazis. She and the other members of her Dutch family had done the right thing: they had helped many Jews escape the Holocaust. But they had been caught, and it was in a concentration camp where Corrie would learn to trust the Lord. It was in the loss of every personal freedom that Corrie would come to understand the freedom of her own soul. No one could take away that freedom. And there, among the horrors of a godless and brutal regime, Corrie would learn to pray. She wrote: “The wonderful thing about praying is that you leave a world of not being able to do something, and enter God’s realm where everything is possible. He specializes in the impossible. Nothing is too great for His almighty power. Nothing is too small for His love.”

We know from the story of John, and from our own lives, that not everything works out according to our wishes. “Getting everything we want” would not be Christianity, but a genie in a bottle. But God’s Word reminds us that everything, ultimately, is working for our good and for God’s glory. I’ll take that over a genie any day.

In the Bible passage before us, I notice one more shocker from the lips of Jesus, as Jesus commends John: “The one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (John the Baptist).” What in the world? Here’s what I make of that. Every follower of Christ – today – ought to know more than John ever knew. You and I have even greater spiritual opportunity than John. We have the fullness of the Biblical revelation at our fingertips, and we have 2000 years of church history to demonstrate before our very eyes the unstoppable faithfulness of God. We are His people! He has never left us. Nor will He leave us now.

With greater opportunity comes greater responsibility, so let’s get out there in this crazy world and make Christ known! At times, the gray zone will be ours to contend with, but you and I have an all-sufficient Light to lead the way …

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

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

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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

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