No One

As I’m here in Texas to officiate at my niece’s fantastic wedding festivities, and just coming off of our own celebration of twenty-five years, I’m thinking a lot about marriage, family, and eternity. So I’ll send you an old pic (us) and a new pic (them).

Whether we’re young and idealistic or seasoned and cynical, marriage for the long haul requires a zealous and sacrificial love (Romans 12:9-18). To “live in harmony with each other” will at times test every fiber of one’s being, but our Lord never calls us to something for which He does not also promise to provide us with the required strength to complete the assignment.

When God calls us into covenant marriage with another believer, He calls us into a very good thing! That is because we serve a good God, and He delights in sharing His bountiful goodness with us (Psalm 145). As God is gracious and merciful to us, and as He extends His hand to provide for us every day and in every season, we reflect His own goodness by our mercy and grace toward each other. By doing what is right for each other. By faithfully being who we need to be for each other. This is a powerful and incarnational love made reality by the Holy Spirit in us.

And I’ll add one more thought about marital love. We have to choose, at least some days, to wear it. If we have eyes to see, Jesus is right here with us when we least expect it. Just like the eyes of two weary travelers on the road to Emmaus had to be opened and revived (Luke 24:31), so do ours. Our Savior is on the road with us. He is in our ups and downs, and He is sovereign over every nuance of our journey. Even the road map is His. Christ knows what’s coming over the next hill, so we can know that ultimately ALL IS WELL.

Let “no one” rob another person of this amazing portrait of Christ’s love for His bride, the church. That is not my counsel. It is the warning of Jesus (Mark 10:9). It is a sobering word, but it a word full of grace. You and I thrive only when we do things God’s way, and God wants us to thrive!

Briana and Brandon, and all of the rest of you who will soon be in the thick and thin of real-life challenges to those vows which you have made, hang in there! It’s worth it. Because right now counts forever.


Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Amazing Grace (Part 7)

As we wrap up spring break in this part of the world, we’ll also wrap up this particular blog series. Thank you for persevering with me on this journey.

How does the greatest persecutor of the church become the greatest preacher in the world? Grace! That’s the story of the Apostle Paul. What made the difference? The resurrection of Jesus!

In Paul’s case, the resurrected Christ met him on the road to Damascus. When it comes to you and me, if we are ever to know grace, the resurrected Christ must meet us as well! For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). The kind of victorious grace being described by Paul must stir in our hearts! And that happens in us for one reason: Jesus is risen from the dead! “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (First Corinthians 15:55). Just one verse earlier: “Death is swallowed up in victory!”

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (First Corinthians 15:57) – friends, it just doesn’t get any better than that!

Because we as Christ followers have resurrection power working in us, we will be tested. Do we really believe what we say we believe? Will we really look to Jesus in those moments when we sense no other hope? Am I really relying on Christ’s grace as the merit for my salvation? You and I will be tested in each of these areas, and more. Is our faith really real?

I’ll close with a few applications which I urge you to personalize as our celebration of Christ’s resurrection draws nearer …

  1. GOD IS FOR US! He has circled the wagons to rescue, redeem, and restore us. We will never be alone again.
  2. GOD HAS WON FOR US! The “it is finished” of our Messiah was more than enough. We are eternal beneficiaries of eternal righteousness which has been credited to us.
  3. GOD WILL DO THE IMPOSSIBLE TO KEEP US! He will rescue us from us. He will win our daily struggle with sin for us. He will take us to the place of eternal safety prepared by Jesus. Christ’s resurrection assures ours.
  4. GOD WILL PREVAIL THROUGH US IN EVERY VALLEY THAT WE FACE! The “paths of righteousness” promised by David are already ours. We’re on the road with Christ, and He is leading the way home.
  5. GOD WILL INCREASE OUR FAITH WHEN WE NEED IT! Wonderful news indeed. Faith really is God’s gift to us, and forever it shall be. When we least expect it, joy will be ours. Joy unspeakable.
  6. GOD WILL SETTLE OUR HEARTS WHEN OUR MOMENT OF DEATH COMES! No worldly loss will triumph over us. No battle with sin will ultimately overtake or destroy us. No enemy will get the last word. When it’s all said and done, no voice will ever ring truer in our ears than Christ’s.
  7. GOD WILL RAISE US FROM THE DEAD! Even these failing bodies of ours will be refitted for eternity. At Calvary’s Cross death struck a ferocious blow, but death lost big time. So no disease, affliction, handicap, or sadness will write my last chapter. In fact it’s already been written, and it’s the most beautiful ending in the universe. In fact it never

Christ is risen, y’all! That is amazing grace. With a God and a gospel as glorious as this, why would we want to live any other way than His way? Grace is no license for immorality; in fact it is power to persevere in righteousness.

These truths are so wonderful that we ought to celebrate them every day. I think I’ll do that. How ‘bout you?


Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Amazing Grace (Part 6)

We’ll soon be wrapping up this particular series, but this week and next let’s consider a couple of critical applications. After all, grace isn’t amazing until it’s experienced.

So what does grace look like? Well, in a nutshell, it looks like Christ. Do you remember when, on the night He was betrayed, Jesus took the posture of a slave and washed His disciples’ nasty feet? How strange! The God-Man, instead of controlling or manipulating others for His own advantage, chose to love them “to the end” (John 13:1). That is real love.

He could have told everybody off for their obvious failures of both faith and fidelity, not to mention all their other sins, but He did not. There is no comfort or support for Jesus at the moment of His deepest need for someone to care about Him, but He loves anyway. Wrapped in a humble loincloth is grace on display. Totally selfless love stooped, literally, all the way to the ground.

We know from the text that the schemes of Judas to betray our Lord for a cash reward are already well underway. And Peter, without an ounce of self-awareness, will soon deny Christ in order to protect himself. It will be ugly and awful, but none of it will stop the love of God in Christ. He loves the totally self-absorbed all the way to the Cross.

Can you imagine, for a moment, Jesus actually washing the feet of His betrayer? On the same night when the disciples are arguing about who among them is the superstar, Jesus literally strips Himself to show them what humble love is really all about. He shows us too, there before the feet of the one whose heart is already on the way out the door.

Perhaps the greatest enemy of your own life of love, and mine, is our desire to protect our own reputation. Think about it. In regard to themselves, the disciples chose honor. But in regard to Himself, Jesus chose shame. He would love others by the giving away of Himself. That makes absolutely no sense until we understand the gospel of grace.

Can I love an enemy?

Can I love someone who misrepresents me?

Can I love someone who has taken advantage of me, or even abused me?

These are the dilemmas we all face as we live in this fallen world. And they don’t get any easier. I think you can see that we can’t love in such hard circumstances without knowing how much we are loved. For five weeks I’ve tried to convince you that you can’t earn God’s love. Once you really grasp that, you can be free to love with a passion and power that were never yours!

This is our highest privilege, friends: to love as we’ve been loved! It defies all human reasoning. It tears down every wall. It shows a hopeless world, hope.


Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Amazing Grace (Part 5)

Friends, we’re currently in a blog series in which we’re taking a hard look at some of our wrong thinking when it comes to the gospel of Christ. In the first week of the series, I offered twelve faulty statements which rest on false assumptions, and since then we’ve been diving deeper into each one of the twelve. Today we’ll consider the final three. Each one in some measure exposes the fact that you and I tend to lean quickly on our own merits instead of on the merits of Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). So here goes.

I’m so glad that I was raised right, and that I was smart enough to choose Jesus. Whenever we start thinking like this, we can rest assured that we have forgotten what the Bible says about the insidious nature of sin. None of us was “smart enough” to choose Christ. Jesus Himself made this abundantly clear (John 6:44, 65). Because of Adam’s sin, and our own nature which we inherited from our first parent, we are powerless even to understand our need for salvation unless God opens our hearts to comprehend the truth. Theologians often label our unregenerate spiritual condition “total depravity.” That term doesn’t imply that we’re as bad as we possibly could be, but it means that no dimension of our lives is unstained by sin. Regarding our family of origin, we may have been blessed with a wonderful mom and dad, but no parent can accomplish what only the Holy Spirit can do.

If I lack humility, I know several ways in which I can work on that. This one’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it also demonstrates our all-too-natural propensity toward pride. Pride is the precursor to all other sins. Pride is the soil in which all other sins grow and flourish. When it comes to killing our pride, our only hope is grace. When you and I fix our hearts on the sovereign grace of God in Jesus Christ, then and only then can we begin to see ourselves for who we really are (First Corinthians 4:7). It’s at the end of us where God begins to look wondrously beautiful in our eyes! That’s when the gospel of Jesus becomes life-transforming good news! Here’s the bottom line: we can’t work ourselves out of pride any more than we can work ourselves into salvation.

After I do (or think) something terrible, I withdraw from God until I feel worthy again. Here’s the thing: were you and I ever “worthy”? Even the Roman centurion knew the answer to that one (Matthew 8:8). No! In fact one of the reasons why you and I tend to shy away from God when we’re feeling guilty over something is because we’ve subtly bought into the notion that we “deserve” to be in God’s presence only when we’re “living right.” Nothing could be further from the truth. You and I are privileged and invited to “draw near to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16) only because of the finished work of Christ on the cross. We never have to earn what Jesus has already earned for us! Hallelujah!

I’m loving sharing this grace revival with you!


Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Amazing Grace (Part 4)

In case you haven’t been keeping up, we’re correcting our own false notions surrounding the good news of the gospel. If you’re interested, take a look at previous posts in this series. Specifically we’re dismantling, via God’s truth, some of our erroneous assumptions. Today we’ll expose and unpack three more false assumptions.

We grow in spiritual maturity by getting better at living the Christian life. Au contraire, friends. You and I are like dust. Apart from Jesus, we have nothing, we contribute nothing, and we are nothing (John 15:5). Our God is not making us better: He is making us new. In fact God is making us “nothing” along the way. The Apostle Paul said it to the Corinthian believers like this (First Corinthians 1:27-29): But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. It is in your and my becoming “nothing” that much is made of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that is God’s greatest desire. You and I don’t need to get “better” at living the Christian life. It isn’t even our life. It’s Christ’s. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20). That’s the beauty and wonder of the Biblical gospel.

The main problem in our country is the conservatives. Jesus told us to feed the poor, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, side with the oppressed, and give voice to the voiceless. So what could possibly be wrong with taking all of my cues from the “Christian Left”? The same thing that’s wrong with taking all of my cues from the “Christian Right”! Our two major political parties in America share some common values, but – for the most part – the policies they advocate are at odds with each other. Attempting to attach complex issues to broad ideological labels can be exceptionally problematic, as many of society’s ills don’t fit nicely into only one ideological box. And, if our labels are overly broad, we can mistakenly jettison thoughtful discussion in favor of political groupthink. This is a particular danger for us as Christ followers, because we never want our message of the gospel to be mixed with the message of any political party. In the long run, that is nearly always a recipe for disaster. Do we remember the Pharisees? We must never forget that no people group ever has an absolute corner on virtue. Only Jesus has that.

The church should preach strong sermons on sin so that people will straighten up. Here’s the gaping hole in that way of thinking. Problems with a tree’s fruit are normally problems below the surface of the soil. We can’t see the lack of water, or the fungus, or whatever is the culprit – we can only see the rotten fruit. When you and I think about personal change, it’s easy for us to settle for behavior modification when what we really need is repentance (Matthew 3:8)! You see, just getting someone to change their behavior – which usually doesn’t work for that long anyway – doesn’t deal with the idols of that person’s heart. That person may not be changing to please God, but to please us. We may become very skilled at adjusting our behavior, or at convincing others to do the same, while completely disregarding the authentic gospel transformation which every one of us desperately needs. How does that relate to preaching? Unless the sermon makes a beeline to the Cross (I stole that line from Charles Spurgeon) – meaning that the content of the sermon is aimed ultimately at a totally new life in Christ – then that sermon can never yield an eternal harvest of righteousness.

The winds blew strong in Paducah today, beloved church family, but we shall not be moved. Our God is deeper still. Our roots in Christ are like those of an oak tree: only strengthened by buffeting. Strange as it may sound, as you and I are buffeted by life, Christ’s gospel just gets more and more beautiful.

Behold how beautiful His grace really is!


Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Amazing Grace (Part 3)

I’m so glad that you’re on this journey of grace with me. Grace is the most wonderful subject we could ever hope to consider or explore! We’re on this road of faith together, and we need each other in order to delight in Christ’s grace with all our heart. That’s because each of us has blind spots when it comes to really experiencing grace, but collectively we can help each other see the goodness of God toward us just as clearly as possible.

If you haven’t been keeping up with the blog, you might want to read the last couple of postings so that you can get the most out of this. What we’re doing is looking at twelve diagnostic statements which are flawed views of grace – and using each as a springboard toward a fuller view of the best news the world has ever heard. Today we’ll take up three more.

The reason Jesus came to earth was to show us how to live. Friends, it is a profound insult to the Son of God, to God the Son in fact, to consider Jesus as nothing but a moral example. Many around us say that Christ was “a great man” or “a prophet” or “a teacher of profound truth,” but you and I must be convinced that none of those is a sufficient view of Christ. I would go as far as saying that such thoughts are actually rooted in intense pride, because the assumption behind those statements is: “All I need is a moral example.” Truth is: WE NEED A SAVIOR! I’ll repeat the words of C.S. Lewis: “You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

If everybody lived by my rules, the world would be a better place. Here’s the problem with that one. Rules made by people may be made with the best of intentions, but only God’s rules are made from the perspective of absolute truth. No matter what rule I make, it is flawed on some level. And the “problem” with the world is not that the world has violated my standards, but that “we all like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6) and trampled over God’s rules. The problem is even deeper. I’ll try to illustrate. When we sit down to play a new game, we ask: “What are the rules?” And rightly so. If we don’t know the rules, we can’t play. But to think of Christianity as primarily “learning the rules” is to miss the whole point. Christianity is a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ, who followed the rules for us and earned our righteousness. The gospel is God’s declaration that the rules have been met IN CHRIST. See the difference? My faithfulness now is the fruit of my love for Christ – not an attempt to earn His approval. I don’t have to attempt what He has already done! Furthermore, a spirit of rule-keeping in the church actually promotes the sin of duplicity, because we have to hide who we really are in order to keep up the appearance of “holiness.” Rule-keeping evokes only a bare minimum standard of behavior, instead of a passion for God which includes everything I am. Rule-keeping pits us against each other, because our pride pushes us toward competition (we start refereeing each other). And, when full-blown, a spirit of rule-keeping produces a smug attitude of entitlement among those who are deceived enough to believe that they’re actually keeping the rules.

If and when I sin, I hope that God will forgive me. First of all, I hope that “if I sin” is an obvious error at face value. But, more than that, what do we know to be true? The death of Jesus in our place, as our substitute, canceled ALL our sins. Past, present, and future. Done! Will any of them ever be counted against us? No. No way. They are fully covered by the blood of Christ. Period. Is it right for us to pray for forgiveness? Yes. But not from the perspective of anything less than the truth: that forgiveness has already been granted. “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Do we confess? That same verse says we do. But this is a far cry from “hoping” that God will look favorably toward us. That He has already proven on the cross. Oh, how marvelous is the matchless grace of Christ!

Thanks for hanging in there with me. The road, though rocky at times, is indeed beautiful.

Yours by grace,


Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Amazing Grace (Part 2)

As promised, friends, in today’s post I hope to unpack a few of the “diagnostic statements” which I offered you last week in an effort to help us learn to distinguish between legalism/moralism and the gospel of Christ. So we’ll start with the first three.

Being a Christian means living a moral life. What could possibly be wrong with that assertion, right? As you might imagine, Christ changes everything about us. When we trust the Son of God for salvation, we are made entirely new creations in Him (Second Corinthians 5:17)! We are justified in an instant, and a lifelong journey of sanctification begins, by which we are steadily conformed to Christ’s likeness. That being said, it is easy to forget the source of our new identity, and to ease ourselves into believing that our “goodness” is our own doing. That is the heart of legalism: an inflated view of self. Do we want to live a moral life? Of course. But the heart of the gospel is never my morality (which is a failure on multiple levels), but the perfect righteousness of Jesus which has been freely given (credited) to me.

The reason I need the Bible is because I need good advice on how to live. O.K., I’ll admit it: I was being very subtle there. Here’s what’s incomplete about that perspective on my need for God’s Word. There’s nothing wrong with looking to the Scriptures for guidance, of course; in fact it’s an essential dimension of living for Christ. But we must understand that the Bible sets forth a moral standard which we can’t possibly attain. Thus, the Bible’s most critical role in our lives is to show us that we need a Savior! So what we most need from the Bible is not advice, but the revelation of Christ! If the Bible does not lead us to know and trust Christ alone for righteousness, then we will know no righteousness. It is not a self-help manual, and to view the Bible as such is way off the mark.

The main problem in our country is the liberals. I think you can see how this “philosophy” goes astray, though we’re all tempted by political pride on a regular basis. From time to time we need a reminder that, when our Lord Jesus walked the earth, He was sometimes an ultra-conservative, sometimes an ultra-liberal, and sometimes somewhere in between. You see, Christ operated from the perspective of an absolute truth standard which transcended every human category. You and I must stay humble enough to recognize that no people group has a corner on morality, for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” In that sense, every sinner, and that is every person, contributes to the fallenness of Planet Earth. Said simply, we must steer clear of self-righteousness in any of its deadly forms.

Just yesterday, Rachel Darnall tweeted: “Legalism is real, it is dangerous, and it is subtle. It did not die out in the first century or in any other century. It will be with us as long as the flesh is with us. It knows our christian lingo. It knows how to infiltrate our churches. Hold fast.”

Hold fast! More next week.


Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Amazing Grace

In my sermon Sunday morning, I began to unpack the dangers of legalism – sometimes known as moralism. I want to revisit that subject today, as you and I have before us a wonderful opportunity to rediscover grace. Thank you for bearing with me in love. (More on that this Sunday morning.)

Why is this subject of grace so important? For one main reason. I’ll let the Apostle Paul describe the peril of getting this wrong (Galatians 1:6-8): I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

That’s it. It’s a matter of life or death. Grace is life. Non-grace is death. This is no trivial theological debate, friends.

So let me give you my bottom line: the most dangerous enemy faced by this or any other church is a wrong understanding of how a sinful person is justified (saved) in the eyes of a holy God.

The gospel – the true gospel – is all about what Christ has done for us. How He came, and lived, and suffered, and died, and rose again for us! How He loved us before the foundation of the world. How He purchased us by the shedding of His blood on a cruel cross. How He perseveres in and through us. That’s it. The gospel is all about the work of CHRIST.

Moralism – or legalism – comes along and subtly destroys Christ’s gospel. Instead of being “good news,” what was once the gospel becomes the hopelessness of what I must do for God. Please let that sink in. This is a much bigger threat to the church than the evils of popular culture. When compared from the perspective of eternity, the danger levels are not even close. Please let that sink in.

It’s hard to believe that anyone would ever choose a performance standard for righteousness over the matchless grace of Jesus Christ, but that’s what people do all the time. Particularly religious people. Particularly people “raised in church.” Please let that sink in.

What happens to a person who buys into the lie of moralism? That person begins to believe that their identity and self-worth come from how good they are. Deadly. Deadly. Deadly. Instead of believing the life-giving gospel of Christ, that person hops up onto a gerbil wheel of works righteousness that never stops spinning. Deadly. Deadly. Deadly.

Do churches come right out and say that they’re teaching this lie? No. But they teach it all the time. For the most part, they don’t even realize that they’re not teaching Christ’s gospel.

What I will attempt to do in this blog post is to offer you some diagnostic statements. If these fit you, I urge you to turn away from this “different” gospel and to run instead to the merits of Christ. As always, His arms are open wide.

  1. Being a Christian means living a moral life.
  2. The reason I need the Bible is because I need good advice on how to live.
  3. The main problem in our country is the liberals.
  4. The reason Jesus came to earth was to show us how to live.
  5. If everybody lived by my rules, the world would be a better place.
  6. If and when I sin, I hope that God will forgive me.
  7. We grow in spiritual maturity by getting better at living the Christian life.
  8. The main problem in our country is the conservatives.
  9. The church should preach strong sermons on sin so that people will straighten up.
  10. I’m so glad that I was raised right, and that I was smart enough to choose Jesus.
  11. If I lack humility, I know several ways in which I can work on that.
  12. After I do (or think) something terrible, I withdraw from God until I feel worthy again.

You can see from my list that any of us can fall into any of these traps fairly easily. Because we’re part of a community of faith, we’re a breeding ground for Pharisaism and self-justification and self-righteousness. But I hope that you will also see that – held up to the light of Scripture – each one of these statements is grossly at odds with the life-giving gospel of Christ.

“I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.”


Choosing grace instead, with you,

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

A Time to Mourn

In the context of my responsibilities on the Leadership Council of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, yesterday I was part of a conference call with S.B.C. leaders to discuss what we can do about the problem of sexual abuse in churches. This week’s article in the Houston Chronicle has sparked a firestorm, as it revealed a longstanding problem within our denomination similar to that with which other groups have had to wrestle in recent years. Sexual sin crosses every line of demarcation, and no one is exempt from its dangers, and we have been called to account.

As your senior shepherd, let me offer you a few of my own thoughts about the ways in which you and I can be part of the solution – right here in our local congregation.

  1. Always think safety. Protect the vulnerable. Act wisely in every circumstance. If you work with children or students here at church, make sure that there are always at least two adults in every ministry setting. It would be better to cancel a class or activity than to violate a policy which serves everyone’s best interest.
  2. Listen when people raise concerns about inappropriate speech or behavior. Don’t be dismissive, or assume that we are above impropriety, or think that “that would never happen here.” It could. Don’t be deceived: the enemy of God and God’s people is relentless. He would love to bring us down, individually and collectively.
  3. In spite of the fact that this is a tough topic to tackle, don’t resort to inappropriate humor. For a victim of sexual abuse, this is never a laughing matter.
  4. Be a good sport when we ask you to complete a background check. And, if you unofficially “recruit” another leader to help you on a project, make sure that he or she has been screened by the policies and procedures of our church. Any pastor, or member of the front office team, can help you get that started.
  5. Welcome women at the table of critical decision-making in the church. We can be complementarian in our theology (believing that the Bible calls men and women to distinct ministry roles, in some instances) without being foolish in regard to the unique contributions made by women to our understanding of this very difficult subject of sexual abuse.
  6. Don’t confuse “grace” with the covering up of a sex crime. Grace is submitting to government authority, which is our calling in Christ (Romans 13:1-7). Criminal offenses should be reported immediately. Period. No excuses. No cover-ups. This gets back to protecting the vulnerable – which is love.
  7. Pray for your church family, and for our denomination. If you’re not doing that already, it’s a great time to start!

As I get further and further into my awareness and responsibilities at the national level, I look forward to leading the charge with you in such a way that First Baptist Paducah shines brightly as a flagship church when it comes to doing these things right – for the glory of God. This is our high calling, and we should settle for nothing less.

May this difficult and sorrowful day of very public reckoning be a season of genuine repentance, and may it lead ultimately to the greatest outpouring of Christ’s gospel which the world has ever witnessed.


Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Dying to Live

I’ve been in and out of hospitals a lot recently. No fun. Sadness galore. Sometimes there’s no spiritualizing away the harsh realities of our lives.

In fact we shouldn’t. We should experience our sadnesses for what they are, knowing that God is sovereign over them. But that doesn’t make them unsad.

Speaking of hospitals, I just read of Robert and Ellen Hughes. Robert and Ellen had to drive their 33-year-old autistic son, Walker, to Loyola Medical Center in Chicagoland. Walker was in a fit of rage, and he sat in the back seat pulling his mother’s hair and attempting to strangle her. The much-loved son was having a terrible reaction to a medicine which was supposed to calm him down. Walker even bit his dad.

Not really a Hallmark moment. Maybe you can relate on some level.

Our Lord Jesus said something very interesting (John 12:24): “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it bears much fruit.”

Interesting indeed. I think I get it, at least in part: my pathway to life is through death. God desires that I bear spiritual fruit, but I have to get there by dying.

Jesus was talking about His own cross. He is that grain of wheat. He would give His life as a ransom for us. He, by His death, would bring us to glory. Only He could do that.

But, in another sense, Christ was setting an example for us. His ministry on earth would be short, but it would mean constantly dying to Himself as He loved others. Kind of like the foot washing experience among the disciples. The culmination of Christ’s dying would be the cross, but He would die all along the way in order to get there.

The same is true of us. As you and I die to ourselves – all along our way to glory – we find ourselves reproducing the Spirit of Jesus. That’s fruit. As we serve others instead of ourselves, Christ is glorified. Way cool.

Now back to our friends in Chicago. Just as they reached Loyola, Walker bit his mom. She let out a yell, and uniformed men surrounded the family in an instant. They were public safety officers with stun guns attempting to subdue a large and violent man. Walker’s exhausted parents had witnessed these kinds of scenes before, unfortunately, and usually they did not end well.

Ellen was sadder than she’d ever been in her entire life. Can you relate, at all?

That’s when things turned on a dime. Instead of a fight, the officers creatively lured Walker into a game. At first he jumped off the exam table, but then – for three amazing hours – the officers cheered and clapped for Walker until he was lulled into a completely different state of mind. These men, in their bulletproof vests, sang songs. They harmonized the theme of “Mister Rogers,” and grooved to some James Brown. They impersonated characters from Sesame Street. And they danced until Walker – who has great difficulty communicating – was completely calm. All because one of the men, Sgt. Keith Miller, picked up on an important clue: Walker mentioned Mary Poppins.

I’ll give you a quote from Walker’s mom: “Walker loved it. He was kind of mystified and charmed and started smiling.”

Sometimes, for life to flourish, you and I have to be set aside – just like those tough-turned-tender officers. May God grant us the grace to set ourselves aside! Daily. It will not be easy, but this is our tremendous privilege in Christ.

Regardless of what type of plant we have in mind, the seed must fall off of that plant and die before it can produce any more seeds. Though it may be necessary for the seed to be on the tree for a time, sooner or later it must die. Its death means, in reality, more life. Same with ours.

Some days, you and I are hurting. And, every day, there’s someone hurting nearby. The way to life, for all of us, is dying to ourselves. As Ellen thought about what had just happened to her son that cold winter night, she expressed her profound gratitude on social media: “They were men his size who considered him a real person. It’s scary when people don’t think you’re a real person.”

I’ll close with one more of Ellen’s descriptions of those kind and selfless men: “You can’t train that kind of spirit.”


Pastor Charles

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