We are living in unprecedented times. You may have seen President Trump’s press conference yesterday or heard of the suggestions coming from his task force dealing with the spread of the Covid-19 virus. They are asking all Americans to make some dramatic changes for the next 15 days in order to curb the effect and spread of this virus.
I know that reports over the last week or so have spread great fear across our country. If you don’t know someone who has been infected with the virus now, you possibly will in the future. Some patients are in serious condition. I know of a woman in her 30’s on a ventilator right now. This threat is serious. It would be easy for us to be filled with fear right now, but God wants us to choose faith.
Over the next 15 days, I’m going to share thoughts of encouragement and challenge us to embrace faith. I encourage you to share your comments and help me spread a message of hope.
The Bible has a lot to say about faith. The book of Galatians says we are justified by faith and we are to live by faith. Think about those two ideas. Your sins cannot be forgiven and you cannot enjoy a right relationship with God without placing your faith and your trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. Secondly, as a Christian, your life should be defined by faith. It would do us well during these times to think about what it means to live by faith. It means that our mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional strength comes from the Lord. It means that every step we take, we do so because we are fully trusting in Jesus.
I’ve got a song on my mind, and it would do us well to allow it to be the theme song of this coronavirus season. It was written around 1880 after Louisa Stead experienced a personal tragedy that could have destroyed her. Louisa, her husband, and her 4-year-old daughter were on a picnic near sea. They heard shouts for help and saw a boy struggling in the ocean. Louisa’s husband raced into the ocean to save the boy only to be pulled under and drowned. She grieved over the loss of her husband. After struggling with sorrow asking God, “Why?” many times, she eventually penned the words to this beloved hymn:
Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, Just to take Him at His Word Just to rest upon His promise, Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord!”
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him! How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! Oh, for grace to trust Him more!
I shared a video on YouTube with additional thoughts for today. You can view it by clicking this link.
I’m reading a book by John Ortberg entitled All the Places to Go: How Will You Know. For starters, it’s an excellent book. Ortberg has challenged me with a lot of thoughts and phrases. One of them is when he said, “God wants us to be excellent choosers.” Have you ever considered God thinking of you in that light? I’m not sure that I have. It makes sense to me now as I think about it. I want my children to be excellent choosers. I don’t just have one path I want them to take, but I want them to make sure they’re following Jesus. I think God is the same way with us.
God’s greatest goal for you, once you become a Christian, is to be shaped into the image of His Son. He uses a variety of methods to mold our character to look more like Jesus’, but one way is through the journey of decision making. While He is interested in the particular direction we go, He’s more interested in the person we become through the process. I’m convinced that in my life there have been times God has intentionally made my future steps a little fuzzy so I would spend more time in prayer over my decision. I don’t think my prayer time was as much about finding God’s will about a direction as it was in seeing God’s character formed in my life. If I remember that God’s main desire is that I be like Jesus, it makes sense that He’ll use my crossroad experiences of decision making as a classroom of character formation.
Are you at a crossroad of decision? What are you doing to meet God in the moment so your life will be changed by the process?
I preached the sixth message today in a seven-sermon-series on the seven I Am statements of Jesus in John (You can hear them on our church website, though today’s probably won’t be up until maybe Wednesday: http://www.sonrisebaptist.org/sermon-archive/) . Today’s focal passage was John 14:6: Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
If you have studied the “I Am” passages of John, you know that the Greek text used for each statement is an emphatic, exclusive statement. To say otherwise is to ignore the Greek language and the construction of the text. You should translate any of these “I Am” passages as emphatic: “I myself am.” It’s as if Jesus was saying in John 6:35, for example, “I am and only I am the bread of life.” In John 14:6, Jesus underscored the exclusivity of the Gospel and the way to salvation with his follow-up statement as well: “No one comes to the Father but through me.” The two little Greek words translated as “but” are the two words “if not.” That part of the verse could be translated, “No one comes to the Father if not through me.”
I’ve had conversations with some people lately who struggle with an exclusive Gospel. In other words, they think Christians are narrow, bigoted, and arrogant for saying that salvation or eternal life is only possible through Jesus. Much of the world wants to embrace a universal message of salvation that says, “All roads lead to God. It doesn’t really matter which road you choose.” Do all roads really lead to God?
Christianity says that Jesus died for the sins of the world and rose again. Islam says that Jesus didn’t die for the sins of the world, but rather, someone died in his place. Both positions can’t be true. Either Christianity or Islam is right, not both. You see, truth by definition is exclusive.
Christians are criticized for being exclusive, but if you think about it, if someone says the Bible is false, he is making an exclusive statement. He is saying that he is right and everyone who believes the Bible is wrong. For example, Hindus teach we are reincarnated after we die. Therefore, anyone who believes in heaven or hell is wrong. That position makes Hinduism exclusive. Every time you open your mouth to say what you believe, you are being exclusive. Every time you say something is “true,” it means everything opposed to what you just said is false. You are being exclusive.
I came across an article written by Dr. Steve McSwain (I hesitate to offer the link because it’s pure heresy, but here it is: https://bit.ly/2SvOb5A). I don’t know who Steve McSwain is, and I have no clue what field of study gave him a doctorate, but it’s clear that his method of Bible study is flawed, and he approaches the truth of Scripture from an agenda-laden position. His byline says he’s a “counselor to congregations” and a “spiritual teacher.” I’m not sure what spirit motivates his teaching, but it’s not God’s Spirit.
Here’s part of his reflective comments on John 14:6 and the exclusivity of the Gospel:
Jesus said “I am the way…no one comes to God but through me” (John 14:6). But what does that really mean?…Today, I realize that what Jesus was really saying is this: “I am the way,” as in, “I know the way.” “I’ve discovered it” which, by implication means, “you can, too.” Elsewhere, he put it like this: “I and the Father are one” and he prayed that we would discover the same as well (John 17). Which is precisely why he said continually, “Follow me.” In other words, it’s as if Jesus was saying, “If you believe anything, believe not WORDS but the WAY to Life itself. My way, like many other ways, will guide you into the Eternal. In fact, you cannot separate the way to God from God herself. The way to God IS God.”
For starters, Mr. McSwain (as if he’s going to read this blog), Jesus did NOT say “I know the way.” You can’t change Scripture. You can’t make it say something you want it to say or prefer it to say or something that’s more politically correct in our culture. Jesus said, “I myself am the way. No one comes to the Father if not through me.” No matter how you analyze that passage, if you are honest with yourself and use proper biblical interpretation, Jesus said He is the ONLY way to salvation. It doesn’t really take too much analysis or interpretation to see the cold facts staring you in the face. You can call Jesus a liar if you want to, but you can’t say Jesus was really saying “I know the way.” He said, “I am THE way.”
If I made an exclusive statement, you could debate it and reject it. After all, who am I to make an exclusive statement about much of anything. I’m flawed and my perspective is limited. Jesus, however, claimed to be God. If Jesus is God, then He has every right to create a salvation plan that offers only one path: Himself.Mr. McSwain said, “My way, like many other ways, will guide you into the Eternal.” My first thought was that this statement is also totally flawed. It is flawed from the way he was trying to project it, but in the end, he’s actually right. Jesus’ way will lead to eternal life. The “many other ways” he’s writing about will also lead into the eternal, eternal damnation. I didn’t say that. Jesus did.
“Did you enjoy your hike?” I bet I’ve been asked that at least 50 times since returning from my most recent backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. My first answer is “No!” I didn’t enjoy my trip because it was a really tough hike. The definition that comes to my mind with the word enjoy is “to take delight or pleasure in.” On this last hike, I covered a section called the Roller Coaster, and I don’t think the name does it justice – especially when the region was experiencing a heat wave that made five of the eight days feel like a hot summer day in July, and the last three days were cold and windy with driving rain.
I started some years ago trying to accomplish the goal of hiking the entire 2190 miles of the Appalachian Trail one section at a time. With this last hike of 100 miles, I have made it from Springer Mountain in north Georgia to the Pennsylvania state line. When I first started, I would hike only 3 or 4 days a year, but now I’ve started trying to hike at least a week or more at a time. Unfortunately, I get older every year, and I don’t want to have to climb Mt. Katahdin in Maine with a walker.
I looked up enjoy in the dictionary and discovered that I did enjoy my hike after all. The second definition says that enjoy means “to possess and benefit from.” The fact is that hiking 100 miles on the A.T. brought me great benefit: I’m closer to accomplishing my goal, it was great exercise, I faced a tremendous challenge and won, I did a lot of praying, I met some great people, and I got to spend time with my father, who met me at the end.
I reminded myself numerous times through my hike that life is not just about having fun. It is about personal growth, victories, character, and facing challenges. It is about becoming the person God wants me to be. The fact is that we can’t become the person God wants us to be without struggle and pain. God wants to shape our character, and mountain climbing is part of the recipe for personal growth. Your mountain may come in the form of financial struggles, parenting challenges, or setbacks with your health. We’ve all got mountains to climb, and they’re all part of God’s divine plan to help us to become the person that not only He wants us to become but also the person we want to become.
Are you climbing a mountain right now? Is life kind of difficult in this current season? You’re probably in just the right place, so enjoy it.
“A Day Without a Woman” – Women’s rights groups organized a march on Washington today to celebrate International Women’s Day, and they encouraged women to stand together against inequality and injustice against women. They marched against President Trump and “the decades long economic inequality, racial and sexual violence, and imperial wars abroad.” The organizers asked women to take off work, avoid shopping, and basically not do the things they would normally do in a day. Thrown into the mix of all of the platforms of the movement was the platform of “reproductive justice,” which basically is a call for the right to kill unborn children at any point during pregnancy. The International Women’s Strike group included this statement on their website: “We demand free abortion without conditions.” Without conditions includes abortion at full-term just before birth, partial birth abortion, convenience abortion at any point during the pregnancy, and any other form of abortion the woman wishes to have without consideration of the baby’s rights. What about reproductive justice for the unborn?
I must hasten to say that I believe if a woman is doing the same job as a man, she should be paid the same, and women should be respected and regarded highly at all levels. In my opinion, this focus today had nothing to do with honoring women. It had everything to do with hatred of President Trump, pride, arrogance, self-servitude and self-aggrandizement. These attitudes are a total 180 from what the Bible teaches about love, servanthood and humility. Organizers of the event referred to themselves as an “army of love,” but I only see hatred (toward President Trump and maybe all men in general).
The only way our country will find healing during this terrible time of upheaval is if we will apply the golden rule (Do unto others what you want them to do unto you) and the Great Commandment (Love your neighbor as yourself). Marching with an agenda of hatred, acting with a motive of malevolence, or speaking with a goal of besmirching political leaders does not honor God and does not make for a strong Republic.
I would like to encourage a day that we would not call “A Day Without a Woman,” but maybe “A Day for a Woman.” Let’s serve the ladies in our lives and give them the respect that they deserve. Let’s thank God for the wonderful gift of women in our lives. If you’re a woman, it is my hope that you are appalled at what transpired today and would recommit yourself to the attributes and character qualities that best represent Jesus Christ. Then let’s have “A Day for Unity” where people of both sexes and all ethnicities stand together as Americans – not white Americans, black Americans, male or female Americans, Mexican-Americans – just Americans. Maybe we could follow that up with “A Day for Jesus” where all Christians share the wonderful stories of how Jesus Christ has changed our lives.
It’s time to come together. Psalm 133:1 says, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Let’s all recommit ourselves to community and love. Let’s look around today to see who we can out serve. Focus on giving instead of receiving. Think of serving others instead of reclaiming our rights. That would be a real day worth celebrating.
In my last blog, I asked the question: “What if I don’t want to sing?” It’s a valid question. We’ve all faced times where we had no song, but the problem is that God commands us throughout the Scripture to sing. I mentioned two causes for not wanting to sing. If you didn’t read my last blog, you may want to stop and read it now.
Whether we don’t sing because we think we can’t or because a sad circumstance has stolen our song, the solution is simple: sing anyway. God only wants a joyful noise, and we’ll find that singing may be God’s prescription to pull us out of the doldrums. It is amazing that while worship is directed to God, we benefit significantly. As we sing to God, he heals our hearts.
Another reason we are to sing has to do with people around us. You may think you’re doing the people around you a favor by not singing. Actually, you’re not. Colossians 3:16 commands us to sing to one another because our singing has mutual benefit: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Have you ever considered the idea that the person sitting next to you in worship is benefiting from your singing? Imagine a man beside you in worship next Sunday who may be struggling with a matter or a problem. He desperately needs help from God, and then he hears you singing with gusto and conviction about the faithfulness of God. Your song encouraged him with truth from God’s Word. Before long, he begins to join in with you in giving praise to God. This is one way Colossians 3:16 can be lived out in our lives. Though worship is for God, our singing can certainly bless others with spiritual encouragement.
We can also teach others through singing by intentionally singing about theological truths. I’ve taught children how to share the gospel by putting music to the “Roman Road to Salvation” scriptures. I learned about the Old Testament story of Israel’s great revival of 1 Samuel 7 because I sang the old hymn “Come Thou Fount.” I had to look up the “here I raise mine Ebenezer” part, and read a wonderful story about God working in the lives of his people. Singing can have great value in teaching us God’s Word.
What if I don’t want to sing? Sing anyway. It honors the Lord, and someone in your life needs to hear it. You will benefit greatly by lifting your spirit and by opening up your hearts to spiritual truths. Music is a wonderful gift from a loving God, so, tilt your head back and sing for the glory of God.
Transformation! At my church, we have begun a fall spiritual growth campaign called “Transformed,” and I’m really excited about how God is going to use it in our lives. I’ve been thinking a good bit about how God is in the transformation business. It began with Adam and Eve and it continues today in me and you. He takes that which is bad or useless and transforms it into good and useful. One thing that strikes me about transformation is that while God is in the business of changing lives, it really depends upon our willingness to change. I stressed in the first two messages of this series that God is the One who does the transforming, not us, but we have to put ourselves in the place of transformation. This “positioning” requires several things I would like to share.
First, we must long for transformation. We must ask ourselves if we are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Transformation is not easy. It is often times painful. When was the last time you lost a significant amount of weight? That’s transformation, and it’s not easy. We must be able to see ourselves as we really are and long for what could be.
Second, we must be willing to incorporate the steps necessary to bring about transformation in our lives. It’s possible that we know what to do to transform our marriage or our finances, but it’s also possible that we’re not really sure. Over the next several weeks, I’m going to share some principles that will help us with this process of change in my weekly sermon (you can listen to these messages online), and a number of books and resources are also available to help us with needed change in our lives. You don’t have to be an expert, but you do need to be willing to learn from others that God may place in your lives.
Third, we should set some goals in our lives for transformation. Based upon our reading, listening, prayer, and study, we should establish some S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time framed). I always encourage people to write out their goals. What are some goals you have in your life regarding spiritual transformation? What are some things you can do to place yourself in a position of transformation? For example, you could set goals to meet with God every day in Bible reading and prayer or attend worship at your church. What about transformation in your health or finances? What could you do to place yourself in a spot where God can bring transformation in your marriage, your family, or your career? Write out some goals. The series at SonRise will deal with transformation in the following areas of our lives: spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, relational, financial, and vocational. Are you willing to set some goals in these areas and see what God can do through your life?
How do you say goodbye to your mother? My mother passed away last week. I kissed her the night before she died, told her I loved her, and told her that she would soon see Jesus. It was a sad time when she died the next day, but our sorrow was not for my mom. It was for us. My mother loved Jesus with all of her heart. The scripture is clear that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Even with Alzheimer’s, my mother lived out her faith. Just months before her death, she was not able to talk about much, but she could carry on a conversation about the Word of God. She would sing hymns and pray. A month before she passed, I was at my parent’s house doing some repairs, and my mom walked into the kitchen and said, “I need to pray for you.” We bowed our heads, and she started a prayer. My mother didn’t get past “Dear Heavenly Father,” but God knew exactly what was on her heart. I am confident that the Holy Spirit finished her prayer somewhere in the portals of Heaven.
My mother was passionate about sharing the gospel with everyone in the world. She lived out her passion and influenced thousands and thousands of people all over the world. I know that she personally led over 1000 children to Christ during the 13-year period she was a camp director. I learned last week that she had written a song or chorus. I can’t believe I didn’t know that. Many of the grandchildren knew it. All of the grandchildren and great grandchildren (at least those who were old enough to sing) sang her song at her funeral:
Everyone, everywhere needs to know of God’s love; for everyone, everywhere, Jesus came from above
To die on Calvary; His great love for all to see. Everyone, everywhere needs God’s love.
My oldest daughter told me yesterday that her two-year-old daughter asked her daddy to sing to her Grandma’s song. I am confident that my mother’s heart and life’s passion will continue to influence my family and the world for generations to come.
How do you say goodbye to your mother? If you and your mom are Christians, you don’t have to. The Bible is clear that we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Our hope is in Jesus Christ. I have no doubt my mother is in Heaven. I don’t have to say “goodbye” but rather “I’ll see you later.”
“I don’t think I can hike another quarter of a mile.” I think I have this thought every time I complete a hike on the Appalachian Trail, and this time was no different. My two youngest daughters and I just completed a 3-day, 47 mile hike through the beautiful Virginia mountains, and it thrilled me to watch my girls drink in the beauty of God’s creation. I wasn’t as thrilled with how bad they made me look as they were constantly having to stop to wait on me to catch up. It was interesting for me to think about how badly my feet hurt after three days of hiking. I thought back to my last seven-day hike through the mountains and remember having the similar pains and blisters at the end of that one. The difference is that one was three days and the other was seven days. How did I manage to go for four more days last time when I was ready to collapse after three days this week? Somehow, I always have just what I need to make the hike – no more and no less. I think that life is that way. While God gives us a surplus of grace, He usually only gives us just what we need in many other departments. Think back to your own experiences. Do you find that you have just enough energy to go through a 3-day family crisis and a 3-month personal trauma? God always meets us where we are and takes us to where we need to be. The scriptural truth is found in Philippians 4:19 “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Whether it’s another day on the Appalachian Trail or the strength to go through another month barely making ends meet, God will be there to give you enough to finish strong. Do you trust Him?
What difference does the resurrection of Jesus Christ make in your life? What difference does it make in a family and in a country? Christ’s resurrection certainly gives us perspective and hope. It reminds us that we too can have victory over death and the grave through Jesus, and our only hope for eternity is found in faith and trust in Jesus and His finished work on the cross. Our hope finds new joy and anticipation as we too consider the empty tomb. Our Savior is not dead, but rather He is alive. This reality should change the way we live and respond to people and circumstances. It reminds us that we live for eternity and not just for time. It calls us to order our lives according to the teaching of God’s Word and show the world how the resurrection changes our character, our relationships, and how we treat those whom we do not even know. The resurrection creates a bond between believers throughout the world and helps us to better understand the broad concept of family. The Christian family is a global unit, and therefore when one Christian is hurting in Iraq, Christians across the world feel his sorrow. This means we cannot ignore the persecution of Christians regardless of where they live. We share a common faith with Christians everywhere, and therefore it is our responsibility to pray for our brothers and sisters and to do everything in our power to help relieve their struggles. This means writing to our political leaders to express our views and concerns, supporting relief organizations that are reaching out to the persecuted, and praying for Christians who are living daily under the threat of persecution.
I recently listened to David Cameron, the Prime Minister of Great Britain as he shared an Easter message. I encourage you to listen to it. He underscored the role of a Christian nation in reaching out to the down trodden, the persecuted, and the abused. It was refreshing to hear him refer to Great Britain as a Christian nation, and it made me long to see our own nation embrace our Christian heritage. We can expect increased persecution of Christians in the next years, and it is paramount that we pray for our brothers and sisters and support them in any way possible. As we mentally gather at the empty tomb to see that Jesus has indeed risen, we will look around and discover that we share this wonder and awe as well as responsibility with Christians everywhere. Regardless of denominational title or geographical location, we are family together because the tomb is empty. May the death and resurrection of Jesus continue to impact our choices and actions as we live in light of the resurrection of Jesus.