The Total Eclipse

eclipse

The long-awaited total eclipse is only hours away.  Thousands of people are traveling to places all across America to witness 100 percent darkness.  I have seen stories where small towns like Beatrice, Nebraska and Atchinson, Kansas are expecting thousands of people to come into their city.  What should Christians make of the total eclipse?  This is a wonderful day where creation will point itself back to the Creator.  In a few words, let me simply say, when you look into the heavens today, see God and worship Him.  

Some Christians are trying to convince people that the eclipse is a precursor and a sign of the end times:  I think not.  First of all, eclipses are not rare.  Most calendar years include a total of 4 eclipses somewhere on the earth.  While a total solar eclipse in the United States is rare, we must realize that America is not central to God’s prophetic clock.  This eclipse is not a precursor to the second coming. In fact, scripture says He will come like a thief in the night.  We are able to predict an eclipse with pinpoint accuracy but we can never predict the time or day a thief might arrive.  The coming of Jesus will come at an unexpected time so always be ready.

So what should we make of the total eclipse this afternoon? Let me encourage you in four rather simple areas:

  1. The Glory of God

Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”  As you look at the eclipse (with your government approved safety glasses of course), be overwhelmed with the glory of our majestic God and be left speechless.   Too often we look into creation and miss the wonderment and awe of our faithful Creator. So, when you look into the heavens today, see God and worship Him.

  1. It’s all about God

We are living in a time where our technological and scientific advances lead us to think that humans are the center of the universe; it’s almost as if we believe we control the universe.   Let this total eclipse remind you that God is sovereignly in control and He is the center of all things.  As the moon passes by, be reminded that God controls the universe and not man.  You are doing absolutely nothing to cause this God-magnifying event in the sky.  Be amazed as you look into the heavens and see God and worship Him.  

  1. We are small but incredibly and entirely loved by God.

Psalm 8:3-4 “When I consider your heavens the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”  As I look into the heavens today, I will be reminded of how small I am and how majestic God is.  I will be humbled by the simple thought that the creator loves his creation and cares for it; including me.  Who am I that God would think of me?  Who am I that He would die for me?  When you look into the heavens today, see God and worship Him.

  1.  Remember the cross.

Finally, as my world grows dark 1:03 pm, I will think upon the day nearly 2000 years ago when my Savior hung on a cross, becoming sin for me, and absorbing the wrath of God upon Himself.  From noon that day until 3:00 pm, “darkness came over the whole land” (Mark 15:33).  As I stand in the dark at midday today, even for a couple of minutes, I will praise my Savior who gave His life for me.  When you look into the heavens today, see God and worship Him.

Remember, the eclipse is not a precursor to the end times, but it is a beautiful reminder of our glorious God and His immensely vast love for us. They say there will be a time when the sun will shine behind the moon with a brilliance of a diamond.  I pray as you look into the midday sun, God will shine for you in all His brilliance. I pray that you will be humbled and left in reverent worship and submission to our faithful and wonderful God.  When you look into the heavens today, see God and worship Him.

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Acts: Prescriptive or Descriptive?

In a desire to create multiple layers to my preaching, I’ll be supplementing my sermons with a few blog articles too. I pray they are useful to you.  Here is the first article: sunday-extra

There are many ways to ask this question: Is the Book of Acts theological or historical?  Are the events in Acts only describing historical events which mean nothing to the church today or are they prescribing specific theological truths the church should emulate?  Are the events recorded in the Book of Acts normative or unique?  No matter how you ask the question, my answer is always the same; Yes.  The events in Acts are both descriptive and prescriptive.

There are some events which are undoubtedly historical and thus, unrepeatable.   Acts chapter 2 is describing a unique and unrepeatable event.  Like the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, the Day of Pentecost is a one-time event describing the clothing of the church with power from on high (Luke 24:49).  “You could no more have Pentecost over gain than you could have the Crucifixion and the Resurrection over again” (Acts: An Expositional Commentary by Donald Grey Barnhouse, page 26). Is Paul’s salvation experience normative for you and me?  Should we see a great light and hear the voice of Jesus when we are saved?  Should we elect our deacons, elders, and team members by casting lots the way the early church chose Mathias?  These are just a few examples of historical one-time events described in the pages of Luke’s writing.  John Stott says, “It should be clear from these examples that not everything that people are recorded in the Acts as having done or experienced is meant to be replicated in our lives” (The Message of Acts by John Stott, page 8).

There is no doubt Luke describes events God has no intention for the church to recapture or recreate.  However, I think there is much in Acts Luke prescribes for the church today. We are to be filled with power from the Holy Spirit.  We are to be a bold witness for the Gospel.  We must model Paul and take the Gospel to every tribe, nation, and tongue.  Like the members of the early church, we must be committed to the cause of Christ, we must proclaim the Gospel boldly and with passion, we must be willing to sacrifice everything we own for the good of others and the glory of God, and we must be willing to even die for the sake of the Gospel.  Furthermore, the same God who breathed life into the church on the Day of Pentecost is the same God that breathes life into His church today.  Like the early church, God clothes us with power from on high. Therefore, go and live in that power, being a bold witness for our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Be Our Guest – Invite

As a pastor of nearly 20 years, I absolutely love Easter.  I love what it means to my Be out guestpersonal faith.  Jesus is alive; He has risen.  The resurrection of Jesus changes everything.  I love what it means to my church. Whether it was a very small church I pastored of 12 people or a little larger church of nearly 300, Easter was and is or just “has always been” special.  There is an excitement and a joy on Easter morning we do not always experience.

My wife and I saw “Beauty and the Beast” a couple of weeks ago.  As I sit here writing down my thoughts about Easter, I’m still singing songs from the movie.  I especially like the song, “Be Our Guests.”  It always makes me think about the guests we get every Sunday morning.  On Easter, every church in America will have guests come who may not normally come.  Are you excited about those who may come to our church on Sunday?  Here are few ideas of how you can get ready for your very special guests this Sunday.

Before Sunday: Invite

Before Easter morning, your task is simple: Invite people to our Easter worship celebration.  Lifeway Research (http://lifewayresearch.com/) asked a question: Do you plan to attend a worship service on Easter?  39% of the people respond, “No” and 41% responded, “Yes.”  While not surprising, it was a little discouraging.  However, 20% of those polled said they don’t know.  They haven’t decided. Consider that number.  1 in 5 people are keeping their options open.  That is great news.  Imagine if every member in our church would invite 5 people to church this Sunday.  The odds are in our favor that at least one of those five will attend.  Be bold! Invite people to church on Easter Sunday.  Many will be very open to the invitation. Take a moment to consider the following:

“Christians who automatically attend church on Easter should be mindful of their many friends, neighbors and family members who haven’t ruled out the idea of attending,” said Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research. “It may be that a personal invitation is what would make a difference to them.” (http://lifewayresearch.com/2013/03/26/survey-one-in-five-americans-undecided-about-easter-church-attendance/)

On Sunday: Be Intentional with our guests

Be excited about the guests who come. They are not a nuisance.  They are our guests and we want to make them feel at home.  Here are a couple of intentional ideas for you to try on Sunday:

  1. Arrive in the gathering area early. Grab a cup of coffee and talk to people. Mingle with people.  Don’t mingle with only people you know, but make a point of meeting new people.  Make sure they know where the coffee is, where the bathrooms are, where the nursery is and where our welcome center is located.  Make a point of going out of your way to make them feel welcome.
  2. Sit up closer to the front. I know what you are thinking. My regular seat is on the back row. Imagine if our “regular” attendees would be willing to move up closer to the front.  Too often we make our guests walk farther down the aisle and find a seat on the front row.  Let’s give them the seats in the back of our worship center.  It would be so much easier for them.
  3. Greet the guests first. Like every Sunday, there will be a greeting time. Make a point of going out of your way to talk with people you don’t know. Find ones who may be standing around awkwardly and make a point of saying hello.
  4. Take an active role in worship. Can I pass on a novel idea? Sing and sing loudly. Sing with joy in your heart.  Let our guest think we really believe this news about Easter.  We really believe Jesus is alive and has changed everything.  Smile! It’s ok for a guest to leave saying our music was good, the preaching wasn’t horrible, but those people sure love Jesus.  I think God can use that for His glory.
  5. One of our goals is to get follow-up information on our guests. Help us in the process. Make sure they know about our Welcome Center. Let them know one of the gifts they will receive for turning in their communication card is a free breakfast sandwich card from Chick-fil-A.

Are you realizing these are habits we should be doing every week, not just on Easter?
After Easter Sunday: Invest in our guests

Our greatest desire is to see our guests come back the next week.  Imagine what would happen if every member took the time to invest in our guests.  What could God do with a very simple invitation?  Consider meeting a guest on Sunday. Introduce yourself.  Invite them personally to attend church next Sunday and invite them to have lunch when they come back to church.  Contact the church office on Monday.  Take a name of one of our guest families and adopt them. Personally call them and invite them back.  Be intentional with our guest on Monday morning, too.

There will be a peak in our attendance this Sunday.  It goes without saying, you have already started praying for your pastor and worship leaders.  We can do all the physical things we can, but what we need more than anything is a pouring out of God’s Spirit upon the church.  Pray for God to do just that.  No, may I say, beg God to pour His Spirit upon your church this Sunday.  Only He can make dead bones live.

My Thoughts on The Shack

shackoverToday, William P. Young’s bestseller, The Shack, hits theaters across America.  I’m sure it will receive glowing reviews from Christian and non-Christians alike.  I’m certain many Christians will open their wallets and pay good money to see it.  Before you go, please take time to read the article and at least arm yourself with a few truths.

But is The Shack worth your money? In full disclosure, this is not a movie review.  In fact, I am not planning on seeing the movie.  If this article is anything, it’s simply my desire to caution people to be very careful if they choose to see the movie.  At the least, The Shack confuses the Word of God.  At its worst, The Shack completely contradicts our long-held orthodox view of the Trinity and Salvation.  In short, don’t waste your money on The Shack.  If you are not well-grounded in scripture it will simply make you feel good and confuse you on some important Christian beliefs.

I read The Shack many years ago.  I had multiple people in my church ask my thoughts on the book.  I remember then how disappointed I was in it and how worried I was that so many Christians, not only read the book,  but enjoyed it and saw nothing wrong with its contents.  I have too many more important books to read than to waste my time in rereading The Shack.  Instead, I did a little research into the book and was reminded why I disliked it some much and why I must caution you to stay away from the movie.

First, Young does a wonderful job in spinning a beautiful fictional story with highly emotional content while somehow weaving what many people feel are central Christian beliefs throughout.  As you read the book, you realize this is not a Christian book even though it advertises itself as on.  The problem is the weaving Young does will simply confuse too many Christians.  For instance, he completely confuses the Trinity.

First, Young portrays the Father as “Papa,” a large African-American woman, and he paints the third person of the Trinity as a small Asian woman.  That in itself is confusing enough.  While scripture does give God feminine features as in Matthew 23 where Jesus says He “longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks…,” when scripture speaks of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit it uses the masculine term.  God is our Father, not our mother.  We cry out Abba Father, we don’t cry out to our mother.  Jesus is the unique Son of God, not a daughter of God.  In scripture when speaking of the Holy Spirit it always uses the masculine as in John 16:8: “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt…”  Again, portraying the Father as an African American woman and the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman is very problematic for Christians.  In this day where our nation is working through our own gender identity crisis, it doesn’t help the church when books and movies confuse the identity of the Godhead.

Young goes on to confuse the Trinity when he states,  “When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God we became fully human.”  What does that even mean?  Scripture teaches the Son became the incarnate God, not the Trinity (Philippians 2:5-11).  The Trinity is one God but has revealed Himself to us in three co-equal, co-eternal persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Shack does a wonderful job in completely confusing the already great mystery of the Trinity.

The problem with the Shack is it not only confuses our orthodox beliefs, in several places in it completely contradicts Scripture.  For instance, Young completely denies the existence of sin and evil.  Young writes, “…evil is a word we use to describe the absence of good, just was we use the word darkness to describe the absence of light… evil and darkness can only be understood in relation to Light and Good; they do not have any actual existence.” (p 136) The denial of sin and evil can not be overlooked and swept under the rug.  This is a heretical belief and should be enough for every Christian to revolt from both the book and movie.

Why did the Father send His Son?  To die for you and me.  Why did Jesus die?  Because of the reality of sin and evil that began when Satan revolted in heaven and Adam chose to eat of the tree in the Garden.  If there is no evil and sin, there is no Gospel.  I say all the time if there is no bad news, the good news is only news. Why is the Gospel good news? Because there is bad news: the bad news reality of sin, evil, and death and God’s future punishment of evil and sin.

Young also completely annihilates the role of the atoning sacrifice.  Mack asks Papa, “Aren’t you the one spilling our great bowls of wrath and throwing people into a burning lake of fire?… (Papa replies) I don’t need to punish sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside.  It’s not my purposes to punish sin; it’s my joy to cure it.”  Can you see the fallacy and heresy in this statement?

Much of what Young writes sounds really good and we may wish it to be true.  However, it contradicts the plain teaching of the Bible.  The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  God will absolutely punish sin. Exodus 34:6-7 holds the beauty of the tension of a compassionate and punishing God: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.”  Praise be to God.  This is the God William Young paints in the pages of The Shack.

The problem is the scriptures continue. “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished…” (Ex 34:7).  How can God be both a compassionate God while also being a God who punishes the wicked?  The answer is found in Jesus.  God punished the wickedness of rebellion and sin through His Son. The wrath God had reserved for me He instead poured out upon His Son Jesus.  We serve a glorious God.  I can assure you, He will punish evil and sin fully and finally one day.  Today you must repent of your sin, believe in the finished work of Jesus and trust Him as your Savior (Romans 10:9-10).  Don’t delay; God has punished sin in His Son and will punish sin in the future.

Young also confuses and contradicts scripture when Papa, the character of God, is seen with scars on her wrist.  “Papa didn’t answer, only looked down at their hands. His gaze followed hers and for the first time Mack noticed the scars in her wrists, like those he now assumed Jesus also had on his … Jesus reached across the table and took Papa’s hands in his, scars now clearly visible on his wrists” (pg 95, 107).  Again, this is a gross misunderstanding of the atonement and I believe out-and-out heresy.

Jesus was our atoning sacrifice (1 John 2:2).  Our sin debt was paid by Christ on the cross to the Father.  The Father did not die on the cross.  Instead, He poured His wrath on His Son and Jesus died a substitutionary death for you and me.

We could go on and on.  Young is also a universalist.  He believes there is no need for the atonement.  Once again Young will confuse many Christian who are not grounded in scripture.  In the book, he has Jesus saying, “‘Who said anything about being a Christian? I’m not a Christian. The idea struck Mack as odd and unexpected and he couldn’t keep himself from grinning.  ‘No I suppose you aren’t.’ ‘Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhist or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrat, Republican and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institution… I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my beloved.’ ‘Does that mean,’ asks Mack, “that all roads will lead to you?’ This is denied by Jesus by he explains, “What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you’” (page 182).

Can you see the mastery of Young?  He skillfully weaves truth together with out-and-out lies.  In my research for this article, here are some of the other statements Young makes in The Shack that should cause us to stay for away from both the movie and the book:

“God puts himself on our human level and limits himself”;

“Although Jesus is fully God, he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything”;

“God cannot act apart from love”;

“I don’t need to punish people for sin”;

The Father and Jesus were crucified together;

“God cannot send any of his children to an eternity of hell just because they sin against him”;

“mercy triumphs over justice because of love”;

Jesus is “a path of reconciliation”.

If you are not able to see the error in the above statements, by all means, do not go to this movie or waste your money and time by reading the book.  Is this a Christian book? I would want to first ask if Young himself is a Christian.   Let Young’s words speak for themselves: Young has been quoted as saying, “evangelical faith and its teaching about judgment makes God “grossly unjust”; that “Jesus is a million times more vicious and vindictive than Pharaoh, Nero, or Hitler put together”; that Jesus Christ is “not the Savior from sins”;  that Jesus died “a failure and in vain and never saved anyone”; thus Jesus “is not even a good man but a liar, a rogue, and a deceiving rascal”; that “Calvary is a farce, a travesty, and a sham.” (I saw this in multiple places but here is one reference about evangelical faith and its teaching https://www.movieguide.org/news-articles/reel-change.html).

I think the above statements give us biblical justification to doubt the salvation of Young and therefore doubt the motive and essence of this book.  This is neither a Christian movie nor a Christian book.

Should a Christian spend their hard earned money on this movie?  I for one can find many other things I would rather spend my money on.  Don’t waste your money.  If you are not strong in your faith, this movie will touch you on an emotional level but will also confuse you.  If you are knowledgeable about scripture and strong in your faith, the movie will probably just make you mad.   We are living in a day where there seems to be very little spiritual discernment.  My recommendation is to encourage you to get into your Bible.  Get to know the truth so well that the lies and heresies we see in a book like The Shack will be quickly discerned by Christian everywhere.

Could Jesus Have Sinned?

This past Sunday we examined the temptations of our Lord in Matthew chapter 4.  I, for one, face temptations every day. I am able to find victory over many of my temptations but at times I still succumb to temptation.  Almost every time I am preaching or teaching on the temptations of Christ, someone will ask, “Could Jesus have sinned?” Now that not only is a complex question, it also demands a complex but not complicated answer.

sunday-extra To get to the heart of this question, we must remember four simple truths which are revealed to us in Scripture.  First, Jesus was fully human.  Throughout Scripture we see the humanity of Christ evidenced in his hunger, his sleeping, his tears, his sorrow, his agony and his death, to name a few.  Secondly, we affirm He was fully tempted by Satan in the desert.  Hebrews 4:15 tells us Jesus was “tempted in every way.” Next, Jesus is fully God.  This is the beauty and mystery of the Incarnation. Jesus was both God and man.  In his Gospel, Matthew confirms this by simply saying Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us.”  Finally, we must remember God can not be tempted (James 1:13).  Therefore, Jesus was fully human and fully divine.  In His humanity, He was physically capable of sinning but in His divinity, He was morally incapable of sinning.  In other words, in His humanity, He was tempted just as we are but in His divinity, He was not tempted; this is a great mystery that boggles our minds.

So how do we answer the question, “Could Jesus have sinned?”  The answer may be both a yes and a no.  This week I read Russell Moore’s “Tempted and Tried.”  To help us navigate the waters of this great mystery, let me close this discussion with an illustration from Moore’s book:

Could Jesus have sinned? To answer that I would simply say that it depends on what you mean by ‘could.’ I’ll respond to another question.  Think of the person you love the most.  While you have this loved one’s face before your mind, let me ask you: ‘Could you murder that person?’ Your response would probably be, ‘Of course not!’ You would tell me how much you love the person and what the person means to you, and so forth.  You’re incapable of murdering this person because the very act is opposed to everything you are about … In your response to my question, you would be assuming ‘could’ to mean a moral capability. But ‘could’ here could also mean a natural ability. You tell me you ‘couldn’t’ murder your loved one, but that’s no sign that you are saying you couldn’t physically take this person on.  You’re saying you would never do such a thing…. God is incapable of sinning. But Jesus, in his human nature, really desires those things humanity’s been designed to desire.  Could he have sinned – is his nature one that is capable of being both light and darkness? No.  Could he have sinned – was he physically capable of eating bread, of throwing himself from the temple, of bowing his knee and verbalizing the words, ‘Satan is lord?’ Yes, of course. (Tempted and Tried by Russell Moore.)

So where does this leave us?  Could Jesus have sinned in the desert?  In His humanity, He was physically able to sin but in His divinity is was morally incapable of sinning.  Therefore, in His humanity, He was fully tempted just as we are but in His deity, He was not tempted and therefore incapable of sinning.  There is a mysterious and mind-numbing tension between the two.  He was physically able but morally incapable of sinning.  Could He have sinned? No. He is God and as God He can not sin but as man He was tempted just as we are.  I sure hope that clears that up.

Sunday Recap May 8, 2016

We had another great Sunday at First Southern Baptist Church. It was such an encouraging Sunday. First, wasn’t it a blessing to see all the children down front for the Children’s Sermon? It was so much fun talking to them and I was grateful and a little disappointed none of the kids said anything too incriminating about their mothers. I am so blessed to have a church filled with so many godly mothers. Thanks moms for all you do for all of us.

We also had the immense joy to see 8 families dedicate their 10 children to the Lord. Since we do not baptize infants, a time of dedication is especially important and meaningful. At the heart of a Christian dedication is a parent’s wiliness to set their children apart to God and His Kingdom. It is their promise to raise their children in such a fashion that the Gospel will be taught, modeled, and learned. It is their promise to do everything in their power to see their children raised in a Christian environment. I like this Billy Graham quote: “You can’t help the type of home you were born in but you can help what type of home your children are born in.” As parents dedicate their children, they are promising to raise their kids in a home where the children will one day find Jesus and place their personal faith and trusts in Him, and live lives worth of their calling.

Our primary passage was taken from Deuteronomy 6:4-9. It is called the “Shema.” Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was and He responded by quoting the Shema. We were reminded our greatest passion as a parent is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, and strength. We must then be passionate to impress upon our children the necessity of loving God with all their heart, soul, and strength. How do we impress this upon them? First, we model that passionate love of God. They must see it in us. Secondly, we must teach it. We talk about this love to our children we sit, walk, lie down or get up. In other words, we continuously talk about them in our normal everyday living. Finally, we share it with others. Your family is a witness to a lost and dying world. You must put these commands into practice in such a way the lost world see your love of God and they in turn begin to seek Him.

What actions steps can you take to develop this passionate love for God? What can you do as a family to better impress them upon your children? Meditate in the coming days over these things. Commit your ways to the Lord and He will bless you and your family.

Our numbers continue to stay up really well. Once again we were above the 300 mark. I always remind us, numbers are not the most important thing. However, they are one indicator of our general health. Remember, every number represents one person. This person may be lost without Christ, buried under a heavy burden, or simply needing the fellowship of a good church family. We do not care about numbers for numbers sake but we do care about them for people’s sake. The empty seats around our sanctuary need to be filled so the Gospel can penetrate all hearts of people in Salina.
This week we will look at selected scriptures in Exodus 6-10. We will examine lessons about God from the first 9 plagues. We will even answer the question, “Did God harden Pharaoh’s heart?” You don’t want to miss it.
I hope you are starting to realize when you miss one Sunday you miss a lot!

Prayer Requests:
– Remember to pray for our graduating High School Seniors. This is their graduation weekend.
Pray for me. Ask God to give me clarity when it comes to preparing Sunday’s sermon. Ask Him to fill me with His Spirit and to give me wisdom and insight to His direction for the sermon.
– Our church secretary, Roxanne, is having knee surgery on Monday. Pray for her.
Conner Fry is having tubes put in his ears tomorrow (Friday 5/13).
Mary O’Farell had back surgery on Wednesday and is doing better.
– Begin praying for our World Changer mission team. 21 of us will be going to Dallas to minister to area residents. Be praying for our team. In the coming weeks, you will learn about opportunities to help us get to Dallas.
Quick Thank-you
– Our children were in our services this Sunday. It is great having them worship with us. However, we are also reminded of what a great ministry our Kid’s Church really is. Thank you to everyone who helps in this important ministry. A special thank you to the Berg and Harvey’s. Keep up the great work.
– Our Awana Awards Night was held last night. It has been a great year. If I’m correct, it is the biggest year we’ve had numerically. Praise God. Again, numbers are everything but every number in Awana is one more student hiding God’s Word in their hearts. A special thank you to Fred Leepers for his work with Awana and thank you to everyone who works so diligently in this important Children’s ministry.