Strange Times

03-31-2020

 

For many of us, these are the strangest times of our lives. Those older than 30 can remember 9/11. Our friends and families in New York fortunate enough lived through it, and we watched the horror of that time on TV. Coupled with the tragedy was the fear of the possibility of unknown terrorists attacking other places like malls and entertainment venues.

 

Most of us have experienced natural phenomenon as well – earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, blizzards, volcanoes, and floods. All of these things have occurred during our lifetimes.

 

Yet, this particular COVID-19 crisis is different, isn’t it? For most, we have to venture out at some point. We take precautions. We social distance. We wash our hands. But, inevitably, many of us will contract this virus anyway. The way they are explaining it, it’s just a matter of time before that happens and the government wants to space that time out as long as possible so that our hospitals and first-responders can handle the load. We feel helpless and alone.

 

I think that it is important to realize just how little we have control of, at the best of times. We, especially in the west, have created an illusion that we have control over the time when God calls us home.

 

The government makes laws that are designed to keep us safe (helmet laws, seatbelt laws, playground laws, and all of the everyday laws that we are told keep us safer). While those things are certainly good, we should not mistake them for real shields. We can be going the speed limit, obeying all of the road laws that we want, and one drunk driver or trucker that has fallen asleep can change our lives forever, or end them quickly. As some popular movies have suggested, real control is an illusion.

 

I’m not telling you this to scare you. I want all of us to remember who our real shield is and what that really means (Psalm 20):

 

The Lord answer you in the day of trouble! The name of the God of Jacob protect you! May he send you help from the sanctuary, and give you support from Zion. May he remember all your offerings, and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices. Selah. May he grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans. May we shout for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God set up our banners. May the Lord fulfill all your petitions. Now I know that the Lord will help his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with mighty victories by his right hand. Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God. They will collapse and fall, but we shall rise and stand upright. Give victory to the king, oh Lord; answer us when we call.

 

Those ‘some’ that David was talking about are those that do not put their trust in the right shield. They are the lost. And they are the lost because they refuse to put their trust in Someone greater than their government, Someone greater than their doctors, or more likely, Someone greater than themselves.

 

David always put his trust in God. Though he fell a long way when he allowed himself to lust after another man’s wife, David never wavered from his deep-centered belief that God was his true strength. And that strength wasn’t found in himself, in his army, or even in his priests.

 

Trusting in God doesn’t mean that we should have any illusion that our faith makes us impervious to COVID-19. There were a few pastors that saw fit to disobey the government, not because the government was asking them to do something against God’s laws, but because they confused practicing their faith with arrogance or ignorance.  They put their own people in jeopardy by holding services after being instructed not to and were wrong to do so.

 

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are the greatest example of how to put your trust in God. They disobeyed the government because it had asked them to do something in direct conflict with the very Ten Commandments that their faith was based upon. They told the king that their God could deliver them from the fiery furnace, but even if He didn’t, they would never bow down to his golden statue.

 

We have been promised that there is something far better waiting for us than what we have here. Therefore, we trust in the One that secured that for us: Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

 

Possibly the Saddest Day in U.S. History

Though conservative Christians have battled hard for the rights of the unborn children, today has seen the worst news for all of us that cherish human life. A new law has passed in New York, allowing abortion (for any reason) up until the point of birth. Mr. Cuomo is praising this law that he was instrumental in getting through his liberal state. He says that is is the finest day for progressives. This is not progress. It is horrendous. It is unthinkable. But it is also where our country is heading. We now value our ‘rights’ more than we value our lives, our morals, or our consciences.

We need to continue to pray for our country, but unless a revival happens and hearts are changed, this new law gives evidence to the probability that our time as a leading country is coming to an end. When countries have lost their morality, to the point that God abandons them and ‘gives them over to a depraved mind,’ those same countries have been decimated by differing types of disasters. Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. All of these countries were once centers of power, knowledge, and invention. But when God had had enough of their arrogance, they were laid waste. Is it our time? I don’t know. But I do know that this disgusting law moves us ever more closer to an end that Americans won’t like.

Bring the Rain

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything other than some sermons, but I thought this might be worth writing down. I am sitting here in bed; a chihuahua shaking next to me and two St. Bernards snoring. My wife is at our Women’s Retreat, so I have the TV on in the background as I am picking out songs for Sunday and working on my sermon. The sidelights are open as the rain is coming down.

I was thinking about how beautiful the sound of the rain is. It will end all too soon for us Socal people. We sorely need it. Then I was thinking about the people on the other coast who desperately need the rain to stop. Lives have been lost due to the wind, rain, flooding, and power outages.

There are times when I find myself too comfortable with my life in this world. I have a wonderful family, a beautiful home, and a great job serving people that I have grown to love dearly. And other than some complaints about the aches and pains of growing old, God has supplied my every need and a whole lot of things that I didn’t need and don’t deserve. All of that said, when you get too comfortable with your life here, something can happen to remind you that this world is severely damaged and poisoned by sin. Romans 8:28 says that the “whole creation has been groaning in labor pains.”

We often hear non-believers use natural disasters or other catastrophic events to deny the existence of God because a ‘loving God’ wouldn’t allow those things to happen. God ‘allowed’ mankind the gift of free-will—to choose right from wrong. From the beginning of our time here on earth, like rebellious children, we have chosen to do what we want to do rather than what God wanted us to do. “Every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” Mankind is the cause of the earth’s groaning just as assuredly as the drunk driver that kills someone is the cause of the death.

One day, maybe soon, the earth will be restored to the perfection in which it was created. And the children of God will finally be in their eternal home with no separation from God.

The rain continues to come down. It is beautifully cleansing. But I will remember that this world is not my home. I’m just ‘apassin’ through. May God bless you with His cleansing rain.

 

Terrible Tragedy

In light of the terrible tragedy in Sutherland Springs yesterday, I want to take this opportunity to, firstly, ask all of my church and personal family to pray for the survivors of this horrific act and for the loved ones left to grieve over their family members and friends that did not survive. They will need our prayers and the outpouring of love that only the Church can give.

I also want to address the question that is on everyone’s mind in the aftermath of the shooting. Why did this happen? What made this cowardly man do this? The law enforcement is telling us that the man had domestic violence issues and had threatened his former mother-in-law that attended the church there. However, the real answer to those questions lies in the study that we have been having on Wednesday evenings.  In the words of Hal Lindsey, Satan is alive and well on planet earth, and though he has lost the war, he is continuing to do everything he can to assault the children of God. He attacks us around the world, in our very own country, and even in our own homes.

Nearly a million Christians lost their lives for their faith in the past decade. We are being martyred all over the world. Even here in the US, the attitude of society has been changing to an anti-Christian world-view. Jews and Christians alike are being denigrated because of our beliefs. It shouldn’t surprise us that the world’s fight against God’s will would come home to roost in the US.

Satan attacks us in our country with the gradual (erosion?) changes in our laws that are increasingly anti-Christian in their wording and their practice. He attacks us in our homes by tearing at our marriages and our children. He uses our weaknesses to get us to ‘slow fade’ into apathy and disobedience to God.

As we pray for these grieving Christians in Texas, let us pray for a revival in our land. Let us pray for a revival in our own hearts! WE NEED AN AWAKENING! Satan has already lost. The victory was attained on the cross of Christ and in the empty tomb. It is our job to continue to make disciples and to worship and serve our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

God bless and strengthen you, First Southern Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs! May he give you the peace and strength needed to carry on!

A New Beginning

Last Wednesday night, we finally did it. We finished Revelation and our study of the end-times. While it is very interesting and full of hope for those that are in Christ Jesus, it is also long and tedious and sends many of us into information overload.

Tonight, we begin our study of “The Church Awakening,” the book by Chuck Swindoll. I believe this book is one of the most astute books on the consequences of the general societal thought process of our time and of the church specifically.

Our society is telling the church that it is wrong. Many churches and some entire denominations have bowed to the will of the people and changed their theology to adapt to societal norms.

There was a guy in the Bible that did the same thing. His name was Lot. He already had issues with his character that may have been the deciding factor in his spiritual demise. He was greedy and thankless. When there were problems between his servants and the servants of his uncle Abram, due to the size of their flocks, Abram offered Lot the choice of land and he chose the best land, even though his uncle had nurtured and cared for him much of his life.

The land that Lot settled in included the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which were either already full of disgusting sin or were heading that way when Lot chose to go there. When the angels of the Lord go into Sodom, they rescue Lot, his wife, and his two daughters. Since they also tried to rescue the two men betrothed to the girls, we know that Lot’s morals had at least declined enough for him to allow his daughters to be betrothed to men of the city, wicked though they may be.

Evil affects everyone. Not just the wicked. Lot may have had no idea  that his morals and the morals of his family had declined. He only had the people of the city to compare himself to. His wife looked back (against the command of the angels) and became a pillar of salt. However, his daughters committed a great sin by committing incest with their father. You see, their morals had slipped into depravity even though they may have thought themselves to be better than others around them.

Oh, like so many, they were able to reason their sin away by telling themselves it was a necessary evil, but it was still sin.

As Christians, how do we know that we are sliding down a slope that we might never recover from? We must put a stake in the ground! As a church, what is acceptable and what is not? We must put a stake in the ground!

Chuck Swindoll’s book does a great job of describing church erosion and how to combat it. I hope you’ll join us in this study! See you tonight!

Worship

My son and I recently returned from a trip to Belize. We were blessed with the opportunity to do some scuba diving prior to visiting with the family members of some congregation members of ours.

Though we both loved the chance to see the undersea life of Belize, the most rewarding part of our trip was the fellowship with the members of Crooked Tree Church of the Nazarene. We stayed with a family that were very gracious and full of the Holy Spirit. They went out of their way to show us a good time and to share their home, their food, and their love with us.

I was very honored to have the opportunity to preach in the church on Sunday morning and Sunday evening. What an experience! They were very encouraging and worshipful. Nearly everyone there sang loudly without inhibition. A very big difference from the U.S. where many are too self-conscious to sing out loud because someone might criticize their voices. They raised hands in praise and shouted ‘Amen’ during my sermons. Stevie had never been in that type of service and was surprised to see how they worshipped together. And they did all this in 85 degree heat and 80% humidity with no A/C!

We could certainly learn a few things from them. They don’t worry about what someone else might think. An old friend of mine would have said that they just sing by letter (they opened their mouths and letter fly). They worshipped with their mouths, their bodies, their souls, and their minds. I know that I have always found it difficult to ‘cut loose’ and worship wholeheartedly. My dad used to say that we could only get our hands up half mast. I could not help but admire their spirit. Several came from miles away to join their family in worship. I watched a small boy peddling his bicycle over a bridge to get to church. Lord, give us the earnest desire to worship you as they do! Give us the urgency to come together no matter the inconveniences and distractions that life can bring!

 

XMAS

This past Sunday, I spoke to my people about the commercialization of Christmas. I know that many Christians (and even some non-Christians) decry the blatant commercialization of Christmas that we have seen grow in our country. As an example, I picked on a wonderful woman in our congregation named Jane:

Jane, if you told me that your cousin’s cousin was throwing a birthday party, I would tell you “that’s great” and not think about it another moment. However, if you told me that I was being given the day off, I would say “let’s party!” But I still wouldn’t care about your cousin’s cousin because I don’t know him. I’m only going to care about him and truly celebrate his birthday if I have a relationship with him.

The world doesn’t know Jesus and He doesn’t know them, so, of course they are going to commercialize his birthday. They know that WE care about Him and want to celebrate Him properly, so they do their very best to make money off it.  Might it also be that because we care, Satan would like us to put our priorities on things like gifts and holiday movies rather than on Jesus? And here’s another shocker: though this is a time for families to come together, if their focus isn’t on Jesus, then it’s just another priority put into the wrong place.

Anyone that knows me knows my sense of humor. Sarcasm and irony (with a healthy does of puns) are a mainstay. Would you like to hear one of the most ironic things that I sometimes hear this time of year? “Pastor, I’m sorry I didn’t make it to church. I was just so tired out from all the Christmas stuff I’ve had to accomplish that I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed.” I actually have a difficult time not laughing when I hear that. It reminds me of one of my wife’s relatives, who missed our wedding because her husband was washing the car to make it look nice when they got there.

Listen, God and church are not necessarily synonymous, but don’t you think that if you truly wanted to celebrate His birthday, you’d be with His people, singing songs to Him and about Him, and worshipping Him with others that care just as deeply about Him?

By the way, that’s not just a question you should be asking yourself at Christmas and Easter…

Ponderings

I know that it has been a while. I don’t like just saying things for the sake of taking up space. I have come to Sin City to visit with family that hav come to see a few shows and get together. I’ll tell you, I find this place to be horrifying and fascinating at the same time.

There is definitely a large element of sin that permeates everything surrounding this city. I have taken long walks, just watching the people, and I find them to be perplexing. Many of them seem to be searching for something (we know what that is, though they seemingly do not), but they are running headlong in the wrong direction.

I just saw a young lady wearing nothing but body paint. Nothing. No wool, polyester, or cotton. Not even a speck of spandex! Just paint. I can honestly say that I did not do a double-take, but I thought, what kind of girl would be willing to do that for money?

I see homeless laying in the alcoves. They have cleaned up the ‘strip,’ but the outskirts are still places where the derelicts still gather. These are the people that sin has hit the hardest. Their choices have been poor and now their prospects are worse. How sad!

I am about to begin a series of Bible studies on Eschatology (end times), and when I see these things I wonder, when will He come? When will enough be enough? When will the cries of the saints reach their crescendo and God announce that the last person that was going to come to Him has answered the call?

No man will know. But I still wonder, is it soon?

Conflict

Hello Again Everyone,

I know that it has been a while since I last posted something. I don’t like to just blurt out everything that comes into my head (thank heavens).

Given that point, I do want to articulate something that has been on my mind as of late. It has to do with conflict. Conflict is something that we all see every day. Whether it involves things that are going on in the news of the day, or whether we are seeing it on the freeway or even in our own homes, we all have to deal with conflict.

I want to tell you right up front that I don’t like conflict. I remember something that our late District Superintendent, Ray Doane, used to say. He said he was a non-practicing pacifist. He said he’d hit you, but he didn’t want to. I don’t like conflict but I will deal with it if I have to. The dislike of conflict is one of the reasons that I don’t particularly enjoy watching presidential debates. We all know that each candidate is going to put their own spin on any particular subject or question, and yet the answers they give us tend to sway us in one direction or another.

My family recently watched a couple of movies that I had no interest in watching, but knew that my son wanted to see. Those movies were Batman vs Superman and Captain America: Civil War. I must tell you that I hated the first half of the Batman movie because of the conflict between two men that are supposed to be heroes. The same thing is true with the Captain America movie. While I know that conflict is a part of everyday life, I don’t like watching heroes battle each other when there are enough evil people to go around.

While I disagree with some doctrine of many other Christian denominations, I get tired of the conflict that seems to arise within the Church Universal. Let’s quit bickering among ourselves. There are plenty of Lex Luther’s to go around. In fact, maybe the name should be Lex Lucifer, because Satan is the one that is constantly trying to manipulate us into fighting each other instead of fighting immorality and ungodliness.

Lastly, as it pertains to a type of conflict, I have a friend that does not believe in boycotting a business for a Christian value that we believe they have crossed. Personally, I have not shopped at a Target since they decided to bow to the 2% rather than standing with the 70%. You see, boycotting is exactly the same as voting. When we go to the voting booths in November, hopefully, all Christians will vote for the candidate that most effectively identifies with the values contained within the Bible, however poor a candidate they may be. I believe that by shopping at stores other than Target, I am voting for companies that align more closely with the values that I want to see upheld in our courts and in our country.

Conflict. It is unpalatable yet unavoidable.