For the one who feels least deserving of all.

 

It is common to get down on ourselves and depressed over our sin. In our lives, we will prove to be a thousand times wretched. We mess up. We do not do the things we know we ought. Instead, we do the things that we know we ought not. Guilt over wrong doing can cripple us and make for a miserable existence if we allow our mistakes to define us.

I want to encourage you today. If you are reading this and feel that you must be the least deserving of Jesus’ love and affection, then you are in a good place. You are the kind of person that Jesus loves to save. How do I know?

 
1. Jesus said that in the Kingdom of Heaven, “the last shall be first and the first last” (Matthew 20:16). He told a parable about a master who hired laborers for his vineyard. He went to the marketplace early and hired men for the day. He returned to the marketplace four different times throughout the day and kept hiring more laborers. When the workers were paid, the ones who had only worked for an hour received the same payment as the ones who had worked twelve hours. Jesus told this parable to show that all are on equal ground before Him. If you are feeling like you are too late and have done too much wrong, then you are in a good place. It is in rescuing people like you that the master is most glorified.
 
 
2. Jesus is the Good Shepherd that leaves the ninety-nine to go find the one that has strayed (Luke 15:4). It is not that the ninety-nine sheep who are gathered together in the fold are not important to Him. It is just that the ninety-nine are already found. They are already kept safe. If you are one who has strayed, then you are the one with whom He is most concerned. He is not reluctant to draw near to you because you have messed up. No, He is eager to come to you and find you. When you stray, He pursues you, earnestly and sincerely desiring to reconcile you back to Himself and to your fellow sheep.
 
 
3. “Jesus Christ came to save sinners of whom I am foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). Paul declared that this saying was “trustworthy and true.” He was a wretched sinner who persecuted the church. He was the most unlikely of apostles. But Jesus came to save Paul, and he came to save every sinner like Paul. Even if your evil has surpassed the aiding and abetting of terrorists, putting Christians on trial, and throwing them in jail, you are not too far gone to be saved. Paul’s testimony is proof that His grace is sufficient to overcome your failures and to make you a mighty instrument in His Kingdom work. Jesus came to save even you.
 
 
4. “For God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The most well-known verse in all of Scripture does not say that the extent of God’s love is expressed in His willingness to save only a certain kind of people. In contrast, His love is much deeper and broader. It reaches to the highest heaven and the deepest depths of the sea. All, and I mean all, who respond to His radiant beams of love will be saved. No one who calls upon His name will be left alone to perish but will be transformed and reconciled to Him.
 
 
It is normal, friend, to feel unworthy. Indeed, you are unworthy, but this is no cause for wallowing. His offer of grace, full and free, extends to you. If you are feeling the weight of your need for Him, the depth of your depravity, the darkness of your soul’s lost state, then you are right where you need to be. Now trust Him, and allow His great mercy and grace to wash over you and cleanse you completely. Repent and turn to Him in faith. He will by no means leave you to perish. He will joyously come to you, make your heart His home, teach you, and lead you in His everlasting way.

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What happens to our believing loved ones when they die?

There is a lot of confusion over what happens after a believing loved one dies. It is a tender subject and one that must be handled gently. People say things, post sayings on social media, and get stickers made for their vehicles in the midst of their grief. These thoughts help them to deal with their loss. I totally get that. But, there is even more comfort to be found in knowing what Scripture teaches about the believer’s after life.
 
1. Believers do not become angels after they die. This belief may stem from an errant interpretation of what Jesus said in response to a question from the Sadducees regarding marriage and the resurrection. Jesus said, “those considered worthy of the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore because they are equal to the angels…” (Luke 20:35-36). Somewhere along the phrase, “equal to the angels,” got twisted. Again this is understandable, but it is also an error.
 
Rest in this peace. If you have a believing loved one who has passed, they have attained a status much higher than the angels. In fact, the angels long to comprehend what your loved one has now come to understand (1 Peter 1:12). The angels were not made in the image of God. Though the angels are loved by God, Jesus did not come and die for them. They did not receive the Holy Spirit. Angels do not know what it is like to go from death into life. Your late and believing loved one now has what the angels do not- firsthand knowledge of the life-saving and transforming love of Christ.
 
2. Believers are not buried. Believer’s bodies may be buried, cremated, or in some tragic cases even lost. However, their soul which is who they really are is transported into the presence of God. I always try to explain this at graveside services. These moments are difficult because we grow accustomed to associating our loved one with their earthly body, but the body is not who they really are. Who they really are, is found in their inner person, their soul.
 
For the proof of this truth, we turn to 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 where the Holy Spirit gives us a fairly detailed discourse on the soul/body relationship. He explains that our inner person is who we really are. While we reside in these bodies, we long to be united with the Lord. Our inner self yearns, knowing that to be separated from the body in death is to be united with the Lord in everlasting life.
 
3. Believers do not sleep until the resurrection. “Soul sleep” is a doctrine that is taught by several mainstream Christian denominations. My purpose in rejecting this belief is not to put other brothers down. Accepting or rejecting the notion that the soul sleeps after death is not an issue over which we should divide, but confusion over the doctrine does pose an issue in comforting family members dealing with loss.
 
2 Corinthians 5:8 states that to “be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord.” This means that the believer’s inner person is united with the Lord upon their death, while the body, which they have shed, is laid to rest until the resurrection. This is the sleep referred to in 1 Thessalonians 4. The body rests (sleeps), but the soul lives in immortality.
 
 
4. Your believing loved ones who have passed are looking down on you from their heavenly home. If you have a believing loved one who is now with the Lord, then you can rest in this. They are just fine. They have no regrets. They cry no tears. The faith that once guided them through this dark and dying world has given way to everlasting light. They have a perfect understanding of what has happened and what will happen. They have perfect peace.
 

They now dwell outside of the bounds of time in the eternal realm. They know all about you. They know all your circumstances. They cannot interfere with the earthly realm, nor do they want to, because they understand how it all comes together. They along with all the heroes of the faith are looking down and cheering you on to the finish (Hebrews 12:1).


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What are psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs?

Many churches across the country are still wrestling with this question of what style of music to employ in worship. What does the Bible say about this issue? Two New Testament texts, Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, prescribe the formula for the style of music to be used in worship as being psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Most Christians have not taken the time to study what are psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, so here are the definitions.
 
1. Psalms where the Hebrew worship songs. Most of the ancient psalms were recorded in scripture, but some were written later. The psalms had a different sound, a unique meter/beat that unified and tied together the lyrics of the psalms. This was important because Hebrew poets were less concerned about making words rhyme than they were about the symmetry of the lyrics.
 
Christians were instructed to use psalms in worship, to write them on their hearts, and to sing them from their hearts to the Lord. Sadly, psalms are not widely used in worship today, although there are some churches who ascribe to what is called the regulatory principle of worship and worship exclusively through the singing of Psalms. Perhaps we could all use to sing more scripture when we gather together as believers.
 
2. Hymns were the songs of the church, written after Pentecost, in which the orthodox beliefs of the church were set to rhyme, meter, and music. Paul often quoted first-century hymns in his inspired letters to the churches. The great Christological treatise of Philippians 2:6-11 is believed by most scholars to be a verse from a first-century hymn. Other examples include 1 Timothy 1:15 and 2 Timothy 2:11-13 among others.
 
The church has continued to write hymns for the last two thousand years. Modern day hymns are spiritual songs (a category that will be defined in the next bullet) that became so strongly accepted as orthodoxy that the church was moved to incorporate them into their repertoire of worship. Eventually, they were compiled into books that we call hymnals and were memorized and sung for generations.
 
3. Finally, there are spiritual songs. These were songs that people wrote in a local style, a local “spirit.” It should not be hard to imagine that different parts of the Roman empire were given to different styles of music. As the gospel spread, and as creative people became taken by the love of God expressed in the gospel message, they wrote songs in the style unique to their culture in order to express their love for God.
 
Even today, people from all different cultures are touched by the gospel, and creative people from those cultures write songs in expression of love. Poets influenced by the Nashville culture write songs with a country flavor; we call it southern gospel. Other artists influenced by the rock and roll culture of Ohio write songs with a rock and roll flavor; we call it contemporary Christian. Artists influenced by the rap culture of L.A. write Christian rap. Still others from the Motown culture of Detroit write Christian music with a soulful spirit.
 
The New Testament prescribes that Christians should worship God in response to His willingness to save them by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs from their hearts. God is Lord of the Hebrews and the Greeks. He is Lord of Palestine and of Macedonia, and He is Lord of Nashville, Detroit, L.A., Ohio, and every culture in between. As the love of God impacts artists from these cultures, the same love should be expressed back to Him by the hearts that are saved by His grace.
 

All who are filled with the Spirit of God should have a vast repertoire of songs in their hearts. When we address one another outside the four walls of the church building, our addresses should be in harmony with the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs we are singing on the inside. When we come together for corporate worship, we should be able to express our heartsongs together. We should be willing to worship with our brothers and sisters who come from different cultures, willing to sing their songs and have them sing ours. While we all might come from different backgrounds, we all have one Lord, one faith, and one Spirit that unites us in Christ.


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Is Your Treasure the Bait or the Catch?

 
Our family went on a guided fishing trip a few years ago. The plan was to motor out into the Gulf of Mexico and fish for cobia, mackerel, sharks and whatever else we could get hooked up on. Our captain did something interesting, that I did not expect. We stopped just offshore, still in sight of the marina, to fish for bait. It only took a few minutes to catch enough live bait to last the rest of the day.
 
 
I was reflecting on this, last week, while preparing to preach from Matthew 6:19-20. In that text from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught His disciples, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves sneak in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys and thieves do not sneak in and steal.” Here, He was telling His disciples then, and His disciples now, not to let their earthly treasures be ends in themselves, but means to greater ends.
 
 
On our fishing trip, it would have been silly for us to anchor up in the sound all day and just fish for bait. As fun as that would have been, we would not have been able to come home with much, nor would we have had as much fun. The bait was not the catch but a means to get the catch. The same goes for material wealth.
 
 
Fine clothes, precious metals, money, cars, houses, or land were never meant to be the catch. If they were, they would be a small catch indeed. Moths eat the clothes. Even refined metals like silver and gold tarnish over time. The value of money slides away a little more every day. Houses rot. Land gets cut up into smaller and smaller pieces with each passing generation. These worldly possessions are not worth spending your life on.
 
 
On the other hand, there is treasure to be caught and stored up. There is treasure that neither rusts nor fades, treasure that cannot be stolen, treasure that you can deposit in heaven. This heavenly treasure is the catch, or to put it another way, there are treasures that are ends in themselves. Jesus encouraged, no required, His followers to trade their material blessings which were temporal for the greater blessings of heaven.
 
 
What are some of these treasures that neither rust, fade, or can be stolen? Well, the greatest treasure of heaven is Jesus. If we are able to find Him through what He has done for us, then we have really laid hold of something. Souls won and disciples made for Jesus is another. The people that we disciple are treasures that will be waiting for us in heaven and that we will be able to enjoy for all eternity. Holiness of character is yet another truly timeless treasure, it is something that is not of this world, but is a gift that comes through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Think about it, and you can probably come up with some other heavenly treasures.
 
 
The point, again, is that the value of heavenly eternal treasure is infinitely greater than the value of temporal worldly treasures. It only makes sense, that if we can trade in our worldly treasures for heavenly wealth, we would do so. This is God’s way. He blesses us with an abundance of worldly things, so that by trading them, by surrendering them to Him, He might also bless us with the real treasure of all the universe, Jesus.
 
 
It is important to understand that this is not optional. You have to choose between the two masters, God or worldly wealth. You cannot serve them both. One will always be the catch, and the other will always be the bait. Mankind has had to make this choice since the beginning of time, and since the Garden of Eden, the struggle has proven impossible. That is why God sent His Son Jesus, so that you would see the treasure that He is and be rescued from the grave error of pursuing worldly wealth. God’s one desire has always been to be the master of men’s souls. Is He yours?
 
 

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Surviving the Dark Night of the Soul

 

Often times we find ourselves at a distance from where we want to be and where God has us at the moment. Nobody wants to be in a hospital ICU waiting room waiting for visiting hours so that they can see their loved maybe for the last time. Nobody wants to find out their spouse is leaving them. No one wants to watch their child go through difficult health issues.
 
Those who love God just want to be near to Him where they can feel His daily presence and the fruit of His grace in their lives, but sometimes God can seem so far away. This distance between where we want to be, and where we find ourselves at any given moment is what David was contending with in Psalms 42 and 43. He wrote, “As the deer pants for flowing streams of water, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalm 42:1-2)
 
He paints a picture of a deer who has found himself in the desert panting for a cool flowing stream of water. David is the deer. The presence of God is the flowing stream for which he thirsts. For whatever reason, there is a feeling of separation, and he longs for the nearness that he felt in the temple of God when he would “go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping the festival” (Psalm 42:4). David pours out his soul to God (v4), but still, he hungered and thirsted. Day and night his only food was the tears that poured from his eyes in despair. What made it worse? His enemies were relentless, constantly taunting him asking “where is your God?” (v3)
 
Can you identify with David? Are there times when you long for the presence of God? Are there moments when you wish there was an altar where you could have a refreshing encounter with God? Have you ever felt the distance between where you are and where God seems to be, far away? Are you in this situation now? Do you know someone who is?
 
Psalm 42:5 is a sweet encouragement to us. Here we see that as David pours out his soul, God comes to meet him where he is. In the dark night of his soul, God shows up, and the Holy Spirt takes over David’s inner conversation: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you at turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God…” These are not David’s words. What is happening here is that the Lord is encouraging David with the very thing that has caused his despair, namely, David’s own inner voice.
 
Learn from David’s song. God is never very far away, no matter how distant He seems. When your soul is cast down, remember the Lord. He will come and meet you where you are. Since He has made your heart His holy dwelling, an altar is ever available. From His inner dwelling, He is able to take over your soul’s conversation, halt your despairing thoughts, and cause you to feel His presence from the inside.
 
Often the dark night of the soul is like a winter day in Alaska. It takes an unusually long time for it to pass. David would experience two more refrains of despair punctuated by God’s encouragement in Psalm 42 and 43. Each time, David’s soul was directed to hope in God and encouraged that there would come a time when he would once again praise Him (42:11, 43:5).
 
Be encouraged friends. Difficult times come. They pass. But in good times and in bad, God is always with you. If you have believed, then you have been given the right to be called His child. He is a good father who never leaves His children in despair. Wherever you find yourself, know He is there. He loves you. Pour out your soul to Him, and you will find that He is not far away. These dark nights make the warmth of the morning that much sweeter.

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Sanctifying Church Talk

 

As our mind is transformed to think like Christ, the language we use should become like the language of Christ. I am in the process of having my speech sanctified, and lately, I have found myself genuinely convicted over the way I speak of the church. The cultural conditioning of my “church talk” is proving a difficult obstacle to overcome, and I feel led to help others who might be dealing with the same struggle. I would also like to do my part to improve the “church talk” of my community. Perhaps this will make it a little simpler for those of us who desire a more sanctified speech life.

Here are three things I would like to see transformed in the way I and others speak of the Church.

1. The church is not a building. It is a body.

This error is so deeply engrained in our thinking that it is going to be the most difficult error to correct. When Jesus spoke of His church, he was not speaking of a building located in Jerusalem. He was talking about the body of redeemed-called-out-ones for whom He died, so why is it that we so routinely equate a building with “the church?”

I confess that I may be the worst offender on this one. Several times a week, when someone asks of my whereabouts, I will tell them I am “at the church.” I will tell my wife I need to go by “the church” to pick up something from the office. This kind of talk perverts the word that Jesus used to describe His bride. I have to be intentional about using a different phrase (“I am at the office… need to go by the building”). The problem, though, runs much deeper than just me. I have been trained by my culture to think of the church as a building. This is a tragedy that needs redeeming.

2. The Church is not a body of defense. It is redeemed body established to reach the lost.

When Jesus said, “upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). He did not mean that His redeemed people would hole themselves up beyond locked gates to keep the world from “getting them.” On the contrary, Jesus’ vision for the Church is one that would storm the gates of hell and snatch from the flames, those who are perishing. His church was established to be a launch pad for missions, rather than an underground survival bunker.

Like what is pictured in Ezekiel 37, God has raised up an army out of a field of dry bones. Ezekiel reported of His vision: “I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army” (Ez. 37:10). Later God would speak to His people saying, “You shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves. And I will put my Spirit within you and you shall live” (Ez. 37:13-14). This prophecy was partially fulfilled when He brought Judah out of captivity, and it was perfectly fulfilled at Pentecost. The Church is the army who He raised up and in whom He placed His life-giving Spirit. Jesus declared that the gates of hell cannot prevail against the advance of His army

3. My church is not my church. She belongs to Jesus.

I love First Baptist Wiggins. No I mean I really love her. My love for the local church is eclipsed only by my love for Jesus and my love for my wife and children. This is as it should be. As in love as I am with FBC, I understand that she is another man’s wife. There are boundaries that I must not cross.

When my vision for the church does not match Christ’s vision, I must be disciplined enough to say “too bad for my vision.” When my preferences and wants for FBC do not match Christ’s, then too bad for my wants and preferences. When the way I speak of her does not honor Him and point her back to Him, then too bad for my bad speaking habits. To do otherwise is to commit the worst kind of adultery.


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Can and good come from disaster?

Saturday, January 21, an EF3 tornado touched down and ripped through the Pine Belt region. The next day MEMA reported that a total of 60 people were injured. Across the four affected counties, 480 homes were damaged or destroyed. There were four deaths. Those who passed were all residents of Forest County and ranged in age from 20 to 72 years old. The historic William Carey University received a direct hit and sustained damage to every building on the campus.

 

Our church sent supplies to the area, and I had the opportunity to see the aftermath of the twister first hand. I have never seen such devastation in all my life. The neighborhood that I visited looked like a war zone.  The smell of rotting meat, chainsaw exhaust, burning diesel fuel, and busted wood combined together in what I can only describe as an olfactory assault. 

 

I cannot help but wonder what the storm victims must think about God.  There is no way around the question – “Why?” Why would God either allow or ordain such destruction? Was this a part of His plan? Is there a God at all? Those are valid questions, but first, I think it would be proper to look at the good that comes from natural disasters like this.

 

  1. Natural disasters keep us mindful of the power of God.

 

This is a reminder that we need in these last days. Human beings are a force to be reckoned with, no doubt, but God is infinitely awesome in His might. The wind, the weather, and the planets are all under His authority. When a natural disaster takes place, we see that power on display like the Israelites at Mount Sinai. This moves us to a greater respect and a healthy fear for Him.

 

  1. Natural disasters keep us reminded of our own vulnerability.

 

Good people were injured and died as a result of the storm. Hard working Christian folks had their property destroyed. They were brought to their knees. This reminds us that no one is deserving of God’s grace. Jesus taught His followers that they were as vulnerable to sudden death as the 18 good people that were killed when the tower fell in Siloam (Luke 13:1-5). Natural disasters, like the one that took place in the Pine Belt, remind us to always be ready because no one makes it off this planet alive and unscathed by the consequences of humanity’s sin.

 

  1. Natural disasters pull the community together for recovery.

 

This is the one that most people think of when they think of good coming from tragedy, and it is a proper thought. It is amazing how the walls come down in times of tragedy. People of all races and creeds come together to support those who have been adversely impacted. Differences are set aside, if only for a time, and some communities experience permanent healing as a result of their coming together as one family. In this way, a tragedy that causes so much destruction has the potential to bring healing and life back into a community that was once fractured over petty differences.

 

  1. Natural disasters provide an opportunity for the church to be the body of Christ. 

 

Last week, Baptists, Methodists, Independent, Non-denominational, Presbyterians, Pentecostal, Church of God, and every kind of Christian church you could think of came together as one. They loved on the victims. They gave generously to provide supplies. They ran chainsaws and put tarps on roofs. They came together as one body to make sure that no victim of the storm had to bear their burden alone. This was Jesus working in and through them. This was Jesus demonstrating his love for the afflicted, the poor in spirit, and the broken hearted. In this way, the storm provided am invaluable opportunity for the church to be the church.

 

While we cannot deny the pain and destruction that God allowed on January 21st, we also cannot deny the good that precipitated out of the destruction. I invite you to give thanks with me in this difficult time. Be thankful for the reminder of God’s power and our vulnerability. Give thanks for the way God brought the community together. Give thanks for the awesome opportunity that He has given us as Christians to love the least of these.

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Pure Joy

 

My 12 yr. old daughter has had one dream for the past 4 years, to play basketball on a school basketball team. When we moved to Wiggins and she started at Stone Middle School, she made it her one track goal to make the team. She played in the local recreation league last winter and practiced all Spring before trying out. She was beside herself with excitement, when she found out she made the team on the last day of school. 
 
She is a great player to have on the team. There are few players who love the game as much as her, and she has the best attitude of any athlete you will ever meet. She has great shooting technique. She has one struggle. Her coach would tell you that “she does not have a mean bone in her body.” Her hesitance to be aggressive holds her back from playing as well as the rest of the team which causes her to be unsure and insecure in her game.
 
Her heart and great attitude have stolen the hearts of her coach and her team. They have made it a point to get her into the game and get her the ball so that she could have a chance to shoot and score for the team. Before last Thursday night’s game, she had gone 0 for about 7 from the floor, and she had missed two free throws on the season. The coaches and the team decided in the fourth period of the last game of the season, up by almost 20 points, that she was going to score if it took the whole team to get it done. 
 
My heart overflowed with joy and excitement as time and again her teammates fought to get steal after steal, rebound after rebound all so that they could get the ball to my girl and give her shots. She missed several times, and she also missed a pair of free throws. Finally, in a surreal moment, she received a pass from her point guard, turned, and banked a shot into the basket.The crowd went absolutely wild. My daughter buried her face in her hands and burst into tears of pure joy. Her coaches and all of her teammates rushed to her and embraced her in their arms. You would have thought they had just won the championship at the buzzer. 
 
The joy in my heart was indescribable at that moment. Every parent wants to see their child happy, and this was the absolute happiest I had ever seen her. I asked her why she got so emotional after the shot. She said, “Dad, it wasn’t just that I scored the goal. It was that my coaches never gave up on me. It was that my teammates cared so much. They fought for me. They won that moment for me.”  
 
It reminds me of something that the Lord has taught me from His word over the years. Joy, pure joy, comes not from what we accomplish. It precipitates from the victories that are won on our behalf. The foundation for the greatest joy that we will ever know, comes not from what we have done, but what the Triune God has done for us. 
 
We were lost, dead in our trespasses and sins. At just the right time, God the Father lovingly sent the Son who came, lived a perfect life, died on our behalf, and was raised from the dead in victory. The Holy Spirit then awakened our hearts to believe on the name of Jesus. By His grace, He transported us out of the darkness and into the light, out of the grave and into life. God employed every person of His being to win the victory for us.
 

The moment we realize this truth is like the moment that my girl saw that shot pass through the hoop. You understand that God never gave up on you. Joy floods your soul because you realize that you are who you are as a result of the battle that was fought and won on your behalf. My prayer is that, by sharing this story, you would be adequately reminded of the moment you came to know pure joy. If you do not have it, I pray you would find pure joy by repenting and believing in Jesus.


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A Patriot’s Dream

 

Katherine Lee Bates penned the song America, the Beautiful in 1913. In the fourth verse, she wrote of the “patriot dream that sees beyond the years.” The patriot dream looked far into the future to an America where “alabaster cities” gleamed bright, “undimmed by human tears.” The prayer of Katherine Lee Bates and all who have proudly sung her song was that God would shed his grace upon America and crown her “good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.”
 
I suspect that Bates’ optimism about the patriot dream was born out of the relative peace of the previous four decades. However, in 1914 the whole world descended into war. 116,516 American soldiers gave their lives to the cause of the allies. War broke out again less than 30 years later and claimed the lives of nearly half of a million patriots. With the many tears shed by the families of the fallen, it is safe to say that Bates dream of alabaster cities undimmed by human tears went unrealized in the short term.
 
In the year 2017, that patriot dream still lives, but, unfortunately, is still unrealized. The tears that soak the land of our cities today are not only shed over lives lost in military conflicts. Tears also stain the faces of mothers whose children are taken in gang violence. Loved ones weep for their children and siblings who are dying from drug addiction. Hatred that is deeply rooted in race and religious beliefs has led to multiple mass killings across our land in recent years. 
 
There is no way to measure the volume of American tears that have been shed since Bates penned 
America, The Beautiful in 1913. Many of those tears have fallen in our own city of Wiggins. Killings, drug and alcohol related deaths, suicides, and avoidable tragedy are happening right outside the four walls of our Stone county churches. If we extend the boundary out to Hattiesburg, Gulfport, and Biloxi, why, enough tears have been shed in the last year to fill the Mississippi Sound.
 
What may be even more detrimental to the patriot’s dream of alabaster cities undimmed by tears, are all the tears that will not be shed, tears that go unshed because their owners were never allowed life outside the womb. I have said much about the pollution of our cities with human tears, but imagine how much more the land is polluted by the more than fifty million babies that have died in their wombs since Roe v Wade. 
 
I do pray with Katherine Lee Bates, that God would shed his grace upon my country. We as a people desperately need His grace. We have no “good” to crown “with brotherhood.” We, like the rest of our global neighbors, are fallen people. We have polluted the land with blood, and the tears that stain the streets of our cities are the tell-tale symptom of our deepest and most fundamental sickness. We simply do not value life as we should. Our feet as Romans 3:15 says, “are swift to shed blood.” 
 
Understand that we are all complicit. Our collective negligence and complacency have led us to where we are today. We are fast losing sight of the patriot dream in the fog of our busyness. Every year as more tears fall, and more blood stains the ground we slide a little farther away and are a little less likely to ever realize a land where “alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears.” Our collective repentance is in order. 
 

In the Old Testament, the life of the high priest served as atonement for those who had shed blood by accident or negligence (c.f. Numbers 35). After the death of the high priest, they were allowed to go free from the cities where they had fled for refuge from their avengers. The life of the priest served as an atonement (a payment) for the life that the prisoners were responsible for taking. In the same way, the life of our High Priest, Jesus, was given as atonement for our crimes, but we must flee to Him. I suggest that we flee to Him together as one family, with our patriot dream in hand. May we long together, and realize together, the promised land that is free from tears.


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His peace He left with us

Last weekend, my wife and I stole away to celebrate our fifteenth wedding anniversary. To say that we had a good time would be more than an understatement. It was a precious time of intimate rediscovery of the love that is between us. We were both reminded of why we made the decision to be joined together in marriage 15 years ago.

When I think about what was the greatest thing about our weekend, it was not just that we got to spend two nights on the seventeenth floor of our favorite hotel overlooking the Mobile Bay. It was not all the great food that we ate. It was not getting to see the New Year’s Eve fireworks show from our hotel window. The greatest part of our weekend was the company we shared.

I cannot remember the last time we were able to be so carefree in our enjoyment of one another. We were off work. Our children were in good hands. Our animals were cared for, and we had saved enough money that we could go and do just about whatever we wanted. We were able to just bask in our delight of one another in perfect peace.

As I reflect back on our weekend, I am reminded of the words of our Lord, “My peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives it to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). I believe the kind of peace and joy that Jen and I experienced in one another last weekend is the same kind of peace and joy that is available to all in Christ, in every circumstance. 

Christ’s desire is for us to delight in Him and Him alone, as there is nothing and no one else in this world that can bring us true peace. He completed His work on the earth and was obedient to the point of death. He loved us with a love that was all surpassing. This was so that we might respond in faith and repentance, enter into an intimate personal relationship with Him, receive His spirit into our hearts, and ever delight in His presence in our lives.

It is His presence in our hearts and lives that gives us peace as we face the trials of this life. I am reminded that as much as I love and enjoy the company my wife, if I lost her tomorrow, I would be lonely, for sure, but I certainly would not be alone. If for some reason I found out that our marriage was not what I thought and that she really did not love me. I would be hurt, even so, I would know without a doubt that His love for me remains true. Even if I lost everything I hold dear in this world, I could still have peace because I have something in Christ that cannot be lost, namely, His love for me.

All that brings me joy in this world, my wife, my children, my job, my possessions precipitate from His great love for me. If for some reason He saw fit to end the deluge of material and relational blessings upon my life, then I would still have reason to be thankful. I would still have cause to worship and praise Him because I would still have His abiding presence. As much as I love my people and my things, He is really all I need. No matter what my future holds in the way of tribulation, I will not be troubled nor afraid. This is the peace that He has left with me. This is the peace He has given me.

If you have not already done so, I hope that you will find peace in the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit. If you have found your peace in Him that comes by faith, then know that even that is a gift from God. His love for you is all surpassing. Enjoy it. Bask in it. Be ever delighted in Him. That is His desire for your life.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

– Romans 15:13 


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