Sunday, July 01, 2018
One of the best-known sentences in the English language is the second sentence of the Declaration. It opens by stating there are times when one people must separate themselves politically from other people and that when this happens, there should be an explanation. The second sentence then establishes the core value behind the Declaration:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” are held forth as being basic rights of all men, and the Declaration goes on to explain all the ways that Great Britain had violated these basic rights. It contained a whole list of charges against King George III, basically attempting to show how he violated the colonists’ rights and was therefore unfit to be their ruler.
All of the stated reasons for declaring independence from England were based in a core value held by our founding father. The underlying belief of those brave signers of the Declaration of Independence was that rights were given, not by men, nor by governments, but by the Creator!
For the founding fathers, the most important core value of all was a belief in a Creator God. That was a truth that was “self-evident” – that is to say, universally accepted as true, just as we accept that the sun is hot and rain is wet. No one has to prove these things – they just are.
While it is fashionable among some to point to a few of the founding fathers as “deists,” it is undeniable that the Judeo-Christian faith and ethic had a tremendous impact on the founding of our country, which we celebrate this week. Allow me to share just a couple of examples.
John Adams, a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, and the second president of these United States, wrote the following to Thomas Jefferson: “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”
John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States, in reflecting back on an anniversary of the Declaration of Independence said, “The Declaration of Independence laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.”
James Madison, another signatory of the Declaration of Independence, and the fourth president of the United States, wrote these words 2 years after signing that famous document: “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We’ve staked the future of all our political institutions upon our capacity…to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”
This is the same James Madison who conceived the three branches of government while reading the words of the prophet Isaiah who said, “For the LORD is our judge, The LORD is our lawgiver, The LORD is our king; He will save us.” (Is 33:22 NASB)
There are countless more quotes from our founding fathers that demonstrate a foundation of faith that underscored their actions. While not all were professing Christians, there was a common understanding that God’s hands were involved in directing the affairs of men.
Sunday, June 03, 2018
Last month’s National Day of Prayer events that were held nationwide carried a one-word theme: “Unity.” Several million people gathered in thousands of events, large and small, across this land to pray for our nation. Their prayer was sparked by Jesus’ last prayer on the earth. The night before He was crucified He prayed these words:
“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” (John 17:20-23 NASB)
Jesus prayed that the believers through the ages would “be perfected in unity.” And the purpose of this unity was so that the world would know that Jesus was indeed sent from God because He loved the world that much!
Unfortunately it seems that we Christians have demonstrated everything except unity. The witness we have given the world has not been one of unity but rather of infighting, political posturing and selfish ambition. Church splits have been the norm and Christians can’t seem to agree on anything.
Or can we? While there are many things that we may not agree on completely, there is much more unity in the Body of Christ than you might imagine. Sure, we all have different styles of worship and various preferences when it comes to the songs we sing, the instruments we use (or don’t use), and many other external things.
But when it comes to the essentials, there is tremendous agreement among all believers. When Paul described the Gospel message that he preached, he described what ALL Christian believers believe:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve.” (1 Cor 15:3-4 NASB)
When you break that down, we all agree wholeheartedly that Jesus died for our sins, that He was buried and then rose on the third day and then appeared with many convincing proofs to hundreds of eye-witnesses. That is the essence of Christian unity! Everything else is a side-issue from this core message of the Gospel.
There are still many areas of disagreement in church-life today. But when we focus on what Paul said was “of first importance” we all agree. We experience unity.
I’ve been blessed to be part of a weekly breakfast gathering of pastors from many different denominations that has met for 30 years. We are Assembly of God, Baptist, Church of Christ, Church of God, Methodist, Nazarene, Non-denominational, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Wesleyan, and just about every stripe in between. And while we have many different worship styles, practices and beliefs, we agree that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, rose from the dead on the 3rd day and appeared to many witnesses! And because of that, we have unity!
There’s another wonderful expression of unity that God is raising up across denominational and racial lines. Pastors are recognizing the need to demonstrate that there is no room for racial prejudice in the Body of Christ. So we are joining forces to create conversation and dialog through a series of bi-monthly Men’s Unity Breakfasts.
The first one will be on Saturday, June 16 at 7:30AM at Family of Grace Church, 4200 S. MacArthur Dr in Alexandria. Pastor Bryant Sanders of Miracle Temple Ministries and Pastor Brad Webb of Family of Grace Church are combining forces for this first one, and every other month two more churches will cooperate to host these events. The goal is to break bread together and build friendships – not in an attempt to create unity, but to demonstrate the unity we already have in Jesus!
More information about the Cenla Men's Unity Breakfast is available on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/events/413049612503798/.
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Last month Christians around the globe celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the central tenet of Christianity. No matter what branch or what denomination, all Christians agree on this common belief, that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, was buried, and rose again to never die again, securing our salvation eternally!
The apostle Paul points to the centrality of the resurrection when he reminded the Corinthians of the Gospel he had preached to them. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, and then to the twelve.” (1 Cor 15:3-5 NASB)
Without a doubt, the resurrection of Jesus distinguishes Christianity from all other religions in the world.
But what happens after the resurrection?
That was the dilemma faced by the apostles themselves. They had seen the risen Christ on several occasions. And He had taught them over a period of 40 days (Acts 1:3), opening the Old Testament scriptures to them to show them how He fulfilled the prophecies (Luke 24:45). And He told them that they were to go into all the world to teach all the nations the very things He had taught them (Matt 28:18-20).
And then, He told them to wait!
That almost seems counter-intuitive! He gave them a Great Commission to change the world, to tell the greatest story ever told, but then He said to wait! What were they waiting for?
Jesus knew that they could not fulfill His command in their own strength. No matter how much enthusiasm, exuberance or excitement they had, that would all wane over time if they tried to accomplish the task in their own strength. So He promised to infuse them with an internal power source that would fuel their lives through the difficult days ahead.
That power source was His own Holy Spirit who would now live in them! It was prophesied throughout the Old Testament that God’s presence would one day not just rest on special individuals (prophets, priests, kings, etc) but would be poured out on all flesh (Is 40:5; Joel 2:28-29; Ezek 36:27, etc)!
And so it was that on the 50th day after the Resurrection that God fulfilled the prophecies and poured out His Spirit on all who believed! The Church was birthed in a moment, and all who believed received this precious promise to be baptized by God’s Spirit into the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13)!
What an amazing thing! In the Exodus from Egypt, God provided His people with an external guide, the Law! But in the Exodus from sin, God has now provided His people with an internal guide, the Holy Spirit, who writes His law on our hearts (Jer 31:33; Ezek 36:25-27; Heb 8:10; 10:16)! And gives us the power to live lives pleasing to Him!
So what’s after the resurrection? We have the command of Jesus to tell His story in the power of the Holy Spirit! And the good news is that God’s Holy Spirit can fill us every day! That’s why Peter wrote to the Galatians that they were to be continuously filled with the Holy Spirit! (See the original Greek of Eph 5:18.)
Every Christian can live filled with God’s Holy Spirit on an ongoing continual basis! As we worship Jesus in community (Eph 5:19), develop an attitude of gratitude (Eph 5:20) and seek to live in right relationship with others (Eph 5:20), we will find ourselves filled with less of us and more of Him!
That’s my goal, to live filled with the Spirit every day that I might be empowered by Him to tell His story. How about you?
Sunday, April 01, 2018
My daughter Hope absolutely loves April Fools' Day! It’s like a national holiday to her because she loves to pull pranks. Over the years we’ve learned to be on our guard around her this time of the year as you never know what she’s got up her sleeve!
A couple of years back she called me, telling me between sobs that she had gotten into an accident on her way back to a college class. After asking if she was ok and then checking the status of the people in the other car I told her to wait right there, that I was on my way and that everything was going to be OK.
That’s when she exuberantly declared, “April Fools!” Boy did she get me good! My heart was pounding and it took me a few minutes to get my blood pressure down before I was able to laugh at her most recent success in pranking me.
Today, April 1st, Christians around the globe are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ! Due to the way that Easter is calculated (the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox – thanks Council of Nicea!) the date changes each year, and for the first time since 1956 this year Easter falls on the first of April. But that’s not the April Fools’ prank! More on that in a minute!
The Resurrection of Jesus is a big deal! This is the core belief of Christianity – whether you’re Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, or any other flavor of Christianity, we all believe in the resurrection! That’s what makes us Christians! This historical event had over 500 eye-witnesses (1 Cor 15:6), not one of whom ever recanted their testimony, even under penalty of death. And it stands at the center of our faith.
The core belief of Christianity is that God took on human flesh (John 1:14), was tempted in every way that we are (Heb 4:15) yet lived a sinless life (1 John 3:5). He then died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin (2 Cor 5:21) and His resurrection is evidence that we have been justified before God (Rom 4:25).
But in addition to those marvelous doctrinal truths, the Resurrection is one of the best April Fools’ jokes ever played, because it was played on the devil!
For quite some time Satan had been plotting to kill Jesus. He had failed to distract Jesus from His mission in his earlier temptation in the wilderness so he waited “for a more opportune time” (Luke 4:1-13). All the while he was influencing the hearts of his hypocritical children who were in positions of religious leadership and they plotted to bring an end to this young upstart Rabbi.
Then Satan played his most strategic card by entering the heart of Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ trusted companions. Somehow he convinced him to betray Jesus. I’m sure Satan must have chuckled with evil glee as he saw Jesus arrested, convicted, beaten, and ultimately crucified.
Satan’s plan through the ages had been to destroy the promised Seed of the woman (Gen 3:15). He tried to do it in Egypt by having Pharaoh kill the male Hebrew children. He tried again around the time of the birth of Jesus by having Herod kill all the male children under the age of 2. But now he had finally succeeded! How he must have celebrated as Jesus’ lifeless body was lowered from the cross and laid in a borrowed tomb. The serpent had bruised His heel as the earthly walk of Jesus came to an end.
Or did it?
When Adam disobeyed God, Satan had been granted certain authority on the earth. And for thousands of years he had wielded the power of death over fallen mankind. But little did he realize that it was through death itself that Jesus would render him powerless! (Heb 2:14)
Early on Sunday morning, to Satan’s surprise and chagrin, a “severe earthquake” ripped through that region and “an angel of the Lord descended and rolled away the stone” (Matt 28:2 NASB). In grand fashion all of heaven witnessed the empty tomb declare that Satan had been played for a fool!
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he declared that if the rulers of this age had understood God’s eternal wisdom “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8 NASB). It’s almost as if they were tricked into accomplishing God’s purpose!
When Jesus was raised from the dead His body still bore the marks of Satan’s bruising. But ultimately the Resurrection was the final crushing of the head of the serpent of old (Gen 3:15). And today Satan remains the April Fool!
The only question that remains is who else is the fool? In Psalm 14:1 David wrote that “the fool says in his heart ‘there is no God.’” But the Resurrection provides a remedy even for the foolish heart! The New Testament declares “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and BELIEVE IN YOUR HEART THAT GOD RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9 NASB)
To not be the April Fool it all comes down to the heart. What does yours believe?
Thursday, March 08, 2018
(Originally appeared in the Town Talk on Sunday, March 4, 2018.)
Aesop was a Greek storyteller who lived about 600 years before Christ. You’ve probably heard of “Aesop’s Fables,” stories that use animals to communicate great truths. Some of the more well-known examples include “Boy Who Cried Wolf,” “Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs,” “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing,” among others.
Aesop was also known for coming up with some pretty tweetable quotes, like “After all is said and done, more is usually said than done;” and “It is easy to be brave from a safe distance.” One of my favorites comes from his story of the Tortoise and the Hare: “Plodding wins the race.”
You might remember this story of the boastful hare who challenged the tortoise to a race, confident that he was the fastest animal in the jungle. But the tortoise ended up winning because although the hare started well, in his arrogance he decided to take a nap thinking he could easily win. The tortoise simply plodded towards the finish line, crossing just ahead of the desperate hare whose flashy, yet intermittent speed couldn’t overcome the slow and steady pace of the tortoise.
“Plodding wins the race” was the moral of Aesop’s fable and is a lesson to Christians today as well. Some folks may start out well on a journey of faith, but how you start is not what wins the gold medal – it’s how you finish! Jesus told His own parable of seed that was sown. Although most of it sprang up quickly, not all of it became fruitful. Persecution, or temptation, or cares of the world stunted the growth and prevented the harvest. (See Matthew 18, Mark 4 and Luke 8 for the full treatment.)
Jesus called us to be faithful to the end. I call that “plodding” – the sustained faithfulness of someone who just won’t quit! And there are some secrets that the plodder knows about walking with God.
First, the plodder knows that every step counts. Every faithfulness counts. Every obedience counts. The plodder knows that every step matters. He doesn’t quit just because he doesn’t see immediate results. He doesn’t stop just because the seed he sowed 5 minutes ago hasn’t already born fruit. He recognizes there is a cost involved and the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step – and then has many, many more steps after that first one!!!
The plodder also knows that “this, too, shall pass!” No pain, no matter how intense, lasts forever! As David proclaimed, “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning!” (Ps 30:5 KJV).
There’s a very common phrase in the Bible that appears almost 500 times: “It came to pass…” While this phrase is a narrative tool to introduce the next part of the story, there’s also a hint of encouragement hidden in those words! Joyce McCollough (of the singing group The Martins) mined that gem for us when she penned these words: “It didn't come to stay; it came to pass. The Lord will move that mountain if you'll ask. The trials that we see today won't last. It didn't come to stay; it came to pass.” Plodders know this secret!
Finally, plodders also know that the prize is worth the plod! This is the plodder’s ultimate weapon! He recognizes that the “momentary, light affliction,” no matter how heavy and seemingly long lasting, pales when viewed in the light of the “eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” (2 Cor 4:17-18 NASB) The plodder knows that what’s across the finish line is worth whatever the cost to get there!
This is why it’s so important that we keep our eyes on the prize. Or as the Bible writer said, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Heb 12:2 NASB). That passage says that Jesus “endured the cross” because of the “joy set before Him.” Jesus Himself was our example in setting His eyes on the prize. And so must we!
It’s imperative to keep God’s vision for your life, God’s calling, in view. When we lose sight of God’s vision we stop plodding and start trudging. But when we hold onto God’s plan, our steps have purpose and we can “Keep calm and plod on!”
Have you learned the plodder’s secrets? There are at least three: 1)Every step counts; 2)This, too, shall pass, and; 3)The prize is worth the plod! I hope you grasp these secrets and take them to heart. Just don’t quit! Plod on! And plod well!
Sunday, February 04, 2018
February is known as a season of love! Because Valentines Day falls right in the middle of the month, the whole month gets wrapped up with the theme of love and relationships. Just check out the Hallmark Channel – just as the last month of the year is dedicated to every kind of Christmas movie you can image, February is dedicated to every sappy love story you could ever dream up! And some you never would have thought of!
The origins of Valentine’s Day are not completely known. The most common origin story traces its roots back to a priest named Valentine who lived in Rome in the third century AD. The Roman emperor of the day, Claudius II, had completely banned marriage for soldiers, thinking it was a distraction. Valentine violated Roman law by arranging secret marriages and when he was found out he was thrown in prison and sentenced to death. Supposedly he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and wrote her a note delivered to her on the day he was to be killed. That note was signed “From your Valentine.” And it was delivered on February 14.
Others trace the origins of Valentine’s Day to a Roman festival called Lupercalia that took place in the middle of February, which corresponded roughly to the beginning of their springtime. This festival included exchanges of gifts between those whose names were drawn from an urn, and sometimes that resulted in marriage among the young folk! It’s thought that some elements of this celebration may have been carried into the Christian celebration honoring St. Valentine.
Regardless of how it started, once the merchants got ahold of the idea it took off like wildfire! With the invention of the printing press it became easier to purchase read-made cards for people to express their emotions. And of course the postal service loved promoting anything that caused people to buy stamps!
But maybe, just maybe, the idea of celebrating love actually originated in the heart of God! The most famous verse in the Bible proclaims God’s love as the motivation for the greatest gift of eternity. ”For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”(John 3:16 NASB) God’s love motivated Him to do something for those who couldn’t do for themselves.
Love is a powerful motivator and it quickens amazing expressions. One of those expressions of love was demonstrated on the streets of Central Louisiana yesterday as thousands of people from hundreds of churches gathered together to declare their love for unborn babies and their mothers. But they don’t just march!
Over the past couple of years those same people have also put their money where their mouth is and privately funded the Cenla Pregnancy Center, which offers real help to mothers facing a crisis pregnancy. It’s love that motivates them to provide free pregnancy tests, free limited ultrasounds, free consultation by a pro-life nurse or doctor, free counseling by a trained pro-life advocate, and free resources to help moms and dads from the moment of their child’s conception until his or her second birthday.
Ask anyone involved in yesterday’s march or anyone involved with the Cenla Pregnancy Center and they’ll tell you it’s love for God and love for God’s creation, the unborn child, and that child’s mother, that motivates them to stand up and speak out.
Love is indeed a strong motivator! God loved the world enough to sacrifice something precious in order to save us from ourselves. He demonstrated love by not waiting until we were good enough or until we deserved to be saved. The great apostle Paul said it this way, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”(Rom 5:8 NASB)
We didn’t deserve His love but He still freely gave it. And because He loved us we are able to love others. I pray that every reader of these words will come to know how truly loved they are in Christ. And that we will also learn to share that love with others.
This article was written for the February 4, 2018 edition of the Alexandria Town Talk newspaper, and originally appeared online at http://www.thetowntalk.com/story/life/2018/02/04/season-love/302739002/
Sunday, January 07, 2018
I love the New Year!!! There’s just something about a fresh start, a new beginning, a clean slate, that fills me with hope for the endless possibilities that lie before me.
God is all about fresh starts! That’s one of the running themes throughout the Scriptures, that He gives new beginnings to what we thought were tired, worn-out endings! Let me give you an example.
Towards the middle of the Bible we find a book of sadness. It’s filled with so much sorrow that its actual name is “Lamentations,” written by a man who weeps over the condition of the nation of Israel.
Jeremiah knew that the fall of Jerusalem and the subsequent exile of its people were consequences of sinful behavior. The people had no one to blame but themselves for having turned their backs on God and having gone after false idols. And now they were reaping the whirlwind. So Jeremiah wept.
And yet, in the midst of this book of sorrow and tears Jeremiah remembers something! And as he reflects on a memory of the character and nature of God, his heart is overjoyed and sustained with hope. Listen to his own words:
“This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness.” (Lam 3:21-23 KJV)
Did you see it? God’s mercies and compassions are new every morning! Every morning! That means that no matter how much we’ve messed up the day, tomorrow morning He gives us another chance, a fresh start, a new beginning!
Unfortunately, we don’t always see it that way. We often go to bed so tired and bogged down, and when we wake up we just pick up yesterday’s burdens, struggles, guilt and sorrow. The morning feels like just another day.
That’s why the New Year seems like such a big deal! January 1 is not just the first day of a new month, it’s the first day of a new year! We have to learn to write the date differently, laughing at ourselves the first few times we forget and put 17 at the end. Everything about 1/1 reminds us of newness and freshness!
The New Year also brings up a fresh sense of resolution as we pledge to lose weight, get in shape, stop unhealthy habits and start new healthy ones in their place. We feel empowered to start again, even if we really blew it in the weeks of holiday parties, rich food and overindulgence leading up to the first day of January! The New Year means a fresh start!
So how do we apply that to our lives spiritually? How do we live in that fresh start every day? Thankfully the Scriptures give us that step as well.
In Acts 3 Peter speaks to a group of people who only a few weeks earlier were shouting “Crucify Him” concerning Jesus. As he shares the story of the resurrection of Jesus, and the miracles being done in His name, the crowd is grief-stricken. They are hearing how they had participated in the death of this innocent man, the Lamb of God. And like Jeremiah, there may have been some weeping among them as their eyes were opened to their spiritual lostness.
But rather than blame them for what they had done, Peter declares that a fresh start, a new beginning, is available to them! He declares, “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…” (Acts 3:19 NASB)
“Times of refreshing.” Does that sound like a new start to you? Does it sound like something you need today?
As we enter 2018, don’t bring with you the brokenness, failures and heartaches from last year. Do what Peter said, “Repent and return” and allow the Lord to wipe your sins away! Then you can experience the fresh start God promises!
I hope you have a very happy new year! And I pray you will encounter the God of compassion who gives new mercies and fresh starts every day! Here’s to your Fresh Start in 2018!
This article was written for the Alexandria Town Talk newspaper, and originally appeared at http://www.thetowntalk.com/story/life/2018/01/07/new-year-fresh-start/1007409001/