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Thursday, July 31, 2008

You Preachers Will Understand

It's been one of those weeks only a preacher could understand. Sermon preparation has been a struggle to say the least. I’m not really sure why. Some weeks are just like that. There are times when the Word just seems to fall off the page and God gives me an understanding of His Word as I study, that enables me to see fairly clearly what needs to be said. But then there are other times, like this week, when nothing comes easy and my puny brain just seems incapable of getting itself around the truth like it should.

And yet, as strange as it seems, I praise God for weeks like this (and there are a lot more of them than I’d care to admit). Because it’s these times that always seem to throw me back on my knees before God, pleading for understanding and help. Times like these remind me that understanding God’s word is not so much the result of my skill as an interpreter, as it is His grace in letting me see something of His Truth. How I thank God for that. Jesus said in Matthew 11:25,
"I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.
I thank God as well that truth, like silver and gold, doesn’t usually lay on top of the ground where any half-hearted fool can stumble over it, but it must be sought with diligence (Prov 23:23) as we dig and sweat and seek the help of the One who is worth seeking! The One Who sought us first, and through an amazing grace has given us a desire to know Him in Jesus Christ.

My prayer is that God will give you a growling hunger for his truth that will continually send you to your knees before an open Bible seeking to know Him, and longing to be like Him. And that He will satisfy that hunger he creates in you, by giving you an intimate and growing fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ as you meet with Him regularly in His Word. For whether it comes to you easy, or it's one of those days when things are hard, it's always worth it to find that God still speaks through His Word.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

New Blog "Rockportviews"

The new blog, RockportViews, is up and running! Aaron, Bob and I have been considering doing this for some time. Our goal is to be able to answer questions put to us, as well as deal with some important issues concerning the living of the Christian life. We three have enjoyed such great conversations together as we've wrestled with various things over the years, that we thought we should try and broaden the circle of conversation. We're hoping this might be one way to bring others in and stimulate some helpful interaction. Pray with us as we attempt to make this a ministry that is spiritually profitable to many.

Grace and Peace

Monday, July 28, 2008

God at Bate's Creek

Last week I was asked by our student minister, Aaron Sutton, to go down on Wednesday to Bate’s Creek Camp and spend the day teaching, participating in worship, and taking part in a question and answer session with the teenagers who were at camp there. I was glad to do so, but I must admit my expectations weren’t very high. I’ve been to camp before, you see, and kind of had an idea what to expect. You know, kids who tolerate the teaching time so they can get back to doing the things they’re really interested in doing.

What a welcome surprise to discover that this year things were quite different. Oh there were the usual displays of drama, and the cuts and bruises that accumulate whenever you have kids at camp. But from the moment I arrived it was clear God that had been moving upon the hearts and lives of many of the young people who were there in a way that is very encouraging.

One of the things that really impressed me was the response I saw from the teens in the class I taught. Aaron had asked me to speak on “What is the Gospel.” But when he told me that this would be an “elective” class held during “free time” just before supper, I thought, “Well great, that one kid that shows up and I can have a great time.” Much to my surprise fifty young people came on their own to study the Bible when they didn’t have to.

That’s amazing enough. But what really encouraged me were the answers I received to a series of questions I asked them about the Gospel. I expected to get the usual, shallow answers one usually finds in a room full of teens. To my great shock and surprise, this group of kids displayed a real depth of understanding and a deep hunger to get even more. Questions like, “What did Christ accomplish on the cross?” were met with answers like, “He gave Himself to be my substitute and took God’s wrath in my place!” Wow! I was blown away! I soon realized that this was a group of kids I could go deep with, and not only be understood, but also find that the truth was greatly appreciated. There’s no other way to say it, these kids were hungry to know God.

I especially appreciated the spirit and attitude of the youth from First Baptist DeSoto. It was clear that their youth pastor,Gene Smith , is doing a great job teaching and discipling them. Brother, it was great to meet you and your kids. I hope we’ll get to work together again in the future.

Another encouraging event was the late night question and answer session that I shared with Pastor Jeremy Muniz (also from FBC, DeSoto) and two of his staff guys (Gene and John). The young people asked more questions than we could ever have taken time to answer - but they were good questions. And even though we went way too long – they patiently listened the whole time. Quite amazing. I’ve rarely seen that many young people giving their full (or mostly full) attention to something like that when they were not being entertained, but were instead being given clear answers instruction from God’s Word.

Thank you Bro Jeremy for being a part of the whole thing with me. It was a joy to be able to field such good questions with a like-minded brother. God has given you much wisdom for your young age – I suspect that it comes through your complete dependence on the source of all wisdom – His inerrant word!

Another thing to mention, Bro John (also from DeSoto) did an incredible, Christ-exalting job of leading the kids in worship. I’ve been to many of these things where the music was more of a play time than anything else, and the cross of Christ barely an after-thought. So many today seem to think you’ve got to focus on the kids themselves and make them think the whole thing’s about them - or they won’t be interested. But that’s exactly what they don’t need. Most of their problems in life will come from thinking that it is all about them ( Isn’t that the very nature of sin?). What they need is a vision of the majesty of a Christ Who is big enough to cause them see that it’s not about them, it’s never been about them, and it can’t possibly be about them. They need to understand that there is a God Big and Glorious enough and Sovereign enough to demand their total allegiance, and able to satisfy their souls forever! You, with the help of the Holy Spirit, gave them that. I so much appreciate your leadership.

And finally, Bro Aaron, I will tell you again, how much I appreciate your hard work this past three weeks. I know you’re tired. But you wanted to make this about Christ, and you did so. I believe there will be a rich, future harvest of grace worked in many lives by God through your faithful obedience to Him this past month.

And to the rest of you who may happen to have read this far. I share this word of thanks with all of you as a word of encouragement. God has not abandoned this present generation. He’s still at work revealing Himself and His ways to hungry hearts. I pray you will come to Him hungry as well, and draw near to Him expecting to hear from him as you open His Word. And I pray God will open your eyes to the Majesty of His Son Jesus Christ, Who died and rose again to give life us who put our trust in Him.

Soli Deo Gloria
(To God Alone Be the Glory)

Monday, July 21, 2008

One Family

It's one of my many "favorite things" about being a Christian. It's happened to me so many times now, you'd think by now I'd be used to it, but it always comes as a welcome surprise. I'm talking about the joy of meeting someone for the first time-- a new friend from another part of the world -- and discovering instantly how much you have in common because of the common bond you share in Christ.

My most recent experience of this joy began back in April on my last mission trip to Romania -- you know, the one I was supposed to blog but never did! -- I met Mateusz (Matthew) Wichary, his wife Beata and their friend "Chris", all from Poland. They'd heard about the work of HeartCry and were interested in attending a conference where we were teaching, so they drove down to Romania for the week (an amazing thing in itself!). From the beginning we fell into a warm and enjoyable fellowship as we traveled along all week in what for all of us was a "foreign" country. At the end of the week, "Mat" told me he would be coming to the states during the summer to work in his PhD at Southern Seminary. I told him to contact me when he did.

To make a long story short. He emailed me about four weeks ago when he got this side of the Atlantic, and we arranged for one of our former church members, Terry Delaney, a student at Southern, to bring him to Arnold, MO for the weekend so he could join us at Rockport (thanks Terry, for taking the time!).

That weekend has just finished, and what a time we've had, laughing at silly jokes, sharing ideas, and rejoicing together in the marvels of God's grace in Christ to sinners such as ourselves. And what fun to be able to introduce him to Saint Louis and the Arch - despite the 100 degree heat! -- and then to try and explain what all the celebrating was about when Miles popped a walk-off grandslam to beat the Padres at Busch Stadium while we were standing under the arch. Have you ever tried to explain baseball to a European who's never seen it played before?

Any way, I don't know if you'll read this, but Matt it was a joy for my family to have you here and to learn what God is doing among the small, but vital group of baptists who live and worship there, and to find out how very much we are alike, despite the miles and cultural differences that might separate us! And I'm grateful to God for giving me the chance over the years to meet dear brothers and sisters of our one family in Christ from so many different places around the world!

What a mercy!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

"Out of Darkness into His Marvelous Light”*

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness,
and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son
Colossians 1:13

Why are children afraid of the dark? It’s too simplistic, I think, to say that it’s only because they cannot see what’s there. For the same children who ran screaming from a dark room the night before, will almost certainly turn around the next morning and walk into that same room blindfolded and think nothing of it. No, it’s not just that they can’t see. There is something in a dark room, a quality in a darkened house, that feels threatening. Something in there forebodes of evil unknown and lurking, ready to pounce. No doubt, that’s why nearly every horror movie I ever saw as a boy ended up at some point in a darkened room with strange noises echoing from a corner. We all fear something in the dark.

Darkness is that place where evil hides and evil deeds can be indulged unobserved. Nobody sees you in the dark. No one is there to hold you back. You do exactly what you want. Perhaps that is why the Bible uses “darkness” as a metaphor both for the evil that holds men in their sin, and for the evil that motivates people to indulge in sin.

Let’s think about each of these pictures. First, the Bible describes “darkness” as a sinister power or evil empire that holds people in it’s grip – something from which they need to be rescued. In Colossians 4:13, for example, the apostle Paul describes what God has done in Christ for those whom He has saved (rescued) from the power of sin. He says,
“For [God] rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son.”
Here “darkness” is a “domain”. It is a “realm” that is “ruled” by a power. Much as a king would rule his kingdom, so darkness is pictured as ruling over a domain where people live, bound in sin. They are it’s subjects. It’s slaves, as John 8:34 makes clear. Darkness is something from which people need to be rescued.

The Apostle Paul certainly understood this. In Acts 26:18, as he relates how he was commissioned by Christ to go preach the Gospel, he says he was sent “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God.” Notice the parallels here. By preaching the Gospel, Paul will see people turn from darkness to light, which means from the dominion (or realm or kingdom) where Satan rules to the realm or kingdom where God rules. Darkness, then, is that place where sin reigns and Satan holds men and women bound in chains they forged for themselves by lust and rebellion against God.. It is a kingdom from which they cannot break themselves free. They need a Rescuer, someone who can enter the darkness with them and set them free.

But there is a second, deeper darkness that must also be considered, lest we think of men and women merely as victims of evil forces outside of themselves. The Bible is very clearly that the darkness that holds people in their sin, is an internal darkness as well – a darkness of the heart that sins because it wants to. John 3:19-20 says that even after Christ came into the world in the incarnation – when God became man, and light broke in to the darkness – mankind in the evil of his sin continued to refuse Him.
"This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”
It’s not just that men and women are held in sin against their wills. They are willing participants in the sin and rebellion that holds them. That’s what we must understand. All of us at one time looked at the light of God in the face of Christ wherein are found all beauty, purity and perfection, and then we looked back into the face of our sin, and it was a face that seemed so familiar, like seeing your own image in the mirror. We looked and we said, “I’d rather have my sin than surrender to this Christ!” And we turned our backs and walked deeper into the darkness away from Him. We loved darkness rather than light!

That’s why the Bible pictures the coming of Christ into the world as an invasion of Sovereign Grace – of God breaking through our darkness with the overwhelming power of His Light to drive that darkness from our hearts that we might be changed by His grace from God-haters, into those who walk in the light of His love through faith in Christ. Thus Isaiah said, as he looked forward to the coming of Christ in Isaiah 9:12,
“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.”
And the Apostle John adds,
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5 ESV).
This powerful light that shines through Christ, shines not only into the darkness of this world but, as the Gospel of Jesus is preached, it also shines into the very hearts of men and women chosen by grace, so that their darkness is overturned and they themselves become children of light who turn from sin to embrace Christ by faith alone.

Consider the following verses that depict this transformation. 2 Corinthians 4:6
"For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
Notice that it is not we who have clawed our way out of the darkness in order to find Him. It is He who has commanded the light to invade our hearts and to give us the gift of seeing Christ and coming to the knowledge God through Him. Or, Ephesians 5:8-10
"[F]or you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord."
This invasion of light is transforming us in Christ. It not only brings us into His light to dwell, it also becomes a part of us, transforming our character and making us more like Him.
In other words, not only have we been transferred from the realm where Satan reigns, to the realm where God’s grace rules, so that positionally we have a new Master and therefore a new destiny (heaven, not hell). We also have been transformed personally (and are being transformed daily through the work of sanctification) so that more and more His light can be seen shining through us. 2 Corinthians 3:18
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory (the bright shining) of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
We are being made more and more like Christ, the Lord of Light, who has called us out of darkness to walk with Him in a new and God-glorifying light.

Of course such a calling, brings with it a responsibility. We must realize what He has done in bringing us out of darkness and into the light of a new life in Him. We must acknowledge that this is now the truth about us. We are no longer children of darkness. We can no longer live as we once did in the darkness of our sin, following the lusts of our former life. We must live now as men and women whose lives have been transformed, and who now belong to a new realm of righteousness and grace in the light of Christ. Thus Romans 13:11-14 commands,
“The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”
Or again, 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8 urges us
“But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day [of judgment] would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. ”
In other words, let us not sleep in the darkness as those who belong there. But let us strive with all His new life in us, to live in a way that is pleasing to God. Or as Jesus says in Matthew 5:16,
"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
This is what He called us to, when He called us out of darkness and into light! It is a call first of all to salvation, to turn from sin and embrace Christ by faith alone. And then it is a call to ongoing sanctification, to continue with Him in the light of this new life with its ever expanding joy of holiness as we , the people of God, keep on walking with Him. And so Peter urges us to remember in 1 Peter 2:9-12,
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
Let us no longer fear the dark, as children we once did. But let us overcome it by faith in Christ, Who is the Light of New Life alive and at work in us, to the praise of the glory of His grace.

*This post was originally written for "The Saint Louis Amigan" anniversary issue published by Bill Maddock at