LBC June 2019 - Imitating God

Greetings, Friends!

According to pastor and author John Ortberg, a fictitious manual for Peace Corp volunteers headed for South America offers advice on how to handle a chance encounter with an anaconda.  This is the list of instructions under the heading "What to Do If Attacked by an Anaconda":

1.      If you're attacked by an anaconda, do not run; the snake is faster than you are.
2.      Lie flat on the ground.
3.      Put your arms tight at your sides and your legs tight against one another.
4.      The snake will begin to climb over your body.
5.      Do not panic.
6.      The snake will begin to swallow you from the feet end.
7.      Step 6 will take a long time.
8.      After a while, slowly and with as little movement as possible, reach down, take your knife, and
very gently slide it into the snake's mouth. Then suddenly sever the snake's head.
9.      Be sure your knife is sharp.
10.  Be sure you have your knife.

The message of this humorous parable is, of course, “Always be prepared.”

We’ve talked on Sunday mornings about “being prepared” for a number of opportunities and actions: being prepared to talk about Jesus, because we never know when God will plant someone in our path who needs to hear the good news; being prepared to use the spiritual gifts God has given us, because the body is healthy only when every part serves its role; being prepared for the presence and encouragement of the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit often doesn’t give us what we need until the moment we need it; being prepared for sacrificial giving of our time, money, and gifts, because all we have is God’s, and He expects us to be generous with it; being prepared for the Second Coming of Christ, because we have no idea when that might be; and, of course, being prepared for the next pastor God has in store for you.

How can we be ready?  “Be sure you have your knife.”  Rehearse what you could say to someone about Jesus.  Determine what your spiritual gifts are, develop them, and look for, or create, opportunities to use them.  Take chances you normally wouldn’t in faith that the Spirit will provide what you need.  Budget for sacrificial giving.  Follow Christ, if you haven’t already, and if you have, give that chance to your friends and family.  Pray for the search committee, for the search process, and for your own willingness to follow the leader God places before you.

One of Christianity’s core beliefs is that both the immediate and distant future are in God’s control.  He knows what’s coming; He’s mapped it out.  How encouraging!  But it doesn’t excuse us from looking ahead and being ready for whatever God throws our way.

“Be sure you have your knife.”

Pastor Rich

LBC May 2019 - Imitating God

Greetings, Friends!

   How can you and I imitate God?  That’s the question Paul implicitly raises in Ephesians 5:1-2.  It’s a daunting question, but the answer turns out to be fairly straightforward.

Ephesians 5:1-2 says,
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.  Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ.  He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God (NLT).

  The first thing Paul says is that we are to imitate God in everything we do.  Imitate God!  God can create everything out of nothing; I can’t make “Cup O Soup” without messing it up.  God knows every star by name; I’m lucky if I can find the Big Dipper.  God knows the future; sometimes we don’t even know what’s going on right now.  God holds the universe in place by will, managing the orbits of billions of planets, making sure suns rise and set at the right times, birthing new stars and watching as old ones die; the average human can’t drive and talk on a cell phone simultaneously.  God, according to the book of Job, can take Leviathan, the sea monster, home as a pet; we’re afraid of spiders.

  We who are finite, limited, and imperfect are expected to imitate the One who is infinite, unlimited, and perfect.  For Paul, this is a matter of children turning out like their parents.  “Imitate God…because you are His dear children.”  There’s something about our spiritual-DNA that programs us to turn out…in some way…like God.  Blond parents tend to have blond children.  Athletic parents tend to have athletic children.  Russian parents tend to have Russian children.  It’s in their DNA, their genetic makeup.

  I’m “friends” on Facebook with some of my high school friends.  It’s been no surprise to me that the guys and gals who were athletes in high school have kids who are stars on the school’s football and basketball teams.  The people who excelled in music have children who are excellent musicians.  My classmates who excelled in academics tend to have children who do really well in school.  It’s in their DNA; if not their actual, biological DNA, then it’s in their environmental DNA…the way these children were raised and nurtured by their parents influenced their behavior.

  Children tend to imitate their parents.  But it’s a huge leap…a cosmic leap…from where we are to where God is.  If we tried to make that leap on our own, we’d fall flat.  Fortunately, we have an intermediary.  We have someone who has shown us just what God looks like.  Someone who has revealed God’s character to us in a visible way.  In v. 2, Paul says “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ.  He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.”  Imitating God without some kind of example is too big of a step for us.  God knew that.  So He became one of us in Jesus Christ.

  So, how can you and I imitate God?  We imitate God when we imitate the example of Christ by sacrificing ourselves for others.

Pastor Rich

LBC April 2019 Understanding the Bible

Greetings, Friends!

 Lent has already started, and Easter is a few Sundays away.  An article about either seemed inappropriate.  So I’m going off-topic (liturgically speaking).

 Several people have talked with me about wanting to better understand the Bible.  That’s a topic we could spend weeks talking about.  Developing our ability to understand the Bible is essential for a Christian.  Since I have only a few paragraphs, and not several weeks, I’ll make three suggestions you can implement quickly to begin this process.

First, you need a Bible.  (Duh!)  Not just any Bible, though.  I recommend the NIV for both readability and accuracy.  I suggest at least two: One that contains only the text (so you’re not influenced by the insights of scholars at first), and a study Bible, such as The NIV Life-Application Study Bible (so the scholars can help answer the questions the texts raise for you).

Second, I recommend two books that should be on every Christian’s bookshelf: How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, and How to Read the Bible Book by Book.  The first provides insight on how to read the various genres of literature in the Bible.  The second provides brief intros and overviews of each book of the Bible.

Third, if you don’t have one laying around the house, go out and buy a notebook.  If a question comes to your mind while you’re reading, write it down.  If you have an insight, write it down.  Outline the text you’re reading.  Paraphrase it.  Write down any ways you think of to apply the text.  You don’t have to write down everything.  But if you find a particular question intriguing, or if God reveals a particularly insightful answer to you, write it down.  Trust me – you won’t remember it later if you don’t – I speak from 25 years’ experience of sermon ideas in the middle of the night that disappeared by morning because I didn’t write them down.

I figured out how to tie this into Lent/Easter!  Take these few suggestions and begin reading John 18-19 (The Passion Narrative).  Whew!

Pastor Rich

LBC March 2019 - Forgiveness

Greetings, Friends!

Forgiveness.  It’s a huge word in Christianity.  We all sin, and sin creates a debt…but it is a debt we cannot pay.  So, Christ paid it for us.  “He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right.  By his wounds you are healed” (I Peter 2:24).  I John 1:9 builds on that truth, saying, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

This is amazing news!  We can be forgiven because of Jesus’ sacrifice – we just have to ask.

 But there’s a catch.  File it under “Turnabout Is Fair Play.”  Jesus says in Matthew 6:15, “But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

 Ouch.

 The theme of forgiving others has shown up several times in the past few weeks in my devotions, my reading, and sermons I’ve listened to.  (I wonder if God is trying to tell me something?)  The idea isn’t new to me.  I know I have to forgive others.  I know I cannot be forgiven if I don’t forgive others.  I’ve preached this!

 But I’ve often wondered, “What does forgiveness look like?”  I’m guessing you’ve wondered that, too.  Last week, John Piper gave me an answer.  In one of his sermons, he asks and answers this very question by referring to the book Body of Divinity by Thomas Watson.  Watson says that forgiving someone means:

1.     Resisting revenge

2.    Not returning evil for evil

3.    Wishing them well

4.    Grieving at their calamities

5.    Praying for their welfare

6.    Seeking reconciliation (as far as it is up to you)

7.    Coming to their aid in distress

 That’s the most practical advice I’ve ever seen on forgiving someone.  Of course, every behavior on that list is something we don’t feel like doing for someone who has hurt us.  And if we wait until we feel like doing these things, well, that time will never come.  Forgiveness is not a feeling; it is, in the end, an act of obedience to God.  We remind ourselves of this each Sunday when we recite the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Pastor Rich

LBC February 2019 - Only Jesus

Greetings, Friends!

 James Denney (1856-1917) wrote, “No man can give the impression that he himself is clever and that Christ is mighty to save.”  The statement may have made a little more sense if he had added “at the same time” - “No man can give the impression that he himself is clever and, at the same time, that Christ is mighty to save.”  Still, his point is clear: If a preacher is mostly concerned with impressing his audience, the message that “Jesus saves” will be lost.  The preacher’s ego may be temporarily sated, but God will not be glorified, the gospel will not have been preached, and faith…which “comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ” (Rom. 10:17, NLT)…will have no chance to come alive.

 The band Casting Crowns sings a song titled Only Jesus.  The song includes the lyrics, “And I, I don’t want to leave a legacy/I don’t care if they remember me/Only Jesus/And I, I’ve only got one life to live/I’ll let every second point to Him/Only Jesus.”  Their message is similar to Denney’s: Time spent trying to impress others is time wasted.  When someone walks away from a conversation with us, it’s okay if they forget our name; hopefully, they will remember the name of Jesus, the One who is “mighty to save.”

 John the Baptizer put it this way: speaking of Jesus, he said, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less” (John 3:30, NLT).  Straight forward and simple.

 Are you concerned with impressing others?  It’s an easy trap to fall into.  It’s the rare person who doesn’t enjoy getting a laugh, or having others hang on your every word.  But as Christ’s disciples, we are to avoid such traps.  Our words, our relationships, our lives, should have but one purpose: Only Jesus.

Pastor Rich

LBC January 2019 - Challenges for the New Year

Greetings, Friends!

 Did you know 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions?  That’s great news!  Forty percent of Americans want somehow to be better people in 2019 than they were in 2018.  Here’s the bad news: Only 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals.  Only 8% take their self-improvement seriously.

 Setting New Year’s resolutions has become an exercise in futility for most people.  The truth is, any day of the year can become a starting point for self-improvement.  January 1 is just easy to remember.

 While avoiding terms like goals and resolutions, I want to pastorally challenge you in two areas for 2019.  #1: Read through the Bible this year.  Baptists have long been almost rabidly insistent that we are “people of the Book.”  But, statistically, very few Christians read the Bible on a regular basis, despite evidence that Bible study is necessary for spiritual growth.  Ed Stetzer says,

Statistically, you can see a recurring pattern: Bible engagement is directly related to spiritual growth.

God's Word is truth, so it should come as no surprise that reading and studying the Bible are still the activities that have the most statistical influence on growth in this attribute of spiritual maturity. As basic as that is, there are still numerous churchgoers who are not reading the Bible regularly. You simply won't grow if you don't know God and spend time in God's Word. Bible reading won't make you a Christian and you can't grow without the power of the Spirit, but engaging the word deeply matters.

 We’ve attached a chronological Bible reading plan for you to use.  With this plan, you’ll read through the Bible in the order the events happened.  This helps us see the Bible as one unfolding story, leading to Jesus Christ, instead of separate books that sometimes seem disconnected.

 #2: Visit another church.  (I can hear the deacons and trustees wailing, “No!”)  I know you’ll come back.  Visit a church you’ve never visited before, where you know no one, and that is different in style to FBC (either highly casual or liturgical).  I want you to experience what it’s like to be an outsider in church, to not recognize anyone, to not know where to sit, when to stand, or how to act.  This experience makes us more aware of what it’s like for a stranger to walk into our midst, and more likely to respond in truly welcoming ways.

 2019 holds ups and downs for all of us.  I pray for God’s blessings on you in the New Year; even more, I pray God uses you as a blessing in the New Year.

 Pastor Rich