Eyesores

I had the privilege of attending the Town Board Meeting last month. I was curious about what was going on in town, so I decided to drop in on Town Hall on a Monday Evening. I was not disappointed. I had taken my 7-year-old son with me, but he didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I did.

It seems that the most pressing problems in our community has to do with eyesores, those properties that nobody cares about. According to the Town Board, these are usually properties that the owners have simply left to fend for themselves, and houses make very poor caretakers. Houses cannot mow their own grass, or keep kids from wandering around inside of them doing who-knows-what. Though the town has tried to enforce local ordinances about keeping one’s yard and property in decent condition, the owners not only have not cleaned things up, but also have yet to return to town.

Thus, we have eyesores as next-door neighbors.

What others might not know that these eyesores are problems. They create places for kids to hang out and potentially injure themselves. They are places where drugs are likely sold and exchanged. They provides homes for vermin and lost animals, and by result, cause one to hold their nose as they pass by. The real trouble is, its easy to point to these eyesores and say, “There’s the real trouble about this town.” That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Tearing down buildings and cleaning up properties are only taking care of symptoms. They aren’t the cure. We could tear down every building in town and level the entire town to dust, but the real problems, the real issues at stake would not have been touched.

Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”1 The real issues, he says isn’t what you see on the outside, but what’s on the inside.

Sure we’ve got houses that look rundown, smell, and are eyesores. But if we were to come to your house, and look inside, would you qualify? Would the inside of your house be free from the clutter and the odor that your outside claims to be? And even more importantly, if we were to look inside your heart, would the same stench and disgust revile our nostrils, or the same vermin inhabit your thoughts and desires?

You see, it’s easy to look at someone else’s house and say, “That’s an eyesore!” But it is very difficult to lay that same standard to our heart, and feel proud of it.

The Apostle Paul once wrote, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”2 I’ve sinned. I’m sure you have too. We’ve all done something or several things that make our souls an eyesore to our Creator. That once beautiful structure called a human heart was filled with wonder at God, at the things He has made, but now is filled with hurt, with suffering, with hate and malice. We are surely an eyesore in the eyes of God.

But God wasn’t content to leave us that way. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”3 God sent His Son, one who knew how to clean up the eyesores, who came himself, lived as one of us, and shed his own blood for the eyesores of our souls, so that our eyesores would be beautiful again: not perfect, but at least presentable.

It will take some elbow grease and some hard work to clean up the eyesores in our community. But to clean up our soul is far easier. Simply embrace the Christ who has come to save us by believing that He is the Savior and Lord of our “house.” Repent of your sins and confess His name and Lordship before men. Be immersed into Christ and live for Him, and so receive His gift of His Spirit, his Presence to move in to your soul and help you live, and clean up the messes that happen along the way.

Your friends at the Church welcome you this Sunday to join us in our “house-cleaning” we do every week. A quick broom to the soul never hurt anybody. Won’t you come?

1 Matthew 23:27

2 Romans 3:23

3 John 3:16-17

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It’s Hot!

Now that’s some news! There’s just something about summer. It’s always hot. But it wasn’t that long ago that it was cold. And then we wished for summer weather. Well, your prayers have been answered. It’s hot! Do we have cause to complain? No, not really. It’s a trait of human nature, and a trait that God dislikes.

Ancient Israel mastered the fine art of complaining. When they were liberated from Egypt, were they thrilled? For about a day. When they reached the Red Sea, they “murmured” against Moses. “Murmur”-ing is a quiet form of complaining. When they crossed the sea of dry land, watched the Egyptians drowned, and finally walked as free men, they started murmuring against Moses because they had no food. God heard them, sent them Manna (bread from Heaven), and they filled their bellies, that is, until they tired of Manna. “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:5, 6) So the Lord sent quail to give them meat to eat. But God was so angry at their ingratitude that He struck them with a severe plague! “Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel.” (Psalms 78:41) Thus we receive the warning in 1 Corinthians 10:10, “And do not grumble, as some of them did – and were killed by the destroying angel.”

These are chilling words on a hot day. We can find a million things to complain about, but what does God think about it? God is the one who constructed the seasons, both the heat and the cold. In fact, if you go back into the Scriptures, you might find that winter and summer are consequences of the flood. Before the flood, the world was a temperate paradise. A layer of water in the upper atmosphere protected the world from the sun’s harmful radiation.1 But with the flood, that water, and the water under the earth flooded the surface (Genesis 7:11) and exposed the ground to direct sunlight, and the extremes of the seasons. And why did God send the flood? “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” (Genesis 6:5) So whose fault is it that it is so hot? Ours, because we are still wicked. We still wander away from God, and resist His will for our lives.

So what is it that God wants from us? He doesn’t want anything from us. He wants us, just as we are, to love Him, just as He is. He is the bringer of rain, to cool hot days, and of clouds, to shield from the sun. He is the Grower of green things, to feed you and to please you with its beauty. He loves you in so many different ways, but most importantly, He sent His own Son to you, to die for you, to pay for your wickedness in His Father’s eyes, and finally to rise again from death, to invite you to Him, if you are willing. His grace truly is amazing.

The path to Him is very simple:

Believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He died and rose again.

Confess that belief to others.

Repent of your sins before God and change your heart with His help.

Be immersed for the forgiveness of your sins, and receive the presence of the Holy Spirit and the gift of eternal life.

Grow in Christ, through prayer, Bible study, time spent with Him, attendance and participation in and with Church.

Stop complaining. It’s always going to be hot in summer. But it sure beats Hell!

1 C. Theodore Schwarze, The Marvel of Earth’s Canopies (Chicago, IL: Good News, 1957), 24ff.

Penciling In

Another year has come and gone, and we are faced with a new year, complete with new challenges and new opportunities. There is something about opening a new calendar, and putting away an old one. The scent of fresh paper, the sound of crinkled plastic, and the bright and playful colors of the approaching year’s pictures. But, just as soon as the new calendar is opened and hung, it becomes filled. Without fail, it becomes a battlefield, with armies of meetings and programs threatening the placid surface of the page. The old calendar bears silent witness to the war between your time, and the time claimed by everyone else, your job, your children, and your spouse.

I can’t speak to all of your other commitments, but I can guarantee at least one hour a week well worth the investment of your time. That hour is the hour you spend with God and His people. Many of you may not have been to church in recent months. I want to formally invite you to revisit God’s house, where His name is worshipped and His word is read and examined. That hour, and you can put this in your calendar, is the hour you spend with Jesus. Jesus won’t monopolize your time; it must be freely given. But for the cost, it is the most profitable 60 minutes of your week. For what you give, you get peace of mind, and of heart. There is joy here, and love. There is also hope. For here is a Savior, and a forgiver of sin. If you want the rest of your 167 hours to be meaningful, I ask you to spend 1 with Jesus.

Why should Sunday occupy an important part of our time? Examine the following:

It is the day on which God created light. (Genesis 1:3)

It is the day on which our Lord was resurrected and on which He appeared to His Disciples. (John 20:19, 26)

It is the day on which the 120 believers received the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. (Leviticus 23:15-16; Acts 2:1-4)

It is the day when the Apostle John was given his revelation of the glorified Christ. (Revelation 1:10)

It is the day on which the early Christians gathered to worship (Acts 20:7); to hear the Word (Acts 20:6-7): and to make their contributions for God’s work. (1 Corinthians 16:2)

The first day of the week, Sunday, is the foundation for the remaining six days. If the foundation is holy, so will the rest be holy. But if the foundation is full of holes, the rest of the week cannot stand.

Please pencil Him in.

OOOH, SCARY!

I know it’s become something of a tradition for churches to harp on evil Halloween. You see articles like, “Satan’s Birthday” and “the night when evil reigns.” I think all of these are nonsense. When it comes to special days on the calendar, each Christian should decide for himself what days he chooses to use to honor God.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.
(Rom 14:5-6 ESV)

It is true some groups, like Pagans and Wicca put more emphasis on Halloween than Christians do. I’m not saying that’s alright, it’s just a fact. But Halloween is more traditionally the night before a far more important holiday on the church calendar, All Saint’s Day. The Catholics recognize November 1st as the day to honor all the saints. Not a bad idea if you ask me. Because we need to be reminded of Saints, like those mentioned in Hebrews 11: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Deborah, Samuel, David, Gideon, to name a few. All of these were honored because they were faithful, without ever seeing the Christ in their lifetimes. They believed in Him, and trusted Him. That’s what made them saints.

Halloween then is simply a shortened version of “All Hallow’s Eve.” We say the words all the time when we say, “Hallowed be thy name.” “Hallow” is a word meaning “holy.” “separate” and “special.” Unfortunately, the world has taken what was once a time for meditation and prayer, and made it into a dark and forbidding day, a day to remember and honor evil. That’s sad. And I think it’s high time to take back what is ours. It’s time to make Halloween a holy day again. Make it special. Either by taking your kids out for candy, or spending some time with your spouse by a fire roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. This is a special time, as special as Thanksgiving or Christmas, because “this is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Rather than shower ridicule and criticism upon those who have made it a celebration of sin, let’s be praying for them, and showering them with mercy and compassion. Satan has no power in the face of God’s love.

This is the love we can share through Christ Jesus. “Greater love hath no man than this, that he give up his life for his friends.” Don’t let another day go by in loneliness and despair. You aren’t alone.

So, Are You Coming?

If you are one of those 33% that don’t go to church anywhere, then this article is for you. So those of you who are already members AND regular attenders at a church, either this one, or elsewhere, I ask you to give this article to someone you know.

Now, it’s just us. You the rare-if-ever church-goer, and me, the minister of a local church. The question that plagues me is what can I do, or what can I say that might encourage you to darken the doors of our church building? You may have some objection to coming to church, and this I fully understand. There are times when 9:30am is really too early to be in a church building on a Sunday morning. Sometimes I am tired from my busy weekend and would really just rather stay in bed. I can’t. And its not just the fact that I have to preach on Sunday morning, but that I want to be in this church. This is where all my friends are. The people I love come to church. This is my family.

Some people just don’t like church. It’s filled with too much politics. If you agree with this statement, I am your newest best friend. You are the kind of person that truly loves the Lord. Amen, brother. Because you have a place reserved for you in Heaven. I hate church politics. It only gets in the way of real worship and expression. What we need here at Jesus’ Church are more people that think like this. They are willing to worship Jesus no matter what. If you are willing to trust in Jesus alone, then you have a home here with us.

Some people have been to this church before and have either been burned or felt that they weren’t welcome here. I want to tell you that this church isn’t your father’s church or the preacher’s church. This is Jesus’ church and it belongs to Him. We have the great privilege of being invited to belong.

Listen, I don’t want to beat you up over this, but it’s very important that you find out the answer to this question: If you were to die tonight, and God asked you at His throne, “why should I let you into my Heaven?”, I want you to be prepared to answer. Only Christians can say with confidence, “Because Christ has died for me.”

Christ isn’t just an odd concept. He is a living, real person. He has done a marvelous thing for us. He lived just like we do. He was working-class, and never made any bones about it. He lived his life, the best life that was ever lived, and died for you. He died so that you, and I mean you on a personal level, could stand before His Father, and answer. Your eternity depends on it. Don’t wait any longer. You need to decide today.

Free, Free at Last!

Hey, It’s Independence Day again. Another year, another birthday for our wonderful country. But when we look around us, we might wonder, freedom from what? In a land where our income is taxed, our property is taxed, our sales are taxed, and even our death is taxed, we might ask, “Where was the freedom promised to us on “Independence Day”? What are we free from? We can’t do anything that we want to. We live in a society that governs our behavior, from the kind of toothpaste we use in the morning (approved by the FDA) to the kinds of television we watch (approved by the FCC) to the roads we drive on (managed and patrolled by State Troopers). Almost everything we do has had a government hand in it at one time or another. But we have freedom at the expense of security, and security at the expense of freedom.

As Christians, we celebrate freedom of a different kind, the freedom from sin. You may not be aware of it, but if you have not made a confession of Christ, you are in slavery, to sin. What is sin? Sin is disobedience to God. You may say at this point, but I don’t sin, I haven’t killed anyone, or stolen anything big. I might remind you that God’s standard is far stricter than one or two major sins. James (2:10) tells us that any sin, from a white lie, to looking too long at a pretty woman, can convict us in God’s court. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” In God’s court there is only one sentence, life, in the worst prison ever devised, Hell. The Bible calls this the second death. It is eternal life in torment and suffering. Does that sound like freedom to you? It doesn’t to me either.

You see, true freedom doesn’t come from a bottle, a pill, a checkbook, or even a TV. It doesn’t come from being able to do whatever you want. It comes from doing what He wants. He wants you, all of you, to live with Him, for eternity, in paradise. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it? But this is no bait and switch tactic. The hours will be long, suffering will be part of the territory, and all the things you wanted to do before will have to be checked against a ever-loving yet just God. The freedom here is within you. You have the choice between slavery to sin and death, or servant hood to a loving, graceful Father. You might be asking, how do I sign up? It’s easy. Just tell Him you want to serve Him. The Bible says that if you are not willing to confess His name before men, so will He be unwilling to confess your name before His Father. (Matthew 10:32) It’s not tough. Be free, at last!

Tragedy for Horry

“In 1871, tragedy struck Chicago as fire ravaged the city. When it was all over, 300 people were dead and 100,000 were homeless. Horatio Gates Spafford was one of those who tried to help the people of the city get back on their feet. A lawyer who had invested much of his money into the downtown Chicago real estate, he’d lost a great deal to the fire. And his one son (he had four daughters) had died about the same time. Still, for two years Spafford–who was a friend of evangelist Dwight Moody–assisted the homeless, impoverished, and grief-stricken ruined by the fire.

After about two years of such work, Spafford and his family decided to take a vacation. They were to go to England to join Moody and Ira Sankey on one of their evangelistic crusades, then travel in Europe. Horatio Spafford was delayed by some business, but sent his family on ahead. He would catch up to them on the other side of the Atlantic.

Their ship, the Ville de Havre, never made it. Off Newfoundland, it collided with an English sailing ship, the

Loch Earn, and sank within 20 minutes. Though Horatio’s wife, Anna, was able to cling to a piece of floating wreckage (one of only 47 survivors among hundreds), their four daughters–Maggie, Tanetta, Annie, and Bessie–were killed. Horatio received a horrible telegram from his wife, only two words long: “saved alone.”

Spafford boarded the next available ship to be near his grieving wife, and the two finally met up with Dwight Moody. “It is well,” Spafford told him quietly. “The will of God be done.”

Though reports vary as to when he did so, Spafford was led during those days of surely overwhelming grief to pen the words to one of the most beautiful hymns we know, beloved by Christians lowly and great.” That hymn was titled, “It Is Well With My Soul.” —from geocities.com /cott1388 /spafford.html

It Is Well With My Soul speaks to a subject rarely breached in Christian hymnals, the theme of suffering. In keeping with the author’s circumstances, the song begins, “When peace like a river, attendeth my way; when sorrows like sea billows roll.” Spafford writes amidst his tears, not about how bad life is and how he longs for something better, but about joy. He writes further, “That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed His own blood for my soul.” Despite all the loss and sorrow, Spafford still looks to Christ, because Christ suffered far worse for him.

Job speaks to suffering. It is the one human emotion we all have in common. Job is met by four successive servants who tell him his fortune is being destroyed, all in the space of a few minutes. “Then Job arose, rent his [cloak], shaved his head, fell down upon the ground, and worshipped.” (Job 1:20) Job suffered despite being a believer. God is no guarantee for comfort, but He is a guarantee for peace amidst suffering. “In all of this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” (Job 1:22)

I don’t know what you are going through today, but I do know of someone who suffered even worse that Job. He suffered, not only because He was righteous, but also because He loves you. Jesus suffered whipping and nails piercing his flesh. Jesus suffered the incredible wrath of God, God’s anger over all sin, including yours, so that you might live. Please believe in Jesus. Be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins and live the life of a Follower of Christ. I encourage you today to make that decision, for the rest of your life hangs in the balance. Jesus said, “Come unto me all of you who are weary and heavily laden (with work and trouble) and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Are you feeling that the world is dumping on you? Let Jesus lighten your load.