Friday, December 19, 2008

Adam Walsh and the Hope of the Gospel

I am a native Floridian and remember well the horror in 1981 when Adam Walsh, the six year old son of John and Reve Walsh, was abducted from a Hollywood, Florida mall, and then subsequently murdered and beheaded. It was with tears that I read this week that the 27 year old case was finally closed by the Hollywood Police Department. Adam’s murderer was believed to be a drifter named Ottis Toole who died in prison in 1996. Police chief, Chad Wagner, announced this week that if Toole were still alive he would be arrested for the abduction and murder of Adam Walsh.

The pain the Walshs’ have endured is beyond words. I was especially gripped by John Walsh’s statement this week, "For 27 years, we have been asking ourselves, 'Who would take a 6-year-old boy and murder him and decapitate him? Who? ' "

I am grateful that the Walshs’ have received some sense of closure. May the Lord comfort them and strengthen them in the days ahead. They have championed the righteous pursuit and protection of missing and abducted children in the United States.

It would be sad enough if Adam Walsh were the only child brutalized in this world, but presently there are 80,000 children missing in the United States, and statistics show that 75% of them are dead within the first three house of abduction. With such statistics, the pain of this world becomes frontal. For me, there is only one comfort among this massive sorrow. My comfort is the hope found in Jesus Christ.

It was into such a world that Jesus Christ was born. A world saturated with tears and sorrow and violence and hatred. In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, we read of Herod’s response after being tricked by the magi. Filled with wrath, he dispatched his soldiers to go to Bethlehem and kill all the male children from two years old and under. John Walsh’s question comes to mind, “Who would do such a thing?”

Matthew notes that this slaughter of the children by Herod was a fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy,


From Bethlehem’s manger to Calvary’s cross Jesus Christ tasted the pain of this world. He identified with us. He walked among sinners, and yet never transgressed Himself, and ultimately gave His life on the cross as a once-for-all payment for sins that to those who turn from their sins and believe on Him, they shall pass from death into life. His death was not final, for three days later He arose from dead proving that He could really save, and that He was really who He said He was….God. (John 14:1-9)

Someone once said that if tears were indelible ink we would all be stained forever. For those in Christ, our great Savior has given to us a living hope for the tears of this life. He is also preparing a place for those who trust Him where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." (Rev. 21:4)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Biblical Doctrine of Love

Over the last four months my life have been incredible: Richmond, Alabama, Florida, Nashville, China, Pensacola, and New Orleans. The Lord has been good and I have seen Him do some wonderful things in many different ministry settings. After a four month break, my first post back is on the biblical doctrine of love. Think with me for a moment.....

Our culture loves to talk about love. We love movies and pizza and vacations and on and on it goes. We use the word “love” for every mundane experience in life. This, coupled with the biblical ignorance of God that is rampant in our post-Christian culture, makes the doctrine of love one of the most challenging truths to communicate to those without Christ.

D. A. Carson entitled one of his books, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. The title struck me as odd. We might call the doctrine of the Trinity or the doctrine of predestination a difficult doctrine, but love? Love is like a "no-brainer", right? Well, not so fast, listen to Carson’s explanation:

If people believe in God at all today, the overwhelming majority hold that this God---however he, she, or it may be understood---is a loving being. But this makes our witness more difficult because often the love of God is set in some matrix other than biblical theology….

We live in a culture in which many other and complementary truths about God are widely disbelieved. I do not think that what the Bible says about the love of God can long survive at the forefront of our thinking if it is abstracted from the sovereignty of God, the holiness of God, the wrath of God, the providence of God, or the personhood of God…to mention only a few nonnegotiable elements of basic Christianity.

In sum, when Christians talk about the love of God, they mean something very different from what is meant in the surrounding culture.

I believe one of the strongest challenges before believers is for us to understand and communicate clearly the biblical doctrine of love. That is my prayer this Christmas season.

Of all the statements we could make about Christmas, I John 4:10 is at the top of my list,

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins."

This verse contains massive truth:
1. Love does not originate from us, but from God. We are not the generators of benevolence and goodness and righteousness...He is, and therefore worthy of our worship.
2. God does love. He loves righteously and magnanimously and unconditionally.
3. God has a Son, and He sent Him from heaven to earth to do the incredible....redeem a people with His blood.
4. He became the propitiation for our sins. He absorbed the wrath of God which rightly rested upon us (John 3:36) by taking our sins to the cross. There on Calvary's beams He paid it all, so I would not have to pay for my sins in hell for eternity.

This truth is appalling to many because the love of God has been redefined by those who, as Carson noted, widely disbelieve other attributes of God. Many believe everyone is going to heaven....and their pets are going too! Everybody will be there.

However, if the teachings of Jesus mean anything, we know a universal salvation is not true. I think one of the greatest challenges and privileges for the believer in Jesus Christ is to declare to a perishing world, "The Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the World." (I John 4:14b) To know Him is to know life, and it sure gives meaning to 'Merry Christmas.'

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Casting a Vision for the Next Ten Years of Your Life

Next week, I will be at camp with our young men and women. We are expecting over 120 strong as we come together with Midway Baptist Church at Camp Victory in Florala, Alabama. Our theme for the week is "Heroes". We will study the heroes and the zeroes of the Bible and how faith in the living God made the difference. We will memorize Scripture. We will preach the Gospel. We will champion the call to missions. We will give a biblical challenge to purity and a set apart life for the glory of Jesus Christ. We will give truth and pray that convictions will form about marriage and family. We will sing and eat and have fun for God's glory.

In thinking through our theme "Heroes", I was drawn to the life and legacy of Jim Elliott who in 1956 was martyred on the mission field in Ecuador at the age of 27. At the age of 22, he wrote the following to his parents about his missionary call to take the Gospel to South America,

“I do not wonder that you were saddened at the word of my going to South America. This is nothing else than what the Lord Jesus warned us of when He told the disciples that they must become so infatuated with the kingdom and following Him that all other allegiances must become as though they were not. And He never excluded the family tie. In fact, those loves that we regard as closest, He told us must become as hate in comparison with our desires to uphold His cause. Grieve not, then, if your son seem to desert you, but rejoice, rather, seeing the will of God done gladly. Remember how the Psalmist described children? He said that they were as an heritage from the Lord, and that every man should be happy who had his quiver full of them.. And what is a quiver full of but arrows? And what are arrows for but to shoot? So, with the strong arms of prayer, draw the bowstring back and let the arrows fly---all of them, straight at the Enemy’s host."

Where do 22 year olds like that come from? They don't fall from the sky. The short answer is, God's sovereign grace. His grace makes a heart like that, and God often uses the incubator of a godly home and a faithful church to cast the vision.

This week it will be my joy to sow the Word into young hearts. For ten years I have made this journey with them, and my annual question for them is, "Do you have vision for the next ten years of your life?" I know, they can't plan for all the twists in the road, the unexpected events of life. But they can develop convictions. They can set their heart to seek and serve the Lord.

I think of the 16 year old who in ten years will probably be married. How do you get ready for that? Most just live for the moment, and they stumble into their 20's clueless. God has a better way. It is the walk of faith which clings to the living God as one's treasure, and when we come to know Him and trust Him the next ten years is embraced with joy and hope and direction and conviction. May God be please to raise up from our little congregation Jim Elliot types who radically live their lives for the Savior. Young men and women who have counted the cost and say, "For me to live is Christ!"

Pray with me to that end.

Expecting great things in Alabama,

Pastor Jim

Thursday, July 3, 2008

My Guide for Celebrating the 4th of July

This week we celebrate the 232nd birthday of our nation. To reflect upon the history of the United States of America is a remarkable journey of God's providence and grace! Through many dangers, toils and snares we have come as a nation. Through moments of great uncertainty and trial beginning with the Revolutionary war, to the Civil war, to the Great Depression, to Hitler’s terror, to racial tensions, to 9/11, God has preserved us as a nation. He has preserved and blessed this land with immeasurable blessings.

However, in recent years there have been noticeable shifts in the cultural landscape of our country. The line from the book of Exodus comes to my mind, “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” As a people, we seemed to have developed an ego-centered mindset as if we are the only generation of Americans who ever lived. In our thinking, history has become a revised story that we mold to fit our sensitivities. With manifest arrogance, we have become a people who do not know Joseph, who do not have a context of who we are. Specifically, an ignorance of, or a distain for the rich biblical heritage that was the foundation of our country. We act as if we have arrived to this generation in a vacuum.

Woodrow Wilson gave warning to such folly when he said, “A nation that does not remember what it was yesterday does not know what it is today, nor what it is trying to do. We are trying to do a futile thing if we do not know where we came from , or what we have been about. America was born a Christian nation. America was born to exemplify those elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelation of Holy Scripture.”

Can you imagine any of the candidates in this presidential election speaking like former President Wilson? Not if he wanted to be elected! Such rhetoric is not allowed anymore. We have drifted a long way in ninety years.

Our propensity to drift leads me back to God's word, specifically to Psalm 33. Not as a personal escape, but as a refuge and reminder to give hope and perspective. This didactic psalm has become a helpful guide to me in celebrating Independence Day. Many are familiar with verse 12,“Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance.” In this Psalm there are three important declarations that call us to go back to the Source of our national blessing.

1. The Lord Who Blesses Is The One To Be Praised. (33:1-3)

2. The Lord Who Blesses Gives Unshakeable Counsel. (33:4,5,10)

3. The Lord Who Blesses Is Sovereign Over Every Nation. (33:12-22)

Take some time to read this Psalm before you go to your picnic or pool or fireworks, and pray the closing verse for your country, "Let your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in You." As you enjoy the day, remember the One who gave it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Let Marriage Be Honored

If you live together before you get married, you are putting your future marriage in danger, so says recent studies on the exploding cultural practice of cohabitation.[i] The number of people living together before marriage has skyrocketed over the past 40 years, and it seems to be established as a “wise” first-step before marriage. George Barna noted that 60% of Americans believed that the best way to establish a successful marriage is to live together before marriage. With such a prevailing mindset, maybe you have given way in your thinking to the flow of the culture on this one? If that is the case, I want to reason with you concerning the danger and devastation of bypassing marriage for a live-in relationship.

Please don’t picture an angry moralizer as you read this appeal. I am writing as one who has seen many families live out the nightmare of marital failure, and when you consider the harmful effects that cohabitation has on the well-being of marriage and family, it should give great pause before jumping into such a relationship.

The Numbers Are In And They Are Not Good
In a very helpful article entitled “Cohabitation and the Bible,” Kerby Anderson noted a number of studies which give the following statistics:[ii]

*As many as 50% of Americans cohabit at one time or another prior to marriage.

*40% of cohabitating relationships involve children. Cohabitation was identified as especially harmful to children leading to behavior problems and lower academic performance due to the tenuous arrangement of the home relationship. In many instances, the child is not the result of the union of those living together which increases the instability of family life.

*66% of high school senior boys agreed or mostly agreed with the statement “it is usually a good idea for a couple to live together before getting married in order to find out whether they really get along.” This mindset seems to have become conventional wisdom much like test driving a car before you buy one. Kerby Anderson aptly challenges this prevailing idea, “The problem with such questions is they dehumanize the other person. If I decide not to buy another car (or shoes), the car does not feel rejected. When you test drive your car, you don’t put your personal luggage in the trunk. And rejecting a car model doesn’t bring emotional baggage into the next test driving experience. The car doesn’t need counseling so that it can trust the next car driver. Test driving a car is only positive if you are the driver.”[iii] It is hard to minimize the damage of such thinking.

*Couples who live together are more likely to divorce than those who don’t. According to the Nation Survey of Families and Households, marriages which had prior cohabitors were 46% more likely to divorce than marriages of noncohabitors.

*Cohabiting couples are less happy and score lower on well-being indices, including sexual satisfaction.

*Cohabiting couples are often poorer than married couples.

These numbers represent a frightening development on the state of the family in our country. One of the chief reasons couples enter into cohabitation is to avoid the pain of their parent’s marital problems or divorce. Sadly, however, what actually happens with cohabitation is that the couple unwittingly makes themselves more vulnerable to the pain they are trying to avoid. The numbers are in regarding the effects of cohabitation, and they are not good. The institution of marriage has a proven track record as the route to go in our pursuit of a happy, fulfilling family life.

The Biblical Call to Honor Marriage
My appeal would be incomplete if I did not give the source for my conviction regarding marriage. My passion to honor marriage is driven not by the statistics above. My passion to honor marriage is theologically driven by the truth found in the Bible. We receive the most enduring and hope-filled admonition to honor marriage from the Scripture. Please don’t run when you are challenged to think biblically about the decisions of your life. In the Bible you will find vital teaching about many important things including marriage. We read in the opening chapters that marriage was God’s idea and that it was very good. Under God’s design marriage was ordained to be the very building block for every culture and civilization.[iv] Evidence of that purpose is seen in the enduring legacy of marriage for the last five thousand years of recorded history, and furthermore by the ongoing desire of men and women to come together as husband and wife.

God established marriage as an institution to be honored and upheld with our strongest support. The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” (13:4) We should be alert to any arrangement that would do harm to marriage. I believe the practice of cohabitation by implication dishonors marriage. In fact, Scripture clarifies that it is indeed sinful, calling it fornication, to live together outside the bonds of marriage.

With the prevailing cynicism toward moral absolutes, such a position is often dismissed as something belonging in Nathanael Hawthorne’s puritan New England. However, we don’t have to look far to see the fallout and the misery in relationships today. Can we honestly say that we see a surge of God’s blessing upon marriages? Can we really say God is blessing men and women who forsake the commitments of marriage for a live-in relationship? Can we say such things when those who do are 46% more likely to get a divorce than those who do not live together before marriage? I'm not saying that living together before you are married means that your marriage will fail, nor am I saying that those who go through traditional means of dating and/or courtship are guaranteed marital success. I am saying that by choosing to live together before you are married you are entering into an arrangement with no promise of God’s blessing… only His judgment.

My appeal is that when we forsake God’s design for marriage by embracing sinful practices we reap the bitter consequences, even if we do so with the sincerest motives.

A second Scripture I would mention is I Corinthians 6: 9-11:

"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God."

The Apostle Paul in addressing the troubled Corinthian congregation stated that the unrighteous would not inherit the kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is a tension between that which has come in the Lord Jesus Christ and that which is yet to be under the rule of Christ in eternity. Paul identified certain sins that were indicators that a person would not inherit the promises of the Kingdom. He was not saying that those who were guilty of these sins had no chance of being forgiven and entering into heaven. For that is what Jesus came for. His grace is greater than all of our sin. He died on the cross to pay for the sins of sinners, and those who turn from sin to Christ alone know a sure promise of forgiveness and right standing with God.

The issue Paul is dealing with is in regard to those who claim to be believers in Christ and yet embrace an ongoing, habitual, unrepentant commitment to these sins. He mentions fornication among others. From this I am led to believe that any professing believer would be deceived to think that they were in right standing with God if at the same time they were living together with their boyfriend or girlfriend. What Paul is saying is that such behavior is not acceptable for those who name the Name of Christ as their Lord and Savior. When a true follower of Christ is confronted with sin in his or her life, the true believer will turn from it and renounce it.

Notice the power of his statement, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified (set apart), but you were justified (given right standing with God by faith) in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Cor. 6:11) Later on in this same chapter, we read, “Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (I Cor. 6:18-20) Within the Corinthian Church were those who were fornicators, adulterers, homosexuals, etc. That is what they were, but they turned by God’s grace and pressed on in their lives in obedience to Christ.

God’s design and command from the very beginning is that marriage was for one man with one woman, and that the covenant of that marriage was until death brought an end to it. You will look in vain to find any biblical support for living together before you are married. As you consider marriage in your heart and in your life, would you honor it? Would you honor it by saving yourself for the man or woman God has for you? Would you honor it by acknowledging Christ as the true builder of every marriage and home? To bypass God's design of marriage for a cohabiting relationship is a bad move. Consider the call to honor marriage, and you will align yourself with the means God has established to bring joy and fulfillment in your pursuit of family life.
[i] David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, “Should We Live Together? What Young Adults Need to Know about Cohabitation before Marriage,” The National Marriage Project, the Next Generation Series, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, January 1999.
[ii] Kerby Anderson, “Cohabitation and the Bible,”
In this article, Anderson made reference to recent studies on the impact of cohabitation on marriage and the family. Some of the references include: U. S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, Series P20-537; America’s Families and Living Arrangements: March 2000 and earlier reports; Larry L. Bumpass, James A Sweet, and Andrew Cherlin, “The Role of Cohabitation in the Declining Rates of Marriage,” Journal of Marriage and Family 53(1991), 914.; George Barna, The Future of the American Family (Chicago: Moody Press, 1993), 131.;
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Genesis 2:18-25.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Living by Grace and Truth

Life is messy. How do we navigate through the issues, dilemmas, decisions and heartaches we face in this troubled world? I believe the short answer is, "We press on by grace and truth." The Apostle John introduced his Gospel, his witness to the claims of Christ, with this statement, "For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ." (John 1:17) Years before John, one of the sons of Korah wrote, "Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other." (Psalm 85:10) As Christ-followers we are called to see life through the lense of God's grace and at the same time walk in the truth God has given through His word. This does not mean we will be freed from excruciating decisions and experiences, but it does mean that we will not be left in the dark for God has promised to give to us grace and truth for our every need.

We see a perfect demonstration of this when we follow Jesus through the Gospels. Time after time, we see His grace on display in the throes of messy situations. In Matthew 9 alone, we catch a glimpse of the demands of His ministry:
*v. 2-7--- a paralytic is healed and He forgives the man's sins.
*v. 10-12--- Jesus eats with sinners
*v. 18-26--- Jesus was approached by a synagogue leader.
*v. 20-22---Jesus was approached by a woman who touched the hem of His garment.
*v. 27-30--- Two blind men came to him and were healed.
*v. 32--- Demon possessed man was delivered.

What a grace-filled day! Matthew provides a summary at the close of the chapter, "Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:35,36)

Jesus Christ was and is full of grace. He is also full of truth. How important that we not ignore truth in our pursuit of grace. Jesus who bestows grace so freely also said that God must be worshipped in "spirit and truth." (John 4:24). He told the Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31,32) In His prayer on the night of His arrest, Jesus prayed to the Father, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." (John 17:17)

Randy Alcorn's comments are helpful, "Grace isn’t about God lowering His standards. It’s about God fulfilling those standards through the substitutionary suffering of the standard-setter. Christ went to the cross because He would not ignore the truths of His holiness and our sin. Grace never ignores or violates truth. Grace gave what truth demanded: the ultimate sacrifice for our sins."

In a world that is graceless. In a world that treats objective truth as a wax nose. God has called us to live by grace and by truth. This is a great comfort when life is hard.