“Cheer up Church. You’re worse off than you think.”
These poignant lyrics from singer/songwriter Charlie Peacock echoed in my mind this morning as I read the news. From crazy election results, to sin proudly on display, one cannot escape the seemingly relentless movement of hearts turned away from God.
The only answer to this horrible situation is the grace of God.
Asked to explain the lyrics of the song, Peacock wrote, “The truth is… I am worse off than I think or know. It is amazing that God knows the extent of my rebellion against Him (even if I really don't) and He still loves me and pursues me and is committed to making me like his Son Jesus. When I take this to heart a smile appears on my face. I cheer up.” Our lives are not dominated by circumstances, but rather the reality of God’s grace poured out on our life.
This worked itself out lyrically in the song, “Cheer Up, Church”
“It's just like God to make a hero from a sinner
It's just like God to choose the loser not the winner
It's just like God to tell a story through the weak
To let the Gospel speak through the life of a man
Who'll be the first to say,
‘Cheer up, Church
You're worse off than you think
Cheer up, Church
You're standing at the brink
Don't despair, do not fear, Grace is near’"
As Evangelical Christianity continues to move to the outer boundaries of the culture, this is an opportunity for us to remember our might is not in politics nor in cultural prowess. It’s in the Gospel.
Cheer up, church! It’s worse than you think! But the Gospel never changes and Jesus is still on the throne. His grace is always near.
Listen to the song on Spotify
Listen to the song on Youtube
 When Peacock wrote the lyrics for this song, he was remembering the life of a friend, Jack Miller, former pastor and a professor at Westminster Seminary. “Cheer up, you are worse off than you think,” was a perpetual reminder Dr. Miller gave to believers. http://www.crosswalk.com/culture/music/ask-charlie-cheer-up-church-youre-worse-off-than-you-think-541044.html
The holiday season is in full swing at my house. Christmas Trees, Nativity scenes, Advent calendars and even Santa Claus.
Shocking, I know.
The ubiquitous red-suited bearer of gifts still hangs around my home as part of the Christmas fun in our family. Some parents seem to want to move away from this tradition as Santa Claus becomes so intertwined with the secular Christmas narrative that in order to view Christ, we must also jettison Kris Kringle and his assorted paraphernalia.
To be fair, during the Reformation and following through to the Puritans, old St. Nick wasn’t seen as a positive thing. He was “popish” and to be avoided. The 1645 Directory of Public Worship for the Presbyterian Church stated it rather bluntly, “Festival days, vulgarly called Holy days, having no Warrant in the Word of God, are not to be continued.” It seems in many respects that the original war on Christmas was staged by the Protestant church.
But we are inheritors of the Victorian Romanticism that brought all of this back to the center of popular culture. Thus, for over 150 years, Santa plays a major part every December in our stories of the season.
So what’s a parent to do?
I have a few suggestions that may help you be able to communicate the story of Christmas clearly without allowing Santa to get in the way.
Celebrate Jesus – Using Advent tools and family devotions, talk about Jesus EVERY day of the Christmas season. Don’t let up. The culture isn’t, and you shouldn’t either. Tools from your church or other congregations can help you keep this focus for your family. This year, my family is using the advent family guide from the Austin Stone found in their app. Our friends at The Gospel Project also put one together called, _The Expected One .
Discover the Real Guy – Santa is based on a real pastor and church leader. Ok, so you have to peel back quite a few layers to get to his story, but we always told our kids the story of St. Nicholas. As one of the most celebrated saints in both the Eastern and Western churches, it’s not hard to find information about him. However, over the years, fantastical stories have been added to the historical record, but we do know this:
- St. Nick served as the bishop of Myra on the southern coast of modern day Turkey. He grew up in a wealthy family who died when Nicholas was young. Heeding Jesus’ words of caution to the rich young ruler, Nicholas lived a life of generosity and gave his inherited wealth away. Under Diocletian (284-305), an emperor who heavily persecuted Christians, Nicholas was imprisoned and tortured for his faith. Later, under Constantine, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in 325 and defended the orthodox teaching of the Scriptures. He died sometime around 340.
- The most famous story attributed to him relates to a poor family who didn’t have enough money to pay for their daughters’ dowry. This would have prevented the daughters from marrying so Nicholas anonymously tossed a bag of gold in through an open window to pay for the oldest daughter’s dowry. It just so happened that the bag ended up in a stocking that was hanging by the fire to dry. While there is no solid historical evidence of this event, it is attested to very early and has persisted through the centuries.
- The best story relating to Nicholas happened during the proceedings of the Nicene council. When Arius shared his heretical views stating that Jesus was not equal to God, Nicholas became so irritated that someone would deny the clear teaching of Scripture, he jumped up from where he was sitting and slapped Arius across the face. He was thrown in jail for the offense, but was eventually restored to his position as Bishop after the council ended.
- His feast day was celebrated on December 6. In Europe, this was the day to give gifts to others so not to obscure the worship of Christ’s Incarnation at Christmas.
For a great overview of this, see this article: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/news/2004/nick.html
Have Fun - Allow your kids to have fun with the stories about Santa. Call them "games" or "tall tales" or "fun stories." Point them back to the history of St. Nick as a real person. Talk about his generosity or his courage to stand firm for the faith. But please heed this: Always Tell the Truth – If your young child asks if Santa is real, tell the truth. Do not allow them to miss out on the truth of Jesus once they discover the “truth” of Santa. Again, in our family, we often talked about the “game of Santa” or pointed them to history. We didn’t want them to miss out on the greatest joy – Jesus.
Read Luke 2 as a Family – One of my fondest memories was my grandfather gathering all of us around the Christmas tree and reading about the birth of Christ. We would all sit and listen as, once again, the incarnation was made real. My grandfather would then explain how God gave the greatest gift – Jesus. Accordingly, that is why we shared presents with one another. We would pray and then open presents. While I didn’t always get what was going on, there was a clear signal being sent by my grandfather on the priority of Jesus during this season.
Share Christ - Gear your family to use this as an important season for Evangelism. Many people can feel disconnected during this season, but you can point them to the ultimate fulfillment of every hope and the true giver of Joy in the person of Jesus Christ. We are leading our kids to invite people to our Gospel-focused Christmas Eve services and encouraging them to talk to their friends about Jesus! This is Christmas!
So what about you? Do you have thoughts about how to deal with Santa this season?
 See Chris Durston’s Fascinating article, “The Puritan War on Christmas” in History Today Vol. 35 (12) Dec. 1985. http://www.historytoday.com/chris-durston/puritan-war-christmas
The local Baptist association is dead.
At least that’s what I’ve heard.
By now I’ve already angered some and others are nodding in approval. Historically Baptist associations served as a connection point for most of our congregations. The association served churches by helping them stay doctrinally strong, encouraging shared evangelistic outreach, and helping churches in various stages of their life cycle – plant, renewal or death. I think they are a valuable part of our Baptist communion.
But it doesn’t take long to discover that participation in the local association is waning. On some levels, its not surprising. Associations that served churches where I pastored often demanded much in the way of resources but gave back very little to member congregations. Some even had leaders who acted like Bishops with control over our church – not a smart move if you are working with Baptists!
Sitting in my local Chamber of Commerce meeting the other day, I began to realize something. What if our associations began to work more strategically and carefully. What if they took on some of the components typical of the local Chamber while they sought to serve the church and advance the Gospel?
While I am sure there are more ideas here, I propose at least 6 major emphases that can revitalize many of our associations while we do the work set out for us in our community. Some of these are for the association and its leaders. Some of the ideas are for the member churches. We can only succeed if we work together!
Some have proposed that the day of the local association may well be over. Spending time in my local Chamber of Commerce convinces me otherwise so long as our Baptist associations begin to cast a compelling vision for the future and serve the member churches as they engage the community. We could see a new day! Get your church and yourself involved in your local association for the good of the Kingdom!
For nearly two millennia, the church stood rooted and grounded in the person and work of Jesus Christ.. The church offered the freedom of the cross to people groups that openly accepted the Gospel as well as to cultures that fully rejected the claims of Christ.
For nearly two millennia, the church has contemplated and been faced with it all:
The list goes on. It’s all there. As Solomon once stated, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Since the very beginning, the church has spoken to the challenges of their day by driving believers back to the ultimate authority – the Scriptures. In certain eras, the church engaged the needs of the day effectively. In other eras, the church itself became so enmeshed with the cultural norms of the day, prophetic voices arose not with new message, but one as old as the church itself – to return to the Word of God.
Each generation received a missiological mantel to engage the cultural issues of their day. They presented Truth. The Truth of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior over and again. As a pilgrim people who have not yet reached their homeland, voice after voice in the church championed the claims of Scripture to encourage positive aspects of culture or prophetically condemn the atrocities of the era.
For Christians, we engage the situations of the day standing not alone, but amid the throngs of generations. This “great cloud of witnesses” provide encouragement, balanced insight and a deeper context than the flash-fire of the present. It gives us the ability to wrestle with ideas along with our forbears – even when the process is less than neat and clean.
Consider the question of abortion. Evangelicals continue to hold the ground on issues of life in the womb. Not only in the Scriptures is all life upheld as precious in God’s sight, but the church carried this teaching forward. In the early 3rdcentury, Tertullian writes his apologetic work, Treatise on the Soul, arguing for a clear understanding of life beginning at conception. By the 6th Ecumenical Council in 680 the question of abortion was re-iterated leading Eastern churches to affirm in 692 that those who abort a baby or produce drugs that lead to an abortion are committing murder.
Sound like issues we might face?
Read more about ways you can stand on the shoulders of prior generations as you engage yours. You can read the full article at Canon and Culture or by clicking here.
Earlier today, Russ Moore linked to a video over at LifeNews.com that shows Planned Parenthood's top doctor, Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s Senior Director of Medical Services, Dr. Deborah Nucatola describing how she carefully harvests a baby during an abortion in order to make the organs available for those who need the specimens. Of course, for a price.
Quickly after posting, Facebook blocked the story, but friends, you need to see this.
It is unacceptable.
It is reprehensible.
It is illegal.
These are children.
Facebook blocked it, but I wanted you to see this to know just where we have come.
I'll be in my office weeping.
UPDATE: As of this afternoon, the post has been unblocked.
WARNING: I fully intend to frustrate many parents with this post.
Here’s the thing – Integrity is hard to maintain. We embrace its value and even promote living with absolute integrity as individuals. As parents we strive to model the way we are supposed to live in front of our kids.
So why do we allow our kids to bypass EULA restrictions to gain access to a popular app? (EULA = End User License Agreement)
This issue came to a head this past week as my son was asking me to download the game, “Clash of Clans” on the family iPad so he could play. He has multiple friends at school and church who play so I didn’t think much of it. After doing a little digging around, I figured out what parameters I needed to establish (in-game purchases set to “off”) and started the download.
And that’s when the EULA notice popped open –
Uh Oh! 13 years of age minimum! My son is 11.
I know no one reads the EULAs. They are huge legal documents. Indemnify this. Exclude that. More lawyer-speak. And we are off on a nap.
This time was different. The app through iTunes on our iPad actually requires you to agree to this specific age restriction before allowing play. To allow my son access meant lying about his age.
And now we are back to the integrity issue.
I want my son to tell the truth. I want him to walk with integrity. Lying about your age is a huge issue. Yet as Danah Boyd, a social media researcher at Microsoft notes, “Not only are kids lying about their age, but more often than not, parents teach them to lie about their age,”
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and most other social media websites have age restrictions set at 13 to avoid Federal legal mandates that require them to do more to police content and discussions. These are to be heeded by parents as well as children.
In some respects, as parents allow children to access these sites with their permission, they are giving their children an illegal “fake” digital ID. No self-respecting parent would give their kids a fake ID to buy alcohol or cigarettes, but we are allowing our children to access and participate in digital media not designed for them and prohibited by the distributers of the software. We cave – often because everyone else is.
In addition, children’s fake birthdates (set to a much older age) are stuck in their profiles. The only way to change a child’s date in Facebook or Instagram is to cancel the account and start over – something an active social media person is loathe to do. And this is outside of the challenges that come from the dark-side of the internet as people view profiles of your now, much “older” child.
So what’s a parent to do?
· Respect the EULA – Show integrity to your children by not allowing them to participate.
· Inform other parents – sometimes parents are simply unaware that there are age restrictions.
· Reinforce the concept of integrity with your kids – Help them see you won’t tolerate rule breaking now or later.
· Equip your kids with answers – When their friends ask why they can’t play, make sure your son or daughter has good answers to the “why”.
This is not an easy situation. My son hated my answer. We looked for other editions that may have provided a different EULA option, but in the end, my son will be waiting another couple of years before making his social media and online gaming debut.
I had the privilege of preaching in chapel this week at Midwestern. Our campus is doing a study of 2 Timothy each Tuesday (you can find the series here.)
The Southern Baptist TEXAN asked me to list ways you and your church can support adoptive families before, during and after the adoption process. Here's the run-down from their article published in the February issue of their paper:
How Christians Can Help
This particular edition had fantastic articles on adoption that you should check out. Click here for more!
My Mother-in-Law, Mary Lou, passed away on Sunday, December 14. This is the written text of the sermon I gave at her funeral. Before I preached, a Gospel Quartet sang the old hymn, "Beulah Land." I turned to Isaiah 62:1-5 for the text of the sermon "Beulah Hope".
“Beulah Land” - An odd or perhaps old fashioned word or phrase. What this song we just heard captures is the desire and longing by every believer… by every person who trusts Jesus as the sole fount of salvation for the soul.
This Gospel song, written sometime in the 1870s, draws on a passage of scripture that speaks of the drawing nearness to God. Listen to Isaiah 62:1-5
For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace,
And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
Until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness,
And the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth.
2 And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness,
And all kings thy glory:
And thou shalt be called by a new name,
Which the mouth of the Lord shall name.
3 Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord,
And a royal diadem in the hand of thy God.
4 Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken;
Neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate:
But thou shalt be called Hephzi-bah,
And thy land Beulah:
For the Lord delighteth in thee,
And thy land shall be married.
5 For as a young man marrieth a virgin,
So shall thy sons marry thee:
And as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride,
So shall thy God rejoice over thee.
While more modern translations remove the terms “Hephzi-bah” and “Beulah”, the old King James version kept the Hebrew as a means of heightening our base connection to the feel of the text. In the great classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan equates Beulah land with the very outskirts of the Celestial City - the place every true pilgrim strives to reach.
For those of us who knew Mary Lou well, she was an incredible woman. A generous person who gave a smile willingly and often - A person who inspired many of her students to greatness - A person who loved her family - A person who wanted others to connect with the joy that filled her heart.
In our selected text, God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah boldly declared a messianic vision of hope. A hope that would come through the promised one: Jesus. “For the sake of the people I love, I cannot be silent,” God says. “Instead, I am going to make my love so clear that no one can avoid it. It’s going to be blindingly bright and inescapable.”
In her early days working with Campus Crusade, Mary Lou spoke of this this love with others daily. She did the same with you and me and did so often. She had seen the light found in the person of Jesus Christ and sought to share the hope of that Messiah with others.
Lest we make a mistake here, Mary Lou wasn’t perfect. She was an incredible person, but a person nonetheless. What we all saw in that amazing smile, in those sparkling eyes - What we heard through her encouraging words, through the song that was always on her lips - What we encountered through her life was the reality of the light of her Savior Jesus Christ shining through her. That’s ultimately what touched our lives in such a precious way.
I remember seeing it when she sang praise to her creator in the choir. Angie stated it must have been Sunday morning choir practice she was headed for just a few days ago. You couldn’t miss it. She loved the Lord and it radiated from her.
This hope. This inescapable hope. Hope in her Savior. Hope in a secure future in His presence. Hope beyond measure that met its fullness on Sunday as her hope was realized.
As our text continues, Isaiah records an amazing concept. Not only will God bring salvation through the Messiah, Jesus, but He also will enter into an intimate relationship with as and will change our names. In this most essential of Ancient Near Eastern concepts, the name given to you by others captured the essence of who you were.
In the case of the People of Israel, as they walked in rebellion against God, they lost their way. The were called “desolate ones” in the prior chapter. They were the ones with no place to call their own. No home in which to hang their hats.
It was a desperate situation. Hopeless. Or so it seemed. But through the power of the Good News of Messiah, Jesus, not only would they experience and see Salvation, but they would experience a name change. No longer “desolate”, they would be referred to as Hephzi-bah! This name mattered! It carried with it, according to verse 3, the weight of the very crown of the King of Life! There would be no mistaking to whom you belonged. God’s people would be the opposite of “Forsaken ones.” They would be his Hephzi-bah, or, “My delight is in you.”
Don’t we know that this is how God felt about His daughter and our wife, mother, sister, Aunt and friend Mary Lou? “My delight is in Mary Lou”! As she entered her eternal home, that she would have heard, “Well done Good and Faithful Servant!”
Can this be said of you? Our promise in Scripture is that for all who trust Jesus as Lord and Savior, we experience His peace that passes all understanding. We have a destiny change and we are promised eternity in the presence of Jesus. Our identity even changes. We are children of the King! Even today, if you have trusted him, you are His child! We serve and wait for him to call us home, but we are HIS children! Too many of us forget this! We are trapped in our mistakes and trapped in our misguided belief that God could never love us. Friends, He delights in you! You are His child! You, Christian, are Hephzi-bah!
Ultimately, this intimacy with God is demonstrated even further by use of the term “Beulah.” Yes, we return to this odd word from our Gospel song earlier. It’s meaning is rather simple: “married”. If the language of Hephzi-bah threw you, perhaps you can connect here to the idea of marriage. As the people of God, we are called the “bride of Christ” - Our “Beulah” status is all because of the work of Christ.
Remember, this is based not on our abilities, not on our work, not on what we accomplish or how ashamed we are of our failures. This hope - This Beulah hope - is found but simply through Jesus.
We saw this poignantly demonstrated through Curt’s love for Mary Lou until the end. He daily attended to her needs. He cared for her every step of the way. In fact, despite the difficulty Mary Lou experienced in her final years, Curt’s love ran even deeper than it ever had before. It was a love for the ages!
Yet the love story that God writes on our heart is even greater! When he calls you his own and when he intercepts your story and begins to write His story through you, we see the love of God over and over and over again. It’s real. It never fades. His love through Jesus endures forever.
Thus, as we gather today to remember, we gather today to rejoice. We rejoice in full because we know that Mary Lou is in the presence of her Savior. We rejoice because the grips of a horrible human disease no longer effects her in any way. We rejoice because the very thing that she saw in part was finally made whole when she saw her Savior face to face. Joy reached its final destination - eternity in the presence of God.
Augustine of Hippo in his book, Confessions, wrote the immortal words, "our heart does not rest until it rests in God." His vision of heaven painted eternity as one long embrace - First and foremost, the embrace of God, and then an embrace of other people who love Christ.
Today, that would be Mary Lou’s encouragement to you. She would smile and express to you the love that is found in Jesus Christ. The hope that is found in the cross. The eternal love that can be experienced when you turn and surrender at the foot of the cross. Would you trust him with your heart and life right now?
We will listen now to one of Mary Lou’s favorite hymns “Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling.” Friends, as you listen to the words of this song, could this be the invitation you need to hear as God calls you to himself and you experience the truth of an intimate relationship with God? Could today be the day you experience your Beulah-hope the same way Mary Lou found hers?
John Mark Yeats