Thursday, October 31, 2013


Autumn colors in Missouri are beautiful, making it an exciting time of the year for those of us who live here. The beautiful hues of yellow, orange, purple and red show us the handiwork of our creator. The many large oaks, hickories, walnuts and ashes, with their large colorful leaves, intricately paint the landscape. The many rivers are filled with orange and red maples, contrasted by dark green cedars and purple ashes. Bright, varied colors of dogwoods and plum thickets add to the colorful palette. The colors mean change. Change may not always be easy, but it is necessary and inevitable. It is my prayer that God helps us enjoy each day of life no matter what season it is.

I am also happy to announce that we are introducing some changes at People’s Church. After saving several years for our office renovation, we are finally underway with the construction. Our offices haven’t been touched in many long decades, and they are in sorry condition. We are excited to actually be remodeling our offices. At the same time, our purpose is to accommodate our growing youth ministry. This ministry, which is under the direction of Ryan and Fawn Brooks, has steadily been growing for the last few years. They have outgrown two different rooms. Our plans are to give them the space where our old offices are located. Once this area is renovated, it will accommodate many more teenagers. Our thanks to all of you who have contributed to this project and are helping us bring it to completion. Thanks to all the men who are working each day to make this renovation happen.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sour Grapes

We all know how disheartening it is to do something in vain. The gardener is disappointed that her new flowers are drowned by driving rain. The builder is frustrated by the footprints in his freshly poured concrete. We are disappointed when something brand new doesn’t work right, but perhaps there is no waste as great as the waste of a life.

How does one waste their life? It happens when we spur God’s grace. Paul was concerned that the Corinthians were wasting God’s grace: “As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1). If all we want out of God is acceptance without transformation, we are receiving God’s grace in vain.[1]

Isaiah gives us a parable about grace. He makes a contrast of God’s generous gifts and care with our disappointing choices. This parable shows how God planted a vineyard expecting to receive a good crop of grapes, but what he harvested was wild—stinking grapes. What went wrong? Isaiah writes: “Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit” (Isaiah 5:2).

If you are still making excuses for why you are not living your life the way you would like—a life that honors God, then you are caught in a web of deceit. Some people are convinced the reason they have a bad marriage is—they have a bad spouse. Others don’t like their work because they have a bad boss. Did you know that God is not into accepting excuses? He doesn’t let us get away with our cover-ups. God wants each of us to see the problem right where it lies—inside of each of us.

Isaiah holds up six wild bunches of grapes as a picture of what was wrong with the people of Israel. Each bunch begins with a “Woe,” which is a sad word describing the disappointing grapes. The first is a picture of how greed destroys us, “Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land” ( Isaiah 5:8).

Though construction has changed since then, human nature hasn’t changed one iota. The people sought to get more and better things living as if God wasn’t around, and they didn’t have any responsibility to their neighbor. Their greed caused them to crave for more and never be satisfied.

The second bunch shows how addictions rob us, “Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD, no respect for the work of his hands” (Isaiah 5:11-12).

Here the prophet’s words are more far reaching than just alcohol; he is using alcohol as an illustration. It is about our pursuit of pleasure with no regard for God. He is talking about the addictions that control our lives.

The third bunch represents the burdens of sin that blind us, “Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit, and wickedness as with cart ropes” (Isaiah 5:18). What may have been so clear now is blurred because of our sin. We carry with us resentment, bitterness and even hatred. We draw it along behind us from one year to the next. Our sin deceives us and makes us doubt God’s love and power. It makes us cynical and unbelieving.

The fourth bunch shows how we rationalize our sin, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,
who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20).

We redefine sin. We change the labels. We reject the law of the Lord! Political correctness is so arrogant that it redefines God’s commandments. What God has commanded is no longer commanded. We are now cultured and informed, so we now know more than God.

The fifth bunch unveils our self-portrait. We have way too much self-confidence, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight” (Isaiah 5:21). Sin teaches us how to justify our sinfulness through our false reasoning.

The sixth bunch shows how the inside affects the outside, “ Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent (Isaiah 5:22-23).

The word woe means the opposite of blessed. These people are really in a perilous situation, but they don’t know it. All the above sour grapes describe the inner condition of his people. The inside affects the outside.

How many of these sour grapes are present in our lives? God’s grace can transform us—only if we allow him to change us. Then the fruit of our lives will be good fruit—acceptable to him. Our lives will bring honor and glory to him. It’s my prayer that God’s grace be allowed to transform you and not be poured out in vain on your life.

[1] Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr. Isaiah (Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL 2005) p. 65.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Train Yourself to Be Godly

Have you ever seen a rude and obnoxious Christian? How is that possible? Aren’t we supposed to display the fruits of the Spirit like love, joy, peace, patience and kindness? The answer is of course, yes, there are rude Christians, and not all believers have the fruits of the Spirit. The truth is that just because a person gives their heart to Jesus and receives the gift of eternal life doesn’t mean they are automatically transformed into a nice person. We need training to become a godly person. Mind you this godliness of which I speak of has nothing to do with earning salvation—that is a gift. I am referring to pursuing godliness in our individual lives.

The Apostle Paul referred to godliness fifteen times in the New Testament, and thirteen of those times are in his pastoral epistles to Timothy and Titus. Paul saw Jesus as the source of this godliness which develops each of us into godly believers if we are willing to do the training.

Paul writes, “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:7-10).

We are to recognize and reject bad teaching. Heresy is all around us, but if we know the Scriptures, we will be able to reject the bad. Then we are to accept the good—the good being the truth of God’s Word. This discipline of training ourselves seems to make sense in every other field except godliness. My wife Marilyn and I recently saw a man sit at the piano and play a thirty minute symphony with a full orchestra with not a single note in front of him. He never missed a beat. How could he have done that? Who knows the thousands of hours of practice and the discipline he has done to be able to deliver such a masterful performance of skill and art?

We are to begin a regimen of the Word of God in our lives. This training ourselves to be godly refers to training ourselves in the Scriptures. This is where the rubber really meets the road in Christians’ lives. That is whether they will learn to exercise themselves in the book of books. This is the path to godliness.

When Daniel’s colleagues tried to find some dirt in his past they could use against him, they found none. So they determined to use his religion against him. They contrived a new law that prohibited anyone from praying to anyone but the king. What was Daniel’s response? “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (Daniel 6:10). Notice the words “just as he had done before.” These words speak of the discipline in Daniel’s life. He had trained himself to do the right thing.

Do you have a daily habit of reading and studying God’s Word? I invite you to begin one. There are many tools available, such as online reading programs or a Bible phone app.  Whatever method you use, the point is to study God’s Word and develop a love for Jesus that transforms your life into a godly person.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Redemption is the primary theme of the Bible. Understanding that God can redeem any act, no matter how evil, gives us a different perspective on life. This is beautifully illustrated in the life of Joseph who was sold into slavery by his ten brothers. Years later Joseph was able to save the lives of his family because God had placed him in a strategic position in Egypt. Joseph’s brothers continued to fight the guilt for the terrible evil they had done to their brother. They and their father Jacob wondered how Joseph could ever forgive them for what they did. After Jacob’s death, they came to Joseph to ask forgiveness again, and the recorded response was “Joseph wept” (Genesis 50:17). Joseph grieved because his brothers could not grasp God’s wonderful grace and redeeming power. Then his brothers said to him, "We are your slaves," But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:18-20).

Joseph plainly tells them that he is aware of their evil intentions that horrible day they sold their seventeen-year-old brother into slavery. Their actions were motivated by their sinful natures, and their attempts to cover up their sin were completely unsuccessful. When you read the fascinating account of Joseph testing his brothers on their encounter with him in Egypt, they still bear this enormous burden of guilt. Even years later after the brothers and their families have received wonderful kindness and generosity from Joseph, they still doubt they could be truly forgiven. I suggest their response is completely human, because people struggle to forgive and accept forgiveness. True forgiveness is a God-thing.

When you come to know and understand that God is a God of redemption, you come to believe that God can take any evil and integrate it into his wonderful plan. Perhaps you have been struggling with something that happened to you many years ago, and you can’t make sense of it—then turn it over to a God of grace. Perhaps you still remember your mistake that hurt other people, and you can’t forgive yourself—then remember that God is your redeemer.

I encourage you today to allow God to redeem every aspect of your life today. That means every mistake, every sin, and every horrible act that you are ashamed of. God will take them and transform them into something that has meaning for you. How can he do this? He can do this because he is God and because this is the kind of God he is. God can take even the bad intentions of others and use them for his purposes.