Archive | April, 2013

The suicide question

25 Apr

Suicide. Just typing the word sends chills up my spine.  On a few occasions, I have ministered to families who had a family member take their own life and I have seen up close the enormous pain and despair that comes.  A couple of weeks ago, the son of well known pastor Rick Warren took his own life. Today the community where I serve has once again been touched by a suicide. My heart has been heavy all day for this family.  It is at times like this when pastors get what I call “the suicide question.”  Most often, it comes in this way: “Can a person who has committed suicide go to Heaven?”  I really don’t know where it originated, but many Christians tell me they “have always heard” that a person who commits suicide cannot go to Heaven, no matter their spiritual commitment beforehand. It’s an issue that many Christians struggle with, and I decided to address it in the blog today.

I believe that the central issue in discussing this question is the Biblical teaching regarding justification – that is how lost sinners are forgiven of their sin and made right with God. The Bible clearly teaches that sinners are made right with God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ…

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 3:23–24, NKJV)

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Romans 5:1, NKJV)

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NKJV)

Without delving into a host of Biblical and theological issues, suffice it to say that the Bible teaches that we are justified (forgiven of our sin and made right with God) at the moment we repent of our sins and place our faith in Christ.  Justification is not a feeling, but it is rather a standing before God. It is our standing before God that is His work, not ours. Romans 8:33 reminds us that “it is God who justifies.” Furthermore, the Bible teaches that justification is a fixed, final, eternal standing before God.  In other words, we are not justified today and unjustified tomorrow depending on our feelings or behavior.  In fact, the Bible teaches that a person who is justified will absolutely and finally be glorified (made like God to live with Him forever)

And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified.” (Romans 8:30, HCSB)

The verb tenses in Romans 8:33 are telling as well. Where I grew up, people would say, “It’s a done deal.”  That’s what Romans 8:33 says. Just as sure as God has justified a person, He has already glorified that person. They will be glorified for certain, and it is so certain that God’s Word speaks of it as if it has already happened.  Therefore a person who has given their life to Christ cannot be justified one day and then do something to lose their justification the next. The Bible teaches that a person cannot do anything to deserve or earn their salvation. That only comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  Therefore, since a person did nothing to earn or deserve their salvation, but received their justification as a free gift (Romans 6:23) then a person’s salvation is eternal and irrevocable (eternal security, “once saved always saved”). If we did nothing to earn or deserve our salvation, then we we can do nothing to lose our salvation.

What does all of this have to do with the suicide question?   I believe that once a person has sincerely trusted Christ alone for their salvation, then nothing they do can change that relationship. It’s like my own two sons. They might sin terribly and break my heart, but they will always be my sons.  Nothing they could ever do would stop them from being my sons. Why?  Because they are my sons and that is the nature of the relationship.  So it is with children of God.  Nothing a child of God can do will sever the relationship – even something as horrific as suicide.

That being said, please allow me to conclude with several important truths to help put all of this into some perspective…

1)  Suicide is NEVER a legitimate option for a believer.

The Christian worldview upholds the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death – including our own life.  While I do not believe that suicide is the “unpardonable sin” it is, nevertheless, a grievous sin.  It is a sin against God, ourselves, our family, and everyone who knows us.  While I do believe that it is possible for a true believer to reach a depth of pain and despair that is so great they take their own life, it is never right to do so.

2)  Suicide doesn’t end the pain; it just shifts the pain to others.

The guilt felt by the family left behind is often unbearable.  While the person who commits suicide often does it to relieve their own pain, it is the beginning of years, decades, and generations of pain for those who are left.

3)  There is nothing you can say.  Just be there to cry and pray with them.

When I first started out in ministry, I used to think that I had to say something profound that would relieve a family’s hurt. Then I realized the most important thing I could do was be there. No words can ease the pain for the family that is touched by a suicide, but your presence and prayers can help greatly.

Suicide is a complex issue that has no easy answers. It is my prayer that this post will help believers begin to think clearly about it and bring comfort to those who are struggling. The applications of the Bible truths we discussed apply to far more than just instances of suicide. Thanks for reading.

Run to God

23 Apr

Where do you go when you are troubled?  All of us turn somewhere when we are feeling overwhelmed, run down, confused, hurting, or otherwise fed up with life. Some of us turn to food, immersing ourselves in a favorite TV show, a favorite hobby,  or a host of other things.  Some run to alcohol, pornography, sex, or other destructive behaviors. Others might seek out the company of a particular friend or go to a particular place.  All of us go somewhere when we are troubled. Where do you go?

The Word of God tells us where we are to go when we are troubled…

God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1, NKJV)

God is our refuge and strength, but we have to chose to allow Him to be that for us. We have to run to Him when we are troubled. The truth is that everything in us will pull against that – our emotions, thoughts, etc.  Our sinful flesh wants us to turn anywhere other than the One who can truly help and satisfy. This fact is why we must fight through our feelings and run to God our refuge even when in ourselves we desperately want to run somewhere else.  The truth is that if we are not running to God, then we are running away from Him.  Run to God when you are troubled because He alone gives peace…

Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;” (Psalm 46:2, NKJV)

Believing God to the very end

18 Apr

The Old Testament life of Joseph is a favorite character study for many Christians. Recently, I preached a series of messages on the life of Joseph at our church, and I found that one less well known moment in Joseph’s life was a great blessing to me.  If you haven’t in a while, take a few minutes and read the life of Joseph as recorded in Genesis 37-50.  It will bless you.

Joseph is a great example of perseverance and overcoming terrible hurts, as well as a great example of leadership and hard work.  Joseph grew up in a dysfunctional family where his father favored him above his eleven brothers. This fact created resentment to the point where his brothers threw him in a pit and plotted to kill him.  Slightly cooler heads prevailed and his brothers decided to sell him into slavery in Egypt and tell their father that Joseph was dead. The Bible says that the Lord was with Joseph in Egypt and he eventually gets a good position working for Potipher, an Egyptian official.  However, then he is falsely accused of a crime and is forgotten about in years of imprisonment.  Miraculously, the Lord works in Joseph’s life and he eventually is released from prison and winds up running the entire country of Egypt to prepare for seven years of terrible famine. The Lord actually used Joseph to save the lives of millions of people! Finally, he is reunited with his brothers and forgives them even though he is in a position to exact revenge.  It’s a truly amazing life story!

However, it is also interesting to make note that Joseph is mentioned in the “Faith Chapter” better known as Hebrews 11.  Some preachers call this “Faith’s Hall of Fame”  because Hebrews 11 recognizes many well known (and some less well known) Old Testament believers and commends them for what they did for the Lord through faith in Him.  It’s an inspiring chapter to say the least.  Not surprisingly, Joseph is mentioned in Hebrews 11 and commended as a man who lived by faith in the Lord. It is not surprising that Joseph is mentioned in Hebrews 11, but it is surprising to read what he is commended for…

By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones.” (Hebrews 11:22, NASB95)

This is a reference to Genesis 50:22-26 where Joseph’s dying wish is that his bones be taken to the promised land and buried there. You see, Joseph’s great grandfather was Abraham, to whom the Lord had promised the land around 200 years before (Genesis 12:1-3, 15:1-7). At the time of Joseph’s death, none of these promises had been fulfilled and Joseph and his descendants all lived in Egypt, not the promised land. Yet, Joseph believed the promise of God that one day God would keep his word and bring them to possession of the promised land. As a result, Joseph basically said, “I don’t want to be buried here among unbelievers. I want to be finally buried in the promised land because one day God is going to bring us there!”

Think about all of the great things that Joseph did through his faith in the Lord. Think of all of the great things the Lord could have inspired the writer of Hebrews (whomever that may be!) to commend in Joseph’s life. Yet, the Holy Spirit chose to commend Joseph for believing God to the very end of his life by giving instructions concerning his bones. Joseph died believing the promises of God, and that is what the Lord commended him for. By the way, if you study the Old Testament, you will find that it was another 400 years before Joseph’s bones were actually buried in the promised land, but they got there!

May each of us be like Joseph and believe the promises of God to the very last breath we take on this earth!  Don’t let circumstances and the way things look right now discourage you. On the day Joseph died, nothing around him looked like God was keeping his promises, yet he died believing God – the One who cannot lie and cannot fail!   Let’s each one determine to believe God until our dying breath.

Greater is He Who is in You!

15 Apr

It seems like things continue to get worse in our world. Maybe you have wondered how things got in such bad shape. Perhaps you wonder if you or your children can face a world filled with such sin and evil. In this message from 1 John 4:1-4, we take a look at how the Bible speaks to these issues and more…

Praying for revival

11 Apr

“Restore us, O God of our salvation, And cause Your anger toward us to cease. Will You be angry with us forever? Will You prolong Your anger to all generations? Will You not revive us again, That Your people may rejoice in You?” (Psalm 85:4–6, NKJV)

Many Bible scholars believe that Psalm 85 was written after the people of God had returned from exile in Babylon. They were back home in their land, but things were but a shell of what they had been before the Babylonian captivity. This is a great Bible prayer for revival among the people of God. While many readers of this blog will be familiar with old fashioned “revival meetings” where evangelists preach and call on people to be saved, I think it is important to point out that revival is first and foremost for the church. The people of God need to get back to a white hot devotion to their Lord and let His power work mightily among them.  Certainly, during every revival in history, many lost people have come to faith, but revival begins among the people of God.

I cannot stress enough how much we need a great revival today in America. In recent months, I have been burdened to pray for revival more than ever before in my life and ministry.  As I look around at our country, I am personally convinced that America is headed for one of two outcomes: revival or ruin.  I truly believe that the only thing that can save our country is a mighty movement of God – a revival.

This week, I had the privilege of attending a conference where Dr. Ted Rendall spoke. It was a great delight and blessing to hear and get to know this choice servant of Christ. He has served as a missionary, senior pastor of a large church, and president of a Bible Institute. He has preached all over the world and served in full time ministry in England, Canada, and the United States. He is also one of the foremost experts in the world on revival and spiritual awakening. During a break, I had a conversation with Dr. Rendall and asked him about revival in America.

“Dr. Rendall,” I asked, “From all that you know about revivals and spiritual awakening, is there hope for revival to come to America?”  Without even a pause, Dr. Rendall quickly said, “Of course, there is great hope for revival in America!”  I followed up with the logical question, “Why?”  His answer encouraged me. “Remember that as bad as things are in America, there are thousands upon thousands of preachers preaching the gospel and the Word of God, ” Dr. Rendall replied, “Think about how many Christians in America are praying for revival. As long as those things are true, there is hope for God to send revival.”

Then, Dr. Rendall looked me in the eye and offered a challenge. “The church has to get burdened and earnestly pray for revival,” he said.  A few moments later the conference resumed and our conversation ended.  However, it has echoed in my mind ever since. Count me encouraged by the hope this man of God has for revival. Count me convicted by his challenge to have a greater burden for revival.  Will you be counted too?

How beautiful is the body of Christ!

9 Apr

Recently, I had the privilege of attending a conference with pastors from a variety of backgrounds. As we sang the universal hymn, Amazing Grace, I was touched as I looked around the room. There were men of all ages in the room, but the most striking detail was the ethnic and national diversity in the room.  I was singing Amazing Grace with pastors from all over the United States, as well as South Africa, West Africa, Nigeria, Mozambique, Philippines, Singapore, and a seminary president from India.  All of this diversity in a room with no more than fifty people.

As we sang together, I couldn’t help but think of Ephesians 2:14-15 that speaks of how the work of Christ has torn down the walls between people and created one new people in Christ Jesus.  This roomful of men from the far corners of the world who had never met immediately came together around the amazing grace of God. THAT is what we all have in common. We prayed together, studied together, and ate together. The love of Christ was evident throughout.  Encouragement was everywhere!  All of us were reminded in a tangible way that our great God is at work all over the world.

The body of Christ is a beautiful thing.

Part of my heart will always be at Pisgah

4 Apr

On Wednesday, I had the privilege of preaching the funeral service for Florene Wheeler, a faithful prayer warrior and friend who passed away at the age of 97. It was a very sad occasion, but it was also a joy to spend the day with people I love deeply. You see, Florene was a near lifetime member of Pisgah Baptist Church in Pisgah, Alabama.  In February, 1994 Becky and I moved to Pisgah as 23 year old newlyweds, and I began serving as the pastor of Pisgah Baptist Church.

Pisgah_Baptist_Outside

I have often said that I do not know much now, but I did not know anything then!  Becky and I moved into the pastorium just behind the church building here and began our life and ministry together. In the afternoons we would take walks around this beautiful community, and very often would come home to a sack of fresh garden vegetables on our front porch. Pisgah High School is only two blocks away and we spent many evenings at various Eagle sporting events. I can remember Vacation Bible School with kids running all over the church grounds.  I remember Andrea Wheeler, the first person who was saved and baptized under my ministry as a pastor.

Sanctuary

This is the pulpit from which I preached my first sermon as a pastor and many sermons thereafter. However, it is the people who were in those pews that I treasure most. Whenever I look at this picture, I can see friends for life in those pews. I see Derrick & Florene Wheeler, Ollie & Betty Turner, Delton & Jean Traylor, “Coach” & Elizabeth Cooley, Jerry & Carolyn Jeffrey, Bill & June Corbin, Jack & Jewel Brewster, and a host of others.  I can see the “Wheeler girls” up on that stage singing. I can see people being saved and baptized in that very room.

The precious people at Pisgah Baptist Church loved me and were patient with me. They loved the Word of God and came hungry for it every service. They didn’t just see themselves as my ministry, but rather they saw me as their ministry.  They urged me to stay in seminary classes and even helped to pay for my ministry training knowing that I likely would not stay there very many years. They prayed for me. On a handful of occasions, they cried with me. They loved my wife, and let her settle into the role of a pastor’s wife with no pressure to do everything in the church.  I absolutely could not have asked for a better first church to pastor.

On Wednesday as I drove up to Pisgah, all of these memories came flooding back. As a walked into the building, it was like home as always. After a few hours of countless tears, hugs, and a funeral, I pulled out of the parking lot to head back to Huntsville. With tears streaming down my cheeks, I thanked the Lord for this precious church and all that it has meant to me. Everything I do for the Lord today is very much because of their influence in my life.  They have truly meant more to me than I could ever mean to them. This is why, no matter where I go or what I do for the Lord the rest of my life, part of my heart will always be at Pisgah.