Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hurricane Gustav


As you may have noticed, I haven't posted in more than a week. Hurricane Gustav has kept me pretty preoccupied for the last several days, as we at the station prepare for what appears to be another doozy of a storm.

The good news for Meridian is that it doesn't appear it's going to be nearly as bad for us this time as it was during Hurricane Katrina. We got hurricane force winds for several hours on that day three years ago, and it turned out to be the worst natural disaster in this city's history, even though we're a solid three hours from the coast of Mississippi. Our expectation tomorrow is that we'll probably get 5-8 hours worth of potentially tropical storm force winds, lots of rain, and maybe an isolated tornado. Though that won't be any fun, it won't be Katrina either.

The bad news is that this really looks like it's going to be bad news again for New Orleans. Meridian is a prime location for evacuees from New Orleans, straight up Interstate 59. We've met people over the last day or two from the Crescent City who say they are not going back, ever. Katrina, then Gustav, are enough to convince them that it's just not the place for them, despite the fact they've lived there their entire lives. It's really sad, and I'm very concerned about how bad Gustav is going to be for them.

I've alerted my Sunday School class to be looking for ways to help people over the next several days. There will be plenty of opportunities for us to show the love of Christ to evacuees and storm victims this week, and maybe even longer than that. After Katrina, we had storm victims sheltered here for weeks; I wouldn't be surprised if that's the case this time around, too.

One more thing I want to address, because I heard it after Katrina, and I'm pretty sure I'll hear it after Gustav: this idea that New Orleans deserves what it gets, that it's been some kind of center for sin and debauchery for years, and that these storms are God's punishment. First of all, if God was into giving people what they deserved, a hurricane would have wiped us all off of the map a long time ago. We all deserve nothing less than death, and I don't think New Orleans is any more or any less deserving of that than I am.

Second of all, such conjecture seems to go against what Jesus had to say in Luke 13, when he was asked what sin a group of Galileans had committed that caused them to be murdered by Pilate and have their blood mixed with the blood of sacrifices. A pretty gruesome way to go, no doubt. The people were tempted to think this was a judgment for specific sin. But listen to Jesus' answer to them:

And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:2,3, NASV)

Jesus told them, you all deserve to die. Just because these died in a gruesome way doesn't mean their sin was worse than yours. All this ought to do is remind you of how grave your sin is, and how desperate your need to repent is, and how if you haven't done that, you're headed the same way they are: to certain death.

So as this hurricane bears down, if God forbid, people die in New Orleans, or the Mississippi Coast, or anywhere, we should look at it only as opportunity to confess and repent of our sins and thank God for the forgiveness that comes through Jesus.

Okay, I'm going to try to get some sleep now. I've been at work since 3:00 this afternoon, have to go back at about 1:00 this morning, and won't get off until at least 6:00 tomorrow night. If you have the opportunity, please pray that I will have strength and wisdom as I anchor our coverage of this storm tomorrow.

By the way, here's a shameless plug. We'll be live streaming our coverage tommorrow at www.wtok.com. We'll have updates on the storm throughout the day.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Please no, I'm begging you

I have a confession to make. I don't want your e-mail forwards. I know, they're probably cute, or inspiring, or information that the mainstream media is hiding, or a threat to our way of life and civilization, but I'll be honest with you: I really don't want your e-mail forwards.

I'm not against all e-mail forwards, don't get me wrong. Occasionally, in the pool of cess that is my inbox, I'll get a forward that I find laugh out loud funny, or tear jerkingly inspirational, but it is not that often. More often than not I find myself annoyed, or frustrated by the lack of fact checking before forwarding, or confused that you would think this is something I'm interested in.

Here's my main problem with them: most of them are not true. No matter how many exclamation points come after the title, no matter how much urgency the writer of the letter insists is needed, no matter how sick the little girl is, they generally don't hold water. I get so frustrated when other Christians send me e-mails that are either patently false on their face, or at least easy enough to check out for their accuracy. Here's my warning: if you are a Christian, and you send an e-mail that is untrue, you're either lying or gossiping. In this day and age, almost every fact is checkable. Google is a wonderful resource. If an e-mail is important enough for you to clog up the inboxes of dozens of your friends with, it's important enough to check out first.

Maybe this is just the journalist in me, but I hope it's also the Christian in me. We ought to always be purveyors of truth. Lies are from Satan, because he "the father of lies," (John 8:44). And whether or not a lie is intentional or not is just not a good enough excuse. If you don't know whether or not something is true, don't send it.

Here are my top five "Christian" e-mail forwards that I never want to see again:

5. George Bush did not take a half hour during a campaign fundraiser to share the plan of salvation with a teenage boy.

4. Airlines have never considered not pairing a Christian and non-Christian pilot together, just in case the Rapture takes the Christian one in the middle of a flight.

3. Psalm 118 is not the center of the Bible.

2. Jesus is not going to be portrayed as a homosexual in an upcoming movie.

1. And finally, please, please, never tell me again that Madelyn Murray O'Hair is trying to get all Christian programming taken off the air, and that I need to sign your petition immediately to make sure it doesn't happen.

Let's just not be so gullible, okay? It won't take you more than 5 minutes to go to snopes.com and check out whether or not something is true. I think it will be well worth your time.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Olympic Madness

In honor of the Olympics, I thought I would post my all time favorite Saturday Night Live sketch. This one comes all the way back from 1988, when SNL was still funny.



Thursday, August 14, 2008

This Week's Lesson

I have really enjoyed the last couple of week's lessons, as we've studied the book of Hebrews. This book is just full of meat; the discussions we've had the last couple of weeks have been some of our best in quite some time. And that's saying something for our class! Anyway, I've enjoyed them thoroughly.

Get ready for another good one this coming Sunday, as we look into the 5th and 6th chapters of Hebrews. We've talked the last couple of weeks about endurance, perseverance, remaining faithful, whatever you want to call it. Two weeks ago, we talked about how that was a requirement, that if you if you are a true child of God, you will persevere until the end. If you don't persevere, it means that the faith you confessed never was real in the first place. Then last week, we talked about the means in which God uses to persevere his people; namely, by putting them among people who exhort and encourage them to keep the faith (i.e. church). We talked about how a small group in a church like ours is the perfect way to do this, if we do it right.

But the question that still remains about remaining faithful is this; what does it look like? How do we know we are persevering? How can we be sure that we are keeping the faith? That will be, at least part of our study this week as we look at those two chapters in Hebrews. It is my prayer that it will be as productive as our last two weeks have been. I look forward to seeing you Sunday!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Getting Serious About Getting People to Jesus

I've had several different things come together over the last several days that have opened my heart up in a new way to those who are outside the faith. In evangelical Christian circles, we call that having a "heart for the lost." I've always desired to be a better evangelist, but I've never been nearly as serious about it as I should. But a few simple things that have happened over the last several days have given me a desire to reach out more to those who don't know Christ. Here's what's happened.

1) I'm reading Chuck Colson's "Born Again." It's the story of how the former Nixon henchman who spent time in the federal pen for his Watergate-related crimes came to Christ. Many people who know who Colson is now, may not know about his past. Though I knew about it, I didn't know the details. Reading the specifics of his conversion, and how it changed him from a power-hungry, pride-filled White House bulldog into a champion for those the hurting and poor and imprisoned was inspiring to me. I want to see people's lives changed like that! I want to be a part of that! I've been in tears on more than one occasion reading his story.

2) A simple associational Sunday School training event last night gave me just the kind of reminder I needed about the lost people in our community, desperately in need of God's forgiving, healing hand. It also gave me some ideas as to how to reach them.

3) The fellowship and discussion we've had in our Sunday school class the last couple of weeks has been fabulous. It's reminded me that Christian community is unique, and that everyone needs it.

None of these things are big things, but they've all kind of coalesced over the last few days to remind me of what I have in Christ, and what I have not been sharing with others. With God's help though, I'm going to do better. I know I must be a better witness, in my actions, and in my words. I know I must give off the "aroma of Christ." I'm ready to get started!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Blessed Assurance

I don't think there is a Christian who at some point, for at least a little while, hasn't doubted whether or not he or she was actually saved. Some will tell you this is a bad thing, that Christians ought to never doubt, that they ought always be confident in their salvation. I'm not so sure I agree with that. I think sometimes a little bit of doubt about their eternal destination can cause Christians to reexamine themselves, to make sure that they are what the profess to be. I'd rather have a true Christian who isn't sure about his salvation than a fake Christian who has false assurance that he is saved. I'm afraid that on many of our church of rolls we have a lot of second category.

The Bible lays out a bit of a dichotomy on this issue. In 1st John 5:13, the apostle says, "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life." This gives us the impression that salvation is something we should have some assurance about, that we should know and feel confident about. But 1st Corinthians 13:5a says, "Examine yourselves, to see whether or not you are in the faith. Test yourselves." That seems to give a totally different impression, that we must constantly be looking at ourselves to make sure that which we first confessed is indeed true.

Now, I don't think these two verses are in conflict at all. I think they compliment, rather than contradict one another. When John writes that he wants those who believe in Jesus to know they have eternal life, he does so at the end of a long letter that spells out what real Christians look like. Those include things like loving one another, not loving the world, and believing in Jesus, among other things. So when he says, "I write these things . . . so that you may know you have eternal life," he's saying that you can know you have eternal life by whether or not you are doing the things that I've just written about. That perfectly dovetails with the command in 1 Corinthians to "Examine yourselves." The way we can be assured of our eternal life is by examining ourselves to see if we are living in a way that is in line with the way the Scriptures define Christianity.

Now, no one does this perfectly. None of us will be able to look at the commands of the Bible and say, "Yeah, that's me." Any of us who are honest will compare ourselves to that standard and find that we come up woefully short. That doesn't mean all hope is lost though. In his excellent book, "Systematic Theology," Wayne Grudem has three questions we can ask ourselves that will go a long way in giving us assurance of our salvation. Here are those questions, with my comments.

1- Do I have a present trust in Christ for salvation? It is important that we don't look to some decision we made however many years ago as proof of our salvation. We must look at our present lives to see if they're living like the decision we made. But the question is not, "Am I without sin," or even, "Do I feel like I'm saved," it's "Do I trust at this moment that Christ is my only hope of salvation, and am I currently in repentance over my failure to live up to that?"

2 - Is there evidence of a regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in my heart? In other words, can I see signs that tell me grace is at work inside me? Again, not "Am I perfect?" but "Are there signs of the Spirit in me?" This is a question that it might also be helpful is we ask other people. Sometimes, others can see evidences of grace in ourselves that we can never see.

3 - Do I see a long-term pattern of growth in my life? Look back at what you were like before you were a Christian. Are you that person now? Have things changed for the better since then? Have you found victory over some of the sins that beset you earlier in your life? That ought to give you a good feel for what you eternal state is.

Now, the question is: What if I do all of these things and still don't have assurance? I think it depends. Sometimes, assurance doesn't come for a long time, even for those who've really been saved. But I think the solution is the same whether you are saved or not: repent and count on Jesus to be your rock and your salvation. Treasure him as the most valuable thing in your life. Ask him to forgive you again and again and again. And pray for assurance that he is truly yours.

Here's a final point. No one can give you real assurance about your salvation except God himself. The same Holy Spirit that convicts and draws you to Christ can give you confidence that you have an ongoing relationship with him.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Back in Town and This Week's Lesson

To quote George Constanza, "I'm back, baby!" After eight, I mean nine, days of vacation with some of WTOK's most loyal viewers in Western Canada, we are finally back home. We rolled in yesterday morning, about twelve hours later than we expected to. Nevertheless, we are glad to be back home. Today, we held Reed's 3rd birthday party. He turned 3 Monday, but he doesn't know that, so keep it quiet okay?


The trip was great, with a few minor bumps in the proverbial road. Crystal and I flew into Seattle on Thursday afternoon, only to find that the rest of tour group was stuck in Houston because of bad weather. So instead of meeting up with them that night, we had to wait a day, and meet them in Vancouver. In the meantime, we got to take a quick tour of Seattle, courtesy our trusty bus driver, Mark. He took us all around the city in a big charter bus that was meant for the entire group. Here's a pic of my lovely bride and me atop the Space Needle.





Following a short time in Seattle, we met our tour group Friday night in Vancouver, BC. The next day, we traveled by ferry to the city of Victoria. It's a beautiful, historic, tourist attraction. Here is a picture of the Parliament Building there.



While in Victoria, we watched a street show. The guy in the following video is a juggler. The video is of his final act, where he juggled two flaming sticks and a machete while straddling a pair of chairs. As he did that, a guy with a flaming helmet rode a tricycle between his legs. Pretty funny!


video

Okay, I'm going to pick up the rest of the trip later, with more pictures, including our two days of railroading in the Canadian Rockies. By the way, the 20 or so other people who went on the trip plan to post photos of their own on our web site. Just go to www.wtok.com/community, and click on the photo album. I've already posted a couple of pictures there.

But I do want to let any who might check before tomorrow morning know that we'll be beginning a study of the book of Hebrews in Sunday school this week. We'll look at some of the highlights over the next four weeks. That's frankly not nearly long enough, but we'll do our very best to look at the major themes. Tomorrow, we'll look at chapter 1 and the first part of chapter 2. It will be a look at the preeminence of Jesus above every thing on Heaven and on earth, and the consequences of neglecting to remember that. I'll have to say, my study time was especially sweet and rewarding, because I had so much free time.

Finally, please pray for our Pastor Search Committee. We'll be meeting at 5:00 Sunday, and would appreciate your prayers for wisdom at that particular time, if you can. Have a great day!